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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Entries in Jesus (3)

Incognito

I caught up with Jesus one day a couple of years ago. He was hanging out in a dingy hospital room in Columbia, Kentucky.

His diabetes was acting up again, which was no surprise because dumpster-divers don’t have the best diet even on a good day. He had already lost a few toes here or there in the previous years, but this time he was facing the possible loss of his foot. (Spoiler alert: don’t worry—I prayed for him, his condition improved, and he ambled away from the hospital on both feet a few days later.)

I’d actually been hanging out with Jesus for a couple of months, but I’m a little slow to recognize old friends.

It started when a guy named Bill came to church. You couldn’t miss him: a rumple of a man well over six-foot tall, with shaggy wrinkled clothes topped off by a white beard and white hair, neither of which had seen a comb in weeks. Everything about him screamed homeless. Bill’s massive frame ambled along slowly as the result of his missing toes. The only thing more worrisome than whether he would make it to the coffee bar without falling was the possibly that he would make it to the coffee bar and then try to walk away holding his hot coffee.

Bill and his coffee made it safely to one of our café-style tables, so I introduced myself. I did so more out of a concern for other’s safety than to make him feel welcome. (When you see people like Bill your first thoughts are about the possibilities of what could go wrong.) I wanted to check him out first-hand. Everything about Bill was confusing. Where are you from? I used to drive a truck in the Northeast. How’d you hear about our church? I drove by the other day. Tell me about your family: I think they’re in Indiana, at least, they were the last time I talked to them. When the service started Bill worshipped the same way most of us did, except he was taller, shabbier, and scarier than the rest of us. He raised his hands and tilted his head upward, soaking in the genuine praise around him.

Bill became a regular among us. He introduced us to the people in his entourage. He took care of Roberta, 60-plus years old: short, loud, and extremely off-putting. Plus, she was pretty ugly. One week Bill pulled me aside and apologized for her behavior and explained that her family had thrown her out on the street. He said he was now her only protection. They lived together in an abandoned mobile home out in the county. There didn’t seem to be anything awkward about the arrangement because Roberta definitely needed protection, mostly from herself. A few weeks later Bill brought Doug and Maria, a thirty-something couple. Doug seemed almost normal and Maria was almost certainly mentally handicapped. They were both embarrassingly overweight. Bill told me they were down on their luck and needed a place to stay until they got up on their feet. Bill’s squatter mobile home didn’t have heat or electricity but it was safe and dry, so he opened his home to them.

Bill came to church early and loved to greet people. If they asked what he did for a living he smiled and said simply, “I’m a dumpster-diver.” Which was true—that’s how Bill cared for Roberta and provided shelter for Doug and Maria (although he once complained to me privately that Doug ate too much—especially the fresh produce he regularly scored at the supermarket dumpster.) The brave people who asked how Bill came into that line of work heard about the stroke he suffered while behind the wheel of a truck in downtown New York City. It seems Bill lost consciousness and drove the truck into the entrance of a Manhattan office building. That’s when he switched careers.

One day Roberta came to church alone. She told me Bill was in the hospital.

Small-town Kentucky hospitals can be pretty depressing places, but when I walked into his room Bill looked up and gave me a smile from his bed. The smile was his big mistake; that’s when I saw through his disguise and figured out I was in front of Jesus. I tried to play it cool and not let on. Bill asked about my family. He asked how the church was getting along. He put me completely at ease. There, in his hospital room, he was a gracious host.

The visit felt weird because I had come to pray for his foot. His circulation had failed. The foot was turning colors and he was likely to lose it above the ankle. He needed healing, but it’s difficult praying over his ankle because after all, I was ministering to the Lord of Glory. When we finished praying I asked him if he felt any better. He said, “I’m not worried. It’ll all work out.” It did. The circulation returned. He was discharged and came back to church just a few more times before he moved on to Indiana. He said he wanted to see his family.

A few months later I received a handwritten letter, blue ink on a notebook page. The ragged little pieces from where the page was torn out of the spiral notebook tickled the fingers of my left hand. Doug and Maria had found public-assisted housing. Roberta was ill and perhaps sick unto death. Bill was finding riches in the dumpsters of southern Indiana.

He thanked me for the welcome he had received in Kentucky. I sat holding the letter, but I couldn’t recall if I had ever thanked him.

Monday's Meditation: Eternity in our Hearts, Revealed Day by Day

God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. ~ Ecclesiastes 3:11
When I look at my children I see the beauty and grace of creation. They’ve been shaped by the hand of God, kissed to life by his breath. I see decades of life to come: joy and laughter, worry and fear, discovery and rest. I’m a father, a man with limited experience and wisdom, a man filled to overflowing with love for my children but also aware that my cup doesn’t hold nearly enough love to give them all they need.
Then I turn my attention to the perfect parent, the Heavenly Father, and I begin to understand his love and care have no limit. He has given us everything we need for life and godliness. The DNA of his Spirit contains eternity, buried within us like treasure in a field. He watches and waits for us to discover the wealth.
Jesus, the God-Man, demonstrated how to seek and find the treasure. He told us the Kingdom of God was within us, and also told us the Kingdom was breaking in from above. His actions and his words demonstrate a beauty Solomon could only glimpse in Ecclesiastes. If it’s true that God has placed eternity in the hearts of men, then Jesus gave us words for what our hearts already know. When I come to Jesus my heart burns from within because deep calls to deep. 
Solomon may have been correct when he wrote these words, but his insight has been superseded by the Incarnation. It’s more than a week’s worth of mediation, but I hope to unlock the eternity in my heart by coming to the one who holds the key. What about you?
Perhaps you will pray with me (and our brother from 1,600 years ago) “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

The Impossible Mentor?

I knew it was a mistake as soon as the words left my mouth. Sitting in my office was a young man who had been cheated out of $200 by someone else in the church. Both men attended our church, and one guy really did owe the other $200. But the guilty party wasn’t in the office, the other guy was--and he was full of anger and frustration because of his loss. That’s when I made my hasty suggestion:

“You could forgive him his debt,” I suggested. “Jesus told us to do just that.” Big mistake.

“Well I’m not Jesus!” he nearly shouted back at me. End of discussion, end of ministry time, end of opportunity to take the yoke Jesus offers. It was my mistake. Not for suggesting a perfectly Biblical remedy to his anger and frustration, but for expressing the solution in such a way that he would consider it impossible.

It’s impossible to be like Jesus, isn’t it? Jesus was perfect. He led a sinless life. He was God-come-to-earth and his life sets the bar impossibly high for any of us.

I believe that the central problem in nurturing followers of Jesus in North America is our view of Jesus as the Impossible Mentor. It’s a paradox: nearly everyone is willing to acknowledge Jesus as a worthy role model, but almost no one seriously believes it is possible to live up to his example. Our esteem for Jesus’ life of obedience to the Father and our desire to be “just like Jesus” does battle with the deep-seated notion that it is impossible to be like him. Who would choose a mentor who is impossible to imitate?

Some passages in the Scripture inspire fill us with confidence. Some light the fires of hope in our hearts. Other passages seem too idealistic, too fantastic to find their way into even our dreams, much less our daily lives: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8: 29) Is this possible? Does God really look at each one of us and see a destiny in which we look like Jesus?

Whatever our theological foundations regarding this passage we should all recognize that it is about God’s intention for each of one us--to become “conformed to the likeness of his Son.” Simply put, God desires to have more children like Jesus. Jesus is God’s only begotten Son, but we become his sons and daughters by adoption. The destiny of those adopted into the family of God is that we, too, should bear the family likeness. That is: we will look just like Jesus.

In a conversation with a dozen young Christians this week, I asked them if they felt it was possible to live a life without sin for even one day. No takers. So I rephrased the question and asked if it is possible to go for an hour without sinning. Only one of them thought it was possible to stay within the will of God for a single hour.

These questions are not academic. They go to the heart of our life “in Christ.” If our intuition tells us that following His example is impossible, for one day or even an hour, how can we have the confidence to pursue his vision for us? The bottom line is that God has a greater vision for what is possible in our lives than we do. Perhaps the reason the Apostle Paul instructs us later in Romans to “be transformed by the renewing of your minds” is so we can see the possibilities of a life lived in harmony with Jesus. A practical, day-to-day moment-by-moment harmony capable of generating the rest and peace he promises.

Let me encourage you this week to ponder the foundations of your commitment to be a disciple of Jesus. Here are a few suggestions for meditation and prayer:

Is it possible to learn from him?

If Jesus is my mentor, have I committed myself to failure with no possibility of success?

What kind of Master would invite me to be his apprentice if he thought there was no possibility to follow in his footsteps?

The answers spoken from our heart will determine whether discipleship is possible.