Tag Archives: Joshua S. Hopping

Embracing the Victory

A look through the Scriptures, especially the New Testament, reveals a lot of passages about the victory that comes through the new life in the kingdom. We become new people with a new family built upon love, grace, mercy and forgiveness. No matter what pain or sorrow we have experienced before, we now have a chance at a new life. The old is gone; behold the new.

Sadly, a lot of people fail to embrace fully the victory of Jesus in their lives. The scars of the past are so deep and numerous that it is hard to trust again. What happens if I open up my heart and Jesus fails me? What if I try to fight the chemical, emotional or spiritual addictions in my life and I fail? Perhaps it is just safer not to dream of victory; instead I will just push on through this life, hanging onto the promise of healing in the next life at the resurrection of the dead. As it has been said, the pain that I know is better than the pain that I don’t know.

Not wanting victory may sound crazy to some people, but there are a lot more of us out there who are afraid of change than those who embrace the change of life that comes with Jesus. I’m reminded of the time when Jesus went to the pool of Bethesda, which was a sort of hospital and healing spa (John 5:1-15). Walking among the sick and hurting, Jesus stopped next to a gentleman who had been sick for 38 years and asked him the most important question of all: “Do you want to get well?” One would think that the gentleman would emphatically say “Yes!” as he was talking to a known miracle worker. Yet, instead of answering in the positive, the man launches into a sad tale of how it was impossible for him to get healed because of this or that problem. The 38-years of pain had sucked his hope, faith and vision of the future to the point that he failed to see the victory right in front of him.

A lot of Jesus followers have been conditioned by our culture, world, church, family, friends, or even ourselves, to accept our addictions, pain and defeat. Perhaps there was a time when we cried out for victory, but, when it didn’t come, we gave up hope. We became like the gentleman sitting next to a pool of healing with no hope of victory. Instead of embracing the new life in Jesus and the destruction of sin that comes with following him, we become content with simply managing our sin. Sin management is where we become comfortable with certain sins, habits and/or addictions. We all excuse certain things in our lives that we know are not healthy and do not glorify God. Instead of trying to fight these actions or thoughts, we just manage them. We keep them under lock and key, perhaps indulge them a bit here and there, not enough to cause any problems, but just enough to take the edge off things.

As a pastor there were times when people would inform me that they were an alcoholic, twenty years dry. While I applaud the fact that they have acknowledged their addiction, I would get concerned about their sense of identity. It was almost as if their past addiction had defined them forever. It didn’t matter that they had not taken a drink of alcohol or gotten drunk in over a decade, they were still an alcoholic. Followers of Jesus fall into this same trap when they constantly define themselves as a sinner. Yes, I know we all sin, but the moment we bow our knees to Jesus and confess him as our Lord and King, we become a new creation. We are no longer sinners but saints! Our old identity has been removed and we are now part of a new family. To stop short of fully embracing the victory of the King is to slap him in the face. It is a huge dishonor to turn down the gift of the King and Creator of the universe.

Does this mean that we will be free from every bad thought, addictions or habit? Perhaps, perhaps not. It is not up to me to know the mind of God. What I do know is that Paul lived with a thorn in his side that was not taken away. Perhaps some of you reading this will have things in your lives that won’t go away. To you I say, fight and fight and never stop fighting! We live deep within enemy territory and have been called to advance the rule and reign of God into every area of this planet. To stop fighting is to give up on God and his mission. He is a trustworthy General who is leading an army in the invasion of this present evil age. We, his daughters and sons, have been trusted with the mission of fighting on the front lines. Let us never forget this: let us always continue to fight for the victory we know we have as daughters and sons of the Creator King.

Remember our gentleman at the pool of Bethesda? Jesus didn’t let him get away with all the excuses as to why he couldn’t get healed. Instead of turning around and walking away to someone else, perhaps someone with a bit more faith, Jesus simply says, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” He knew that God wanted to bring victory in the midst of the pain and he wasn’t going to take no for an answer. Isn’t it wonderful that God doesn’t always listen to our excuses? Jesus wants us embrace the victory that come into the world through his life, death, resurrection and ascension.

Embracing the victory of God is to declare him the King over our circumstances. It is a war cry to the world around us that we will not settle for less than complete restoration of creation itself. We are the people of God who know without a doubt that our King will win, no matter what circumstances we may be in,. It was this mindset that caused the early believers to stand strong in the face of death itself, refusing to deny Jesus despite pain of torture or death by wild animals. And when the plagues came, the followers of Jesus refused to run away, choosing instead to care for the sick and the dying while knowing that staying most likely meant death. These believers understood that the victory belonged to King Jesus and no matter what the circumstances were, he was still the King of Kings.

It is now our turn to walk boldly in the victory of Jesus. We get the privilege of telling people that there is a new way to live and that there is victory from the pain of life. True, some people may push us away as they like living in their pain and darkness. That is okay, as they did that same thing to Jesus. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to draw them to Jesus, not yours! Our job is to proclaim that the kingdom of God is here! Go back and look at the command of Jesus: it was to proclaim that the day of the Lord, the new age of life had broken into human history. That is our message. We are saints who live in the tension of the here and not yet of the kingdom, embracing both the suffering and the victory that comes with pledging our lives to the Creator King.

The above post is an excerpt from my book, The Here and Not Yet (pages 92-94)

Embracing the suffering

It may sound crazy to say that we have to embrace the suffering this life throws at us. The thing is that if we ignore the pain or claim that we have victory over every pain, sorrow, or fiery dart from hell, then we have set ourselves up for even more pain. The reality is that there is a lot of pain and sorrow in the world today – rape, sickness, heartache, poverty, death, betrayal, bullying, addictions, and more. If we are going to live in this world, as we do, then we must know how to process the suffering and how to help others walk through it.

When I was in college someone told me that the reason that people got sick was because they had sinned against God. If they fully obeyed God, then they would never get sick. This person then backed up this claim by declaring that their good health was due to their standing before the Lord. As I stood there listening to this bold claim, I couldn’t help but think of Job.

The book of Job is perhaps the oldest book in the Bible and tells the story of Job who lived around the same time as Abraham. The story itself is a bit depressing as it details how Job, a follower of the Creator King, is attacked by the evil one and in a very short amount of time loses his children, wife, house, land, wealth and health. His friends show up and tell Job that all his problems are due to his sinful actions against God. Job refuses to accept this logic and cries out to God in an effort to find out what is happening. At the end of the book, God shows up and destroys the argument of Job’s friends. Then he turns to Job and instead of explaining everything, he asks Job where he was when the earth was formed and the seas were created. In other words, God is telling Job to stop trying to figure out the cause and effects of everything and start trusting Him.

This may sound like a cop-out to us in the modern age. We want everything to be logical and have a reason. We don’t like unsolved mysteries or cryptic statements of trust. Yet, if we think back to the very beginning, the Scriptures are clear that we are to trust the Creator King. This doesn’t mean – and please hear me loud and clear here – that God causes pain and suffering in our lives. Far from it! God is not the author of evil, suffering, pain or heartache. Everything negative and painful in our lives comes from three places: from our own poor decisions, attacks from the evil one or from effects of living in the present evil age. What the Creator King does, is to take all the pain and suffering we experience and transform it through the cross into something else. Something, dare I say, restorative and beautiful albeit scarred and wounded, like the nail scarred hands of Jesus.

Remember how I mentioned that my wife and I had experienced two miscarriages? Those miscarriages caused us considerable pain and heartache. We even started to doubt God and began to lose trust in him. Yet, through all the pain he taught us that people, even unborn babies, are worth loving even if the ending is full of pain. The lessons that my wife and I learned through the pain of the miscarriages helped us open up our hearts to our adopted son and to the child whom we had for only eleven days. Was the miscarriages part of God’s plan? I don’t think so! I think they were the results of frail bodies and fiery darts from the evil one. However, God took the pain of our lives and transformed it into something wholesome.

When I talk about embracing the suffering of living in the tension, this is what I mean: we have to let God take the sorrow of our lives and transform it into good. If we always focus on the victory passages of the Scriptures then we would never know how to live through the tough times. Similarly, if we only focused on the suffering portions, we would become depressed and miss seeing his mighty hand at work. We have to learn to live in the tension between both aspects of the Scriptures, trusting the Creator King who loves us more than we can ever know.

Another aspect of embracing suffering can be found in the life of Jesus. Philippians 2 talks about how Jesus freely emptied himself to become like us in every way. As such, he experienced a lot of pain and suffering that he did not have to. I’m not just talking about the cross and the physical pain that it bought. I’m talking about his stepdad dying, working long hard days to support his mother and young siblings, sweating under the hot sun, walking for miles upon miles across the desert, and sleeping on the ground. His brothers and sisters thought he was crazy, his friend betrayed him unto death and all his other friends abandoned him in his hour of need. On top of all this, Jesus had hundreds, if not thousands, of people trying to get his attention all the time, leaving him with very little time for himself. As a pastor, I can vouch for the emotional, spiritual and physical drain that comes with having people constantly coming up and looking for something from you! Yet Jesus embraced all this suffering as he knew that it was through the suffering that the reign and rule of God would break into human history.

When my wife and I were in our mid-twenties, we were invited to join a team of folks who were planning to start a new church in Sweet, Idaho, an hour’s drive north of Boise. At first we were just going to help out on Sunday evenings for about six months while the church got up and running. God, however, had different plans. One thing led to another and soon we were selling our house and moving to Sweet, to work with the church and love the community. The next nine years were full of joy, happiness, sorrow and heartache. It was hard giving up one lifestyle to embrace another. To go from riding a bicycle to work, to driving an hour each way; to go from a vibrant social life in the big city to embracing a slower pace of life among a predominantly retired community. Then there were the hours of volunteer work with the church, setting things up for the service, tearing it down, week in and week out, planning different events, etc.

I lost count of the times my wife and I sat in our living room, crying. The toil of starting a new church took its toll on us, stretching us to our limits and beyond. We were very low at the time and even discussed looking for pipes online so that we would be able to utilise the mood enhancing properties of cannabis. More than once we wanted to quit and run away. The only reason why we didn’t was because we knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God had asked us to go to Sweet. And, since he was our King, we had to obey him until he released us from our job. This is suffering. This is the pain of the here and not yet of the kingdom of God. The pain that comes with obeying the Creator King and proclaiming his word to a world that does not want to listen.

Matthew 11:12 is a cryptic verse in which Jesus says, “From the time of John to Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has been forcing its way in – and the men of force are trying to grab it!” (TKNT) We are in a battle between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light. The moment you start proclaiming Jesus to the world, you had better watch out as you have just painted a target on your back. All hell is going to try to stop you from obeying the Creator King because the evil one does not want to let go of his territory. Yet, we have been called to fight the fight, to proclaim the kingdom of God into every nook and cranny of this world, regardless of the cost!

To embrace the suffering of the kingdom is to know that starting a church, loving the unlovable, working with the poor, helping those with addictions, or simply telling your neighbor about Jesus, all come with pain. There will be push back and, at times, negative consequences that come from obeying Jesus. You might experience sleepless nights, long days, emotionally-draining meetings, spiritual attacks, strained relationships, emotional and/or physical isolation, loss of income, and, perhaps even death. I am reminded of the calling of the prophet Jeremiah, who was told by God that the people of Israel would “fight against” him should he obey what God was telling him to do (Jeremiah 1:19). And the apostle Paul, who was shown by God “how many things he is going to have to suffer for the sake of [his] name” at the time he bowed his knees to the King (Acts 9:16).

We have to be willing to embrace the pain that comes with joining God on his mission. We have to be willing to step out and take a risk, to choose to love even though we know that we may be hurt. Too many followers of Jesus have hardened their hearts toward people because they have been hurt too much. They still serve but it is out of duty rather than love. We must keep a soft heart and remember that the pain is worth it. And in order to do that we must embrace the suffering of Jesus as our own.

The above post is an excerpt from my book, The Here and Not Yet (pages 90-92)