A Beautiful Blossoming

Every year as spring moves fully into summer I find myself awed by the explosion of life around me. Whether it is flowers blooming, trees bursting into green glory almost before my eyes or the beautiful cacophony of singing birds greeting me in the morning – the world teems with life. As I go on my daily hikes with my dog I marvel at the instinct that keeps little ducklings clamoring around their moms and watch with delight as I see an ungainly fawn bounce along the trail its mother navigates with ease. This activity all around me truly is an explosion of life. And that is exactly the reason why I see God so clearly in this world around me – because it truly is an explosion; an explosion of life. Like any explosion, it begins somewhere. It begins with God.

How anyone can look at a newborn baby or even a blooming flower for that matter – and not see the hand of God in that is a mystery to me. I see a new life and it’s as if I am looking all the way back to the beginning of time. No matter if it is a human or a plant – that particular life which I am just witnessing owes its existence to the very first burst of life that God created. It cannot be any other way. Nothing dead or inanimate can lead to life. It is impossible and nothing has ever been demonstrated, discovered or developed to prove otherwise.

The flowers, trees, ducklings, fawns and newborn babies all – just shout, “God!” And Paul’s words  echo in my mind, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.…” (Romans 1:19-20)

God’s Eyes

As I was preparing for a recent speaking engagement, I began by reading various bible verses to reinforce my claim that we could all use more of a Kingdom View in our lives.  I was searching for a biblical perspective to reinforce that the anxieties and troubles that many of us seem to face on an almost daily basis are incredibly unimportant from God’s eternal perspective.

As I searched through my bible I turned to Paul’s exhortations as he addressed the church in the city of Corinth.  In Paul’s time, the city of Corinth was almost a mirror for what our society is today. Corinth was a mostly secular culture that prized money, sex and immorality of nearly every kind. In the midst of that debauchery and Godlessness Paul was trying his best to urge new Christians in fledgling churches to stay away from the troubles of the day. He understood that most people then, like most of us today – were anxious about their place in the world. They worried about being swallowed up by the world around them as they pursued careers, raised their children, navigated a tough economy, endured ridicule by non-believers, persecution by the government and even as they attempted to determine truth from corrupt preachers.

In 2nd Corinthians, the 4th chapter Paul beautifully expresses exactly how Christians then and today should adopt a Kingdom perspective – to view all of their troubles and worries from an eternal viewpoint that would best serve God, thus best serving every Christian. In 2nd Corinthians 4:7 -9 Paul tells us,  “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. Does that not perfectly address exactly how many of us view our lives today?   Then, in verses 4:16 – 18,  he goes on to say, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light affliction, which is but for a moment, is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

WOW!!! Paul plainly tells us that our afflictions are fleeting and temporal – they are unimportant except to prepare us to live in glory with Christ! This is one of the reasons that Paul also exhorts us to welcome all such trials with joy (James 1: 2 – 4) – because they are intended for us to glorify Christ. Jesus assures us that there will indeed be trouble in this life but in almost the same breath He commands us to be joyful as He is with us through it all (John 16:33).

Yes, it can be difficult to welcome the pain of this life with joy – but with a true Kingdom perspective we can glimpse the light of God’s glory through even our darkest moments. It is that light which allows us to find a way to lasting joy.

Hypocrite!

Ouch! Did that get your attention? There probably isn’t a Christian alive who hasn’t had that phrase thrown at them at one time or another – often from someone who uses it as a premise to justify their refusal to accept Christianity themselves. As believers, there are two very important points in this regard that we must keep in mind.

First – there is no doubt that there are Christians who have acted hypocritically. In spite of our beliefs, we’ve all stumbled at times. Additionally, if we are honest, let’s just admit that there are times when self-avowed Christians have acted so horribly that they have done more to damage Christ’s name than glorify it, that is just a fact. Okay – so what? More on this a little later.

Second – this is both a damning and AFFIRMING statement. ‘Yes,” you might say, “I can see how this statement is used to denigrate Christianity and my beliefs, but just what does it affirm?” By making the statement, the accuser affirms that the behavior to which he is referring is wrong! Consider the statement, “You Christians are hypocrites, look at that preacher on TV, he cheats on his wife and lives in a huge mansion on the beach, he should be using that money for the poor.” Our accuser just stated that greed and adultery are wrong. He states he doesn’t want to be a “Christian” because someone else who claims to be a Christian does not uphold Christian ideals. That’s interesting logic.

So we can use this statement to our advantage to help win over our critic. Anyone who uses the hypocrite argument is acknowledging that there is a difference between right and wrong and further, that Christ is the standard of good!!! And do not let your accuser dismiss this. By using the hypocrite epithet, he has already acknowledged that evil exists. We only know evil by the absence of good – we only know the standard of good as it comes from an unchanging, absolute Truth that exists outside of ourselves – God.

Now, back to the first point – yes, we all fail to meet the standards that are espoused in the bible and upheld by Jesus. And there is absolutely no doubt that our behaviors are so much more important than our words. If you tell your spouse you really, really love him/her, that you’re madly, hopelessly in love – and then spend your days scheming and nights in the arms of another, then your words are meaningless and your actions betray what is in your heart. Your words are powerless to heal the hurt that your actions cause.

This is why it is so important to live and lead by example. One of my favorite quotes (often attributed to St Francis of Assisi) is “Preach the gospel always and everywhere and if absolutely necessary, use words.” So let’s agree that our actions are more important than our words and that our words should, at a minimum therefore back up our actions. All well and good. But we all stumble, we all fall short of what we know is the right thing to do, many times in spite of ourselves. Even the Apostle Paul, who wrote over half of the New Testament, struggled to match his behavior to his words (Romans 7:15-20). Does that make Paul or any of us who espouse such views a hypocrite? By no means! It merely means that we stumble and fall. There is a vast difference between the one who espouses one thing and then chases another with zeal vs. the one who occasionally errs and then tries to right themselves. In baseball, even a Gold Glove winner has an occasional error during an otherwise stellar season – that doesn’t make him a terrible fielder and you would still want him to teach your son or daughter how to play the game. If we were allowed to only endorse what we do perfectly, our world would be silent.

Our standard of perfection is Christ, we preach and endorse His standard, His perfection, not ours. We cannot, on our own stop sinning, but that does not make us sinners or hypocrites who are somehow invalidated from preaching the Good News of Christ. Jesus Himself said that our human hearts are wicked (Mark 7:21-23) and will cause us to stumble – no one is immune from sin.

Now, what about the so-called Christian who really is a true hypocrite? – the one who says one thing but actively lives another way? Yes, their actions are damaging and their words are empty – but ultimately they are doing the most damage to themselves. God is still God, and Jesus is still His perfect Son who taught us how to live. Here’s the thing – our accuser from above is quick to indict all of Christianity by selecting out the true hypocrite as representative of all Christians and even Christ Himself. In what world do we allow someone to define anything by its abuse or its anomaly? If you enter a lush garden and find in one corner a poisonous plant, you do not refuse to ever eat from the garden again because of one weed or label the gardener a murderer. The logical outworking of a belief in Christ is to live a moral life. We do not focus on the weed, we rejoice over the fruit.

So, let’s wrap it up. Are  Christians hypocrites? No, the very statement is a contradiction and simply endorses the concept of goodness and morality. Some who claim to be Christians may indeed be hypocrites, but that only betrays Christianity to be the highest standard by which we all should live. It is Christ whom we preach, not ourselves. We live out His example the best we can and the evidence for this is all around us in lives changed – those in whom we see a change from depravity to morality, from hopelessness to joy and from hate to love. We stumble against our own humanity and are rescued by Christ’s love and forgiveness that we find at the Cross.

We have logic on our side because it is filled with truth. If you’re confronted with the hypocrite argument, lead your critic to Jesus with reason and love.

A Hopeless Saturday

I look forward to the Easter season every year. It simply crystallizes my focus on Christ, what He did for my salvation and the beauty of God’s grace. More than I can explain – I look forward to Good Friday services at our church. The somber, quiet and reverential service brings forth a sharp focus on exactly what Jesus did for me. The extraordinary suffering He endured as a man – for me, overwhelms me to the point of tears. And the extraordinary sacrifice He offered as God, for me, induces an abiding worship and gratitude that swells from deep within my soul. Easter morning brings the glory of the Resurrection and the certainty of God’s conquering glory – providing soul-satisfying  joy.

And sandwiched between these two days I find myself once again meditating on Saturday and my thoughts turn to the disciples and others who loved Jesus. Their world must have been so dark on that Saturday between Jesus’ Crucifixion and Resurrection. The one word that comes to mind is – hopelessness. How utterly empty and bleak must their world have been at that moment. The helplessness and grief of the previous night’s events must have come to full fruition that entire day. The One – who they thought was their savior, who could have freed them from Roman oppression – was dead. Others must have been crushingly disappointing to know that The One – who they thought or suspected was God had been merely human, hung on a cross until He was dead. It must have truly seemed as if the entire world was dark and that evil had conquered the entire world – yet again.

Utter, unrelenting and stark hopelessness. What else could it be? And yet – is that not EXACTLY what the world is without our Risen Christ? Indeed, indeed.

Imagine what it must have been like on that first Easter morning as the Good News spread. “He’s alive!” Everything was new, Jesus has returned and the world now – lives with Resurrection, Redemption and – Hope!

Hope

One dictionary definition of Hope is: A desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment.

Now, we all have hopes great and small – we buy a lottery ticket and hope to win or we hope our sports team wins the next game. In a more serious vein – we hope a loved one is cured of cancer, hope that we don’t lose a job or hope that a marriage is healed. But here’s the thing, in the definition above the key word is desire – we desire these things but we really have no idea if they will or will not come true. The key distinction that separates Christian hope from the rest of the world is a slightly altered definition; our hope is not merely a desire, Hope is – A confident expectation of or belief in fulfillment. This is an expectation born of knowledge, experience and reason.

One might wonder, “From where does this confidence come?” However, that question misses the mark. The correct question is, “From whom do we get this confidence?”

As Christians, we recognize that the One who fulfills these promises is Jesus Christ. Without Him, we simply would not experience the trust we have in God to answer our prayers, redeem our pain and restore our broken lives. For the above to be true, we must know that Jesus is real. We know He’s real because He said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” Jesus’ life is a historical fact and He is either who He said He was – or He isn’t. Logic, reason and evidence establishes that He is indeed the Son of God, the Risen Christ (see more – Truth). It is in Him that we Hope.

In fact, hope as given to us by Christ is one of His greatest gifts and is unique among the world’s great religions.The power and promise of God to heal and redeem us through Christ exists in no other spiritual realm. Buddhism is an atheistic religion that only offers some vague promise of nirvana after one extinguishes all desire. It is a contradictory philosophy with no ultimate salvation – to desire nirvana is to extinguish it at the same time. Hinduism provides no remedy or hope for salvation either – one must endure suffering with no promise of salvation because it is their karma – all suffering is deserved. This is contrary to the Christian promise of God’s grace – which He gives freely to all who seek Him (2 Peter 3:9). Islam provides no hope or salvation because everything is determined merely by the arbitrary will of Allah. According to Islamic tenets the only clear path to heaven is through the nihilism of martyrdom – certainly not an approach that leads to hopeful living. Can science or naturalism or atheism provide such hope? Certainly not! A promise cannot be fulfilled by an ideology, a scientific law, a myth or a lie – ultimately, a promise can only be fulfilled by a person – and in this case, that person is Jesus Christ.

Another key part our definition of Christian Hope from above is the last word of our definition – fulfillment. We must recognize that fulfillment does not mean that God grants us our every wish – we probably won’t win the lottery and might not win that crucial game, be healed, saved from hardship or restored in the manner we expect. Because we trust in Him, we allow that God may have other plans for our earthly life and on this side of Heaven we may never see those things that occupy our most fervent hopes, dreams and thoughts.  We accept the fact that our ultimate suffering and fear may not be redeemed until we are in Heaven with Jesus and God. In fact, we must sometimes suffer for the Glory of God (John 9:3)

Now, I realize that it may seem to be small comfort to the one who is in the midst of a great trial and indeed, it can seem almost selfish and self-serving to even think that God is using our suffering to somehow shower Himself with glory. And in purely human terms, you would be exactly right. But God is not human, not mere man. God is God and suffering for His glory may seem selfish until you view it in this light: In Heaven, God’s glory will shine brightest on those who glorify Him most, and that reflection will bathe the suffering with such perfect glory and light that all of Heaven will celebrate! As such – our hopes will be perfectly fulfilled by God through Christ in Heaven. Every tortured cell of suffering we have endured in our humanity on earth will be healed, redeemed and restored with Them in heaven. For the believer – all worldly suffering, regret and pain will disappear in an instant as they are vanquished by our redemption in Christ. I am convinced that the only evidence of our scars will be the shine from the glory heaped upon us by God in His Kingdom.

Christian hope brings to life a key passage in the bible that tells us to live with joy in the midst of our trials (James 1:2). That hope is vital to living with joy at all times in our life. Yes, God answers prayer and sometimes brings to fruition our most fervent hopes, whether through miracles or other means. Other times we must wait – confident of the redemption that is our destiny.

Christian hope – Jesus is the means, God brings the fulfillment. Together – we receive their joy!

(Hope keeps me going every day – no matter what my challenges may be. And as I’ve documented in my book, Angels in the Fire – I’ve had plenty.  If you are facing hard times – if you need assurance that God still ministers through His angels today – it is my prayer that Angels in the Fire provides the hope and encouragement you need.)

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