Learning about Hope

Lots of times people will use kids waiting for Christmas as an illustration of how the Christian should hope in the Lord. You hear it all the time and there is definitely something to it but all illustrations fall apart at some point and we shouldn’t take that one farther than it actually goes.

This is what I mean. It’s December 26. We had a great Christmas morning yesterday. Kristen made some yummy treats for breakfast. Everyone was up early with excitement. There was the air of anticipation throughout the house as you would expect. I suppose it was around 9am when we finally started opening some presents but there was an almost tangible hope in the atmosphere until the very last present was opened.

Today it’s a day later. At 8:10 I am the only mouse stirring. I know everyone was grateful for their presents and very pleased to see the generally high level of care given to each gift that was chosen (except for the regifting of baked goods by someone who shall remain nameless!). When people do get up some of the fun stuff received will be fully enjoyed.

It’s just that a rice cooker or a makeup kit doesn’t quite get you out of bed the way hope does. It doesn’t mean that hope in Christmas morning revelry isn’t real, it just means that it is inadequate to sustain someone past a certain point. It’s a hope that can be fully realized in a moment.

That’s where the illustration really breaks down. The Christian hope is an eternal hope and I suspect that it may only intensify as time goes on. As we see Christ face to face and start to really understand who He is and what He has done for us, we will be all the more eager to participate in that hope because for the Christian, hope is a person not an event. We get to enjoy that person long after Mario Kart gets old.

Even more than that, the Christian’s hope is equally shared across all believers so it can be mutually enjoyed in a way that a makeup kit or Nerf gun cannot. Our earthly hopes are not interchangeable as if we could mix up the tags on the presents and everyone would be just as content. (This actually happened on one gift and produced a funny moment.) We share the hope in Christ, and as Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 2:19, there is a sense where part of our hope is built up in one another (For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?)

So by all means keep looking forward to Christmas and keep using it as an example of what it means to look forward to the union with Jesus that awaits every believer, but remember it is but a poor shadow of the real hope that we have.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:13)

Review – Christian Zombie Killer’s Handbook

Kristen picked up this book for me at a used bookstore because I’ve been modestly into the zombie themed movies and TV shows over the years. The author clearly tried to be creative and capitalize on the cultural love for all things Living Dead in the book and I commend him for it.

On a side note, this is the first book I’ve read using my new reading glasses. Years ago the eye doctor told me these would reduce my eye strain when I’m reading a lot and it turns out he was right. Not sure why I waited this long. Three sets for $10 – can’t beat that with a stick. Buy on Amazon

The book is an interesting approach to the topic of living a Christian life victorious over sin by comparing indwelling sin and its power to a virus that turns people into zombies. He alternates chapters between a  fictional story about a family who tries to live a normal life in the midst of zombie attacks on civilization and the biblical points he’s trying  to make about the root cause of sin and how a Christian can see victory.

The doctrine is pretty good for a book about zombies and while I wouldn’t use it as a biblical counseling text it gets progressive sanctification mostly right IMHO. I do wish he’d have brought in the idea of affections and how sin blinds us from the utterly worthiness of Jesus earlier, but he does mention it toward the end of the book. It’s not heady at all and I think most high school students or even younger could digest the content easily enough.

While the story was fine and entertaining enough, I didn’t find the allegory to be very effective most of the time. Maybe he wasn’t really trying but I think the book would have been more effective if the points he was making in the doctrinal sections were more closely linked to the story chapter that immediately preceded it. I would have liked to see shadows of the next doctrinal point he was going to make in the story and most of the time I couldn’t, especially as I got further into the book.

At the end of the day, nobody should get treated too badly for not being C.S. Lewis or John Bunyan and I give the book four stars for strong readability, creativity and content.


Being one of the chosen ones

It’s been a while since I’ve written but I got an exclusive invitation the other day and couldn’t wait to write about it. It was a surprise just for me. Hotwire, a company I’ve used at least once or twice, sent me a super secret exclusive deal. I know that only a few people were chosen to receive it and I am one of the fortunate ones based on my lack of loyalty to them and inattention to all their other communication.

Why would they send me an email making it seem like I was specially picked to be one of their chosen few? What is it about this approach that their marketing people think is more attractive than simply presenting the facts?

I think it’s that everyone wants to be thought of as special. It’s like the poll of drivers in Ireland where 69% of the 15,000 motorists surveyed during the latest AA Motor Insurance said they would rate their own driving as above average.  Inversely only 0.8% described their driving as below par. This is of course a statistical impossibility, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the reality we deal with every day.

This quest for significance has crept into the church as well. People want to be well thought of and others want to follow people who they think well of. There is something about being “important” or “special” that brings out the worst in people.

That’s why I find such irony in the words of the man of whom Jesus said “I tell you the truth, among those born of women, no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist.” What was John’s testimony look like? He insisted that he must decrease and Jesus must increase. John was incredibly significant but he didn’t seek it out and was quick to give it up.

This quest for is alluring and covert. Very rarely will someone, especially someone in the church, say “my goal is to do whatever it takes to make me look great in the eyes of others,” and yet it happens all around us and in us regularly.

Some questions I have found helpful in diagnosing whether my motivation for something is driven by a quest for my own significance or Jesus’ greatness:

  • What’s the worst thing that would happen if I didn’t pursue this thing?
  • What is the aspect of serving others that is driving my decision?
  • Is there a way to accomplish exactly the same thing without my name being involved?
  • As I recount a story, am I including only those details absolutely necessary to convey the message and point people to Jesus (This catches me up a lot as I include comments about my role or international travels or some other accomplishment when it isn’t really necessary.)
  • Do I feel like I deserve or am entitled to my desired outcome because of something I did or who I am?

One of the biggest tragedies of our quest for significance is that according to John the Baptist, our joy is tied not to our significance but to Jesus’. John didn’t see a decreased role in the Kingdom as something to mourn but something to rejoice in because it meant that the fulfillment of all God’s promises – Jesus the groom coming for His bride the church – was at hand.

John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:27-30 ESV)