Category Archives: Hope

Hope for a Year Unseen

I want to be like Lucy Pevensie when I grow up.

Always one of my favorite Chronicles of Narnia characters, Lucy lives with joy in the smallest of moments and hopeful appreciation of people—and any other kind of creatures—around her. Her relationship with Aslan often stands in contrast to her siblings’; as the first to find Narnia she seems to also consistently be the first to seek Aslan out and follow him. When the Pevensies return to Narnia in Prince Caspian, Lucy keeps looking for him—and is overjoyed to finally find him one night when the others are sleeping.

“‘Aslan,’ said Lucy, ‘you’re bigger.’

‘That is because you are older, little one,’ answered he.

‘Not because you are?’

‘I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.’”

C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian

An Uncharted Year

With less Lucy Pevensie and more of Wile E. Coyote’s frenetic running around, I turn the calendar to a year unknown and unconquered. Page after empty page holds exciting possibilities of things planned and done and accomplished and crossed off the list.

The future is ours, right? What do we want to do with it? The next twelve months hold incredible potential for reaching goals and learning new things and trying new directions and generally attempting self-improvement.

But where is Aslan?

Like Every Year Before It

About a year ago we were looking ahead to the year that is now behind us. Unbeknownst to us, there would be events and changes that we would have never seen coming: highs, lows, in-betweens, and plenty of surprises that popped up unexpected. These last twelve months have shown us more of God at work, whether we realized it at the time or not.

In all of this, have we sought Him out? Or just tried to get things done?

As we turn to face the coming year, even more question marks—more “unbeknownsts”—fill our empty calendars. We don’t know what we will face this year. If it’s anything like every year before it, there will be some big surprises. Maybe some good ones, maybe some life-changing ones, and probably some we would rather not face.

But like Lucy Pevensie, if Aslan is there—we’ll be okay.

With Us Always

On the heels of the recent Christmas season, we go into the rest of our lives with its message ringing in our ears. There is born for you—for you—this day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

In ancient times, religious ideas mostly centered around elusive gods that existed somewhere far away from humanity. The gods of Greece and Rome, according to mythology, had their own problems and concerns and sometimes even wars with other gods. They were not very concerned with humans, but their attention could be bought with gifts and promises and sacrifices.

Can you imagine what it must have been like to believe in gods like that? To worry daily about which gods might be mad at you for your allegiance to one of their rival gods and what sacrifices you may need to offer to stay on everyone’s good side? To assume that bad things in your life came from an angry god or maybe just a disinterested one, intent on his own concerns somewhere else?

The Israelites’ God had always been different.

One God, not many. God All-Powerful, not one god warring with others for top-dog status. The God who writes all of history and brings His plans to pass and loves—truly loves—His people.

Even then, in the Old Testament, under the law, there was a sharp division between God and His people. When God came to speak with Moses, He warned the people to stay away from the mountain where they met. If they touched it, they would die. The temple itself illustrated this separation with heavy curtains dividing the people from God’s Most Holy Place.

But all that changed with Jesus.

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” John wrote (John 1:14). Emmanuel has come, and will never leave. God. Is. With. Us.

Hope in the Right Places

“Everything that is done in this world is done by hope,” Martin Luther wrote. As we turn the calendar to 2018, we hope for lots of things. Better health, better habits, a more productive life, stronger relationships. We set goals and make resolutions that may start with some strength but will ultimately fizzle out long before we expected. If we hope that these resolutions and goals will make us better people, our dreams for the new year will be dashed long before Easter candy goes on clearance.

Hope.

Not in our own self-bettering strategies. Not in a world of progress.

Hope.

Well-placed hope—hope that God will walk through this next year with us as He did this past year and the year before that and every year into the past. Like Lucy Pevensie, waiting to see Aslan move, and trusting him to work out the details of the surprises that come our way.

“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,

At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,

When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death

And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”

C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

You Can Count On It

They were hoping to bring her home by Christmas. Now they’re just hoping for a travel date before February, when the Chinese government shuts down for a month. She will be two years old soon, and her parents and sister and two brothers would be counting down the minutes until she comes home—if they knew when that would be.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Few things capture the difficulty and earnestness of waiting like Israel’s waiting for the promised Messiah. Like the forerunner slaves waiting for God to get them out of Egypt, so first-century Jews yearned for a Messiah to rescue them.

The words to “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” combine with a tune that almost sounds mournful, stirring up ideas of longing and reminding us of the centuries the Jews waited for the Messiah.

“O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.”

For us, the last pages of the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament announcement of a newborn King are only a page apart, so it’s easy for us to forget that for the people of Israel in Jesus’ time, it had been a 400-year wait. Continue reading You Can Count On It

From the Bottom of the Ocean Floor

We could probably write a what-I’m-grateful-list for each other.

It seems we all start out with that same basic list of thanksgiving: we are thankful for our family, our friends, good food, and our warm home. And our job and our car. Maybe a couple of other things, but most lists of gratitude include these—and they should. These are things we should be grateful for.

But what if we don’t have them? Is our gratitude at the Thanksgiving table this year dependent on the people around us, the food we eat, and the roof over our table?

The People of Puny Hope?

Christians are different from other people. Like the ancient Jewish leaders who sized up Peter’s bravado and his unlikely eloquence and remembered he had “been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13), people around us should be able to tell that we are different because of Christ’s work in and on us. They should ask us, Peter later wrote, about the hope that is in us—sensing that there is an anchor in our lives beyond what other religions or messages have to offer.

Paul wrote to early believers about the unquestionable truth that Jesus did rise from the dead, and will one day raise us, too. Jesus’ death and resurrection are central to our faith; without them, Paul asked, what hope do we have? “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). If all we can hope for is a good life here and now, we have a puny, pitiful hope.

Continue reading From the Bottom of the Ocean Floor

For the Fools We Are

Jesus once said that anyone who hears His words but doesn’t apply them in life is a fool; someone like that might as well be building their house on the beach with only shifting sand to hold it up (Matthew 7:26). In another parable, He told the story of a rich man who made plans as if he could guarantee his own future—but died that night (Luke 12:20). Another fool.

In the first eleven verses of Proverbs 26, there are ten unflattering references to fools and the choices they make. But before we rest in our self-righteousness, we read there’s more hope for a fool than for some of us.

Surely not us, right? We remind ourselves that we know what we are doing and we know how to make wise decisions and avoid foolish choices. We convince ourselves we’re really not that far off from the goal—not realizing how close our steps come to the edge of the precipice.

“Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 26:12).

Wisdom Never Comes From Us

Ask most Sunday School teachers about wisdom and they’ll point you to the book of Proverbs. Israel’s King Solomon, possessing “wisdom and understanding beyond measure” (1 Kings 4:29-30), wrote out common-sense sayings full of wisdom for whoever would listen to take to heart.

At first it all seems easy enough: Read the book, follow the rules, make common-sense decisions, and you will succeed beyond any fool who doesn’t listen. This is where we usually think we have it figured out.

“‘Who has made man’s mouth?’” God thundered after Moses’ list of excuses (Exodus 4:11), and we know He gave us even more than that. Who gave us any ability to think and reason and learn? Where did we get common sense, or even the guiding principles in the Bible itself? “What do you have that you did not receive?” Paul asked the Corinthians. “If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7)

While all this is true, we forget something even deeper than the source of our common sense. Perhaps we’ve reached the highest point of foolishness when we weigh all our “wisdom” and think it can get us home.

What is Wisdom? Really?

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,” Solomon wrote (Proverbs 9:10). Too bad he forgot that.

Solomon’s wisdom was so great that it drew attention from far countries, yet he foolishly threw away his own kingdom by letting his heart stray from honoring God. He followed other gods and left the only God who gave him his kingdom and his wisdom.

Solomon’s problem wasn’t just that he acted without wisdom—he left the Source of the wisdom he had.

In the beginning of his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul points out that all the wisdom in the world never led anyone to God.

“Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:20-25).

Like Solomon who—despite his unsurpassed wisdom—left God for lesser things, all of our human reasoning and ideas don’t get us any closer to God. All the arguments and reasonings and writings and speeches of experts and philosophers and any other human beings never get us anywhere we need to go. All our collective wisdom is pointless.

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” Solomon was right, even if he didn’t always live what he wrote. It is only through accepting our complete inability to find wisdom on our own and then trusting in the truth He has revealed that we will ever have any true wisdom.

When we do that, it won’t look like “wisdom” to most people.

Become a Fool

“Let no one deceive himself,” Paul wrote to the Corinthians. “If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise…” (1 Corinthians 3:18-23).

There are only two paths, just two choices. Wide and the narrow. Building on sand or building on solid rock. Following the world and its dead ways or following the living God. If we choose the narrow path, with its rocky terrain and walls on each side, we will probably look like fools to most people. Are we ready for that? Are we prepared to be called a fool (or some other name) in order to follow the narrow path and truly become wise?

When the world’s idea of common sense diverts from what we know is God’s leading, the only wise thing to do is silence the call of the crowd and build on rock instead of sand. When we walk away from our own “wisdom” and embrace the words of God, as foolish as we may look to others (and sometimes feel ourselves), we are wiser than we ever were on our own.

Hope

Jesus told a story of two men praying at the temple. One, a self-righteous teacher of Jews, prayed with pomp and pride and puffiness, reminding God that he was actually a pretty good person if you look at it right. A tax collector stood next to him, despised by his fellow citizens and essentially excommunicated by religious leaders, offering a simple prayer:

“‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” (Luke 18:13b)

The tax collector wasn’t pretending to humbly refuse what he secretly felt he had earned, but was bluntly acknowledging truths he admitted he saw in himself. This wasn’t false humility or even common sense, but a right understanding of himself, of God, and of mercy. And wisdom.

We will never be as wise as we sometimes think we are, and that’s okay. There is hope for all of us in the encompassing and inescapable love of God and His gentle guidance. He knows our failings, loves us anyway, and leads us by still waters so as not to throw us off (see Psalm 23). As we go about each day, making foolish decisions and forgetting wiser options, His grace never changes or runs out and He never changes His mind about us. We are wiser in this path of grace than on any road of common sense.

Father, be merciful to all of us sinners. All of us fools.

What Are You Seeking?

Five hundred years ago today was October 31, 1517. Michelangelo had finished painting the Sistine Chapel five years earlier, and practically everyone would still believe that the earth was the center of our solar system for another twenty-six years (and most people would still think so even after that). Christopher Columbus had discovered the Americas twenty-five years earlier, and the first pilgrims wouldn’t land at Plymouth Harbor for another 103 years. It was a time of religious wars and Black Plague.

October 31, 1517, was a day the world began to change.

The Reformation

After the days of the early church, as recorded in Acts, Christianity continued to grow. By the 1500s, the European church was headquartered in Rome, Italy, under the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, but what likely began with pious intentions had spiraled out of control and even common sense.

The Church taught that its own leaders held even higher authority than the Word of God, and the pope was believed to have the power to forgive sins. Common people were denied access to biblical knowledge and even the Bible itself, with all church services performed in scholarly Latin instead of the common language and rare copies of the Bible (also in Latin) kept away from the people—sometimes even chained to tables in monasteries. Church leaders often lived in great wealth, benefitting off of the poor of the land and through tricks such as “indulgences” marketed as spiritual but really invented in order to bring in more money.

The church needed a reformation.

On October 31, 1517, an exasperated monk walked up to the church in Wittenburg, Germany, pulled out a list of 95 complaints against the church, and nailed it to the door. And Martin Luther ignited the Reformation.

Forever Changed

Through the coming years and even decades, the Church underwent a sharp and drastic change, creating a permanent split between what is still known as the Catholic Church and the newer preaching of old doctrines known as Protestantism. Luther and others began preaching from the Bible to the people, sharing with them biblical truths that had long been hidden from them. Central doctrines were rediscovered as reformers taught that only God can forgive sins, that Jesus is our only Mediator, and that money can never buy salvation.

Like the Pharisees before them, the Roman Catholic leaders of the day fought back, charging reformers with heresy and condemning those they could to death. But God was stirring up this rediscovery of His grace, and the Gospel spread.

The Reformation is often summarized by the Five Solas: Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Sola Christus, and Soli Deo Gloria. In other words, Scripture Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Christ Alone, and To God Alone Be Glory.

It was the “Alone” that mattered. Before 1517, the Church believed in Scripture, grace, faith, Christ, and the glory of God, but it also taught that man’s works must be added to the mix in order to ensure eternal life and acceptance by God. This lie was blown to pieces by the writing and preaching and testimonies of the reformers.

More than Doctrine

But the Reformation was about more than being right theologically. It wasn’t just about changing outward appearances of religion or exchanging one dead system of works for another.

“So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell,” Martin Luther wrote, “tell him this: ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!’”

It was about seeking God Himself.

If it was only about preaching correctly the minute parts of doctrines and the Scriptures as an end in itself, the Reformation would have succeeded in truth but failed in changing hearts. As Jesus told the Pharisees fifteen centuries earlier:

“‘You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life’” (John 5:39-40).

Through the Reformation, we came to understand again that Christianity is not about obeying a set of rules and earning our own salvation. What a sad and joyless way to live. No—in Christianity, we are invited to follow the Creator God who refuses to be boxed into any system, to know the Savior who gave Himself for our debt when we could never ever have paid it, and to enjoy true life forever.

The doctrines are important. The Scriptures are vital. But they point to God, not to themselves, and call every person to seek God while he can.

Before We Seek Him, He Seeks Us

God could have hidden Himself from us. He could have stayed out of our reach, as the Pharisees and medieval church leaders and so many others have tried to tell us.

But He came.

God Himself came to us, flipping our expectations and turning all our assumptions on their heads—and seeking us. He didn’t wait for us to find some secret key or follow the hidden clues. He didn’t speak in unintelligible code through a shrouded group of prideful elites and bar the rest of humanity from attaining His presence.

He invited all of us to seek Him, and promises He will be found when we do. Not because we check everything off of someone else’s list, but because He loves us and came for us–and died for us.

Five hundred years ago today, one lowly monk in a German village nailed a list of 95 complaints against the medieval church on a church door. Through his efforts, a Reformation was ignited that has revolutionized Christianity since, and the question still stands for each of us:

What—or Who—are you seeking?