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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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How We Limit God

It was a series of unprecedented actions.

The formation of the universe …

Taking a man away in the midst of his life, and doing so without making him die …

A great devastating natural disaster, with the promise that a few could be saved …

Requiring a man to go into unknown, uncharted territory …

Promising a child, born from two people well past their child-bearing years …

Becoming the guardian, protector, savior, and deity of mere humans …

Asking a man to kill — to sacrifice — his own son …

Receiving the praise, and valuing the blessings, of an old man, when he couldn’t even stand on his own …

Sending a destroyer to kill the firstborn of an oppressive nation — and saving the firstborn of the oppressed people …

Parting an entire sea, so people could actually walk through it, on dry land …

Destroying the city of walls of a stronghold city in a new land …

Saving a prostitute, because she believed in a force bigger than herself and her family …

Conquering entire kingdoms …

Closing the mouths of hungry and terrifying lions, in the presence of prisoners …

Quenching the fury of punishing flames, reserved for the faithful …

Resurrecting children from the dead …

And giving strength and courage to the tortured and the persecuted …

All of these things were done by a God, for a people who believed he could do each of them.

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It’s a commentary on our lack of dreaming, I think. The things above are now passed on to successive generations of believers as cute stories in children’s books. We’ve relegated them to the realm of fairy tales and make-believe, lumping them with all sorts of other stories children see or hear.

We’ve placed them there, and found ourselves at odds with the enormity of these actions. It takes faith, for us, just to even consider that these things actually happened in the past.

And that says nothing about the faith it would take for us to actually believe these things could happen again.

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Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1, 2; ESV)

I love the word “weight” here. It’s the correct word, too, taken straight from the original language of this New Testament book. It has all sorts of meanings.

It could be extra body weight. It could be training weights. Both would be acceptable in this brief illustration. The point is that everyone has a weight that keeps us from believing in an unprecedented God.

Doubt stems from the weight we carry — the weight we purposefully carry. That weight has contaminated our ability to dream big dreams for God, and to believe in big things from God. It’s the weight of tradition. It’s the weight of debt. It’s the weight of guilt. It’s the weight of a failing health. It’s the weight of past mistakes. It’s the weight of addictions. It’s the weight of movies. It’s the weight of gossip. It’s the weight of drama. It’s the weight of uncertainty.

And weights — any kind of weights — will only bring you down, and load you down, and stop you in your own spiritual formation. They will keep you from believing.

This passage isn’t just about running a race, or finishing it without sin … it is about living a life of belief, of faith, in a God that can do things we could never imagine.

It’s believing in a God that resurrects people today. Who parts bodies of water today. Who gives people supernatural courage today. Who asks people to sacrifice the things that are most precious to them today. Who validates the faith of what we would call the “worst kinds of sinners” today.

We have little doubt that God can do these things. We have great doubt in our ability to believe God can do them for our eyes to see.

My weight is different from your weight. But the sin in our lives is the same. And both will impede our walk, and our run. Don’t let them. Lay aside the weights, and refuse to become constantly entangled with your sin. There are big things waiting to happen, and you don’t want to miss them.

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Our God is a God of unprecedented actions. He is full of surprises. He is the author of imagination. He is the creator of creativity. If we only expect him to perform in the ways of our own limited thinking ability, then God will fulfill that request. Why? Because we lack the faith that he can do bigger things.

The list above, of his unprecedented actions, were achieved because all of the people in Hebrews 11 believed those things could actually happen.

By faith, we understand …

By faith, Abel offered …

By faith, Enoch was taken …

By faith, Noah … in holy fear built an ark …

By faith, Abraham, when called … obeyed and went …

By faith, Abraham, even though he was past age … was enabled to become a father …

By faith, Abraham … offered his son Isaac …

By faith, Isaac blessed …

By faith, Moses’ parent hid him …

By faith, Moses … chose to be mistreated along with the people of God …

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea …

By faith the walls of Jericho fell …

By faith the prostitute Rahab was not killed …

Make no mistake. God performed all of these unprecedented actions.

But God limited his own ability to the faith of the people for which he acted.

And I confess, today, that for far too much of my life I believed in a petty God.

Today, though, in this fresh reading, I am ready to see what my eyes have not yet seen. And I pray, God, for the courage to go where I’ve never been, to see things I’ve never seen, and to experience things I’ve never experienced.

I hope you take this journey with me.

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This is day 76. What a journey this has been.

 

Crossing the Racial Divide

Romans 10 through Romans 12 is quite clear about one thing. Harmony.

Different notes. Chords. Beauty because of the differences, not in spite of them.

Which is never, ever easy. And it is much easier to write, than to live.

It is right, though. Let’s not forget that.

The New Testament letter to the Romans, through a long and deep argument, eventually explains this with clarity. These three chapters are powerful. Here is but a part:

There was a time not so long ago when you were on the outs with God. But then the Jews slammed the door on him and things opened up for you. Now they are on the outs. But with the door held wide open for you, they have a way back in. In one way or another, God makes sure that we all experience what it means to be outside so that he can personally open the door and welcome us back in. (Romans 11:30-32; The Message)

Everyone — every believer — has been on the outside at one time. Everyone.

But before we make this preach something it isn’t, understand this. There was an ethnical obstacle in Rome that was preventing the harmony God wants for his believers.

It was — dare I say it? — a racial divide.

Their division was based on skin color, ethnic heritage, political rulings and cultural preferences. And those things kept the church divided. Jewish people were expelled from Rome, which left the Gentile church to grow in a different direction. Now, the Jewish believers were coming back to town, and weren’t finding the welcome they anticipated. So Paul appealed to them on a much deeper level.

Behind and underneath all this there is a holy, God-planted, God-tended root. If the primary root of the tree is holy, there’s bound to be some holy fruit. Some of the tree’s branches were pruned and you wild olive shoots were grafted in. Yet the fact that you are now fed by that rich and holy root gives you no cause to crow over the pruned branches. Remember, you aren’t feeding the root; the root is feeding you. (Romans 11:16-18; The Message)

God is the tree. Everyone grows from that holy tree as branches. Some fall away. Some are pruned. And some are grafted back.

The sober truth of this passage is that if today, in modern America, we choose to not bridge cultural and racial and political divides, then we look more like culture than heaven.

Our churches, for the most part, mimic our own preferences. We build buildings on the outskirts of town, away from the dirtiness of our cities, because our membership has “moved.” Maybe we’ve believed we’ve led our membership in capital campaigns to build bigger structures. We feel good about what we’ve built. But it could also be true that leadership — or the lack of it — has led our churches to believe personal preferences for location can override the mission of God.

Or, we refuse to go to the “better” part of town for fear of acceptance. We’ve been told, politically, that we should receive the graces of social justice at the expense of those with more, and we’ve been taught that our “have not” should be satisfied by those who “have.” So we believe that, and hold tight to that, refusing to take the bigger step of faith.

Or, we “plant” churches on the other side of town, or just a mile or two away, because we fear what would happen if we begin to combine all of the cultures.

But those actions do not make us look like believers. They make us look like skeptics.

We don’t trust God to bridge the differences.

Would it be messy if wealthy churches stayed in the middle of our cities, and in the middle of impoverished neighborhoods?

Would it be messy if we actually invited, and accepted people of a difference cultural lifestyle into our sanctuaries?

Absolutely. It would be messy. There would be all sorts of issues, and most of them wouldn’t be easy to bear.

But it would be harmony. And miraculous. We would be asking God to do something we obviously can’t do, and obviously don’t want to do. Here are Paul’s words:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. (Romans 12:1, 2; The Message)

Our lack of mutual acceptance tells our world we don’t believe God can do the unthinkable, in our own hearts and against our own spoken or non-spoken prejudices.

Here is the miracle, as described in another translation:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1, 2; NIV84)

We need a transformation, so our churches will not look like the world — or the neighborhoods — around us.

Churches, and church gatherings can prove God is alive by our diversity alone.

Because only God can walk us across racial divides.

Franklin

I teach a course on American history at our local college.

time_cover_ben_franklin_520

Benjamin Franklin, by Michael J. Deas

It’s an interesting subject, and one with a myriad of details. Of the more fascinating periods in American history is the revolutionary period, and the situations and histories of the founders.

A little bit of research will also uncover a very unique reliance upon God in the formation of the United States. They were keenly aware of the circumstances of their rebellion against Great Britain, and drew from a vast array of philosophies and ideal in creating something entirely new.

I wanted to introduce those themes to my course, and in my own lectures I drew extensively from the following article in this part of the course, and I will include, today, the first portion of it.

It’s a great read, for sure, and a great insight into the minds of the founders, and their reliance upon the hand of God in the forming of the first free society in the history of the world.

The article, published in The New American in 2002, is entitled The American Miracle, and is written by Dennis Behreandt. The portion below details the writing of the Constitution of the United States, and the unagreeable nature of the men who convened to write the document. Benjamin Franklin, the first American statesman, saw the disagreements, and had a unique proposal. Here it is, in the words of Behreandt …

Our War for Independence seemed destined for failure. But with the intercession of providence at key points, the American cause succeeded in spectacular fashion.

The creation of a new government hung in the balance. After almost five weeks of intense study and debate, of yeas and nays, of discord and acrimony, the convention was at a stand-still. Except for Rhode Island’s, all the states’ delegates, composed of the leading professionals and intellectuals

of the day, had met at the Philadelphia State House in May of 1787 in hopes of addressing the shortcomings of the Articles of Confederation, under which the young union of 13 former colonies operated. Despite these delegates’ intellectual brilliance, despite their patriotic diligence and goodwill, the convention had produced nothing but discord.

… By the end of June, the stalemate had solidified. On the 28th of that month, Benjamin Franklin, concerned that the convention would end in failure, prepared to address the delegates. Franklin was America’s elder statesman. At 81, he was the oldest delegate at the convention and, during his long life, had achieved a degree of fame and acclaim greater than any other American save Washington. His genius was wide ranging. A noted inventor, he famously studied electricity along with geology, agriculture, astronomy, and meteorology, among other subjects. He had distinguished himself as a printer and journalist and as a diplomat. Now, he addressed the assembled delegates.

Franklin’s words, like those of the other delegates, were carefully recorded by James Madison in his famous notes on the convention. “The small progress we have made after 4 or five weeks close attendance & continual reasonings with each other–our different sentiments on almost every question … is methinks a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the Human Understanding,” Franklin sadly observed. “We indeed seem to feel our own want of political wisdom, since we have been running about in search of it. We have gone back to ancient history for models of Government, and examined the different forms of those Republics which having been formed with the seeds of their own dissolution now no longer exist. And we have viewed Modern States all around Europe, but find none of their Constitutions suitable to our circumstances.”

Franklin continued:

In this situation of this Assembly, groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened,

Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the Contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection.–Our prayers, Sir, were heard, & they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance?

I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth–that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow can not fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that “except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better, than the Builders of Babel…. I therefore beg leave to move–that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that Service.

Franklin’s motion was adopted that day, but the effect was gradual. A few days later, on July 10th, George Washington, who presided over the convention, still fretted over the outcome. In a letter to Alexander Hamilton he wrote, “I almost despair of seeing a favourable issue to the proceedings of our Convention, and do therefore repent having had any agency in the business.” But the convention continued and compromise began to follow compromise and at the close of four months the delegates closed the convention in triumph.

Madison records that upon concluding the proceedings Franklin turned “towards the President’s Chair, at the back of which a rising sun happened to be painted, [and] observed to a few members near him, that Painters had found it difficult to distinguish in their art a rising from a setting sun.” Now, Franklin said, “I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting Sun.”

To Washington it seemed that God had positively influenced the proceedings. A few months after the convention’s close, he wrote to Marquis de Lafayette, “It appears to me … little short of a miracle, that the Delegates from so many different States should unite in forming a system of national government….”

Prayer was presented as the simple solution to such a complex problem. In the textbook I use for the course, Franklin’s plea is interpreted as a silly solution to serious squabbles. But the words of Washington are touching.

He perceived the authoring of one of the foremost pieces of government ever established as nothing short of a miracle.