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!

 

 

Choosing the Kingdom: Between Two Worlds

Every day we choose whether we will focus on Christ and his kingdom or on the temporary people, places, and events of this world. Sometimes we overemphasize one or the other in a single day. As Christians you and I must seek balance-we are to prioritize Christ and his kingdom, while not neglecting earthly responsibilities.

Luke 10:38-42 is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. This is the New Testament passage I chose to write my first exegetical paper on, as a freshman at Welch College. I have preached sermons on this passage multiple times. God is continuing to use this passage to mold me into his image.

The Text

In this passage we read about two sisters who were uniquely a part of Jesus’ ministry. Martha and Mary were friends of Jesus and were sisters of Lazarus. (John 12) You are all likely familiar with the text, but let’s take a closer look.

38Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. 39She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. 40But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” 41But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; 42but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Martha invited Jesus and his disciples into her home. We first consider her motive-why did she invite Jesus over for lunch? Was she simply being kind or was she in some way trying to impress Jesus? The latter option seems highly probable given the nature of her humanity. We don’t want to read into the text but it seems natural to question Martha’s motives.

Mary listened intently to Jesus’ teaching. This is one example of Jesus’ redefining culture. Culturally women were not permitted to sit at the feet of a teacher, especially a rabbi. Jesus did not stop Mary from listening to his teaching, though. While Martha was busy in the kitchen, her sister Mary simply sat at Jesus’ feet.

Martha asked Jesus to call her sister out. She was serving alone and wanted everyone to know it.

Do we ever serve simply to draw attention to ourselves? We don’t usually admit it, but in our pride we want everyone to know all the good deeds we do. Jesus reminds us that we should not do good deeds for the praise of man. 

Jesus did not scold Mary as Martha expected. He did not condemn Martha’s actions either. He simply said, “Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (good part=good portion in Greek, merida) Our deeds and service are important from a kingdom perspective but we must ensure that we balance service (earthly in nature) and reflection/mediation (spiritual in nature).

Some Dangers

It can be easy for us to read a passage like this and walk away with false interpretations. As Christians we do not advocate for a strict dichotomy between the material and spiritual world. We believe Christ is Lord of both. Michael Horton articulates it this way,

“But we need not choose between these two kingdoms. Citizens of both, we carry out our vocations in the church and the world in distinct ways through distinct means. We need not “Christianize” culture in order to appreciate it and participate in it with the gifts that God has given us as well as our non-Christian neighbors. Though called to be faithful in our callings until Christ returns, with Abraham, we are “looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb 11:10, hcsb).”

We do not want to neglect earthly responsibilities, but we do want to prioritize the Kingdom. That seems to be Luke’s purpose in including the Mary/Martha narrative in his gospel.

We must make God’s Kingdom a priority.

You and I are a people of the Kingdom. We have been delivered from the Kingdom of darkness (even though we still feel its presence!) and have been transferred to the Kingdom of God through Christ. (Colossians 1:13-14) We must become a people who set our minds on thinks above, while not neglecting things below. (Colossians 3:1-2)

In some sense we are between two worlds. There is present aspect to Christ’s reign but there is also a “not yet” aspect. The whole creation does not willingly submit to his lordship. As we await Christ’s return and consumption of the Kingdom, let us not neglect earthly responsibilities such as homework, work, and getting tasks done, but let us also prioritize God’s kingdom.

Becoming Kingdom Minded: Some Practical Steps

  1. Prioritize God’s word, prayer, meditation, and discipleship.
  2. Intentionally pursue and develop relationships with others. (Some we will share the Gospel with and others we will encourage in their sanctification.)
  3. Be obedient to the task God has appointed. Whatever you do do all to God’s glory. Stop viewing your earthly responsibilities as a curse. (I’m preaching to myself as well.)
  4. Prayerfully ask Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit to build the kingdom. “Our Father in heaven..let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6)
  5. Seek community through local church and relationship building.

These are just a few thoughts on making God’s kingdom a priority. My prayer is that my life will be centered around Christ and his kingdom. Peter reminds us that while we are between two worlds there is significant reason to have hope-Christ is building his kingdom and we are given an opportunity to join him in Kingdom building.

11Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! 13But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:11-13, NASB)

To my readers,

Thank you for reading my posts with patience and consistency. I hope to be posting with more regularity in the future but for now, I’ll just post when I can. Your support of my ministry is an encouragement to me!

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.