Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 14

hope

Always Hopes.

“Hope,” wrote Victor Hugo, “is the word which God has written on the brow of Every Man.” That is a thought-provoking description of hope. Primarily, it explains hope as a gift from God imprinted upon each of us. Hope offers us clarity to see through the fog of the finite and of the distressing. It pictures hope blazing before us like a headlamp giving us purpose for the paths we take in life. Without hope, we wander in the dark, experiencing all manner of griefs. And without hope, the human spirit withers, disintegrates, and eventually dies.

Hope is a notion the Bible addresses frequently; it conveys the recurring motif of a unique and specific hope: not a groundless, useless or foolish hope, but one of certainty; not hope centred on wishful thinking or on anything arising from this world, but hope centred entirely upon God.

“Do you not know? Have you not heard?” asks the prophet Isaiah, “The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:28-31).

Biblical hope is based entirely upon the self-revelation of God—what He has told us about Himself that impacts our existence. This hope is comprised of three things: God’s character, God’s creative works, and God’s vision for His creation.

To explore this hope, we begin by asking, ‘What has God revealed to us about His character that gives us hope?’ Several things. He is the eternal, uncreated, always-existing One, in whom is no caprice or fickleness, so we can rely fully upon Him; He has supreme power to accomplish all that He purposes, so He never makes a mistake; He is good and His acts toward humanity arise from this goodness, so we can trust Him; He is personal—fully accessible to us when we submit to an all-consuming relationship with Him, so we can interact with Him; and He is loving—gracious, compassionate, patient, comforting, strengthening and desiring of each of us to develop our eternal potential, so we can find fulfillment in Him.

Secondly, we must ask, ‘What has God revealed to us about His creative works that gives us hope?’ He created the universe out of nothing by His command—He spoke and it was; all energy and all matter arise from Him and He sustains all His creation by His own power; we humans are the apex of His creative work, designed to reflect such aspects of God that we alone of His creation are said to bear “the image of God” and thus are incredibly valuable to Him. He is in the midst of creating an unimaginable eternity for those who choose to be in relationship with Him.

And thirdly, we must ask, ‘What has God revealed to us about His vision for His creation?’ God created humans to have the gift of free will—we are not programmed robots doing God’s bidding without any choice in the matter. This is a difficult concept for us to understand, but perhaps it is because automatons cannot be in relationship with their Maker, cannot house the dignity that God designed us to contain. While each of us humans have misused our free will and rebelled in some way against Him (which He knew would happen even before making us), God set in motion a solution. He devised a ransoming rescue for humanity’s self-destructive rebellion: the dying and resurrecting Jesus. God’s vision is for a community tied so closely in relationship with Himself (as Father, as Jesus, and as the Holy Spirit) and with one another that we are to be called the “body of Christ.” And finally, God reveals to us His vision for an eternity in which we are completely unified in Him, accomplishing for Him and through Him glorious tasks as yet untold.

How does this all relate to love? We’ve been exploring the love chapter of I Corinthians 13 and we need to find the connection. How is it that “love always hopes”? It comes back to God (as everything ultimately does). God is love embodied, and God is the source of all hope. We cannot separate hope from love. A full understanding of God’s love for us is all-important—even non-negotiable—to experiencing real life-giving hope. Hoping in God is the only cure for the weariness that comes from disillusionment with this world. God’s promise to lovingly redeem even our worst situations to bring about ultimate good for those who love Him is the hope to which we must cling.

So let’s step into this day with a new reason for certain hope. Let’s be people who exude confidence because we are loved by the One who gives us the assurance that all will be well. So then, it is well, and it is well with our soul.

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Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 22

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‘Resh.’

If there is one thing God has communicated to us humans, it is that we matter. The most relevant piece of information we will ever be able to grasp is that you and I are immeasurably loved and valued by Him.

“(Our) shared core hunger,” writes Tony Schwartz in an article for the New York Times, “is for value…We each want desperately to matter, to feel a sense of worthiness.” It’s what he calls ‘The enduring hunt for personal value’. James Gilligan, who authored “Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic” after studying human violence for over 40 years, began to observe “the frequency with which I received the same answer when I asked prisoners…why they assaulted…someone. Time after time they would reply, ‘Because he disrespected me’.”

As the psalmist moves into the third-to-last stanza of the interminable one hundred and nineteenth psalm, his singular petition is that God—who has embedded an element of His own worth into each person—will express the ultimate act of valuing human life: to preserve it indefinitely.

“…Preserve my life according to your promise,” the psalmist appeals. “…Preserve my life according to your laws,” he adds, and “…Preserve my life, O LORD, according to your love.” What does he mean by promise, laws, and love as the mechanisms of preserving life—the psalmist’s life, or yours and mine for that matter?

Firstly, the promise the psalmist references goes back ages to the time of Abraham. Abraham was God’s handpicked individual to begin a nation and race of people to whom and through whom God would speak. At God’s chosen time some 1500 years later, when strange prophecies like a virgin birth came together with others in fulfillment, Jesus was born from that race. The promise made to Abraham was, in short, “You will be a blessing…and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” The promise of blessing was fulfilled not at Jesus’ birth, but at His death and resurrection, because with that moral ransom paid, Jesus made the eternal preservation of human life available to every person on this planet. That was the promise. That is what is available to each of us who have accepted Jesus as our ‘ransom-payer’; we will find eternal life with Jesus on the other side of this life. That is how the promise preserves lives.

Secondly, the laws the psalmist references go back fewer ages to the time of Moses. Moses was God’s handpicked individual to lead the nation that Abraham had fathered into the Promised Land. On that journey, Moses was also given the daunting task of teaching the nation that God is a God of integrity, and that He can only be in relationship with people who respect God’s authority to require that integrity to be developed in them. The laws were commands God clarified through Moses, commands like: “I am the LORD your God; you shall have no other gods before me” and “You shall not covet.” Those two commands alone were enough to make it pretty clear that every human on planet earth was incapable of obeying God completely. That was fine because it turns out that “through the law we become conscious of sin” (Romans 3:20). Consciousness of sin leads us to do one of two things: rebel further against God and make a grab for complete freedom from God’s presence, or submit to God in humble repentance, accepting God’s gift of forgiveness through Jesus, and access to His presence for eternity. That is how the laws both condemn and preserve lives.

And finally, the psalmist references the LORD’s love which covers both the span of eternity and of creation, of which this planet is a mere blip in time. God, who is three persons in one—Father, Spirit, and Son—exists in a unity described by perfect love. He is completely fulfilled in the expressions of love that bind the Trinity unsparingly, perfectly, and completely together. Yet somehow—in the greatest mystery of the ages—as God created the universe, He made humankind the pinnacle of His loving creative expression. To be in loving relationship with Him was the purpose God embedded into every man, woman and child. We are created in such a way that our greatest joy and fulfillment comes only through loving Him in return.

The psalmist was right. The promise, the laws, and God’s love, are the essential components of God’s great gift to us: the preservation of our lives for eternity. He values us immeasurably. He wants us to be in continuing existence with Him—in future bodies created to last forever—long after these present shadows of bodies have ceased to be preserved. So dig out a Bible. Begin again to pour through its pages and find out how God valuing our person is tied to His intention to preserve us for eternity. Come to this sanctuary of preservation.

 

HOME

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The City of Vancouver has a problem. It’s ranked as the tenth cleanest city in the world, one of the most livable places in North America, and boasts one of the world’s most beautiful metropolitan reprieves, Stanley Park. That’s not the problem. The problem is homelessness. In spite of a goal to completely eradicate the dilemma by 2014, the number of homeless people on Vancouver’s streets is on the rise. But that’s not the worst of it. If we are honest and look deep enough, we have to admit every one of us has contributed to those numbers.

We have all left the safety of home and camped on skid row, figuratively speaking. We’ve cast away the restraints with which our consciences have tried to surround us. We’ve said to the Father of our souls in one way or another, “I’m out of here!” Perhaps we’ve only dared to slip out under cover of night and return before dawn to hide our forays. Or we’ve ignored the Father, while living under His roof, so that others in the household will think all is well. We have all left home one way or another. Away seemed like the answer to our penchant for happiness.

Dr. J. Begbie, a professor at Duke Divinity School, has a theory[1] about this movement we all experience. He sees this trend as descriptive of the Bible’s story of our world. He calls it the “home-away-Home” progression, and he says music illustrates this same phenomenon. There is a beginning, followed by tension, followed by resolution. He says it is one of the fundamental patterns governing our lives. He describes it this way:

Home is “the equilibrium of the good earth and the Garden of Eden, with the first humans live in harmony with God and delight in each other.” That’s only a distant genetic memory for us, but we sense it, don’t we? We long for it in the quiet moments of our lives.

Away describes the tensions that have entered. “Humans rebel, they say no to God.” We’ve done that. We’ve wandered, explored places we should never have gone. We’ve been homeless.

 Home is God’s “work on a resolution, beginning with a character called Abraham, climaxing in Jesus, and finishing with what the last book of the Bible calls ‘a new heaven and a new earth’…not simply a return to how things were but to a universe remade.” That’s the resolution we each need in our lives—souls remade.

Jesus describes a similar story about our problem of homelessness. He talks about His going home to the Father to prepare a place for those who turn to Him. It’s the Home our souls have longed for. It’s where the Father resolves the tension of our wayfaring souls.

We’re all at different places on the journey. Jesus says no one is so far away that they have to remain homeless; if they truly want to come Home He can bring them there. That’s what you and I need, isn’t it? Someone who can turn our hands and feet, heart and soul toward Home. He’s there for the asking.

Father of my soul, I’ve been away far too long. My wanderlust has led me places I never meant to go. Only You can make me fit for Your Home of homes. Let Your love bind me to Yourself so I will always be where You are. Thank you Jesus.

 

[1] Willard, D. ed., A Place for Truth, IVP Books, Downers Grove, IL, p.217-219.

(Photo Credit: Ajith Rajeswari, Wikimedia Commons)

THE D.C., GOD, AND YOU, Part 2

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Rebellion Against Pride

Kim Jong-un was elected into power by unanimous vote with a 100% turnout rate last week. It has the ring of a fairy-tale come true. North Korea must be very proud to have the peaceful, unified, single-minded support of its people behind its leader. Or is it all as rosy as it seems?

The Korean Central News Agency insists the vote reflects the people’s “absolute support and profound trust in supreme leader Kim Jong-un”. And yet, internment camps, North Korea’s Gulags, are filled with those who dare to dissent; few ever escape or find release from these camps outside of death.

The dominant culture (D.C.) inside the ‘Hermit Kingdom’ is one where complete veneration of its young dictator is the standard expectation. The sense of pride and power emanating from the tyrant is reminiscent of the sixth century B.C. Assyrian siege of Jerusalem. It may also remind us of the pride flaunted by some elements of the Western world’s D.C.

“On what are you basing this confidence of yours?” challenges the ‘great king’ of Assyria in a message to the people of God. ‘Might is right’ the D.C. parades. ‘Power makes morality defunct’ it flaunts. Liberalism and pride replace all other values, decrying, “On whom are you depending that you rebel against me?”

We are surrounded by segments of a similar D.C. in our society. We are fed the palatable lie that we each are gods; flaunting our rights regardless of how destructive to self and others it may be, is the new law of the land. Confidence in God’s standards is not only passé, it offends the new gods-oriented society. The D.C. demands we respond with peaceful, unified, single-minded support. Dissenters beware! they boast.

Have you ever wondered how to respond to such pressure? Have a look back at the book of II Kings.  What did King Hezekiah, leader of the tiny remnant of God’s people, do? How did he respond to a similar confrontation with the D.C. of his time?

”When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the LORD”.  Sounds like a meltdown? Not so. In those days, to express an awareness of need before God was to tear one’s clothes and dress in rags. It demonstrated authentic humility. It communicated awareness that superficial trappings of power, symbolized by fine clothing, are paltry compared to God’s sovereignty. Tearing the clothing denoted non-reliance on one’s own might. It said, “I am powerless before this threat. God, help the one who humbles himself before You!”

It’s a response worth noting, don’t you think? It’s worth thinking about these two opposing traits: pride and humility. The one thinks only of self, of its pleasures, and of methods of manipulating events to its liking. The other bows before its Maker; it submits to the values and instructions for living, trusting the Almighty One will bring ultimate good out of the situation for those who submit to Him.

We are faced daily with choices that draw us one direction or another. The D.C. pulls us toward pride. God calls us to humility. As we stand in line at a check-out stand, as we choose how to use the day’s leisure time, as we communicate with those around us, we choose pride or humility.

The more difficult choice will always be humility. Like Hezekiah, we will need to be deliberate in our response. We will have to come into God’s presence (we call that ‘prayer’) and be authentic in our humility. It can happen anywhere: in that check-out line, in the moment before choosing to be served or to serve, in the breath before speaking with those around us. They seem like simple acts but they confront the spirit of the age that says ‘pride and power are yours’. Will you fall prey to pride or will you defy it?  God calls us to rise up and rebel against it. Dissenters arise.