DEEPER HOPE

Deeper Hope:

An Abiding Virtue

This book explores the meaning -- and application -- of Christian Hope. It takes the fuzzy concept of Hope and reveals it in everyday settings

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Peace That Passes Understanding

Our age is characterized by activity, energy, and action. Peace, however, is not an attribute of our times. When magazines and television broadcasts highlight the lives of celebrities, peace is not mentioned as one of the advantages of “the good life.” Jesus, however, offered his disciples the yoke of discipleship, and under his instruction they would experience rest and peace. “Peace I leave with you,” he told his friends at the Last Supper. “My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14: 27)
He spoke about peace often: when he looked over Jerusalem he cried because the people of the city had never learned the things that would make for peace; when he commissioned his disciples to preach the Kingdom of God he told them to give their peace as a gift; when the resurrected Jesus appeared he greeted his friends with “Peace.” Peace is among the fruit of the Spirit. Peace is an attribute of believers even when they face persecution or violence. Peace is the fingerprint of Jesus upon the lives he has crafted.
Students of Jesus can learn rest and peace has they submit to his instruction in everyday life. We can learn peace. He can teach us how to live a life of peace. The Apostle Paul, writing to a healthy group of believers in Philippi, gave these words as his final command:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4: 6 – 7)
These are famous verses. Perhaps you have heard of this incredible promise of “the peace which transcends understanding.” But has anyone taught us how to receive the gift of God, this perfect peace?
As we read this passage in Philippians we could easily think of the first words as a command, “be anxious for nothing.” But it is not a command, it is an outcome—an outcome that depends on living out the words that follow. We can be free from anxiety through prayer and thanksgiving.
For many followers of Jesus prayer is more a source of frustration than peace. We know that we are supposed to pray, be who has instructed us in how to pray? For some of us, our prayers are driven by need or fear. For others prayer is a duty and a mystery. The disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. As they spent time with Jesus they saw a qualitative difference in prayer as they understood it and prayer as Jesus practiced it. Fortunately, we have a record of Jesus’ teaching on prayer. Luke 11 is a particularly useful passage on prayer. We hear again a version of The Lord’s prayer; Jesus asks us to imagine that we a have a friend—the kind of friend we can approach even in the middle of the night; he reminds his disciples that there is a perfect parent in heaven who longs to give the Holy Spirit in response to our requests. One reason we do not experience the peace that passes understanding after we pray is that we have not learned how to pray as Jesus taught.
The passage in Philippians also reveals the key ingredient in prayer: thanksgiving. A thankful heart is the foundation for peace in God’s Kingdom. As we “present our requests to God,” we are instructed to do so with thanksgiving. Requests, with thanksgiving. These need not be opposed to each other. Thanksgiving changes the atmosphere whenever it is present. Thanksgiving orders our world properly. God does not demand thanksgiving, he is teaching us that a heart thankful toward him is a heart in right relationship with him. Do we need to petition God? Absolutely! But the life-giving way to bring our requests before him is with a genuinely thankful heart. Many followers of Jesus pray from a place of worry and care, and consequently emerge from prayer even more anxious than when they started! We can learn to be thankful. We must pursue this heart-quality if we are to follow him.
Finally, we need to see the connection between our understanding and peace. Christians, especially those of us in the western world, are driven by the need to control our circumstances. Part of that control is the driving need to “understand” what is going on in our circumstances. We believe that if we can understand what is happening, we will somehow have the power to affect our situation. This is largely an illusion. We rarely are capable of the perspective needed to understand our complicated lives. Bill Johnson, pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, CA, puts it this way: “until you give up your right to understand you can't have the peace that passes understanding.” We want to know: why have we been treated unfairly? Why did our loved one make such a foolish choice? The “why” questions reveal our inner desire to be in control, and when we are not in control we are filled with worry, grief, and care. God can indeed give understanding, but it is a gift to the heart at rest in him.
The good news is that we can learn the things that make for peace. We can learn to pray the Jesus way. We can cultivate thankfulness that springs from the heart. We can experience transcendent peace. He calls us to learn from him. We can start there.

Monday's Meditation: has yesterday's word become today's bird seed?

Quick: what was the main point of the sermon you heard yesterday in church?  It's a little bit like trying to remember what you had for dinner last night:  you're sure you ate something, but what was it?

Today's memo is brief because the point is important: has yesterday's word become today's bird seed?  (Matt 13: 4) As we put our heads on the pillow last night, how many of us gave any thought to putting the words of Sunday church into action the rest if the week?  We protect what God gives us by intentional action: "How does this apply to me?  What can I do to make this real?"

Jesus, the Master Teacher, concluded his most famous sermon with this very challenge: act on my words and your life will be well-built; ignore my words and ruin is sure to follow. (Matt 7:24 - 27)

The Facebook Quiz You'll Never See

Have you seen the explosion of personality quizzes available on Facebook? Which Twilight character are you? What is the theme song of your life? Which super-villain are you? Which love-language do you have? Who knows how many other quiz topics are available? Carl Jung read our cultural urges quite well a half-century ago when he said, “The world will ask you who you are, and if you do not know, the world will tell you.”

There is another quiz we should be eager to take, but it’s not on Facebook. It’s in the other book:
“The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop--thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown."
Mark 4: 14 – 20

Just because we have heard something before doesn’t mean we should pass it by. Watchman Nee observed that patience in the face of the familiar is a sign of spiritual maturity.

Let me tell you about the first time I ever heard this parable. The night after I became a follower of Jesus a speaker used this parable to challenge new believers with an admonition continue as Christians. I just naturally assumed that I was the good soil. How could I be anything else? Sitting next to me that night was a friend from high school who had also just turned to Jesus. After the message she wept and wept and wept. Finally she composed herself enough to sob, “I just don’t want to let Jesus down. I’m afraid I might turn out to be one of those other types of soil.” I had assumed that I was the kind of person who was naturally good and would bear fruit, while she was moved to tears, crying and asking for the grace to live up her calling. At that moment I realized that after just one day she was already way beyond me in her walk with Jesus.

Here’s a quiz that should be all over Facebook: Which kind of soil are you?

Jesus may have had more than one application for this parable. For example, do we think this parable refers only to the first time God calls to us? Perhaps Jesus was explaining the nature of every word God speaks to us. Each time God speaks all four possibilities are in play. Will his word penetrate my heart today? If he has a life-changing word for me today, will I let it take deep root? Will today’s cares choke it out? Or will the fresh word he speaks yield an amazing crop—today?

As a young Christian I thought Jesus was describing a fixed reality: too bad for those with hardened hearts, rocky soil, or lives full of weeds! Thank goodness I was the good soil! It never occurred to me that his words were a call for me to tend my own heart. I am never further away from the Kingdom than when I think that his words are for someone else, but not for me.

Another question: why do most people assume an even distribution of the different kinds of soil? So many commentators discuss each soil condition as if 25% of the seed fell on each type. Can you imagine anyone sowing one quarter of their seed on a walking path? The greatest difficulties are the conditions below the surface. The rocky soil or the type filled with weeds may well have comprised most of the field. Perhaps the North American church struggles with power and fruitfulness because the vast majority of our hearts are shallow or filled with other concerns like worry or wealth. Do we know what lies beneath the surface of our lives? Do we dare ask him for his assessment?

Finally, this isn’t just any parable. Just before his explanation Jesus asked his disciples, "Don't you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?” (v 13) Jesus cautioned his students that this parable was critical to receiving the Kingdom of God (v 11). These very famous verses can still speak with authority today if we will take time to tend the garden.

Monday's Meditation: Two Insignificant Verses

It’s just two weeks after Easter Sunday. We are still in that period of time when the resurrected Jesus remained on the earth, encouraging and teaching his friends about the Kingdom of God.

His final actions are recorded for us in Matthew 28: 16 - 20:
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

These are familiar verses to Evangelicals. We have even given this passage a name, “The Great Commission.” Most people who point to these verses begin at verse 18, when Jesus begins to speak, but the proper context begins at verse 16--and what a difference those two verses make!

Here are two quick meditations:

Verse 16 - The disciples obeyed. Jesus gave them instructions to return to Galilee. Apart from carrying out those instructions, they would have missed an encounter with the resurrected Lord. It’s a simple meditation, but challenging: obedience puts us in a position to hear God. Do my actions make it easier or harder for me to hear his voice?

Verse 17 - Some of them doubted. These words first hit me like a thunderbolt--some of those who had seen the resurrected Jesus, those who had “proof” of his glory, still doubted! Imagine the scene around Jesus: his best friends giving him worship in a private setting, yet in some minds and hearts there was still doubt. Here’s the good news: their doubt did not disqualify them. He still received them, and he gave the “Great Commission” even to those who doubted.

These two are worth turning over in our hearts today: disobedience may keep me from hearing his voice, but doubt will not. Happy Monday!

The Government of God

Students of Jesus are not simply students.  He invites is followers to live in his Kingdom.  It's not just a metaphor, Jesus is a real King his KIngdom is a real place.  The well-being of any people is largely a reflection of the government under which they live.

The current difficulties with pirates off the coast of Somalia highlight the leaderless condition of that country. Most of sub-Saharan Africa groans under the weight of corrupt leadership. I have a friend who lives in Peru, where she regularly experiences interruptions in telephone-service, electricity, and even water. In the United States, despite tempestuous political clamor, we enjoy the benefits of good government: the phones work, the water runs, and the mail is delivered. When natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina shred the infrastructure Americans are up in arms over the shortcomings of their government--without ever considering that in most places around the world the government is incapable (and sometimes unwilling) of providing any assistance at all.

When an outsider looks at any nation, he can see the effects of leadership. Are the people safe, happy, and prosperous? Is there justice in the land? Do the people live in freedom or fear? The scripture affirms that good government is a blessing: “When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan.” (Proverbs 29: 2)

Followers of Jesus live not only under the government of their native land, we are invited to live also under the government of God. Listen to these words from Isaiah:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.
He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with
justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.
Isaiah 9: 6 - 7
(You might consider these passages from Isaiah as well: 11: 1 - 9; 32: 1 - 8)

Unlike the worldly governments around us today, the government of God is not coercive. Jesus, the King, invites us to come under his government, to honor him as King, and to experience the blessings of the perfect Ruler. The promises of his Kingdom rule are largely dependent upon our choices--will we receive him as King?

If a fireman rescues me from a burning building, no one expects that I will live the rest of my life under his oversight. It would be silly: he saved me but he is not my master. Jesus serves us not only as Savior but also declares he is Lord. He is able--willing--to save, and still he calls us farther up and in to receive him also as Lord. The benefits of his government, the Kingdom of God, are for those who will submit to his rule.

Look at just a few of promises from Isaiah of a life lived in obedience to King Jesus:

Wonderful Counselor: Jesus is the Master of living, and is eager to give the best counsel available. What counsel do I need? Parenting, business, marriage, relationships, career, education? As Dallas Willard has pointed out, Jesus is the wisest person who has ever lived, and his counsel is available to those who will listen to--and do--his will.

Mighty God: Generations of believers and unbelievers alike have discovered that strength does not lie in military might or economic power. All of creation is held together in Jesus Christ. He has power to save, not only from the eternal destruction of Hell, but also from our circumstances here and now. Do we see Jesus as the source of our provision and rescue in everyday life?

Everlasting Father: Fathers on earth are imperfect and increasingly absent in our day. In Jesus we have a family identity that will never be severed. For those who have suffered loss of identity because of broken family relationships, the Everlasting Father is a reality for all who will come to Him.

Prince of Peace: Jesus wears this title not as some honorary degree, but as the one who can bestow peace on us right now. It is his to give. Consider this promise from another chapter in Isaiah: “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.” (26:3) As we come to trust in Jesus in practical, daily ways, we experience the peace he has to give.

And there is more in this passage from Isaiah 9: it encourages us that there is an unending increase of government and peace. He invites us to experience justice and right relationships capable of impacting others around us.

Unlike government programs from earthly nations, we are assured that "the zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this." The counsel, power, belonging and peace is accomplished not by human programs, but rather by humbly and intentionally submitting to the gentle yoke of discipleship. After he saves us, he wants to rule us, if we will allow him.

The challenge for us as followers of Jesus is this: his government is available for everyone, but it is still a government. We must choose whether we will live with King Jesus, or simply settle for Fireman Jesus.