The Difference Between Expectation and Hope

It is often that our best intentions become totally wrecked.

It reminds me of this great line, in this great movie:

Sometimes the wreckage is catastrophic and devastating. The man, in Acts 3, couldn’t walk, and had to be carried every day to a place where he could plead for money from those who came to pray.Aftermath of Redemption

Sometimes the wreckage is astounding and beautiful. Two men, going to pray, couldn’t offer this lame many any money, but they could offer him a power that would fully restore his legs.

And sometimes the catastrophes and the beautiful things intersect.

One of the greatest questions of faith I have now — right now — is if our faith in God limits what God can do, or even what God will do. Does my faith stand at the intersection of my own wreckage, because if it does, then my every situation is mired in hopelessness. (Please pardon my honesty, but I felt it necessary to share that with you.)

I wonder if this passage answers that question. But even when I think I’m on the cusp of an acceptable answer, it slips through my fingers like sand. An overwhelming, chart-stopping faith often seems to be out of my reach.

My pursuit for an answer made me rewatch a particular scene in The X-Files, a scene that, at least, hinted such an answer is possible.

It was  episode twenty-two of season three, called “Quagmire.” Fox Mulder and his partner Dana Scully searched for a hard-to-find lake monster. Scully, ever the scientific mind, questioned Mulder, “You really expect to find this thing, don’t you Mulder?”

Mulder replied to her condescending question with this line: “I know the difference between expectation and hope. Seek and ye shall find, Scully.”

Maybe it’s just that simple.

In Acts 3 we find the difference between expectation and hope, and what happens when there is faith — not that a healing can happen, but that a healing will happen. I’m challenged every time I read this this story. I encourage you to read it yourself, before you proceed with this post. And feel free to find the other posts from Acts in the menu.

__________

Acts 3:1-26 (The Commentary)

Luke reported in Acts 2:43 that the apostles performed many wonders and miraculous signs. Of all those, Luke highlighted this one. There must be good reason.

Following the description of the community of believers which emerged after Peter’s sermon, Peter and John went to the temple at the Jewish time of afternoon prayer as observant Jews. They went to the place Jesus had declared would soon be abolished.

As Peter and John approached the temple gate, they noticed a lame man there, begging for alms. The lame man was at the entrance to the temple when it would be most crowded — at prayer time. He obviously couldn’t walk inside, but neither was he even allowed inside. His physical condition prohibited him from participating in the rituals of temple life.

We should probably recall, though, Jesus’ words, that people like this lame man were to be full participants in the kingdom, specifically because of his physical condition.

The lame man expected money from Peter and John — yes, expected — because he expected money from everyone. It was a common occurrence for those coming to pray to give alms, publicly, before they entered the temple area. Yet the two apostles had no money, because they shared everything with other disciples. So Peter, instead of giving him money, offered the lame man his fully restored health, restored “in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.”

The man was healed immediately. In fact, Luke used seven verbs to describe the reaction of this man to his healing: jump, walk, walking, jumping, praising, walking, praising. This was (is?) the response of a person healed, and rescued, from the depths of shame and disease. And a viewing public noticed.

It seemed that Peter and John didn’t want the attention, and tried to move to another place in the temple, but while they walked, the now-healed man literally clung to Peter and John. All three of them were followed, and Peter, like he did earlier, needed to explain to the gathered crowd what they had just witnessed.¹

Peter then made a direct connection between the man’s healing and Jesus’ resurrection. Not one to hold back any punches, though, Peter then implicated the crowd for killing the Author of life, even though they had acted in ignorance.

Then Peter told the crowd that the power to heal the lame man came from “faith in the name of Jesus,” and “through the faith that comes through him.” Notice, though, that neither Peter, nor Luke, was clear whose faith was responsible for the healing – the lame man’s or Peter’s — the “him” doesn’t clearly refer to any particular person.

Remarkably, though, Peter called this crowd to repentance, not just from sin (what sin, if they acted in ignorance?), but to God. The crowd was living in an extended time of mercy, but Jesus would return from heaven, as the linchpin effort by God to restore all things

If they did not repent, though, they would be completely cut off from their own people. Notice that there is no mention of hell, or some eternal punishment.

So, a time of prayer, a lame man healed, a gathered crowd, and words of repentance, all very different occurrences from the original intention to come and pray. This entire moment at the temple, was electric. And it was just getting just getting started.

__________

A Few Discussion Questions

  • Do you know someone who has been healed, especially someone who has been healed miraculously? If you are using this in a group setting, share that with your group.
  • Read Acts 3:1-10.
    • Read Acts 2:43. Why is this description included in Acts?
    • Of all the miracles, then, why is the healing of the lame man highlighted?
    • Where were the apostles when this happened? Why were they there? If the Mosaic Law had been cancelled with Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the temple rendered useless, why did Jesus’ disciples continue to go to the temple at the Jewish time of prayer?
    • Why was the lame man there, again? Why didn’t the apostles have money?
  • What was the physical response of the man who was healed, from Acts 3? Why did Luke make sure we knew this man’s specific actions?
    • Is a physical response of our own spiritual or physical salvation a natural occurrence? Should it be? Every time we worship? Why or why not? (Read Acts 2:5-12 before you answer.)
    • How do we celebrate our salvation, then? And how often? Does our celebration matter to others? Did this man’s salvation matter to others?
    • Do we ever have the right to criticize, or question, the way someone celebrates their salvation? Why or why not?
  • Read Acts 3:11-16.
    • Peter’s speech was addressed to whom? Same crowd, or different, than Acts 2? Why does that matter?
    • How did Peter describe Jesus? And how did he describe the crowd’s relationship to Jesus? Why?
    • Whose faith was responsible for the lame man’s healing? Why didn’t Luke, or Peter, make this more specific?
    • Do you need faith to be healed of something extraordinary? Is faith measurable? Explain.
    • Is faith enough to be healed? Explain. (Read Luke 7:11-17 before you answer.)
  • Read Acts 3:17-23.
    • Why would these people need to repent, if they acted in ignorance for killing Jesus (v 17, 19)?
    • Does God pardon ignorance? Why does your answer to that question matter?
    • In v 21 we find that Jesus’ return would also prompt the restoration of everything. What does that mean?
    • What was the penalty for not repenting (v 23)? What does that mean, anyway?
    • Peter mentioned baptism in Acts 2, to that particular crowd, but didn’t mention that this crowd, in Acts 3, needed to be baptized? Why not?
  • So, again, of all the miracles the apostles performed, why did Luke highlight this one?
  • How important is Peter’s speech for us today?
  • What’s the difference between expectation and hope?

__________

A Prayer

Father, you desire to restore everything. All things. People. Creation. The lame. The broken. The outcast. The power of the resurrected Jesus, though, is the power that makes that restoration possible even now. Even in my broken life. Even in my broken relationships. Even for those I know who are sick. Even in my broken heart.

I pray for a faith, today, that is enough to believe in the miraculous. I pray for that now, God, that you help my unbelief. Lord Jesus, it is faith in your name that heals, and I need healing, now … healing from anxiety, from self-confidence, from pain, from disappointment. I am the lame man at the temple gates, begging for things that won’t satisfy. Father, I commit my healing to your hands, in the name of Jesus.

__________

¹This second speech by Peter is a little different from the first one he gave. True, both speeches emphasized repentance and the release of sins, but there are some notable differences. For instance, after healing the lame man, Peter made no appeal for his listeners to have faith in Jesus’ name. Nor did he make an appeal for them to be baptized. In the first three chapters of Acts, Peter talked to two different crowds, and in both of his speeches, he gave both crowds two different “instructions” on “how” to repent — he mentioned baptism in the name of Jesus his first speech, but didn’t mention it at all in his second speech. Nor did Peter even mention the Holy Spirit after healing the lame man.

²Isa 62:1-565:1766:22.

Advertisements

Why Unity Isn’t Out of Our Reach

We aren’t learning lessons from the past. In fact, we are repeating the same tragedies.

History speaks volumes of racial and ethnic discrimination. These are the common stuff of life across the minutia of human civilization. For believers alone, we need to look no further than the first family in Genesis to find hatred, envy, and murder.

Yet human civilization has always resorted to bootstrap methods to end such discrimination, particularly in modern times. With further regulations and laws, humanity has attempted to modify human behavior, enforcing tolerance even if the heart would betray itself.

And yet, in spite of such forced behavior, discrimination and division still exist. And many among us continue to demand more regulations for forced behavior, ignoring that, for the greater part of world history, forced behavior has proved unsuccessful.

We have reached what many to believe to be the pinnacle of world civilization, and the best we can still offer is forcing behavior, that still won’t stop hatred, terrorism, discrimination, war, and genocide.

Continue reading

Acts of the Apostles: The Aftermath of Redemption

I will be posting an on-going short commentary on the New Testament book The Acts of the Apostles.

Aftermath of RedemptionI am currently reading, writing, and teaching my way through this book, fascinated by the constant story and presence of the resurrection of Jesus. So, because of its insistence on the resurrection, I tend to see it as a book of witness, rather than a book of history. It is Luke’s sequel — it is the aftermath of his story of redemption.

It just seemed right, then, as I’ve prayed, to post some of the things I’ve learned, and I do believe that someone within the reach of this tiny site will need to see this.

On a more personal note, though, there is a considerable and obvious vacuum of believers in our world who know about Jesus, but who don’t know Jesus. The bible has become a book relegated to the teaching of pastors and ministers, while many believers tend to gravitate to other mediums to be spiritually fed. I have grown tired of such, and feel there is a great vacuum of accessible materials for those who lead small groups or discipleship groups, or even for those who wish to learn on their own.

Continue reading

Scandalous Parenting

I’ve been writing small group studies through the Gospel of Luke this semester. So I’ve spent the past five weeks praying through, fasting over, and reading about Luke 1 and Luke 2. Those two chapters are concerned, primarily, with two families: John’s family, and Jesus’ family.

In both cases, the parents were devout. John’s parents were devout to the letter. His father, Zechariah, was a priest, honored with the extreme opportunity to serve in the Jerusalem Temple. And though we initially saw Zechariah’s doubts,  he praised God as soon as he saw God’s incredible plan unfold.

Jesus’ parents were devout to the letter. Even when Augustus’ census forced families across the Roman Empire to travel, Joseph, who was not yet even married to Mary, took his young fiancee, and her unborn child, across the Palestinian desert to his hometown, per the Roman Imperial decree — because they were going to do the right thing, regardless of the suspicious murmurs that would be sure to happen once he arrived back in his hometown of Bethlehem.

Later, Joseph and Mary made sure to consecrate Jesus, and Mary, according to the Jewish standards. And we find out, too, that this family, though poor (we know they were poor because of Mary’s sacrifices, which were animals for the impoverished), they traveled to Jerusalem every year, for Jesus’ first twelve years, to celebrate Passover.

Devout. Loyal. Worshipers. It’s startling to find that Luke spent no time on the trivial.

John, who lived “in the wilderness” was a child of anticipation, waiting for deliverance, like Israel did in the years preceding their entry into Canaan. This is how he spent his childhood — waiting for the movement of God. I wonder if we are encouraging our kids, while they are in our care, to wait, daily, on the movements of God.

And Jesus spent a week, once a year, listening to the Jewish scribes. These boys grew up in homes where the parents knew the value of worshiping the Lord.

American parents are challenged in difficult ways, in a Disney-world utopia, where we can provide iPhones, expensive cars, meals at restaurants, personalized bedrooms, and individual Netflix accounts for our kids.

We give them these things, and still have the audacity to think they are deprived.

We even start leaning on churches, then, to continue the fun, thereby ensuring our kids learn that the value of their faith is built on the corruption of a personalized experience at their every turn.

The gospel I read is filled with suffering. Bearing burdens. Total depravity. Total dependence on God. Mission. Mobility. Devotion.

I want to be a dad who leads his family as did Zechariah and Joseph. I want my kids to learn to wait on the Lord, and to anticipate the times they listen to the Word. And I want the parents I know to do the same.

In America, this is scandalous parenting.

Because if we become scandalous parents, we will see the explosion of the kingdom that Luke shares in the first few chapters of Acts of the Apostles. The kingdom will flourish when we sacrifice these candy-land desires, die to ourselves, and surrender our families to the sovereignty of God.

Lord, help us to no longer chase fun, and help us to chase joy. Help us to be scandalous parents.

694px-Dumdums

Finding the Blessings in the Storm

It was no ordinary storm.

Mt. Ida, to their north, had a peak of over eight thousand feet, and the wind that came down that mountain, to the sea, forced its way to their ship with determination. And it was feared.

The only choice for any boat was to let the wind have it way, and hope for some sense of control in time.

The boat had little to lose, though. A government edict stated that anyone willing to transport grain in the worst sailing season of the year would be guaranteed a bonus. Even if they lost their grain along the way, the Roman government would reimburse them. So these sailors didn’t mind the gamble.

But the wind was awful. Terrifying. They passed ropes beneath the ship to hold it together. They secured the dinghy on the deck, for fear of losing it. They feared running aground, so they let their anchor drag to slow their speed. They threw their gear and tackle overboard, to slow the ship’s progress. Sun and stars weren’t visible for days, and without their gear, the fear was growing that the ship would be lost.

With little hope, now, and with little strength, the Roman sailors take the advice of the Jewish prisoner named Paul, who was on board, traveling to Rome with a fellow prisoner Aristarchus and a doctor named Luke. Paul had previously warned them to not sail for fear of danger, but they refused to heed his prophecy.

Now, though, they listen, as he reassured them that God will save them all. For Paul was no ordinary traveler. He was a survivor of three previous shipwrecks already, and knew what he was talking about.

But he foresaw the inevitable.

Their ship would be destroyed.

Fourteen days passed, and they drifted until they saw land, and then made plans to run their ship aground. But the water was growing more shallow and they feared their ship would be dashed against the rocks. If that happened, most of them would surely die.

So they dropped their anchors, and prayed for daylight. And when some of the sailors tried to escape, the soldiers cut the lifeboat, and watched it sail away.

Their prisoner Paul encouraged them to eat, to build their strength for the trial that was surely to be theirs. But the wind didn’t stop, and to lighten their load, they threw overboard all of the grain they were transporting.

And they held tight when the ship ran aground.

The stern was destroyed. But even in the aftermath of the terrifying storm, all of the sailors, soldiers, passengers, and prisoners found pieces of wood to ride the waves the beaches of the island of Malta, whose name meant refuge.

There are certainly moments for us when we are imprisoned in circumstances that are either the makings of our own mistakes, or because God has sent us a test to grow our faith. We are surrounded by people who care very little for us. We struggle for peace when our situation grows from bad to worse — when the winds began to batten our little ship.

We can’t escape those moments. But there are a few things we can do, even while we stand on the threatened boats in our own lives, enchained and unable to move, imprisoned by our own circumstance.

We must lighten our load. Whatever we carry, whatever distractions are keeping us from the security found in God, must be thrown overboard. Relationships, possessions, or worries. They’ve got to go.

We’ve got to drop our anchors and pray for daylight. It is in those moments, in the dark, when the flash of our storm seems to have quieted, that we just do whatever we can do to survive the night. The sun will rise again with hope, for God’s new mercy comes to us every morning.

We’ve got to keep our strength. We may spend days without food and nourishment, and become weakened in our own storm. But the winds won’t stop, and we must be prepared for whatever comes next.

We must let our lifeboats float away. The very things we think can save us need to be abandoned. God whittles us down to nothing, because he wants us to trust him, even in the very worst of moments. Because hope, in the wrong thing, is hopelessness.

And when our ship is destroyed, we must accept the gift of its brokenness. The shattered pieces of wood from our own battered ship will be there, and will carry us to the shore when we can’t sail anymore.

Because God will deliver us to our own island of Malta.

He will deliver us to our own island of refuge.

Because God sometimes blesses us with storms.