A Living Hope (1 Peter 1:3-9)

Let us give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! Because of his great mercy he gave us new life by raising Jesus Christ from death. This fills us with a living hope, and so we look forward to possessing the rich blessings that God keeps for his people. He keeps them for you in heaven, where they cannot decay or spoil or fade away. They are for you, who through faith are kept safe by God’s power for the salvation which is ready to be revealed at the end of time.

Be glad about this, even though it may now be necessary for you to be sad for a while because of the many kinds of trials you suffer. Their purpose is to prove that your faith is genuine. Even gold, which can be destroyed, is tested by fire; and so your faith, which is much more precious than gold, must also be tested, so that it may endure. Then you will receive praise and glory and honor on the Day when Jesus Christ is revealed. 

You love him, although you have not seen him, and you believe in him, although you do not now see him. So you rejoice with a great and glorious joy which words cannot express, because you are receiving the salvation of your souls, which is the purpose of your faith in him. (Good News Translation)

There’s no need for hope if everything’s going just the way you like it. I remember when I was a college undergraduate, I hoped for Christ’s return toward the end of every semester. The prospect of all those final exams and the pressure of grades had me longing for heaven.

But that’s life. Maturity, resilience, perseverance, and just about every virtue you can think of comes as a result of life’s trials and sufferings. The Christian has hope, precisely because things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be.

Faith has to be tried and tested. And hard circumstances are the way of purifying it. Like gold being purged of any dross by being exposed to extreme heat, so our faith becomes strong, robust, and genuine by the purgative fires of life’s many large and small sufferings.

The whole point of it all is to make us people worthy of our spiritual calling. Resurrection only happens because there’s been a death. Glory is only realized through suffering.

New life, the Christian life, isn’t a matter of making a new set of resolutions, as if it were nothing more than aspirations at the beginning of a calendar year. Rather, Christian faith is a response to the mercy of God in Jesus Christ.

One of my all-time favorite stories is Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. It’s a story of grace and new life, of a hopeless man given the chance at hope.

The main character is Jean Valjean, who spends nineteen years in jail for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving family. The experience in prison caused him to become a bitter and cynical man. After his release, Jean Valjean has nowhere to go. 

In desperation, he seeks lodging one night at the home of a Catholic bishop, who treats him with genuine kindness, which Valjean sees only as an opportunity to exploit. In the middle of the night, he steals the bishop’s silver and skedaddles. 

The next day, however, Valjean is caught by the police. When they bring him back to the bishop’s house for identification, the police are surprised when the bishop hands two silver candlesticks to Jean, implying that he had given the stolen silver to him, saying, “You forgot these.” 

After dismissing the police, the bishop turns to Jean Valjean and says, “I have bought your soul for God.” In that moment, by the bishop’s act of mercy, Valjean’s bitterness is broken. Hope springs to life.

Jean Valjean’s forgiveness is the beginning of a new life. The bulk of Victor Hugo’s novel demonstrates the utter power of a redeemed life. Jean chooses the way of mercy, as the bishop had done. Valjean raises an orphan, spares the life of a parole officer who spent fifteen years hunting him, and saves his future son-in-law from death, even though it nearly cost him his own life. 

“Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to what is evil but to what is good. I have bought your soul to save it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.” ― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

Throughout Jean Valjean’s new life, there are trials and temptations all along the way. Yet, mercy keeps his faith strong, and hope kindled. Whereas before, Valjean responded to mercy with a brooding melancholy and inner anger, now – after being shown grace – he responds to each case of unjust suffering with gratitude, deeply thankful for the chance to live a new life full of grace.

Hope is kept alive because of suffering. Faith is strengthened by means of adversity. And both originate because of mercy and grace.

Christianity is a worldview perspective that enables one to rejoice in difficulty. For the Christian, there is no empty meaningless grief; there is the hope that our suffering means something. Like the athlete who endures all the painful practice in order to realize a future hope, so the believer in Jesus goes into strict training for the development of faith – all in the confident expectation of a fulfilled salvation.

It’s a hard lesson to learn, this seemingly weird alchemy of faith, suffering, hope, joy, and new life. And every generation of Christians needs to experientially discover it. Each believer eventually learns, in the crucible of hard circumstances, that the promises of God are the ballast to persevere in faith and patience throughout life.

Christian hope is a confident expectation that the promises of God will be completely realized.

A Christian’s salvation encompasses past, present, and future.

We were saved back there in the past when Christ died on the cross for us. We were crucified with him.

We are presently being saved from the world, the sinful nature, and the devil, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit in making us holy.

And we will be saved in the future when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead. Then, our salvation will be fully realized. Since that hasn’t happened yet, we have hope to sustain us.

It was hope that sustained me in college. I endured all the hours of study, all the exams, all the various courses taken, with the confident expectation that I would someday walk across that stage, receive my diploma, and graduate with my intended degree.

We ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:23-25, NIV)

The Christian’s hope for ultimate deliverance is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. This means we can live through a difficult day or week or month or a year, or even decades, with spiritual endurance. Our goal shall come in all its fullness. 

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them and be their God;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4, NRSV)

Eventually, suffering will have done its work and we will be with Christ forever. Until that day, let us explore all that God has for us, embracing both the meaning and the mystery of faith. 

Since our salvation is assured, let us live with confidence and run the race marked out for us.

Heavenly Father, you created us and lovingly care for us. We accept all our sufferings willingly, and as truly obedient children we submit ourselves to your holy will. Give us the strength to accept your loving visitation to us through adversity, and never let us grieve your heart by giving-in to impatience. We offer you our pains to be used for your honor and glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord, in the strength of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Get Me Out of This Scary Dungeon Cave! (Psalm 142)

I pray to you, Lord.
    I beg for mercy.
I tell you all my worries
    and my troubles,
and whenever I feel low,
    you are there to guide me.

A trap has been hidden
    along my pathway.
Even if you look,
    you won’t see anyone
who cares enough
    to walk beside me.
There is no place to hide,
    and no one who really cares.

I pray to you, Lord!
    You are my place of safety,
and you are my choice
    in the land of the living.
Please answer my prayer.
    I am completely helpless.

Help! They are chasing me,
    and they are too strong.
Rescue me from this prison,
    so I can praise your name.
And when your people notice
your wonderful kindness to me,
    they will rush to my side. (Contemporary English Version)

The modern holiday of Halloween is kitschy with a funny sort of scary. But there’s nothing funny about being truly frightened and feeling helpless. Its anything but a holiday.

The psalmist, David, was in both a literal and a metaphorical cave. Before he ever became king of Israel and Judah, David was on the run from King Saul. He hid in a cave. He had more suspense and was on the edge of his seat much more than any horror slasher film could portray.

David was hiding and just trying to stay alive. There was nothing in his life which deserved such maltreatment. It was sheer jealousy on Saul’s end of things that caused him to give his soul over to oppressive pride. And David was the brunt of that oppression.

As biblical readers, we know the end of the story. Saul is eventually killed in battle and David is exalted as the new king. Yet, here, in today’s psalm, we have the genuine cry of a desperate man who longed for the justice of God – not knowing what the end of it all would be.

One of the reasons David was a person after God’s own heart is that he was humble and remained connected to God without succumbing to the bitterness of his situation. I strongly suggest that David was able to keep his life free from pride because he regularly liberated his spirit through real and raw expressions of his emotions and experiences to God.

Spiritual confidence cannot be ginned-up through pretending that all is well, and everything is okay. Rather, spiritual courage is forged in the most awful of circumstances through loud cries of emotional pain to the God who truly hears it all.

Anyone who tells you different is flimsily trying to maintain their puny sense of delusional power. God sees you in the dark place and he hears your cry for mercy. He knows your dark cave better than you know it yourself.

One of the reasons I love the psalms so dearly is that they know the human condition. There is no pretense with the psalmist, David. He opens his mind and heart. He lets the genuine feelings of his life pour out in an offering to the God who pays attention to the humble and contrite.

The proud and arrogant will forever be flummoxed by the psalms, not understanding why they are even in the canon of Holy Scripture.

Yet, here they are, for all to examine and experience. Whereas the piously insincere are continually putting up a false front of godliness and keeping up appearances of superior spirituality, here we have authentic religion smack in front of our faces.

For me, the psalms liberate us from the shackles of trying to be someone I am not and enable us to connect with a God who encourages us in our strange wonderings, our emotional pain, and our sometimes horrific situations.

The Lord is perfectly at home with hearing loud cries, agonizing shouts, and desperate prayers directed to heaven.

Those who oppress others, I believe, are easy to spot because they:

  • Ask rhetorical questions to make a point.
  • Assume their thoughts and ways are always best.
  • Accuse without evidence based on their faulty assumptions.
  • Seek to harm and destroy.
  • Enjoy chaos and thrive on taking advantage of others’ misfortune.
  • Refuse to listen and learn from others.
  • Suppress all competing voices contrary to their own.

Autocrats are too smug and too far into their delusions of power, authority, and self-righteousness to be able to hear any voice other than their own.

A self-absorbed despot in power feels like being in a dingy dank prison cave with no ability to leverage a release.

A self-abnegated deliverer in authority feels like being in a wide open field with freedom to help others in bondage.

God hears when others don’t. The Lord advocates on behalf of those caught in the crosshairs of tyrannical injustice and maltreatment. Divine benevolence is always on the lookout for those being oppressed.

The Almighty uses power to listen and respond when distressed persons are scared silly with maltreatment. Voices raised to heaven shall never go unheard.

Since God listens to those in need of mercy, this is precisely the disposition we are to adopt, as well.

The proud, convinced of their superiority, either cannot or will not see those languishing underneath unjust power structures. There is no space within arrogant hearts to accommodate the cries for justice from people beneath them.

Therefore, recourse for the oppressed comes from God – because God acts with equity, integrity, and justice.

It is not the oppressed who need our pity; it is the ungodly, because they don’t know anything about pity, or empathy, or mercy. Oppressors have no stomach for any of that. So, they keep people locked in systems of oppression. They maintain relational distance and turn a blind eye to the genuine frightened screams of those under their boot.

The weak, the distressed, and the spiritually tired in this corrupt world, however, have the chance for appeal. They can call out to the God who knows them and their situations.

Although cries for deliverance may not happen immediately, we can be assured that divine help is forthcoming. And that is scary good stuff.

Lord Jesus Christ, by your patience in suffering you made my earthly pain sacred and gave me the example of humility. Be near to me in my time of weakness and pain; sustain me by your grace so that my strength and courage may not fail. Heal me according to your will. Loving Jesus, as you cried out on the cross, I cry out to you in my desperation. Do not forsake me. Grant me relief and preserve me in your perfect peace. Amen.

Live Into Your Calling (2 Peter 1:1-11)

Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours:

Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (New International Version)

The deepest yearning in every human soul is to become whole again, to return to their spiritual source, to experience belonging and union with the Beloved.

In the beginning, all of creation was a vessel filled with divine light. Then, it broke, and the shards of holiness were strewn across the earth. Those broken pieces are all around us. Sometimes, maybe oftentimes, we don’t see them because of our own darkness.

My friends, we have a simple but profound task: To bend down, find the broken shards, and pick them up.

This work of making a real and lasting contribution to humanity confirms our vocational calling and is made possible by divine power.

And yet, so many of us feel like a tiny Who on a speck of dust, with such a small insignificant voice, that nobody can hear us.

But somebody does hear us – and that somebody has very large elephant ears which are attuned to listen.

A person’s a person, no matter how small. A person has light, no matter how dim.

A great deception which befalls humanity is the lie that we aren’t enough – that somehow we lack voice and light in our core personhood.

This leads to another deceitful thought: God is holding out on me; I got the short end of things; I was never given the sort of voice which can be heard, or the kind of light which can burn bright.

Those deceiving vampires only suck the life out of us. What we need, instead, is to imbibe deeply of robust theology which empowers us to live faithfully in this world of corruption.

We have everything we need to grow in grace; God’s provision for us is total and complete.

By grace, we can discern between truth and error; endure hostility and hardship; persevere with patience as we await the new heaven and new earth; and confront anything in this present life with confidence and hope. We can do it because we’ve been equipped for it all.

Core to all this provision is the very life of Christ. Jesus is the source of the power; and his is the grace needed to live life to the full. The same resurrection power which raised Christ from the grave is available and provided to us.

God’s supply for us is sufficient. It is enough. We have everything we need to walk with boldness through any dark alley. The believer’s confidence is in carrying the cross – which keeps the deceiving vampires of guilt, shame, doubt, and distrust at bay.

Sheer cognitive belief, however, is insufficient. It’s only half the equation. The other half is to let our light shine, be the salt of the earth, and take up the gifts given us by God and use them.

Therefore, put significant energy into your faith development through knowing your call to bless the world and not curse it.

Confidently using faith, fully participate in God’s divine power through the qualities of:

  • Goodness. Cultivation of moral excellence is both helpful and needed in all our relationships. Goodness is like a seed planted. It proper amounts of water and sun, as well as continual tending to keep the weeds away.
  • Knowledge. There are two words in the ancient Greek for knowledge: one is a reference to acquiring information; and the other refers to actively using the information provided. The Apostle Peter uses the latter – an experiential knowledge which is wise, discerning, and discreet.
  • Self-Control. This is the ability to get a grip on yourself, to avoid controlling others and focus on all things within your own control. Ultimate control belongs to God; self-control belongs to you and me.
  • Perseverance. To see the big picture, to look ahead and keep your eye on the goal, is the lived practice of endurance. Everyone has patience. The real issue is whether we will tap into it, or not.
  • Godliness. The heart of godliness is a growing awareness of self, others, and God – rightly relating to them all with wholeness and integrity.
  • Mutual Affection. Basic human kindness is the basis of any healthy community and every relationship.
  • Love. This is the Christian’s consummate virtue. Whereas affection is to be mutual, love can always be done whether someone loves us back, or not. Genuine love can be directed at the unlovely, even enemies.

Effectiveness in living a virtuous life is not a matter of more but better.

It doesn’t happen on an industrial scale with a mass production of spiritual resources for the busy Christian consumer.

Rather, it occurs in the soil of God’s grace, mostly below the surface of the ground, slowly but surely germinating with faith, rising in hope, and producing a harvest of love that blesses both church and world.

A little bit of Jesus is enough to turn the world upside-down. You don’t need a big loaf of bread; a miniscule communion wafer will do.

A tiny mustard seed of faith can move a mountain.

A kernel of goodness can produce a harvest of righteousness.

A bit of knowledge and awareness can uproot the weeds of bigotry and hate.

A grain of self-control can grow into a field of peace.

A simple insight can create a cascade of transformation.

A single act of kindness can alter the course of another’s life forever.

A few seconds of attention can change the world.

A teensy amount of love can feed everyone on the earth.

We have everything we need to realize the new society Christ has made possible. We are in want of nothing. We are enough because Christ is enough. So, live into your calling with courage and confidence.

Heavenly Father, you are the One ever-present on this earth in your only Son and through your Spirit:
May your Name be shown forth as holy through us, your people.
May your gracious and benevolent reign come, establishing peace and justice, hope and life; and may your moral and ethical will be done, here on earth, as it is always done in heaven.
Give us what we need for today; and adjust our vision into a clear 20/20 awareness of others’ needs.

Forgive us of our great and many sins, for the immoral and unethical things we have said and done, and for the good words and good deeds we have failed to say and do; forgive us, just as we forgive those who have egregiously sinned against us.

Don’t let us amble down a dark path of temptation, of hardening our hearts and closing our minds; but instead, deliver us from the machinations of evil, and set our feet upon the lighted path of righteousness.

To You, everlasting God, belongs all sovereign decrees of  justice and truth;
To You, almighty God, belongs all powerful deeds of righteousness and goodness;
To You, holy God, belongs all glorious displays of love and compassion;

Through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who with You and the blessed Holy Spirit are one God, now and forevermore. Amen.

He Has Done Great Things For Me (Luke 1:46-55)

Madonna of the Magnificat by Sr. Mary Grace Thul

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowly state of his servant.
    Surely from now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name;
indeed, his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones
    and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things
    and sent the rich away empty.
He has come to the aid of his child Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (New Revised Standard Version)

Mary’s great song of praise, her “Magnificat” came from having grasped the reality of being pregnant with the Messiah. She affirmed that the all-powerful God “has done great things for me.” 

Indeed, the Lord shows mercy to everyone who worships and adores such mighty acts. It strikes me that Mary, instead of being full of worry and afraid of the future, and as an unmarried teen with child, is full of the Spirit and faith. 

Mary, the mother of Jesus, neither complained nor fretted for the nine months of her pregnancy; she praised God and had clear-headed faith about the grace shown to her. Mary’s canticle gives us insight into the mystery of the Christ’s incarnation: God chooses the weak, those of low esteem, and the powerless.

Mary was quite ordinary for her day. She had no wealth. There was nothing which caused anyone to pick her out of a crowd. Yet, she is the one chosen by God.

Her wonderful response to God’s grace demonstrated that there is so much more to any person than what we can see with our eyes and perceive through our earthly glasses of high positions and strength of personalities.

What’s more, Mary had the wisdom to discern that her situation typified the Lord’s egalitarian work of leveling the field so that all persons have what they need.

Her son, the Messiah, would carry this into his own life and ministry – declaring good news to the poor, comforting the brokenhearted, proclaiming freedom for captives, telling those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.

Statue of Mary, Stella Maris Chapel, St. Joseph, Minnesota

God is full of grace, mercy, and strength to those who are powerless and in need of help. The Lord has our back. Perhaps if we all, both individually and corporately, continually used our words to identify and declare the great things God has done, then we would realize and have awareness of the Lord’s abiding blessing. 

One good way of gaining a greater awareness and appreciation of God’s gravity of grace is by journaling.

I encourage you to take some time today and write out some of the ways God has been good to you in the past days, weeks, or months.

Perhaps you might even craft your own song of praise, like Mary, and poetically and/or musically express your gratitude. Or maybe, instead of using words, a sketch or a painting may better communicate the great things God has done for you.

However you choose to do it, like Mary, offer praise for each act of mercy which comes to your memory. 

An outsider, looking in, might judge Mary to be helpless and weak, not the sort of a person who could carry a Messiah. Yet, we get a view from the inside, a glimpse into Mary’s heart. All along, she had her heart calibrated to detect the grace of God when it was present.

May we all follow her example of faith and confidence.

My Soul Magnifies The Lord ~ Chris Tomlin 

O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Son of Humanity: Make me worthy to understand the profound mystery of your holy incarnation, which has happened for our sake and for our salvation.

Truly there is nothing so great and wonderful that you, my God, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, should become a creature, so that we might become children of God.

You have humbled yourself and made yourself small that we might be made mighty.

You have taken the form of a servant, so that you might confer upon us a royal and divine beauty.

You, who are beyond our understanding, have made yourself understandable to us in Jesus Christ.

You, who are the uncreated God, have made yourself a creature for us.

You, who are the untouchable One, have made yourself touchable to us.

You, who are Most High, make us capable of understanding your amazing love and the wonderful things you have done for us.

Make us able to understand the mystery of your incarnation, the mystery of your life, example, and doctrine, the mystery of your cross and passion, the mystery of your resurrection and ascension. Blessed are you, O Lord, for coming to earth as a man.

You have done great things for me!

Amen, and amen.