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…

Where Is the Love?

Passage: Review James 5:1-6

Soul Search Essay
Despite how hard and confrontational the prior devotions have been, the love of God is absolutely present in James 5:1-6. It is present in giving you both the option and the ability to change. No the passage does not give you a recipe to get better. It kicks your door in (as it did mine; repeatedly). It kicks the door of idolatry in and, within the passage, love is in the awareness carried in through that open door. SIn fact, sometimes someone has to love you enough to kick mental, emotional your door in.

Jesus said that as believers we would know the truth and the truth would set us free. Yes, that truth includes facts about Jesus, Yahweh and the Holy Spirit. It also includes facts about you. Some are very ugly facts specifically about you. Those facts persisted after your salvation and some of them have grown. These facts and the acts tied to them were fully redeemed by Christ’s blood, yet they are still present and destructive in your life. That is the inherent tension within Christian life. The life of the disciple is inherently tense.

Things are done, but not yet done.

The period after salvation is about spiritual maturation. It is about choice. Your salvation came from a choice you made. Maturation also comes from a choice and from choices. The choice is to cease being a baby Christian. The choices are about progressions of intimacy and awareness (there are multiple progression paths involved).

Baby Christians, especially those who have been babies for decades, do a lot of damage. They hurt themselves. They hurt others. They get rejected. They are often confused, lonely and unwilling to give up their chosen destructive solutions. God’s love comes to you in the letter of James via the call to leave babyhood behind. It comes in accepting the tension of the Christian disciples life. It is the call to accept the need for true courage over the lures of false comfort. James is issuing that call, but he is doing it with the knowledge that many prophets have. Many, many believers reject the prophet’s call. Prophets are generally called to fail. Why?

Spiritual maturity comes from willful vulnerability. Again, spiritual maturity comes from willful vulnerability to a majestic, loving and frightening God. Also, the vulnerability needs to occur as life is happening. This is not spiritual retreat vulnerability. This is vulnerability in the real moment. This is vulnerability today, tomorrow, the next day, the day after that one. This vulnerability requires not running away when your mental and emotional doors are kicked in by a loving, holy and outrageously committed God.

Love must include truth. Truth in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and Yahweh always includes love…regardless of whether it feels like love or not. Love is much, much more than a feeling. It is a position. It is a state. It is an emotion. It is a decision and it is decisions.

Our ultimate experience of love hangs on our salvation and Christ’s finished work. It is secure. Our current experience of love, the true love of Christ in this present world, depends on personal courage and personal choices. It depends on willful intimacy that is frightening, yet freeing in ways you may not even have a category for yet.

Courage is required in the Christian life. Courage is a core component of how you intimately participate in God’s plans.

View Reversal

Passage: James 5:6
5:6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous person, although he does not resist you.

Soul Search Essay
This essay is even harder. Literally this passage’s translation is “You have condemned, have murdered, he does not resist.”  Wow, laying it on a little thick aren’t you James? Hammering it home in short phrases, guy!  Is this really necessary?

Have you ever been wronged and felt deeply hurt? Hurt in a situation where you could not fight back, because the power differential was so great that to respond invited worse pain or frightening consequences? Didn’t you feel condemned? Murdered even, if the hurt was extremely deep? Why wouldn’t I feel that at your hands? Are the wounds you inflict on me cosmically exempt from my perceiving them as murder? Only if God directed you to carry out the confrontations or actions.

Did he? Changing how we see is based on vulnerable truth. Harming others is about avoiding vulnerability. It is using power ostensibly to protect yourself. Changing how you see is about becoming vulnerable enough to feel what you did to me. It is changing how you see (the method of seeing) to the point you can objectively look through my eyes at what you did. When I did not resist, it is possible that I chose vulnerability over winning. What does that say about you when you look through my eyes?

Courage, Christ and the Lands Of Minds & Business

Passage: Joshua 1:1-9

1:1 After Moses the Lord’s servant died, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant: 1:2 “Moses my servant is dead. Get ready! Cross the Jordan River! Lead these people into the land which I am ready to hand over to them. 1:3 I am handing over to you every place you set foot, as I promised Moses. 1:4 Your territory will extend from the wilderness in the south to Lebanon in the north. It will extend all the way to the great River Euphrates in the east (including all of Syria) and all the way to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. 1:5 No one will be able to resist you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not abandon you or leave you alone. 1:6 Be strong and brave! You must lead these people in the conquest of this land that I solemnly promised their ancestors I would hand over to them. 1:7 Make sure you are very strong and brave! Carefully obey all the law my servant Moses charged you to keep! Do not swerve from it to the right or to the left, so that you may be successful in all you do. 1:8 This law scroll must not leave your lips! You must memorize it day and night so you can carefully obey all that is written in it. Then you will prosper and be successful. 1:9 I repeat, be strong and brave! Don’t be afraid and don’t panic, for I, the Lord your God, am with you in all you do.”

Soul Search Essay:
Remembering that this thread of essays is for the older believer (not a person new to salvation) is important in following the rationale in these devotions. As new believers, we have new experiences and possibly strong emotions moving us and supporting us. As older believers, things often become more muted or even muddled. What typically drives us as we age as Christians (if we are honest) is more about comfort and familiarity than newness and passion. Or at least that is what happens until a storm arises. Storms come in the forms of crises, traumas, challenges or even new recognition of truth. This devotion is about a new recognition. In essence, to this point in the thread progression, these are a storm bringer essays.

As an American Christian, it is quite likely that no one (no preacher, no teacher that you know) has ever said, “God requires specifically you to be courageous in relating to him.” Perhaps you have heard something about courage in passing, in a sermon as a general statement or on a TV preacher’s show, but has the courage requirement ever been directly applied to you? You may have been told to be brave and evangelize, but has anyone told you that relating…in the privacy of your own mind…to God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit will require courage?

Most people that I have mentored or counseled do not really want this kind of personal, internal application of the need for courage. If pressed, some will admit avoiding this expectation, because of fear that God will ship them off somewhere, make them be a missionary, or in some other way appreciably alter their external life as a way of altering their internal life. In essence, this is the core of this passage – internal and external life intersecting and the fear of change. Are the fears that I describe realistic? God did send Joshua into danger. There are two answers – “No” and “Yes.”

As humans, as people we tend to import future fiction. At some level, we think “If I (me, myself and I; all three of me) trust God, he will ask me to do the impossible! I mean LOOK at Joshua! AND! That means God is moving me to Borneo as a missionary where I will die of yellow fever!” Is this true?

God is not likely to send you to Borneo and have you die of yellow fever. He could, but then there would be millions of missionaries in Borneo dying of various fevers. After all, the church is filled with baby Christians avoiding Borneo. Anyway, where would all the graves go? So, I don’t think so. He does ask you to the do the impossible though. So yes, your fear of God’s expectations is more than likely correct in terms of being asked, but not in terms of what is specifically asked of you. This scenario that Joshua faced is kind of the classic worst case becoming real that an older, immature Christian fears facing. How could God ask this?! How can this jive with felt in my early Christian life?

You may have been told in your early Christian or even pre-Christian years that “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life!” Enough crap (Yes, I said crap) has happened in your life, however, that you are a little suspicious of the “wonderful” part or you have bought into the “God’s love means comfort” mentality. In which case, you are busy trying to manufacture grace and blessing as bricks and mortar to shore up the required comfort in the world around you. Well, is “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” a lie? No, it is an incomplete truth. It is a truth that ignores the fact that salvation inherently and unavoidably involves tension and a war.

Joshua is being charged with literally invading a massive geographical area with the offspring of seriously spiritually dysfunctional parents (remember the parents died in the wilderness due to their idolatry and rebellion). What an ideal scenario for Joshua! SIGN ME UP! Piece of cake! Right? I want to be JOSHUA! Oh, maybe not.

Joshua’s life is a picture of Christ’s task in the world. Christ came to start a war. He said so. In fact, the opening scene of his ministry after his baptism is one of direct and personal battle. God’s directives to Joshua are also a picture of your personal battle tasks. There is ground within your soul, your mind, your behavior and your emotions to be invaded and redeemed. Yes, salvation, your salvation is assured, but your sanctification and your legacy involve a war that is intimate and that is personal to you.

After salvation you see, you still have worldly, idolatrous, lingering influences in your soul. You are wholly righteous in God’s eyes. Your salvation is secure. Yet, you are not wholly, completely changed by God. This is the reality every convert faces. Our redemption requires participation.

You see there is this pesky little fact, you have to participate in taking the ground just like Joshua did. You get to do this with an idolatrous you. It is your idolatrous nature that reserves “God free zones” in your soul, in your thinking and in your behavior. Just as Joshua was tasked to clear out the current inhabitants of the Promised Land, you must be present at your own clearing of your strongholds and evil. Ouch!

Frankly, I really, really do not like that. My idea? Send in the Navy Seals! Follow on with the Marines! Tell me when it is over! I’ll show up then! God’s reply? “I will not abandon you or leave you alone. Be strong and brave! You must lead these people in the conquest of this land that I solemnly promised their ancestors I would hand over to them.” Aargh! Oh, if you missed that he says it again, “I repeat, be strong and brave! Don’t be afraid and don’t panic, for I, the Lord your God, am with you in all you do.” Wow! I really have to be present AND participate? Seriously? Yes.

The truth is that the world and you are inherently tainted, shot through, riddled with evil. Salvation therefore means that a war is only avoidable by avoiding maturation. If you stay a baby Christian, you will actually not avoid the war, but you will have lots of inducement to criticize, howl, scream and generally trash what is in you and around you. Remember Joshua’s soldiers’ parents? The were not happy people. They whined, complained and blasphemed. Then, they had lunch. On God’s tab (manna). Then, they did it all over again. Avoiding intimate participation with Christ, Yahweh and the Holy Spirit in removing the strongholds in your life guarantees unresolved pain, bitterness, grief and strife. Oh, it screws up your children too.

The only way out that honors God’s investment in you, that redeems your behavior and thinking is going through the war. There it is. Truth. It really bites you. It hurts. Yes, participation is required. You are not a new believer. You sense there is some or perhaps a lot of truth in what is written here. Pursue that truth. Discard any error on my part as the essay author. Do not give up. The reward for going through the war is great. There is a real promised land in this life. There was in Joshua’s life. There is in yours. It just looks like nothing you have more than likely imagined. You may not even have the categories needed to describe this promised land. Jesus will supply those. Let him in. It will be a hell of a ride.