Deferred Hope, Misplaced Hope


Ever wanted something, hoped for something, even though you knew, deep down, that it was unlikely or impossible?

I have. More than once. And it’s hard.

I’ve hoped for a relationship that isn’t mine to have.

I hope for friends who have blown up their lives to have a change heart and return to the Lord.

I hope that relationships that have drifted apart and changed for unknown reasons will be restored.

I hope I can be a successful advocate for the single moms I’ve come to love in a village in Uganda.

I hope I have “Teacher of the Year” days every day and that I love and teach my students well.

I hope for an e-mail from God that maps out the next 30-ish years of my life for me.

I hope for a lot of things that end in deferred hope because the hope is uncertain, misplaced.

See, hope is anxious expectation.

Like a kid at Christmas; they don’t know exactly what they’re getting, but they know they’re getting something and it’s gonna be good.

Uncertain hope is no hope at all. It’s the inconsistency upon which we build crumbling dreams and broken hearts.

Maybe you’ve experienced deferred hope, too. Maybe it had to do with a relationship, or a job, or any variety of things. Maybe you’ve made up stories in your head of what it might be if it was finally a reality one day.

Hope in the face of hopelessness can be the rope we hang on to in impossible situations. Healing. Salvation. Restoration. God things. Hope pulls us through.

But hope in the face of hopelessness can also be the rope we use to hang ourselves.

Hope in the face of hopelessness is not the problem, but the object of our hope may be.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
Prov 13:12

Hope deferred can be misplaced hope.

If your hope lies in someone or something that may or may not ever actually be yours, that uncertainty can eat away at your soul.

What’s the simple, Sunday school answer to the problem?

Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. Psalm 37:4-5

But there is so much more to these verses than God, The Granter of Wishes.

When we delight in the Lord, He is the desire of our heart. And when He is the desire of our heart, no hope can be deferred, because all we have in Him is ours now.

So how to we heal a heart sick from deferred hope?

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. Ps 42:5-6

Sometimes that means grieving the loss of that misplaced hope and realigning our hopes and dreams with God’s will for our lives.

Sometimes it means just giving it to Him as a the protector and keeper of your heart.

When our hope is in God, our hope will never be deferred. Our desires are altered and then fulfilled as we delight in Him and He is our tree of life.

Have you ever experienced a hope deferred? How did your heart heal?

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Creativity and Suffering


In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love; they had five hundred years of democracy and peace and what did they produce? The cuckoo clock.
Orson Welles

What is it about adversity that causes mankind to reach the heights of greatness? As Welles so humorously pointed out above, some of the most stunning pieces of art, some of the most famous stories and songs, some of the most incredible sculptures and photographs and poetry were created in response to times of great pain and struggle and heartache.

What is it about suffering that inspires creativity? Is it our inherent need to be known? Are we desperate to have a community with whom we can share our troubles, but feel we must first create a community by expressing our suffering? Is it a cry out to know that we are not alone in our suffering? Is it just a need to get it out before our own hearts explode from the pressure? Why do people shine the brightest in moments of deepest darkness?

This creativity in adversity is part of our nature; it is a part of the image of God imprinted on the soul of every person. God’s greatest work in Scripture occurred in the midst of some of the darkest moments in human history. Creation occurred in literally the darkest moment. When the Creator made time, He began his work with nothing. The word used to describe the work God did when he fashioned Eve from the side of Adam is the same word used later in the Old Testament to describe the artistic handiwork of the craftsmen commissioned to build the Temple. God is an artist. And He used the darkest moment in human history to serve the greatest purpose in divine sovereignty.

1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our LORD Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. 6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our LORD Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5)

Did you catch that? At the end of suffering, there is hope. There is hope in spite of suffering because of the work of Christ on the cross. The most incredible creativity in adversity is born in the minds of those who, in the midst of suffering in this fallen, sinful and broken world, continue to long for a better country (Hebrews 11:6). Those who suffer without hope see no point to suffering, and their work reflects their hopelessness.

Some of the most beautiful passages of Scripture were written in the depths of pain and sorrow. And the beauty in them comes in the fact that, in spite of the desperate expression of pain, there is always an equally desperate acknowledgment of the love and sovereignty of a God who loves us deeply and knows our pain and is there with us in the midst of it.

Creativity in the face of adversity is the human soul testifying to the fact that there must be something more to this life! When life is peaceful and prosperous, our longing for a better country subsides and we become, in the words of CS Lewis, “far too easily pleased” with the pleasures of this world. But when we are faced with adversity beyond our control, we are also reminded that we are ultimately not in control of our own lives. There is something greater than us, there is a place greater than this one, and we long for it.

How do you respond to adversity? Does is cripple you, draining you of your faith and balance, causing you to shake a fist at God or the Universe or whatever other being you worship? Or does it increase your longing for a better country, forcing you to join all of creation in its groans for redemption? Does it put you in a paralyzed state or does it spur you to move to action in a desperate search for truth and understanding in a seemingly pointless situation? Do you think, “Why me?” or “What can I learn from this?”

When you face suffering, do you crash and burn or soar and create? Is your inspiration found somewhere within the transient and fallen creation, which is sure to fail and disappoint us, or have you found the Creator, the life source that “does not disappoint”?

Of Joy and Desire, Part 2


This is part two in a series on CS Lewis and his observations on desire and joy.

After spending years searching through literature, mythology, and relationships, Lewis came to a revolutionary conclusion that he states in his work Mere Christianity: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” It was just after his conversion to Christianity that Lewis penned the following words that explain how he came to this conclusion: “It appeared to me… that if a man diligently followed this desire, pursuing the false objects until their falsity appeared and then resolutely abandoning them, he must come out at last into the clear knowledge that the human soul was made to enjoy some object that is never fully given… in our subjective and spacio-temporal experience.” Of all of Lewis’s writings on the subject of sehnsucht and the quest for the fulfillment of this unknown desire, it is actually his friend Owen Barfield who most simply explained Lewis’s conclusion to the matter: “true longing is never fulfilled by anything in the earthly life, but… it’s always a disguised longing for God.”

God, says Lewis, is the object of our longing. This belief goes along with the words of Augustine when he wrote, “O, Lord, you have made us for Yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” The great works of secular literature are often ascribed their greatness because of the eloquent manner in which this longing is described and personified. Even these works confirm the fact that the objects most desired, if they are of this world, do not, when they are attained, fulfill those longings.

This longing for the things of God is addressed at length in the Scriptures that were written on behalf of a people that God knew would be seeking something greater than themselves. The writer of the Psalms wrote at length about his desire for God, saying, “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (63:1). The writer of the Psalms also stated, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (42:1-2). Someone with a thirsting in his soul, his body longing for something as though in a “dry and weary land” sounds like the descriptions of the characters in much of modern writing. But this writer is not thirsting for drink, hungering for food, or lusting for companionship. He is desperately searching for a way to meet with the One he has discovered will fulfill those longings. He desires God. “Like Augustine, Lewis believes that if there is a God, in whose image we are made and in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:23), then it would stand to reason that we would have a longing and a built-in craving for a Joy beyond all earthly satisfactions” (quoted from Dave Brown, “Real Joy and True Myth,” Real Joy and True Myth [1997] <http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Forum/3505/LewisJoy.html>).

Testimonies like those from the Psalmist fill the Bible and confirm that Lewis’s thinking is a common thought among people. In fact, in the New Testament, the apostle Paul goes even a step further. He confirms not only that God will fulfill our longings; he also gives his personal conviction that the things of this world never will. “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8). All things that he once considered worthy of his time and attention, all the things man pursues daily in an attempt to fill that desire with temporal matter, Paul says here that once he met Christ, those things became to him like garbage.

“In great Lewis tradition, Alister McGrath describes the apologetic opportunity this (the realization that the things of this world are truly unfulfilling) presents us: ‘This feeling of dissatisfaction is one of the most important points of contact for the gospel proclamation. In the first place, that proclamation interprets this vague and unshaped feeling as longing for God. And second, it offers to fill it…” (Dave Brown). In the Scriptures, God essentially offers to fill that longing He placed within us with Himself.

The aforementioned argument begs the question, “What of those that do not believe in the existence of God?” How are they to explain this longing? Atheist Austin Cline has researched Lewis’s argument of desire at length, and he gives this rebuttal:
According to Lewis and other apologists, every desire is necessarily a desire for something, and every natural desire must have some object that will satisfy it. Since humans desire the joy and experience of God, therefore there must be a God that will satisfy our desires….It is true that every desire is a desire for something, but it does not automatically follow that every desire is a desire for something that actually exists…. [H]ow many people desire the ability to fly or the ability to read minds?

While this point should be considered and respected, one should also be quick to notice that one can very readily argue the fact that there is a tremendous difference between desiring the ability to read minds so that one may sneak into the mind of his or her nosy neighbor, and desiring an object that will cause us to feel complete as entities within the universe. If the point is looked at on the truly grand scale of finding one’s identity in the cosmos, the ability to read another’s mind is really inconsequential. This is a point that C.S. Lewis understood well. As a former atheist who journeyed through the progression of all false objects until they proved their falsity, he knew that the closer one got to finding the One to whom we are all drawn, the farther one moves from all other aspects of existence.

A New Sexual Ethic? Part 4


This is part 4 in a 5 part series of a response to Carter Heyward’s essay “Notes on Historical Grounding: Beyond Sexual Essentialism,” which can be found in Sexuality and the Sacred:Sources for Theological Reflection, edited by James B. Nelson and Sandra P. Longfellow.

Third, Heyward claims that Christianity is isolating and denies community. By setting rigid boundaries concerning sexual behavior and then consequently excluding those who refuse to live by those standards, Heyward states that Christianity is proving itself dated, close-minded, and supportive of “compulsive heterosexuality” (Heyward, 12). Historically, Heyward claims that women were isolated from the Christian community by being declared “as evil, ‘the devil’s gateway’” and then systematically used as scapegoats for the sexual sins of the men around them (Heyward, 14).

What is so interesting about Heyward’s quick dismissal of all things “christian” is that God’s moral law, especially his guidelines concerning sexual relations in general, create and then reinforce exactly the sort of relationality that Heyward claims she is attempting to achieve. Relationship, community, unity in diversity, profound oneness and even wholeness are recurring themes throughout Scripture. Heyward is attempting to achieve the end of spiritual wholeness through the means of sex. Scripture teaches that even the most holy sexual relationship is but a picture of the unity and wholeness experienced in being a member of the bride of Christ (Eph 6.22-33). The foundation of Christianity is found in the words of Christ Himself when He stated, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14.6).

Throughout the epistles of the New Testament, believers in churches across Europe and Asia Minor are exhorted to live as a unified, healthy body (1 Cor 12), as a well jointed building (Eph 2); they are told to lay aside petty differences (Phil 4) and to pray for one another and for their common goal (1 Thes 5). These instructions for community are plentiful, and they center on the common love of God and the common call of spreading His glory among the nations. There is one part of living in community that Heyward seems to miss—justice and love are not relative terms that can be interpreted to mean that believers should turn a blind eye to those things which Scripture condemns as going against the nature of God. Justice and love are characteristics of the nature of God, and God declares to His people, “For I the Lord do not change” (Mal 3.6). If God does not change, the characteristics of His nature are fixed and unchanging as well. Therefore, the principles of spurring one another on to love and good deeds (Heb 10) and of confronting one another when fellow believers are entrenched in sin (Mt 18; Gal 6; 1 Cor 5) apply to all things described in Scripture as moral laws which reflect the character of God. So long as desires are allowed to reign unchecked and people continue to seek fulfillment in things other than a relationship with God through Jesus, true spiritual wholeness will not be realized.

C.S. Lewis described this spiritual wholeness of Christ as Joy, and upon contemplating this matter of desire and pleasure made the following observation: “Joy is not a substitute for sex; sex is very often a substitute for Joy. I sometimes wonder whether all pleasures are not substitutes for Joy.” Heyward and her intellectual companions have attempted to substitute pleasure for Joy by completely freeing human sexuality from all encumbrances of law and discipline, but they have yet to achieve the wholeness and fulfillment for which they so desperately search. The struggle to find wholeness through the creation instead of the Creator (Rom 1. 25) is a confirmation of Lewis’ belief that physical pleasure is an unsatisfactory attempt to fill the “God-shaped void” in the lives of people.

This God-shaped void brings Heyward to the natural end of seeking God in God’s created order—Heyward describes sex in divine terms, completing the move from a supposedly “christian” sexual ethic to a glorification and worship of sex that is essentially pagan sex worship. In her discussion of this new christian ethic of sex, Heyward draws upon the work of Freud, who described the eroticism of sex as the “life force.” Heyward also quotes Audre Lorde’s description of the erotic as “the source of our creativity, the wellspring of our joy, the energy of our poems, music, lovemaking, dancing, meditation, friendships, and meaningful work.” For the Christian believer, this description could very well be used to describe God. In the Psalms, it is the glory and worship of Yahweh that inspires David and the other psalmists to write and dance and meditate. The entire book of the Song of Songs describes the fruition of a sexual relationship between a husband and wife when that relationship is rightly focused upon God and upon one another. Paul tells the church in Corinth, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10.31).

The focus of the life of the believer is not self pleasure or self glorification. Rather, the believer is to focus on the glory and worship of God. To give creative or inspirational credit or worship to anything other than God Himself is to commit an act of idolatry. Heyward attempts to explain this usurpation of God by declaring, “Theologically, we are speaking of our power in right relation; from a christian perspective, the power of God” (Heyward, 15). She claims that the power of God is reached and realized through the act of sex, but God himself prohibits worshiping him through sex acts (Lev 18, 20).

These major themes—the role reversals of men and women, the search for false community, the replacement of God with an idol—work together to show that while Heyward claims that her work, heritage, and ideas are Christian, she is actually committing the very sin that she exposes in the Church; she is further removing herself from the authority of the Bible and establishing her own ethic based upon tradition and personal experience. Heyward has taken Wesley’s quadrilateral of interpretation and reversed it; instead of beginning with Scripture and clarifying it through tradition, philosophy, and personal experience, Heyward begins with personal experience and reinterprets or discounts philosophy, tradition, and Scripture. Those ideals and absolutes which go against personal experience and desire are laid aside and explained away as being culturally irrelevant. This is precisely the place that Heyward envisions: “A historical perspective on sexuality is important… because such a view enables us to envision and perhaps experience our own possibilities…. We are involved in shaping our own dreams.” By using sex as a means to channel the power of God, Heyward argues that personal, sexual realization enables humanity to make its own destiny—humanity becomes god.

Satisfaction, Security, and Priority


Haggai 1:2 Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.

3 Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, 4 Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?

5 Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. 6 You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.

7 Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. 8 Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord. 9 You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house.

10 Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. 11 And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors.

Reading this passage this morning brought to mind the current economic and spiritual depression that is occurring around us these days. It seemed as if this passage, in which God speaks with the Israelites about their priorities and dissatisfaction, could have been written to me on a lot of days. This message is being delivered to the Israelites who have returned to Jerusalem from the Babylonian Captivity, where they had spent 70 years living in relative prosperity. Upon their return to Jerusalem, they did not make God and their relationship with him their first priority. While the Temple laid in ruins, they were focused on building their own homes and securing their own prosperity.

But God observes of them what can be observed in our own time—the more they made their own comfort and security their priority, the less satisfied and secure they actually became. Jesus addressed this very issue in the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 6:19 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 22 The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! 24 No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

In America today, even in the midst of this current economic crisis, we are more prosperous than any other civilization in history. Our treasure is firmly on this earth, our heart has followed, and our discontent is evident. We pour our time and money into our own personal happiness, security, and satisfaction and then wonder why we are more miserable than ever before. We spend our time and money building our own home while the work of the Lord is left undone. We are expending ourselves on a product that will not last, so are working in vain. Our hearts were created to work for the glory of God, and when we spend our time working for things other than His glory, we will be inherently dissatisfied.

Sometimes, we even do this under the guise of building the Lord’s house. Take a look at your church’s budget: where is the majority of your money spent? Is it on outreach? Evangelism? Church planting? Missions? Take a look at your church’s calendar: how does your congregation spend the majority of its time? Is it in visitation, counseling, evangelism? Don’t misunderstand my point: buildings and technology and discipleship are vital aspects of ministry. But when our focus is self-comfort, self-improvement and self-entertainment, when we spend more time in fellowship than service, then even serving the Lord becomes unsatisfactory. It’s unsatisfactory because we are really serving ourselves instead of truly serving Him.

I have learned the last few months that when I face times of frustration, of dissatisfaction, I can usually trace it back to somehow being disappointed with my circumstances. When I take my focus off of the Lord, when the building of His kingdom is no longer my desire, when I make my treasure here my priority, I work and find no satisfaction. I lay my heart on the alter of worldly prosperity and it is sacrificed there every time.

So what are we to do to rid ourselves of the attitude of discontentment that so easily springs up in all aspects of life? God tells the Israelites to “Consider your ways.” God tells His people that they will work but gain no prosperity, security or satisfaction as long as they work to secure those things for themselves in their own way. He is our portion and our provider. Our contentment and security are found in Him alone.

The Psalmist Asaph wrote of this problem of discontentment in Psalm 73. Asaph quit looking at the goodness of the Lord and began seeing the perceived prosperity of the wicked around him. He viewed them as healthy, happy, successful, prosperous, and this led him to ask of God, “Where’s mine?” Asaph laments that he has kept his way pure for no reason; after all, what good has clean living done for him if it is only the wicked who prosper? He says that he continued in this thinking until, “I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny” (v. 17). When Asaph returned his focus to eternal, kingdom matters, he remembered that while the wicked seem to prosper in this life, they will spend an eternity separated from God. Asaph remembered that the treasure that matters is the treasure of a regenerate heart, fully focused on service for God.

I pray that I will remember these instructions from God. The next time I am frustrated with the success of the wicked, when I begin to question the payout for living faithfully before the Father, when I work hard but achieve no satisfaction, I pray that the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit will being this to mind: “Consider your ways.”