Hope’s Surprise

October 19th, 2017

And hope does not disappoint us… (Romans 5:5)

God also surprises us with hope.

We do not need to get older or to die in hopelessness.

Teilhard de Chardin said of the Christian life, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience.” He correctly described our true condition in Christ.

It is a common but incorrect view of the Christian life that we are mostly earthbound as a species, placed in slippery positions, attempting tenaciously to hold on to our life and our salvation, all the while knowing our unworthiness, fearing that we might lose our grip at any time. This is the idea that we are really mere earthlings but we hope for something better, something eternal and spiritual - something contrary to what we are in our nature.

In this attitude, age is frightening and discouraging. We realize in hopelessness that we are fighting a battle - the battle to stay alive physically - that we will certainly lose eventually.

This view of life creates many doubts, increases our insecurity, diminishes our assurance, and contributes to inconsistency and unsteadiness in our Christian walk. We do not please God when we live like this because we are not living in faith that is based on His promises. We are not believing that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him (Heb. 11:6). We often despair and succumb to temptation feeling that all we will really ever truly have is of this earth, so we indulge our senses and ambitions.

The other idea is biblical. We who are in Christ are first and foremost spiritual creatures, not mere physical ones. We are not merely earthly creatures who hope to go to heaven when we die, rather we are already its citizens (Phil. 3:20), and our life is now “hidden with Christ in God.” We have already “crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24). We are the children of God (John 1:12), born again into His image (Eph. 4:24). We are not dying on this earth in order to enter into a kingdom that is foreign and strange, rather at death we are entering our home, where already a place is prepared for us (John 14:1-4).

When this is our constant thought, when we understand our spiritual condition from the perspective of eternity, we live in hope. We also live on earth in accordance with its values and ethics. We love the Lord because He has first loved us. We live each day in the anticipation of eternity.”Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16 NIV).

The you of eternity already exists. When you trusted Christ as your Savior, you became a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10 NIV). Live in this reality - it is new and eternal, fresh every day - and you will live in hope, in victory, and in peace.

Realizing our true identity, true reality, and true value are spiritual and not earthly, empowers us to see life and death differently. We are not merely social creatures, not merely dependent on our powers and financial resources, not merely physical - realizing that our true worth is found through our redemption in Christ, we have hope in increasing strength throughout our lives.

Death is not an end for a Christian, but it is a door through which we walk into eternity. “For to me,” wrote Paul, “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).

The Last Surprises of Life ,

Life’s Vanity

October 18th, 2017

Better a little with righteousness than much gain with injustice. In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps. (Proverbs 16:8-9 NIV)

Next to the surprise of life’s brevity, the second is our vanity, and the third follows closely on its heels, God’s faithfulness.

Isaac Watts coined the phrase “all the vain things that charm me most,” in his classic hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” We are charmed by things - small, obscure, silly things. Our race, in this respect, has not progressed much at all since Eve first was enamored by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Something shiny, attractive, and new diverts our attention easily from what is worthwhile and righteous.

And in retrospect we are surprised at our shallowness over the course of life. Job observed, “naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked I will return” (Job 1:21). Whether we have gained material things in this life honestly or dishonestly is not the only point - that we have placed such a high priority on them is. We have been tempted to take and horde and to be proud of our possessions, and all of this to the neglect of righteousness and holiness and character development.

And if we have put character first, and gained material wealth in the process - not worshiping these things - we are still tempted in the end to think they are more important than righteousness. We will want people to envy us for what we possess more than the values of our hearts, more even than the peace of God within us.

A vision of my father-in-law plays in my head at this point. He was a medical doctor and had made a good living, was generous with his money, and was careful with his investments. Near the end of his life he joined in a business adventure with his best friend that ended up disastrously. His friend in desperation stole from their joint venture to cover losses in another of his businesses, resulting in his going bankrupt.

My father-in-law, however, had more character than that. He refused to declare bankruptcy. Instead, at sixty-five years of age, began a new stage of life to pay back this huge debt, living very meagerly for ten years, working hard much longer than he would have planned. Yet he did so with considerable peace in his heart. He taught an adult Bible study during those years, and still shared his faith with others.

I remember coming into his home and seeing him early in the morning sitting in his easy chair reading his Bible. He was in remarkably good spirits. The peace of God guarded his heart. Whatever visions of wealth and excesses of possessions he had had earlier in life - and, honestly, the man had very few of these - seemed distant and unimportant. What mattered was God and His love and being a righteous person.

He lived long enough to pay it all back and save some more for his family. But his greatest legacy was not financial but spiritual. He was a good man and became a better man through his years.

We cannot ignore the second part of the verse above, that God is active in life’s drama. He is at work in the affairs of mankind. He does exalt one person and humble another, but that is not His greatest work. What society thinks of us is the least concern to God. He sees life very differently. To Samuel God said, “For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7 ESV).

A saying often attributed to Armand Hammer is, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” I suspect that if he said this, it was said in jest. However, it represents a common thought among people. The more stuff I can accumulate the more significant I am. How differently God sees life!  As He sees it, the more character we possess, the more significant we become.

And in fairness to Armand Hammer, a better quotation attributed to him is: “I can’t think of anything better to do with  a life than to wear it out in efforts to be useful to the world.”

God exalts us along His values and not along ours. He exalts us to be rich in compassion and righteousness and character. God cares for us materially - He takes care of His own - but this is not the primary reward of God for doing good in life. The proper reward of doing good is the desire to do more good. The proper reward of being less worldly and more godly is not worldliness but godliness.

The reward for loving God is not becoming the financial envy of your neighbors, but not caring what your neighbors think of you at all - at least not along those lines or for those reasons. We may care that our neighbors would know about our faith and about our God. Christ said, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16 NIV).

If there would be anything in us to envy, let it be our peace, not our possessions. Let it be our generosity, not our selfishness. Let it be our character, not where we spent our vacation or what kind of car we drive.

The Last Surprises of Life ,