Christian Hope: More than a Feeling

Hello, readers!

I know you haven’t heard from me in a while and for that, I apologize. My focus has been on completing the semester in seminary and transitioning to my relatively new ministry role as a youth pastor. This semester has been one of my more difficult seasons of life due to the many transitions I have experienced. For some time now I have been reading and meditating on Ephesians. A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a student about Thirteen Reasons Why (Netflix series) and we discussed the hope that Christian teenagers have contrasted with  Hannah Baker’s  perceived lack of hope. This post is the result of a conversation with one of my students and my own need to be reminded of the hope found in Jesus.

In 2016 Tenth Avenue North released the song, I have this hope”The song is based on Isaiah 43:1-3 wherein God reminded His people that He redeemed them and would not leave them. Jesus made a similar promise to his disciples and gave us the Great Commission. (Matthew 28:18-19)  Religion is not the “opium of the people” as Karl Marx claimed. All of us were created to worship and for relationships with God and others. Christian hope is based on the objectivity of Jesus’s resurrection.

The Apostle Paul prayed that Ephesian Christians would “be enlightened and know the hope of His calling and the riches of His grace.” (Ephesians 1:18)  Paul’s rich prayer and confident trust in God should challenge the way we pray today. I will focus specifically on Paul’s prayer that the Ephesian Christians would know the hope of Jesus’s call.

Defining Terms

Reflection upon Paul’s prayer demands that we must consider how the terms know, hope, and calling are used in this passage. I am providing you with the lexical definitions from the original language.

Know: To grasp the meaning of something, understand, recognize, come to know, experience. (BDAG, οἶδα) More research is needed to determine why Paul used this term rather than other options. Hope is one aspect of the new reality inaugurated by Christ. Contrary to the view that nothing can be known I posit that there are some things that can be known and true. (See F. Leroy Forlines in The Quest For Truth, 1-2. Forlines states, “The culture which denies that Truth exists or is accessible is in desperate need of truth.”) Paul wanted his readers to comprehend and experience the reality of Jesus’s resurrection so they might experience hope.

Hope: This term has been overused and has taken on a completely different meaning in the English language than it was used in Paul’s time. We often say things like, “I hope you have a great day” or “I hope you do well on your exam” or “I hope things will all work out”. When we use the term hope we are referring to a feeling or expectation that something will happen. Paul has a different usage in mind.

Hope refers to Christian expectation rooted in the Gospel and promise of the resurrection. (BDAG, ἐλπὶς) Weeks could be spent examining each passage in the Old and New Testaments to better understand the believer’s hope but that will be reserved for another time. Paul’s desire is that the Ephesian Christians and we will comprehend with our total persons the certainty and result of God’s calling.

Calling: In contemporary language, this term has also been misused. Generally, God calls or elects disciples to make disciples. God’s appears mysterious at times but it doesn’t have to be. Paul’s prayer was that the Ephesian saints would know the hopeful implications of Jesus’s call.

BDAG defines call for verse 18 as “an invitation to an experience of special privilege and responsibility.” (BDAG,κλῆσις) What is the special privilege, you may be wondering? There are many special privileges reserved for those who have applied Jesus’s righteousness through faith, one being free access to the Father. Another privilege is that disciples are given the same authority Jesus had to effect God’s kingdom in the world.

Having defined the terms know, hope, and call we proceed to consider what makes Christian hope distinct from other forms of hope.

What makes Christian hope distinct?

Christian hope is grounded in the Gospel, the person and work of Jesus, and the promise of future resurrection. Whereas earthly “hope” relies upon feelings, Christian hope depends upon objective truth. As Christians, we must remember the difference between joy and happiness. Our hope is not grounded in our feelings but in God’s sovereignty and character.

Suffering is depicted throughout the Biblical narrative but we sometimes forget that it is a normal part of life for the believer. When we suffer we are quick to blame God while ignoring the countless promises that suffering is a natural part of our lives as disciples. (Read 1 Peter in its entirety.) We forget that when “Christ calls a man he bids him come and die.” (Bonhoeffer) When doubt feels bigger than faith we must remind ourselves of God’s promises revealed in His Word. Feelings let us down but objective truth grounded in Jesus and the Gospel never will.

Paul expressed that Jesus’s resurrection is the foundation for Christian hope. (1 Corinthians 15)  This makes our hope distinct. I am convinced there is more evidence that Jesus existed, was crucified, and risen than there is to support that he did not. If all of God’s promises find their yes in Jesus we should look no further than the Gospel as a source of hope.

Now that I have defined key terms and briefly discussed elements that distinguish Christian hope, I will conclude with some ways we can overcome despair or hopelessness today.

Overcoming Hopelessness through the Gospel

I don’t know about you but I can become discouraged and forget the hope found in Jesus. Multiple situations challenge our hope including cancer, unsaved family members, addictions, or even church conflict. Our hope is found God’s word, the Bible. It is living and active and does not put us to shame. (Romans 8:24-25)  I too struggle to remember the hope of Jesus’s calling but I have found the following steps helpful in transforming hopelessness.

  1. Commit to daily prayer even you have been slacking. You are God’s child through faith in Jesus. Prayer changes us and further molds us into the image of Christ.
  2. Find a local church to invest in. We were not meant to be Christians alone. There are NO lone ranger Christians. We need each other. Joining a local body of believers enables us to give and receive grace.
  3. Be transparent with safe people in your life. Not all persons are safe people and we cannot share our deepest thoughts and feelings with everyone. Even so, we all need accountability. Depression vanishes in the context of vulnerable and transparent people who give and receive grace regularly.
  4. Reject that the lie that you cannot be depressed and Christian at the same time. As Protestants, we do a poor job of meeting people where they are even if they are in the “dark night of the soul”. Sometimes we can pray the paint off the walls and do all the spiritual disciplines but still have despair. It’s okay to not be okay, brothers and sisters. Your problem may be spiritual but it could also be a mind problem. Thankfully God has given us tools such as Christian counseling to strengthen our total personhood.

I am praying that all of you will know the love of Jesus and will be reminded of the hope found in his Gospel. Thank you for reading!

 

 

Pardon as the Basis for Walking in Wisdom

Occasionally I like to reflect on the Psalms in addition to other devotional reading. Just the other day I was reflecting on Psalm 32. There the Psalmist reflects on the beauty of forgiveness, which is the basis for transformed living. This Psalm meditates on the role of forgiveness in everyday living. My purpose in writing is to encourage you to live a life of wisdom based on the great pardon given to you by Jesus. Before you proceed please take a moment to reflect on the Psalm for yourself.

The Psalm opens by reflecting on the blessing of being forgiven. It’s especially interesting to note the connection between sin being forgiven and sin being covered. As I meditated on these terms my mind was drawn back to the creation narrative in Genesis. Just after Adam and Eve had sinned against their covenant Lord and hid themselves from him due to their shame, He made them garments of clothing. (Genesis 3:21)

You and I have been given a new garment of righteousness from Christ. We don’t have to hide from our Lord any more. He welcomes us as His children.

The rich theology in this Psalm is furthered when David says, “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity.” As long as human persons remain in Adam God holds them guilty. He DOES impute iniquity for those who remain in Adam. How could the Psalmist say that there were people who did not receive the imputation of Adam’s iniquity? He looked forward to the day when the Messiah would come and count his followers righteous based on their faith in him. (2 Corinthians 5. We are counted as righteous when we willingly accept the atoning work of Jesus the Messiah.

David continues his discourse by saying, “And in whose spirit there is no deceit.” As humans you and I are completely sinful. We are born in iniquity. As humans we all have a tendency to be deceitful. Jesus is the only one who was free from such deceit. He is the true Israelite with whom there is no deceit. (John 1:47)

With God there is blessed forgiveness. We have committed the highest form of treason against our creator yet we are given a second chance through the atoning work of Jesus. 

Before we can be forgiven though, we must be deeply convicted about our personal sin. That’s what happened to the Psalmist. He was under such conviction that he felt the life draining out of him. David said that God’s hand was “heavy upon him.” I praise God for the calling of the Holy Spirit. I rejoice that He can sometimes make us miserable until we rest in Him. No, conviction is no fun place to be, but the Scripture reminds us that God chastises those He loves. He loves us too much to allow us to continue wallowing in our sin. So how must we respond to the gracious conviction of our Lord?

The Psalmist responded by acknowledging his sin and transgression against the Lord. God graciously forgave the Psalmist immediately after confession was made. When I learned the “Romans Road” I was most perplexed by Romans 10:9-10.

[9]  that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. [10]  For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. Romans 10:9-10, NKJV

When God convicts us we must not run away from Him. He chastises us because He loves us. The safest place for the ruined sinner is the shelter of the cross. 

Once we have been forgiven we are given instruction to walk in wisdom. It’s fascinating to me that this Psalm is called a Maschil, meaning instruction. Commentators differ on exactly what the term Maschil refers to, but some have said that a Maschil is some form of musical instruction or a song enforcing some element of wisdom. This Psalm seems to do both. What kind of life must forgiven people live? The Psalmist answers us in the latter part of the Psalm.

The reader is encouraged to pray to God for forgiveness. Forgiven people walk in wisdom. They willingly come to Christ the Savior. People who have been forgiven draw near to God because they don’t have to be controlled like a horse. (James 3:3) The Psalmist reminds us that those who have been pardoned should willingly come to their covenant Lord. The way of wisdom guides us home to the shore of God’s presence. Why does it matter whether or not we walk down Wisdom’s path?

Those who have been forgiven belong to a new community of people who are obedient and submissive to their Lord. They are not like the wicked who will have “many sorrows.” (v.10) Mercy and wisdom permeate the life of the pardoned sinner, whereas chaos and destruction follow those  who are wicked. Who are the wicked? Those who have yet to put on the garments of Christ’s righteousness and who remain in Adam are called wicked.

You and I were wicked before we accepted Christ’s gracious pardon by faith. But now we have been washed, sanctified, and justified through the active and passive obedience of Jesus. 

That’s why we can rejoice in the Lord and shout for joy. (v.11) We have been pardoned. To whom much is forgiven, much is required. Because we have been richly forgiven we should consider what kind of life we live. We will walk in the way of wisdom because our Savior is the source of wisdom itself. (Col.2:8-10) He gives us his Holy Spirit so we might live godly and holy in the present age as we await his glorious return.

So many times we attempt to modify behavior without mentioning pardon. We cannot expect people to change their mouth or their shirt before they change their heart. Once we have been so richly pardoned in Christ we will WANT to live in wisdom, the way of God. The life that brings God most glory is the life lived in wisdom on the basis of pardon. Christ has pardoned us from our blood guilt. Let’s apply ourselves to knowing Him more through the Word and prayer. This is the path of wisdom.

In my next post I will pick up with our discussion on Colossians.

My Semester in review: What I learned this semester

I have just completed my senior year at Welch College. No, I did not graduate as I still need to take a few remaining courses. This semester was one of my most blessed and most challenging yet. I was blessed to serve as a society president for a second term. I was also privileged to serve with Mr. Matthew McAffee with Campus Church responsibilities. These are undoubtedly unique experiences, but nothing in comparison to what I learned about the Father this semester. Here are some things I learned in the 2015-2016 school year.

1.) God cares for His children. He really cares. 

Following a discouraging season in my life, one of my best friends reminded me that God cared. He told me that God did not want His children to be miserable. The creator, redeemer, and sustainer over all creation cares deeply for His children. I can think of no greater encouragement than that. Thank you Mike for sharing God’s word as he had laid it on your heart. For my readers, you should take a moment to meditate on this passage of Scripture.

[6]  Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, [7]  casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6-7 (NKJV)

2.) Grace really is beautiful. 

From past due assignments to extensions on my student account I have seen God’s grace displayed among the wonderful faculty at Welch. One assignment was extremely late but my teacher encouraged me to do it the final week of school. This swayed my grade from a B to an A. I told my instructor, “I will do this assignment if you really want me to, but I do not deserve this opportunity.” He simply responded, “Do it!”. I was given a chance I didn’t deserve.

That is precisely what Jesus has done for us. He has given us a chance that we did not deserve. Now we stand in this grace. We are literally swimming in an ocean of grace. (Romans 5:1-2) 

My Nashville pastor likes to think of God’s grace like the chips and salsa you are given at a Mexican restaurant. Any Mexican restaurant worth its queso WILL NOT allow you to run out of chips and salsa. I think this is a fun illustration. Thanks Pusch!

3.) God is the giver of every good and perfect gift. He himself is good. 

If I have quoted this verse once, I have quoted it multiple times. Not only did I learn that God cares, but I also learned that He is good, despite our sometimes troubling circumstances. God is the giver of life, not death. Satan wants us to self-destruct, but Jesus wants to give us life abundant and free. (John 10:10) The following verse could be very well be my favorite for the time being.

[17]  Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. James 1:17 (NKJV)

Not only is God good, but He doesn’t change. I change, but He does not. What a great truth for us to rest our lives upon.

4.) God created us to live in community: we need friends.

In Genesis 1 we learn that God created Adam, but found that it was not fitting for him to be alone. He created Eve as a helper for Adam. Most of the time this passage refers to the beautiful union between one man and woman in marriage. Even so, it seems okay to conclude that we were also made for community. Mr. F. Leroy Forlines claims that there are four basic relationships for the human person:See Quest for Truth.

          A.) God: the most important relationship is one’s vertical relationship with the Creator.

         B.) Self: We must view ourselves as image bearers of God. We are the unique point in God’s creation.

         C.) Others: We were not made to do life alone. We need friends.

         D.) Created Order: Christians should be at the front of the line when it comes to taking care of this earth God created.

Some of the most important people in my life are Mike, Andrew, and Zach. These guys have held me up through difficult times and they have encouraged me to persevere in the good times. Aside from our coffee time together, we occasionally enjoy some chicken from McDougal’s. Some of that would be amazing about now. I love you guys and greatly appreciate your friendship. We need each other, so stay in touch.

5.) You are not the only one who is going through a difficult time. 

This semester I came to realize that other students hurt and struggle as well. There is not a single person who does not feel the bitter sting of sin’s curse on all that we do. (or don’t do.) There were many times I was given an opportunity to be an encouragement to another student. Thank you for sharing your issues with me. It is encouraging to know that we are not in the battle alone.

Take a moment and invest in those around you. You will not regret it. They need your encouragement. You need theirs. 

There is nothing more amazing than this journey of faith. God will supply the strength you need for this pilgrimage. Thank you for joining me in praising the Father for his work throughout my journey.

Changed for the Better

Change is that one word none of us like very much. Change forces us to get out of our comfort zones and do things differently. Sometimes change is a good thing even though it may happen through a difficult process. I am writing today to share with you the greatest change that has ever happened in my life, which was being redeemed by the precious blood of Christ.

Where my journey of faith began

I was raised in a broken home and for a period of time my family had no interest in God or church. My grandparents had taken me to church as a young boy and I know God certainly used their faithfulness to bring me to himself. It wasn’t until I was twelve years old that I made faith personal.

One Saturday afternoon I returned home from working with my grandfather. He was actually my step grandfather, but he always treated me like I was his family. Pastor Edward Puckett and youth pastor Andy Stidham from the Hamilton FWB church visited my family and invited us to church. My family decided not to go to church but thankfully the Hamilton FWB church had a bus ministry. The following morning I excitedly awoke and dressed for church.

About 3-4 months later I was sitting in one particular service and God was dealing with me. I remember Pastor Ed Puckett concluding his message by stating, “Some of you could leave here today and face eternity. If you have not accepted Jesus as your Lord you will not go to heaven.” In that moment I knew that if I were to die I would not to go heaven, so I walked forward and asked Jesus to forgive me and make me new. There is more to the Christian life than escaping hell and entering heaven, but this is the Truth that convinced me that was desperately in need of a relationship with God.

My journey of faith began in May 2005.  There have been good days and bad days since I became a Christian but through it all I have no regrets. Following Jesus is the greatest decision I have ever made. I have been changed for the better.

YOU can be changed for the better

Before change can happen one must recognize their need for it. We must realize that we are utterly hopeless without God. We must recognize that God alone can transform us into His image. God created man in His own image, but that image was seriously maligned after we rejected Him in Eden. Through Christ, God is renewing His image in the worst among us.   You will be changed forever when you accept His amazing work of Grace.

2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NKJV) God’s holiness demands that there must be a sacrifice to become our sin offering. Jesus the Messiah stood in our place as our sin offering. He alone was righteous enough to cover our sins. Jesus covers us with his righteousness when we accept him by faith.

If you are tired of going through the motions of life and faith, I ask you to join me at Jesus’ feet. He will transform you when you humble yourself at his feet. You too can be changed for the better by giving your life to him. We are transformed into new creatures when we fill our hearts and finds with the Truth of Scripture.

Kyle Idleman has written a great book on this subject entitled AHA. He says that three things are essential to change in one’s life of faith:

1. Awakening: This is the moment where you recognize that you have a problem. For my purposes here we will call this a sin problem. Maybe you have given your life to Christ but you have found yourself repeatedly visiting your old sins. The moment of awakening is the moment that the Holy Spirit speaks to you about your need for change.

2. Honesty: This is the moment where you come to grips with the fact that you have failed God miserably. You know that you are not living up to your God-given purpose.

3. Action: This is the most difficult part of the process because it involves correcting the problem. Idleman uses the illustration of hitting the snooze button rather than getting out of bed. If you have not been living your life for God, now is the time to recommit yourself to Him.  If you truly want to be changed for the better you must decide to do something about it.

Years ago Nike emphasized the phrase, “Just do it.” This phrase is also true of our lives. We are changed for the better when we do something about our sin problem. You see, our human nature does not naturally long for the things of God. We must feed ourselves on the Bible and prayer. When we consistently read, study, and pray the scriptures God reveals who He is and what he expects from us. To be clear, this is not a means of “earning favor” with God. He favored us when He sent his son to die for us.

I have been amazed how God has continued to work in my own life. I still have so much growing to do, but I have been changed for the better. I am longing for the day when His work in me is complete and when my new nature is fully realized. God’s work of renewing His image in all creation will continue until Jesus returns. God will transform you by His grace if you allow Him to.