Monday, December 28, 2015

Delighting in the Hope of God

Human beings are prone to hope.  However, we do not always place our hope in appropriate ways. I misplace hope when I expect my health to hold out, ego to ease up, children to take kindly to my lessons (I give them many), car to keep running, and sports teams to achieve victory. People, places, and things cannot bear the weight of my hope. Neither can verbs or adjectives, for that matter. Enduring hope requires an eternal, fixed object.

Simply defined, hope is the ability to look beyond present circumstances to a preferred future. When we Christen the term, hope is the ability to look beyond present evil and partial glory to a perfect future brought to us in Christ. Like any Christian virtue, we may develop hope over the years.

Peter Kreeft calls hope “the hidden virtue of our time, for hope means hope for Heaven... Hope means that our heads do not bump against the low ceiling of this world; hope means that the exhilarating, wonderful, terrifying winds of Heaven blow in our ears” (Back to Virtue, 74).

Having grown drunk and dumb by the world’s deluding pleasures (e.g., TV, tanning beds, and around the clock shopping), we have traded in our hope of Heaven and Its Father for hollow persons, places, and things (as well as verbs and adjectives). To regain our hope… yes, verily, to reclaim the clamor of Heaven… indeed, to delight in God’s hope, we must revise a few of our patterns.

Delighting in God’s Hope means resurrecting the hope-bearers…
Hope is the work of the artist and visionary, parent and preacher. They can transform a blank canvas or bleak landscape into something magnificent by the grace of God. Hope-bearers have eyes to see beyond, like Lewis’ Reepicheep who incessantly scans the Eastern Horizon for Alsan’s land. Gifted storytellers must rise up and bear hope.

Hope-bearers have ears to hear, like King David who meditated on the sweet Law of the Lord with a lyre in his hand. Gifted songwriters must rise up and bear hope.

Hope-bearers have skillful hands, like the surgeon who removes the cancer and sews a thin stich; or mother who attends her child’s wounded ego with a warm embrace. Gifted workers must rise up and bear hope.

And hope-bearers have soothing words, like the preacher who mediates God’s presence with a powerful reenactment of His Word; or a teacher who gives instruction with the clarity of a swallow’s song. Pastors and teachers must rise up and bear hope.

How can you bear hope as a parent, artist, student, or employee?

Delighting in God’s Hope means rediscovering the glory of heaven…
Echoes of Eden resound in the Scriptures. From the blessing of Judah and his wine-stained teeth (Gen. 49:12) to the ornamented tabernacle crafted in the desert (Ex. 25:8) to Isaiah’s oracles concerning the New Heavens (Is. 65:17-25) and Prince of Peace (11:1-10) the resurrected Jesus breaking bread and speaking peace to his disciples (Luke 24:13-58), Eden reverberates. And God continues to call us home through a melodious sonnet, stirring film, candlelight dinner, child’s laughter, and seasonal growth of garden produce. All the partial glories are pointers to a greater reality. Our lingering sense of longing would be satisfied by a greater dose of reflection on heaven.

When did you last ponder the echoes of Eden and glories of heaven?

Delighting in God’s Hope means repenting of lesser hopes and rivals…
But heaven has its rivals. Too often we allow the signposts to serve as destinations: We sit on couches for primetime or stand on sidelines for game time, only to amuse ourselves with the fleeting pleasures of this world. Sports and sitcoms have their place, but for too many of us these take up most of our living room and weekend schedules. Of course our recreational habits form an easy target. My lesser hopes include a tasty meal, more income than expense, a good night of sleep, quality family time, a four-mile run, and job satisfaction. These partial glories should serve as reasons to praise God, not to feed my addictions. If keep these matters out of balance, my need for God grows faint.

What lesser hopes curb your appetite for heavenly hope?

Delighting in God’s Hope means restoring a proper perspective of God’s work…
Paul’s ministry aimed to make others complete (full or mature) in Christ.  He wrote, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27-28). The apostle understood this to be the overarching, good work of God, justifying the called and moving them toward glory (Romans 8:28-30). God is making us “little Christs” C.S. Lewis pronounces at the end of Mere Christianity. Thus, the image of Christ should likewise serve as our reference point, toward which we should direct all our activity.

Sometimes God uses suffering to fine tune this image (Romans 5:3-5). Other times he uses personal discipline (Bible study, prayer, fasting). Spiritual community—in the form of corporate worship, accountability, and encouragement—likewise contributes to our hope of glory. Finally, moments of intimate communion with God make His hope personal, making delight in Him second nature.

And so, to all my hope-seeking and hope-bearing readers, I leave you with this prayer:

“Now may the God of hope fill you will all joy and peace, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13, NASB).

Monday, December 21, 2015

Delighting in the Peace of God

“We need to talk.”

These words alarm me every time. I run through a list of offenses I may have caused, possible misunderstandings, or snubs. I wonder if I forgot a birthday, broke trust, or badmouthed their favorite celebrity (Sorry, T-Swizzle). I assume the worst, and warm up my defense mechanisms.

Ironically, these conversations rarely result in confrontation. Usually someone wants advice on how to share Jesus with a gay cousin or my view on handguns. Nevertheless, I always enter “we need to talk” talks with an aim to make peace (see Romans 12:18). For it is a virtue hard to win, high in price, and broken at the slightest violation.

While I know some folks thrive on drama, I tend to agree with St. Augustine’s sentiment about people going to war for the sake of peace. Human nature longs for concord (his word, not mine) with God and nature, self and neighbor. Conflict, whether interpersonal or international, aims for a better outcome. “For every man seeks peace by waging war, but no man seeks war by making peace,” he wrote in the City of God. “For even they who intentionally interrupt the peace in which they are living have no hatred of peace, but only wish it changed into a peace that suits them better.”

While Augustine does not define the peace of God in any certain terms – a peace with the apostle Paul says “surpasses understanding” – he does call peace“a good so great, that even in this earthly and moral life there is no word we hear with such pleasure, nothing we desire with such zest, or find to be more thoroughly gratifying.” Peace defines “joyful” and “harmonious” relationships in the “celestial city.” It is a peace God himself enjoys, for peace emanates from the Trinity.

So when I delight in the peace of God, I am delighting in God himself. The perfectly choreographed love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit comes to imperfect humans. We who have offended God with our rebel hearts and stiff necks, have received from Him mercy and grace, rather than terms of surrender. Jesus did the surrendering, and “made peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20).

God stopped a war in which I joined from birth as an accomplice. He issued the cease fire in my stead, stretching out his Son’s body on the cross as a tattered, white and crimson flag. Then, in an act of triumph, the risen Jesus took captive the rebel army and turned them into warring saints (see Ephesians 4:7-16). His enemies became allies to stand firm against the schemes of the devil, meanwhile declaring “the mystery hidden for age” of the gospel to the “rulers and authorities in heavenly place” (Eph. 3:10-11).

Indeed, the peace of God goes beyond a cease fire. In a remarkable change of allegiance, Jesus redeems rebels and puts them into service as worshippers. “We need not be at odds with God,” the peace of God proclaims.

When we accept these terms of peace with God, we can carry on… calmly. For when experience harmony with God, we may learn to be at peace with ourselves and others. The battle with our bodies and minds, brothers and sisters, culture and environment need not paralyze us with fear or grip us with despair. 

Rather, we can delight in the peace of God - announced by angels and embodied in Jesus on that first Christmas - and extend it to others, especially those who "need to talk." 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Delighting in God's Joy

At times I’m concerned people don’t take me seriously because I’m quick to punch a line or lighten a mood. But my greater concern is that too many people take themselves too seriously. Self-righteousness is an enemy to joy. Self-centeredness is an enemy to joy. My greatest self-assessment will only-always-ever be a parody of God’s glory.

My joy, however, magnifies His praise.

I’ve talked with friends who deem joy a “personality type.” Some folks are melancholy; others are bubbly. (I must be Seltzer water.) These differences are not the result of choice and discipline, so goes the logic: we have our fathers to blame.

I don’t buy the argument. For once upon a time I was a moody teenager, guilt-ridden young man, and duty-driven husband. I was more inclined to do dishes than give hugs. My thinking cap held my emotions and self-expression in check. Myers-Briggs told me I should be judging people. The DISC test told me to dominate.

Domination, I learned, does not inspire happy friendship. Condemnation rarely provokes a laugh. So I gave my personality a writ of divorce and began to date delight.

To be fair, my kind and compassionate Heavenly Father set me up. He initiated a courtship with Joy by pulling a few strings. He shattered some of my dreams. He loosened some of my chains. He refined me through the love of a wife and blessing of children. He directed me to authors whose wit and wisdom captured my imagination (e.g., G.K. Chesteron, C.S. Lewis, Eugene Peterson). He gave me an opportunity to lead in a church on the fringe of relevance in a land called Honali where I’ve recently preached with my fly down.

And He has yet to release me from being a Browns fan (the ultimate comedy of errors).

The force of these elements over the course of time has begun to carve out my ego like a gorge. The sound of laughter echoes in my mind; the pious voice of self-importance diminishes. I still have my bad days (so I keep blogging), but more and more I bask in the fullness of Joy bequeathed by Jesus.
(How can you not experience Joy when using words like bask and bequeath? The Word became flesh binds us together through the gift of words!)

I know there is a dark side – more real than Lucas Films – that haunts the soul. Sin and suffering plague us all. Some of our pains are self-inflicted. Some of our hurts result from the fallen condition of the world. Sin and sorrow linger.

And yet, light broke through the darkness in dramatic fashion (Luke 1:79; 2:9, 22; John 1:4).
God knit a baby named John in the womb of old and barren Elizabeth.
God conceived Jesus in the womb of a virgin named Mary.
God spread the “good news of great joy” through a game of Telephone between glorious angels and gritty shepherds.
Dying Simeon danced for joy at the sight of the Christ Child.
Widowed Ana wept for joy at His appearing.
The whole gospel story resounds with the angelic proclamation: Nothing is impossible with God! (Luke 1:37)

Joy does not focus on the darkness, my depression or disposition. Joy fixates on the light, watching for God to break through the impossible, or simply to break the dawn. For the same God who sent the Bright Morning Star (Rev. 22:16), rejoices daily in raising the sun. “Do it again,” God says, according to G.K. Chesterton. Every day is an encore of His eternal joy.

“It may be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life… Perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony… It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite for infancy. But we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” (Orthodoxy, 52) 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Delighting in the Love of God

I find refuge in the love of God. I don’t speak of this remarkable attribute of God as often as I think of it, fearing cultural misunderstandings of love will pervert “love so amazing, so divine.” Our culture equates love with an emotional state, a gushy feeling, a temperament. Or a sexual act. So husbands and wives (or moody teenagers) fall in and out of love as quickly as seasons can change or the sex drive dries up. Our expressions of love ring hollow like Hallmark cards.

But to remain silent about God’s love only gives the cultural misunderstandings greater footing. “Christ’s love compels us,” wrote the apostle Paul (2 Cor. 5:14). I include myself in his company. God’s love goes beyond the boundaries of time and space, my hurts and hungers, my sin and shame. He loves eternally, unconditionally, and with the intimacy of a father, bridegroom, brother, and friend.

Below are a few meditations on God’s love.

Love forms the core of God’s self-disclosure and His people’s understanding of Him.
When passing by Moses in the cleft of the rock, God says: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7, ESV). This is the most concise reckoning of God's essence. (Holy, holy, holy comes in second place.)

Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, God’s people repeat this short creed in Psalms, prophecies, and prayers. See Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm86:15; 103:8; 108:4; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 1:2.

In his first letter, the elder John makes the love of God most explicit (1 John 4:7-21). “God is love,” he writes, and proceeds to give the evidence for and ethic of God’s love (Jesus’ sacrifice and our reciprocation).

Love defines the core of God’s law and His people’s response to one another.
When asked to summarize the Law, Jesus preached with precision eluding most pastors. He narrowed the discussion to two imperatives. Love God. Love neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40). In the final evening with his disciples, Jesus reiterated this “new commandment. "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35, ESV) Love among fellow Christ-followers, the apostle John later says, gives ongoing testimony to the love (and fellowship) of Jesus (1 John 1:1-4).

Love employs powerful metaphors of personal relationships.
While human relationships may be marred by brokenness and betrayal, the pain they are capable of only underscores the power they harness. God was not afraid to use images of human relations, as fragile as they are, to illustrate his exceptional love for His people. He refers to Himself as Father (Hosea 11) and Husband (Isaiah 54:1-10). Jesus is our brother (Hebrews 2) and friend (John 15:13). He adopts us into his family as blessed and glorious heirs (Ephesians 1; Romans 8). He hears our cries, secures our destiny, and lavishes us with every good gift (James 1:17).

Love marks Paul’s prayers as the spiritual reality he longed for God’s people.
The Apostle Paul repeated many key petitions – for open doors and golden opportunities, for spiritual protection and insight, for power and glory to define the church of the living God (Romans 15:13; Ephesians1:17-19; Philippians 1:9-11; Colossians 1:9-12; 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24). Of all his prayers, the request that God’s people know God’s love stands out as my favorite. I pray it every night for my girls. I pray it regularly for my church. And envision Jesus, peeking over the edge of heaven, and praying it for me (Rom. 8:34).

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19, ESV)