Tag Archives: hope

A Really Long Saturday

Dear Church,

Today is Holy Saturday, the day of anxious waiting between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The disciples waited in fear but, on this side of the resurrection, we wait with anticipation.

But this Saturday, things feel different. Instead of gathering together for a pancake breakfast, lively worship, and the warm company of friends and family, we will turn on your computers, watch a sermon, and maybe have a Zoom call. It will still be a celebration, but a muted one. This is a reason to grieve.

On this Saturday we find ourselves, again, in a period of anxious waiting, not only for 24 hour hours, but for who knows how long (at least through the end of April) when we can once again gather together as the body of Christ.

I’ve been thinking all week – and actually the week before that, too – about Romans 8:18-25. It contains within it the lens by which we can view this period of waiting, and not just this short period, but the whole of where we stand in history.

As I read over the text, I made four observations:

First, all of creation is groaning: For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For creation was subjected to frustration” and “We know that the whole of creation has been groaning.

Why is creation groaning? Why has it been subjected to frustration? Because of Adam and Eve’s rebellion in the garden. Their rebellion led to a curse upon the ground. The world, once perfectly suited to the well-being of mankind, was corrupted. While it retains much of what makes it hospitable, it is now also decidedly hostile.

We may ask, “why is the Coronavirus here?” And, while there might be more than one correct answer, at least one of the answers is this: We live in a created world that has been “subjected to frustration” because of the sin of humanity. This is part of what it means to live in a fallen and groaning world.

Second, we, too, groan: Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firsfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly.

The “we” in this passage is those who have the Spirit, who believe in and have been saved by Jesus. Christians are not immune from the sorrow, suffering, and sickness of this world.

I saw an interview where a woman was attending a large church service that was still being held despite calls to avoid social contact. When asked if she was worried about contracting the virus or giving it to others she said, “No. I’m covered in the blood of Jesus.” I love the atonement as much as anyone, but that’s not how the atonement works. Christians do not get a special immunity from disease. We live in the same fallen world.

In fact, being a Christian will open you up to another sort of suffering; suffering for the sake of Christ. When Paul talks about his “present sufferings” in 8:18, he’s probably talking about the troubles and persecutions he has had to deal with on his missionary journeys.

Third, we have hope in the redemption of our bodies: We groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we are saved.

We mourn and wait, but not as those who have no hope. We hope for the redemption of our bodies, an event described in 1 Corinthians 15, when our mortal bodies will be clothed with immortality, our corruptible flesh with that which is incorruptible. We hope for the resurrection when Christ returns. Our new bodies will not be subject to disease or decay.

How can we have this incredible hope? Because we have the firsfruits of the Spirit. That is, we have the immortal and incorruptible life of Jesus present with us through the Spirit already. Paul elsewhere describes Jesus as the firsfruits, the first among many who will be raised from the dead. Because we believe in the resurrection, and because we have the seal of the Spirit producing evidence of that resurrection life, we wait in hope.

Fourth, all creation, too, will be liberated: “Creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

The God who makes us new will make all things new. He will redeem, restore, and remake this fallen and decaying world. When he brings us who are his children into glory, he will set free his creation from the curse. The old will be swept away. If you think the present creation is beautiful – which it is – just imagine what is to come!

So, this Saturday, wait. Mourn if you must. That inward groaning that comes from seeing that things are not the way they are supposed to be, is both natural and appropriate. But wait in hope.

That sense of anxious waiting you feel right now is but a microcosm of where we have stood in history for over 2000 years. We have the firstfruits of the Spirit through the resurrection. Easter is not canceled because it has already occurred. But, we do not have the full experience of the adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For that, we continue to wait.

Do you long for the time when we can gather again for worship? Good. I certainly do. Now long – and wait expectantly – for the day when we will be gathered on the New Earth when Christ returns.

In hope,

Steve

Is the Church weak or strong?

Pretty-ChurchIs the Church weak or strong?

Whatever adjective you put before the word “church” makes all the difference in this question. Is the global church weak or strong? Is the American church weak or strong? Is my local church weak or strong?

But the question I’m asking is if the Church (big C) is weak or strong? Are believers weak or strong?

If you know me at all, you’ll know that I rarely answer a question like this by picking one of the options. Is the Church weak or strong? It depends on what you mean. We are weak in three senses, and strong in at least one.

We are weak in the measure of our humanity. In our humanity we are a breath, we come from the dust and will return to the dust. We are finite and limited. We make errors. We get things wrong. Our strategies are sometimes ill conceived, our execution haphazard. Even on human terms of strength and weakness we are often seen as weak or foolish before a world that idolizes money and success. I have no faith in the human strength of the church.

We are weak in the measure of our sinfulness. Yes, the church is God’s holy people. We have been forgiven and redeemed. We are being sanctified. But our sin is still always before us. We wage war with it and we have the ultimate victory, but in the meantime, it wins some battles. Sin hampers our efforts. It weakens us beyond our humanity. This weakness is to our shame.

We are weak in the measure of our following after the crucified Christ. Jesus came in weakness. He emptied himself of the glory due him and came in humility. He humbled himself to death on a cross. He gained victory not through human strength, but through self-sacrifice. When he calls disciples, he calls them to take up their crosses and follow him. We take that same posture of weakness before the world, a posture of humility, death to self, and sacrificial love. To the extend we embrace this weakness, this weakness is to our glory.

But we are also strong. Or, at least, strength is available to us.

We are strong in the measure of our being filled with the fullness of Christ.

18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church,23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. – Ephesians 1:18-23

Paul prays that the Ephesians will know, that is, experience, God’s “incomparably great power.” That power is the power of the resurrection, of Christ’s position at the right hand of the Father, and of Christ’s reign over every power and authority, spiritual and physical, present and future. Notice the path of exaltation. Christ is lifted higher and higher throughout the passage. But the passage ends in descent, with Christ’s unique relationship with the Church – those who have put their trust in him. He exercises is headship over all things for the church. To the extent that the church is filled up with Christ, it knows the power of God. In this, then, we are strong.

How can we be filled up with Christ? By trusting and depending on him. Paul himself was no stranger to the weakness of the flesh, or of his battle with sin. But he learned that he could depend on God’s grace so that when he was weak, then he was strong, not a strength from himself, but Christ’s work in him. God gives grace to the humble. He strengthens the feeble. When we participate with him in his suffering, we can be assured that we will participate with him in his resurrection.

What does this power look like? Is it what the world will recognize as power? Perhaps. But more often it will only be manifested in weakness. It will show up as courage in the face of danger, hope in the face of suffering, perseverance in the face of temptation, and steadfastness under pressure.

So, is the American church strong or weak? Is the local church strong or weak? Is the global church strong or weak? To the degree we depend upon God and are filled up with Christ, we will remain strong.

Because He Lives

This past week I felt utterly bombarded by bad news. Part of this is because of my own failure to disconnect from electronic media. But part of it is that we just live in a very dark, hostile, and broken world. It’s scary out there. It can be easy to believe that the world is spiraling out of control.

But today is a day to celebrate the day that Jesus rose from the dead! And that day changed everything. It changed everything for the world. It changes everything for us.

I’m reminded of the words of the old hymn “Because He Lives”. The chorus goes like this:

Because he lives
I can face tomorrow
Because he lives
All fear is gone
Because I know he holds the future
And life is worth the living
Just because he lives

From here we could go on and on:

Because he lives death is not the end.

Because he lives the powers of evil have been disarmed.

Because he lives I know that not only can God break into history, but He has in a decisive way.

Because he lives no matter who has power for now on earth, Jesus sits on the throne of heaven.

Because he lives I know that since, in what looked to be a moment of utter defeat, God gained the ultimate victory, no situation can be too bleak that God cannot show his power.

Because he lives I know Jesus is the righteous judge who brings perfect justice in the end.

Because he lives I have the power to live a life pleasing to God.

Because he lives I am free from the slavery of sin and the fear of death.

Because he lives one day I will live in a resurrected and incorruptible body.

Because he lives I can trust God when he says that there will be a time of “no more crying, no more tears.”

Because he lives I know that God is able to transform all of creation.

Because he lives I know that history, in all its bleakness and decay, will have a happy ending for those who trust in the one who died and rose again.

Because he lives… because in time and space the God-man Jesus who was really dead, really came to life… because this historical reality is attested to by those who, with nothing to gain, gave up their lives to tell what they had seen and heard… because he lives, I know that he really is the Resurrection and the Life and the right now, in him, we experience the power of the resurrection, and that in the future we will experience it again, and then without the devastation of sin and the sorrow of death!

He is risen. He is risen indeed.

16 characteristics of a foreigner/stranger

“Better to be lowly in spirit along with the oppressed than to share plunder with the proud” Proverbs 25:16

“By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.” Hebrews 11:24-26

This is part of a continuing series on what it means for the Church to be a community of exiles and foreigners. The study this week is on Hebrews 11 and 13. I was short on time this week though, so instead of a full blog post I will just offer a list.

  1. They know that they are, indeed, foreigners and strangers on earth (11:13)
  2. They are grounded by faith in the eternal and unseen God (11:1)
  3. They are pulled forward into hope and obedience by the promise of God (11:10)
  4. They accept temporary living conditions (uncertainty) now for permanent living conditions later (11:9-10)
  5. They take the warnings of God seriously (11:6)
  6. They step out of a comfortable life in order to follow where God leads (11:8)
  7. They refuse to return to where they came from, because they know God has something better in store (11:15-16)
  8. They fear God more than they fear unjust rulers (11:23)
  9. They consider it better to identify with the oppressed people of God than to enjoy position and pleasure in the halls of power (11:24-26; also Proverbs 25:16)
  10. They trust in the salvation of God, through the sacrifice he provides (11:28)
  11. Despite their state of vulnerability, they experience God’s protection, either here on earth, or in the resurrection (11:32-37)
  12. They are willing to identify with the persecuted Church (13:3)
  13. They make holiness a priority (13:4-5)
  14. They identify with Jesus who suffered disgrace “outside the gate”, bearing the same disgrace that he did (13:12-13)…
  15. … knowing that God will vindicate them in the end (13:14)
  16. Therefore, their lives are marked by worship and good deeds (13:15-16)

See also: