What is Hope?

As Christians, we sing about hope in church or perhaps in our car while singing along with the radio.  As Americans, however, we have our concept of hope shaped largely by advertising and non-Christian social pressure.

What do we Americans trust in?  We trust in technology.  We trust experts.  We trust news sources and the ever present new ‘study’ telling us what to do and what not to do.  We trust in advancements in science and medicine.  We buy insurance as protection of our hopes and dreams.  We worry about our children and grandchildren having good jobs, careers, successes, enough money and ultimately happiness.  We hope for all of these things. Yet, we find times of deep emptiness. Why?  What may be happening with us in these times?  In this essay, I explore one possible path to this emptiness.

Increasingly, we in America follow Europe’s path.  We live without reference to God, regardless of our professions of faith.  How can I say this?  Look at Christian involvement in pornography, divorce, abuse and too many other ills.  We Christians sadly match the culture we live in.  We feel the hopelessness of our culture and yet we pursue its hope.  We pursue worldly hope while singing of YHWH’s hope.

We create substitutions for the hope that comes from God.  We call those substitutions education, which gives a good job; financial success which gives freedom; social status gained by many (seemingly any) paths, which creates enduring awareness of us and supposedly enduring memories of us in others; the list goes on and on.  Are these things truly hope?  Are our creations effective?

I wonder.  What of the churched people in America? Not just the mass that self-identify as ‘Christians’ in a secular poll, but those that attend church weekly, that pray regularly, that engage in God’s work?

We churched people understand God as an individualistically focused being interacting with us about ‘me’ and ‘my life.’  This individualism is not a product of Christianity.  It is clearly not an outgrowth of Judaism with its emphasis on family, tribe and nation.  It is largely a product of the non-Christian/non-Judaic influences and demands in our American/Western culture.  The Evangelical church and its churched people no longer penetrate our American culture.  American culture penetrates the church; as the penetration of pornography, abuse, divorce and other horrors show.  This ebb and flow between true Christianity and culturally modified and distorted Christianity is not new.  It is the norm over the course of both Judaic and Christian history.  In fact, this risk of compromise is a core element of the Exodus and formation of Israel.  Read of this in the Old Testament.  It speaks of genocide.

Read church history also and you will see this ebb and flow.  It is at times subtle.  It is at times pumped forward by troops and battles costing lives, fortunes and morality.  The subtle ebb and flow also cost morality, but in a more insidious pattern.  We fail to filter from our thinking and beliefs the things that form the culture around us. This is the true “culture war.”  Our thinking not others plans.  Our beliefs not others’ opinions.  Our actions regardless of others actions.  This vulnerability to the surrounding culture is the source of the genocide in the time of Israel entering the Promised Land.  Think about that.  Due to the risk to the Hebrews, YHWH ordered entire towns, villages, tribes  and peoples to be completely wiped out.  What does this suggest about YHWH’s assessment of the risk from surrounding culture?  YHWH is good.  YHWH is just.  The cultures to be wiped out were horrifyingly evil.  The risk to Israel had to be horrifyingly high.  It was.  Israel failed to carry out YHWH’s orders.  Israel has since lost 2 temples and been wiped from the map two times.  Their assimilation of other cultures played a huge role in triggering these judgements.

Today, we are lulled, distracted and fatigued by fire hose paced input from data capable cell phones, TV, emails, tweets, etc. until we do not even know that we are in trouble.  We become the proverbial frog in the pot of culture.  It is in this pot that ‘individualism’ warps our understanding of hope.

The Bible does not reflect God’s mindset or approach to humanity as individualistic. The Bible shows clearly how God’s perspective and actions reflects working with groups – families, tribes, ethnic groupings, synagogues, churches, nations, groups of disciples, etc.  Yes, individuals play essential roles.  These individuals receive promises and some even receive covenants.  The promises and covenants, however, are primarily for the benefit of dozen’s, hundreds, thousands, millions, and even billions of others.

Hope is something that comes to a group.  Hebrews tend to understand this.  American Christians?  Not so much.

Do these individuals benefit from the promises YHWH gave them?  Do they derive hope from the promise each received?  Some do.  Some periodically do.  Abram who became Abraham periodically experienced the hope of God’s promises to him.  At other times, his poor thinking and strong emotion cut him off from each of his promise’s hope.  The promises continued unchanged, but he did not retain his grip on the reality of the unchanging presence of the promises.

For some (or most) of these individuals with promises or covenants, the benefit as promised by YHWH never comes to fulfillment in that person’s life.  This statement is heresy in American culture.  America is the land of opportunity with the expectation of rapid realization of an opportunity’s benefits.  How could God not reward us soon in this life for our faithfulness, for our effort?  To state that individual happiness is not God’s goal is an even greater heresy.  It seems to deny God’s justness.  (When justice is misdefined.)  If God is not just, where is our hope?  This is a very warped view of justness and hope that defines these as sustained bestowal of desired outcomes.  Jesus does not promise this in this life.

It is also warped, to speak and sing of Christ and God while our hope is buried deeply in the world that opposes both of them.  Is it wrong to hope in the world?  It is buying into a set of lies.  Once bought, you own them and they own you, until they are rejected.  Owning lies, protecting lies and ultimately being driven by lies will not help you.  What helps you is hope based in Revealed Truth and revealed truth.

To have that hope?  You must internally possess the Truth and your truth.  What does it mean to possess Truth and truth?  It means that what you think about, what you emote about, what you believe is internally tied to Revealed Truth and experienced truth.  Internal ties to the revealed truth found in God’s Word will remodel you.  Your identity will change.  Internal ties to truth about you (your current and future identity) during this remodeling will frighten you, but give you hope, because when Revealed meets revealed, positive change can occur.  Pieces of the new and future identity become present in today’s life.  This change is not automatic. It requires choices.

It is this remodeling that is so uncomfortable.  We prefer to avoid externally imposed choices.  It is this level of American individualism that is a lie; the portion that is little more than aging 2-year olds with access to sex, drugs, rock n’ roll and nuclear weapons; yet shouting “I DO IT!  I DO IT!”  This is insanity.  Yet the remodeling is also not the individualized self help that we want. The remodel is externally directed transformation taking place in the view of the community.  Think about that statement.

The world’s hope bypasses this externally mandated public remodel.  We think it is freedom to choose the world’s hope.  It is ‘private,’ ‘mine,’ ‘my expression.’  We smear self-help freedom over YHWH’s revelation and remodeling and call it ‘spirituality.’  Yet, the worldly sellers of this hope mock the need for remodeling based on YHWH’s revelations.  We align with these mockers when we buy their lies.

In accepting the avoidance of remodeling, we fail to realize how we steer ourselves, our children, and our fellow Christians down wrong paths.  We think we are strong, successful individuals due to the confirmation of worldly measures and we do not recognize that we have ensured our slavery to Satan’s systems and goals.  Satan has sold us ‘success’ and ‘control’ in various flavors.  He will sell us more again and again.

This American individualism is a sham.  We cannot bypass the need to remodel.  We instead align with worldly pursuits while singing of Godly ones.  The only question actually before us is whom we align with – Satan or YHWH.  Whether we recognize it or not, we make multiple such choices each day.  We trade in both life and death – buying and selling truth and lies – throughout each and every day. Whether we realize it or not, we engage in hupotasso.  Hope requires hupotasso.

Hupotasso is the Koine Greek word generally translated as submission in the New Testament.  It is a military term meaning “rank under.”  So, it is a term that describes willful subordination of individual intent and authority under a larger organization’s strategy, intent, authority and culture.  When we pursue the hopes of worldliness – health, wealth, happiness, prominence, control, acclaim  – we rank ourselves under Satan’s strategy.  We Christians extend his culture.  We extend it into our business, our church, our family, our friendships and , yes, our ministries.

For the Christian, the appropriate ranking under is under Jesus, the Christ of Israel.  Why mention “Jesus, the Christ of Israel?”  Christian hope comes from the roots of Israel.  We are grafted into Israel as a ‘wild olive branch.’  This is important.  With this perspective, we understand that Christian hope is at least thousands of years old and involves millions of people.  In reality, Christian hope is built on purposes agreed to before time itself existed.  If the universe is about 15 billion years old (which honest astrophysicists will admit is at best an estimation, if not just speculation), then Christian hope is more than 15 billion years old.  Think about that.

Think about that when hope seems absent in your spiritual life.  Think about that when you are tempted to pursue worldly hope.  Think about the fact that your hope, if you have accepted Christ, is the oldest thing in the universe (regardless of your preferred universe age number).  It is the oldest, truest, surest thing in your and my existence.  It is also promised – multiple times – by the one and only self-existent being.  It is promised to us.

Us includes me, but is not solely nor preferentially focused on me.  Us is us – Jew and Christian.  Sing of us.  Connect to us.  Share the hope of us.

Perhaps the seeming silence of God at times in your life is in fact the absence of considering the truth between us.  Hope is experienced in community.  Silence may be more about missed human interaction than seemingly useless prayer.  The seeming silence can also be from an absence of disclosure.  Avoiding disclosure of painful experienced sin (whether sinning or being sinned against) stifles the option of hope in us.  Sin breaks the ‘us.’  We hide.  We hide from others.  We hide from ourselves.  We hide and say God abandoned us.  To quote an awkward phrase, “This need not be so.”

The silence also comes from a different absence.  The absence of knowledge of YHWH’s word guarantees there is no bulwark against the tide of worldly hope and its backlash of despair.  You will not think about what you do not know.  You will not know God as he is if you will not read.  If you will not read and will not take internally God’s word…you will conform.   You will conform to Satan’s culture, world and values.  You are truly, then in the waves of worldly hope and despair.  Refuse the change in your internal culture and you are treading water as if dropped from a cruise ship mid-sea.  Treading water alone.  Nothing in sight.  A horrifying image and a worse reality.

Genocide is also horrifying.  It is ruthlessness beyond our ability to endure.  Yet, yet in Israel’s first culture war that is what was required.  Today?  After the cross?  What is required?  Love at a genocidal level.  Active, invested love seeking to serve and save all enemies is ‘genocidal’ love.  That is what “love your enemy as yourself” means.  This level of love is difficult to comprehend.  How do I you do this?  First, you need enemies.  Then you act…and then, you begin to change….as you love enemies and offer them the Kingdom.

The following passages and essays provide mechanisms to take positive action to address the experienced absence of hope.  It is not necessary to be hopeless.  It is necessary to derive hope, rather than manufacture it.  The world literally manufactures false hope, ephemeral hope.  YHWH reveals hope to the ‘us’ in this world.  You are part of us.  Hope comes from love that existed before time began.  It began in a trio.  It continues in a body and a nation.  This love is far, far beyond radical…

Deadly Career Choices

Passage: James 5:1-6
5:1 Come now, you rich! Weep and cry aloud over the miseries that are coming on you. 5:2 Your riches have rotted and your clothing has become moth-eaten. 5:3 Your gold and silver have rusted and their rust will be a witness against you. It will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have hoarded treasure! 5:4 Look, the pay you have held back from the workers who mowed your fields cries out against you, and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5:5 You have lived indulgently and luxuriously on the earth. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 5:6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous person, although he does not resist you.

Soul Search Essay
Why would the reality of who Jesus Christ is provoke James to such a strong statement as this passage? Why would the life of Jesus that James observed provoke such confrontational words? Why would the death and resurrection of Jesus demand from James these assertions?

Think seriously about these questions.

If you cannot offer a meaningful answer to each question, your grasp of Jesus’ life needs to grow. It needs to grow significantly. Jesus came to radically alter what? Everything. Society. Work. Culture. Career. Perception. Morality. Community. Health. Wealth. He came to radically alter inner human worlds (that place in our mind where we live out our inner thoughts) and even to alter the external physical world. If you cannot answer each question above, then has he radically altered you? You have been saved, but have you thought deeply enough about Christ, his teachings and God’s plans to grow meaningfully? Where does he fit in your business life? Has Christ radically altered you business behavior? Consider the following.

Who is James confronting? Those who are successful in the first century. Those who have succeeded in life, those who have “won.” In their winning, they accumulated wealth. Are you successful? If so, James is forcefully stating that you are in grave danger. In fact, he is holding people just like you up as a powerful, potent warning to others. Why would he do that? Your success, whether in work, money (the scenario James used here), the church, or society is the deadliest type of trap that exists. James also strongly points out that these traps are the milk of evil.

How can this be true? Success is proof of God’s love! No. Success apart from your intimate participation in God’s plans is not proof of his love. Without his intimate participation, your success is proof of something else. It proves serious time and attention have been given to advancement within this corrupt world, given to climbing Satan’s ladder (Satan rules the current human world), given to acquiring more of Satan’s tools. You have given serious time and attention that did not go to God’s plans, to his grace or to his love. (FOOTNOTE: Success as part of God’s intimate interaction with you is not part of Satan’s ladder and you are not acquiring Satan’s property and tools. Before you quickly claim this fits you, recognize that deep introspection is required. Have you done intimately participated with God? Really?) What does this indicate? Idolatry.

Idolatry is the reliance on anything other than God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit for your safety, sustenance, security and life path. The intimate participation of God means that he participates in your path decisions due to your daily invitation to involve him in them. Success apart from his involvement, however, very easily breeds, incubates, and sustains evil while trapping you in this evil. It does this not because of arrogance, but insulation. Success shields you from dependence on God. You issue no invitations. This insulation and shielding is the natural terrain of idolatry. So, success makes it easy to avoid painful truth (truth about who you actually are) and in avoiding that truth, you pursue evil.

I am reasonably sure most people do not consider themselves evil nor do they think they are pursuing evil. To recognize the evil within us requires spiritual maturity. It requires brutal, deep honesty. People pursuing advancement in this corrupt world on their own terms tend to lack these qualities.

To avoid idolatry and evil while experiencing success is exceptionally difficult and exceptionally rare. It can be done, but it requires a deep level of intimacy with God and a profound vulnerability to him. Most successful people avoid even casual vulnerability. Profound vulnerability is way, way off the radar. Successful people seek to overcome vulnerability, not embrace it. To be told not only to embrace, but actively explore it? They do not just avoid vulnerability. They run from it.

Often safety and security needs are core drivers in the pursuit of success. Yes, pleasure plays a role, but there are usually powerful negative drivers as well. Success often comes from driveness to succeed. This driveness is usually primarily avoidance of something. There is some pain, longing or need that colors many pieces of the successful life at a deep level. That ache has to be soothed and success seems to provide the answer. Unfortunately, it is a trap and not a solution. Equally unfortunate is that the avoidance of vulnerability requires the avoidance of personal awareness. So, avoiding evil while pursuing success in the worldly, anti-Christ system known as a career or society in modern America is impossible without God’s direction and intimate participation. Without God’s direction, evil will advance.

Again, without the direction and intimate participation of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ and Yahweh in any career, business, investment, social climb, etc., you will foster and advance evil within your soul, evil in your family, evil in your community and evil within your business. You will be seduced by success through your pursuit of it, whether you reach what you define as success or not. Powerfully unpleasant words.

Why would I say this? Read the sentence again, “You will be seduced by success through your pursuit of it, whether you reach what you define as success or not.” What is the critical phrase? It is “…what you defined as success….” Where is the intimacy of Jesus Christ, of the Holy Spirit or of Yahweh in that phrase? Where is intimate participation in Yahweh’s plan?

Too often, it is absent.

Jesus Christ demands that you become a career Christian. It is not a suggestion. It is a demand. (If you believe I am incorrect, read the Gospels. Refute me from them.) Your career is in Christ and Christ alone. Christ requires us to be career Christians. Without the “my career is Christ” mindset, you will assume James’ statements do not apply to you. You will fail to recognize how much faith you put in money, status, control, power, and other worldly solutions. You will remain numb to your idolatry; unaware, yet actively idolatrous. This is why you cannot deeply answer my questions in this devotion.

Intimacy with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit continually alters who you are. This is a definitive statement. It is absolutely not saying, “Intimacy with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit can occasionally alter who you are.” It does alter you. It alters you continually. Spiritual growth is consistent, ongoing God directed change. You can only avoid the altering by avoiding the intimacy. In avoiding intimacy, you are the plaything of evil. In fact, you are a participant in evil by actively advancing it. This a very ugly truth. The truth is that evil is very ugly. I pray you will read the following devotions and consider how to escape.

Awareness & Expectations

Passage: James 5:3-4
5:3 Your gold and silver have rusted and their rust will be a witness against you. It will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have hoarded treasure! 5:4 Look, the pay you have held back from the workers who mowed your fields cries out against you, and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.

Soul Search Essay
The prior essays have been very hard. They challenged your assumptions about your work, your career, your goals and the things you trust. Many Christians fear deeply a couple of things – personal awareness and God’s expectations.

We fear awareness, because we know or at least sense at some deep level that we are seriously idolatrous. We know that while we have accepted Jesus as our savior, there are areas where we do not, do not trust him. Often, if we are successful, the numbness of success blocks our recognition of our personal idolatry. It pushes the awareness away. There is, however, often still some sense of the things we do not want to entrust to him; areas we do not feel safe with Jesus accessing. These are things, unfortunately, that we do not want to be aware of ourselves except on very, very rare occasions. We like the absence of awareness.

In fact, we aggressively avoid this awareness, because we know these things do not meet God’s expectations and are not worthy of Christ’s sacrifice. To allow ourselves to be conscious of them would be to know and admit our double mindedness, which would be very painful; perhaps even debilitatingly painful depending on the depth of our double mindedness. So, we carry on in life; avoiding a Christ career, avoiding God’s expectations and building elements into our lives that are beyond ironic. We act as if this is our life and our time. It is not.

“It is in the last days that you have hoarded treasure!”. “…the last days….” Why does James focus on that? The last days are days when the opportunity to add to the Kingdom of God still exists. Hope is still possible. Love can still be extended to others. With the summation of the last days that opportunity will end. Those who have not joined the kingdom will be lost.

Now is the time to be actively engaged in a Christ career, because the opportunity to expand the kingdom is uniquely now. Now is the time to accept that Christianity is a participatory faith. Now is the time to accept that participation is daily, hourly and continuous. Now is the time to accept that life is not about you. It is about Jesus and you. It is about Jesus’ plan…not your agenda. Life is also about us plus you. Christianity is a community faith; not a lone wolf effort.  Can you see what I am describing?  Now is the time to change how you see…not just what you look at.

How do silver and gold, careers, status, power, prestige, etc. “…witness against you?” E witness is in the meaning we give them. They are meaningful in a destructive way. They became evil means within your life. Evil enters through the eye, because it is what you focus on that consumes you. Your career, work, money, or social status cannot save or free you. They cannot save those around you. They consume you and others through your focus, through how you choose to see, what you see and how you act on that sight. They consume. They do not give. They are solutions that are not answers. Why? Because they are very destructive solutions.

“…and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.” Whose ears have been reached? Yahweh’s. Does this matter in the age of grace? Yes, it does. This letter was written in the era of grace to people living in grace. This is not the Old Testament.

Even if the book of James were in the Old Testament, all, all of the law and the prophets were summed up in loving God and loving others. These two paths of love must extend into every facet of life. Love must invade your business, must invade your society, must invade your family and more. It must radically alter the things within your sphere of influence. If you have succeeded in the worldly, anti-Christ systems of business and society, if you have done this without Jesus’ intimate participation, you do not see your workplace or relationships as a Christ-careered person would. Do you? Are you that rare exception in the church that senses and follows the Holy Spirit faithfully and consistently in the corridors of business? Praise be to Christ if you are! If not….

“It will consume your flesh like fire.” When you do come to understand the years of your idolatry, it will burn you like a fire. You will know that you have been a fool. You will know that this foolishness burned others through how you deprived them of time, attention, investment, and care. You will experience some of their pain. The foolishness burned you as well. Am I talking of purgatory in the age of grace? No. I am talking about awareness. I am talking about Christ-like eyes cast on your full life of actions, intentions and motivations with you unable to turn away. I am talking about unvarnished awareness.

I sat with a dying man when he chose a different way to see. It took his impending death to rip away the millions he had earned and for him to see the mockery that had been his life. It was hard to watch the pain in his eyes as he wrestled with what he had instilled in his children. He was horrified. He saw differently and finally knew that the evil tendrils sunk deep in his life had been what he passed on to his now adult children. He finally could see it in his life and theirs lives. He finally had the eyes of Christ and knew the grief of Christ. Yet, it was so late in his life and he was so mechanical of a Christian that he could not warn those children. He had the opportunity given by unvarnished awareness. His embarrassment and shame sadly overcame his love. He only told me; not his children. Do not follow this man. Do not.

Endure the pain of removing the tendrils now. End the accumulation of new evil. End, please, the passing on of evil. Become a Christ-careered person. Stop wasting love and grace. Invest in a career in Christ! There is no path forward to do this other than through the fire. Removal of evil is painful and embarrassing. Do it.

Christ came to knit us together into a radically different community. He came to enable us to be a radically different business person. He came to make life truly, truly meaningful. He came to bring true joy. Accept the meaningful life. Begin the removal of the idols. Participate with the Holy Spirit. Endure the pain and be transformed. Move toward true joy. Take something new into the corridors of business. Take love to those that share these corridors with you. Take the Kingdom into your business.