The World Needs Hope Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 The Secret of Hope
The World Needs Hope
Once you were alienated and hostile in your minds because of your evil actions. But now He has reconciled you by His physical body through His death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before Him. (Colossians 1:21-22, HCSB)
“The truth is, God doesn’t grade on a curve; he grades on a cross… A grace economy is backward to most of us—those who think they qualify, don’t; and those who admit they don’t qualify, do.” Jefferson Bethke
John 4:10, MSG: Jesus answered, “If you knew the generosity of God (gift of God, KJV) and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.”
Grace is but glory begun, and glory is but grace perfected. Jonathan Edwards
Yesterday, we buried my niece. Her life was filled with tragedies. She was a just two when abuse began and by an older boy, a distant relative. Nobody suspected him. Her family thought they could trust them to play together at gatherings. He not only thought of hurting her, but continued to hurt her sexually and emotionally for years. She struggled to believe God loved her and struggled to love herself.
My niece became a special friend to me, someone who understood me in a way few do. We were close; we had some things from our early years in common. But our responses to those years were radically different. For some years, heroin, cocaine, and alcohol were her life-sustaining, pain-deadening mainstays.
God’s grace and love showed throughout her life, but as her life progressed this seemed to pour out in immense ways. She had chance after chance after chance to live new. The lies that she believed, however, acted as barriers to her receiving and breaking free.
God forgave all of her sins. She knew she had received forgiveness for great sin, but the sins against her and the lies they fueled were so hard to overcome, she could not consistently hear and respond to the calls of God’s love and grace that beckoned her. The torment was real; the battle raged fiercely, brutally, relentlessly.
Elephants, shackles, and skeletons often come from these places of despair and victimization. The shackled-elephant life is a toxic life of bondage, isolation, and limitation that tragically sometimes results in death.
The elephant in the room of our life can leave a skeleton in our soul. If it remains untouched, unhealed, and undealt with, it can be every bit as toxic as poison to our wellbeing.
I have experienced this firsthand. My own life story interfaces with four major issues of our times:
Sexual abuse and exploitation of children
Marred distinction between genders, homosexuality, and gender confusion
Judgment and condemnation from the church
And it’s not just my story; there are many like me, like us. This is our world. In a recent radio broadcast, host Janet Parshall interviewed two authors, Juli Slattery and Linda Dillow, and featured their book Surprised by the Healer. In that interview, the authors said that one in three girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before the age of eighteen. The estimates are that 60 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse are in America today and approximately two thirds of US men view pornography at least monthly, including Christian men, who virtually mirror the national average. Janet mentioned that every line was lit as phone calls poured in during the entire show.
There are more than 53 million women (and with the men involved, more than 100 million people total) who have made the choice to abort their children in America. The womb—though meant to be a safe haven—has become a tomb, a holocaust site. There are multitudes of boys, girls, men, and women who have gone into homosexuality or bisexuality, and even more who still deal with the trauma of abuse they suffered as children. Suicide, addiction, and health issues have escalated astronomically.
If you identify with the shackled elephant, you are certainly not alone.
We Are at War
We are at war. Foundational biblical truths are being attacked. Satan is working relentlessly to deceive us into thinking God’s love is not pure, perfect, or good. He attempts to diminish our love and fervor for God and His Gospel. We are told in 2 Corinthians 11:3 (ESV), “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” This is Satan’s way from the beginning. He works every possible device to counter the love and faithfulness of God.
Today Satan’s bullseyes could be said to be the cross and work of Christ. The cross of Christ is the greatest gift of love, the greatest demonstration of God’s love in existence. There is no place Satan works his evil more intensely than to get us to dismiss and discount than this place of death, the cross, that is the seedbed of love, life and hope for us!
Satan tries to block our understanding, experience, and perception of God’s love for us. This love is most dramatically expressed through the cross. Satan wounds our souls, sowing lies through sins committed to us or by us. These lies can cloud and can distort who God is and what He has done, is doing, and will do to show His love. These lies affect our hope and thus our love for God.
The Godhead and His work of redemption and love are constantly under attack by the enemy. We all need to be aware of the extent and power of this attack in our daily lives, and be on the defensive to block Satan’s advances. To fail to be aware is to allow Satan to rob us of the truth, giving him access to wreak havoc in an attempt to destroy the plan and purpose God has for us.
The Gruesome Facts
Reality is tragic… and it isn’t pretty. I am going to write a brief section here that is raw and ugly, but poignant—and maybe you’d rather not read it. You can skip ahead to “The Woman at the Well,” and know that we won’t dwell on the carnage.
A popular recent movie, Lincoln, contains graphic war images—bodies strewn on top of one another, blood flowing in dark red trails to a dump where even more bodies are heaped in a pile. As Lincoln solemnly surveys the scene he is passed by a soldier wheeling a wheelbarrow of bloodied amputated limbs. It’s sickening and nauseating, and it makes us cringe as we experience a reality of the horror of war and death and its aftermath. Some things can seem worse than death. But we rarely want to discuss or consider the gruesome nature of our own culture. It makes us uncomfortable. We usually don’t want to go there. But isn’t it necessary, in order to stop the carnage and its consequences?
Consider the shocking 2010 case of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, who was charged along with some of his employees with eight counts of murder and twenty-four counts of illegal late-term abortions. In his Pennsylvania “state-regulated” abortion clinic (a clinic of horrors) were discovered amputated baby feet in jars and other unbelievable atrocities. One reporter commented that Kermit Gosnell did what he did because people looked the other way. It’s up to us to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself.
When I was about six months pregnant and on duty as an obstetrics nurse, I cared for a baby who almost survived a late-term abortion. As I cared for that child, I was thankful my own baby was safe inside my womb. However, I was forced to face the horror of my own abortion, which had happened five years earlier. My husband and I had contributed to the holocaust against the unborn. Both abortion experiences rocked my world forever and instilled in me a passion for life and a ferocity and audacity to stand against the Gosnells of this world!
The number of people that died during the atrocities of the second World War are staggering. During the Nazi Holocaust more than 12,000 people were killed each day. Most would think that the average daily loss of life was the greatest in human history! In comparison though reports today set the daily abortion rate at more than ten times that—120,000-130,000 babies are murdered every day. How do we look the other way?
Other statistics are just as horrifying. According to a JAMA review of literature regarding the sexual abuse of boys, only 10 - 33% of male abuse victims ever tell anyone about the abuse. The review also found that, “Abused [male] adolescents, particularly those victimized by males, were up to 7 times more likely to self-identify as gay or bisexual than peers who had not been abused.”
Then we consider sex trafficking, a global, modern form of slavery in which traffickers use “violence, threats, lies, debt bondage, and other forms of coercion to compel adults and children to engage in commercial sex acts against their will.”
According to the Polaris Project, “The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 4.5 million people trapped in forced sexual exploitation globally,” and “In a 2014 report, the Urban Institute estimated that the underground sex economy ranged from $39.9 million in Denver, Colorado, to $290 million in Atlanta, Georgia.”
We see figurative shackles—and we see literal ones. And all of them can be taken to the foot of the cross.
The cross was a place of agonizing suffering and pain. Christ had endured physical injury, beating to the point of unrecognition, nails through His hands and feet, a horrendous death—the cup of wrath meant for me, for you, for us—that is the fact that gives us hope. The fact that Jesus was willing to accept the cup of wrath for the judgment of all sin and its penalties that was meant for me drops me to my knees. It is the basis upon which our hope is built. Terrible, awful, really bad things are nailed to the cross, and Christ takes the judgment for those things on our behalf when we place our faith in Him.
The cross’s radically hideous nature is what brings us glorious hope—and I cannot neglect to mention that oh so often, ugliness precedes beauty. There is a price to be paid for the removal of our shackles, the payment of our sins, the exchange of death to life, the restoration of our fellowship, the greatness of our destinies.… Christ paid it all!
The Woman at the Well
If ever there was someone living a shackled-elephant life, it was the Samaritan woman Jesus met at the well in John 4. She had lived an immoral life for such a long time, she no longer even thought she could escape. Husband after husband, then living with a man to whom she wasn’t married. She was looking for love in the wrong places and in the wrong ways. How hopeless that must have seemed! Not so unlike me.
But then… Jesus.
Jesus showed grace, mercy, acceptance, and honor to the woman at the well. He was a friend of sinners and did not condemn or look down on her. His style is to bring people to the truth, to be freed through truth and repentance. He spoke words of knowledge to her with such grace and love that the Samaritan woman boasted, “He told me everything I ever did!” Imagine her many sins, which she’d tried to hide, but now openly proclaimed. Jesus delights in mercy, not judgment. He had come to take her judgment. He valued her, revealing Himself as Messiah. He had come to die for her sins to save her from them. Mercy would be realized.
Jesus lived and modeled love for every race, gender, and sinner. Since He is perfect and sinless, He is good—for He truly is God incarnate. He came to earth to save us, lift us up, and release us from what holds us down: sin. Jesus is not the story book prince that saves one damsel. He is the King of Kings, God incarnate, that came to save us all from our sins, defeat death, and make eternal life possible for any who will believe and receive!
The Lord used John 4 and the interaction Jesus had with the woman at the well to help me understand that He knows all about me—He has seen all of me, all my life. He died in my place and forgave me completely, so like the woman at the well, I want to tell everyone how good Jesus is! He knows me fully, loves me perfectly, accepts me completely, believes in me unashamedly! Wow, what a Savior!
He is the restorer of our hope.
Asking the Hard Questions
As we consider our world and the great need for Jesus, let’s ask some tough questions that may test our beliefs in the truth of God’s Word. Please promise not to make quick judgments or stop reading just because of the questions. They are hard questions for a determined purpose. Base your answers on God’s Word, not culture.
Do you believe God is fair, good, powerful, and able to do the impossible?
What is the reason a person can go to heaven? Can just anyone get there?
How can a person have assurance that they have eternal life?
Do you believe you are a good person? Will you go to heaven based on your goodness? Why or why not?
Would a good God send a good person to hell?
Do you believe a person can be a Christian and be homosexual and continue in this lifestyle long-term without any conviction? Why or why not?
Do you believe God forgives murderers? Pedophiles? Homosexuals? Transgenders? Parents who abort or abuse their children? Rapists? Pimps? Sex traffickers and sexually immoral individuals?
Can God transform people like these into fully functional, healthy people with an identity in Christ? Can these people go to heaven?
Do you believe heaven is for any person, even bad ones such as cheaters, thieves, liars, adulterers, gluttonous, alcoholics, drug addicts, gamblers, materialistic, any of categories listed above, and/or those who lack compassion or love for others and/or Christ if they truly repent and believe in Christ?
Can your worst sin be used for good?
Beyond All Hope?
Satan works overtime to make sure we know we fall short of the purpose for which we were created. He uses that against us. Through his attacks and lies, Satan attempts to hinder us from fully understanding the Gospel or heralding it to ourselves and the world. A lot of people would have said I was beyond hope. I thought I was beyond hope. A lot of people feel like they’re beyond hope. Remember, this is the way the enemy works to create thinking that we are all beyond hope of the Gospel.
God has given us the fireworks of John 4. He told this woman that everyone else had given up on believing that He was the Messiah. However, He hadn’t given up on her. We think all people like her are too far gone, but in God’s eyes, they’re not too far gone! There is still hope! Christians need to understand this because when we don’t, we don’t herald the Gospel as we should.
The world likes to believe that the Gospel is offensive. People are offended when people who have been horrible end up with assurance of salvation, and “decent, moral” people don’t . They do not understand the darkness of sin and the magnitude of sin’s offense against a Holy God. We have all fallen short. We are all deserving of eternal death. But when we understand what Christ did, that it’s based on a God who took all that upon himself, we see that taking that sin for us is what Jesus did.
The Days of Noah
The future days promised will be like the days of Noah (Matthew 24:37; Luke 17:26), and we are already seeing the beginnings of the downward spiral. We are to invite, tell, and warn people. It is their choice whether they come to the cross of Christ to be saved. The work of Christ makes available the Mercy Seat, where mercy triumphs over judgment for any who will believe.
Beware of those that are enemies of the cross of Christ, of Truth. Changing absolute truth to meet our individual slants and desires is too often designated “cultural truth.”
Did you know there is actually a version of a Bible titled The Queen James Bible? It attempts to edit the Word of God and avoid saying that homosexuality is wrong. Many have worked hard to change the interpretation of the Bible to justify their lifestyles of sin, trying to say God approves. We must know the truth of God’s Word and have our lives reflect it. As Christians, we evaluate our beliefs based on the Word of God, not our experiences, the culture, or our peers. We must examine our beliefs for any sign of lies. We need to know if our beliefs mix a version of the truth with false doctrine. If the Bible is not our standard of truth, we could ride on the flow of the culture or our peers—into deception and away from Gospel life and hope.
Having the Bible as absolute truth transformed my life because the unconditional love of God in the redemption of man is so counter-cultural, counter-human nature. Thankfully, it is God’s nature. God is love. His true love is defined by His blood and sacrifice once and for all, for all of us that will believe. It is what Paul and Peter and the Great Awakening revivalists discovered. It is the secret or mystery of Christ: His New Covenant, our hope.
At the fall, man exchanged God’s dominion for the enemy’s authority. At the cross Christ made the way for the reversal and the return of God’s dominion in man to be recovered, restored, redeemed. His resurrection power secured His Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence for those who believe, are born again, and are translated into the Kingdom of Light: restored to the family of God. As we turn from our iniquities and turn to God through Christ for the forgiveness of our sins, and to be born of His Spirit, we are blessed. We must have a heart change, born from above, through the experience of Christ to be truly born of God. (John 3.)
Christ’s central message—the one He preached and taught the disciples to teach—was to repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand (See Matthew 3:2, 4:17; Mark 1:14-15; Luke 5:32, 9:2, 24:47.) He sent His disciples out to live His Gospel and advance His Kingdom. He wants born-again believers—current-day disciples. When we appreciate and value our salvation, we want to live it out and herald the Gospel to bring this great salvation to the world—to rescue the perishing, the lost, the dying, the spiritually dead.
Each of us is given various talents and a call. When we answer the call and use our talents, we will someday hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. enter into the joy of your lord. …Then the King will say to those on his right hand, ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. …Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (from Matthew 25:23, 34, 40, NKJV).
Jesus is the only answer to our stories of hopelessness. In fact, He is the mystery, the secret of hope. (Colossians 1, 1 Timothy 3:16; Phil 2-3.)
The Need is Great
My niece and I both struggled so deeply to believe in God’s love and to love and accept ourselves. With her passing, I began to search for answers. The most profound one came from a question: Why do I love God? Simply put, because He first loved me (1 John 4:19). Because of His proven, perfect love, forgiveness, and offer of salvation at the great cost of His Son at the cross. Christ gave Himself so I could experience the incredible gift of being known and accepted just as I am for who I am. He proved my value and worth to Him by His death and resurrection while I was still in my sin! Amazing love.
The more I have understood the cross, the more I have felt God’s love, and the more I have begun to love myself. It became clear to me how relentlessly Satan works to thwart us, waylay us, and disconnect us from Christ! It is like having electricity in a house, but being convinced that doing life with no power source is best. So instead of using the light switch, we light candles and fight to keep them lit! The electric power is there all along, but we are not connected! This “big disconnect” is one of Satan’s biggest strategies. We must never be disconnected from Christ and the cross, or the resurrection power will not come! Paul’s number-one focus was Christ and Christ crucified; a life of power resulted. Resurrection power comes from Christ crucified life. This is the life of the secret of hope.
God did break through to my niece. She heard the truth and received Christ. She had five consecutive months with us prior to her homegoing. During that time, she reconciled with her mother, and seemed to believe conclusively that her mother and I and all our family and friends truly loved her. I think she also started to believe God loved her too, though she still seemed uncertain at times. She stated many evidences of faith, but she voiced questions about why God did not seem to answer so many of her prayers and why it was so hard to do the right thing. But she did live sober, and she was making strides. She died in more success than failure.
Her mother calls her “my precious daughter who taught me how to love.” How could one that did not feel loved be so loving? But she was. And why did she not feel loved when so many loved her so much? Her loving so well, to me, is evidence of God’s love and grace.
Our last conversation was very lengthy, probably close to two hours. I asked her, “If you could take a pill that would take away all shame, guilt, and all the wrong you have ever done, and give you a new heart and a new life, would you do it?” She said “Yes!” and I said, “That pill is the Gospel.”
My niece did believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of her sins. She did have the hope of Christ, what is more, Jesus surely goes ahead and prepares a place “in His Father’s house” for His own. “The death of one that belongs to him is precious to the Lord” (Psalm 116:15, ICB). I believe she belonged to Him.
God knows our hearts and knows what blocks us from receiving Him more fully and has mercy. He knows the depths of hearts and the depths of the pain in our hearts; the torment and torture some have gone through is enormous. He died to free us, not condemn us. Truth sets us free.
What We Have in Common
Stories like my niece’s, like mine, like the Samaritan woman’s, are common in our world. Each person is searching for hope. Jesus declared that He is the answer to their search (John 14:6). Yet in our churches and in our lives, we often water down the message of salvation and try to make it about what we do and say. We act as if there were some big scale for God to weigh the good against the bad. If we try real hard, the scale will tip in the direction of the good and we will be saved. Our obedience does show our love for God, but it does not earn our salvation.
We must not hide the secret of hope. We must tell the world that Jesus died to pay our debt, and He offers salvation to anyone. Without Him, this world will be lost.
LORD, thank you that there is no greater love than what you accomplished on the cross. Our world has fallen so far short of your standards. Teach us to recognize our depravity. Help us put our faith in God and ring the LORD’s message out (1 Thessalonians 1:8). Cause us to experience Christ, His cross and His new birth afresh. Help us be bold with the Gospel, for it is the power of God to salvation for any who will believe. Give us new encounters that will help us help others as we share the Gospel and lead others in love to the cross, where eternal life is offered through Christ. In Jesus’ name, amen.
The Secret of Hope
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 8:7-8, ESV)
God’s mercy and grace give me hope—for myself, and for our world.
It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourself, it is a gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8, NIV)
The Gospel is “believe, saved, obey.” Not that I obey, and therefore I am accepted; but that I am accepted in Jesus Christ and therefore I obey! Not “believe, obey, saved”; but believe, saved, obey! –Tim Keller, “Centrality of the Gospel” (See Appendix)
In the divine Scriptures, there are shallows and there are deeps; shallows where the lamb may wade, and deeps where the elephant may swim.
At a lockdown facility for troubled youth, a rough-looking older teen approached me and the Director of Youth for Christ. Although he looked tough, his intense sad eyes were filled with tears as he told about a letter he received. “My Christian aunt wrote me,” he said. “She says I am no good, and that I’m a black sheep that will never be a part of the family. That I am too bad to be reformed.” Then he asked, “Do you think it's true? Is there any hope for me?”
My heart ached for him. His pain was palpable, but I felt paralyzed. I longed to help him, but as we talked my words were empty, and I could find nothing of real assurance to tell him. It hit too close to home: I had also felt the shame, anger, despair, and desperation that I sensed in him.
Most of us have. This shame is the shackle that holds us in place. It is what causes us to lose hope of ever being free.
Sadly, even after all my years in the Word and my training as a Youth for Christ leader, I did not, at that time, know how to effectively give the Good News to this youth. Nor was I fully living it.
I had worked so hard to be better. Yet I lived in a performance-based religion that had me numbed, and I didn’t understand cross-centered grace. I tried to prove my own value instead. Yet I did not realize that my works-based religion had me shackled. My level of understanding of the true Gospel was weak, and while I tried to share Christ’s love for him, I do not think I shared the Gospel fully or clearly. Truth is, I was not living in its fullness. I was living a “Galatians Gospel” (my name for the works-based Gospel Paul warned the Galatians against) inside the true and real Gospel. I was saved but was living by the law and not depending on the Spirit of God or the empowerment of His grace.
I have thought of this young man often. My heart’s desire and my prayer to God for him and youth like him, is for salvation and for understanding of the true Gospel. Like him and like his aunt, we either think we are right with God because of our own goodness or we think we’re too far gone to be good enough for God. The true Gospel is the message of God’s goodness—not ours.
Hope Lives, Even Here
For a time, darkness, sin, and death were winning in my life. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4–5, 8).
In the Gospel story, Christ the Son of God took on the darkness of sin: its shame, its curse, its wages, and ultimately death and hell to bring us forgiveness, light, grace, blessing, and ultimately new spiritual life, the gift of God, eternal life. His death brought us great salvation. Christ is the light that overcame the darkness of sin when He was resurrected from darkness and death. Nothing could hold Him down.
Those of us who know our shackles all too well know also the chasm we sense between ourselves and grace. Between ourselves and the mercy seat. Between ourselves and hope. I needed to break through from law to Gospel—from performance to grace! From myself and my hopelessness to hope in my God.
Surely we are too far gone! No matter how hard we try to leap from one side to another, we will always fall short (Romans 3:23). But that Gospel we keep mentioning tells us of the true bridge. Christ’s cross, His death is the only thing that can fill the gap and build a bridge that allows us to reach the hope of salvation and forgiveness. Nothing else will satisfy. The Lord made it this way on purpose, so that no one can boast that he or she achieved salvation by any good works (Ephesians 2:8-9). It’s only the cross that allows us access to God through Christ.
We’ll return to the topic of the Gospel and what it truly is. But for now, just remember—because of Jesus’ unconditional love and great sacrifice on your behalf there is hope for any who will believe.
Christ overcame sin and death. Christ gives us His life, through the Holy Spirit who enters us. We are made new. Then we can do good works, which are the fruit of our salvation. It is God’s work for and in man. We cooperate and submit to the Lord, united with Him. Our old man is gone and our new man is born. We obey, not because we need to earn anything, but out of the overflow of joy and love we find as we obey, which brings us and God delight. In obedience we become more like Him and have fullness of heart for God and for others. Our obedience is a continual process of sanctification.
As He works in us, He begins sanctifying us. Paul expressed this process. After conversion we continue to grow. He said, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15, NIV). We need grace before and after salvation. We are works in progress who are becoming more and more conformed to Christ’s likeness as we walk with Jesus in relationship. Grace is available to us once we know Christ. We are being perfected, but until we see Him face to face in His Kingdom, we require great grace and mercy.