Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Leaning Into Hope

Do you ever have those times when all the concerns of family, life, finances, job, friends, schedules, school, appointments, and physical needs seem to pile up on you? If this ever happens to you, how do you feel? Tired, agitated, angry, anxious, and fearful? Most of us have very busy lives, but every now and then, I think most of us also have those moments when we get a good glimpse of all the different concerns we are juggling at the same time, and we wonder how in the world we can keep managing it all!

Lately, those of us in the United States are becoming much more familiar with the meaning of "apocalyptic." With the economic meltdown, the uncertain direction of American political power, and resurgence of the threat of a terrorist attack in this country, we find ourselves able to relate to phrases like "the sun being darkened" and "the moon turning to blood." Whatever can be shaken is being shaken, and Americans who are used to being secure and confident in everything from money to government are being shaken in ways they never imagined to be possible.

Panic in the face of an overwhelming reality is a danger for everyone, and Jesus points out that this can cause us to lose focus on God and what God is doing for us. When we lose this focus, we lose hope. And hope is what makes us able to meet all the challenges in our lives, to face all the difficulties, and to handle all the problems. In speaking to His disciples about the importance of hope in an apocalyptic world, He said: “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness, and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.” (Luke 21:34)

Now, we don’t think of ourselves as people who are necessarily into “dissipation” or “drunkenness,” but what about the “anxieties of life?” How many of us find ourselves in an all too familiar relationship with these? If we focus on our anxieties without looking at the promises we have in Christ, then our lives can start looking pretty bleak. This is how important hope is! Hope that is real and not just wishful thinking comes through knowing Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. It is trusting Him not only with our problems, but the problems of the entire world. This is what gives us the strength to live above our circumstances rather than under them, and to not be overcome by the “anxieties of life.”

I think of it as “leaning into hope.” I may be weak and tired, but I can lean on God’s promises in Jesus Christ, and they will hold me up. I may feel like quitting and giving in, but God’s promises call me to move forward, so I “lean into” what God has for me in the road ahead. Hope is a vision of the future that gives us strength for the present, and God gives us this vision when we know Jesus, and keep getting to know Him better through prayer and meditation on the Word. As we live our lives in the security and confidence that comes only through knowing Christ, the world can see clearly what Christ can mean for those who follow Him. It is in times like these that Christ followers have a special opportunity to display the life-giving, hope-giving grace of God in ways that are attractive to people who are drowning in the world.

Many studies have shown that people tend to become depressed and “weighed down” more during the Christmas season than any other time of the year. Perhaps that is why so many people tend to increase their “dissipation” and “drunkenness” through partying and excessive shopping. It is an attempt to fill that emptiness of soul that only hope in Christ can fill. I believe the Spirit of God is calling us all to make this Advent and Christmas season truly filled with joy, peace, and love by not relying on our own strength to meet all life’s challenges, but instead to receive the abundant strength of Jesus Christ.

Let’s all “lean into hope.”

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Recapitulation (with apologies to Irenaeus)

Well, it has been about six months since the Presbyterian Church USA General Assembly. My post-Assembly depression has subsided and I have moved on to a kind of "hopeful indifference." Basically, it seems to me that the best path forward is a combination of what the Presbyterian Global Fellowship and the New Wineskins congregations are doing. That is, each congregation that desires to be faithful to God, the Bible, and the Christian faith must essentially set aside denominational concerns and network directly with other congregations that are evangelical, orthodox, and catholic.

This does not mean ignoring the PCUSA, nor does it mean ceasing to win this denomination back to its call to be faithful to God. But it does mean that when it comes to doing the mission of God in this world, we can no longer view the structures of the PCUSA as allies in this venture. For the most part, our denominational structures are more intent on gate keeping than ever before. Witness the responses of most presbytery officials to those churches seeking to be dismissed to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. They have been ruthless, heavy-handed, and so bureaucratically minded that they have brought nothing but shame upon all of us in the PCUSA. Plus, since the General Assembly six months ago, it seems the animosity of liberals toward evangelicals has become even more virulent than it has ever been. In my experience, the attitude of the liberals is approaching fascism. There is a desire to squelch all dissent from the liberal agendas by any means, even if the means are hate-filled and vicious.

So, why remain in such a hostile and toxic denominational environment? In a major way, I am saying we should opt out of this environment, but not by leaving the denomination but by becoming focused on mission with other like-minded congregations across the denominational spectrum. In a sense, I am advocating a more authentic connectionalism with the true body of Christ, which is ecumenical without ideology and far beyond the frontiers of mere denominations. This is a spiritually healthy and invigorating (dare I say --- joyful!) working reality with other faithful Christ followers.

So, why not just leave the denomination totally behind and shed ourselves of its dysfunctional restraints and obsolete structures? No, we stay because this is where Satan and evil are assaulting the Christ and His reign. And as Martin Luther so dramatically stated, we are to stand our ground precisely at the point where the devil is most forceful in his attack. This is where we are faithful to Christ, and this is where the Word of God is to be wielded as a sword against evil.

Some may object to my characterisation of those who reject God's Word and wish to worship at the altar of human experience as agents of the devil and evil. To be more precise, I am not saying they are themselves evil or Satan's missionaries, for the evil I see in others is but a reflection of the evil I harbor within myself. However, I will say that many of the liberals of the PCUSA have allowed themselves to descend into the domain of Satan, where in this darkness they are open to the influences and objectives of evil. How else can anyone so blatantly seek the destruction of marriage as instituted by God, be so indifferent to the slaughter of millions in the womb, be so offended when the Gospel is proclaimed to bring non-Christians to faith in Christ, enthusiastically align themselves with despotic purveyors of injustice who exploit vast populations, and discount the Word of God as the final and highest measure for all beliefs and actions.

I seek to be faithful to my vows as a minister in the Presbyterian Church USA. After all, I made these vows before God, not just a presbytery. However, my ultimate allegiance is not to a denomination which is but an artificial construct of human ingenuity. Rather, it is Christ who is my Lord, and it is Christ who is head of the Church, and the Church is the body of Christ as it exist within and through the many denominations and traditions of this historic Christian faith. It is with this Church that I will engage in faith and mission, and it is with this Church that I will worship God for eternity.