With the pandemic still at large, many people continue to suffer as a result. The economy has hit people hard, illness and death have taken so much, violence is a reality for others, and on the list goes. In the process, many churches are struggling to find their identity and still others are struggling to pay their preachers and keep the lights on. My best guess is that a lot of missionaries have had their budgets slashed, or have seen financial support be completely cut.
In the middle of all this, there’s a surprising lack of one word among Christians. . . hope. Hope and Change was the campaign slogan for President Obama that allowed him to win the election, twice. People long for hope and meaningful change. Hope is what drives people into the next day and pulls many out of desperation. Hope allows us to see the good that lies ahead. It gives us a reason to make it another day, while cherishing the time we have on this earth. Romans 5:3-5 says, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Hope promises something new and better. Imagine if, instead of churches splitting right now, they focused on rejoicing in their sufferings. What if people were building character–character the produces hope. People deserve a message of hope. They need to know that there is hope in Christ. If we modeled hope for others in the midst of suffering, the light of Christ would shine much brighter.
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We don’t know much about the seventy-two people who Jesus sent out to preach. What we do know is that he sent them two-by-two, that they were to go ahead of Jesus into all the towns he would be visiting, and that he told them to heal the sick in those towns and proclaim that the kingdom is near. We really have no idea who these people were, what their backgrounds were, or what professions they had. Jesus did tell them not to take anything with them except what was already in their possession.
When the seventy-two returned, they were astounded at what all God was accomplishing through them. “Lord!,” they exclaimed. “Even the demons are subject to us in your name!” (Luke 10:17 ESV). Jesus told them that he saw Satan fall like lightning from the sky, and that he gave the disciples authority over all the power of the enemy. It was an incredible responsibility that they were given. But Jesus didn’t want them to rejoice in this.
“Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). Jesus’ warning here was to not get intoxicated with the power they had. Sure, he gave them authority over the power of the enemy. But that didn’t make them invincible. Authority can be infatuating. It can lead to pride and arrogance. It can blind people to compassion. Jesus would rather them remain humble and rejoice that their names are written in heaven. This is a good reminder that our message needs to be seasoned with hope, grace, and must point people to salvation.
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Last week we talked about our heavenly inheritance and how we need to be working. We get back what we put in. We cannot expect a free ride through life. But what will that heavenly inheritance look like? People who are not believers may poke fun and tell us that we believe in a mythical place that doesn’t exist. Or we believe in a mythical God who we can’t see. So how do we respond to that?
The reality is that none of us know what Heaven looks like. We don’t have a clue. And we should be OK with that answer. Paul says that we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). Does this mean that we blindly believe that something better is waiting for us when we die? Not at all! Faith is not blind. We know that Heaven is real. God tells us that. We know that there are breathtaking places here on the earth–exotic landscapes that exude pristine beauty. Others who have been there can describe it, show pictures, etc., but it will not fully engage all of our senses until we have physically gone there. Those places here on earth are no less real just because we have not physically been there. They indeed exist. And they are incredible parts of God’s creation.
If we know this to be true on the earth, it is equally true for Heaven. Paul says, “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. . . . He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee” (2 Cor. 5:1, 5 ESV). God has been preparing our heavenly home since the beginning. We can only imagine what heaven will be like. But we have the Spirit as a guarantee. We know Heaven to be real and incredible and peaceful. “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.”
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