Looking for Hope on Google

Today, I was searching on Google News for hope. That sounds pretty desperate, doesn’t it?

Well, I wasn’t searching for hope on Google; I was searching for the way hope appears in the news. And I found these headlines:

What do all of these 3 uses of ‘hope’ have in common? They all express a desire, a wish, a heartfelt longing for something to happen. A war to end. A casino to fix what ails an economically-deprived community. A deep yearning that underneath the crush of snow, there’s still the possibility of life. All 3 point to a desire that, frankly and even tragically, may not be fulfilled.

So often, the hope we express is rooted in nothing more than our deepest desires. And reality, and tragedy, often keep hope from turning into something more.

In the midst of such desires for hope, we read in 1 Peter 1.3-5:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (RSV).

Through Jesus, we have a hope. Not simply a wish, or a desire. Not a dream, or an unfulfilled longing. Through the resurrection of Jesus, our hope is alive. It’s a living, breathing, count-on-it kind of hope. And if it’s living, then it not only lives IN us, it also lives THROUGH us.

This is not to say that life is easy. Hope isn’t some childish fantasy that pretends as if the world isn’t a difficult place. It is. But a living hope is alive not in spite of the brokenness, but in the middle of it.

I love how Craig Barnes describes this hope we have:

Hope arises out of the hard truth of how things are. Christians will always live carrying in one hand the promises of how it will be and in the other the hard reality of how it is. To deny either is to hold only half the truth of the gospel.

We who follow Jesus are hopeful people. No matter which way the winds of culture, or politics, or even religion may blow, the hope of Jesus is unchanging. No matter how difficult life gets, or how challenging it is to live for Jesus, the hope he gives is unchanging. And with this as our foundation, we don’t have to sit in our church buildings waiting for that hope to be revealed – we get to go live it, and give it. For if hope is alive, then shouldn’t WE be alive? Shouldn’t it overflow from our lives, to those who are hoping there’s more to life than the daily grind, or the grinding discouragement that fills the days and lives of so many people?

For we have a living hope. Is it living in you?

One Church, Many Families

For 48 years, I’ve also been a part of One Church; because, if we take Jesus seriously, there is only one Church. Even so, that One Church has many different “congregations.” In my lifetime, I’ve have had the privilege of visiting, worshiping with, learning from, and speaking in countless churches.  Some have been in the midwest, some in the south, and some in the east. I have spoken in a church where you could do attendance on both your hands, and I have prayed over Iraqi refugees in a house church in the Middle East. I have preached in a church in Ukraine (through an interpreter, thankfully), and have spoken at churches in Kentucky that delayed their services because UK basketball was on. I preached one of my first sermons in a nursing home church, and have spoken at a church that kept a Christmas tree available on stage (because you never know when you’re going to need a Christmas tree).

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Mom & Dad with some of the folks from one of my “Ten”

Of all the churches I’ve been privileged to visit, I count no less than 10 that I have been a part of; ten churches that have been, for me, family. The first two I remember are an African-American congregation in the urban northeast and a largely white, blue-collar church not far from that one. (My father preached at both, so both churches were, in essence, my first church families.) I’ve been a part of a college church, and a nursing home church. I’ve called churches “home” that are urban, suburban, and rural. In other words, I’ve gotten just a taste of the wild and wonderful diversity that is the Church of Jesus Christ. We who follow Jesus are very diverse; but in him, we are one. And that unity is vital to our identity.

How do we get there? How do we live out the unity that Jesus prayed for, and yet is so elusive? Well, the Apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 8 gives us some insight:

We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints—and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us.

Paul focuses on the generosity of the Macedonians, using it as an example for those in Corinth. But it’s not simply an example for giving, it’s also an example for living. Though the Gentile Macedonians had little, they begged for the opportunity to give to the needs of their Jewish counterparts in Jerusalem. But more than money, they were sharing the “fellowship of ministry” with them.

And in 2 Corinthians 8.5, Paul says they provided a wonderful model for the rest of us. Simply put, they gave themselves to the Lord, and then to their church family in need.

This, my friends, is a perfect description of how unity happens. We give ourselves first to the Lord, and then to each other. In fact, not only is that a portrayal of how unity happens, it’s also a description of what faith looks like. To give ourselves to Jesus leads naturally to giving ourselves to each other.

In other words, unity isn’t complicated. It’s not something we finally get around to when we’ve studied for years and years. It’s what the Family of God simply IS. And DOES.

Are you united with Jesus? If so, you’re united (and working on unity) with God’s family, in all its wild and wonderful diversity.

Christians in America

 

As our country prepares for another transition at the top, what does it mean to be a Christian in America? How do we access our rights and responsibilities as followers of Jesus in the United States?

A good, basic principle is found in a helpful quote from the late Richard John Neuhaus. He reminded us that “Christians are called to walk not the road to political victory, but the way of the cross.”

I think Neuhaus is right. But what does that mean in practice?

I have recently been reading the New Testament Book of Acts, and I think we see, in two back-to-back episodes from the life of the Apostle Paul, a guide for how we put that principle into practice.

In Acts 16, Paul and his companions have come to the Macedonian city of Philippi. As was Paul’s custom, they seek out Jewish believers to share with them the good news of Jesus. Because Philippi had no synagogue, they find a group of Jewish women praying outside the city. Paul shares the gospel, and a prominent woman named Lydia answers the call to follow Jesus.

Paul continues on in Philippi, and continues to teach and preach. While there, he encounters a woman with a “spirit of divination,” whom he heals. This leads to anger on the part of her masters, and leads to Paul and his colleague, Silas, being thrown into jail. When an earthquake rattles them free (literally), they have an encounter with the jailer – and they lead him and his family to Christ.

The next day, Paul is told he is free. Great! Take your tunic and run, Paul.

But he doesn’t do that. Instead, he tells the police, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now cast us out secretly?” (Acts 16.37, RSV).

In other words: You guys can’t get off that easily. We’re not leaving quietly when you took away our rights. Paul claims his Roman citizenship, without apology, using it to stand up for his rights and their responsibilities. He is not ashamed to say: I am a Roman citizen; give me my due.

The leaders apologize to Paul, and he heads to Thessalonica, where there is a synagogue. Paul goes in and starts teaching. Many listen and believe. But still others hear and get upset – upset enough to start what is essentially a riot. And the mob goes looking for Paul at a house owned by a man named Jason. They can’t find Paul, so they drag Jason before the authorities. And notice what they say: “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also … and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus” (Acts 17.6-7).

Notice what got them so upset: Paul was proclaiming another king beside Caesar. Let’s be clear: Them’s fightin’ words. To say that, openly, in a Roman city is to invite yourself back into another Roman prison cell.

In Philippi, Paul is not afraid to claim his rights as a Roman citizen. In Thessalonica, Paul is not afraid to speak truth to the leader of the Roman empire. In one, Paul claims what is rightfully his. In another, Paul speaks clearly what is rightfully not Caesar’s. In both cases, Paul uses his voice to speak truth as a Roman citizen, in Roman cities. All while staying true to his calling to walk in the way of the cross.

It seems to me that there’s a message for those of us trying to navigate as Christians in America:

  • As Americans, we shouldn’t be ashamed to claim that reality. When our country’s pledge is “liberty and justice for all” – we should seek that, for others, and for ourselves.
  • But we must also remember that we are not first Christian Americans, or even American Christians. We are Christians who happen to live in America. As such, we must never be afraid to remind Caesar that he is not god. Lovingly, faithfully, and humbly, we must continue to pledge allegiance first to Jesus – and lift him up as King of kings and Lord of lords.

Like Paul, we who are Americans are citizens of the most powerful nation on earth. With that, come privileges – and responsibilities. Let’s wisely continue to use both, as we choose to bow to no other god but the One who showed us that the path of life goes straight through a cross.