In the world of tables and doors, I had an interesting week of traveling and installation. It was a mixed bag of human stories and their many or one storied homes. It was time spent in their very personal spaces and trying to not do harm to a space that is already imperfect. Strange… when you hang a door perfectly level and it looks off because the place it’s hung is not perfectly level. Who looks wrong in that situation?
The week before, though, I spent a large portion of my time with my face bent toward walnut boards, sanding them little by little. In an industry where your lifeblood is word of mouth, it’s hilarious what happens when you complete an enormous table made out of walnut.
We have four currently in the process.
They are all unique pieces of artistry.
As walnut tables, they all have one thing in common. They are ugly as sin when they first come through our warehouse door. As I’ve written before, we slowly strip away layers to reveal the grain underneath. There’s something special when there’s a knot, though. They are chaos to work around. Sometimes, you only pick down to the very beginning of a knot. Sometimes you plow right down through it.
Two weeks ago, I stripped a board down to the place where a knot began. It wasn’t until that day that I realized something important about knots. Knots are where branches were rooted in the trunk of the tree. I found this out by revealing one all the way down to its core, where the very beginning of a branch still rested in the board.
It was small, and by contrast to the super dense wood all around it, fragile and in the opening stages of rot.
It became clear that this was a branch never meant to supply the tree with nutrition. It was what I have heard called a “sucker branch.” It takes up nutrition from the tree and does not contribute to its overall health.
Hope is a powerful and strange thing. The strangest thing about hope is that false or fake hope feels just like legitimate hope. It acts the same as real hope. It supplies us with drive and joy. It paints a great picture of tomorrow and helps sustain our strength as we strive toward its light. When false hopes are dashed, they die the same painful death as real hope.
Two vegetable growing enthusiasts plant gardens. One of them is inept and puts seeds into the ground, but has seen plants and so hopes that without any attention to the painstaking process of plant growth. He waits and waits and waits and finally, one day, he wakes up and realizes he is not growing anything he can enjoy in a salad.
The other knows what he is doing. He buys good seed and good soil in which to plant it. He schedules proper temperature for the plant growth area. He sets it into the proper amount of light and waters it just right. But by the luck of the draw, his seeds fail to prosper and day after day after day, he slowly realizes he has failed to grow anything edible from the dirt.
One of them had reasonable hope that he would feed himself from his efforts. The other did not. But the palpable hope both of them fed from in the morning when looking at the unbroken ground felt the same. It also died the same.
Paul makes a powerful and exclusive claim in his letter to the Romans. He says that difficulty produces endurance and endurance forges character. Character, says Paul, “produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame.” (Romans 5:4-5 ESV). The NASB is subtly different in that it ends its translation by saying that hope does not disappoint.
This hope is forged in more enduring character than any other in existence. It is forged in the suffering of Christ Himself. At the cross, the perfect man, creating God, spoken Word, now and future King, endured the greatest suffering any of us could ever see. His unblemished character fashioned for us the one hope that will not ever die.
In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are still and strivings cease
My comforter, my all in all,
Here in the love of Christ, I stand 
There is a common desire among all peoples throughout all time. We all want to be justified. My children, so far, have all learned one thing very quickly in their childhoods. Things will go wrong and they don’t want to be responsible for wrong.
A month ago, my wife walked into the kids’ bathroom to discover scentsy wax everywhere. It was on the sink, on the mirror, on the toilet…
I was in the room rolling around on the floor with the boys and in walks their momma with her hands on her hips demanding someone fess up to the crime. Everyone in the room (including yours truly) froze hoping that her vision was somehow based on movement. Eventually the culprit was found out, but during his explanation of his guilt, he explained it was entirely accidental.
I see on the often, people driving in such a way that it puts others at risk. They are in a hurry so their recklessness is justified.
I read people writing onto social media about people with whom they are entirely unacquainted such odious things as to break the entirety of the spirit of humanity. But they read an accurate report about it, so it is…. justified.
Mankind has sought a redemption from his overall fallen nature since the beginning of time and has even spawned several intensely creative poets and storytellers to craft whole odysseys, including The Odyssey. Mankind has created whole mythologies that redeem mankind from a fallen nature to a nature restored because it is chief among our great needs as a species.
Much has been made of the similarity of The Gospel to other mythological stories that preceded it. All major civilizations have had in their canon of theology a story about a deity of evil defeated by the more powerful deity of good, protecting mankind in the process. At all times, mankind is involved, but only in so much as he is empowered by the gods.
It always involves sacrifice from the gods.
It always involves faith from the people.
Each story preceding the Gospel has been flawed in its scope of humanity involved in its redemption. Each has been limited in its scope. Each following the Gospel has lacked the direct intervention of God himself, but rather a spate of blessed messengers.
They are like the Gospel in structure and formation.
They are, in fact, the epitome of false hope.
In discussions with people of different faiths, I will not straight up call their faith systems fake, false, or anything else quite so inflammatory. It’s difficult enough to get to sit with someone who looks at things differently these days without exacerbating the problem.
Offense has never won a single soul into eternity.
It is also cruel to aggressively look to destroy the false hope in someone’s life. Yes, we will tell the entire truth. No, we will not do so sadistically.
In the process of sanding the legion of tables in the shop, I have noticed I love the revelation of the grains in walnut tables. When the rings bunch closer together, the wood is harder. It resists sanding. But slowly and certainly, it relents to the spinning disk of paper and sand in my hands and smooths. As it does so, it takes on a luster. It even sparkles.
There is no place on the tables I sand that takes on as lovely a look as the places where knots concentrate. The rings compress to the point where they are nearly invisible. We fill the voids and the sand around them. When the entire table is sanded, it is sealed and then finished. In its finished state, we will stand back and gaze at our handiwork. The grains are no longer splintered and rough under hand, but smooth. You can feel the ridges pass under your fingers and palm.
In the places where there were once knots, is a resting place for the eyes to behold special beauty.
What missionaries now know after two millennia of history carrying the Gospel to people across the globe is that it is folly to expect a new culture to accept Jesus and His redemption in the same way as the missionary’s home culture. African converts carry the Gospel differently than Minnesotans.
Maybe it’s the snow.
I believe it has to do with the false hopes we have carried. Our false hopes are the sucker branches that have promised life but only taken energy. The death of false hope in our lives leaves scars. They are the roughest, hardest places of our hearts. They take more work, more strength, more patience.
C.S. Lewis found hope in atheism, depending upon logic and thought to deliver him from the opiate of the masses to a saving understanding of the operation of the universe.
Sanded by the Master, he became the great apologist and thinker of his age, helping Christians to navigate their minds through the morass of lazy philosophy and scientific atheism.
Generation X tried to find its salvation in sexual intimacy and relationship with one another.
The hole it found in its life vacated by that false hope was filled by the unrelenting love of Jesus Christ and a theology more intently focused on relationship than any in centuries was born.
Millenials were raised with the hope that the right school, right friends, right experiences, and right possessions would help them to rise above.
Burned by materialism and vapid programmism, they reject programming without substance, and are now the most missional people in all of history, connecting their faith in Jesus Christ with doing sacrificial work for Him
Eastern mystics are not difficult to convince of the miracles of God, believing that mystical power is as real as water.
Arabs are enamored of the ancient traditions and historied greatness of God’s story, tracing their own lineage through the first patriarch, Abraham. These ones, loving the branching story of two brothers, now united by the blood of Jesus.
Chinese Christians spread the Gospel without gong or trumpet. They quietly live lives changed and beautified by the One, winning converts through their example and meeting underground. The communist regime that sought to put an end to religious thought that trumped its authority has spread the reach of the Gospel throughout their vast borders, filling their country with people known famously in Revelation as the ones who did not love their own lives more than that which saved their souls.
God uses false hope to make us unique and beautiful masterworks of handcrafted art. No, we should not intentionally seek after false hope just to give ourselves more rough places to sand. A board that is that intensely knotted in our shop is reserved for bracing the underside of the table, knowing it cannot be beautified enough to be the top. Our false hopes in life are painful, but Christ takes our pain and makes us beautiful members of His masterwork and master plan.
If your hope is dashed, take courage and solace. There is one hope that fills and sustains your life and never fails.
It is perfect.
You will know it when you see it. You will feel it. And your knots will be used for the glory of the One who will never knot you on your surface or far beneath in your very soul.
- Keith Getty and Stuart Townsend, “In Christ Alone,” New Irish Hymns. Kingsway Music, 2001.