The Thrill of Hope

hope ornament in Christmas tree

The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn’

This lyric comes from one of my favorite Christmas carols: “O Holy Night.” I’ve always been captivated by the curious phrase, the thrill of hope. I’ve always wondered something. What is it, exactly, that makes hope thrilling?

Thrilling isn’t usually how we think about hope:

We hear about false hope all of the time.

People use the word hopefully when they really want something to happen (but they’re pretty sure it won’t).

Some use the word hope frequently because they’re positive people who like to express a general sense of optimism.

We talk about hope as a feeling or a vaguely positive emotion one experiences from time to time.

We’re quick to point out when someone has lost hope or gives up hope.

If we’re being honest, the idea of hope being thrilling is odd. Roller coasters are thrilling. A basketball game that goes into overtime is thrilling. Bungee jumping is thrilling (I’ve heard). How can hope be thrilling?

I believe it all comes down to what or whom is the object of our hope. Hope can be thrilling as long as it is built on something that is trustworthy and sure.

Hope isn’t thrilling if it is built on my desire to see the Colts to win the Super Bowl. It’s not thrilling if I’m brimming with confidence that my favorite politician will keep all of his or her promises when he or she is in office. Hope doesn’t thrill if it depends upon seeing my lottery numbers on the screen. And, hope doesn’t thrill when I’m leaning all of my weight on a job, a hobby, or a relationship for a sense of purpose or wholeness.

Hope is thrilling, however, if it is built on something true, real, right, and good.

What is hope?

When Christians talk about hope, the thrilling kind of hope from the Christmas song, we aren’t attempting to manifest something that isn’t real. We’re not engaged in wishful thinking or conjuring up what we wish for by the power of positive thinking. We’re not being irrational, weak, or dishonest. Nor are we ignoring or making light of the obvious pain, angst, suffering, and brokenness of the world in which we live. When Christians talk about hope, we’re making a powerful statement about the truest truths, the real-est realities, and the certain-est certainties. Real hope is built upon the truth of what God has done and the absolute certitude, on that basis, that he will do what he has promised to do.

The thrill of hope

Hope is thrilling—at Christmastime and throughout the year—because the reality of that miracle-baby in the manger is the God-man on the cross, the risen and eternal Savior. We can be thrilled will hope because we know that he will return to bring us home.

I pray that your heart leaps with joy, anticipation, and excitement this Christmas, that you experience the thrill of hope about which you’ll sing.

O holy night the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new glorious morn
Fall on your knees
O hear the angels’ voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born

All the Poor and Powerless

One of my favorite songs is called “All the Poor and Powerless” by All Sons and Daughters.

The opening verse states:

All the poor and powerless
And all the lost and lonely
And all the thieves will come confess
And know that You are holy
And know that You are holy

Those who end up knowing that God is good—because he rescues them—are the poor, powerless, lost, lonely thieves who recognize their need for him. But, so often, we deceive ourselves into thinking that the rich and powerful people who seem to know exactly where they’re headed and who are constantly surrounded by a merry crowd of friends are the ones who are blessed by God, the ones who know his strength, goodness, and power.

We can’t know God’s riches until we have tasted poverty, his power until we are powerless. And, we won’t be found or filled with the most faithful of friendships until we are lost and lonely.

That’s precisely why God has always had a place in his heart for people who are marginalized and oppressed. He loves people who are foreigners and aliens, outcast, shunned, destitute, and abandoned. He loves children who cannot defend themselves. He honors the weak and wounded.

As his people, are you glorying in your own strength and righteousness? Or, do you recognize your own poverty and desperate need for him? Are you tempted to recline in your righteousness, enjoying all you’ve been blessed with? Or, in your weakness, do you join God in his mission to redeem and restore others who are lost and lonely, poor and powerless?

We’ll only experience God’s holiness and goodness, his favor and provision, when we join him.

The Best Antidote to Unhealthy Theology

best-antidote-unhealthy-theology

A few days ago, a member at my church got in touch with me about some unhealthy theology that a loved one of hers was beginning to wade into. This person had stumbled across a theologian whose teaching had raised her suspicions. She was determined to understand the teaching she was dealing with and she wanted to be able to point her loved one toward better alternatives.

She was right to be concerned.

Her loved one had stumbled across the late Clark Pinnock and some of his writings about a concept called open theism. This is the teaching that some aspects of the future remain unknown, at least with certainty, to God. While Pinnock and other open theists state that parts of the future are unknown to God, the Bible says otherwise. God is omniscient. “God fully knows himself and all things actual and possible in one simple and eternal act” (Grudem, 1994, p. 190).

  • God knows himself so when he reveals himself to us we can trust him.
  • God knows all things including the entire realm of possibilities that may result from the hundreds of choices each of us make every single day.
  • And, God knows all of it in one panorama; where we see one or two pixels at a time he sees the entire sweep of history all at once and in high-definition.

Wow!

I don’t know about you. It’s comforting to me to know that we serve a God who is wise enough to know everything that has, is, or will ever happen and, at the same time, good enough that he allows his creatures to experience free will. We err greatly when we believe and teach, as Pinnock did, that our own choices trump God’s knowledge. And we err greatly when we believe and teach, as some have done, that God’s omniscience reduces us to mere puppets on a string or resigns us to hopeless fatalism. God is good and wise enough to hold both of those tensions in perfect, divine balance.

So, what’s the best antidote to unhealthy theology?

When I consider all of this, I can’t help but think that it’s pure wonder. What else can you do? How else can you react? Since we serve a God this great, there’s little else to do than to be in awe.

Each of us may carry around elements of unhealthy theology. Hold them up to the light of the truth of God’s character. Wonder at his grandeur and goodness. That’s the best antidote to unhealthy theology.


Reference: Grudem, W. (1994). Systematic theology: An introduction to biblical doctrine. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Reacting To Culture

responding-to-culture

For the first time since I became eligible, I wasn’t able to cast my vote for any of the leading presidential nominees without violating my conscience. The developments in the presidential race that have occurred since Tuesday have actually decreased my confidence in our culture and in whoever becomes our next President.

Do I believe the sky is falling? No. However, I think that the nature of this political season underscores concerns we all should have about the trajectory of our culture.

I’ve been burdened by a particular question for a long time. My burden was increased this Tuesday as I walked out of the voting booth.

What is the church’s appropriate reaction to our culture?

One of my favorite author/theologians is N.T. Wright. The following extended quote is from How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels. He highlights four tendencies of churches, all of which are misguided, all of which I see happening all around:

By and large the churches have lapsed into one of four (to my mind) unhelpful reactions.

The first is to say that all this doesn’t matter, because we’re going to heaven and we’ll leave this old world behind once and for all. That stance, interestingly, became increasingly popular throughout the nineteenth century, when “heaven” became the ultimate home and “resurrection”—with all its political overtones of new creation and new society—was quietly shelved or reduced to the status of an ineffective dogma or even metaphor. … I trust it is becoming increasingly clear to people now that such a position simply won’t do. This isn’t what the four gospels are about. It’s actually closer to Gnosticism.

The second thing that Christians have done is to say, with the neo-Anabaptists, that the church must simply put its own house in order, keep its own nose clean, and live as a beacon of light, but without actually engaging with the world. It must construct a parallel society in which the kingdom values of Jesus are lived out for all to see. Now I’m all for the church cleaning up its act and shining like a light in the world. But the strong sectarian separation that all this implies seems to pay no attention to the great statements of Jesus’ cosmic lordship in the New Testament, not least the claim of Matthew 28 that Jesus already possesses all authority on earth as well as in heaven. It is always in danger of dualism, of cutting off the creational branch on which all Christian thinking ought to be sitting.

The third and fourth reactions among Christians, which are all too powerful today (particularly in the United States), have simply baptized the right-wing and left-wing politics of a deeply divided society and claimed this or that one as Christian, to be implemented and if possible exported. Listening to the sub-Christian language on display among those exultant at the killing of Osama bin Laden in the early summer of 2011 was an example of this right-wing tendency; anything that advances the worldview of Fox News is assumed to be basically Christian, wise, and automatically justified. But listening to many on the left, I have a similar problem. The left claims the high Christian and moral ground of a concern for the poor and the marginalized, but again this regularly parrots the elements of liberal modernism, not least its new sexual ethic, without any attempt to scale the true heights of the gospel vision in the New Testament (pp. 165, 166).

There’s no simple answer. Wright’s solution, in summary, is that we become people both of the kingdom and the cross. Again, Wright says:

Different Christians have found that they want to highlight one element or the other, whether the “kingdom,” to validate a contemporary social agenda (and to leave a question mark as to why the cross mattered at all), or the “cross,” to emphasize the mechanism by which God rescues sinners from this world and enables them to go to “heaven” (leaving a question mark as to why either Jesus or the evangelists would think it mattered that much to do all those healings, to walk on water, or to give such remarkable teaching) (p. 176).

So, what is the appropriate reaction to culture? How can Christians conduct themselves?

Cross and Kingdom

We react to culture by being people of the cross and people of the kingdom.

To be people of kingdom is to be people who join Jesus in his kingdom-bringing work for the world, striving for justice and mercy on behalf of the marginalized and oppressed, working for peace and the common good. To be people of the cross is to be people of deep and abiding faith, who humble ourselves, who follow our Savior, joining him in his suffering and in the new life that is to come.

What about you?

What is your response to the culture in which we’re living?

Four Tips for Parental Discipline

four-tips-for-parental-discipline

I’m teaching a marriage class at church and I opened the floor for participants to ask me any of their marriage and family related questions. And, they submitted some excellent questions. Last week’s question has to do with raising kids:

How can you discipline your children in a godly way?

I probably raised more questions than I answered in my previous post about parental discipline. There’s certainly a lot to learn and I felt like it was vital to lay the groundwork first. This post is designed to go a little bit further, to give you a quick set of tips to help you implement what we talked about last week.

Here are four tips for godly parental discipline:

1. Be aligned

If you’re blessed to be raising a child along with your spouse, regardless of what parenting method you choose, it’s imperative that you’re aligned. Take the time to get on the same page. If you’re not aligned, it’s going to be stressful for your marriage, confusing for your child, and ineffective.

2. Be clear and consistent

Kids need to know where their parents stand, where the boundary lines are drawn, and what the consequences will be for misbehavior. It may feel contradictory to you, but kids thrive when they have clear and consistent rules. It gives them a sense of security and well-being and is what is best for their soul even if they tell you it doesn’t.

3. Be self-controlled

If you have a temper—like me—you’ll find that the moment you lose control is the moment you’ve ceased being the parent your kid needs. Do what it takes, as much as it’s humanly possible, to be calm and composed when you’re disciplining. If you have to walk away, that’s OK. Take a few minutes. Whisper a prayer. Use the timeout to consult with your spouse. Then, in a calm, measured, controlled, and loving way, deal with the issue at hand.

4. Be gracious

By all means, teach your children about God’s grace. Find ways to help them understand the weight of their sin (which, let’s be honest, is the driving force behind much of our children’s misbehavior) and then to understand the freedom and joy that comes when their sin is forgiven and the consequences are removed. And, don’t stop there. Show yourself some grace, too. You may be trying to emulate God but you’re not him. Admit your mistakes. Apologize to God and to the kids. And move forward in the grace he gives.

This parenting thing is tough. Disciplining fairly and constructively is extremely difficult. It’s as much art as it is science. But, following God’s lead, we can raise kids who don’t resent us. More importantly, we can raise kids who love God and who are open to his transformative discipline long after they’ve left our loving, if imperfect, care.

Discussion questions

  1. Are you and your spouse aligned in your parenting philosophies? If so, how did you get aligned. If not, what do you need to do to get on the same page?
  2. Do your kids know where the boundary lines are drawn? Or, are they unsure? What can you do to help define what is acceptable (and what isn’t) with and for your kids?
  3. Is your parental discipline more characterized by self-control or a lack of self-control? What is God revealing to you about his will for you in this area?
  4. Do you need to get better at receiving and giving grace? Read Ephesians 2:8-10 and reflect on God’s grace in your life.