Lance Armstrong and the Loss of Hope

To have hope is a curious thing. It can change everything – perspective, attitude, desire, even improve health. Hope is a powerful, but that is also what makes it so dangerous. When we place our hope in something that ultimately fails, our hope will also fail.

Today’s news of Lance Armstrong stepping down as chairman of Livestrong and being let go by Nike is a reminder of how fragile hope is. Armstrong was a great source of hope for many people suffering with cancer. His recovery from cancer and triumphs in cycling were more than a great story, they gave people strength to fight, a desire to win, even the promise of victory. This is why the recent report of his decade long use of performance enhancing drugs and his involvement in their cover-up is such a big deal. To those whose hope is found in Lance Armstrong this is not the fall of another athlete, the loss of some cycling victories, or the tarnishing of a reputation – it is the failure of their hope. Just read the comments on the stories about Lance on ESPN or some other site, it does not take long to find someone we want to say is way too emotionally involved in this story, but when we realize it is not a story to them, but their source of hope, it comes it to focus. They did not lose a hero, they lost hope!

It ultimately leads us to ask questions, Where is my hope found? Will my source of hope ultimately fail? What will happen to me if I lose hope?

 

Better than Moses: A Sabbath Rest

We live in a culture that has a very specific mindset about work, a mindset often perpetuated in the Church:

work is accepted, hard work is expected, and overworking is a virtue.

In our brave new world, there are no longer any boundaries. We are constantly connected through technology, no time is off limits. We live in a global marketplace, with globalization no place is off limits. We can, and are often expected to, “be available” at all times, in all places, in every way…and this has become a badge of honor. “Yeah, I work 70 hours a week!” This is not a complaint, but a declaration of importance. Let me cut through the bull and say what we really mean when we say this, “I am so important that my job can’t just have me for 40 hours, the world needs 70 hours from me!”

Into this mindset steps Hebrews 3-4, and it is a confrontation. This is not gentle reminder, soft nudge, or even firm request, Hebrews is going to step on our toes, get in our face, and confront us with one truth:

Hebrews 4:3 – “For we who have believed have entered that rest”

or on the flip side

Hebrews 3:19 – “So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.”

Do we as Christians know how to rest? For me this is an horrifying question, “What do you mean rest? I am a husband, a father, a professor, writing my dissertation, teaching at church, teaching in the prison! God when am I suppose to rest! Just tell me which of these I should stop doing?” Now we all have our own list and many are way longer than mine. Into this mindset, comes Hebrews and says those who believe find rest.

What do they believe? Well it is fairly simple, that Jesus is the builder of the house! We would be more comfortable with the story going something like The Three Little Pigs offering us a good moral lesson:

What kind of house are you building?

Are you working hard to build a strong house?

But Hebrews asks us do you believe Christ is the builder of the house? If so, stop trying to build it yourself and find rest. This is not legalism of have to spend this many hours a day, a week, a month, a year…but a reminder that we were created for God and everything we do is to be for him. Rest, sabbath, is having space to enjoy God.

When was the last time you had space to enjoy God?

Better than Angels: A Great Salvation

Why do we crave salvation but fear a savior? It is not just in culture, but in the church we cry out for healing, deliverance, redemption…yet we neglect to “turn our eyes upon Jesus”. Hebrews will have no part of this mindset, in fact, in many ways Hebrews is written to combat this exact mindset, longing to display the majesty of Christ because it knows the better we understand who the Savior is, the greater will identify with the salvation he offers.

In Hebrews 1:4-14, the author start by showing the ways Christ is better than the angels. He is better because he is the Son of God (1:4-6); He is better because he worshipped and served (1:6-7, 14); He is better because he is God (1:8); He is better because he is King (1:9,13); He is better because he is Creator, Everlasting and Unchanging (10-12). Hebrews starts here because we have to understand this (who Christ is!) to fully grasp what Hebrews is about the tell us.

The tension is set in Hebrews 2:8b-9a (ESV), “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death…” Can you see the tension?

At present…

1. The world looks out of control. Sin is present, evil persists, promises are unrealized, pain inflicts, and chaos reigns. Nothing seems to be under His control.

2. But also, Jesus is crowned with glory and honor. He sits at the right hand of God and rules.

This is where Hebrews wants to confront us…can you believe he reigns even when everything seems out of his control? And the answer is you can’t if you seek salvation without the savior. If we neglect the greatness of our Savior, we will neglect the greatness  of our salvation.

There is no salvation without a savior, and there is no Savior but Jesus Christ. Begin with Jesus, “look full in his wonderful face, and things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”

The Right Hand of God…Bringing Glory

The blog has been slow the past week, but I have a good excuse…no really, I do.

Last week my right hand had an unfortunate encounter with the car door. I’ll spare you the details and pictures (if you are one of those disappointed right now, you need help!), but today is the first day that typing anything longer than a simple email is even on the radar.

Though the blog was inactive last week, our study of Hebrews was not. We discussed how as the  ‘one-for-all’ sacrifice Jesus Christ brings salvation – what we called the ‘it is finished’ portion of Hebrews. Christ’s death, his sacrifice, his blood put away sin completely, perfecting those who are children (10:14,18). Our guilt has been put away for forever and we can live in full assurance that was is finished cannot be unfinished.

This weeks study moves from the ‘one-for-all’ sacrifice to Jesus being present at the right of God. Hebrews is sometimes accused of lacking a clear view of the resurrection. While it does heavily focus on the sacrifice (the cross), one of the ways Hebrews employs resurrection language is the phrase – the right hand of God (Hebrews 1:3; 1:13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2  – just a note it is said different ways but all pointing to same reality).

The phrase is popular in the OT, especially Psalms, and draws to mind many different images. Hebrews will use these images, but its ultimate point is  to leave us in awe of Christ. The question is:

Is the presence of this Jesus,

the living king who reigns in power,

intercedes in tenderness,

and is enthroned in majesty,

a reality in your life?

Not theoretically, as in yes I believe that, but reality, as in I walk in that, this reality shapes my existence.

 1. Expected – We all have those things we see coming (retirement, graduation, marriage, children, empty nest, etc.), they are out there and in many cases we even know when they will get here. And even though we can anticipate and plan for them we are still scared, unsure, “Can I do this?”

2. Unexpected – When life hands us a surprise , the things we can’t see coming and most often should be thankful we don’t. It can be negative loss of a job, loss of a loved one, severe illness or injury…but it can also be an unexpected blessing – financial, miracle (in our case our third child is our unexpected blessing!).

3. Ultimate – We will all die, do you trust God will be there at death? Do you trust God to be there as you grow old, to prepare the way for you to meet him face-to-face? Or do you cling to every new promise of the fountain of youth?

To believe Christ is at the right hand of God ruling, interceding, and enthroned reminds us he is in charge. Reminds us that wherever we are going, whether it is expected, unexpected, or ultimate, he is already there…preparing our way to glory. One of the greatest quests of our spiritual life is to see God this way and to stand in awe of him. To believe that our God is bringing his children home, bringing us to glory (2:10).

It all reminds me of the words of the familiar hymn – whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say – It is well with my soul!

 

 

God Has Spoken

Do you yearn to hear God’s voice?

Most of us have experienced God’s “silence”…Those moments where it feels for all practical purposes that God is not speaking, will not answer our cries, and for a time, nothing but deafening silence.

In these moments of desperation have you ever said, “Oh, God if you would only speak. If I could only hear your voice. If you would only not be silent.”

The author of Hebrews longs for us to see that God has spoken and even if he never said another word, he has said enough.

For the Fall semester, I am teaching a class on Hebrews and that is where my Wednesday posts will come from. The semester is going to be a time of sustained focus on what God has spoken; we are going to concentrate our hearts, souls, strength, and minds on God’s Word; we are going to listen to God speak through his Son.

This is exactly the point Hebrews begins with…In the past he spoke in through the prophets, “but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” God’s speech in Christ is the main point of Hebrews, and it shows that while there is continuity with the past, God’s speech in Christ is superior. A constant refrain in Hebrews is…CHRIST IS BETTER!

Hebrews 1:1-3 sets the table for all that will come by highlighting:

The Significance of Christ: God has appointed him heir of all things and through him created the world;

The Identity of Christ: He is the radiance of God and the exact imprint of his being;

The Actions of Christ: He upholds the universe by the word of his power and made purification for sins;

The Consequences of Christ Significance, Identity, and Actions: He sat down at the right of the father.

Hebrews is going to try to draw us into the reality of life in Christ, by painting the picture of who he is. To show that life in Christ is better because Christ is better. In Christ, we find a better hope (7:19), a better covenant (7:22), a better ministry (8:6), a better possession (10:34), a better country (11:16), and a better word (12:34), not because of who we are but because of who he is.

The author of Hebrews hopes to reinvigorate a sense of wonder with simple fact that God has spoken; leading to the climax when the author calls us to respond:

“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:28-29).

Hebrews will constantly put one question before us: does your reaction to Jesus match the weight of his glory?

“Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm” (Ps. 33:8-9).