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Entries in hope (8)

Meditation: Abiding Hope

Sometimes words change faster than Bible translations. Some words morph faster than politicians change positions. Worse still, some words are taken captive and forced into the labor of deception. They end up communicating the very opposite of their truest meaning.

For example, the simple word hope has come to mean something unsure and doubtful. Everyone hopes for the best, but prepares for the worst. When we talk about hope in everyday language we are really talking about our insecurities: who knows how things will really work out?

It’s not always been that way. The word hope used to do some pretty heavy lifting. The Biblical notion of hope is the opposite of un-certainty. It’s a word filled with expectation: expectation of God’s powerful intervention. The word hope describes the in-breaking of joy capable of showing fear to the door. When the Spirit of God speaks of hope the word means “confident expectation,” or quite literally a life-line from heaven. It is an overflowing word, intended to be contagious, changing lives and cultures.

Hope is an abiding thing. It hangs out in the company of faith and love. It will outlast this world.

We could spend the next decade plumbing the depths of Biblical hope. We could explore the pathways of hope until we draw our final breath, only to discover that the half has not been told. Godly hope is the rebirth of divine certainty in us, and it does not disappoint.
Hebrews describes hope as an anchor, thrown--not into the sea--but into the heavens. The preacher of that message suggests hope should spur us to diligence, not out of desperation but rather confidence.
Hosea discovered the "gateway of hope" in the "valley of Trouble."
The Psalms reveal that hope is the antidote for depression and turmoil. Not wishful thinking or a positive mental attitude, but instead drinking deep from springs of hope the way a deer searches for streams of water.
In Romans, the Apostle Paul promised us that hope does not disappoint. Hope is the conduit through which God’s love pours into our hearts.

I’m beginning to re-tool my vocabulary, and more importantly my heart. What has God said? What has he promised? I will lash myself to his revelation, because hope abides. The greatest of these may be love, but faith and hope are love’s fellow travelers. I suspect there’s room for you in the traveling party.

Monday's Meditation: Healing Scars

I once met a woman who carried her scars like a crown a thorns. Twenty-five years before, she said, a gay man had tried to poison her with AIDS. I knew it wasn’t true, but she believed it was. And more important--her body believed it was.

She wandered through life like the Ancient Mariner, looking for still another soul to hear her story. Day after day, for twenty-five years, she had grown progressively more ill with everything except AIDS. She lived in chronic pain, had developed a cancer that became her identity, and she could not answer the question, “Do you want to be well?” Her pain had become her trademark. She wanted to tell everyone how she had suffered.
In contrast, I also met a man who carried scars from his past life as a sign of hope. He had conquered death and the grave, but still bore the marks of torture in his hands, his feet and his side. He bore no ill-will toward those who had killed him. In fact, before he died he prayed on their behalf. After rising from the dead he decided to keep the scars as a source of hope for others.
We are all scarred by life. The question is whether we will use our scars to redeem others.
The miracle of the resurrection is more than Jesus simply coming back to life. The power that raised him from the dead reshaped his body as well. He appeared to Mary in the garden and she thought he was the gardner. He walked Emmaus Road with two old friends who could not recognize their Rabbi. His resurrection body defied the confines of everyday life: fear-locked doors could not hold him at bay. He was, quite literally, a walking miracle.
Yet he chose to keep the scars of his crucifixion. Have you ever wondered why? When the good news was too good for his friends to believe, Jesus showed them the scars from his past. The hole in his side brought Thomas to his knees in worship. The nail prints in his feet and hands reassured the disciples.
Jesus demonstrated that the things which have hurt us the most can be a source of hope for others. His scars testified to the reality of his past--he did not ignore the past and he did not try to hide it. He used his scars to bring peace to others.
Through radical trust in the Father and forgiveness toward others Jesus transformed the wicked acts of evil men into life and hope. Although his death and resurrection are unique, he is still our example. What about us? Can our past set others free? Can the harm inflicted upon us bring peace and hope to our friends? Or will we--like the unforgiving woman I met years ago--use our scars to buy sympathy and attention for ourselves?

Four Hopeful Imaginations: How to read the scripture with your heart

The hillside is bathed in golden light as pilgrims walk up the dusty hill. They gather and sit as the Teacher begins to speak. The camera pulls back slowly from the Teacher, revealing a vast multitude of listeners, fixed upon every word of the Sermon on the Mount. Still the camera pulls back. The crowd is very large. There, at the very back of the crowd, at the edge of the desert hillside, one family strains to hear the blessed words.
“Eh? What’d he say?”
“I think it was ‘Blessed are the cheesemakers?’”
“Aha, what's so special about the cheesemakers?“
“Well, obviously it's not meant to be taken literally; it refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.”
Did you ever think about the people in the very back of the crowd, trying to listen to the Sermon on the Mount? John Cleese, Terry Gilliam and four of their friends did, and their imagination grew into this famous scene from The Life of Brian. Such frivolity provides an example of listening to the word of God with our imaginations as well as our intellect. Monday’s Meditation suggested “Godly hope springs from a Biblically informed imagination,” and while some would dispute whether Monty Python qualifies as a Biblically informed imagination, Cleese and the boys will act as our spiritual formation guides today.
I’d like to suggest four ways to engage the inspired text with our imagination.
Imagine the setting: Jesus worked and taught in a real world. He walked real hillsides and felt the heat of the day on his body. The Son of God sweat. He thirsted. One way to hear the word of God anew is to put yourself into the setting. You needn’t be a Biblical archeologist to do so: the important thing is to take the words off the page and wrap yourself in the setting. Monty Python imagined what it must’ve been like for those who found themselves on the edge of the crowd. Their imagination inspired laughter. What could yours inspire?
Join the party: You don’t need an engraved invitation. Come in, sit down, and put yourself in the setting. It does no disrespect to the Biblical narrative to add one more person to the scene. You could be the thirteenth disciple. Or the woman with five husbands. Or the rich young ruler. Dallas Willard observed that one of the first steps in hearing God in the scripture is the ability to recognize that the people of the Bible were real people, no different from you or me. Even the narrative sections of the scripture are addressed to us personally. The trick is to re-create the setting, then accept the invitation to the party.
Stay yourself, be real: Jesus isn’t speaking to other people, he’s speaking to you. Each person who heard the actual words of Jesus was a real person with a real life. This one was fisherman, who thought and responded like a working man. That one was a wife and a mother, who thought and acted in ways very different from a fisherman. If the words of Jesus are truly the word of God, they should speak to us where we are: man, woman, rich, poor, depressed, confident, gay, straight, black, white, Asian, Latin, rested, fatigued, desperate or self-sufficient. Some people engage in conversation while others ponder words in their heart. How would you have reacted if you were actually there, listening to him speak? A stained-glass answer will not do, only a real answer prepares our heart for the word.
Respond to the word. Perhaps you’ve never noticed it, but everyone in the Biblical narrative responded to the word of God. The rich young ruler went away unhappy; the woman at the well returned to town and told everyone how her life had changed. The implicit message of the Biblical narratives is simply you cannot walk away from the word of God unchanged. Yet modern readers of the Bible close the book and walk away unaffected. It’s the difference between an intellectual exercise and experiencing his words. It’s the difference between reading and living the word.
Hope comes from an imaginative engagement with the word of God. If we place ourselves in the text, be begin to imagine ourselves as real people, engaging with a real Lord. After all, we’re real, aren’t we? He’s risen and real, isn’t he? An imaginative encounter with the text produces hope because we imagine ourselves differently as a result of meeting Jesus. It’s just another way of saying, “the inbreaking of your word brings light.”

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