Gospel Hope

When you stop to think about it, you’re life is all about hope. Every decision, every good or bad moment is about hope and expectation and then, whether that expectation is met or not. Think about it: “I hope this person likes me.” “I hope this relationship works out.” “I hope to pass this test.” “I hope I graduate.” “I hope this job becomes mine.” “I hope I stay healthy and grow old. “I will do this or that…” And then something or someone steps in. And when it doesn’t happen we’re disappointed, upset, angry, even despairing. In fact, you could go so far as to say, all frustration and disappointment in life is a result of, or birthed out of, unmet expectation.

And beware: Christmas ramps this up in spades. All of this season’s ads are pummeling you with false hope. We’ll see hundreds, even thousands, of ads this month promising you something- offering hope. What we see is an embellished vision of life created by a media- drenched culture that changes our expectations. It captures our imagination and convinces us that life should be like this. In fact, there’s a term for it: it’s what sociologist Krishan Kumar (at UVa) calls “hyper-reality”. He says, “Our world has become so saturated with images and symbols that a new ‘electronic reality’ has been created, whose effect is to obliterate any sense of an objective reality lying behind the images and symbols.” In other words, the images and the symbols that represent the things that stand behind them 
are actually overblown, exaggerated and embellished. We create in our minds a world that is not based on reality. As a result our hopes are heightened even more and our expectations are exaggerated and we’re always left wanting, even despairing.

We place our hope in something or someone and we expect that thing or person to deliver. The Scottish writer, Allan K. Chalmers, wrote, “The grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.” We all place our hope in something or someone. But it is the Object of our Hope that makes ALL the difference. So, rightly understood:

Christmas is all about hope created, hope lost, hope restored, and hope realized. Indeed, this is the story of redemptive history. And HERE is the great human problem: We are prone to place our hope in things that cannot deliver. But here’s the ironic twist:

The doorway to hope is hopelessness. The only way you find true hope is to give up on all those other things in which you place your hope. And for hope to be hope (not wishful thinking but biblical hope), it must fix what’s broken. If not why hope in it? And we must realize that the answer is not found in us or anything this world can offer. There’s no horizontal hope.

Hopelessness is the doorway to hope. When you finally give up on the idea that you will find hope in the horizontal, you’re at the doorway of REAL hope, that gives life. And when you open the door, guess who’s standing there? Jesus. When you give up on horizontal hope then you’re ready to look up and find the only hope that matters. Have you given up on all those other things? Do you still think you’ll find your personal savior in something or someone else? Give up on that perfect relationship. Give up on that perfect job, the perfect body, the perfect marriage, the perfect house, the perfect kids. Give up; those things are fruitless. But HOPE has come.

Biblical hope is a bold and certain expectation that God will do what He says He will do.

Biblical hope is synonymous to trust. It is not synonymous with a wish or desire. Those who hope in the Lord, are those who trust in Him- and trust is equivalent to obedience. Hope is not a magic wand or a good feeling- ultimately hope is the result of obedience. Hope is a firm reliance on the preferred or future Story of God. 

Hope is not a situation, it’s not a circumstance, it’s not a thing.

Hope is a Person and His name is Jesus.

 

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:13

October 31, in 1517, was a day that changed the world. It was “All Hallows Eve”, the day before the day when all “hallows”, or “saints” who had died were recognized and honored. Hallows Eve is now our Halloween, still the day before all saints day. On that day, in 1517, a little known priest named, Martin Luther, posted 95 theses (grievances, complaints) that he had with the Catholic Church, by nailing them to the front Door of the Church in Wittenburg, Germany (where he was a priest and university professor). Though odd to us today, his act was a way to post an opinion to the public (like a writing on an OpEd page or posting on Social Media). The printing press was just coming into play – which would be as dramatic as the advent of the internet- but by nailing his 95 theses on the church door he was launching his opinions for anyone in town to discuss, deliberate, and debate. This single act sparked the Protestant Reformation.

The Reformation was a rediscovery of the major beliefs of orthodox, biblical Christianity. It was a rediscovery of the Gospel. This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Historians and theologians observe that, about every 500 years, the empowered structures of institutionalized Christianity, whatever they may be at that time, become an intolerable covering, or a hard shell, that is broken, even shattered, in order for renewal and new growth to occur. It’s an unsettling time, but the result is always a fresh and revitalized expression of the Faith, and advancement of the Gospel. Consider, of course, the Great Christ event (His incarnation, perfect life, substitutionary death, and victorious resurrection) that split history into BC and AD. Then around 500 years later we see the Great Fall of Rome occurred and the Great Pope (Gregory) brought reform to the Church and the Gospel spread westward into Europe. Then the Great Schism (of 1054) took place, that split the Church between the West (Roman Catholic) and East (Orthodox Church). Then, in the 1500s, the Great Reformation took place, resulting in a dramatic shift of theology and practice- called Protestantism. And now we’re experiencing what some are calling the Great Emergence. We’re praying for a Great Revival that will bring dramatic changes.

Historically, when this upheaval takes place, there is first, a more vital form of Christianity that does indeed emerge. Secondly, the organized expression of Christianity (that up until then had been the dominant one), rediscovers a more pure and less fossilized expression of its former self. And thirdly, every time the fossilized form of an overly established Christianity has been broken open, the Gospel has spread dramatically into new geographic and demographic areas, which exponentially increases the range and depth of Christianity’s reach as a result of its time of unease and distress.

So what we see in the Reformation is that the birth of Protestantism not only established a new, powerful way of what it means to be “Christian”, but it was a history-making shift that resulted in social and cultural movements of global proportions. We are experiencing that kind of historic shift in spirituality and Christian life in our day. Through it all the Church remains the most resilient movement on the planet because she is constantly being driven back to her roots, by faithful preachers and Gospel-centered teachers who are found devoted to the Scriptures and centered on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The “New Reformation” that is critical in our day, is calling us back to a biblical, orthodox Christian faith. It is again, a rediscovery of the Gospel and all its implications. It is a rediscovery of Christ Himself and how His Spirit lives in us. As we celebrate the first reformation throughout the month, we will be exploring the new reformation that is needed in our minds and hearts today. I hope you will join me and pray for revival in your heart during this significant time.

Every Day Jesus – in my home.

In Colossians 3 Paul gives clear instruction on the respective roles within our families. In a less comprehensive, but parallel passage in Ephesian 5, Paul guides the Colossians regarding the radical nature of the Christian family. He speaks of the roles of each member, that are as radical and controversial today as they were when he first penned the letter in the First Century.

In the previous chapters he has explained how those who are now in Christ have been transferred from their sin and from darkness into the kingdom of His Son and are now completely forgiven, totally loved, and fully accepted by Him. We can now love others without restraint and without any need for love in return, because all the love we need we have found in Christ. In Ephesians 5, He says that we are to all submit to Christ, and in fact, “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”. We are to love each other as He has loved us. Imagine a home where everyone does that. Imagine a world like that. That is the kingdom of God, on earth. In that context, He very clearly outlines the roles of each member of the family.

“Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”Colossians 3:18-21

  • The role of wives: submit 

Hupotasso in the Greek means to arrange under, to subordinate, to subject one’s self, to obey, to submit to one’s control, to yield to one’s admonition or advice, to be subject- and immediately some of us think, whoooah. But remember that Paul also reminds us in Ephesians 5 that marriage is (what Tim Keller calls), “Gospel reenactment” in the home. Marriage portrays the Gospel. It is a picture of Christ and His Church. In this analogy, Christ is the Groom and the Church is the Bride. The Church submits (same word) to Christ who is the Head of the Church – as the man is head of the home. But let’s delve deeper into this submission. The question is not will the woman submit, anymore than will the man submit – but to whom will she submit? To whom will he submit? To understand the wife’s role we must understand the husband’s role. The implication is that the man has been reshaped by the Cross.

It’s as if Paul is saying, women: Don’t give yourself to a man whose heart has not been radically altered by the Gospel. If his male ego has not been set in its rightful place by the finished work of Christ, don’t marry him.

But what does it look like? He does not give us details but instead, tells us to look at Jesus and His love for us. Does the husband make all the decisions? Does the husband tell his wife how to spend money? Does the husband’s 50% of the relationship outweigh hers? What Paul is telling us is that two people, given over to marriage (seeking to live for Christ), will seek to serve the other. We often bring our family of origin into the mix to define the roles of the family. But your family and your experience is negotiable, but God’s plan is not. Each is to serve the other.

  • The role of husbands: love

“Husband” means house dweller or steward. Men: your role is one of stewardship. You do not own your wife, your kids, or your family- God does. You are the steward of your home, your family. And your role is two-fold stewardship is to provision and protection.

Alain de Botton wrote an article in the Op Ed section of the NY Times entitled, “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person”. His point is essentially that you never really know the person you’re marrying. He says an early date question should be: “In what way are you crazy?” He concludes with this statement: “Compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its precondition.” That is Gospel love. Last week a couple in our church celebrated 77 years of marriage. They have an amazing, selfless love for one another. That is Gospel reenactment. And on the front row, watching this Gospel lived out in the family are the children.

  • The role of children: obey

If mom and dad are loving each other as Christ has loved us then children will obey. Husbands: love, lead, and serve like Jesus. Wives submit to that and children obey that kind of love. Parents need to RE-think the family as your primary discipleship group. It is your role to devote yourself to the love of Christ for you and to live out of that – “in Him” as Paul states it over and over again.

As we dive into a new school year. Let’s be clear about the biblical roles within the family. Husbands love, as Christ has loved us – willing to die (daily) for your wife and children. Wives submit to a man who is seeking to do that (though never perfectly), and children obey in the context of a grace-centered, Gospel-drenched family. And this will be the greatest school year you have ever known, regardless of what comes your way.

One One Year Later – Let’s not give up. – July 7, 2017

A year ago tonight, fourteen people were shot and five Dallas Police officers were killed during a peaceful protest in downtown Dallas. It was the single most fatalities among law enforcement since 9/11. And Dallas was brought to her knees. The peaceful protest had been formed in response to the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, two black men who were killed by law enforcement in Minnesota and Louisiana, just days earlier. The sniper said he wanted to kill white people, and white officers in particular.

Like many, my summer evening was interrupted by images on TV, as I watched in horror, struggling to believe that this could happen here in our beloved city. Immediately my mind raced back to a few years earlier when my friend, Pastor Bryan Carter, and I asked the question, “What if Ferguson happened in Dallas? Would we be ready?” The quick was answer, “no”, we realized we were not ready to respond. The greater Church of Dallas was not ready to respond, so it would be difficult for the city to come together and respond in peace with a collective response to bring hope and healing.

The broader church of Dallas, across racial lines, simply did not know each other. We began pulling pastors and leaders together to talk about the racial divide in Dallas and our nation. Over time, we did come to know each other. As a result, we came to love each other. We began meeting, praying, swapping pulpits, serving together, and members of our churches met members from other churches across racial lines. And God showed up. Through Movement Day, Transform Dallas, the pulpit swaps, prayer meetings, men’s and women’s gatherings, our hearts were softened, grace was extended, and we were ready to love others, only after we came to love each other. We learned that empathy truly is the pathway to peace.

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

We began to ask : How do we do justice in Dallas, Texas? How do we love kindness? How do we walk humbly? We discovered that humility leads to empathy, kindness leads to progress, and justice leads to healing.

We have a long way to go, but we know this: Racial reconciliation is a result, an implication, of the Gospel. If God’s people love Him and embrace the Gospel and its implications, we will display the Gospel in every aspect of life. And in its corporate expression, its diversity, would reveal the love of God, “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 3:10 Literally, the “multi-colored wisdom of God” would be on display.

In many ways, by the sovereign Hand of God, we were ready when the shootings took place a year ago. The Church was ready and responded. We came together the next morning at Thanksgiving Square (credit the work of our mayor, Mike Rawlings, who reached out to the faith community). We came together the next night at Concord Church to declare, Together We Stand. In the days that followed we organized a clergy mobilization meeting that continues to meet. Pastor Richie Butler has led an initiative called, The Year of Unity that continues on throughout this year. We have discovered that we need each other in ways we never realized. We’ve learned that we must recognize and embrace the definitive source of our Hope. The Good News of Jesus Christ actively undermines the sins that feed racial strife, and leads to a many-colored and many-cultured kingdom expression of God’s people. If we go at this alone they will not believe. But together we challenge presuppositions and prove that the Gospel makes one what was formerly divided. Our love for each other proves our faith in Christ.

A year later I think progress has been made, but we have long way to go. We must not give up. We must walk in humility, seeking to understand and empathize. We must, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15 When someone’s life is taken (black, white, officer, civilian) it is not the time to talk about the “facts”. There’s a time and place for the facts, but it’s first a time to weep. Can we not simply weep and grieve with families who have lost loved ones? Can we pray with them and for them? And when our brothers and sisters are weary and sad, it is time for the entire Body of Christ to respond with understanding, in prayer, and love. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” 1 Corinthians 12:26

Let us empathize. Let us intentionally pursue one another. Let us persevere. Don’t give up. Increase your ethnic I.Q. You cannot get a G.E.D. if you don’t understand white culture, but you can get a doctorate and know nothing about black culture. Expand your relational world into places where people don’t look like you.

Thank you to my black brothers and sisters who have not given up, who put up with us, who have forgiven us for saying things we did not understand. We are sorry that it has taken such a long time to understand. We are sorry that many of us have not stood with you in the past. It is a new day and many are ready to stand with me, with you, as we seek one nation under God. Even more, let’s be the answer to the prayer of Jesus in John 17 – one Church, under God, in Him. Let us not give up. May this anniversary help us grieve, weep again, determining to be the change we want to see in the world. Let us be angry over injustice and yet not sin. May we pause, pray, and remember. And then, let’s finish the work that God has called us to.

 

When Bike Meets Car

There’s an old adage among cyclists: “There are two types of riders; those who’ve crashed and those who are going to.” The longer you ride, the more likely this is realized. I’ve been in a few crashes. While in a large peloton, I went down hard at mile 48 (in the “Hotter than Hell 100”, in Wichita Falls). Miraculously, I didn’t break any bones, though I ended up with the worst road rash I’ve ever had. I finished the race, but later discovered my bike was totaled with a cracked frame. My helmet was cracked as well.

I had never been hit by a car, until a few weeks ago. And when bike meets car, there is no contest. Thankfully, I was not going fast nor was the car, but it was enough to take me down quick and the result was a fractured fibula and three broken bones in my ankle. I’m in week three of a long recovery. Six to eight weeks of no weight-bearing activity and ten weeks before I can drive. I will then be in therapy to strengthen the atrophied muscles, then six months to a year before I’m 100 percent.

But enough with “lesser things”. There’s a much bigger story here, and it’s the story we all find ourselves in. When bike meets car happens on a daily basis for all of us. When expectations meet reality is a daily challenge. When our hopes and dreams are shattered like my right ankle, what do you do? When joy and sorrow collide, how do you worship God? I’ve been holding on to and revisiting Romans 8:28-29. Read it again carefully:

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Romans 8:28-29

Here’s what I’m learning:

  1. God has a bigger plan than ours and it is great and glorious. We often read verse 28 without verse 29 and the two are inseparable. All things work together and it seems most of “all things” are bad But God works bad things into good things. Only He can do that, showing Himself sovereign, all-powerful, and loving. The key is to notice His purpose toward which He’s working all things. His purpose is for us to be “conformed into the image of His Son”. If we have joined Him in that purpose, then we have given our lives over to whatever He deems necessary to see that purpose fulfilled. We are not our own. We have truly become the clay in the Potter’s hands. We are liquid; He is the Cast. We are soft and pliable; He is the Mold. In short, we are the created and He is the Creator. He is God and we are not.
  2. God is big enough for our questions and bigger than our disbelief. When we initially face the trauma of a life disrupted, we are shocked and surprised that things will no longer go along the track we had laid out for ourselves. We need time to adjust to the new plan, regardless of how dark or hopeless it seems initially. In the early phase of a life interrupted, all we have are questions. God is big enough for all of our questions, even if they come to Him out of anger and disbelief. Sometimes we want to crawl into His lap other times we want to beat His chest. He’s big enough for both and our angst does not phase Him for a moment.
  3. Sometimes you can only hold on to what you already know. Even in our shock and change of plans we can trust the God of our experience – the God of the Bible. He is faithful and true and does not change. Clearly, if you have walked with Him closely prior to this sudden change of direction, you are quicker to trust that He is in control and has your best intentions in mind. You’ve seen it before. You know that He is true. If you have not, this phase can be brutal and will set the course of which way you will go from here. This is when you must turn to Scripture and to those who will speak the truth about God to you. Knowing who He is, we know that when you can’t see His hand we can trust His heart. He is at work. Almost always we see, looking back, how He was at work during hard times. The goal of the disciple is to see this gap between moments of suffering and complete trust condensed into real time. We really can trust Him in the moment of suffering and pain. This is worship.
  4. We cannot dictate to God what we want as conditions for our obedience. Our role is to trust and obey. His job is to place us in situations and circumstances by which we are conformed into the image of Jesus. This is His great and glorious plan for us. And the more we trust that it is best to be like Jesus, the more we are ready to embrace whatever comes our way in life. In the end (if you live long enough), you realize you do not control what comes at you in life anyway. You only control your response to it all. And it is comforting to know that “all things” come to us first, through the loving hands of our Father.
  5. Our role is worship, through obedience; His role is to conform us into the image of His Son. I’ve learned it really is possible to worship Him, even through writhing pain and severe suffering. Job, who serves as the constant example of worship through suffering, taught us that there is something better than getting all of your answers. He got something better than answers. He got God. Through worship we get God Himself and discover that He really is enough. As we worship Him through obedience (trusting that He is good, loving and kind), we become more and more like His Son.
  6. The Spirit speaks to us when we quiet all of our intellectual questions and get alone with Him and listen. When we are debilitated (physically, mentally, or emotionally) we find ourselves quiet and sometimes alone. Pain is humbling and sets us on our backs before God. It forces us to “be still” (literally, to “let our hands hang down”) and know that He is God (Psalm 48:10). At some point we must stop asking questions and choose to listen to His Spirit speak. He does so through His Word, so we must stop listening to our souls and start speaking to our souls. And what we speak must be the truth. His Word is truth. When we slow down to listen to Him, He speaks. When we don’t, He doesn’t. Pain forces us to stop working and to stop talking and He speaks to us in quiet solitude.
  7. God uses loving people as instruments of hope and healing. We cannot make it through pain and suffering alone. I do not know where I would be right now without the loving care and patient presence of my wife. Stacy has been by me to serve me in every way. In the midst of so much in her own life, she has shown me what unconditional love looks like. Apart from the Spirit’s presence in my life, she has been the single greatest gift in this time of suffering. Indeed, the Spirit has done His work in larger part through her. I’m not used to being on the receiving end of care and it is difficult and humbling. It is also a glory to God to see my loving wife as the tangible hands and feet of Jesus. Miraculous really. I have also been blessed by the outpouring of love from my amazing church family. From our preschoolers to the eldest among us, the love of Jesus expressed, has given me hope and kept me going. There is nothing like the local church. Do not neglect the power and purpose of being devoted to the Body of Christ. Love one another. Serve each other in love. This is the church at its best.

So when bike meets car life is turned upside down, at least for a while. I’m told I will be back to normal some day. I know others who do not have that hope. The true heroes are those (mostly older friends) who have gone through much worse than me and have no hope to improve, but continue to worship God fervently. These are the ones who have learned what I’m seeking to embrace with all my heart. Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is ours in Christ and we know that “in all these things” He is at work to conform us into the image of His Son – all for our good and all to the praise of His glorious grace.

What a good God He is to us.