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  • Writer's pictureLou Hernández

05-11-23 - HOPE - Cor 15: 12-24

MESSAGE BY PASTOR JORDAN POWEL FROM

BETHANY BAPTIST IN RICHMOND, BC.

You know I grew up homeschooled, and one of the things my parents were super passionate about was choosing the stuff I watched on TV. If I ever watched something it was usually some kind of Christian movie from the 80s. I guess when they were putting these things together they were trying to find a villain archetype and decided that mohawks were way too profane to show on screen but they still needed something to show that these kids were bad news, so a crazy of them for whatever reason had blonde mullets (if you can find images of Blonde mullet bullies that’s a huge plus). Now a lot of what I knew about the world as a whole I had learned from these types of films so I quickly got the message that these filmmakers had obviously hoped to share with the youth of the world. If someone had a blonde mullet, they were bad news. No shade to you Max I think your mullet looks great.

But something happened when my parents signed me up for a basketball program at the local YMCA. Everything was going well and I was thrilled for another chance to interact with kids my own age until pure straight bad news showed up one day. A kid with a nasty blonde mullet. I instantly knew that me and the rest of the people in the class were not safe, and that he would get up to some kind of corny 80s villain hijinks and put us in danger. Now I don’t realize exactly what I did or said to this kid but I do remember one thing. His face sadly looking at me near the end of class and asking me “why are you being so mean to me?” I had a moment where everything suddenly crashed down around me and I realized that I was the bully right now. He actually hadn’t done anything wrong. I on the other hand had treated him with hostility from the gate, and continued to mistreat him without thinking for a moment that I could be in the wrong. I was just keeping myself and the people around me safe.

I mean, safety is so self-evidently just. The desire to stay safe is something that God has coded into our core instincts, it’s not a motivation anyone needs to reason their way into having, or come up with other reasons to support. It’s obvious. Safety is good, and safety is just. I also grew up in a house surrounded by forests. One time on a trip through a rich neighbourhood I saw someone had thrown out this skateboard, perfectly intact, it was a full size cruising board made entirely out of plastic with a picture of a dinosaur with sunglasses on it and the words “rad-i-saurus.” I need to stress that this was a perfectly good skateboard and that kind of board has come back into style now. So I brought it home, neglecting the obvious fact that I didn’t really have any kind of pavement or sidewalk near me, so I rode the board down a hill and was super disappointed in its off-roading capabilities, so I just kind of left it. Our place was big enough that nobody really noticed it for like a year at least. My parents finally spotted it and insisted I clean it up. I had just kind of gotten used to it as a fixture of the yard, it was a perfectly good board so I couldn’t get rid of it and it was better sitting there than being ridden through the grass. But when I picked it up I had to yank it free of the roots that had grown around it and in the dirt and rotten grass underneath this thing was actually teeming with insects.


These insects had been right by me whenever I played in the yard but I of course never noticed them because I was used to the sight of the board, which in my mind belonged there. I once stayed in a place in Hamilton Ontario that was similar, it looked like a normal house but if you moved a vase or a cutting board or something all these cockroaches that had been right beside you would scuttle away, with their cover being taken away from them. In a lot of ways our minds function similarly when they are concerned with issues of safety. (Safety’s obvious goodness keeps us from seeing our own actions clearly). Safety is such a self-evident justice that it as a motivation just belongs in our minds, so the actions that we take to ensure our safety feel so compellingly to have that same self-evident goodness.


A great deal of evil that we put in the world lurks underneath this motivation like insects hiding just out of the reach of our attention. Look into the evils committed throughout history and you will see, if you dig deep enough, a consistently occurring theme of people condoning horrific acts in the name of safety. It could be Hitler convincing much of the population of Germany that they needed to protect themselves from Jews. It could be the USSR protecting themselves from large chunks of the population who didn’t agree with their template for society. It could be Hutus protecting themselves from Tutsis, it could be Croats and Serbs, it is almost definitely you, aware of the need to protect yourself but unable to properly measure and react in a way that only protects yourself and doesn’t harm the world. In every single human heart there is this difficulty. We all try and protect the whole world from the things that we have personally seen are wrong, and we all mess the world up a bit more when we do that. And we all justify it.

People did an experiment where they had participants commit a morally wrong act. Half of the people were paid well for their action and half of the people were paid almost nothing. They found that the half who were paid almost nothing reported feeling way better about what they had done, because if it wasn’t about the money it was about something else, and they had to justify it some other way. We often don’t notice the evil we do because it’s so so easily justified under the umbrella of self-preservation.

And what are we supposed to do? Not try and protect ourselves? God created this self-preservation drive within us, it’s not like it’s an evil thing, so how are we supposed to live in the world, or at least how are we supposed to figure out how to behave rightly when one of our biggest fundamental drives acts as a trojan horse for evil?

Well, one of the beautiful things about the Bible is it describes a way of being that is so whole, and makes sense as the logic of a world redeemed, but isn’t identical to human impulse. (The Kingdom of heaven runs against the stream of human impulse) Actually a lot of the norms described in the Bible run counter to the things that it seems immediately self-evident for us to do. Love your enemies? Do good to those who hurt you? We all want to live in a world where this is how we are treated by others, people have that kind of kindness and grace towards us. And this is how creation and human relationships are meant to exist and will exist when everything is made new, but this isn’t the world we live in right now. Doing those things opens ourselves up to hurt. It makes more sense to go around collecting grievances, so that if anyone tries to hurt us we can be already closed off to them. If anyone tries to get the better of us we can remember all the times they have wronged us and that they owe us. It is safer to have people owe us than it is to owe people. I have gone to insane lengths to not take any money or any kind of help from friends that would cost them anything because I’m afraid.

Not only that but when we’re pressed, distressed, or just feel bad, how long do we wait for God? How long do we let the state of our soul sit in the uncertainty of fulfilment outside our own action? Safety isn’t just a justification for bad actions, it’s a reason for making our lives fundamentally about ourselves and fundamentally not reliant on Christ. To be honest this is a struggle for me, I have an addictive personality, as my whole father’s side does. I can’t drink because I looked at that whole family and saw a lot of people struggling with alcohol and realized that could be me if I wasn’t careful. My grandfather never saw me grow up because diabetes from his lifetime of heavy drinking got to his eyes first.


My father, recognizing that same impulse in himself cut himself off and there was no alcohol in my family home, so that’s something I have an easy time with. I simply never started. But if I’m stressed out the temptation is to bury myself in coffee or some kind of video game. Those are vices that we’re okay with in the church, sins that are not so bad in terms of reputation. Not to mention the fact that when I do those things I am ultimately replacing Christ’s work as the fulfilment of my soul and placing, in the name of comfort and safety, my wellbeing in my own hands. And that’s just one of many impulses that lead me and everyone else in that direction. It’s dangerous and frightening for God to be alive.


It’s comfortable and safe for him to simply be a system of universal laws in the background that are ours to manipulate and move. We want God to be alive when it’s convenient, and we’re terrified of him being alive when it’s not. Because a living God means that the fulfilment of my soul, my purpose is fundamentally outside my own hands, which is very refreshing to me when I’m tired of earning my way into being good enough, but very very hard when I’m afraid of something, or depressed, or any number of things that call me to assure my own safety, and I want to feel better NOW. The irony is, by trying to secure your safety yourself, you are no longer safe. The experience of safety you can buy yourself is fleeting and temporary, and the desperate pursuit of safety will make you sick and unsafe.

But how are we supposed to do anything differently? How are we supposed to resist these impulses, to do evil to protect ourselves, to self-determine to the point of idolatry when we NEED to feel better? It’s all about hope. I remember when I was a kid I was disturbingly passionate about different types of cheese. (Picture of cheese) I still am, but I was, too. And this guy from my church named Zolie went and got me a full block of delicious dutch spiced gouda for my 6th birthday. I couldn’t wait to tear into it when I got home but I was asked to wait, hold out for a special occasion and have my cheese then and at a reasonable pace. I must have asked three times a day to have some of this cheese but was told to hold off. Finally, I wore down my mom enough that she agreed I could have some. We went to get the cheese out of the fridge and there it was, rotten and mouldy.

What was supposed to be a lesson in waiting became the opposite. From then on, if there was something tasty in front of me that was mine, you would scarcely see it before it was gobbled up. I had to eat it before it got taken away from me, because a future didn’t exist where things would turn out well, I had to secure myself what I wanted RIGHT NOW. They studied that phenomenon by testing two groups of kids, (Picture representing this experiment) putting a marshmallow on the table and leaving the room with the promise that if the marshmallow was still there in 15 minutes, the kid would get another marshmallow or candy as well.


The study then followed the children later in life and figured out that the kids who could hold off on eating the marshmallow, had way better life outcomes. Further challenges to this study have contended that it’s not about a personality trait in the children, but it’s about whether those children are able to believe in a better future or not. If they don’t trust that researcher, and can’t see a world where they actually get that postponed marshmallow, of course they’re going to do whatever it takes to secure comfort for themselves right now. The theme is consistent: Your actions in the present are determined by your hope for the future.

Scripture resonates with that theme, a chorus of verses all united in encouraging people who are suffering because it means something. Because at the end of the day, at the end of creation, everything will be how it was meant to be. 1 Peter 4:13 says: But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. James 1 (slide with James 1:2-3) talks about finding joy in suffering because while the pain of your experience is very real, your suffering has eternal significance. One interesting thing about that is the fact that hope is an active choice, it’s a decision the believer makes in response to suffering or present circumstances that feel dark, to think about the fact that even though their whole world is darkness, their whole world is darkness right now. There will be a time in the future where all things are well. In fact, that’s something that we’re given specifically to hope for.

The book of Revelations was written in part so that believers who were suffering could see the overall shape of the end of things and be assured that all would be well. We are united here under the audacious claim that there is more to the world than our immediate experience of it, and that Christ will redeem all things to him, that those things that have wilted under sin and death will be restored. 1 Corinthians makes it clear that this belief in the resurrection is everything, this is specifically what we should be hoping in.


While the present realities we are suffering through are very real and the pain is no less real, God will make all things whole. Remember the logic of the healed world that I was talking about earlier? Does something about that not call out to you? Do you not crave a restored world, as impossible as your subconscious tells you it is? You’re meant to long for that, it’s not weakness to crave this. Hebrews 12:2 tells us that Jesus did the same thing, enduring the suffering he went through for the joy set before him. Hope is this deep well of energy and strength that’s incredibly good for you. You’re supposed to choose to practice it and you get stronger over time the more you keep it up - it develops you as a person. And it doesn’t just help you withstand suffering, it helps you come out the other side of it stronger, not hurt people as much because of it, and not let it warp the way you see the world.


I know that suffering for some of us is closer than for others. In a moment I’m going to go quiet so we have a chance to collect ourselves for about two minutes. If you are currently in a dark night of the soul, I want you to start by contemplating a future outside of your pain. The waves come and the waves go, and even though your pain might be blinding in its intensity and scope it is not as eternal as you are and as strong as you are. I want you to envision a world where the work of Christ on the cross has redeemed the entire world fully, and through his sacrifice I want you to choose a bit of hope. If you are not experiencing that, I want you to take this time to reflect on the future we have gained through the sacrifice of Jesus, I want you to think about the parts of that world that most appeal to you right now, whether the restored human relationships, the whole mental health, or even the beautiful aesthetics of a world made alive again.

I want you to let that sit in your mind so that the next time you go through a period where hope is far away, you can call it to mind. But mainly, and for all of you, I want to address a point I made earlier. When we suffer, we become transfixed on our own suffering and dedicated to improving the way it feels like to be us. All of us crave relief. I imagine there are some of us in this room who through suffering have come to the belief that they can’t hope in anyone but themselves. While they continue on in the church, they don’t realistically trust God.


And as a result of a world circling around themselves experience a deep discomfort and pain that they can’t fully place, because your world is fueled by desperation and fear, and those experiences have become as normal as the experience of only looking inward for futile fulfillment. If that is you, I know what that is like better than you might think. If that is you I would like you to take this next moment and spend it in repentance, ask the Lord of all Creation to be the King of your heart again, and dedicate yourself to building your life around him in earnest worship, rather than measuring out what He is supposed to do to you. If God has put one of these on your heart to do, please spend the next moments of silence dedicating your heart to that purpose.


Let me bless you with the words of Romans 15:13, May the God of hope

fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, s

o that you may overflow with hope

by the power of the Holy Spirit.






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