- “History is Bunk” said Henry Ford’s in one of his most famous (ironically) historical statements.
Bunk means, “nonsense, meaningless”
Of course the view that history is bunk is bunk.
Ford, a famous person in history…relied on history of all kinds to build his cars, interact with people, plan for the future and to live in the present.
Anything that happens right now…is immediately history. (snap fingers…historical event…one that won’t make history books…but a historical event none the less)
All people to varying degrees build their present and their future on the past.
To live in the present and to move into the future in a way that is full of thriving we need to have an understanding of the past that is accurate…real.
Many relational difficulties are due to interpersonal historical inaccuracies…wrong perceptions of past events.
At the same time…good relationships are built on past interpersonal events…trust earned in history builds relationship today…and tomorrow.
History impacts the present and the future at all levels of human life,
Our future hope as believers…is grounded in history.
Christian hope looks back to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus…in order to look forward.
This is week 50 of our yearlong series on closing the gap and week 3 of our advent sub-series…Active waiting.
Hope is essential for healthy human existence.
When people lose all hope…they die.
The oncologist Dr. Groopman wrote a book entitled “The Anatomy of Hope”
-Where he describes his surprise at finding how hope is essential to human thriving and surviving.
But Biblical hope is not mere optimism.
Optimism can be misguided (not based on reality but only on emotions).
Like “The Little Engine that Could” from the famous children’s book.
“I think I can, I think I can.” as he grappled with a steep incline.
While there is some truth to this perspective…the facts remain facts…if the little engine lacked the fuel or horsepower to face the incline…then he “couldn’t”
Even if he really believed he could.
Perhaps you are optimistic that it won’t rain on your picnic…and it doesn’t.
-Your optimism was not a factor in the weather…it was a factor in your mood perhaps…but not the actual weather.
Biblical hope isn’t optimism based on certain odds or circumstances.
It’s the choice to wait on God to bring about a certain future based on what he has done (and revealed of himself) in the past.
We look back to look forward.
Really everyone does this to a degree…but Christians do so to the extreme…our entire future hope is based on the past actions and promises of God.
1Cor. 15:17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.
The two main OT words (Hebrew) for “hope” mean to wait.
Hope in the OT was waiting for God to move in the future like he did in the past.
The Psalmists used these two hope/wait words over 40 times.
Waiting was not merely for a “thing” to happen but for God to show up…we wait for God.
So Biblical hope is very different from human optimism.
Optimism is based on real or perceived favorable circumstances.
Circumstances are a flimsy foundation for hope.
Why? They change…its why they are called circumstances.
The word comes from two words…a word for “around” like circumference and a word for “stand”
So human hope is most often tied to the situation where we currently stand (or think we do)…the things going on around us.
It explains how we can so quickly become discouraged or lose hope…when the situation we are in changes for the worse…or gain hope when it changes for the better.
The famous story written in 1913 called “Pollyanna” about a little girl who brimmed with optimism…has now become a word used for someone who is overly optimistic.
However even the virtually unflappable Pollyanna became a pessimist when she encountered circumstances that seemed to be hopeless to her.
She overcame much…but even Pollyanna met her match when it came to circumstances.
Biblical hope is not based on circumstances at all…it is not pollyanna in its perspective.
In the Scriptures circumstantially, there was often no evidence of things getting better but there was the opportunity to hope anyway…hoped based on the character and promises of God…independent of circumstances.
The exiles in Babylon…70 years of separation from the promises of God…wrote and sang about their difficult circumstances…but they came back over and over to their hope in God.
Psa. 42:5 Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
This is the struggling waiter reminding himself or herself of who they wait for.
“Soul, why are you downcast?”
“Why do you think I’m downcast? look around where you stand…look at the circumstances of our life?”
The waiter responds back to his own soul…”I understand…but now soul of mine…put your hope in God.”
Paul said it like this
Rom. 4:18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
Same word used twice there.
Against all hope, in hope, Abraham believed.
What does that mean?
It means his circumstances were hopeless…he was impossibly old, as was his wife.
But had God promised him and he believed that promise…he placed his hope in God.
Against hopeless circumstantial evidence…Abraham hoped in God.
And that hope, like all hope involved waiting.
In Ps 39:7 both of the Hebrew words for waiting/hoping are used together in verse.
“And now, O Lord, for what do I wait(hope)? My hope(wait) is in you.
We wait for whom, not for what.
Let’s stand and read together a historical narrative that is the basis for all of our hopes…three parts to this narrative.
- First the birth of the savior:
Luke 2 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
- Then the death of the Savior:
Matt. 27 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
- Finally the resurrection of the Savior:
Matt. 28 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.
Christian hope, like all hope is future based…but our hope looks back to what God has done in space and time in order to look forward.
The great news is that our waiting and hoping are based on more than circumstances.
So how do we go about closing the gap on living with a hope that is untethered to circumstances?
This is really hard to pull off…because we are most often shaped by our circumstances…not our gospel hope.
How do we shift this balance?
We must train to think well if we are to close the gap on waiting well and hoping well.
We are shaped mostly by our circumstances because we think mostly about them.
God called Israel to look back in their minds to Noah, Abraham, Exodus, Conquest Canaan, Esther…all the many times and ways he had shown himself faithful in the past to deal with the challenges of the present and the lack of clear circumstantial evidence for a “hoped for “future.
They did this with feasts and festivals, with special days and events, with places of memory markers, with his words written down that they were to learn and to remember.
We look back to Jesus to deal appropriately with our lives now and to have a resilient hope…one that will not disappoint us in the future.
Let’s look at three practical barriers to thinking well about our waiting and hoping.
- One of the first barriers in thinking well…is how strange the foundations for our hope can seem: Strangeness barrier
A virgin birth is a strange thing.
But birth is a strange thing as well…however we are used to births…so they don’t seem strange to us
They have happened billions of times.
But we are not used to virgin births, it have happened one time…it seems strange.
If throughout human history people simple suddenly appeared on earth and that was the way it had always happened it would not be strange it would be normal.
We would know have a scientific explanation for the spontaneous generation of humans.
If storks delivered them…and always had…it would be normal.
If people crawled up from the mud in ponds and lakes around the world and over months and years eventually became a “person” that would likewise not be strange, it would be normal.
You say “No that would be strange.”
The difference between what is strange and what is normal is tied to what is and has been and what has rarely or never before been.
What if the history of the world a baby had never come from a woman’s womb…
It would be called impossible.
“People just ‘appear’ or people come from ‘mud’ or storks deliver them…but people don’t just ‘come out of a woman’, why that is absurd…how would that even happen?”
“You think a baby is going to survive in water for 9 months and then suddenly breathe air…that’s dumb!”
Why have many found the virgin birth absurd?
Because it is not normally how people have been born…in fact only one has.
When you start with “people” and with the idea of “normal” then you find the birth of Jesus strange.
But what if you start at the proper place, with God?
Which is where the Bible begins…In the beginning, God”
Then ask the question…”could God do it this way if he wanted to?”
The answer is “of course he could…nothing unthinkable, or irrational about God doing it this way…rather than with a male sperm.
Then the next question is, “is there evidence that God did bring Jesus into the world through a virgin birth?”
The answer is, “yes, much evidence.”
Jesus’ birth was a singularity…it was extremely unusual…only one…but it is a historical fact.
Likewise his life was a singularity:
No one has lived the life he lived.
Then his death and resurrection were unique in human history.
But they are in fact, human history…they are not Christian mythology…in space and time…a man called Jesus was dead, then he was fully alive.
So we need not let the strangeness (uniqueness) of our hope’s foundation be a barrier.
- Next is the Historical Distance barrier: The farther things are away from us in time and space…the less “real” they can seem.
When I snap my fingers…it instantly becomes recent history.
But in two thousand years, my finger snap, will be very old history…and it will remain meaningless history.
The death and resurrection of Jesus are relatively old history…but the amount of time between a past event and the present are irrelevant in terms of whether that event is real or important.
We need to think well about this…we are often mentally and emotionally so trapped in our own tiny time and space…we tend to turn the distant past into something that is unreal or semi-real.
Two story view of history...real is my time, not so real…all other times.
This is a barrier…because we will not hope in the future based on a perceived non-real or even “sort of real” past.
Last week I wondered around a small museum in Coldwater, KS.
The reasonable question is…”why?”
I was there on a National Guard Visit.
It was about the size of this room.
The 64 year old lady who had lived in the same house for 64 years about a block away opened it up for me and friend to poke around in.
The last visitor before us was back in June
I saw yearbook pictures going way back…a signed football from the undefeated 1939 team (they were unscored on as well)
It all seemed so unreal…because it was just so far from my life…far in time and far in culture.
But as I looked at pictures, thought about their lives…saw uniforms from WWI, and II and baby strollers, and a terrifying dental chair.
I thought of many people who sat in this chair, baby that had been in that stroller.
It all became real…as I closed the gap in mind.
The gap between their day and mine.
You see, my perspective that it was all “not really real”…was wrong…the barrier of historical and cultural distance had distorted my thinking.
It took me intentionally thinking about the truth of the history of that little town…and the people that lived there…to close the gap.
The impact on me was interesting…certain things in my present and future were reordered in terms of importance…in a good way.
Thinking of that small town’s history…walking around in that past…and the people who had come and gone…gave me better perspective on my present and the near and distant future.
Thinking well about the past can do that.
That being true…how much more so to think correctly and often about the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
But to think about them as real things…not “religious” two story kind of things.
We must work against the normal mental processes that turn distant past events into something unreal…especially past events from the Bible.
- The barrier of Competition for our attention: The ongoing pull of lesser thoughts.
What we hold consistently before our minds as being true and real is what will shape our lives.
This is true whether you hold a lie or a truth consistently before your mind.
We can hold something that is not true before our minds about someone else for so long that it can be almost impossible to dislodge those thoughts...so relationship restoration remains impossible.
The thoughts we ruminate on shape the course of our lives.
This is true in regards to people or to God.
So the Scriptures are full of challenges to think consistently about who God is, what he has done and what he wants done…it is all through the Bible.
This is because it so very important.
However our minds tend to take the path of least resistance…like electricity or water running downhill.
Left to themselves our minds will go to dark thoughts, or silly thoughts, or just lesser thoughts.
Like ruts in a dirt road…if you do not intentionally steer otherwise…your wheels will fall easily into those ruts and the ruts will steer you where they want to go.
We can choose the thoughts that we allow to occupy our minds…these thoughts shape our hopes…they shape our very being…who we are becoming.
It’s not just in dedicated amounts of time like a morning or evening devotional that we shape our thoughts.
It is where he we direct our thoughts as we move through life.
This sounds like a lot of work…it is…but much less work that dealing with the results of not training our thinking.
Thinking well is hard work…but good work.
Not thinking well will lead to more hard work…but not good work…living with and cleaning up messes.
God has given us the capacity to choose where our minds go…and the resources to do so.
-Truth to think about…Scripture
-Spirit to empower that thinking
-Will to determine to think right thoughts.
-Each other…to keep our thinking straight
We do some of this together: Sunday gathered times, small groups, seasonal celebrations, baptisms, Communion.
But in addition to this if you want to wait/hope well and think well…you must be proactive not passive in the things you allow to stay consistently before your mind.
Let’s listen in on Moses as he is telling the second generation the things he told their parents.
This is as they are preparing to enter the land of promise.
Deut. 6:4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Shema…hear)
These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
This is not merely having family devotions…this is a single story life…talking with your kids about the things that concern their lives in light of the truth of God.
It is living in a world that is full of God and his purposes…this is the world that exists but to see it, takes ongoing mental effort.
Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
This was turned into pure legalism but it was meant to be immensely practical…keep the truth in front of you.
Dallas Willard said that if he could only have access to one Spiritual discipline it would memorization of the truth.
But memorize in order to understand, be changed…not to master Scripture but to be mastered by the mind behind Scripture.
When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you — a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant — then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
It is going to be especially hard to remember God when things are going well.
We blame God when things are going poorly…we forget God when things are going well.
But don’t say “Poor God”…it is our loss not his.
So be careful…to not forget the Lord.
Fear the LORD your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; for the LORD your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land. Do not test the LORD your God as you did at Massah.
Massah was a place where Israel camped about 2 years into the Exodus.
After seeing God rescue them from Egypt…in amazing fashion…less than two years later they encountered difficulty…they had no visible source of water…and they lost hope.
Circumstances were not favorable…and they failed to remember less than two years back.
Ex. 17:7 “Is the Lord with us or not?”
It’s important to remember they had been trained for generations at that time to see life through the lens of a slave…it would take longer than 2 years to train them to see life differently
Then Moses tells them…follow me faithfully and things will go for you in the land I promised.
Be sure to keep the commands of the LORD your God and the stipulations and decrees he has given you. Do what is right and good in the LORD’s sight, so that it may go well with you and you may go in and take over the good land that the LORD promised on oath to your forefathers, thrusting out all your enemies before you, as the LORD said.
And…then…when things are going well…
And your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the LORD our God has commanded you?” tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.
So now…in the future…when the generations who are experiencing the blessings of God have not made the connection between God and those blessings.
They didn’t have to wait like you did…to experience these promises.
Then they start asking the question “Why are we messing with all of this god stuff.”
“Why would I follow those rules, why would I worship like that, why wouldn’t I do whatever I want to do?”
The older generation is to remind the next generation:
“We were slaves but God brought us into freedom! This freedom you enjoy was not always here and will not always be here if we forget to remember God.”
But alas…We leak…we leak perspective.
So Moses knew the people would in fact fail to remember…and to remind their children.
We must not forget to remember.
If you have a bucket full of water with a hole it in…over time it will drain and become empty.
Unless you can plug the hole…but in the case of perspective you can’t fully plug it without other holes forming.
But you can continually put fresh water into the bucket…it does not have to become empty.
If we try to “wait well” without at the same time continually doing the work to “think well” then we will leak perspective and find ourselves not waiting well…we will lose hope
We will become discouraged and dismayed by circumstances.
Paul wrote that we are to (literally) “Keep on being filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Eph. 5:18)
Just as we need a continual in-pouring of the Spirit…and we do so by continually turning to God in faith and obedience.
So we need a continual refreshing of our perspective.
To leak perspective through times of waiting is normal…it is to be expected.
So…since we leak…we must keep the truth in front of our minds.
Read the Bible in order to be transformed by the truth in it.
-There is no actual benefit from reading without understanding or application.
-Better to be shaped by a single verse or chapter than plow through the whole thing next year and be untouched by any of it.
In depth Bible study is when the Bible goes deep into your mind and heart such that it shows up in your life…information without application leading to transformation…is useless.
Let’s finish with a Psalm from the time of the exile…a time of difficult waiting.
Psa. 42:1-11 As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.
This is not Bambi out for a forest stroll…a tad bit thirsty…this is desperation, unquenched thirst…potentially deadly dehydration.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?
God is gone…where is he?
I don’t see him anywhere.
My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
Those who don’t know God, and are prospering, walk by and say “Hah! Little good your God is.”
He is so anxious, so troubled…he can’t eat or sleep.
These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng.
He’s thinking back to the time before the captivity…how it used to be before this dark and difficult time.
Back to when God seemed present
Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
Now he tells his own soul to think well…to hope well…he is casting vision for himself.
Pouring perspective into his circumstances.
Then remembers God’s work in the past again…the land of promise.
My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon — from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.
This is not the Psalm 23 shepherd leading by still waters…God’s hurricane waves are crashing on his life.
Sometimes the shepherd brings us to a storm not to calm water.
By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me — a prayer to the God of my life. I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?” Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
See the back and forth…despair, lament…perspective.
This is the normal life of a waiter.
Do not wonder if it should be this hard to keep perspective…just know that it always has been hard at times.
God tells us to set our minds, set our hopes, take thoughts captive…remember to remember.
Tell your soul…”Soul…trust in God, for I will yet praise him.”
Even in the hurricane wind and waves…he remains the good shepherd.
This kind of thinking…true thinking…is essential for spiritual resiliency.