I Hope

Uphold me according to your promise, that I may live, and let me not be put to shame in my hope!  Hold me up, that I may be safe and have regard for your statutes continually!  Psalm 119:116-117

Hope is such a vulnerable act.  Hope exposes raw places in our hearts, fragile nerves easily wounded.  Not all of my hopes are noble and righteous, many are not.  But my hopes confess the most honest desires, beliefs and perspectives by which I live.  When my hopes are shamed, I am most easily attracted to dishonesty, self-protection, cynicism and hardness.  Dishonesty about what I value is easier than disappointment.  Self-protection is obviously more appealing than “offering the other cheek”.  Cynicism makes me untouchable, or so I can be persuaded.  And hardness of heart is the result of this cocktail of responses.

What the psalmist here is pleading is that God would not let him drown but instead, would uphold him.  I want God’s promises to be true and I want my trust in them to be proven right.

Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.  Psalm 33:22

My hope is supposed to be in God, in the surety of His redemptive and glorious plans being accomplished without any hiccups.  My hope ought to be founded on the certainty that God is good all the time and that His plans are to prosper and not to harm.  My hope is meant to be based upon trust in His knowledge of true prosperity of my soul rather than some anemic material version I may concoct.

But often, I place my hope in particular ways in which I want these things to be evidenced.  In reality, my hope is placed in the response of others, in communication, collaboration and the immediate rather than the slow cooker transformation that is making all things gloriously new, even me.

I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.  ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’  Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.  ‘Hear, and I will speak;  I will question you, and you make it known to me.’   I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,  but now my eye sees you;  Job 42:2-5

I lean too willingly on my own understanding and am slow to trust what I cannot see.  A phone call from a friend this morning brought this reality rushing into view.  As I heard of God’s lavish and nurturing answer to their long suffering, it was more than could have been asked or imagined.  God is faithful and kind, never forgetting the goal of the stories He is writing as He tells His Great Story to and through our lives.  He never forsakes and His love never fails.

Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.   For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name;  and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called.  For the Lord has called you like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off, says your God.  For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you.  In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,” says the Lord, your Redeemer.  Is. 54:4-8

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  I hope.

Perplexing Freedom

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods.  But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?…What then has become of your blessedness? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me.  Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?  They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them.  It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you,  my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!  I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.  Gal. 4:8-19, 15-20

Paul got fiery sometimes.  His primary goal wasn’t to scratch itchy ears or stroke fragile egos.  When children start playing too close to traffic or approach an electric socket with a fork, our hollar often gets their attention more quickly than our legs can carry us to prevent catastrophe.   In any case, startling the child or hurting their feelings is not nearly as worrisome as what might happen to their lives if their direction toward harm isn’t interrupted.

They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt?  Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”  Ex. 14:11-12

What wouldn’t the Israelites have given to be free from their brutal treatment as slaves in Egypt?  Like the believers in Galatia, they would have “gouged out their eyes and given them”, in response to their blessedness and freedom.  And the Galatians, just like the Israelites, did not remain in that state of celebratory freedom, faithful generosity and self-forgetfulness.  There is such a strong pull in all of us to settle for enslavement to the familiar rather than to run toward freedom in the wilderness.  It turns out, we just can’t believe God will be with us in the wilderness and our misery in captivity isn’t all that bad, after all.  At least the former in known.

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.”  Matt. 14:28-30

I will always be more like Peter, looking to my left and to my right, valuing the approval of everyone more than the One who has already said of me, in His Son, well done.  I will be reluctant like the Israelites and Galatians, more willing to believe my fears than the One who casts out all fear.  But He is slow to anger and abounding in love, faithful to complete the good work He has begun, and willing to keep calling me out of the boat and closer to Him.

Be Stilling the Trouble

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.  John 14:27

Troubled heart.  Yes, my heart is troubled.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.   And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.  Gen. 4:5-6

The wretchedness of sin and its fruit of selfishness, division, strife, disconnect and damage has been visible to nobody as clearly as it was easily apparent to God.  He knew before it took hold that only death could eradicate this lethal toxin.  There was no reforming it, redirecting it, or repackaging it.  The corrupting effects of sin’s powerful pull are rapid and thorough.

“Ah, stubborn children,” declares the Lord, “who carry out a plan, but not mine, and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit, that they may add sin to sin; who set out to go down to Egypt, without asking for my direction, to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!  Therefore shall the protection of Pharaoh turn to your shame, and the shelter in the shadow of Egypt to your humiliation.  Is. 30:1-3

Who with an addiction seeks help for recovery when the addiction doesn’t seem to be hurting anyone?  An intervention is designed to increase the volume on the message of pain, but often an even more personal loss is required to initiate a turning from self-destruction toward healing.  So God over and over provides evidence of the humiliation and deterioration brought about by our addiction to self above all else.  And yet because He is compassionate and full of love, He is grieved.  It does not delight Him to see the decay of His children and of His creation.  They were not made for destruction but for life.

The God who is making all things new, who will bring to completion the beautiful work that He began, Who will wipe every tear from every eye and usher in His Kingdom in which there is no more grieving, mourning, groaning, isolation, pain, division, selfishness or death, weeps at the presence of those things now.  He feels the sorrow.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;  yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions;  he was crushed for our iniquities;  upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray;  we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  Is. 53:4-6

O afflicted one, storm-tossed and not comforted, behold, I will set your stones in antimony, and lay your foundations with sapphires.  I will make your pinnacles of agate, your gates of carbuncles, and all your wall of precious stones.  All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children.  In righteousness you shall be established; you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near you.  Is. 54:11-14

This peace that John spoke about which works its way through the storming waters in my heart and says, “Be still”, has been planned and promised from the beginning of the story.  It will not come through democratic consensus and it will not be forced by hands or efforts of men.  I can not attain it through sheer will or merely looking on the sunny side.  It is possible only and always because each interaction I have in the course of my days which evidences the humongous need for a Redeemer will in fact be cured by One.  He has not only been troubled in heart by these things, He was stricken, smitten, afflicted, pierced and crushed by them.  And the lives and aspects of life wrecked by sin will find resurrection through Him.  Unity and harmony and peace will be restored as we are made righteous and nested securely in His righteousness.

Though troubled, let not my heart be dismayed, but rather look to Him, trusting that what is impossible with man is the very thing He will accomplish.

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?   But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Rom. 8:20-25

Entrusted

Yesterday I crossed over the end of my ability to process, to cope, to navigate, to be considerate or unselfish.  My sweet husband has been in bed sick for the past two days and I’ve been mad at him for it.  He’s been going so hard for so long and is way overdue for a total crash, and even knowing this, I showed no compassion.

This same lack of compassion has been prevalent in the way I have interacted with my children.  I’m out of compassion, apparently.  Also, I’m out of kindness, patience, goodness, unselfishness and generally those things that look like Jesus.  What might be worse is that last night as I saw clearly how awfully I was treating my most loved ones, I didn’t really care…or what concerned me was more about what they were seeing than genuinely being changed.

If you’ve ever felt that sort of mental collapse – not just fatigue from working on some academic project until too late at night but the type of mental black out where you really feel like one groping in the kind of darkness where you can’t even see your own hands, that is about where I am in relation to that first sentence up there.  And utterly losing one’s bearings is not just disorienting, it can be suffocating.  And it isn’t just suffocating, but it can be maddening.  And it isn’t just maddening, because it also feels like being in one of those rooms where the walls are closing in on every side and unless a way out is created quickly, the room will squish you.

they flung me alive into the pit and cast stones on me; water closed over my head;  I said, ‘I am lost.’  “I called on your name, O Lord, from the depths of the pit; you heard my plea, ‘Do not close your ear to my cry for help!’  You came near when I called on you;  you said, ‘Do not fear!’  Lamentations 3:53-57

How does one engage with the poor and disenfranchised without becoming poor and disenfranchised?  What about when it seems the poor and disenfranchised only want to use you up until there is little left?  What do redemptive friendships look like between individuals from vastly different cultures and classes?  Are such friendships really even possible or will they always be unbalanced?  Over and over it seems God calls His people to go to the poor, to the lepers, to the needy in all regards and to the outcasts as a reflection of what He has done in coming to us, coming to me.  And I suppose I can see also in those Scriptures that His people used Him up until there was little left, but He willingly gave unto death.

Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.”  And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”  Matt. 26:38

Throughout His days on earth, Jesus withdrew to be with His Father to sustain His strength.  He eventually, as the cross drew nearer, was overcome with sorrow to the point of death.  The weight of sin, the reality of its corrupting effects on every aspect of man and creation, is that kind of pitch darkness felt also by a room where the walls are closing in and will kill any life found inside.  And yet His suffering wasn’t just for the sake of endurance, or for meaningless martyrdom but by His wounds WE have been healed.  He bore the suffocation of darkness so that I can breathe.

 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.  1 Peter 4:19

It is not a matter of “must I suffer?” but rather, do I entrust my soul to a faithful Creator?  Do I really believe that He is with me in my suffering, that He will never abandon the work of His hands, that He is the Good Shepherd of my heart, soul and physical living?  I think I haven’t believed this, which is why I have felt so angry, lacking in compassion, stretched too thin and certain of being squished.  And, let me as clear as I am capable of being, much of my suffering is a result of my own sinfulness – which is often the worst kind of darkness.  My heart is too powerful for me to steer, to control, to navigate…but He is greater than my heart and is working all these things together for His glory.  Not my will but His, even in transforming me.  Oh may I entrust my soul to my faithful Creator and not grow weary in doing good.

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.  John 10:27-29

Bilbo Baggins and the Good News of God’s Kingdom

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matt. 10:37-39

Not worthy?  But I thought the whole message of redemption was that it was our unworthiness that requires rescue from outside of ourselves?  Now I’ve got to be worthy to follow Him?  Not worthy?  Is Jesus, just like the Pharisees, heaping new laws on me too?  Is He putting burdens on my shoulders that I am already too weak and weary to bear?  Now I have to give up stuff, and not just stuff but my own family?

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Matt. 11:28

Whiplash?  So is Jesus speaking out of two sides of His mouth, as they say, or is there a consistency found in His own person, work, life, death and resurrection?

“Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself?  You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit?  You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!” from The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Bilbo, like the disciples, left his warm, reliable, respectable home to do a job that he hadn’t really signed up for nor really wanted to have to do.  But in the end, the little hobbit who cared less about gold and swords than he did a nice cup of tea by the fire turned out to be a significant player in restoring a kingdom that had been wrongfully and wickedly taken.  One can’t make too tight of a parallel between this tale and the Gospel story, and I have no intention of doing that.  But what did strike me was this oxymoron that does resemble our life with Jesus.  Our behavior, on the one hand, is only that of quite a little fellow in a wide world because it is God who has actually ordained it, initiated it, sustained it, guaranteed it and fulfilled it.  And yet this work of ours has great and deep significance because it is why were created and we are the instruments through which He has chosen to bring His Kingdom to earth as it is in heaven.  So then, the opportunity is ours, but the burden is not.

But what of all the “worthy” and life losing stuff?

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.  For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? Luke 9:23-25

It was God’s affection for Adam and Eve that asked them not to attempt to be their own gods, because He knew apart from Him they could do absolutely nothing and more than that, would shrivel and die like skin cut off a life giving organ.  But they didn’t believe Him, they didn’t trust Him and more than that, they trusted their own eyes more, their own reason more, their own view of the world from their own perspective more.  What good could God’s kingdom be when they could build their own?

And it was God’s willful affection for His creation that initiated Adam and Eve’s restoration, called them out from their hidey hole behind the tree, removed the heavy burden of their guilt and shame and instead covered them in His righteousness as He sent them out into the world.  Bilbo had no idea of the trauma that was before him in his “adventure” and would never have agreed to any of it if something stronger weren’t at work in him.  And yet somehow, as he gave up his life, he gained greater life.

Gandalf looked at him.  “My dear Bilbo!”  he said.  “Something is the matter with you!  You are not the hobbit that you were.”…Indeed Bilbo found he had lost more than spoons – he had lost his reputation…I am sorry to say he did not mind. He was quite content; and the sound of the kettle on the hearth was ever after more musical than it had been even in the quiet days before the Unexpected Party.

There he found a man named Aeneas, bedridden for eight years, who was paralyzed.  And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” And immediately he rose. Acts 9:33-34

He heals us and immediately puts us to work to participate in His redemptive labor and mysteriously, participating in His redemptive labor heals us.  He has come that we might have life, and life in abundance, and that life is in Him.  We set down artificial life to take up and live in His fullness of life.  Perhaps it could be pictures as the plea to let go of the anvil while trying to stay afloat in the ocean.  Lay down the misplaced object of your affection which is drowning you to be lifted up by your affectionate Father.  Accordingly, Jesus’ words in Matthew 10 aren’t a bitter jab of condemnation or new law but rather a compassionate observation.  If I cling to anything more than Him, no matter how good that thing appears from my perspective, I will not be worthy because my only and great worth is found in Him alone.  And no goblins, dragons, wolves nor self-serving men or dwarves can diminsh that life.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  Rom. 6:3-4