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The Security of Hope

Dear Vital Signs friends,                             May/June 2014                                                                            

            The May LifeSharer letter was actually started twice but circumstances arising from an even busier-than-usual schedule last month interrupted both of those efforts.  The result is that the May LifeSharer has now morphed into a May/June LifeSharer!  So perhaps I should have made the salutation “Dear patient and understanding LifeSharer friends” for I know you have been very good in accepting with good grace those times (pretty rare actually) when we’ve been unable to get out our monthly letter. 

            The fact is that even this LifeSharer is being written in a very hectic week, one that suggests June may be almost as packed as May.  This week includes Saturday morning prayers and public witness at the Planned Parenthood abortion mill, two early morning Panera’s meetings, a luncheon we’re hosting today for old friends, revising the next “When Swing Was King” volume, writing for Vital Signs Blog and the Book Den, writing this LifeSharer letter and getting it in the mail, mowing the lawn and working in the gardens, and conducting a funeral service in central Nebraska.

            But what of those busy activities since our last letter? Well, since I hope to include a few thoughts about the Bible’s perspective on hope later on in this letter, I only have space for a few highlights:

            * On four consecutive Monday evenings, we invited people to listen to recordings of selected sessions of the Rochester L’Abri conference we attended last February. We then discussed those lectures over coffee and dessert. It was a most successful program. Our living room was filled (on one evening, the dining room was as well) and the lectures were extremely informative, provocative and encouraging.

            * Claire and I were the speakers for a pro-life assembly at Lincoln Pius High School which also involved groups from two other schools. We then joined the group for a public protest of the Planned Parenthood in Lincoln.  We also had the privilege of giving away four of our large, beautiful pro-life signs to Lincoln Right to Life for use in their ongoing pro-life witness there. 

            * I conducted a memorial service at our church for a friend and dear sister in Christ for whom we had a great deal of affection. Harriet Merkuris passed away after a lingering illness.

            * We participated in the regular regimen: prayer and sidewalk counseling outside the abortion mill, maintaining the blogs, correspondence, the early morning coffee meetings on Tuesday and Thursday, hosting meals at our home, sermon preparation, daily culture war updates on Facebook, etc.

            * Of course, also in that regular regimen are the “When Swing Was King” shows and accompanying personal visits with residents. We do that at 11 different facilities every month.  These programs continue to dazzle us with their power to enrich the lives of these seniors. It’s really great.

            * I attended a meeting in Lincoln with pro-life, pro-family leaders, most of who live there in the Capitol City and are most involved with political action. I encouraged them to join Vital Signs in both our “3 for 5” prayer program and our postcard campaign – two efforts which are directly aimed at the mega-abortion corporation that is Planned Parenthood. By the way, those of you who would like more postcards like the ones we sent along in a LifeSharer packet a couple of months ago, please let us know.

            * As part of our latest reading challenge, we hosted a dinner at our home where five of us discussed Randy Alcorn’s terrific book on heaven. The next dinner discussion will be on Monday, July 14 at our house…unless we have too big a group. That’s a hint, by the way, that we would love to have you read the book and join us. The book is The Heart of Prayer by Jerram Barrs.

            * We participated in a volunteer appreciation party given by the staff of Brookstone Meadows in Elkhorn and the next day, following another “When Swing Was King” presentation at Brookstone Village on 144th Street, we had a very engaging, valuable conversation about ministries to seniors with the Brookstone founder and CEO, Jack Vetter, who had come over to see our show.

            * We were honored to host Jim and Jean Lawson at our home for a few days. The Lawsons, currently living in Colorado, have been among our most treasured friends for over 40 years.

            * I was honored to spend some time at the bedside of Ruth Shafer just a couple of hours before she slipped into the presence of the Lord Jesus.  I talked to her, prayed aloud (and silently) at her bedside, read Scripture, even sang a couple of verses from “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.”  (I conducted Ruth’s husband’s funeral last October and hers was the memorial service I conducted yesterday.)

            * Another wonderfully productive event we’ve enjoyed recently was last Friday night when we hosted a barbecue dinner for the seven adults and three 12-year old boys who had read the first three books in C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia series. It’s yet another slice of our current reading challenge. It was a great night for the adults but even more significant for the boys. Through the opening quiz to the in-depth discussion of the spiritual allegories of the books, the boys were sharp, excited and really engaged. And their parents are over the moon over how their sons have embraced this reading challenge. We have a few ideas to build on this momentum and are anxious to get started.

            * Alas, I must admit that these recent weeks have also involved a couple of health challenges. One involved a knee that locked up tight for a few weeks and the other was a bizarre experience with suddenly distorted vision and vertigo.  I’ve been checked out for both problems and nothing seems seriously amiss.  A muscle relaxant, exercises and twice-daily ice treatments eased the first problem over a month’s time (not yet entirely) and the ophthalmologist thinks a new eyeglass prescription may help avoid a recurrence of the other.  We are, of course, well aware that we are in God’s hands and we are grateful we were able to keep pace with everything we needed to.

            And this brings me to the biblical perspective on hope I mentioned earlier. For it is to hope which Christians must firmly cling in these tumultuous days.  The storms of life can be ominous and frightening but we have a sure anchor – the hope in the Savior, the resurrected Christ.

            Let’s first take a look at how we normally use the word hope because it is important to contrast normal usage with the biblical teaching.  The basic dictionary definitions for “hope” are: 1) Hope is the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best. And 2) To feel that something desired may happen. In other words, hope is mere desire.  The common idea regarding hope is that it is a wish, a want, a bet on possibilities. Aristotle calls hope the “dream of a waking man.” 

            It is in this sense that you hear a lot of fluffy quotations about hope – nice-sounding stuff but mostly ethereal, even irrational. You’ve also seen such verses in greeting cards and motivational posters – the kind that feature pretty balloons. But more honest, more perceptive minds can be pretty brutal in popping those balloons. For instance, Benjamin Franklin wrote, “He that lives upon hope will die fasting.” Mark Twain agreed. Twain wrote, “A hope tree is a tree that has lost the faculty of putting out blossoms.” And then there’s the old English proverb that teaches, “You can hope for the best, but you had better prepare for the worst.”

            These fellows warn us that that hope is a pretty bad risk, a gamble that’s based a lot more on whims and wishes than on facts, expended effort, patience, realistic expectations, and so on. What kind of power is in this kind of hope?  None at all. No more power than you get when you cross your fingers or rub a rabbit’s foot.

            And that’s why so many people have problems when they get to the Bible and see the word “hope” all over the place. It may sound nice but they equate it with the same kind of pie-in-the sky wishful thinking. They assume that “hope” in the Bible verses is the same they’ve read about in those balloon-themed greeting cards. But it isn’t. Hope, as it is taught in the Bible, is something radically different from both the happy hold-a-kind-thought concepts and the cynical conclusions of Aristotle and the boys. Let’s take a look.

            The central theme of the Old Testament might actually be pressed into one word -- hope.  But hope in the Old Testament is not merely about wishing and wanting. No, hope centered upon God Himself.  Throughout the Law, the national history, the life of the tabernacle and Temple, the sacrifices, and the ceremonies, the faithful servant of Jehovah saw His wise and triumphant plan to provide Israel (and through Israel, the whole world) deliverance from sin and empowerment for righteousness. The blessings would culminate in the advent of the Messiah.

            Hope, therefore, didn’t focus on a person’s desires or feelings. Rather, it focused on the promises of God Who is all-powerful, all-wise, and all-holy. He doesn’t lie. What He says He will perform, He will. No one can stop Him.  So hope, in the Old Testament, wasn’t about luck or possibilities or yearnings. Hope was simply about trusting (with full confidence and joyful expectation) in almighty God.

            That same concept then moves into the New Testament where hope remains a matter of trust in the certainties of God.  Hope is not mere yearning for a thing. It is a confident, relaxed trust in things that are sure. Hope is a done deal. It is centered in God Himself in Whom there is no shadow of turning.  Indeed, the primary Greek word for “hope” in the New Testament is, in many instances, translated “trust.”  In Hebrews 10:23, the word is translated “faith.” So you see, New Testament hope also centers upon objective truth, upon the guarantees given by God Himself.

            To illustrate (and emphasize) this, let me give you a few New Testament scriptures that point not merely to an objective fact…but to an objective Person. I Timothy 1:1 refers to Christ Jesus Who is our hope.  No wishful thinking here.  No rubbing the rabbit’s foot or lucky penny.  Our hope is Jesus Himself. Colossians 1:27 describes how the ancient mystery had now been revealed. That mystery, the apostle Paul says to the Colossian believers, “is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Superb! Who needs a shamrock when you have the Rock of Ages?

            In Ephesians 2:12, Paul reminds the Christians of their sad state before they knew Jesus as Savior.  Previously they had three terrible strikes against them.  They had no hope. They were without God. And they were stuck in the world. But now, because they had been born again, all three things had radically changed.  They now had a hope guaranteed by God.  They had a personal, loving relationship with Him through His Son.  And, though they still lived in the physical world for a time, they had been saved from the slavery of the world’s carnal systems.

            How does this change things for you and me right now? I Peter 1:3 tells us that we have been born again to a living hope through the resurrection.  That means your daily life now should be impacted by that glorious truth.  The hope isn’t only historic. Nor is it only future. It’s a living hope – immediate, existential, practical, in the now. And among its present tense blessings are confidence, power, joy, and purity. Did I say purity?  Yes. Because the apostle John says it in I John 1:3.  You want effectiveness in sanctification? It doesn’t come by wishful thinking. Not a bit. It comes from hope – the grateful, confident embrace of Christ’s resurrection that gives resurrection power to your commitment to holy living.

            Want another couple of terrific effects of hope for your present life?  I Thessalonians 5:8 describes the Christian’s hope of salvation as a helmet.  Interesting, huh?  For, of course, a helmet serves to defend us from our enemies. It is part of our battle gear for spiritual warfare right now.  We won’t need a helmet in heaven. Once there, we will, as the old spiritual says, “study war no more.”  But down here it’s a different story. We very much need a helmet. Again, the present value of hope is underscored.  Our confident, secure trust in what Jesus has done for us is an excellent defense as we live counter-culture lives for the Master.  After all, warriors aren’t wishers.  Warriors are workers who bravely go even into harm’s way at their captain’s orders. Hope is indispensable gear. Don’t leave home without it.

            But hope doesn’t just protect our heads; it also stills our soul.  Hebrews 6:18,19 instructs us to lay hold of the hope set before us, a hope that is the anchor of our souls.  What a great image!  Wishing and worrying and wanting won’t quiet your soul.  But genuine hope will, for it centers in the promises of God.

            So, go ahead and ignore those shallow greeting card verses. Throw away the rabbit’s foot.  Cancel your appointment at the wishing well. Instead, get a good grip on true hope, the confident trust in a done deal, a calm but anticipatory faith in God and His promises. 

            Okay. I’d best close this and get on to the next business of the day. But, before I do, let me again express our deep appreciation for all of you who pray for us (even occasionally), for all of you who help Vital Signs financially, for all of you who send along encouraging notes, and for all of you who participate in our various ministries. Your help is absolutely invaluable in keeping us in the fight. God bless you all.