Monday, February 19, 2018

Only a Fool's Hope (Warning, Nerd Alert Ahead!)

The great stories resonate in our hearts and reveal truths in subtle, yet powerful ways. I have been re-reading The Lord of the Rings on my own, and I have just finished re-reading the Harry Potter series with Psalter. Both stories have a central theme of the foolishness of hope. In each story, the main character walks willingly to face death and destruction, because they have hope that by their sacrifice others will be saved, and they have hope that the end is not really the end. So Frodo and Sam struggle up Mount Doom to the cast the Ring into the fire, and Harry stands unarmed before Voldemort waiting to be struck down. Foolish fools indeed.

As Gandalf and Pippin wait for the final battle in the Lord of the Rings, Pippin wonders if there is any hope that Frodo is going to be able to destroy the Ring of Power, any hope that Sauron will be defeated.

He asks Gandalf, "Tell me, is there any hope? For Frodo, I mean; or at least mostly for Frodo." Gandalf put his hand on Pippin’s head and answers, "There never was much hope. Just a fool’s hope, as I have been told."

But there is something in that "fool's hope" that resonates with us, isn't there? There is something true and beautiful about hope in the midst of fear and darkness, hope that good will overcome by humility and love. It's not the way that most of us live our day to day lives, because we eagerly opt for certainty and control over foolish hope. I am certainly in that camp. But in our heart there is a resonance with stories of hope in the face of overwhelming odds.

I think that resonance gets at the true heart of the gospel. Not the version of the gospel that is presented in cultural Christianity. That version of the gospel says that Jesus has come to make your life happy and easy; that when you meet Jesus, all darkness will go away; that you take the gospel like a magic pill which will make you right and powerful. It's a tempting offer. We long for control and power, to avoid humiliation and weakness.

That's why Paul's declaration of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5 is so striking. Paul says that the message of the cross is foolishness, depending on how you look at it. It seems like a foolish method of saving the world, having the son of God lay down his life in humiliating fashion. It's a foolish message to ask people to believe, because in a world that craves to powerful and right, the cross invites you to admit your weakness and your wrongs. Nothing about the cross seems powerful, and yet Paul says it is the power of God for those who are being saved.

The gospel does not offer power or prestige, but it invites us to lay those things aside and to accept and proclaim the foolish message of a crucified king, hanging on a cross. And it says that all that the heart is longing for is found in Christ alone, which seems like a foolish thing to bet your life on. Can Christ truly be our wisdom from God, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption?

Paul believes that the answer is "Yes", and so he lives out the foolish gospel by setting aside his gifts of persuasion, of being clever, and all the privileges that he could take pride in. And he says that he has resolved to know nothing except Christ and him crucified. The world shouted, "Prove it! Show it!" And Paul simply points to Jesus and to the good news of His life, death, and resurrection, because the gospel is the power of God (Romans 1:16).

Followers of Jesus are invited to a foolish life. To love our enemies, to walk with humility. Honestly, that is not the way I gravitate towards. I would rather win and be right and be in control. I would rather be able to argue my way out of any corner. But the hope I have been given is a fool's hope, that my faith and the faith of any who would come after me, might not rest on anything except Christ. And hope rightly placed does not disappoint.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Don't Move!

For the past few months I have been working on memorizing the book of Colossians, a welcome diversion during morning runs, something to take my mind off of the miles. I'm trying not to just do rote memorization, but rather I am also seeking to use my time to pray through the verses, to pray the good news of the gospel into my heart and life. There are some pretty amazing truths in Colossians 1 and 2 (I am almost to chapter three, but not quite). Things like: in Christ all things hold together (all things, even me, even my church, and even the parts of my life that feel like they are about to break apart); that Christ is the fullness of God and because I am in Christ, I have been brought to fullness; that God has reconciled to Himself all things (ALL!) through Christ. It's been wonderful asking God to help me believe these amazing truths.

In recent days I have been ruminating especially on Colossians 1:21-22. Verse 22 says we have been reconciled to God by Christ's physical body, through death, in order that we might be presented holy in God's sight, without blemish and free from accusation. That is some amazing stuff right there! Despite my sin and struggles, in God's sight I am holy and I am free from accusation, even accusations that are justified. But then verse 23 throws in a qualifier, saying that all this is ours "if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out to you in the gospel."

I think that we could read verse 23 with a sense of dread, like, "If I don't maintain a certain level of faith, then all that holiness and freedom is taken away from me." It could motivate us to work really hard to not mess up, to believe correctly.

But I have begun to read it a different way. Paul tells us that the key is that we not move from the hope held out in the gospel. The hope of the gospel says that Jesus Christ is Lord, that Jesus Christ is sufficient. The hope of the gospel says that my lack of sufficiency is swallowed up on the life of Christ, that He is all that I need for life and godliness. The hope of the gospel says that I do not have to perform, do not have to measure up. In fact it says that I cannot perform well enough to earn God's love, and so Christ has performed on my behalf and made me a child of the King if I will simply trust Him. When I really lean into this truth, there is tremendous peace and hope and rest.

Conversely, I am realizing that anxiety and fear and sin in my life are always a result of me moving from the hope held out to me in the gospel. When I begin to hope in myself, to hope in success, to hope in getting things in right, to hope in being liked, to hope in not disappointing others, to hope in comfort - when I hope in anything but the gospel, the result is fear, worry, anger, and a lack of peace and rest.

And when I move away from the hope of the gospel, putting my hope in anything else, I am opening myself up to accusation. As long as I am trusting in the finished work of Christ, I am free from accusation of not being good enough. As long as I am trusting in Christ's loving and empowering reign, I am free from accusation of not being powerful enough. But when I move from the hope of the gospel, I am opened up to accusations that are truly justified. It is simply true that apart from Jesus I am not very strong or kind or good or loving or patient or faithful. I have sin in my life. The accusations stick, because they are true.

So I am learning that when I feel accused or ashamed, when I am feeling afraid or defensive, that is a signal to me that I have moved away from the hope of the gospel and am beginning to put my hope in something or someone other than Christ. The voice of accusation or shame is not the voice of God; the Bible is clear that Satan is the accuser of God's people (Revelation 12:10). And so I am learning to let that accusing voice point me to the gospel rather than push me away from Lord. I am learning to ask, "Where am I not believing the gospel here?" and then let the Holy Spirit lead me to see places of unbelief in my heart and to turn those to the Lord.

When Paul tells us, tells me, not to move from the hope held out in the gospel, there is so much wisdom and life and freedom there. This is why I need to be unmoved from hoping in the gospel. And the amazing thing is that when Paul tells me not to move away from hope, he is actually telling me not to move from away from Christ. Biblically, hope is not merely a concept, an idea, a feelng, or a good vibe. Hope is a person - hope is Christ. 1 Timothy 1:1 says that Jesus is our hope, and 1 Peter 1:3 says we have been given new birth into a living hope. We are called to not be moved from Christ, and Colossians 1:29 tells us that Christ in us is the hope of glory.

I invite you to join me in not being moved from the hope of Christ. Allow God to show you ways that you have moved from that hope, and rather than cowering in shame or guilt, simply tell God you are sorry and ask Him to show you what the good news says to you right where you are. How does Christ's life, death, resurrection, intercession, and future return speak into your anxiety, fear, and sin? Don't move from the hope of the gospel.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Getting the Most Out of Our Summer Sermon Series #crazygood

This summer we are going through the gospel of Mark, and we will be covering larger sections of the Bible each week. So, in order to get the most out of our series, it would be good for you to read along/read ahead in order to get the context. Here are some resources and ideas to help you with this:
Mark Overview Videos from The Bible Project: these excellent videos give a great picture of the overall gospel in about 5 minutes. Mark Overview One  Mark Overview 2
Mark Bible Plan from YouVersion: If you use The Bible App on your phone, InterVarsity has a great 30-day Mark plan. 
Mark Through the Summer: If you read 5 chapters of Mark per week, you could read through the gospel three times over the course of the summer and would have a great grasp on the book
Below is the preaching schedule of what will be covered:
June 4 – Mark 1:35-3:6
June 11 – Mark 3:7 – 4:41
June 18 – Mark 5:1-43
June 25 – Mark 6:1-29
July 2 – Mark 6:30-56
July 9 – Mark 7:1-37
July 16 – Mark 8:1-26
July 23 – Mark 8:27-9:1
July 30 – Mark 9:2-9:41
Aug 6 – Mark 9:42-10:45
Aug 13 – Mark 10:46-12:12
Aug 20 – Mark 12:13-43
Aug 27 – Mark 13
Sept. 3 – Mark 14
Sept. 17 – Mark 15
Sept, 24 – Mark 16

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

"Bring Me What You Have" - Thoughts on The Kingdom and Exodus 32

In Exodus 32 when the people of Israel became afraid that they would not make it out of the desert alive, afraid that God had abandoned them, they asked Aaron to make them an idol. An in 32:4 he said, in effect, “Bring me what you have,” and he took the jewelry they brought and made a golden calf. That made me think of Matthew 14, the story of when Jesus fed the 5,000. When the disciples were afraid because they did not know how they would feed this huge crowd, Jesus told them, in effect, "Bring me what you have." He then turned five loaves and two fish into enough for over 5000 people to have supper. 

It hit me that when we are afraid or overwhelmed we have a choice: we can bring God what we have and He will make it more than enough, or we can try and manipulate what we have and hang onto it and it becomes even less. In the hands of the King “what we have” becomes a blessing; in our hands “what we have” becomes an idol. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

When the Rubber Meets the Road

Our church staff team has been reading The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson. I’ve have read this book at least twice before, and it still challenges me in deep, deep ways. Over and over the mantra of Peterson is a pastor prays, a pastor does the deep work of seeking God, a pastor shepherds and points people to God. The pastor does not busy himself with so many tasks that the work of hearing God, attending to His Word, and praying (and teaching others to do the same) gets crowded out by the busyness and business of church.

My life is marked by busyness, crowdedness, always another task to do or another person to help. American culture teaches us that is what a pastor is – a pastor is what he does. But I want to be an unbusy pastor, one who prays, one who has time and space for God and people.

Today I decided to put that into practice in the last half hour I was at the office. I went to the sanctuary, and unwisely took my cell phone. Ten minutes into prayer time, my phone rang and, unwisely, I answered. It was a friend who had just lost their housing (I’d spent the afternoon with a guy from my small group moving my friend’s things into our garage), and they were working to get their next place. They had left some papers at their old house and wanted me to go and get those papers for them. What should I do?

Clearly it’s important that they get those papers. They don’t have a car, but they do have a bus pass. I could get the papers for them in 20 minutes, but by then my day would be done. Prayer time would be over. I could pray tomorrow, but would I? When do you draw a line in the sand and say that the work of prayer, though it can be done anywhere and any time, is not to be put aside?

Perhaps you would have chosen differently from me, but I chose to remain in prayer. My life seems to be a series of crisis calls, people needing help RIGHT NOW and everything else quickly gets put on hold, most especially the work of prayer. Choosing to stay and pray was painful. I felt guilty, ashamed, and I was unable to focus for a  while. But that guilt and shame were from my own sense of importance, my own unbelief that God could provide for my friend in other ways than me.

It sounds nice to be an unbusy praying pastor, but I am learning that there will be a cost and that ideal will be challenged. I hope that I am up to the challenge of living by the Spirit and discerning when to stay and do the work of prayer that I am called to. I’m sure there will be other days when I am called to “go” but I didn’t think that today was that day.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

How to live a faith-filled life

What does it mean to live by faith? The idea of having faith can be so nebulous, can't it? That's why Sunday's definition of faith was so helpful to me. Bill said that faith is confidence in God's presence and God's provision no matter the outcome. But I also found myself wondering what would it look like to practically weave that into my every day life? How can I live out Hebrews 11:1-6 in a meaningful way? I think God gave me some help in the Psalms.

First in Psalm 86:11, the TNIV says, "Teach me your way, that I might rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart that I may fear your name." As I prayed and thought about that, I realized that relying on God's faithfulness meant trusting in His provision, and fearing His name meant trusting in His presence. Every moment of my life is to be lived in the reality of God's faithfulness and the reality of His presence, which makes every moment holy. God has to teach me how to do that (teach me your way) and He has to shape my heart to get to the place where my will is to do His will (give me an undivided heart).

But what practices could help me move in that direction? That led me to Psalm 92:2, a verse that has been working on me for some time now. It says, "[It is good to] proclaim your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night." To proclaim God's love in the morning is setting my heart and mind on the fact that no matter what I face in the coming day, He is present and He is going to provide. To proclaim His faithfulness at night is looking back on my day with eyes of faith, looking for God's presence and provision in all things. Putting these two simple practices into place can help me live by faith, not afraid of the unseen challenges ahead and thankful for all the ways God moves in and through me each day.

This week, let's put faith into practice, growing in our awareness of God's presence and provision, proclaiming His love each morning and His faithfulness each night.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Story to be Lived

The summer blockbuster season is here, yet I rarely get to see movies in the theater unless they are of the cartoon variety. So getting to see Spiderman this week was a real treat. And as the previews rolled before the main feature, I wanted to see every movie that was coming out, because I love to get lost in these big stories. The best stories to me are ones that not only show the shadow side of life and sin (though they might not label it as such) but also offer the hope of something better. A mix of warning and encouragement and hope all in one is the recipe for a great story.

We see this in Hebrews 10:26-39, where the author of the letter not only warns his congregation against the danger of rejecting Christ and embracing sin, but also offers them the memory of God's faithfulness in the past and offers the promise of God's ultimate deliverance in the future.

The reality is that sin will destroy us if we allow it to take root and if we reject the work of Christ on our behalf. But it does not have to be the end of the story. Sin reduces us as humans, enslaves us in a small story, the story of "me." The bigger story that we are invited into is the story of God's redemptive work through Christ on the cross. It's the story of here and now, the Holy Spirit indwelling and empowering all who would say, "Yes" to God's offer of life and freedom. And it's the story of tomorrow where we dwell in peace in God's Kingdom.

This week pay attention to the cautionary tales around you, let them warn you, and embrace the faithfulness and promises of God. That's a story not just to be seen but to be lived.