Hope Amid Corruption

An acquaintance forwarded me a recent article, written by a former Catholic priest, which chronicled his journey out of the priesthood as a result of the sex-scandal corruption that has been exposed in the Church’s hierarchy over the past several years. It deeply troubled me, yet it also invigorated a sense of hope.  Those two emotions interlocked in a weaving circle of thoughts and reactions swimming in my mind…
The guy who sent it to me is not a believer in Christ.  I think he’s an agnostic or atheist…which makes it more interesting that he enjoyed the article and thought about sending it my way.  I thanked him for forwarding it to me, and asked him what he thought about it. We’ll see what he has to say.  Perhaps he’s representative of many people today who would seem to have a favorable view of Jesus if not for some of His so-called followers.  There’s a lot of talk today about people being “spiritual but not religious,” and I suppose in all honesty that I would put myself in that camp.  I’m not against organized religion (another popular claim these days), understanding that the opposite end of that spectrum is merely self-centered ecclesiastical chaos.  Besides, Jesus and His apostles certainly prescribed the basic functions of organization.  My wife and I are active members in a semi-large congregational church, but we hold no illusion that its organized forms are sacred in and of themselves.  Function and Form / Ordained and Manmade.
So what happens when the Church/churches cease to look like, sound like, and feel like Jesus?  Many thinking individuals today have trouble believing in a message that has historically been associated with corrupted messengers – the latest example being altar boys and nuns sexually abused by deranged wolves in sheep’s clothing.  Of course, for every story like this, there are thousands of faithful Catholic priests and laypeople who are serving the hungry & sick, living holy lives of true worship, deeply beloved and blessed by their Heavenly Father.  I know and love some of them.  But those aren’t the stories that we tend to see on the news or in the headlines.
The article ended with a few pages of the author’s dreams; which was encouraging because often when people complain, they don’t offer any alternatives.  This is where the hope came in.  He talked about wonderful examples of true faith.  He also talked a lot about how things once were, in the Church that Jesus and His original followers started.  It was EGALITARIAN…the author used that word.  I forgot what it meant, so I Googled it…”The principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities.”  That has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?  It’s the way that Jesus believed and taught and commanded us to live our lives.  His enemies were the power-brokers who wanted to protect their turf, and didn’t have room for His new message.  It’s ironic how the tables sometimes turn when power and greed and a host of other sins are allowed to grow in a vacuum of vested interest.
I do wonder, if “Church” was to take on a radically different form more akin to its humble beginnings, how that might impact people’s views about the original teachings and ways of Jesus. Could we see a resurgence of faith and hope and love in our day?  Could we see a greater reliance on the words of scripture than on manmade traditions that cover it over? Could we see more humility and transparency in a world of deceit?  The author thought so, and so do I. 
My favorite quotes from the article came from the final few paragraphs…some of his final parting shots:

“I want to be part of what brings about the liberation of the Church from the imperium that took it captive 1,700 years ago”

“The Church, whatever else it may be, is not the organizational apparatus. It is a community of memory, keeping alive the story of Jesus Christ. The Church is an in-the-flesh connection to him – or it is nothing.”

As long as there are people like that, who refuse to accept anything short of the way of Jesus, relying on God’s ongoing intervention to bring about “His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven,” then I would say that our hope is secure.

I’d be interested in your thoughts about this.  Also, if you’re interested in reading the article, let me know and I’ll get it to you.  
I’ll close with this passage, 2 Timothy 3:

“In the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these people also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.  

You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings…yet from them all the Lord rescued me.Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned itand how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person of Godmay be complete, equipped for every good work.” 


Walking By Faith

Although I live and do ministry in what may be considered the “least religious city in America,” I think that most people here have a favorable view of Jesus.  Historical records and Biblical accounts reveal Him as a relentlessly selfless and compassionate individual.  He healed people from diseases, did miracles, and spent time with social outcasts; and we admire Him for it to this day.  Unfortunately, admiration doesn’t translate well.

The warm-fuzzies usually end here, because the model He actually demonstrated and coached for His followers always led to leaps of faith on the part of those He encountered. This doesn’t go well with the narrative of today’s popular opinion; which would much rather have a Jesus who celebrates every alternative idea & action with no need for any of us to conform to a higher set of values.  In our desire to be open and tolerant, we have practically denounced the existence of sin and it’s corrupting influence in our lives. 
It is absolutely, undeniably true that the love of God and mercy of Jesus pierce through into the hearts of every single individual human, regardless of belief or persuasion or morality; but there is an undeniable, inexorable pull for each one of us to cast away those aspects of ourselves that mar the “Image of God” He desires to manufacture in us.  He beckons us to follow Him along unfamiliar paths in faith, for the purpose of building intimacy with Him and coming into alignment with His unique design for us. Do you understand this?  Scripture calls this WALKING BY FAITH.
We are creatures…which means we are created BY the Creator and with the PURPOSE of the Creator.  It is abundantly clear in the revealed-will of God (aka The Scriptures, the Holy Bible) that He did not design us for autonomy from Him, but for partnership with Him.  What is His purpose for you?  Does it line up with your purposes for yourself?  Which of these are you more interested in pursuing for your happiness? The manner in which we answer this question, moment by moment of every day, determines our posture toward our Heavenly Father every step of the way…and His blessing on us follows.
I’m convinced that the primary reason that so many of us struggle to experience the peace & joy & power of God in our lives is that we’re so obsessed by our own agendas that we’re oblivious, or even obstinate, to His.

“See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end…Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…and without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (excerpts from the Biblical book of “Hebrews”)

What do you really know about Jesus?  When was the last time you picked-up your Bible and read His words & deeds? What place does He have in your life today?  If it’s been awhile….start reading and praying through the Gospel of John, 1 chapter per day.


I used to believe that once I learned something, I had it.  That the acquisition of knowledge or some specific skill, once taken into my mind & body, would somehow remain there indefinitely…ever ready thereafter to be called upon to inform my intellect or empower my actions.  What I’ve come to reluctantly realize, along with many others, is the truth that my psyche and ability have holes in them.  Stuff gets lost all the time.

As a petulant and somewhat proud young man watching my father mature many years ago, I just thought there were deficiencies about him when he forgot stuff or couldn’t do what he used to do.  You know how we do that to our parents, right?  “I’m not going to be like that,” we confidently predict.  I started realizing the immaturity of that position when I was in my late-thirties.  I was deep in my career, married with two little terrors, trying to make my way in a confusing & challenging world.  The relentless stress was much more than I had anticipated.  I began noticing that the veneers that lay over my ego started melting away due to forgetfulness, a layer of fat around my midsection, and a crisis of confidence.  It was around that time that dad and I started getting much closer as friends and confidants. It’s funny how life has a way of teaching us humility.

What I mean by “crisis of confidence” is not that I lost my hope, but that my limited version of “hope” started getting cracks in it.  As a follower of Jesus, I was deeply comforted by the eternal hope I have for the afterlife because of my connection with Him.  I also had a lot of hopes for my earthly future that were based on pictures in my mind that I had adopted from the world around me…things, relationships, and experiences I wished for and asked God for.  Some of these hopes were more noble than others: 
“I want to be a good husband and father”
“I want to be well liked and successful”
“I want to have good friends”
“I want to be healthy and athletic”
“I want to have a nice looking yard”
 “I want to be close to God”

Interesting that all of those start with “I want.”  As I matured during this season, I began to realize that my hopes required work.  They weren’t free, like salvation in Christ is free.  He is pleased to give us the Kingdom, and to fulfill our desires with good things…but they are not cheap.  When I ask God to bless my future with a hope that I have, He always give me challenges in order to obtain it.  The way I handle those challenges determines the outcome…not of my ultimate hope, but the individual one.  I also learned during this phase that I no longer had enough time to invest in all of my hopes simultaneously in order to experience their fruition all at once….so there was always something that wasn’t living-up to the picture in my mind.  In those times, I had to be content with that aspect of hope that involves waiting.  I began to see glimpses of a hope that is not connected with my circumstances and abilities.

The Biblical word for “hope” can also be translated as “expectation, trust, confidence.”  It’s not some elusive, childish dream that’s meant to put pretty pictures of our preferred self just beyond our reach…urging us to strain to better ourselves.  It’s the realistic result of the practical, real and daily efforts we put into trusting that God’s way is right…and that He can be trusted with the results, whether they look like our vision or not.  I haven’t experienced anything truly good in my life by wishing that I would; but by praying, working, investing, and trusting my way into whatever outcome He has for me.  It’s not really about my projected destination; it’s about the Hand I’m holding, and trusting Him to lead me.  Whenever I stray off that path, hope eludes me and dreams crumble.  When I repent, redirect my affections toward Him, and turn my aspirations toward the goals that line-up with Him, hope wells up in me anew.

So,to me, hope is not a lazy wish-upon-a-star; it’s a heat-seeking missile.