The Thrill of Hope

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

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?

Mutual Submission and Marriage

mutual-submission-and-marriage

I knew it was going to happen sooner or later. I had been hoping for later. But it took place right out of the gate. On the very first week of a six-week marriage class, someone asked me about the dreaded S-word.

How do we understand submission given the social norms we see today?

So much for starting off with an easy question. This question gets right at the heart of the biblical understanding of marriage. Even though it’s a tough question, it makes sense to begin here.

You have to read and understand [biblegateway passage=”Ephesians 5:21-33″ display=”Ephesians 5:21-33″]. In these 13 verses, Paul paints a picture of the mystery, beauty, and meaning of Christian marriage. And, yes, submission is a big factor. Before we answer the question, let’s examine this text. I’m going to do something a little unorthodox, however, and I’m going to work backward. You’ll understand why in a bit.

A husband’s self-sacrificing love

The foundation of Christian marriage, and the ultimate reality to which Christian marriage points, is Jesus’ self-sacrificing love for the Church, his bride. Paul says that Jesus’ love for the Church is the model.

Notice the preposition as in [biblegateway passage=”Ephesians 5:25″ display=”verse 25″]. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the church: in the same way, with the same persistence, with the same purity, with the same affection, with the same patience, and with the same fidelity. Christian husbands ought to love their wives to the extent that they’d be willing to sacrifice even their own lives for their wives’ protection, purity, holiness, and salvation.

Christian husbands are to love their wives and to give themselves up for them in the same way Christ loved the Church. Let that sink in.

A wife’s respectful love

So many people are tripped up by Paul’s command to women in [biblegateway passage=”Ephesians 5:22-24″ display=”verses 22-24″]. Yes, he does require Christian wives to submit to their husbands in the same way they submit to the Lord. But, that’s not all. Buried at the end of this text, in the second half of [biblegateway passage=”Ephesians 5:33″ display=”verse 33″], Paul summarizes his thoughts by saying that Christian wives ought to respect their husbands.

The fact that Christian wives respect and submit to their husbands’ Christ-like, self-sacrificing love and leadership does not mean that they are silent, that they sacrifice their opinions, that they negate their own rights, that they don’t bring every strength they possesses into the relationships, or that they are a weak, fragile, or lesser people. On the contrary, they demonstrate their ultimate faith in Christ by actively supporting, respecting, and loving the husbands God gave them.

Christian wives who have mastered the art of respecting their husbands will find that they are active partners with God in helping their husbands become the type of men they ought to be.

Understanding submission

Now that we understand the type of love Christian husbands and wives are to have for one another we can talk some more about submission. Here’s the most important thing to understand:

In marriage, submission is not a one-way street.

Paul begins this text with the [biblegateway passage=”Ephesians 5:21″ display=”clear command”] for husbands and wives to submit to one another. Why? What’s the motivation? Reverence for Christ.

The fact that Paul, after commanding husbands and wives to submit to one another, pivots toward wives and tells them to submit to their husbands does not negate the man’s responsibility to submit himself to his wife through self-sacrificing acts of love. It illustrates the woman’s responsibility to edify her husband through acts of respectful love.

The willingness to submit to one another—out of reverence and following the example of Christ—is a sign that a husband and wife are humble, deeply bonded, affectionate, kind, and growing in godly character. It is an essential element of a lasting marriage.

As a side note: don’t forget, Jesus submitted himself to the will of his Father. Did his submission diminish his worth as a member of the Trinity? Did the fact that he dedicated himself to the will of the Father somehow make him less, decrease his divine identity, or make him weak? Absolutely not!

Standing out from the crowd

I haven’t forgotten. An important part of the original question dealt with social norms. I haven’t mentioned social norms yet simply because, first and foremost, we have to clearly understand how to believe and behave as Christians. That means we must be transformed by the Spirit’s working through the Word before we are conformed to the whims and will of our culture.

Don’t miss this: Mutual submission, respectful, and self-sacrifice are deeply counter-cultural. They run against the grain of both the society around us and the sin within us.

And, that shouldn’t be a surprise.

God is calling us deeper. He wants to transform us. In his wisdom, he gave us the gift of the institution of marriage to be a primary driver in that life-long transformation process.

Lest we gaze too longingly at society, wondering if we’d be better off if we more closely resembled culture’s norms, remember that the world has yet to offer a better, less damaging, more honoring alternative to life-long, monogamous, respectful, self-sacrificing, mutually submissive, Christian marriage.

Discussion questions

Take a few minutes to reflect on these questions. And, feel free to leave a comment or continue the discussion below.

  1. What are some ways the biblical ideal of Christian marriage are superior to the typical way our world views marriage?
  2. Husbands, how are you impacted by Paul’s command to love your wives as Christ loved the Church, showing self-sacrificing love? What do you need to do in order to grow in this?
  3. Wives, how are you impacted by Paul’s command to submit to your husbands in the same way you submit to the Lord, showing respectful love? What do you need to do in order to grow in this?

How to Forgive Someone Who Hasn’t Asked

how-to-forgive

Have you ever sensed the need to forgive someone who has harmed you? Forgiveness is easier when they apologize. But, what if they’re oblivious or unrepentant?

Lately, I’ve done some thinking and praying about how to forgive someone who hasn’t asked. Before we get to that, we have to be clear about why we would consider forgiveness in the first place.

Why forgive?

In the wake of being wronged, forgiveness is the last thing most people consider. We don’t want to sacrifice the sense of justice and control we receive from the anger we harbor and we don’t want to make ourselves vulnerable or weak all over again.

There are many who scoff at the idea of forgiveness. But, as a Christian, it has to be different for me. So, why forgive. I can think of three reasons.

1. We forgive to avoid the sin of hatred.

Immediately after saying that [biblegateway passage=”Matthew 5:3-11″ display=”God blesses”] the merciful, the meek, and those who make peace, Jesus talks about the corrosive nature of hatred and how, ultimately, it’s [biblegateway passage=”Matthew 5:21-22″ display=”equivalent to murder”]. We must not harbor or nurture resentment, anger, and unforgiveness. It imprisons us. If we are to be the kind of people God wants us to be, we must resist the gravitational pull of hatred and choose to forgive. To condemn, to keep a record of wrongs, to harbor resentment, and to loathe someone is contrary to [biblegateway passage=”Matthew 22:36-40″ display=”God’s will for us”].

2. We forgive to follow Jesus’ example.

Jesus never sinned. He never broke the law. He blessed, healed, taught, and loved. But, he experienced the jealousy of the religious leaders, the betrayal of his closest friends, and the brutality of the Romans. And, he went to the cross. This is stunning: his last breaths weren’t used to plead his case or to curse his murderers; in his final breaths [biblegateway passage=”Luke 23:33-34″ display=”he asked God to forgive”]. And he asks me to follow him.

3. We forgive because we’re forgiven.

I have wronged God too many times to count. But, because of his mercy, grace, and love, and because of Jesus, I have been forgiven. And, if you’re a believer, you have received the same. We choose to be [biblegateway passage=”Colossians 3:12-14″ display=”the kind of people who forgive”] because we’ve been forgiven.

Now that we know why forgiveness is on the table—and why Christians ought to pursue it—we can consider our question.

How do you forgive someone who hasn’t asked?

In the midst of a recent conversation about a fellow believer who mistreated me in the past, Kelly asked me, “Could you sit next to that person and take communion together?” After a flash of defensiveness surged through me, I had to admit to my insightful wife that I could not. This person hasn’t asked for forgiveness. As far as I know, this person has no sense of wrongdoing or responsibility. This person is someone I have very little chance of seeing again. However, if I am to genuinely live my faith, it is incumbent upon me to forgive.

So, here’s the process I’m allowing the Spirit to lead me through by God’s grace. It’s what I’d recommend to you if you have a wrong to forgive.

1. Understand how you have been wronged.

Your mind, like mine, has a way of either maximizing or minimizing traumatic events. Therefore, it’s vital to be clear about what happened. Pray through the situation. What led up to it? What was the sequence of events? What was said or done? Write it down on a list or in a journal. Be comprehensive. Refuse to gloss things over or to reason away. You were hurt. Understand it for what it is. (And, this is a great time to own your personal responsibility for what happened, even if it’s ever so small.)

2. Pray for healing.

Once you’ve acknowledged precisely how you have been hurt and have felt the weight of it, you’re ready to allow God to heal it. The process may take ages; it may happen piece-by-piece, layer-by-layer. Or it might be instantaneous. That’s not the point. The point is that God is the only one who can remove it. And he will.

3. Eliminate residual hatred.

Your healing won’t be complete as long as you’re harboring one shred of hatred, resentment, or condemnation. If hate isn’t removed, it grows. Pray about it. Journal about it. Confess it to a friend (without gossiping). Do whatever you need to do to get rid of it.

4. Release the offender’s debt.

Finally, there will come a time when you must release the debt that your offender owes. They may never understand that they’ve hurt you. They may think you’re foolish. No matter. If they refuse to exit the prison you’ve unlocked, that is up to them. The point is that you’re no longer the one keeping them there.

For a myriad of reasons, it might not be advisable—or even safe—to communicate your forgiveness to your offender. That’s OK. You can offer forgiveness without personal contact. Write a letter and burn it on the fireplace. Head out into the woods and voice your forgiveness to the foliage. Give it a voice and walk away.

In instances, it might be necessary to communicate forgiveness face-to-face or in a letter. If you have that chance, be prayerful, humble, merciful, and honest. State the ways in which you were wronged, share about your journey toward forgiveness, and utter these three words: “I forgive you.” Then, walk away from what you’ve dropped and refuse to pick it up again.

5. If possible, seek reconciliation.

If it’s not safe to contact your offender, your journey is complete. But if reconciliation is a possibility, leave the door open and embrace it if it comes. A reconciled relationship is a beautiful picture of the Gospel. If you can sit beside that person one day and commune together once more, what a wonderful thing that would be.

I’ll let this disclaimer be my final word on the topic of reconciliation: Reconcile with care. Your brave act of forgiveness doesn’t require you to make yourself vulnerable to becoming a victim again. It’s OK if the relationship has to change or if you have to be careful to abide by wisely placed boundaries.

What about you?

Are you holding someone in your debt? Do you need to offer forgiveness?

7 Reasons Weekly Worship is Vital

Central Indiana woke up to our first semi-substantial snowfall of 2016 this morning. And, while I don’t expect many to relate to what I’m about to say, I’m going to say it anyway.

Sunday snow stinks!

Any other day of the week, no problem. If it snows on Tuesday, we cancel school and everyone is happy. If it happens on a Saturday, everyone grabs a sled and heads to the hill at the park. But, to a minister, snow on a Sunday morning is a huge disappointment. It means that a large number of people will miss out on weekly worship. Some people shouldn’t be out in the snow; for senior adults venturing out can be quite risky. For the vast majority of people, heading to church in the snow poses no real threat. Grateful for the convenient excuse, many will simply choose to stay home.

As I was driving to the church in the snow this morning, a verse kept coming to mind:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching, ([biblegateway passage=”Hebrews 10:24-25″]).

Let’s state the obvious: some have given up the habit of meeting together. Regular church attendance, even for many mature believers, simply isn’t a priority. It’s not a new phenomenon; it’s at least as old as the letter to the Hebrews. But it’s a problem we must continue to guard against.

So, whatever the weather happens to be when you wake up each Sunday morning, consider making weekly worship a priority. Here are 7 reasons weekly worship is vital.

1. Weekly worship is a counter-cultural statement.

The world may scoff at us, cast aspersions on the Church, or look down upon us for believing old myths and wives’ tales from an antiquated book. But we know better. We demonstrate the reality—and utter goodness—of God by deliberately and faithfully participating in the Body of Christ.

2. Our spiritual formation depends upon it.

Think about all you encounter on a Sunday morning: prayer, gospel-centered teaching and preaching, encouraging interactions with fellow believers, communion, people making spiritual decisions, opportunities to serve one another by meeting needs. All of those elements happen on a typical Sunday and all of them are essential for your spiritual formation. Even though you can get bits and pieces of these things elsewhere, there’s no substitute for experiencing them at corporate worship.

3. We meet Jesus in worship.

I belong to a church tradition that sets aside time each week to observe communion, the Lord’s Supper. There’s something deep and mysterious about the experience of meeting Jesus during the quiet moments of communion, along with brothers and sisters in Christ. It is transformational and, therefore, not to be missed. (I chose the word transformational purposefully for I cannot think of a better way to describe it.)

4. Weekly worship clarifies our priorities.

We prioritize what we value. For our friends and neighbors who aren’t yet believers, Sunday is just another day. For us it is far from an ordinary day. It’s an opportunity to set aside the first hours of the brand-new week for what is most important to us. It’s a way to demonstrate that we are God’s people. He’s the one we value most. And, we show that he has first place in our lives by giving him the first few hours of our week.

5. We encourage one another in worship.

Meeting together in worship gives us a regular opportunity to go beyond the small talk that pervades most of our public interactions. We designate time during worship services for purposeful interactions and we linger before and after services to fellowship on a deeper level. Together, we celebrate joys, meet needs, carry burdens, share wisdom, pray, counsel, and care.

6. We can exercise our gifts in worship.

Attending church is about so much more than passive participation, just being there. It’s about active involvement, using the gifts of the Spirit to make the experience excellent for all who are present. Ninety-five percent of what happens at worship has nothing to do with the preacher or worship leader. Worship is such a sweet experience because of the thoughtful Bible teacher, the encouraging nursery worker, the hospitable greeter, the creative musician, the dedicated parking lot attendant, and the wise welcome center worker. As we serve one another, the whole body becomes healthy, it grows, and it is full of love.

7. We build up the church for which Jesus died.

Finally, Jesus died for the church. His death, burial, and resurrection is the cornerstone upon which she is built. He established her. He sustains her. And, one day, he will return to claim her as his bride. Certainly, we can and should do all we can do to build up the church he loves.

What about you?

Is weekly worship a value you hold dear? If so, what impact has it made? If not, what’s keeping you from becoming committed to weekly worship?