Our Hope Is In Christ

Erik Cooper —  January 20, 2017 — Leave a comment

There is a story in Scripture that absolutely confounds me. The Israelites have been enslaved in Egypt for 400 years when God decides it’s time for their exile to end. He does it with flare: snakes, and plagues, and an Angel of Death, seas parting, water from rocks, pillars of fire, three square meals a day miraculously falling to the ground, shoes that never wear out. Supernatural stuff!

The tangible presence of God was in their midst every day, leading and guiding and saving and providing. And yet the first thing – the very first thing! – they did when Moses left them to go up the mountain was to make their own god out of gold and bow down to worship it.

On first read, this seems like a new level of insanity! Until I realize that I do the exact same thing, too. Every day.

“Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.”
–John Calvin

Every day we fight the broken, human instinct to fashion gods with our own hands – gods we can understand, control, and ultimately find our power and identity in. We were made for God, and yet we default to making gods. As we watch the various public reactions to the transfer of power taking place in Washington DC today, and even as we gaze inward to the condition of our own hearts, this idolatry becomes clear in so many ways.

We all have political leanings, and in our own way we can each reconcile these beliefs with our faith. But we are prone to find our identity, and ultimately our hope, in the wins or losses of our preferred political candidates. As Christians, this should cause us great concern.

If your party is taking power today, go ahead and celebrate the ideological win. But don’t place your hope, and certainly not the security of your Christian faith, in the incoming administration. That is idolatry.

Our hope is in Christ.

And if your ideology is leaving office today, don’t despair. If you find yourself despondent and emotionally wrecked by these election results, your hope was in something that was destined to fail you. That is idolatry.

Our hope is in Christ.

I believe God allows us to experience the futility of the many things we place our trust in apart from Him. He does this because He loves us. Our idols will always fail us. If your hope, security, and identity is moving in or out of the White House today, I encourage you to pause and reflect. The idolatry of politics will fail you, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ never will.

Some nations boast of their chariots and horses,

but we boast in the name of the LORD our God.

Those nations will fall down and collapse,

but we will rise up and stand firm.

–Psalm 20:7-8

For Yours, Jesus, is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory forever and ever.

muslimgirl

She surrendered her life to Isa (Jesus) and it cost her everything. Her father wasn’t content with simply rejecting her, he turned her into the police and they didn’t speak again for 6 years. Ostracized from her entire community, she found refuge in the tiny underground church in this North African city where Christianity was illegal and congregations were counted on your fingers (if you could find them at all).

Yet there she was, full of hope and life and boldness and passion. It was contagious.

Every dinner table hosted a similar guest of honor, as each member of our team was inundated with broken-English stories of dreams and visions, supernatural encounters, and the power of the Gospel at work in a truly dark and lonely place. I was humbled and overwhelmed, completely riveted by her unfolding narrative of God’s grace and redemption in her life. Then, without warning, she turned and asked me:

“Do you have any daughters?”

“Two,” I said. “And one son.”

She put her hand on my arm and hit me with the haymaker.

“Don’t over-promise to your daughters. Teach them to depend on Jesus.”

Her comments caught me off guard. When did we start talking about me? Tell me some more stories about covert church gatherings and the spread of the Gospel in these Muslim strongholds.

But God was using this persecuted Christian girl to remind me of something vital. As a father, I am my kids’ protector, a provider and covering, an imperfect reflection of God placed there by God.

But not to replace Him.

The greatest gift I can give my children is to “teach them to depend on Jesus.”

I don’t ever want my girls to be forced to walk the road this young, persecuted Christian girl has been forced to travel. But I sure want them to be able to. If I remove every hardship, resolve every problem, allow them to side-step every suffering, in whom will they place their trust? In me or in Jesus?

It’s such a delicate balance and discernment, isn’t it? To be their protector and lead them to The Protector. To be their covering and lead them to The Covering. To be their hero yet lead them to The Savior.

Let’s take the challenge of this beautiful, young, persecuted believer.

Teach them to depend on Jesus.

Nothing

Sometimes things don’t work the way we planned.

After nearly 40 hours, an overnight airport delay, and two itinerary reroutes, I found myself cuing in a mass of disgruntled travelers in the Addis Ababa airport waiting for our now twice-delayed Ethiopian airline flight to board for Nairobi. Our original team of twenty had been split up twice already, and my wife and three kids were the only 4 left with me. We were trying to count that blessing as my children, travel novices at best, were questioning why we ever left our quaint Midwestern suburb for dad’s claim of a life-changing missions adventure. In all my travels, I had never experienced anything quite like this. We were exhausted, we were hungry, and we were stuck in one of the least desirable airport terminals in the world. And to top it off, I was powerless. There was absolutely nothing I could do about it.

So we pulled a few snacks from our carry-on bags and tried to keep each other in good spirits as many of our irate East African co-passengers argued with the gate-check agents in unknown tongues about the unexplained delays and lack of communication. The intensifying scene was already beginning to make me a little uncomfortable when I glanced down at my 11 year old son. He had been complaining of an upset stomach since we arrived in Addis, but now his face had grown a bit pale, too.

What happened next unfolded in slow motion. His knees stiffened, his eyes rolled back in his head, and his body tumbled backward like he was doing the Nestea plunge. Had it not been for his oversized backpack, his head would’ve certainly cracked hard on the concrete floor. His sister’s scream silenced all other activity and conversation in the buzzing terminal, and we found ourselves on our knees tending to our unconscious son surrounded by a circle of curious and concerned Ethiopian onlookers.

This was not the beautiful journey I had promised my kids for the last 6 months.

Thankfully, he had just passed out, the result of extreme fatigue, lack of food, and airplane dehydration. After convincing the airport officials he was not suffering from some horrific communicable disease and in need of quarantine, we were finally allowed to board the plane to reunite with the rest of our companions (although I can’t say as much for our luggage).

This was not the trip I had planned. It was nothing like the picture I had painted in my head. But there are unexpected blessings to encountering moments of complete powerlessness.

Many of you know my son’s personality. He’s a strong-willed negotiator, never content with an answer he doesn’t like. On many occasions I’ve told my wife, “I wish he would just listen to his dad sometimes. I wish he could find rest in my decisions, that I know what’s best, that I can be trusted.”

This terrifying moment deeply impacted him. In this new unknown environment, he’s humbly asked a lot more questions, he’s paid attention to my instructions, he’s literally clung to me physically as our days have unfolded here in Kenya. He falls asleep grasping my arm. As a dad, there’s nothing you long for more, even though the circumstances that got you here could not be desired less. He’s sought refuge in his father, and together we’ve both found refuge in The Father.

Powerlessness can be a gift. It can connect us to God in unmatched ways, draw us into His covering and protection, and tap into a strength so much greater than our own. We were made to find our rest in the Father, but to get there we usually have to walk the uncomfortable road that leads us to the end of ourselves.

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.”
–Matthew 5:3 (MSG)

So here’s to powerlessness. It just might be more powerful than you think.

LoveHands

Moralism is the byproduct of religious self-sufficiency. It’s a form of self-righteousness that may start with professed dependence on Christ, but lives itself out as if pleasing God is an outflow of a person’s ability to outwardly obey the rules (or at least only break the ones that are socially and culturally acceptable to ignore).

Moralism is comparative righteousness. It completely misses the transformational power of the Gospel because it misidentifies our core problem as bad moral behavior. In today’s shifting moral climate, religious moralists are finding the cultural to be more and more hostile toward them. They’re called out as modern day Pharisees (or worse), accentuating their own virtue by looking down their noses at the lack of virtue they see in others. Jesus definitely had strong words for people like this.

But here’s my rub…

Tolerance is just secular moralism.

I texted the following to my brother-in-law earlier this week after the news of the horrific Orlando massacre began filling the airwaves and our social media streams:

I hate the word hate. Secularism can’t solve any problems because it refuses to identify real causes. If “hate” is the problem, then “tolerance” is the answer. Unfortunately, we humans have proven for 4,000 years that more and more enlightenment doesn’t seem to change us all that much.

But if SIN is the problem, then we have to acknowledge we don’t have the answer – in ourselves. And herein lies the rub for human hubris.

If good behavior is the moralist’s redemption, tolerance is the secularist’s redemption. It’s a battle of varying forms of self righteousness, and it all completely misses the beauty, the power, the hope, and the true transformational ability of the Gospel message.

That we are all horrifically broken.

That we are completely incapable of fixing ourselves.

That we already have a Savior.

And His name is Jesus.

Religious moralism and secular tolerance are just two sides of the same self-righteous coin. If we really want to learn to love each other, to truly get along, it’s going to take a whole lot of humility and dependence on Someone greater than ourselves.

EnvyBlog

I opened the newspaper Sunday morning to a full weekend spread on the housing market in Indianapolis. It’s booming. And the full-color photo collages were there to prove it. One in particular caught my eye. It was a wide-angle shot off a beautiful custom kitchen, complete with high end, hand-made cabinets, stainless steel appliances, marble countertops, and stunning hard wood floors.

“We need a house like that,” I thought to myself.

“And, you know, our bathroom could sure use a makeover, too. Our shower is too small, and the space isn’t segmented properly.”

“You know, I wonder if we could swing a bigger mortgage? Maybe get into a nicer part of town?”

“I tell ya, some people are just luckier than we are. I wonder what kind of work they do to be able to support a home like that.”

If we didn’t have to think about getting three kids through college, I bet we could afford something like that. It just doesn’t seem fair sometimes.”

It’s amazing where the sinful mind instinctively takes you. We have a beautiful house with a huge finished basement, some custom features, and a mortgage payment I am fortunate enough to be able to make every month. And I’m lucky enough to have three incredible kids I get to try and help make it through college.

Here’s some irony: it’s often hardest to see what you actually have. It’s much easier to see what you don’t.

And when I really begin to feel what I don’t have by meditating on what others do have, I can even begin to despise them for their “good fortune.” Catch me in a really fleshly moment, and the road to bitterness will lead to an even darker place. It’s called envy.

We talk a lot about greed in Western contexts, and rightfully so. We are the wealthiest culture in the history of the earth. We roll around in abundance like no generation before. Add Christian faith to the mix, and we are admonished by Christ to care for the poor and to serve the least of these among us. We need to be challenged not to hoard, to live with an open hand. It’s biblical.

But while greed causes us to say “I deserve to keep all that is mine!” envy drives us to scream “I deserve to have what is yours!” For some reason, we don’t seem to challenge envy quite as much. Perhaps it’s our love for the underdog. Perhaps it’s something darker.

When you dig right down to the bottom of it, both greed and envy are symptoms of the same root cause – sinful desires.

You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it.And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.”
–James 4:2-3

It’s interesting to me, especially in a hotly contested political season like we find ourselves in today, to watch how different candidates have learned how to tap into our visceral, sinful natures.

“Build a wall!”

“It’s not fair!”

“You should keep what you have!”

“You should have what they’re trying to keep!”

Greed.

Envy.

They’re two sides of the same broken coin. We need to confront the scourge of both in our lives.

What about a Gospel solution? A third way? A free people willfully generous with all that they have, while simultaneously content with all that they have. Wouldn’t that be refreshing?

Come, Lord Jesus.