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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.

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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.

3 Stories of

My phone seems to blow up daily with news of yet another horrific terrorist attack somewhere in the world. Each new atrocity births endless socio-political pontification on how to end the violence, from dropping bombs, to building walls, to endeavoring to understand and appease the hatred of the killers.

These are scary times. Yet from the shadows of 24-hour fear-filled news cycle emerge three hope-filled stories. Stories that won’t be celebrated by the masses, but stories that illuminate the only Solution to the underlying problem. It’s not “the culture of the West is better than the culture of the rest.”  It’s not Christian moralism trumping Islamic moralism. It’s not our version of self-righteousness finally defeating theirs.

It’s the transforming work of the Gospel – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the promised work of His Holy Spirit in the lives of broken people humble enough to surrender themselves to a holy and loving Power greater than themselves. The Gospel isn’t just something “they” need, it’s something we all need. It’s not just healing for “them,” it’s healing for me, too. This is how we fight radical terrorism.

“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”
–Ephesians 6:12

These 3 stories come directly from friends on the ground in the Arab World. I wrote them down exactly as they were shared with me. No extra details and no embellishment. When the news sends chills down your spine, remember that the Gospel is at work in this world. Here’s some proof that true hope has nothing to do with which party wins the next presidential cycle.

Backstory:

Eight years ago, there was a man connected to Hamas who worked in the mosque as a librarian. His job was to approve every book that found it’s way into any of the mosque libraries. Through a series of events, he gave his life to Christ and was discipled by one of the workers in his city. He began to share his newfound faith with his muslim friends, and slowly many of them also became believers in Jesus.

As their numbers grew, they used the same organization techniques he learned as a member of Hamas, formulating groups of no more than 6 people. Those six did not know who the other six were so that if one group was compromised, the underground church could still continue to flourish and grow. These small groups meet weekly, not in hiding, but in the open courtyards of the community mosques all over the city! They sit in study groups, they talk about the bible, they take up an offering, and they give it to whichever one of their members is most in need.

They call themselves the “Jesus-ites,” and they are slowly reaching critical mass. Last year, they baptized 140 new believers. And this year, they’ve already baptized over 300. Altogether there are close to 500 believers in this Middle Eastern city. It is out of that context that the following three stories have unfolded.

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Story 1:

This group is becoming very bold in their witness and has begun passing out bibles in the streets of their community. One day, a radical muslim approached one of the believers, grabbed the bible from his hand, and began ripping out the pages. As he’s throwing the pages into the air, his arm freezes above his head. Stuck. He can’t pull it back to himself.

More than a little freaked out, he takes off for home (with his arm still stuck in the air) and the believers follow him. When they get to his house, they offer to pray for him with the understanding he will declare that Jesus is God and forsake Islam if God heals him. And that’s exactly what happened.

The believers want to baptize him in his bathtub but he declines, declaring “I disgraced Jesus publicly by tearing up that bible in the street, I must profess him publicly as well.” So they walk back into the center of the city, find an old tub, use buckets to fill it with water, and baptize him in the center of this strict Muslim city.

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Story 2:

A young man shares his newfound faith with a man in his community. The man gets so violently angry he beats the young Christian and kills him. The believers gather together to discuss how they are going to respond to the death of one of their own. They set out as a group for the old man’s house, grab him, and tie him to one of the cement pillars in the center of his house (I don’t recommend this). Then, one by one, they force him to listen to the testimonies of how each of them came to Christ. The man is violently angry, spitting and yelling at them as they speak (but hey, where is he going to go?).

When they were finished, they untied him and left. But the next day they returned, laid hands on him and prayed, and the man gives his heart to Jesus. Now he is one of the believers in the underground church.

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Story 3:

A woman and her grown son from this same community come to Jesus. The husband comes home one day to find his wife listening to a chanting of the New Testament story of Christ in their home. In his anger, he begins to beat her. His grown son intervenes, but in his fury the father throws him against the wall, he hits his head on the concrete, and falls to the floor unconscious.

The mother rushes to the aid of her son, but as she’s bent over his body her husband grabs her from behind and attempts to slit her throat with a butcher knife from the kitchen. In the struggle he misses, yet still slices her chest from clavicle to clavicle. The neighbors hear the commotion and intervene. They take the woman and her son to the hospital, and the father to the authorities.

At the police station, the man simply states that his wife had become a christian and they let him go. No further questions asked. At the hospital, they stitch the woman up, and the believers once again gather to decide what they are going to do.

So they get a copy of the Gospel chanting the woman had been listening to, put it into printed form, and head to the hospital to visit the woman as she is recovering. While there, they begin going from hospital room to hospital room disbursing the message to each muslim patient and asking, “does someone deserve to have their throat cut for this teaching of Jesus?”

The woman recovers, but when she’s released she does not feel safe going back to her husband. Yet she feels the conviction of the Holy Spirit to forgive him for what he has done, and to share that forgiveness with him. So she goes to visit him and says, “I want you to know that I forgive you for what you did. I love you, our son loves you, and Jesus loves you.” And then she leaves.

Without collusion, her son also visits his father and also says, “dad, I want you to know that what you did was wrong, but I forgive you. I love you, mom loves you, and Jesus loves you.” 

That same night, the man had a dream. Jesus appeared to him and said, “you wife loves you, your son loves you, and I love you.”

The man gave his heart to Christ, was reconciled with his family, and is now a member of the Body of Christ.

Conclusion:

It’s taken 8 years, but the seeds of the Gospel are beginning to grow in this spiritually arid land. Regardless of what you see in the media, never question that God is at work around the world. You can’t stop the message of Jesus.

Our dog is an idiot.

If it isn’t bad enough that this 6 pound Yorkshire Terrier wears pants to keep him from hiking his leg on anything bigger than he is (which is basically everything), last night he decided to hold a 20 minute licking session with his back right foot on the blanket where I sleep. Here I am, still recovering from my DST hangover, and this stupid canine decides to create a puddle of slobber for me to lay in.

I lost my mind.

As the dog scurried to hide himself on my wife’s (dry) side of the bed, she got a good late-night laugh at my expense.

Why do we let animals live in our homes? (Alas, that question is for another post).

The truth is, I had some unresolved angst living inside of me last night that had nothing to do with the dog – some stress from work and the weight of a few heavy circumstances that were poking at the broken places and insecurities inside of me. Add fatigue to the potion, and the dog gets blasted for a silly and unintentional offense.

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The problem was inside of me, but I needed somewhere else to lay the blame. Something outside of myself. Dogs are good for that.

As silly as it may sound, this story is a microcosm of our human condition. Our fallen instincts scream at us to look outside of ourselves for the source of our issues.

Poor leaders.

Oppressive culture.

Intolerance.

Family of origin issues.

“If ‘they’ were just better, I would be better!”

And those same instincts challenge us to search inside of ourselves for the solution.

More courage!

The pursuit of happiness.

Self-love.

Self-expression.

“I will make my own way in this world!”

And while all of these things may have some merit, this worldview helps us dodge the root problem that is at play. As usual, the Gospel turns our human assumptions on their head. 

The primary source of my issues resides inside of me:

Sin.

Sin is a virus that infects every aspect of our lives with self-absorption, self-obsession, and self-worship. It puts me at the center and everything and everyone else (including God) in my orbit. It’s the root of everything ugly and broken, and I am incapable of remedying it on my own.

The only Solution is outside of me:

The Gospel offers us wholeness as a gift. It’s given from the outside, not conjured up from the inside. The finished work of Jesus Christ clothes us in redemption. All I have to do is give up. Stop blaming. Stop striving. Stop trying to be my own savior. Stop pointing at everyone and everything else.

This is Good News, but it takes humility to truly hear it.

The brokenness is inside. The Answer is outside.

Maybe it’s time to stop blaming the dog.

I have zero home improvement skills (or home repair skills for that matter). So last month, when my wife asked me to install a new closet system in my oldest daughter’s bedroom, I balked. I was tired. I was grumpy. And when it comes to projects like this, I always seem to screw things up.

This effort did not disappoint.

After an hour of missing studs with the anchor screws and hanging half-cocked support beams, I threw my worthless drill on the floor, expressed my disdain for all power tools (and at that moment life itself), mumbled a few unmentionables under my breath, and went to bed. Once again, I’d screwed it up.

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I have a propensity for screwing up this Christianity thing, too. There are two (overly-simplified) ways I tend to do this, and they both start with how I view God’s character and nature. In my experience, when I make these common mistakes, I basically screw up everything else in my life, too.

Climbing Up To God

In this approach, I get ahold of God’s installation manual and think to myself, “heck yeah, I can do this.” Then I grab my amateur tool belt and have it. Sure, the shelves are a bit crooked and a few wrongly placed pilot holes have to be hidden back in the dark corner, but who will notice? And so I dumb down God’s standards into a pile of achievable goals and set out to (somewhat) fulfill them with my own manufactured morality.

The problem with moralism is that it doesn’t work. The actual standard is way too high (and God goes and starts hinting around that it’s not just what we do on the outside but why we do it on the inside that actually counts). So we either quietly acknowledge our failure and live beneath a constant weight of guilt and shame, or we arrogantly assume our efforts are at least “better than that guy’s” and settle into a smug (and detestable) air of self-righteousness.

Climbing up to God always screws up everything.

Reducing God To Me

To counterbalance this tendency, I instinctively flip the script. I’ve heard about this concept called grace. It sounds pretty awesome, especially since it means I can just throw away God’s instructions completely (right?). God is love, after all. And so I seek internal peace by flipping my pencil to the eraser side and eliminating the stress and pressure of God’s holiness altogether. Humanity has evolved. We understand things better now. Those self-righteous moralists have held us all hostage for far too long anyway.

The problem with enlightenment is that it doesn’t work. Grace isn’t about removing the standard. And yet we live in a false sense of self-made peace and arrogantly look down on anyone who might not tolerate our way of putting life together.

Reducing God to my level always screws up everything.

The Gospel Changes Everything

The only way to fix our swaying pendulum of screw ups is through the message of the Gospel. I like to summarize the Gospel this way:

The Law Crushes: The demands of a holy God are intended to destroy us. We can’t fulfill them on our own, and we can’t erase them if we try. Let it do its job.

The Gospel Resurrects: God sent His son to live the life we couldn’t live, and die the death we should’ve died. His perfection is given to us by proxy. Our rescue comes from the work of another. This is grace.

The Spirit Empowers: Our ongoing and humble trust in the finished work of Christ comes with the promise of His Spirit. This gift is what changes us and gives us the power to live lives that are pleasing to God. Not our efforts for Him, but His work in us.

Moralism screws up everything. Enlightenment screws up everything. The Gospel changes everything.

If you’re looking for true peace, maybe it’s time to put down your tool belt and surrender to something with the power to actually deliver on its promise.