Posts Tagged With: hope

John 16: Sorrow into Joy

You will be overcome with sorrow, but your sorrow will turn into joy.  When a woman is giving birth she is in anguish, because her moment has come.  But when the child is born, she no longer remembers the suffering, because of the joy that a human being has been born into the world.  In the same way, you have sorrow now.  But I shall see you again, and your hearts will celebrate, and nobody will take your joy away from you. (16:20-22)

Oh man, I hope so!

All of us have sorrows that weigh us down in a heavy way.  All of us need release from something that seems to be our master.  Like Jesus’ analogy here, all of us have times when we think our “babies” will never be birthed.  I am thinking of a particular trial in my life that seems particularly unending and hopeless.  You should think of what your sorrow is too.

I cherish the reminder that joy will eclipse sorrow, that suffering will be forgotten and celebration will be the final word.  Many days I feel foolish believing that can be, in the situation I am thinking of.  But I hang on to hope, and cherish passages like this one.

How about you?

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John 5: Hopelessness Not Laziness

Personally, I don’t really like election seasons.  They seem to bring out the worst in people.  That is not just an American thing.  I have seen the same in Canada.

I guess that all of us have issues that are especially important to us and that we are sensitive to in pre-election rhetoric and proposed policies.  One of mine is poverty and what to do to help those who are in situations of fundamental need and stubborn, generational poverty.  As I see it this was a topic discussed often in the Bible and a benchmark of Christian charity.  Of course, I also know that not all Christians see the solutions to the problem of poverty the same way.

Unfortunately, I find that discussions of economics and political policy regarding relief to the poor during an election season can bring out ugly caricatures of impoverished people, assumptions of character flaws, and a general lack of Christian charity and compassion.  So, it is in this unconscious context that I read today’s chapter, in particular this interaction between Jesus and a man who has been disabled and destitute for almost four decades.

There was a man who had been there, in the same sick state, for thirty-eight years.  Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had been there a long time already.

“Do you want to get well?” he asked him.

“Well, sir,” the sick man replied, “I don’t have anyone to put me into the pool when the water gets stirred up.  While I’m on my way there, someone else gets down before me.”

“Get up,” said Jesus, “pick up your mattress and walk!”

At once the man was healed.  He picked up his mattress and walked. (5:5-9a)

“Do you want to get well?”  I am not sure we can know for sure what Jesus meant by this question; I suspect he was provoking a faith response.  What sick person wouldn’t want to get well?  But he had been there at Bethesda for 38 years.  There had been many opportunities to get into the pool, right?  This question sounds like what we sometimes hear people say today to destitute people today: “Do you even want a job?”  “Do you want to get off welfare?”

The explanation from the paralytic as to why he has not yet been healed is the kind that, for some, sounds like an excuse.  But are we really to believe that if he had had the real opportunity to be healed he would not have taken it?  It is rather hard to get up when you are paralyzed.  The blind man beats the crippled man to the pool every time.  There are explanations we hear for persistent joblessness and reliance on others and they some times sound like excuses.  And maybe sometimes they are; as long as there is sin in the heart of people there will be people who take advantage of others.  But it becomes easy to think that some people are just lazy.  Hopelessness, though, sounds a whole lot like laziness.  After years of trying and failing, people give up hope.  After years of losing the competition for getting ahead, people begin to believe they can’t.  Giving up comes from hopelessness, not usually laziness.

A lazy man would not have tried to “get up” when told to do so by Jesus.  How many times had mean-spirited teenagers taunted him to do the same, only to run off laughing at his inability?  This man’s healing started with his hope being restored.  That may have been Jesus’ greatest gift to him.  With renewed hope, the paralytic got up.

Writing people off as lazy is easy.  God’s people are called to be those who restore hope.

What do you think?

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1 John 5: Faith is the Victory

This is the victory that conquers the world: our faith.  Who is the one who conquers the world?  Surely the one who believes that Jesus is God’s son!  (5:4b-5)

If faith is believing in what you cannot see, then a person without faith is limited only to what they can sense in some way.  A no-faith life is really a life of the here and now.  How can there be hope for something else, something better, some amazing renewal?  Imagine if this is all there is to life?  There are many great blessings to this life right now, but there are just as many set-back and heartbreaks.

Faith is what moves us beyond the worldly limitations, disappointments and darkness.  Faith is what allows us to believe that there once was a better world and there will once again be something better.  Faith allows us to rise above the boundaries of our own present realities.

And, of course, it is all possible because of Jesus.

What stood out to you in this last chapter of 1 John? 

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2 Corinthians 7: Godly Sadness

If I did make you sad by my letter, I don’t regret it; and, if I did regret it, it was because I saw that I made you sad for a while by what I had written.  Anyway, I’m celebrating now, not because you were saddened, but because your sadness brought you to repentance.  It was sadness from God, you see, and it did you no harm at all on our account; because God’s way of sadness is designed to produce a repentance which leads to salvation, and there is nothing to regret there!  But the world’s way of sadness produces death. (7:8-10)

We don’t like sadness in our culture.  Life is supposed to be happy all of the time.  Nothing but butterflies and rainbows.

Of course, you can’t have rainbows without rain clouds and butterflies emerge from a strenuous battle with a cocoon.

I am afraid that this “happy-all-the-time” mentality has seeped into American Christianity too.  We expect God to smooth every road before us.  Life with Jesus is supposed to be a charmed life.  Surely, hard times are punishment.  And those who bring hard words of correction are not welcomed people at all.

At some point prior to 2 Corinthians, Paul has written a “sad letter” to this church.  This description doesn’t really fit the tone of 1 Corinthians, so many scholars think Paul is referring to another, lost letter to the Corinthians.  Clearly, Paul had hard things to say.  Things the church did not want to hear.  Things that made them ashamed of themselves.  Those are uncomfortable letters to write and conversations to have, and Paul confesses he regretted having to write such a letter.  Yet, the sadness the letter produced was exactly what the Corinthians needed.  It woke them up and they acknowledged in repentance that Paul was right.  A momentary spate of sadness created a wholesale change of direction.  Truly, “there is nothing to regret there!”

This sort of godly sadness is absolutely necessary, and it reminds us that not all we greet as bad is necessarily so.  Godly sadness created changes and results in salvation and redemption of that which is lost, broken and dying in our lives.  Godly sadness is what makes rainbows and butterflies possible.  There is always hope underlying the sadness.

There is a worldly sadness that is rightly undesirable.  Worldly sadness is nothing but rain and there are no silver linings.  Worldly sadness sweeps the cocoon away in a torrent and butterflies never emerge.  Worldly sadness offers nothing but death.  Hope is nowhere to be found.

When was a rebuke the most appropriate word you have ever received?  

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Colossians 1: Jesus Is Enough

Jesus is cool.  He just isn’t the be all, end all.  He was a good man.  He taught good things.  But he is not sufficient enough to handle the weight of all of your cares, needs, and expectations.

Or is he?

In various ways we hear the same message the Colossian Christians would have been hearing.  Jesus is great but you need more than just Jesus.  You need Jesus plus religious rituals.  Jesus plus the law.  Jesus plus knowledge.  Jesus plus rigorous asceticism that shows your spiritual strength.  Or Jesus plus carnal indulgence without spiritual affect, showing your spiritual strength.  Or today we might say, Jesus plus a 401k plan.  Jesus plus some good counseling.  Jesus plus a group of friends.  Jesus plus church.  Jesus plus good works.  Jesus plus a good education.  Jesus plus career success.  Jesus plus a good marriage.

Not that there is anything wrong with taking advantage of the help and blessings that can come from most of these “pluses.”

Right from the start, Paul makes us face whether we think Jesus is enough to complete our lives.  Do we think Jesus is the center of our life; or is Jesus the add-on, the value added element, the plus in a life that is being lived just like everyone else in the world?  We can tell from the letter that the false teaching threatening the Colossian church didn’t think Jesus was sufficient.  If we are introspective enough, we can look at our own lives and tell whether we think Jesus is sufficient for life.

In Colossians 1, Paul offers the following assertions about the deep meaning and value to be found in the person of Jesus:

  • Paul starts with the most important and fundamental point of all: Jesus is the embodiment of God (1:15, 19).  When you have Jesus you actually have God within you.
  • Jesus reigns over our home because God “transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved son” (1:13).  He is in charge of our reality.
  • As he was the power that brought about creation (1:16), Jesus is the very reason we exist.
  • Jesus is the reason we do not fear God’s wrath (1:20, 22). We now have reconciliation, peace, and are viewed by God without accusation.
  • As the “firstborn from the realms of the dead” (1:18), Jesus is the reason we can be assured of our own resurrection.
  • We will all submit to something, and Jesus is our best object of submission.  In a wordplay in 1:15-18 on the variations of the word “head,” Paul makes it clear that Jesus holds this position in reality, thus life is better lived in line with that reality.
  • In a truly difficult verse, Paul explains that it is now our job to “complete” the unfinished work of Jesus (1:24).  The only thing that can be unfinished or “lacking” in the work of Jesus must be the part that depends on us: to be his hands and feet in this world today.  Thus, Jesus becomes the purpose behind our mission in life.
  • When the King is “living within you as the hope of glory” (1:27), Jesus is our reason for hope.
  • Jesus is the core of our message, as “he is the one we are proclaiming” (1:28a).
  • Jesus is also our way to maturity as we “grow up” and become “complete” in him (1:28b)

It sounds like Paul thinks Jesus is more than just an add-on to a life that is looking elsewhere for meaning, security, and hope.

What stood out to you in this chapter?

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BONUS: An Introduction to Romans

Romans is a personal favorite of many people.  Paul, who almost all agree was the author, touches on almost every major theological belief in this great book, so the next three weeks are sure to be stimulating.

Rome was the center of the New Testament world.  A city of several million, it was the political and cultural center of the Roman Empire, home to the Caesars.  Rome was the ancient equivalent to New York, Los Angeles, Hong Kong or Tokyo.  Religion was big in Rome, mainly the worship of the Roman gods and the developing Emperor cult, but there was a large, vibrant, and legal Jewish population in Rome as well.  Remember that when Christianity first stated it was considered a Jewish sect so it too was a protected religious movement and not largely persecuted.  Christians would suffer severely in Rome but not for another 20 years after the writing of Romans.

Romans was most certainly written in Corinth around AD 55 and delivered to Rome and first read to the church there by the deaconess Phoebe (Romans 16:1).

The purpose for Romans has been described in many ways.  Martin Luther read his own issues with the Roman Catholic Church into the book and saw Romans as a treatise against works-oriented religion.  It is certainly that, but that characterization has more to do with 16th Century Europe than 1st Century Rome.  Others imagine Paul sitting down and writing Romans as a theological compendium, a statement of his beliefs.  There is too much that is specific to the Roman church for that to be true, plus that would make Romans truly unique amongst New Testament letters.

Like every other letter in the New Testament, Romans is situational.  There was something going on that made Paul write this letter, to a church he had not started nor even visited.  Paul had a habit of setting up home bases for his various mission endeavors.  First it was Antioch, then Ephesus, now Corinth.  Paul’s greatest desire was to get to Spain where the Gospel had not really yet been preached widely (15:23-33).  By all appearance, Paul was preparing this Roman church to be his next launching point for that campaign.  However, this church was a divided church turned inward on itself in no condition to be involved in outward mission.  We know from the ancient Roman historian Suetonius that around AD 49 the emperor Claudius had expelled all Jews from Rome because they had been rioting amongst each other concerning a person named “Chrestus” (c.f., Acts 18:2).  This likely was an argument between Jews and Christians over Christ.  So for a span of five years until Claudius’ death in AD 54 when the Jews would have returned to Rome, this largely Jewish church with a defined Jewish flavor became thoroughly Gentile.  Leadership changed.  The culture and practices of the church changed.  Now in AD 55 we have a power struggle and identity crisis in the Roman church, largely involving ethnicity and customs.  Issues like circumcision, food, holidays, a background in paganism, an Abrahamic heritage, and the like would have been hotly debated, and these will pop up a good bit in our readings.  Paul is writing a significantly divided and prejudicial Roman church attempting to help them sort out their problems for the sake of the advancing Kingdom of God.

Background aside, Romans is so popular because the Gospel that all of us needs to hear speaks freedom, hope, love, and faith into every situation, whether in ancient Rome, modern Memphis, the Philippines, Malaysia or Canada.

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Acts 24: Resurrection is Key

Paul is confronted by Felix, the Roman governor in Caesarea.  Is Paul truly the rabble-rouser the Jews make him out to be?  That is a serious charge in peaceful Rome.  In response, Paul confesses the following:

It is true that I do worship the God of my ancestors according to the Way which they call a “sect.”  I believe everything which is written in the law and the prophets, and I hold to the hope in God, for which they also long, that there will be a resurrection of the righteous and the unrighteous. (24:14-15)

What strikes me here (and in almost every other public address either Peter or Paul gave in Acts) is that resurrection is so foundational to the belief-system of the apostles.  Key to the gospel is resurrection from the dead.  This is mentioned again later in the chapter at 24:21.

I wonder if resurrection is that fundamental to our ways of thinking and talking today.  I more often hear forgiveness from the guilt of sin mentioned in our gospel language.  That is okay.  Of course, forgiveness is important as well, and it was a part of the gospel sermons in Acts too (c.f., Acts 2:38).  But not as often as resurrection.  If we have downplayed resurrection in favor of forgiveness of guilt from sins, what are we missing?  And why have we made this switch?  What does this reveal about us?

Paul is a wanted man.  Leave him alone in Jerusalem for 15 minutes and he is dead.  He is sitting in a Roman jail under suspicions of disturbing the peace.  Rome deals swiftly and decisively with people who upset the Pax Romana.  In Felix, he is talking to a man who more so wants a bribe than the truth, and Paul has no intentions of paying up.  He is headed to Rome, where Caesar’s word is truth, and Caesar has no reason to preserve Paul’s life.

How can Paul maintain such boldness and calm?  Paul has already told us:

I hold to the hope in God . . . that there will be a resurrection of the righteous and the unrighteous. (24:15)

What do you think about this?

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