Advent Season, Part III: Hoping for…

Know Hope

I’m not sure where this picture came from (I think it’s connected to the “Know Hope” vandal in Tel Aviv), but I love it. It’s a beautiful image.

This past week of the Advent Season, I’ve given hope a lot of thought. Hope permeates the Bible, and is included in Paul’s big three. He mentions hope often, as a matter of fact. Yet, my hope has been lacking of late.

Reading the Psalmists, the Prophets, and even portions of Paul seem to turn hope into something other-worldly, unattainable till Jesus’ returns. Or it brings it down to a level I thought petty (particularly the Psalms).

I’ve written previously about the future of Christ’s return, and how it is indeed something to look forward to. But I, personally, have never had much to do with this second kind of hope. I encountered it throughout my readings, and though my initial understanding saw it as something selfish, the Holy Spirit has been revealing this other hope as something else entirely.

When Job, or David wrote about being persecuted, and wanting the Lord to even the score, were they being selfish? Was it just a petty grudge? Paul quotes them, as a means of reassuring the Roman Church, and he doesn’t seem to think it’s all that petty. When I think of justice, I think on a social scale, but I’m coming to see that such a view is an extreme.

The more I read the Bible, the more I become convinced that God cares very much about individual justice.

But not just some kind of future “set everything to rights” justice. The Bible indicates that God cares about justice today. Here. For me.

Let’s think of it in a term other than justice: rest. Justice, after all, will bring rest, and rest will bring restoration. Genuine restoration. Being less tired. Being less cranky. Being less… not like Christ. It seems so silly, so simple. But as Christmas comes closer, it’s important to remember what it is we’re looking forward to.

The family who doesn’t know if they’ll get to spend Christmas in their house because they can’t pay their mortgage? God cares for them (even if the fault is their own). The family who worries that they won’t be able to put Christmas dinner on the table? God cares for them (regardless of their social standing). When we take this idea and lump it in with social justice, we do a disservice to God and His Children. We make the individual less than God intends. But read Psalm 71 or 85. God cares very much for the individual, and all that seems wrong in their life.

This is a personal thing, as unemployment has drained my wife & I’s savings account, and we are closely approaching not knowing how we will live day to day. Despite what mistakes we have made, God cares about our situation. And asks nothing less from us than faith and hope that He will provide.

Rather than getting into “well you should do this” or “you should have done that” this Christmas, let’s try something else. Let’s simply say, “we hope.” After all, hope is a gift, and it will outlast everything else.

Father, as Christmas comes, and we turn to worship You, give me the hope that does not disappoint. Remind me that Your promises are not only of eternal importance, but matter to each of us in the here and now. I have come to a place of doubt, because things have not worked out as I had planned. But Your ways are above mine, and Your purposes far more holy than my own. Bring me into Your will, and grow in me a hope that touches everyone around me. I thank you so much for Your blessings in my life. Never let me forget what You have done. And keep me ever mindful. In Your Son’s precious name. Amen.

Worship and Sex?

Last night, a friend of mine sent me an essay of his. In it, he compares worship to a sexual relationship. There is a right context for enjoyment, and there is a wrong one. He goes on to compare the way many Christians come to worship as an extramarital affair. He writes,

…some Christians seem to have only an emotional relationship with God, based on how they feel about God in general, and largely dependent on the worship band on Sunday mornings. You see a faith that is dependent on what we call worship music and moving inspirational speeches is a faith that becomes compartmentalized into one kind of person during a worship set, and a completely different person the rest of the time. In some sense (if you will allow me) these people metaphorically have “sex” with God during “worship” but have no relationship with Him independent of their encounter with Him on Sunday, and maybe sometime mid-week if they can make time for that…

If we aren’t engaged in the right relationship with God, we’re turning worship into something sensual and selfish. Right? Were I to only seek sex from my wife, I would be thought of as a villain who abuses my wife’s body. That assessment wouldn’t be too far from accurate either. Paul was pretty clear how husbands and wives should interact. Yet we don’t often connect our worship of God (a time when we seek to enter into a right relationship with our Lord) with much else. We treat worship like a one night stand, and this has become the standard.

I think my friend is on to something, but neither of us have concentrated on it enough to formulate something more substantial.

Of course, who is to say that I’m on the right path here? There is a whole host of evidence from the past 100 years or so that worship is being carried out exactly as it should be. New churches don’t offer new ways to worship, they simply affirm the old ways in a “contemporary” manner. And if these recent traditions argue against what I’m saying, then perhaps I’m wrong. But for now, my conscience tells me something is violently wrong with the way we Christians approach worship. Something must be done. So here I stand, seeking and hoping for more.

Evolving Faith

Earlier, I was ranting about my general disagreement with the perspective held by most Christians that salvation is summed up in terms of going to heaven or hell.

“So what do you think salvation is about?”

Well, more than heaven and hell.

In truth, the position that the whole point of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection was about saving my eternal soul from an everlasting time experiencing pain and torment has never seemed complete to me. I’ve never understood how a person could read John’s Gospel and come away thinking that Jesus was only about heaven. Eternal life is knowing Jesus. He came to give life more abundantly. These things aren’t some future promise about eternity. They’re for the here and now. I’m learning that the rest of the New Testament speaks in the same way, but more on that later.

My problem always was that I didn’t know what it meant. What is life more abundant? What does it mean to know Jesus? How do these things effect us now?

In my frustration, I kind of abandoned the argument, and decided to let things be. If I didn’t have an alternative, I didn’t see any point in saying anything. I mean, going to heaven is important. And bringing the Gospel to people is crucial. So why object?

Object isn’t the right word anymore, though. Now, what I do is beg for completion of the message. I ask that Christians think about what the Bible teaches.

I’m glad I gave up trying to argue with evangelism. I was wrong in that idea. Since I felt the “heaven vs. hell” doctrine was incomplete, I was trying to throw out the whole thing (although I didn’t realize that until later). I’m glad that I didn’t think that Jesus’ work stopped in heaven, but instead I still seek to fully understand what it means to have life more abundantly.

Because I’m not alone in thinking there is something more to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. And others have done a good job of explaining what that means (I was pointed to this work by a pastor whom I respect greatly).

The essence of salvation is this: God did not save you to take you out of this world. His purpose is redeeming His good creation (which has been corrupted by sin), and He saved you so that you can be a participant in that. Yes, you will go to heaven when you die. But Jesus is coming back. And He is going to bring you back with Him. Thus, when His reign is visibly established on this earth (His reign has already begun, but few believe that), all that Christians did to reflect God’s kingdom in this life will be a part of God’s New Heaven and Earth (which will be one place, rather than two). This is why Paul encourages the Corinthian church:

…be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.

He isn’t encouraging these Christians to be good so that they will go to heaven. He is reminding them that their work here matters, because the God of heaven rescued them from sin and death, giving them new life through His Son, Jesus Christ.

We’re called to that life now.

Maybe you disagree with this. Perhaps you think I’m abandoning conservatism, supporting liberal ideas, or whatever. The truth is, I just think what we do matters. Politics. The environment. Education. Feeding the hungry. Helping the poor. We act like these things are divorced from Christian life because they’re tied to government or liberal organizations or whoever else we don’t like. And the excuse for much of that separation is because preachers tell their flock that what matters most is going to heaven. But true religion isn’t spending eternity in heaven with the angels. Its something we do here. Now. This very moment.

So I ask, what has your salvation done? Has the Grace of God in your life helped this world? Or has it simply given you a ticket to the afterlife?

The Journey Inward

Shakespeare said that art is a mirror held up to nature. And that’s what it is. The nature is your nature, and all of these wonderful poetic images of mythology are referring to something in you. When your mind is trapped by the image out there so that you never make the reference to yourself, you have misread the image.

The inner world is the world of your requirements and your energies and your structure and your possibilities that meets the outer world. And the outer world is the field of your incarnation. That’s where you are. You’ve got to keep both going. As Novalis said, "The seat of the soul is there where the inner and outer worlds meet." – Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

I don’t agree with Joseph Campbell’s writing 99% of the time, although he occasionally had grand thoughts. The man was definitely brilliant, and yet somehow he managed to miss the entire point of the Gospel of Jesus. I’m reminded of Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians:

…Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. If anyone supposed he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him. (8:1b-2)

Paul is imploring Christian’s to lift up the brethren who are without knowledge, so I’m not sure if this passage actually applies to what’s rattling around in my brain. But I see how wonderful Campbell articulates the mystery surrounding the mystical, the mythical and yet somehow he falls short in his interpretation of the Bible. I think this might be because he compartmentalizes the Truth in the Bible, and comes up with "truths" instead.

I’m not knocking knowledge. Even the Bible praises knowledge.

Give instruction to a wise man and he will be wiser still, Teach a righteous man and he will increase his learning. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:9-10)

But there is something to say for being cautious in the knowledge we seek. Because it is a matter of seeking. Information can be gained without effort. We may not even want to learn some information, and yet we may still learn it all the same. But information is not knowledge. The difference is in the pursuit. Knowledge is learning that which we chase. Think about the romantic interlude called a date. Some people merely gain information; they ask simple questions like "what’s your favorite color?" (which should never be answered with ‘yellow’) But there are people who gain real knowledge of the object of their affection. They watch, they listen, and they participate in discourse. Similar likes are information. Common ideals and principles are knowledge. And it is not very different with God. We can read that "God is love," but it’s just information. To know God is love requires an element of experience. And wisdom is that experience applied to life.

I think that Joseph Campbell was a man with tons and tons of information. He was a veritable fount of info. He probably loved the internet. But that’s not experience. I wonder if you can apply information to daily life? Does it fulfill? I’d imagine not. That makes me think of Hemingway, (and what doesn’t?).

I know in my own life, I have to be careful of what knowledge I pursue. With all that lays before me, it would not be difficult to step off the path and onto the grassy fields of contentment. But, just as Bunyan’s Christian, I would end up in a dungeon, a prisoner of my own mind. Today I ask God to give me guidance and prudence in all that I study. And I pray that we all might be moved to ‘understand’ the Holy One.