One Can Only Hope

Getting our hopes up

“Hope is the thing with feathers” says Emily Dickinson.

However, “riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven.” (Proverbs 23:5)

In other words, don’t trust in money. God knows we need it—as a tool, as a necessity in some circles—but never put your hope in it. This can be a hard lesson to learn. In developed countries, it’s almost like the final frontier.

“And now, Lord, what wait I for? My hope is in Thee.” (Psalm 39:7)

There are seasons of life in which everything on which we rely (others, ourselves, money, to name three) vacillate, fluctuate and disappear. Know that each and every challenge we face (“Challenges of the Season” says my dad) is directed by God and lasts as long as He allows. Hope, however, is not touched by those things.

“Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil.” (Hebrews 6:19)

Jesus is our hope, ladies and gentlemen. Prior to His life, death and resurrection (and ascension), we literally had no hope of ever getting fully right with God. Up till then, the sacred and profane were clearly defined and the slightest slip-up or astrayance (not an actual word) into that which God said was sinful was met with strict and sometimes dire consequences. Achan and his entire family were stoned and burned because he decided to covet—and then take—plunder from the city of Ai: “When I saw among the spoils…two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, the I coveted them, and took them; and behold, they are hid in the earth” (Joshua 7:21) Coveting is like a misplaced hope that eventually turns into theft. And that’s an extreme example. Sure, there are still things that we daren’t touch (“come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord” 2 Corinthians 6:17), but we don’t have to worry about the mortal punishment that (now) doesn’t seem to be in line with the crime. We don’t even give a second thought to some of the things that concerned the Israelites. Life is now a “ministry of the interior”. It’s our motives and thoughts and internal attention (revealed in our actions) that God prizes. Faith. Hope. And Love.

There are all sorts of things to invest our hopes in, “But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)

In 1887, physician and linguist Dr. Ludwig Zamenhoff invented a new language based on European roots and intended to ease the many disparate speakers into a common tongue. It was called “Esperanto” and it literally means “hopeful”. It was his hope that this common language—which apparently is easier to learn than any of the romance languages—would bridge the cultural gaps in his native country of Poland and then branch out from there. It never caught on as he’d hoped, but is still spoken today in places in Europe and some parts of Asia.

“I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in His word do I hope.” (Psalm 130:5)

Faith, hope, love. While those three things work in concert with each other, love is the greatest because it is connected to a Person. And the more we actively exercise the faith and hope that we possess in getting to know the God who both loves us and fulfills our hopes, then the more we’re able to convey that sense of hope amidst a world that is rapidly losing any reason to. Hope, that is.

Hope, along with faith and love, is a universal language. And when one can only hope, faith and love can’t be far behind.

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Taking Point

All that jargon you hear about shooting for the moon and following your dreams and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps–far from being cliched and powerless–is actually true. But maybe not in the way it’s been presented to the masses.

I’ll explain.

Anytime someone looks at the world and begins to realize, not only that they’re just one among many, but also that the world is more vast than they can comprehend and take in at once, I think they take one of two roads or reactions. Granted, there’s an infinite number of life choices that people make and each one is colored by their inherent temperament (which can also change–more on that in the future), but each one of those choices leads to one outcome–or the other. Namely, the betterment of all those “other people” that you realized existed on the playground. Or obversely, and conversely, through neglect and apathy, their forsaking by you. Optimistic and believing and hopeful and pragmatic? Yes. Go for it. This plays out in the smallest ways and as Jesus says “he (or she) that is faithful in little is faithful in much” (Luke 16:10). Pessimistic, sullen, doubtful and ultimately cynical? God help you. Because this plays out in the smallest ways as well and affects on the same level as the opposite temperament. I have every reason to hate, hate certain people that are walking the earth today. And yet, how can I hate someone that Jesus Himself has forgiven? If He can forgive the people who nailed Him to the cross (Luke 23:34), citing their ignorance, how can I expel the raw energy of my life through a filter of hate and unforgiveness toward individual(s) who’ve done far less than martyr me? “Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.” (Hebrews 12:4)

Our response to the hardships of life dictates the formation of us as a person.

Rewinding to the past, to our formative years where we began to realize there were other people out there is the starting point for my ultimate point. Just because there is an innumerable (not really; about 7 billion) number of people out there doesn’t mean that you’re not the one to deal with the problem. You. I don’t see anyone else around here, I must be talkin’ to you. Any other realm of life in which we take the high road out of problems by saying “I’ll just let someone else deal with it”, is seen as cheap, lowbrow and detrimental. Then what about in God’s Kingdom?

I have a question for you: do you think you see the issues of the day because you’re simply perspicacious and perceptive enough to perceive it? It’s God who is letting you see it, much in the same way that He let Isaiah eavesdrop on His conversation. “Who will go for us?” (Isaiah 6:8). Isaiah raised his hand. I won’t mention any specific issues here because there are too many. The first one that bubbled up in your mind upon reading the opening sentence of this paragraph is the one I’m referring to. Did you know that you’re the one to deal with that before the Lord? Surely you’re familiar with the phrase “many are called but few are chosen”. That’s from the Bible–here’s the reference: Matthew 22:14. And here’s a simple illustration that might help demystify and shed the connotations of destiny and fate and all that pie-in-the-sky nonsense: imagine you were in an auditorium with a whole bunch of other people and the speaker (in this case God) called out to the audience for some volunteers, not mentioning what it was He needed them for. And you and, say, a tenth of the remaining crowd (how sad) raised their hands and were then called to come up to the podium… That’s it. Yes, God called you to do something. Raise your hand (or hands), it’s as simple as that. All the direction and drive and content you need is there–or will be once you operate on the things you already know.

This might sound like too simplified and simplistic a way of dealing with the seemingly insurmountable social problems of our day: poverty, abuse, greed, apathy and complacency. But I’m telling you, it’s wrong not to see yourself–with God’s help–being able to tackle it all yourself if need be. We limit God by not utilizing our imaginations and then applying our faith and our intelligence to see them become reality.

It starts with prayer.

Making It Happen

So, chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re still here. Take heart! Trust me, you didn’t miss the Rapture. Wasn’t it supposed to happen yesterday? One of the questions I have is, how could Harold Camping find some numerological thread that has no basis in truth and then calculate it out to mean that the Rapture, and/or Second Coming was supposed to happen yesterday? October twenty-first, two-thousand eleven. I don’t mean to be rude, but at what point in his life did he begin to see numerical coincidences as overarching truths? Does this mean I can start reading and relying on my horoscope? The so-called “Bible Code” might be compelling and hard to assail but non-believers tear it apart and laugh in its face. Besides, Jesus didn’t ask us to believe on that, He commanded us to believe on and in Him. At no point in history has an end-of-the-world prediction come true (obviously). And why is everyone in such hurry to leave? Isn’t love supposed to “bear all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7)? Jesus said that no man (or woman) knows the day or the hour (Matthew 24:36). He also said to “occupy till I come” (Luke 19:13). No sense in busying ourselves in futile matters of false prediction. The Old Testament imposed harsh judgment on false prophets.

A better time-marker would be Jesus’ declaration that His Gospel would be preached to everyone before His coming (Matthew 24:14). And maybe that’s happened, I don’t know. God bless the translators who are feverishly working to translate the Bible into all of the world’s languages, but consider this: St. Francis said to “preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary, use words”. Brilliant. I can guarantee you that hasn’t happened. When Christians don’t act any better than the spiritually-dead people they used to be, you can understand why people would want us to leave! Unsalty salt is “good for nothing” (Matthew 5:13). Yet another instance of Christians being made to look bad by one of their own.

Keep your head up. Watch. Hearts and minds take time to change and if we’re looking to escape the world at large without attuning our minds to the frequency of Heaven, we’d feel out of place even if we were raptured in an instant. The answer is: what would God have you do right now? And now? And now? Revelation (19:7) says that “His wife has made herself ready”. This is how. Live with God in the moment and that “moment” will be here before we know it.

One more thing! This is my hundredth post. It couldn’t have happened if I wasn’t here to write it. Thank you so much for reading! More to come…

Open to interpretation? Part 5 Body’s in motion and at rest.

Christians, as one, are the Body of Christ. Many people disagree that God the Father has a body, but I believe He does. And Jesus has a physical body (Luke 24:39). But the Holy Spirit does not. I refer to the Holy Spirit with a male pronoun. Where the King James translates Him as “It[self]” in Romans (8:26), I don’t think it was as precise as it could’ve been. He is truly without gender but that doesn’t mean He’s an “It”; He’s a person, like you and I, in that He’s a Spirit. It’s understandable that it might be difficult to wrap your mind around the concept of a bodiless entity without size and shape and with no means of discerning outside of a humble and believing heart. Jesus said the “world does not see Him” (John 14:17). God will help you, but (within reason) there might be some preconceived notions that need tweaking or shelving. I say “within reason” because by the same logic, anything that we invent by imagination could exist. But were not talking philosophy, we’re talking Christianity.

As Christians are the Body of Christ in a figurative sense, then the Holy Spirit is like the blood that flows within and gives life to every member. Jesus, when speaking of the Holy Spirit, said to His disciples that He (the Holy Spirit) was with them, and shall be in them (again, John 14:17). Prior to Jesus’ death and resurrection, I don’t think it was possible for those who believed in God to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit. But there are exceptions (Daniel, David). When Jesus said that He would be in them, does this refer to the Holy Spirit’s descent at Pentecost? Sure. But what do you think about this: could it be that we receive a portion of the Holy Spirit upon salvation but that we could always have more? David (Old Testament, I know) said that “his cup runneth over” (Psalm 23:5) The river is always flowing. (Revelation 22:1)

An interesting event takes place in Acts, chapter 19. Paul is on his way to Ephesus and he comes upon some believers who, it says, hadn’t even heard of the Holy Spirit. After a question and answer session regarding their original baptism, Paul lays his hands on them and baptizes them in the name of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit that was in Paul comes into them. They immediately began speaking in tongues (verse 6).

This story illustrates that there are different ways of receiving the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. By direct contact with another human. Or directly from God, as in chapter 2.

However God chooses, if you’re willing and press on in faith, He will see to it that you get all that is rightfully yours, in Him. “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:12)

I suppose that the reason I feel so passionately about this is because of a particular corollary. It seems that our church is immured—hemmed in, kept down—by the world’s standard of expression and interaction. When society becomes intolerant of any expression of “religion” and seeks to keep it out of the public square, then we as a country will eventually cease to exist. Alexis de Tocqueville (French statesman and novelist), when he toured the country during the 1800s, praised the open expression of religion in our public square. By the same token, Alexander Solzhenitsyn (a Russian author and Nobel prizewinner), touring the country a hundred years later was booed by his Harvard audience for expressing the same sentiment. The church is seen in many circles as powerless and feckless. Jesus said that we’d receive “power” after we received the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). There’s a disconnect somewhere and it’s not God’s fault…

“Brethren, these things ought not so to be” (James 3:10). When we sideline and ignore the Holy Spirit, how then, as in Mark’s Gospel (16:20), will He be able to “work with us, confirming the Word with signs and wonders following”? (see also Hebrews 2:4) One of those “signs and wonders” is the gift of tongues and interpretations. Pray about it, wrestle with it. Where can we go from here? How can we, as a church body, return to the simplicity and power of our spiritual forbears in Acts? Acknowledge the Holy Spirit. He’s just as much God as Jesus and the Father.

And “forbid not to speak with tongues.” (1 Corinthians 14:39)

Open to interpretation? Part 2 A word is worth a thousand words

A couple of watchwords before we begin:

1. Let all things be done decently and in order. (1 Corinthians 14:40)
2. Let all things be done unto edifying. (1 Corinthians 14:26)

With these two maxims in place, I believe we can proceed.

Paul makes an incisive declaration prior to both of these statements. It applies first to number one and ultimately to both. In verse nineteen, he says that he would rather speak five words with his understanding (i.e. native tongue) than ten-thousand words in an unknown tongue. Here, we see his desire, as a good teacher, for the…fluid cognition, and subsequent peace of mind and heart, of his students, his parishioners. And as we all are learning everyday what it means to walk in the spirit (Galatians 5:16), Paul takes care to include, not alienate, someone who’s understanding of spiritual matters is inchoate—in it’s infancy.

And this is the point of the second watchword (14:26). Even before we get into the mechanics of the gifts of the Spirit to the church (1 Corinthians 12:28), we must back up to the first verse of the previous chapter, chapter thirteen. Paul opens by saying that anything of this sort (prophecy, tongues, wisdom and revelation) must, must be done out of a motive of love. And a motive of love—true love for God, for others and for ourselves—includes the auspices of decency, order (14:40), and intention for edification (14:26). Paul seems to bookend the topic of love (as enumerated in chapter 13) with a universal discussion of spiritual gifts (chapter 12) and specifically with the gift of tongues (chapter 14), indicating that love is (literally) to be the focus (and locus) of all of this stuff. Because it’s just stuff when divorced from love.
But this doesn’t mean that we are then to sideline this topic and dismiss it altogether. Paul says that he desired for everyone to speak in tongues (14:5). A bold statement, no?

Moving forward, a common opinion regarding tongues is that it applies only to the languages spoken on this earth. This comes especially in handy say, when you have a missionary to a foreign mission field who needs to understand and in turn be understood. I’ve heard stories in my current church and others, of this taking place and yes, it is edifying. But it doesn’t stop there. It’s foolish of us, as Christians to not consider this fact: God’s native tongue is not English. How could it be? I’ll pause to let that “sink down into your ears” (Luke 9:44). The first verse of 1 Corinthians 13 speaks of “the tongues of angels”. Elsewhere, Paul refers to “unspeakable words which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Corinthians 12:4). That word “lawful” means “possible”. Paul, when he was “taken up to the third Heaven” (12:2), heard words that he couldn’t take back with him to earth. In other words, the language of Heaven is something altogether different than the 6,000+ languages of earth.

When my Dad accepted Jesus in the Winter of 1968, he purposed to learn everything he could about God. The son of a doctor and a nurse, the analytical questioning gene lives on in him and according to him, anything good that God had provided, from Jesus on (Romans 8:32), was his for the asking. Why not? “Seek and ye shall find” (Luke 11:9). If I truly want to be sold out to God, then I should be willing to go where God would lead me (Romans 8:14) and learn what He’d teach me.

My prayer is that we would keep an open mind and heart about these (seemingly) obscure spiritual matters and shelve outmoded and preconceived notions that are anything less than edifying.

Thank you for reading. More tomorrow!

National Resurrection

“Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.” (Proverbs 14:34)

Whether you believe in God or not, the fact that you have the freedom to believe or the freedom to doubt is integral to the fabric of this nation. Ten years ago that fabric hung, tattered and knotted as we struggled in disbelief at the attacks on the East Coast. I watched from my TV, having just come back home from delivering a missed customer on my paper route. It took a long time to process what I saw and still some of the details are hazy. Like the New York skyline for weeks following.

Did God cause it to happen? Absolutely not. But I believe He was powerless to prevent it.

As it says in Proverbs (16:7), “if our ways please the Lord, He’ll cause our enemies to be at peace with us”. The pundits, preachers, poets, priests and politicians (thank you, Sting) pointed at this sin and that “sin” and blamed each other. Conspiracy theories littered the landscape like detritus from the war of ideologies. And yet, following this tack, it was indeed an inside job. Inside our hearts and minds we shut God out. All of the apathy and hate and ingratitude rising to heaven, we sacrificed compassion and conscience for hate and hedonism and as such the door was left open for the enemy. We paid the price. And as Ed Roland (of Collective Soul, in an unrelated song;10 Years Later) sings: “it’s 10 years later and still I haven’t a clue”. I see today, the same apathetic attitude we were infected with a decade ago.

God’s forgiveness is still extant and extravagant. Love, as Peter says (1 Peter 4:8), covers a multitude of sins. Any outward, behavioral sin, “a reproach to any people” (again, Proverbs 14:34), begins—towards God (Psalms 51:4)—in the heart and mind. So, too, do the virtues. A lukewarm heart, veneered over with rudimentary morality isn’t going to last. Let us turn to God again and let Him heal our nation (2 Chronicles 7:14). We need to “put aside the alienation” as Rush sang in Limelight. Only when we renew our minds (Romans 12:1-2) to the truths in God’s word will we experience real healing and prosperity. And freedom. From sin, violence and apathy. His love, mercy and grace will help us if we ask.

“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

…especially unto them who are of the household of faith. Gal. 6:10

C. S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, spoke of Christianity as a “Great Hall” with doors that lead to different denominations lining either side. He also said that we were “under orders” to pray for them. It can be a waste of time to try and evangelize a foreign mission field when the church structure at home is decaying and coming apart at the seams.

I’m speaking to Christians: Please. Let’s unite and let God knit our hearts together. The inward sins of pride and hardness of heart, apathy and ingratitude—the ones that God sees—eclipse the outward sins that everyone else can see. And Jesus’ shed blood forgives them all. We have no business shunning people who are struggling with an emotional dependence to a sinful substance (drugs, alcohol, pornography) when we ourselves are touting an emotional independence that is supposed to pass as (a cheap substitute of) maturity and wisdom. Oswald Chambers says that “discernment is never given for criticism but for intercession.” Focus on your brother and sister in Jesus and pray for them. Lift them up to God and forget about your needs. God will see to it that you’re taken care of.

And the world will sit up and take notice that we have been with Jesus.