THE WAY GOD DOES HOPE

THE WAY GOD DOES HOPE

God delivers hope in the strangest ways. When we want hope, we look for it in large promises made by powerful people. But when God provides hope, it looks like a tiny mustard seed covered in dirt. Like a pinch of leaven in a batch of dough, kneaded to a rubbery lump and left to rise in the dark, God’s hope comes to unlikely people in unknown places. And with it comes a crisis.

That’s the story of Jesus’ birth, well told in New Line Cinema’s 2006, The Nativity Story. The gritty reality of a family from impoverished Nazareth, staggering under cruel Roman oppression, comes through like no other movie on the birth of Christ in recent memory. Nothing is romanticized. Cecil B. DeMille would not recognize the sets or the clothing. The cast learned how to use the era’s tools, build houses, crush grapes and olives, milk goats, and make goat cheese.

Everything feels authentic, including Ciarán Hinds’ (Star Wars, Game of Thrones) menacing, paranoid, ruthless Herod. He reminds us that evil is everpresent when God is at work. Nazareth’s Jews’ stifling legalism is also palpable as Mary returns, obviously pregnant, from her visit with Elizabeth. The three wise men provide comic relief and a cosmic perspective on the birth of the King of Kings. But Oscar Isaac’s smitten, conflicted, and finally, courageous Joseph is the hero of the story. His portrayal of Jesus’ adopted father is a beautiful example of the positive power of a good man who puts others before himself.

Sadly, the weakest performance in the film is Keisha Castle-Hughes’ Mary. It may have been the script, but her portrayal, while authentic in biblical detail, seemed flat. Still, her and Joseph’s steadiness in the crisis of faith created by God’s entrance into their lives is worth the Amazon rental price. It reminds us that that is how God works hope into our lives. Not in big promises made by influential people but through small acts of faith by regular people facing the crises of obedience.

The smallest of seeds an inch deep in the dirt. A pinch of leaven in the dough in the dark. The greatest of kings born in the most humble of places. That is how God does hope. Watch The Nativity Story and find your hope this Christmas.  

WALK IN THE SPIRIT: What Does Freedom From Sin Mean?

“Walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the desires of the flesh.” Galatians 5:16.

From time to time people ask questions that remind me how deep the discouragement and how hard the battle with sinful impulses can be. One of those came from a friend last week who asked: “What is freedom from the chains of sin?  Freedom to never sin?  Freedom from the worst consequences of sin?  I’ve been pouring over Romans 6 (don’t have to sin), 7 (it’s not me that sins but sin in my flesh), 8 (there is no condemnation),” but he had reached no conclusions.

He is right, of course, about Romans 6, 7, and 8. We are free from slavery to sin and free from the eternal consequences of it, but as long as we live in these fallen bodies we will continue to struggle with the impulse to sin which is why the ministry of the Holy Spirit is so crucial.

Maybe a Star Wars illustration will help us think about it.

At the end of act one in the first movie, Luke, Han, and Leah are trying to regain the Millennium Falcon, fighting their way through. On the opposite side of the hangar, Darth Vader and Obi Wan Kenobi are in a duel to the death.

Darth Vader is overpowering and gloating. “Now I am the Master!”

“Only a master of evil,” says the old Jedi.

Then Obi Wan says: “If you strike me down I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”

That scene illustrates two metaphors for the Christian life: First, it is about power, but not the kind of power most people imagine, and second, the power we seek comes to us in a counter-intuitive way; to live, to have real power, we must die.

Our lives before the Spirit comes are full of darkness (Titus 3:4-7). A dark life is a life that tries to get its own way all the time; to have its own power. It follows dark impulses. Paul defines that darkness in Galatians 5:19-21.

Hear it in Eugene Peterson’s brilliant paraphrase from THE MESSAGE:

“… repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.”

It is the worst of human behavior. And Paul is talking about Christians! When we live according to our ‘old man’ or ‘flesh’ or ‘sinful nature’ as it is variously translated we are capable of all such things. We look no different than the world.

But don’t get discouraged. Paul chooses his words very carefully. The original tense of the verb translated “those who live like this” (v.21) means “habitually practice”.

If your life is marked by this kind of behavior, day after day, week after week, year after year, you are kidding yourself about your salvation. The Spirit doesn’t reside in you.

But a life lived in the power of the Spirit is not like that at all.  It’s a life where the light grows stronger and stronger each day.  It’s outlined in Galatians 5: 22-23.

Here it is again in Peterson’s paraphrase.

“He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard – things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.”

How does all this come about?

God wants our lives to be full of His light, full of his power.  But it doesn’t happen automatically.  Like a Jedi Knight we have a part to play, we must learn how to, “Walk in the Spirit so that we won’t fulfill the desires of the flesh.” Otherwise we will fall back into the habits of darkness.

To walk in the Spirit, we must learn the difference between Spirit and Flesh, how the two operate in us. I’m doing some ministry traveling for the next two weeks and won’t be sure of my internet connection, but if I’m able I’ll write more about the differences between the two and how to walk in the Spirit next week.