Hope


Today is the first Sunday of Advent, so beginning with today’s post, I will be relating what Christmas is to me. Please enjoy.

When we served as missionaries, some of our American brothers and sisters were carrying on an idea that ultimately became very disturbing. The practice was to buy tickets for a cruise. Of course, going on a cruise is not disturbing in and of itself. Many people enjoy taking a leisurely vacation cruise to spend time with friends doing what they mutually agree is fun. But that isn’t the whole story. On this river cruise, there would be Bible studies led by big named preachers and worship directed by the most fascinating personalities in the Christian music market. Again, nothing is throwing up red flags to this point—although one can wonder if the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on this vacation might be better spent.

The cruise down the Dnieper River (and later moved to a different river in Russia), and the tourists would bathe themselves in the aura of all this Bible learning and worship, then they would land at a significant city, disembark, and with the help of a translator blitz the locals with tracts and canned evangelistic presentations. They would record names and numbers to report back to their friends at home the hundreds and thousands of “decisions” made along the way.

What disturbed me was not the desire to see people come to know Christ, but that the ultimate purpose of the trips was to make the tourists feel good about themselves. The method of evangelism left little or no possibility of follow-up or discipleship among those who reportedly became Christians. Truth be told, each year it was found that some of the same people (in the hopes of getting a handout or other aid from the wealthy Americans) would “get saved” over and over again. And to me, perhaps the most disturbing factor of all was the name given to the cruise: “The Riverboat of Hope.”

More Hope is found in relationship—first with Christ, and then with fellow believers who can help us grow in our relationship with Christ. That is Christmas to me.

  “Christ in you, the hope of Glory.”  – Colossians 1:27c

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“Facing Forward”

(Originally printed in the 1/3/2016 bulletin of FBC Mulberry Grove)

Who wouldn’t like a clean slate to work with? Never before chalked, and ready to receive the first strokes of a fresh message. In a sense, this is the promise of a new year. It is a moment when we can face our reality with fresh eyes, fresh feelings, fresh attitude.

Our goal for 2016 can bring hop and encouragement in the midst of living life. We can do this through the promise and goal of a focus on Jesus Christ.

With the promise of Jesus, we leave behind the disappointments of the past. While the scars and wrinkles are still there, the lessons learned help us to move on. And the prospect of something fresh and new can bring the encouragement that lifts us to the heavens.

With Jesus as our goal, we have a future that is bright and uplifting. For the new year, I propose that we resolve to keep facing forward, looking into the face–the eyes and the heart–of Jesus. He is our goal, which is our comfort and our strength.

Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.                        –Paul (Philippians 3:13-14)

The Christmas season is now properly upon us. The Sunday following Thanksgiving (four weeks before the celebration of Christmas) marks the first day of Advent—the celebration of Christ’s coming. Each week focuses on a different theme, and this year we will consider Hope during this first week of Advent.

Hope is an intriguing thing because of what people are willing to place their hope for a future in. Speaking in specifically spiritual terms, people have been know to place their hope in good works, alms-giving, heritage, church membership and/or attendance. But the hymn writer understood the nature of hope when he wrote:

 

My hope is built on nothing less

Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;

I dare not trust the sweetest frame,

But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

(“The Solid Rock” words by Edward Mote)

 

What we discover along the way in our search for hope is that the only true and lasting hope can be found in Christ.

Wishes. This time of year people think a lot about wishes. We used to receive the JCPenney Wishbook in the mail and “shop” from page to page for the things we knew we would never get, but would wish for anyway. Our children make out their Christmas Wish List with the understanding that they may get one or two of the lengthy list of wishes.

For some people, hope is akin to wishing. Hope is something that we may or may not receive, but we can still wish for the thing to happen. But this season also teaches us something about hope.

“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” It’s a line from an old hymn that speaks volumes to me. As we enter the Advent season this year Hope comes to mind—the Hope that moves beyond the best wishes of the most optimistic person. Because of Christmas, our hope is embodied in the Incarnate God of the Universe.

That means that our Christmas wishes are wrapped up in the Hope of the World.

“I hope it snows this Christmas.”

“This gift was just what I was hoping for.”

“When the baby comes, I hope it’s a boy.”

There is something amiss in all of these statements, even though they are the kinds of things that we might say or typically hear in a giving situation. “What,” you may ask, “is wrong with them?” Thanks for asking (I was going to tell you anyway).

The problem is the use of the word “hope.” In our society, we have re-defined this word to express a wish or a desire. Something that we are willing to happen, if it could. I am not opposed to dreaming and wishing, but I think that it is time that we reclaimed this word “hope” for what it really means.

Hope is not an ethereal desire for something good but a concrete expectation for that which is. The reason that we have so much difficulty with hopes is that we equate them with dreams. This is probably related to the abstractness of this concrete.

Dreams and wishes are good because they are the things that may be which give us the drive to do what is necessary to make them come true. Hope, on the other hand, is the assurance of what already is/will be. It is the assurance of what we do not know, although we know it will be. Hope is the rock upon which faith can stand. This is why the writer of Hebrews can say with all confidence:

17[W]hen God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6, ESV)

So, this year as you contemplate the coming of the Christ Child, and you consider that He is the Hope for the world, understand that the Hope that He is is one that cannot be denied. His miraculous birth, sinless life, substitutionary death, and glorious resurrection are all part of the Hope that will be complete in His Second Coming. And that is the gift of Hope that makes His Advent Yours.