Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Step of Faith

I love the scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when Indy must take a step of faith over a chasm. His foot lands on a stone bridge that was there the whole time but, due to an optical illusion, was imperceptible. It could only be discovered by that step of faith.

The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is often called the "faith" chapter. In it, the writer gives a string of Old Testament examples of people of faith. He tells us that faith is important because "without faith it is impossible to please God" (Heb. 11: 6).

I am often bothered by a popular model that presents faith as a magical narcissistic state of mind that we must conjure up, like putting on a Superman suit in the phone booth, that makes us invincible. "If I just believe good enough, I will feel powerful and God will act through me."

But when I study each of the examples in chapter 11, I realize that these believers did not really exhibit that kind of state. For example, in verse 8, Abraham had to leave the security of home for an unknown destination. No auto club trip-tik to guide him on the way. No convenient rest areas with well-marked signage. No highway patrol to make the roads safe from marauders.

“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise” (Heb. 11: 8-9).

Even when Abraham arrived, he lived in tents, like a “stranger in a strange land.” He must have wondered how God was going to fulfill His promises. “Here I am, God. Now what?”

Faith is not the absence of worry, fear, anxiety, difficulty, pain, turmoil—and even doubt. Faith is the element that causes us to obey the God we cannot see when what we can see obscures the way. It is the tiny particle of faith that Peter demonstrated when he stepped out on the water and began to walk to Jesus.

Doubt does not mean we do not have faith. It is simply the human part of us looking for security in the material world around us. Faith is the spiritual dynamic that grasps the unseen reality of God and so, moves forward anyway.

What step of faith is God calling you to take today?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Eucatastrophe

J. R. R. Tolkein, in his famous essay of 1947, On Fairy Stories, makes this statement:

"The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of man's history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many skeptical men have accepted as true on its own merit."

Tolkein coined the term eucatastrophe by adding the Greek prefix, "eu," which means "good," to the word, "catastrophe." It describes the climactic moment in the story when evil seems overwhelmingly likely to conquer, only to suddenly turn around to be utterly defeated. In The Lord of the Rings, the major eucatastrophe happens when Sauron, the Dark Lord, seems about to destroy the armies of the West, only to see the Ring of Power unmade under his nose to the utter destruction and ruination of his kingdom.

In "Letter 89", Tolkein says that the eucatastrophe is "the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears...It is a sudden glimpse of Truth...the Resurrection was the greatest 'eucatastrophe' possible...and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled..."

In Peter's first epistle, he begins with a discussion of the living hope of the Christian. Our hope is in the living Christ who, through the Resurrection, has turned death itself on its head. And even though we may suffer "grief in all kinds of trials" (1 Pet. 1: 6), yet we "greatly rejoice".

Why? Because we look to the climax of history. The great triumph of God, begun in the Resurrection of Christ; to be completed in His glorious appearing at the end of this evil age.

The sorrows of life are swallowed up in joy as we grasp the reality of what the Resurrection means to us--both in this life and in the glorious age to come.

"In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls" (1 Pet. 1: 6-9).

Are you struggling with life? Turn to the realities of what Christ has done. His Incarnation, His Death and Resurrection--and the promise of the consummation of His Kingdom rule and our eternal redemption. Let the Truth meet you so that the sorrow is swallowed up in "an inexpressible and glorious joy."

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Jeremiah and 9/11

Where were you on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001?

I'll never forget my wife, Julianne, running up the stairs, interrupting her exercise regimen to tell me that commercial airliners had flown into the two World Trade Center towers in New York. I sat glued to the television as the towers collapsed in a cloud of dust and ash, watching frightened people running away to escape.

Then another plane crashed into the Pentagon. There was a rumor of a bomb at the State Department that proved untrue. Then, another plane brought down by brave passengers in a field in Pennsylvania. We in America were under attack.

Estimates of potential casualties varied wildly up to the 100,000's. Due largely to the heroic efforts of the first responders who ran towards danger as average people were running away, the total number of deaths were under 3,000. Still, a horrific figure, making it the worst civilian casualty number in American history.

The prophet, Jeremiah, wrote a poem in the form of a lament after the destruction of the city of Jerusalem. It is included in the Old Testament as "Lamentations." and is inserted between Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Jeremiah went through a "9/11" experience of horror and grief as he watched the symbols of the glory of Israel reduced to ashes--the razing of the Temple, the burning of all the major buildings including the Royal Palace, and the complete demolition of the walls of Jerusalem.

Yet, in the very center of Lamentations is one of the most beautiful expressions of hope.

"Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness" (Lam. 3: 21-23).

A wonderfully rich word stands at the center of this verse--hesed. The NIV here translates it as "great love." It stands in parallel with "compassion or mercy."

God's hesed is his covenant love. That is, his promised devotion to his people that will never fail because it is rooted in his very nature. God's unfailing, faithful devotion to his covenant people transcends our momentary grief, no matter how great nor how intense. God's enduring love is always greater still.

"They are new every morning." In the Jewish worldview, every day is like the beginning of a new creation. God's love is renewed with the rising of every sun. And, as we can depend on the sun rising every morning, so we can rely on God's love.

"Great is your faithfulness." God's love is rock-solid. He is faithful to fulfill what he has promised to us.

As we remember the 10th Anniversary of 9/11, let us call to mind the faithful, covenant love of God. Have you placed your faith in Him today?