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False hope is ubiquitous and alluring.  Disappointment, loss, betrayal and assaults have persuaded many of us that trust can only, must only be placed in ourselves because vulnerability to others equals more of the same pain.  Cynicism, bitterness and resentment eat away at our hope like a powerful acid.  As if that weren’t enough, the evil one attacks by amplifying shame which suffuses our thinking, convincing many to remain seated in the chair of resignation until even hope itself feels like cruelty.  For some who do manage to reach one last time for help at a church, the unspoken discomfort often found there can feel like the final dead end because of foolishly promoted moralism.  The people there are just like them, fighting hidden sin with their own will and losing; their chair of resignation just happens to be located at church.  All of this is the deep, tangible, frighteningly real nature of evil and sin, and without real hope, it’s where every one of us will remain.

So what is real hope?  I believe every human being knows the answer, has perceived the truth in some part of their hearts.  Many could even articulate it quite well if asked.  Real hope is trustworthy and pure.  Real hope rescues and always comes through.  Real hope knows what to do, targets the real problem – the cause of the pain, not the effects.  Real hope doesn’t shrug and say, “I tried,” but stays and continues to grow in strength.  And real hope requires real power; not necessarily impressive or shocking or even satisfying power, but power that is somehow beyond the daily wounds and thorns of human life and yet thoroughly intimate with them.

The Bible mentions hope a great deal; 180 times give or take, depending on the translation.  That alone doesn’t make it real, but it does demonstrate that hope is important to God.  We all know that already, right?  So then, why is real hope so hard to find?  And why are so many of us failing to grasp it?  See the first paragraph – each of us is cut by some of these broken shards of life every day.  We don’t miss real hope because it doesn’t exist or because it’s hiding, but because we have an enemy who doesn’t want us to find it, and because our flesh falls for shiny packages and grand marketing.  The truth is, many of us want hope in a wrapper, something we can grab onto whenever we feel down, a handy pick-me-up.  And that’s usually what we settle for.  Quick carbs, quick rush, no power, no lasting help.  In the end, dances with these false, weak hope-posers only deepen and intensify our grief and bitterness, and we sit back down in the chair, even more ashamed.

Jesus does not call us to be ashamed of ourselves, but rather to take on his perspective of us:  his exquisite creations, unique and intricate.  Picture his passionate heart crafting one original masterpiece after another with love, his laughter and joy as he works in infinite colors and textures, blending and shading them into complex works never before seen and impossible to replicate.  In our current state, deceived and distorted, immersed in foolishness and evil, yes; but never without worth or value to him.  What were his first words to his disciples – those lost men, living day to day, just as confused and heartbroken as many of us, striving for peace, for hope – whom he had long before chosen?  Follow me.  Those are his words to each of us as well, penetrating the grimy layers of disillusionment and hopelessness.  He calls us to follow him out into the light and take our place with him, dying to sin and mistrust of God, to arrogance and pride, to the world of endless medication and fantasy and to Satan and his kingdom, and entering a new life alive to God and filled with his life and spirit.  Are the problems still going to be there?  Of course.  So then why bother?  Because the problems are still there.  No matter who we are or what choices we make, we still have to deal with them.  Each day for each person on this earth is filled with blessings and beauty, if we can see them, but will also involve grappling with confusion, suffering and loss and struggling with difficult situations and relationships, whether we walk in the cloudy, polluted and slippery muck of self-sufficiency or the daylight, oxygen and dry ground of grace and trust in Jesus.  Honestly, which one sounds better?

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This article was written in response to an opinion piece published in The Washington Post on October 16th, 2017, titled, “The religious right carries its golden calf into Steve Bannon’s battles,” by Michael Gerson.

I’m not a fan nor a detractor from Steve Bannon – I don’t know him very well. That said, I felt sad reading so much labeling and name-calling within an article that was purportedly critical of “dehumanizing” people or groups of people. I also failed to observe in the accompanying video any of the vile attacks or racially/ethnically divisive comments the article claimed had occurred – maybe they exist, maybe not. There were plenty of accusatory statements toward Bannon, the President and others, however, without supporting evidence or even bibliographical references. But the article is an opinion piece, so that’s not required (though it might have added legitimacy to the author’s contention). In any case, it got me thinking about how we as followers of Jesus respond to events and to the world’s perspective on them.

I honestly believe we Christians err when we look for the world’s political systems to perfectly or even satisfactorily reflect God’s word. When two believers in Jesus can disagree on how to interpret a portion of God’s word, can we honestly anticipate worldly political players to be more unified? I’m not saying the disagreements don’t matter – they do, and they require wisdom and guidance to help both perspectives grow into unity.  But it isn’t realistic to expect a consistently godly outcome in the contentious, complex and worldly environment of politics. We Christians can, however, offer clarity and wisdom as we are led by the Holy Spirit.

Regardless of which “side” is speaking or what issue is at hand, alarms go off anytime I encounter derogatory categorization of whole collections of people paired with extreme conclusions, particularly when directed at my Christian family (examples from this article include: “[Christians allying] their faith with bias and exclusion,”, “These conservatives have chosen [idolatry] over faith”). How could anyone so grossly suppose to know the hearts of so many they are not in relationship with, indeed have never met? This is a telltale signal that offense and fear are driving the message rather than prayer, wisdom, the Holy Spirit, godly counsel and God’s word. Offense and fear are the seeds from which hatred and violent aggression sprout. To borrow the language of the article, to ally ourselves and be comfortable embracing such superficial, putative invective, we Christians do indeed influence how many see Christianity, even producing distaste and confusion in those observing us, to the detriment of what we state is our intent toward those who live apart from Jesus.

Less about whether to discuss and debate around these difficult topics, I believe the issue is more how we prepare before jumping in. So, my response to provocative, poisonous sparks, in others as well as myself, is to seek to douse them and recognize my own susceptibility to folly. All of us, no matter the issue or position we choose, are vulnerable to express foolish words and actions. Stop, breathe, pray, re-enter God’s word and seek to re-assume the perspective of Jesus: All those bearing the image of God have value regardless of the validity of their argument. They are his creations and he has intention toward them that is permeated with mercy and grace.  Is that the image I am presenting as his child, his ambassador? (2 Cor. 5:20)  Each of us has a voice, a presence we bring into every encounter with others.  What is mine saying about Jesus?

We are certainly called to engage and even oppose those straying or promoting error, but we oppose them with Christ’s very character and spirit at the forefront; not in order to win the argument or conquer them but to win their hearts and help bring them to repentance. (Mt. 18:14-15) Remember, God does not desire for any of his image-bearers to be lost. This turning is accomplished by the Holy Spirit engaging their condition through our relationship and our testimony, not by attack and humiliation. Our only foundation in this role is God’s word, and if we’re not spending time in it ourselves, we can harm others while seeking to help them. We are also called to oppose false prophets, those captive to deceit, in order to defend the Body of Christ and keep the poison out while still praying and longing for the repentance and restoration of the captive. What is the common theme?  We must only confront those in error because we love them as Jesus loves them, and like him, we long for their freedom.

God is not casual or indifferent. He is passionately working on all people all the time, driving us to repentance, calling us to reject illusion and surrender to truth, pleading with us to stop fighting our maker, the one who is willing to rescue us. When responding publicly to statements or arguments, especially political ones in our current times, we must routinely test our own motives and attitudes. When I encounter an individual whose behavior or message disturbs me, stirring up discomfort, disdain or contempt, I begin asking questions. Do I feel God’s love for this person? Am I engaging them as if they matter? Am I listening more than I speak, working to discover their story and their struggles? Am I offering them hope, encouragement, joy? I believe this is the posture Jesus exemplified and encourages us to seek, and their presence or absence is indicative of our own spiritual health. If we find ourselves instead despising, avoiding, desiring harm toward those we oppose, that is a warning.  It’s time to remove ourselves from the conflict and take some time to remember the first and greatest command and redirect the powerful passion in our hearts back toward the heart of God.

2 Timothy 2: 23-26
“Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”

Scripture References and Quotations taken from
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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