Hope Matters

Pin_HopeMattersThe word “but” is one of those words no one wants to hear right after someone says to you … I love you, I’m sorry, or I think you are a really great person. It is something I like to refer to as a “yes, but” statement. I’m sure you can think of people who have dropped the “yes, but” on you. I’m also sure you can think of a time or two you’ve dropped one on another–I know I can. It is easy to do. It is the having your cake and eating it too of interpersonal communication. We want to make the other person feel better, make ourselves feel better, or ease the tension of a conversation….but we also want to make sure our point is understood, our agenda is being met, or our conscious is left guilt free. The problem is a “yes, but” statement always creates a contradiction regarding the true emotions, feelings, or intentions of the speaker. It devalues the speaker’s credibility and confuses the hearer—who will likely end up unconvinced.

In my experience, I have found there to be a bit of a “yes, but” attitude among Christians today. It is an attitude that we all can be sympathetic towards. The world we live in is broken. We’ve all endured suffering. We’ve all experienced loss. It is tough to look at the evils that take place on this planet and not wish at times to just sink down to the ground and give up on it all. It is an attitude that is bound to wash over everyone once and a while. However, trouble arises when this attitude begins to cling to us, becomes natural to us, or is left unchecked and unconfessed for a long period of time. As our lives pass the fear of suffering, loss, death, evil, and ugliness in humanity slowly becomes the thing we expect. And if even more time passes, in which the incarnational truth and hope found in the New Testament washes away such pessimism, fear becomes the only outcome we will see as possible. Once a person comes to expect that for now fear/death will always prevail on earth, the gospel becomes a story about hoping in heaven, rather than placing our hope in our promised new earth and our coming resurrection.

Pierre Teilhard’s hope is that which continues to amaze me when read his works. This isn’t solely because of what he says or teaches regarding our future hope, it is because of the way he embodies such a hope. He is audacious enough to imagine a future in which humanity unites, loves, and manifests Christ on earth. Sadly, even as I’m writing about his hopeful ideals, I can feel a “yes, but” trying to creep into my preconditioned thoughts.

It sounds something like this: “While, of course I believe that Christians will someday unite, love, and fully manifest Christ on earth …. but it won’t ever fully be realized through us…well, at least not until Jesus comes back and finishes everything he didn’t finish on the cross” That last bit should feel like fingernails on a chalkboard and although you may never have heard a Christian confess such an appalling statement, it is what we are insinuating when we tag on a ‘but’ after speaking about Christ’s message of the Kingdom come, isn’t it? How is this acceptable to us? Christ on the cross is the center, the fulfillment, the reconciliation, the salvation, and the most beautiful act self-sacrificial love that will ever be known. Hope is found when we look at the cross, hear our Lord utter ‘It is finished,’ and then love one another so outlandishly that fear must flee from our presence. The hope Christ came to incarnate, teach, and die for simply cannot exist within a “yes, but” statement. To follow up the hope of the gospel with a “but” is to surrender our faith as hopeless.

I am a far cry from embodying hope the way Teilhard does. I also know that he struggled with this vision of hope after serving in WW1 (a topic I will discuss at a later time). I still struggle everyday to affirm the truth that on the cross it truly was ‘finished.’ I look around my life, the church, the world and find it hard to not to find it an impossible notion that God’s Kingdom could ever fully be realized on this very planet. There are times though, moments of fleeting wonder, in which even just for a few mere seconds I allow hope to overwhelm me. A true sense of hope, a pure and child-like hope, and such beauty has the power to take the breath right out of my lungs. It is akin to trying to imagine the end of the universe, eternity, or infinity. These times or moments most often come to me when reading Teilhard, in fact I’m not certain I had felt such hope ever before discovering him. His hope is contagious and intoxicating. Jesus came, lived, and died for a hope—the hope to see God’s Kingdom come to earth (not the other way around). Teilhard shamelessly mirrors this hope. I would give anything to live in such a state.

As I said earlier, Teilhard’s teaching doesn’t center on the idea of hope—it is more embedded in all his other thoughts. I continue to emphasize it however—especially early on in the series—because without a willingness on our part to try to imagine the incarnational hope of the kingdom come, we will never truly be able to open our minds and learn from what his message to us is. I want Christ-followers to become desperately hungry for such a Christ-like hope. If we say we have hope, but then claim our hope is in a ‘there’ rather than the ‘here’ it seems to me we are failing to preach the gospel.

“I believe that the world will never be converted to Christianity’s hopes of heavens, unless first Christianity is converted to the hopes of the earth.” Teilhard

Teilhard, . C. P. (1968). Science and Christ. New York: Harper & Row.p.127

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Earth … It’s Still Good!

This entire series of blog posts is indebted to Rob Bell, although I didn’t realize to  what extent until today.  I was thinking about a post on our calling to create (which will be coming in the next week) and remembered a quote, from a sermon a few years back, that has been etched in my heart ever since.  After searching, for quite some time, I thought I had found it.  I listened to the sermon series, a teaching about the Earth’s renewal, and found out my quote was nowhere to be found.  It wasn’t wasted time though.  I found something else.  I found the enthusiastic and hopeful look at the coming Earth 2.0 that I have been writing about.  I found my inspiration for this series.

Rob’s views, on what the new Earth may have in store and what our roles will be there, are breathtaking.  But believe me, you can’t pin this excitement down to just one sermon, because his vision is scattered throughout them all.  I wanted to attribute my desire to write about this topic to Rob, since after listening today I realized just how deeply embedded his hope in the new creation is set in my heart.  So, it was a different quote, one I heard today, that stirred me to write this post.  The quote was this …

“The new Earth is God’s way of saying, it’s still good!”

This place we live in was good when God created it in Genesis, it is still good today, and it will be good when God comes to renew it.  What God has created for us here is priceless, timeless, and everywhere we turn.  I think we lose site of this fact, because taking it for granted is just too easy.  I imagine that God’s creation will be an eternal place of enjoyment for us in the renewed Earth, and so as the theme of the series goes … that means it is worthy of our attention now.

What does God say about His ability to create?  What reaction does it arouse in Him?  There is no better place to look for this answer than in Job 38 …  “And the LORD speaks … “

It is in this chapter we get to glimpse, in amazement, into God’s description of His own creation.  Well, His description, along with a reminder of our finite ability to grasp it.  There is no way to summarize this chapter without losing it’s surprising and sometimes sarcastic tone … but some of my favorite parts are those reminders, posed as questions, of just how endless creation is and just how unaware of it we are.

The dumb ostrich who can run like the best of them, the mountain goats giving birth, the moving of the constellations, the depths of the ocean, the ends of the universe, the placement of the lightening and the winds, the power of the horse, and the protection over the lions.  It goes on for pages.

When I read these words I think I can take away from them three ideas: 1) God’s creation was good then and it is now, 2) If the Creator takes pleasure in creation, so should we and 3) Creation deserves our respect, our attention, and our care.

God uses colorful words to describe His creation, to remind us of details we so often miss, and to instill confidence that He takes joy in this creation … that it is still good!  The renewed Earth will be brighter, will be more colorful, and will be erased of the death that taints it now – but it will still be God’s good creation.  If we want to start living today, in order to prepare for renewal, we must take time to appreciate His creation.  We must take care of the Earth, because He has entrusted it to us.  We will not go live somewhere else … we will be here, forever.  It is our job to treat the world, the people in it, and all of creation as though we are seeing it through God’s eyes … as if it is still good!

Why Reality TV is Getting ‘Left Behind’

As I begin to dig into my study of what will be worthy of eternal continuation in the new Earth I have come to realize I’m likely going to ruffle some feathers in this series, possible even offend.  The things that, at their core, are the most detrimental to the way we are living are often the things that: 1) We don’t discuss at all, such as sex slavery and porn addiction, and 2) We discuss constantly without truly thinking about any subsequent ramifications.  I think today’s topic falls into the second category.

There is a theory of human communication labeled symbolic convergence.  This theory states that when a group of people share in some form of discourse a type of group fantasy emerges.  The theory goes much deeper into what symbols, of that fantasy, are then formed, but I think the theory can be useful when we take a look at our desire, as a nation, to be manipulated by reality TV.  What is it about reality TV that draws us in?  Why is it dangerous to our life?  And how are we victim’s to the propaganda machine that is mass media?

I have known the desire to be attracted to these shows.  I have been a faithful follower, in the past, of more then I would like to admit.  So I think I have a fair understanding of the appeal, as well as their the soul sucking capabilities.  If we look back fifteen or twenty years we can see where these shows took root: Lifestyles of The Rich and Famous, Cribs, and The Real World.  Although, not unheard of before 1990, they didn’t hold the same concept or appeal.  This monumental shift in what we view on TV is startling and worth some thought.

One of the most bothersome aspects for me is in the name itself …. “real”.  As viewers, we become involved in these ‘real’ peoples lives, we discuss the nature of their dramas and lifestyles, and we begin to view it as an actual part of society.  The problem is there is nothing ‘real’ about reality TV.  The people are want-to-be actors, or Hollywood nobodies looking to create a name for themselves.  The shows are scripted, far too much of what they ‘have’ is paid for, and the drama is caused by careful personality placement.  And even if that is all true what is the harm?  It is entertaining, after all.

When we begin to let the idea that these are real people, living in the same society as we are, we slowly start to undertake the notion that these fictions hold true in real life.

Peter Rollins is quoted as telling us that “Many of us would agree that having a better car, a nice home, or more possessions will not really make us happier. We are all able to concur that such things are not worth giving too much attention to and that we should not let our relationships suffer in order to achieve them. The problem, however, is that we often walk away from such conversations and act as if we do believe that they will make us happier and that making our relationships suffer in the pursuit of them is worth it. While we are very quick to say we do not believe, we continue to act as if we do.”

When we allow this into our lives, we are giving it permission to change our beliefs.  Your beliefs, after all, are only as good as the actions they live up to.  Watching reality TV which prides itself on fame, greed, casual sex, degrading women, stupidity for the sake of comedy, worth only through possessions, and self image we cannot expect that, after a given amount of time, these ‘values’ will impact who we are.  Add to that the conversations we have with our friends, family, and co-workers on the same subject and we find that those symbols I spoke of before will begin to form; we will let other’s reassurance of the worth and reality of these fictions to be our excuse to not look deeper.

There is so much more I could say on this, but I’m going to have to stop at some point.  I do think it is important to recognize the reasoning we continue to see these types of shows at such a fast rate.  Producers aren’t making these shows because, as a nation we like them more than any other given TV; rather, they produce them because the actors are paid next to nothing, no set is needed, and they cost little to make.

So am I suggesting we all turn off the TV, since that would be the only solution to rid ourselves of reality TV?  Do I think there are people that can’t watch a limited amount of these shows and still have a grasp on what is true and untrue?  Do I think they are all worthless and without morals? I don’t think there is one right answer for these questions that will make sense for every person.  What I do know is that reality TV won’t be part of this Earth 2.0 we are waiting on, the lies alone remove it from the running.  And if it won’t be part of what is to come, the chances are it isn’t a worthy of our time now.  At best we are missing something better, at worst we are contributing to something with the ability to create negative self-image, promote greed, and lift up those unworthy of the title role model.

There was a time in my life I found myself believing, and acting, as though the “reality” seen on certain shows were a standard worth striving for – when upon observation it should have been the exact opposite.  I know, for me, when I made the conscience decision to turn off these types of shows I felt freedom.  I felt more real.  I felt more grateful for what I had, and less envious of things I couldn’t attain.  I was given so much time to focus on more important things.  There was nothing I lost, nothing I missed, and nothing to regret.

Finding Something In Nothing

This is the second part of a blog series on the promised new Earth to come.  Read the intro to the series here.

To begin my adventure on discovering what is worthy of the label ‘eternal’, in this promised new Earth Jesus speaks of, I think the best place to start is to hallow out some space.  In order to know what fits, and what doesn’t belong, we must give ourselves the time to decide such things.

As long as I can remember I have desired to honor a Sabbath day.  If there are working parents out there who are able to do this, I applaud you, but for me taking a continuous 24 hour period to do nothing other than “be” simply doesn’t work.  So each time I would dream about the possibility I would end it with a defeated feeling, a shrug of my shoulders, and the thought ‘Someday, maybe’.  When I started to dig into what aspects of our Earth fit into this coming ‘Earth 2.0’ I came to the realization that, in regards to setting reflection time aside, something is better than nothing.  So my plan is to dedicate just one full hour each day to free my soul.

For each person this hour, or Sabbath, will look different, but I believe some of the substance can be universal.  I envision Sabbath as a time where we allow God to pour into us the validity of who we are in Him, by completely ridding ourselves of the notion that we are capable of anything apart from Him.  It is a time to spend with your family, with yourself, and with God.  It is a time you don’t clean, don’t fold laundry, don’t cook, and don’t look (or even think) about your to-do list.  It is a time to reflect on His grace and take time to enjoy His love.  An hour a day with your phone off, without emails, or texts.  An hour that you don’t write, create, or produce anything.  An hour that you don’t waste with convenient fillers, but rather with the TV off, the radio down, and your book closed.  An hour that is truly just about you being alive in this moment.

This time we give over to our Creator, as fully immersed in life and still completely emptied of ourselves, could be the key to seeing what we need to on our journey.  This will not be easy for me, I imagine it won’t be easy for you either.  To spend a full hour without any of my day-to-day, minute-to-minute picking up, getting done, and ‘wishing to do more’ will be a challenge.  I hope it will be worth it.

I would love to hear if you already spend time in self-reflection each day, or for a longer period on a weekly basis.  If creating this space/time was difficult, and if it continues to push you outside your comfort zone?  Does it gives you direction, a renewed sense of being, or peace?  What has worked, and what hasn’t?

So you’ve made it to heaven, now what?

I’ve heard it asked before, “What will heaven be like?”.  I’ve actually experienced this question first hand when my 5 year old asked me this week what daddy was doing in heaven all day.  Within the context of tradition, we might imagine angels singing, clouds passing by, loved ones we’ve lost back in our presence, and constant worship to God.  All of these things sound … well heavenly, but then what? If these fluffy imaginations are the sum total of eternity one could reason this could get slightly boring given enough time (or lack of time).  If the ‘age to come’ is truly at hand, as Christ told us it was, are our lines being crossed on the envisioned after-life and our role here on Earth now?

Although, I am fully grounded in the reality that living life for the mere suggestion of ‘what is to come’ is no way to enjoy the gift of life God has given us, I do believe that ‘what is to come’ has great implications for our life now.  That these implications, should and do, have weight in our lives, and they are worthy of our time and discussion.  I have recently found myself driving down a highway erasing those things surrounding me that won’t be present in the new Earth Jesus has promised to us.  The feeling that comes along with that is exciting and extremely startling.  What, if anything, in our lives is worthy of this renewed Earth … this Earth 2.0?

This question has been following me for weeks now, settling itself in my heart as a formation of words.  I hope I can form these words in some sensible nature in order to share with all of you.

It starts with a simple deduction in reasoning – Christ made it clear to us that God’s vision for His coming Kingdom was not entirely future.  Jesus, more often than not, delivered his message in a tense that suggested He was speaking of things in the present.  He told us that the Kingdom of God was at hand, that it was here among us, and that we could take part in that kingdom right now.  Given this truth, we must then be able to see some of what the new heaven and new earth will encompass.  We must have some things in our lives worthy of that thing we hope to be part of ‘some day’.

What is exciting about Jesus’ declaration is that for those of you not walking with Christ I hope you will still see this as applicable to your life – I believe this message is true for everyone.  The future kingdom of God is described as a place with no more sickness, no more tears, and no more pain.  When described in this way I venture to say it is a place that each Earthly inhabitant has a desire to be in the midst of, to discover, to even help create.  Each of us can ask ourselves how it is that we can become the type of people that contribute to bringing about a world that looks more like this one Jesus describes, instead of a person who is inflicting the opposite (sometimes unknowingly or possibly ignorantly).

My mind wanders to the useless things we fill up our time with, the shades we draw over oppression we impose on others, and the good things we create in this daily life that will be needed in the age to come.  This will be a series of posts – an Earth 2.0 Exposed.  My hope is to stir in you what has been stirred in me … new eyes.  Eyes to look at the world around us and evaluate what we take part in as a means to discover what He is preparing us for.  And that preparation is part of the process.

I don’t imagine that, upon my death, I will awake in heaven a completely different Stephanie.  No, rather I imagine (and hope …) I will still be me.  But how could I enter into heaven when my inclination to stumble is so great?  I believe we are here to prepare ourselves, and we cannot do this when we are stagnant.  Life must not become mundane or routine.  Our perspective must continuously be re-evaluated.  We have to let our hearts be stirred when love is seen.  Our emotions to overcome us when pain is felt.  It can be easy to lose our spirit in the propaganda that is our every waking second.  But to become the person you desire to be we all must work at it.

Which brings me back to my beloved readers who aren’t Christ followers.  Followers of Christ or not, we all long to be better.  We all long to make our lives something worthy.  This application of evaluation, elimination, and preparation is universal.  Be courageous – dare to identify those things we allow in our lives that might be causing pain, might be to blame for suffering, and has the capacity to bring a person to tears.  And beyond that, there is joy in this self discovery – identify the things He will need us to carry on, the things that we are doing that bring hope, new life, and joy to those around us.  I have no doubt heaven is not a boring place, but I do greatly doubt that we will all be sitting on a cloud singing How Great Is Our God for all eternity.  No, we were created by the Creator for a purpose. Each person slightly different, but we are here to fill the Earth, to cultivate, to create, and to enjoy what He has given us.  I do not believe this will change in the kingdom to come.

So for now, I would ask – and only because I am too – for you to look around the next time you are outside … scan the skyline the next time you drive over a bridge.  Take an inventory of what you see that glorifies God, of the things that have the power to eliminate pain and suffering, and those things that may be causing it.  What do we have among us right now that is worthy of the title ‘Eternal’.  And then, do the same within your own life.

I’m going on a journey, my destination is Earth renewed, and I’m inclined to think Christ needs me to armor up to get there.  I’m hoping you’ll join me on my path.

Grace and Peace.