True Christian Hope: Beyond Positive Thinking

Too many people confuse Christian hope with the power of positive thinking.

This past April a friend from Baltimore asked me, “Do you think the Orioles will win the World Series?” Like The Little Engine that Could I repeated, “I think they can!” I pointed to players’ statistics, team dynamics, coaching ability, and a recent winning record. The trouble was my evidence wasn’t all that compelling. By September, my optimism proved vain. 

sun_754-400What if, instead, someone had asked me, “Do you think the sun will rise every day until the World Series?” Philosophically, no one can prove beyond all conceivable doubts that the sun will continue to rise, but as little orphan Annie sang you can bet your bottom dollar the sun will come out tomorrow!”

Christian hope is not merely historically verifiable, like baseball statistics, but overwhelmingly compelling – like the sunrise. When Jesus defeated death on Easter morning, he wasn’t simply batting above average. Jesus’ victory over death didn’t merely make him a probable winner against future opponents – it makes him the definite winner. Jesus proved he was capable of pitching the perfect game, once and for all, and against all odds. He went against the reigning champion, death itself, who had never lost in a match. Jesus won! In fact, Jesus won every time death, and his teammates (sickness, blindness, deafness, etc.) took the field.

When John the baptist wavered in his hope he sent messengers to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?” Jesus responded with compelling facts, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up.” (Luke 7:22)

The apostle Paul was crystal clear about the basis of Christian hope. He writes, “If Christ has not been raised [from the dead], then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:14)Paul knew that real hope was rooted in facts – not feelings, intentions, aspirations, or probabilities. The resurrected Jesus Christ shined like the sun upon Paul’s eyes and transformed his skepticism into enduring hope.

Big faith has little to do with the size of your belief but everything to do with the object you believe in. If the object of your faith is big and reliable, your faith is strong — no matter how much doubt is mixed in. Jesus said we only need “faith the size of a mustard seed.” (Luke 17:6) Even the smallest, weakest faith in Him is strong because He is strong.

Christian hope is based on what Jesus accomplished — not our feelings. There is a huge difference between placing faith in Jesus and placing faith in your faith.

  • Do you struggle to trust God has forgiven you? Do not base your confidence on feeling sufficiently sorry or proving earnestness to yourself. Rest instead on what Jesus did. He paid your debt on the cross so you may be fully forgiven, no matter your failure.
  • Do you want assurance that you can change. . . that your character flaws are redeemable and your addictions are conquerable? Look not in the mirror. There you will only find a flawed person barely capable of short lived victories. Look beyond the mirror to, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). Jesus reflects the image of God perfectly and is working by His Spirit to restore you to look as glorious…someday!
  • Are you worried the best things in life may pass you bye? You can strive hard after them, but to what end? Even the best things under the sun will leave you hungering and thirsting for more. Then death will rob them all away. Strive instead after the one who defeated death, and offers Himself. The one who came to give us life to the full, now, and forevermore.

By all means think positively. But if you want a hope that never fails, look to Jesus.

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Walking with God through Pain and Suffering

The New York Times bestselling author Timothy Keller has written an excellent book yet again. Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering is a must read 51ZvxGrNoYL._SX319_BO1,204,203,200_for all seekers of hope.

Here’s the description from Amazon:

“The question of why God would allow pain and suffering in the world has vexed believers and nonbelievers for millennia. Timothy Keller, whose books have sold millions of copies to both religious and secular readers, takes on this enduring issue and shows that there is meaning and reason behind our pain and suffering, making a forceful and ground-breaking case that this essential part of the human experience can be overcome only by understanding our relationship with God.

As the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, Timothy Keller is known for his unique insights into religion and culture. Keller’s series of books has guided countless readers in their spiritual journeys. Walking with God through Pain and Suffering uses biblical wisdom and personal stories of overcoming adversity to bring a much-needed, fresh viewpoint to this important issue.”

Pain in Hindsight

 “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews: 12:1-2)

Crossing the Finish Line

Dawn Pinkchick, 2015, Creative Commons

Life’s struggles turn precious over time.

I ran a 12 mile race called The Fun Run with college students. To me the name sounded like something out of a George Orwell novel. The run was not fun and my pace never exceeded a jog.

The race was more difficult and painful than I expected. I grew impatient to pass each new mile stone.  At times, I doubted I could make it to the next one.  But after the race, a strange thing happened almost immediately – my perspective changed.

The heat, the cramps, the thirst – so vivid in my experience became hazy in my reflections.  I asked the other runners, “Were there two long hills or three?”  It was hard for me to remember.  Everything blended together and I nearly forgot about a hill that seemed indomitable only hours earlier.  The Fun Run, it turned out, wasn’t that bad after all.  In fact, the race went surprisingly well.

The glory of finishing the race had worked backwards transforming my experience.  It replaced doubts with confidence and complaints with joyful reminiscing.  Strangely, days later, the race had earned its name.

What race are you running? Is it for: health, beauty, moral excellence, status, security, freedom?  Have you exhausted yourself yet?

What if your race was already over and the goal was achieved? The hope of Christianity is that the race is already over.  Jesus ran the race for us.  He declared on the cross, “It is finished!”

He ran an amazing race against sin and death – and he won.  His victory restores glowing health, lasting beauty, absolute purity, incomparable status, eternal security, and real freedom.  He currently sits at the Father’s right hand in the winners circle.  He waits for us to join him.  His Spirit strengthens us toward the only possible outcome – victory.

Jesus’ accomplishment changes everything. Not only is sin and death defeated, but we will ultimately view all our suffering and pain from the perspective of His total victory.  The glowing health and lasting beauty of our resurrected bodies will make it hard to remember our present blemishes and limitations.  Our hearts, purified by His love, will forget what it was to fear.  Our status as members of Jesus’ royal family will drown out the inferiority complex that currently deafens us.  The security of heaven will make our daily worrying look nearly insane.  The freedom of holiness will permanently break any concerns of being trapped against our will.

Rear-view rainbow

Aaron Landry, 2007, Creative Commons

When we understand Jesus finished the race for us; hope replaces fear, peace replaces anxiety, and trust replaces resentment. Only then can we run through today’s pain, with the attitude of winners – confident and sure that victory is ours.

And looking back on our journey, we may even unexpectedly find beauty in our pain – like spotting a rainbow in the rear-view mirror where only dark clouds lingered.