The Future of Hope…

I have observed that one of the side-effects of our present pandemic is to narrow our focus on life down to the present and muddle our ability to see the big picture offered by the future. Any crisis does the same thing, because it crushes future hope by the incredible weight of present circumstances.

I’ve had to struggle with this with my cancer; the tendency to lose perspective and to allow my life to cave in upon itself, to the place where I lose hope and life becomes just about me. This is why it has been important to do things to get myself out of myself: praying for others who are suffering, learning new things (like reading extensively on Black history and racial inequities in the history of our nation), like keeping a month-at-a-glance calendar (so that I’m looking ahead and not just at today), looking at my medical appointments and treatments as field trips where I get to travel to places I have never been and meet new people (like going to Bethesda, Maryland each week for treatment and getting to stay in a hotel or with my grandchildren who live within half-an-hour from the hospital), creating daily and future projects (like fixing up my basement, writing a blog or a devotional, or a book), and planning future events even though I might not still be around (like speaking in some churches this summer). I do this knowing full well that the future belongs to God, but just thinking about the future gives me hope.

I have also observed that in my reading of the prophetic books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, while God spends a great deal of time raking Israel over the coals of judgment for its history of idolatry and rebellion, he also scatters a message of a future throughout, “For I know the plans I have for you…to give you a future and a hope.” There is a future beyond exile, beyond coming back into the land, beyond a rebuilt Jerusalem and a Temple. It is a future where Messiah will establish his kingdom of truth and justice, and God’s people (the New Israel= Church) will have a heart to worship and obey their God throughout eternity. In the face of calamity, God is always pushing his people into the future—always giving them hope.

This morning, I read Daniel 1-2 and saw the same thing. Daniel and his 3 friends were captives in Babylon taken from Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar (Neb) during the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah. They were older teenagers at the time and most of you know the story… they graduated from a 3-yr. training program at Babylonia U and were put on the staff of advisors to King Neb himself—not a bad job for right out of college. The king had a dream that scared him and asked his team of advisors to tell him his dream (apparently he had forgotten it) and what it meant. His advisors were smart enough to realize this was mission impossible without knowing what the dream was in the first place. The King was not a reasonable man—people with power don’t tend to be, and ordered that all his advisors be shot at dawn (or executed in some way, maybe not at dawn).

Daniel heard about this and sent word to the King asking for a little more time and he would relate the dream and its meaning. Then he and his buddies pulled an all-nighter (prayer meeting) until God graciously gave them the answer. He related it to the King and asked that no advisor be executed. He humbly acknowledged that it was the God of heaven who gave him the answer and not because he (Daniel) was wiser than anyone else.

The dream revealed the image of a man made up of different kinds of metals/material, representing the different empires of the world and their worth/power. King Neb was the head of gold; next would come the Medo-Persian Empire under Cyrus, then the Greek Empire under Alexander, then the Roman Empire which would ultimately be divided up into smaller kingdoms making alliances with one another, which anticipates the rise of nationalism and our present world of nation-states and their treaties—America is included in here along with NATO, etc.. (These are my interpretations, by the way.) Then Daniel saw a Rock cut from the mountain that struck the image and brought it all tumbling down, the same way that the God of heaven will someday bring an end to the nations of the world and set up a kingdom that will never be conquered or destroyed and which will rule forever. This is a glimpse into the future that God allowed those whose lives had been narrowed by captivity to see. “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, for he alone has all wisdom and power. World events are under his control. He removes kings and sets others on their thrones. He gives wise men their wisdom, and scholars their intellects.” (Dan 2:20, 21-Living Bible) Idi Amin of Uganda fathered 43 children (or more) and called himself, His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshall of Al Hadj, Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, CBE, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea, Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular. He also called himself The Last King of Scotland for reasons known only to him. This peacock died after 8 yrs., just like every other peacock that has ruled, or will rule.

Yet, the time is coming when “Jesus shall reign where’er the sun does its successive journeys run; his kingdom stretch from shore to shore, till moons shall wax and wane no more.”(Isaac Watts, 1719) This is our future and our hope; to have a king (president, premiere, prime minister) who loves us, who died for us, and will rule with justice and equity, truth and righteousness. Let this pry open our narrowed views caused by our present crises and give us a hope-filled perspective by which to live. “If the last hour belongs to God, we need not fear the next moment.” (Helmut Thielicke)


Benedictus        Zechariah’s psalm or song in Luke 1:68-79 contains prophetic insight.  It is one of the four canticles or songs in Luke’s gospel. Each named according to the first word (Latin) in the songs: Mary’s song (Magnificat, my soul magnifies the Lord), Simeon’s song (Nunc Dimittis, now dismiss your servant), the Angels’ song (Nolite Timere, do not be afraid), and Zechariah’s song (Benedictus, Praise to the Lord).  Let’s look a little more closely at Zechariah’s song because it sets forth some characteristics of the kind of people we ought to be.

This song was sung by a mature and pious man who still had a lot to learn about God. It shows us that no matter what level of spiritual maturity we have obtained, we still need to grow. Perhaps Zechariah’s heart had grown indifferent towards God, because of the routines of ministry or being a priest and thinking he knew pretty much everything. Maybe he was preoccupied with his own life circumstances and a little angry that he had not been blessed with a child after all he had done for God.  How many of us who have been Christians for a long time have stopped learning and growing, and have become indifferent towards God?

Do you ever look back at a previous time in your life when you were more passionate about your faith than you are now?  Maybe you have some lingering issues with God and feel he has not dealt fairly with you after all your years of service. What will it take for you to have a growth spurt and to sing your own Benedictus?

Zechariah grew by keeping his mouth shut, listening to the Word of God, and then obeying it.  This seems to be a spiritual principle in times of uncertainty.  Psalm 46:10, Be still and know that I am God.  When was the last time you kept your mouth shut in God’s presence, just listened to Him speak through His Word, and then said, “yes sir.”

This song was sung by a man who was striving to understand his time-bound circumstances over against the timeless coming of the Messiah. At that time Israel was dominated by the iron hand of Rome. Zechariah catches a vision that God was going to give him a son, John the Baptist, who would prepare the way for the Messiah. This Messiah, Jesus Christ, would redeem his people and save them from their enemies and all who hated them. Zechariah had this perspective that God’s salvation was both spiritual and physical; redemption from sin and deliverance from the abusive power of Rome.

At Christmas-time, 2018, our concerns differ from those of Zechariah’s. We may not fear Rome, but we may fear the economy, the turbulent political situation and the direction of our nation, home-grown terrorism, the greatest refugee crisis since WW2, racial injustice, and gang violence on the streets of our cities. We may fear our own life-dominating issues such as disease, substance abuse, sexual addiction, or marriage and family crises.  Jesus Christ has come in order to save us from our sin, to deliver us from those things that dominate us, and to usher in a kingdom where peace, righteousness, and justice reign.

Pie in the sky? Ted Turner once said, “Almost every religion talks about a savior coming.  When you look in the mirror in the morning, you’re looking at the savior.  Nobody else is going to save you but yourself.” (Christian Century, Dec. 20-27, 2000)

However, the reality that most people in time will have the bottom drop out of their lives and will realize that they cannot save themselves.  Most will feel overwhelmed because we live in such a crazy world where there really are no safe places or super heroes who will save us. But to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, because of His tender mercies, God has sent a Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord.  And when we acknowledge our trust in Christ, even though things are not yet perfect and there is a lot of pain yet to be faced, we can still sing Praise to the Lord…because He has redeemed His people and has raised up salvation for us from the house of his servant David…to rescue us from the hand of our enemies and to enable us to serve him without fear.

This song was sung by a man who believed in a God who keeps His Promise. In fact, three of the four songs of Luke’s gospel revolve around the theme of God keeping His Promise. Mary acknowledged that through the birth of Messiah, God was remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever. When Simeon saw the Christ child, he said, Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, now dismiss your servant in peace. And Zechariah praised God because, in the Messiah, He was granting salvation for the house of David as he said through his holy prophets long ago… remember(ring) his covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham. God keep His promises.  In fact Zechariah’s name means “God remembers” and Elizabeth’s name means “God’s oath.”

It had been 400 years since God last spoke to Israel through the prophets.  His last words were, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord.  He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers (Malachi 4:5, 6), and here in John the Baptist, was the fulfillment of that prophecy. Jesus called him the Elijah who was to come (Matthew 11:14).

We can also be assured that even though it has been 2,000 years since Jesus said that He was going to return, God will remember His Promise. God is not slack in keeping his promise…He is being patient…not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

Even so, Come Lord Jesus…

The Problem of the Good…

The Lord gave me an opportunity to preside at a very difficult funeral today. The deceased was a 20-something who died from an overdose. The family has been so overwhelmed by the individual’s addiction and just as overwhelmed by the person’s death. The person had prayed to receive Christ many years ago, but had been dominated by addictive behavior.There were a number of believers there, but also a lot of secularized young people. The sister and brother of the deceased did a tremendous job sharing about how much they loved their sibling, and yet how difficult it was to see them go though the pain.   I read from Psalm 77:1-10; Lamentations 3:19-25; Romans 8:26-32. Then I spoke and here is the heart of the message. Pray that the Lord would continue to use this in someone’s life who was there this morning:

How are we to comprehend the death of a young person like —-? Did it have to end this way? What more could we have done to help? Why does God allow something like this to take place? These are questions many of you are asking right now and I can honestly say “I don’t know” to all of them.

You can see why some people lose their faith at times like this. They would agree with many atheists who claim there is no God based upon the fact there is so much that is bad in the world. It is called the Problem of Evil and most religions have tried to deal with it. The argument goes like this; if God exists at all, in view of all the horrible things that happen in this world, either he is good and does not have the power to stop evil, or he is powerful enough to stop it, but doesn’t, which means he is not Good.

I want to give you a straight answer as to why I believe there is a God and why I believe he is both powerful and good.  I believe that believing in God explains more about this world than not believing in God. The writer CS Lewis, who was an atheist until age 50, once said that he believed in the existence of God just like he believed in the existence of the sun. “I believe in the sun not because I always see it, but by it I see all things. And so I believe in God not because I see Him, but by Him I see all things.”  

And so I believe that God is the best explanation for what we see in this world. Yes, it is true there are bad things, evil things; like addiction, suffering, crime, war, violence, and death. But there also exists the Problem of the Good. From where do love, beauty, goodness, mercy, forgiveness, and generosity come? These things are only a problem for those who do not believe in God because according to their story they cannot explain these things.  They might say that good comes from the human heart (which they see as basically good).  However, from where then do the bad things come? Do they come from the same human heart? No one likes to admit this because we’d rather blame God. But without God and his story we have no rational explanation for good or evil.

And yet God’s story found in the Bible tells us that the world was created by a Good God and it was created with hope, beauty, goodness, love, kindness; and we were created with dignity and honor.  It was when the people he created chose to go their own way and chose to be their own god that evil was unleashed upon the world– not so much as punishment as much as consequence. God told them it would happen if they went their own way. And it wasn’t long before families struggled, marriages broke apart, children cried, war raged, and disease took its toll.

But God did not give up on his creation. Even in the Old Testament of the Bible there was always mercy; there was always grace and forgiveness. But then there was an event that changed it all. God became man in Jesus Christ. And what did we do to him? We killed him. We killed our Maker! And yet God’s goodness and power was shown in that he turned the sacrifice of himself into the very means of our salvation. The movie Passion of the Christ demonstrated this in its trailer. A verse from Isaiah 53 came up on the screen before the movie began which said, “For he was wounded for our transgression, bruised for our iniquity; the punishment of our sins were upon him and by his wounds we were healed.”

And so Jesus Christ, our God with skin on, by his death and resurrection paved a way by which I could change stories; change from the messy story I was making of my life which offered me little hope of a tomorrow, to a new story based upon God’s love and mercy. And so he gave to me, a broken sinner, a future in this life and the life to come.

I fully affirm what St Paul said at the end of Romans 8: “I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor anything in all of creation shall ever separate me from the love of Christ Jesus my Lord.”

No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the pow’r of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—
Here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.

Is this your story? If it is, then cling to it in the face of all you do not understand. If not, it can be, if you trust in the Lord Jesus as your Savior and ask him come into your heart and forgive your sins. You can do that right now….