Durable Hope

Durable Hope

A couple key things. This weekend we will keep last week’s (snowed-out) structure:
– Annual Meeting at 9:00am, worship at 10:30am. Please join us for the thanksgiving and vision of the Annual Meeting.
– ALSO, please join us for the Hymn Sing Sunday evening at 5:00. It’s worship, food, and fellowship all in one. Please bring a main dish and a side/dessert for the potluck. Join us and live out what it means to be bound to one another in Christ. Thanks!

There are certain things you see only in retrospect. Lately I’ve been thinking how much, over the last 25 years, I’ve taught the necessity of subjecting ourselves to the calling and purposes of God, in the face of our passion for being our own lords and masters. For about a decade I’ve consciously built that teaching on Romans 1 (v. 25 specifically) where Paul speaks of the human tendency to replace the worship of the Creator with worship of the creature. (Misery ensues.) I believe, now more than ever, that self-worship is the fatal flaw, the poison pill that most human beings swallow every morning. To make the same statement positively, I believe, now more than ever, that falling on our faces before the cross of Christ, offering ourselves to him as living sacrifices, is the one great hope and joy of humankind. (Ecstasy ensues.)

The problem, of course, is ours is a day in which self-worship is a runaway train. Old people like to say, “nothing is holy anymore.” It’s not true. The self proclaimed in the public square is now the one holy, sacrosanct, inviolable entity. No individual should have to suffer anything, endure anything, pay for anything, regret anything, learn anything, or be denied anything desirable. And this dogma has crept into the Church. W.H. Auden’s critique of America when he first arrived was, “The lights must always be on / The music must always play.” Churches are that way now: nothing must be said or done that infringes on the happy, upbeat delusion.

What this means for preachers is if we are going to teach true joy and hope, we have to fight past the coddling of the self. We have to somehow be communicating that what was true for Jesus is true for us: “who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, suffering its shame” (Heb. 12:2). Endurance, suffering, and shame come before joy. For a time, the self must be denied. But that’s far from the end of the story.

Consider Paul in 2 Cor. 4:8-10, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” The damage the self accrues in this life is temporary, but joy and hope in Christ are permanent, which is why no amount of affliction can crush us. We are, in Christ, uncrushable—never forsaken, never destroyed. Even if the self were to be destroyed in death, the grave can never be victorious over us because the one who believes in Christ can never die (Jn 11:26).

This is what you could call durable hope. The current phenomenon of self-worship is so fragile, which is why people are enraged all the time: subconsciously they feel vulnerable, threatened, and afraid. Our calling is different: “when reviled we bless, when persecuted we endure” (I Cor. 4:12). We are able to endure the blows to the self we receive with grace because we know already the outcome: “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Pet 5:10).

It may not be a popular message, but it is—He is—the one and only hope of humankind. I pray He will grant us to continue in this counter-cultural life together, proclaiming a deeper, permanent joy.