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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Discipled By The Resurrection

From Gandalf the Grey to Harry the Potter, resurrection is all the rage. Anyone can do it, as long as you’re a fictional character.
Reality is another matter: God became man: daring, but commonplace among the gods of the ancient world. God suffered the shame and agony of a torturous death: more scandalous, because when the gods become men they usually stack the deck in their favor. But God--risen from the dead? Still fully Man and fully God? That’s off the charts.
There is a Man seated on the throne of heaven: born of a woman, toiled in sweat, bled and died, risen in body, seated on the throne, and still human, always divine. God begot himself, and he sits enthroned, surrounded by humanity worshipping the image of God in a Man, because that Man is God.
Not everyone thinks so. Consider theologian Marcus Borg: What would it mean to say that the risen Jesus is a physical/bodily reality? That he continues to be a molecular, protoplasmic, corpuscular being existing somewhere? Does that make any sense? How can the risen and living Jesus be all around us and with us, present everywhere, if he is bodily and physical?” I’m not fit to carry Dr. Borg’s theology books, but yes, Marcus, it makes sense to me.
Perhaps you’ve never taken time to consider the possibility: there’s a Man on the throne of heaven because a Man was raised from the dead. He is the Last Adam and the firstborn over all creation. He completes the work of creation in the Garden, and begins the work of the New Creation, anticipating the day when there is a new heaven, a new earth, a new Jerusalem, filled with people, each born of woman, each worshipping their Older Brother. This means that Easter is not only about the Father has done in Jesus Christ, it is also about what awaits us.
The Apostle Paul riffs on this very idea in First Corinthians: 
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. ~ 1 Corinthians 15: 20-22

Anticipating Mr. T by nineteen centuries, Paul pities the fool who only follows Jesus in this life, without hope for a life to come--a literal, physical, “corpuscular” life in the next age. He assures us that the bodily resurrection of Jesus is not only Jesus’ victory over sin and death, but also the Father’s promise that we, too, will be raised up in the same manner as Jesus: that is, in a corpuscular body. (In my disagreement with Marcus Borg I’m grateful that he has taught me a new word. I learned, too, that some of us are more corpuscular than others. And it’s fun to say. Try it: “corpuscular.”)

In this resurrection chapter Paul teaches us that every kind of body has a “splendor.” Animals, birds, fish, and men had splendorous bodies. But the world has only gotten a short preview of the most splendorous body of all: the body of  Jesus, the risen Lord. It is an amphibious body, capable of operating in this age and the age to come. The body of the risen Jesus could walk, talk, eat, and drink, yet it was not constrained by bothersome things such as doors and locks. The body of the risen Jesus was frightening, beautiful, and strangely unrecognizable--until he spoke your name or broke the bread of life, after which you wonder why you didn’t know it was him from the start. It is a body that can be seen with human eyes, hugged by human arms and touched with human hands.
The body of the risen Jesus exerts dominion over sickness and death, yet strangely bears the scars of its earlier existence. I have marveled at this for decades: the Father raised the body of Jesus to life, but chose to leave the scars of crucifixion in place. It tells me that we will carry the memories of our suffering from the past into our resurrected life, but the pain will be gone. In fact, the scars will become part of our testimony to the greatness of God. There is hope for every suffering person that their pain will be fuel to burn with testimony for Jesus.
Paul tells us that the good news of the Resurrection is first about Jesus and the glory of God, but that good news teaches us that we, too, will have a splendor and glory of our own, which we can offer to him in the age to come.

The Hard Work of Inspiration

Storytellers, poets, songwriters, historians, correspondents, legal scholars, apocalyptic dreamers. Perhaps it’s blindingly obvious: the books of the Bible were written by . . . writers. The Holy Spirit breathed upon each one, opened their hearts and ears and eyes to the spiritual realities around them. But they were still writers. They struggled to capture the inspired moment of clarity and present a finished work capable of blessing generations to come.

Peter described it this way: “the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow.” (1 Peter 1:10-11) Even though the Spirit was their guide, they searched intently. It was an inspired collaboration.

The prophet Habakkuk (that discontent whining wondering man who in turn inspired the Apostle Paul) recorded the process of capturing a flash of divine inspiration. Although the scripture is complete, inspiration still flashes today. Since we carry the inspired good news, Habakkuk’s words are a lesson for us as well:

"I will stand at my watch 
and station myself on the ramparts; 
I will look to see what he will say to me,
 and what answer I am to give to this complaint. Then the Lord replied: 
 Write down the revelation
 and make it plain on tablets
 so that a herald may run with it. 
 For the revelation awaits an appointed time; 
it speaks of the end 
and will not prove false. 
Though it linger, wait for it; 
 it will certainly come
 and will not delay." (Habakkuk 2:1-3)

Here are four observations capable of making us partners with the Spirit’s inspiration:

I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts . . .” We ourselves create the space to receive revelation. Habakkuk purposefully took up the position of watchman: he was alone and vigilant, eager and confident that the Lord would speak to him. He was not disappointed; he had prepared himself for when the moment came. When we create space for the Spirit to come, he willingly accepts the invitation.

Make it plain . . . “ God favors clarity. Beauty and art flow from inspiration, but we must make it plain. Our part is the clear expression of what he illuminates. There is a time to scatter rose petals among our words, but first comes content. Our words should carry a meaning clear enough that others may run with the message.

The revelation awaits an appointed time . . .” Even revelation requires timing. Strangely, the appointed time is seldom in the heat of battle. When social debate rages back and forth in public media we are exposed to the heat of passion, but not much light. The prophets spoke to their day, but the prophetic message carried eternal weight. Neither human emotion nor intellect equal divine revelation; it comes only from God, and it requires his timing.

Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come . . .” That's right: wait for it. Habakkuk stationed himself. He also waited. In the rush to say something important we often miss the opportunity to hear something eternal. Waiting is the discipline of writers who speak to generations. You can speak to the moment or you can speak to the ages; you can rarely do both.

I believe in the inspiration of the scripture, but I don’t believe the Holy Spirit used robots to mouth his words. We have a role to play, a role that compliments the word of the Spirit. Habakkuk shows us how it’s done.

Check Jesus at the Door, Please

A while back my friend attended a Christian university. He needed to fulfill a general education requirement in the social sciences, so he signed up to take a psychology course called “Mental Disorders.” Since it was a Christian Liberal Arts school he expected some consideration of the Christian view of the human psyche, but the very first day in class set him straight. “There are certain psychological problems,” the professor intoned, “That cannot be fixed by prayer. That’s what we will be talking about.” Prayer, Christianity, faith, the Bible, or Jesus were never mentioned again during the semester. In effect the professor said: “Enough with Christianity, let’s get down to how things really work.”

Poor Jesus. Each day, at workplaces all across North America, he gets checked at the door. I’ve begun to imagine high-rise office buildings where Christians can stash Jesus in the lobby cloakroom before getting on the elevator and heading up to their law offices, accounting practices, engineering firms, insurance companies, and investment bullpens.

In his essay, Jesus the Logician, Dallas Willard points out the separation between Jesus and the real world:

“There is in our culture an uneasy relation between Jesus and intelligence, and I have actually heard Christians respond to my statement that Jesus is the most intelligent man who ever lived by saying that it is an oxymoron . . . How could we be his disciples at our work, take him seriously as our teacher there, if when we enter our fields of technical or professional competence we must leave him at the door?”

What about it? Is he the smartest guy ever, or what? And if he’s so smart, why wouldn’t he have something to say about how to get the job done? Yes, we nod and sigh: Jesus can remind us to tell the truth and be kind to small animals, but what does he know about estimating the raw materials required for this construction site?

But what if Dallas Willard is right? What if Jesus was—and is—the smartest guy ever? What will he say to us in the everyday stuff of life? Was the Apostle Paul merely engaging in flowery speech when spoke of Jesus, “In whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3)?

The calling of a disciple is to make life application in Christ. Jesus was a carpenter, true—but what if he was a doctor? Jesus is looking for someone today to demonstrate the answer. What if Jesus was a marketing executive? Or a car salesman? Or a wife and mother? These are no idle questions. They go to the heart of our life in Christ and our calling to put him on display in the human situation. When my friend’s (Christian) psychology professor exempted the life of God from consideration of the human psyche, that professor set a course to ignore the surest reality in the field of psychology. Willard recommends the Christian faith because it helps you integrate with reality. After all, who created the human psyche?

This issue is significant for individual Christians but also for the church at large. Christian books pour forth daily, dealing with every conceivable life issue: marriage, family, business, personal discipline. Many of these well-meaning treatments look to “the latest” results of research, science or technology and attempt to baptize secular learning with Biblical window-dressing. If, in fact, all the treasures and wisdom of this age are hidden in Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:3), shouldn’t he be the first place we look? Why do we turn to “objective” sources of research or academia only to apply a Christian wrapping paper after coming to our conclusions?

How can we make life-application in Christ? How can we discover the hidden treasures of wisdom in him?

§ Recognize Jesus the Wellspring: Jesus is our model. Not a “spiritual model,” or an “ethical model.” He is simply the source of all wisdom and knowledge. Those who recognize the Source will turn to him first and ask for revelation from him before examining other sources.

§ Trust the Biblical record: The downside of Biblical scholarship in our age has been distrust of the scripture’s inspiration. To recognize the God-breathed nature of the Bible does not limit the text to one and only one meaning, but instead opens it up to the possibility that the infinitely intelligent and creative God has placed more and more in the Bible for us to discover.

§ Look for the Living, Resurrected Lord: Jesus, the smartest guy who ever lived, is alive today. Not only alive, he is accessible: he promised that he shows up whenever two or three get together in his name. He—and his wisdom—are not remote. His treasure-trove of wisdom and knowledge is, among other things, mediated by his Spirit and found in the communion of the believers who assemble in his keeping.

§ Look for His witness in so-called “secular” wisdom: Proverbs depict Jesus as the Wisdom of God, dancing daily in the Father’s sight, rejoicing in the creation of the world (Proverbs 8). Jesus is Lady Wisdom in the marketplace. Jesus, the wisdom of God, delights in the Father’s creative genius whether that genius is discovered in worship or in Wall Street.

What we must not do is check Jesus at the door. He is, in fact, the Wellspring of wisdom and truth beyond our imaginations.

Who is Welcome?

Surely Jesus believed that prostitutes were sinners, yet he welcomed them to his table. He ate and drank with them.

Surely Jesus understood that tax collectors betrayed their countrymen by helping the brutal Roman occupiers in his homeland, yet he welcomed tax collectors to his table as well.

Surely Jesus knew that religious hypocrites misrepresented Yahweh’s heart toward his people and laid heavy burdens on God’s people, yet he dined with them and invited them to participate in his Father’s kingdom.

Surely Jesus saw first-hand Peter’s temper, James and John’s foolish nationalism, even Judas’ tortured and divided motivations, yet he broke bread with each one of them, sharing his very blood and body.

Jesus welcomed everyone to his table. He welcomed the clueless and the cruel. He engaged the outcast and the insider. He shared his life with his enemies because he came to turn enemies into family. His method was startling: he ate and drank with them. Wherever Jesus ate, it was his table. He turned water into wine and transformed ritual into everlasting love.

He turned no one away from his table.

He gave no one a pass on his or her rebellion or self-destructive ways. The sinless perfect representative of God’s heart never lowered his standards or winked at injustice. Still, around his table everyone was welcome. He was no lightweight: if a moment called for brutal honestly, he fulfilled that need as well. He did not negotiate, he fellowshipped.

He set an example for us to follow. On his way to the cross he stopped to eat and drink each day, and each day he welcomed his enemies to his table. At the cross, he did what only he could do. At the table, he demonstrated what we can do.

He refused to let disagreement separate him from others. Jesus possessed the proper opinions, the right positions, and perfect perspective, but never--not once--did he use his correct standing as a reason to alienate other people.

Who is welcome at your table?

Doubt: Four Lessons From Thomas, the Honest One

I grew up in suburban Chicago among the stray dogs of Evangelicalism. Since 1970, I’ve not attended a traditional Evangelical church, right up until I became a Vineyard pastor. Reading the Bible and walking with God involved daily exercises in doubt because my friends and I would read a passage and say, "Huh—I wonder what that means?" No one ever told me I had to swallow everything at once in order to be in the club. Doubt kept me from indigestion because I had to take things one bite at a time.

Still, the Scriptures have been my standard for living since the beginning of my walk with God, but one of the benefits of congregating with misfits was I never had to endure other people insisting what the Bible meant. My grasp of the Bible is like my marriage: I love my wife very much, but after 33 years together I still don’t pretend to understand her. That’s true in marriage, and it’s been true in my walk with God: clueless, committed and willing to live with occasional tension when my limited intellect bumps up against the most revered document in Western history. So perhaps it will come as no surprise that on the subject of doubt, I’ve found what I think is a biblical model for doubt.

It will score no points for originality, but in my model for doubt in the big leather book is that guy named Thomas. Since I never had a Sunday school teacher wiggle her finger in my face and warn me not to be like "Doubting Thomas," I just figured he was one of the gang, like Puddleglum in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series: a real buzz-kill, but still part of the team.

Thomas taught me that there are worse things than doubt. He taught me it’s OK to be the downer in the group, and if the group doesn’t like it, that’s mostly their problem. Thomas taught me that my doubts belonged to me, and I had no business trying to sell other people my doubt any more than I should try to sell people my favorite doctrines. Thomas taught me it’s OK to be myself, as long I as I wasn’t a jerk. Most of all Thomas taught me you can be unflinchingly honest and still get face-time with Jesus.

Here are four things Thomas taught me about doubt:

Thomas put courage above faith: In the first half of Jesus’ ministry, the religious people had attempted to kill Jesus at least twice (Luke 4 and John 10). Then Jesus got word that His good friend Lazarus was sick, along with the request to go heal him. The only problem was Lazarus lived within sight of Jerusalem, and Jesus had already told His friends that Jerusalem meant death. While guys like Peter tried to say they would never allow that to happen to Jesus, Thomas simply said, "Let us also go, that we may die with Him." I want courage like that. Eeyore for grown-ups: ready to face death.

Thomas put honesty above faith: Thomas wasn’t there when the other guys on the team saw the resurrected Jesus. Yet when he heard them talk about this insane idea that Jesus was physically alive, he stood his ground: "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe." I understand church-people use this as an example of what not to do, but I admire his honesty. We’ve all met people who lie about their faith just to go along with the crowd and end up with neither honesty nor faith.

Thomas put relationship above faith: Thomas didn’t separate himself from his friends because of their differences. And to their credit, the other guys didn’t kick him out. The standard church model runs like this: you have to believe in order to belong. The Gospel model says, you can belong before you believe. I’ve seen people on both sides of the divide walk away from relationships over disagreements about faith. Too bad—some of my best friends are pain-in-the-butt "unbelievers." But what can I do? They’re still my friends.

Thomas got the ultimate creepy experience: I think the resurrected Jesus creeped everyone out: Appearing. Disappearing. Cooking. Eating. Floating away. But one offer Jesus made only to Thomas: "Reach out your hand and put it into my side." That’s right, "stick your hand into a spear-sized hole in my ribs, all while I’m living, standing and talking to you." Thomas’ doubt didn’t offend the Lord. Jesus simply called his bluff and freaked him out. It’s true, Jesus said "stop doubting," but only after pushing all the chips to the center of the table. In a way, his doubt opened the door to a unique experience with Jesus.

Thomas teaches me that there are worse things to be called than "doubter." His interactions with Jesus also teach me that Jesus is secure enough in His identity to display grace and patience with people who don’t have it all worked out—which, it turns out, is everyone.