Focus, Please

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. — Romans 15:13, RSVCE

We had our weekly Bible study at the church last night, and we managed to finish our study of Revelation. I love studying the Revelation to John, though many people are put off by its intense and foreign metaphors and imagery. It took me a long time to crack it open and appreciate the depth and meaning behind each passage, and the most important lesson I learned from Revelation, which translates to the entire Bible, is to be careful not to miss the forest for the trees.

We as 21st Century humans tend to get lost in the details. With Revelation, all of the gore, death, plagues, and judgments snag onto us, and we end up so worried about the who’s, what’s, and when’s that we forget what the letter was designed to convey. By the same token, while I may post a lot of stuff about what it means to think, act, and live according to the faith, it can sometimes be easy for me or my readers to forget the underlying truth that serves as the foundation of the Scriptures and traditions of the Church.

Paul sums this truth up wonderfully in his letter to the Romans when he offers up the short blessing at the top of this post. For all his theological explorations, moral exhortations, and apologetic explanations, Paul brings his readers back to center by invoking a blessing from God that perfectly describes the intent of the entire Gospel. God seeks to give us “joy and peace in believing,” that through our Christian faith we might receive the presence of the Holy Spirit which fuels us with real, substantive hope.

Faith in Christ is not designed to fill you with guilt or a sense of responsibility for solving all of the world’s problems. It’s true, Christian religion should produce works in us that help channel God’s grace to others and transform the world for the better. We should be made humble enough to recognize our sinful nature, calling upon God to restore to us the Divine image He always meant for us to have. The purpose of all of this, however, is to provide believers with a sense of joy and peace.

We are to be filled with joy knowing that we are all fearfully and wonderfully made. Each of us is here on purpose, and we are redeemed by the love of a God in Whose eyes we are worth dying for. A sense of peace should fill us at the knowledge that God has already overcome the negative powers of this world, and they are just slow to catch on. We no longer have to stand in the fear of death which makes us act sinfully. Rather, we are free to recklessly love each other as Christ did for us.

Finally, there is hope. You may have noticed that I added the words “real” and “substantive” to the word “hope” earlier, and this is because we have had hope peddled to us in very shallow and insulting ways for a long time. We’ve been promised health, security, and happiness if we just looked a certain way, feared certain people, or had a certain amount of guns. False gospels preach that God will always be on our side if we but “plant that thousand dollar seed” in some scoundrel’s televised ministry. All of this is garbage, and a mockery of what hope actually is.

Real hope is something that fuels your life. It takes root in your soul and is unshakable. It enables you to think, speak, and act in ways you never thought you could. Hope is the belief that what we see is not the end, and that a better reality is coming and is already here.

I plan to write more stuff that gets into the “nitty-gritty.” After all, details are fairly important. What’s more important, however, is that we remember the point of it all. God’s will is that you and I live our lives with true joy and peace, and that our faith in Him might spark hope in us. This hope is rooted in our identity as beloved children of God, the love of that God that defeated the grave, and the understanding that the best is yet to come.

Peace be with you!

Joyful Discomfort?

Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! — Psalm 95:2, NRSV

I know I just wrote a post on the importance of “fearing” God as something “other” and unattainable, but if Christianity is allowed to be so full of paradox, so am I! I was reading my morning Psalm a couple of days ago, and Psalm 95 came up. We see joy, reverence, reservation, and warning all in the same Psalm! So how does it all come together?

It is true that God is not something we can possess. He is, after all “a great God, and a King above all gods.” This is a God before Whom we are to “worship and bow down” (v. 6) and “listen to his voice” (v. 7),” lest we never enter His rest (v. 11). There is no mistaking the fact that this is the God that is the Source of all that is, from “the depths of the earth” and “the heights of the mountains” to “the sea… and the dry land, which his hands have formed” (vs. 4-5).

On the other hand, this is One whose presence should inspire a sense of thanksgiving and joy (v. 2)! Why? Because this Source, this Mystery beyond definition, earnestly desires a relationship with us! God wants us to choose Him as “our God,” that we may be “the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand” (v. 7). This is a relationship in which we each recover our value as a beloved part of creation, imbued with the image of the Creator, designed for life-giving relationship with Him and each other!

So why the warning? Why the admonition in verse 8 to “not harden your hearts?” Simply put, relationships have to be properly maintained.

When you have a spouse, there are certain “spouse-specific” ways you are expected to honor that relationship. Fidelity, communication, consideration, and self-sacrifice are all necessary components. When we deny them, I can personally attest that the relationship suffers severely.

The same is true for God, in that our relationship with Him isn’t just about soaking up the benefits of His love. We are expected to share that love with one another, and in that way we honor the One who made us all. When we harden our hearts and refuse to do this, the judgment of God is a necessary and imminent reality. After all, we see the results of our lack of compassion and love everywhere as our nation struggles to deal with racism, sexism, poverty, and violence.

God desires that we return to relationship with Him, and this desire is clearest at the cross of Christ, where God reveals His willingness to die that we might know the power of His love. That is some strong love! What we must do now is commit to imitating that love in all of our own relationships in the Name of the One who has given us those relationships. It’s not easy, but the results will speak for themselves!

I hope this “rounds out” my previous expressions of God’s mystery and majesty. It’s my prayer that you will recognize this day how loved you are and that you matter very much. The next step is accepting the responsibility that comes with that realization. Specifically, we should go forward into our daily lives determined to treat others (and the rest of creation) with the respect and dignity we would offer God, for it is He that made and loves us all.

Peace be with you!