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hope1

 

I was studying Hebrews chapter eleven, often times called the Hall Of Faith.  Here are a few things I learned about faith –

  1.  Without faith it is impossible to please God              11:6
  2. Faith means believing that God exists and that He rewards those who seek Him  11:6
  3. Sometimes faith means you don’t know where you are going      11:8
  4. Sometimes faith means you are a stranger     11:9
  5. Sometimes faith means that you do not receive the things promised      11:13,39
  6. Faith means that you will be tested      11:17
  7. Sometimes faith means choosing to be mistreated     11:25
  8. Sometimes faith means making people angry      11:27
  9. Sometimes faith means being tortured       11:35
  10. Sometimes faith means facing jeers, beatings, chains and imprisonment.     11:36
  11. Sometimes faith means death by stoning, being sawed in two and killed by the sword    11:37
  12. Sometimes faith means being destitute and persecuted     11:37

So, do you want to be a person of faith?  I like to talk about how much God loves us and wants us to be happy.  Where’s the happiness in all that?  The ultimate happiness for people of faith is Heaven.  That’s easy to see by taking another look at Hebrews 11.

Verse 16 tells us that people of faith are longing for a better country – a heavenly one, and that God has prepared a city for them.  Later we see that Moses was “looking ahead to his reward.”  Verse 36 says that some who were tortured, refused to be released, so that “they might gain an even better resurrection.”  The last verse of chapter 11 lets us know that God has planned something better for us.

The main thing to remember about Faith comes to us from verse one, “Faith is the substance of things HOPED for …”  Not so much what we hope for in this world, but in the world to come.

After studying Hebrews 11, I came across some quotes from Timothy Keller about hope and heaven:

“We are future oriented beings, and so we must understand ourselves as being in a story that leads somewhere.”

“The disposition properly described as hope, trust, or wonder … three names for the same state of heart and mind – asserts the goodness of life in the face of its limits.  It cannot be defeated by adversity.”  (Keller quoting Lasch)

“Hope does not require a belief in progress, only a belief in justice, a conviction that the wicked will suffer, that wrongs will be made right, that the underlying order of tings is not flouted with impunity.”  (Keller quoting Genovese)

“Hope that stands up to and enables us to face the worst depends on faith in something that transcends this world and life and is not available to those living within a worldview that denies the supernatural.”

“Christian hope has more power for sufferers than a mere optimism in historical progress.”

“We are trapped in a world of death, a world for which we were not designed.”

“The immortal Son of God was sent into the world, sharing in our humanity, becoming subject to weakness and death.  But then through death he broke its power, in order to free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”

“We may physically die, but death now becomes only an entryway to eternal life with him.”

“All death can now do to Christians is to make their live infinitely better.”

(All quotes from Timothy Keller’s book Making Sense of God)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This morning I was thinking about the history of mankind, from Adam and Eve, to the new heavens and earth, and new Jerusalem.  From Genesis to Revelation.   I was thinking about the high points and low points; the great positives and negatives.  The first great positive was the creation of Adam and Eve.  The first great negative was the fall of Adam and Eve, and thus, all mankind.

In my mind there was a timeline, with blips to indicate the highs and lows.  In the middle of this time line was a the highest positive blip, signifying the death and resurrection of Jesus.  The greatest negative down blip was the fall.  The next biggest negative blip was something I read in 1Samuel 7.  The Israelites come to Samuel and tell him they want a king, like all the other nations.  Samuel, who was the spiritual leader at that time felt rejected and went before God.  God tells him not to worry, that the people have not rejected Samuel, but have rejected God.

That is huge!  Almost as huge as Adam and Eve ‘s falling to the temptation of the serpent, with similarities.  Adam and Eve rejected God’s command because they wanted to rule themselves.  The Israelites rejected God because they wanted a human king to rule them, rather than the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Both great sins came down to pride, arrogance and greed.  Both entities felt that God had given them the short end of the stick;  that God didn’t really love them and want them to be happy.  They believed that they could be happier doing things their way.

God has always wanted and chosen a people to be his own.  A people who would love him, follow him and do his will.  A people that he could bless, reveal himself to, and make happy and prosperous.  A people who would respond to his generosity by being generous themselves, both to God and their fellow man.  Thus, the second up blip on the historical timeline is God’s call of Abraham.  God did not call Abraham only for Abraham’s sake, but so that Abraham would be the father of a nation who God could call his own.  Through this man and this nation, God would bless all the people on earth.

This group of people would be initially called Hebrews.  The Hebrews were enslaved by the Egyptians.  God delivered these people from slavery in a miraculous way.  This is the third high point in the history of mankind and pointed to the ultimate high point in history when God would set people free from slavery to sin through Jesus death and resurrection.

The next high point after being set free from bondage in Egypt followed closely on the heels of this miraculous event.  This was the giving of the law on mount Sinai.  God was saying to his chosen people, “I love you and want you to be happy, so I am giving you these laws, precepts and commands.  If you continue to follow me by obeying these mandates, I will prosper you and you will be truly happy and will experience shalom. Slalom was a word the Jewish people used then to greet one another. It meant peace, prosperity, and joy.

Next followed a low point where the people showed they didn’t really believe that God loved them and wanted them to be happy. When it came time to possess the land flowing with milk and honey, they balked. Ten bad spies gave the report of giants in the land that made the Hebrews look like grasshoppers in comparison. Two good spies said the enemy was indeed large, but our God, who delivered us from the Egyptians is the real giant that will go before us and conquer the enemy. The Jews didn’t trust God and thus had to wander in the wilderness for forty years until the unbelieving generation died out and a believing generation rose up.

The believers went in and took the promised land. A definite high point.

The next century was filled with high blips and low dips as God’s chosen people alternatively worshiped and obeyed God, and then fell away and were disobedient. This cycle continued through the period of the Judges and then the kings. Finally, an awful low point occurred when first the ten tribes of Israel were conquered and taken into captivity by the Assyrians, and then Judah was humiliated by the Babylonians and taken into exile.

The prophets had warned the people of Israel and Judah that if they didn’t change their hearts and their ways that God would punish them and send them into exile. They didn’t and he did. The prophets also told of a time of restoration that would come. They told of a new covenant that would be written on hearts of flesh rather than tablets of stone. Daniel foretold of a Son of Man who would come into the world and inaugurate a new era; a new way to relate to God; a new way to experience peace and happiness.

The Son of Man was Jesus. He used the title Son of Man to refer to himself more than any other title. The incarnation of the Son of God, the Son of Man, was the high point on the time line of mankind. God with us, the beginning of the end. The end of the God’s presence in the holy temple in Jerusalem, along with the sacrificial system involving the blood of bulls and goats and lambs. The Lamb of God was the ultimate sacrifice that made a way for all mankind to receive forgiveness of sins, liberation from the bondage of Sin, and to enjoy God forever.

The ultimate high point will be the day when God creates the New Heaven and New Earth and the New Jerusalem comes down from heaven.  God’s radiance will be our light, and his presence will be our joy.  We will enjoy Him, evermore free from tears, pain, loss, suffering and grief.  All will be glory and peace, and that is the point in mankind that I am looking forward to.  Come quickly!

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mankind

 

We all have times in our lives when we are really looking forward to some special event.  Maybe a wedding, the birth of a child, a graduation, promotion, or a vacation.  My youngest daughter, Kelly, will be three in June.  She is really looking forward to her birthday!  Her sister had a birthday in March, complete with cupcakes and pizza and a trip to Boing-Boing, a children’s play land in Oaxaca city, here in Mexico.  Her sister Sally received many gifts and Kelly cried because she received none.  We consoled her by telling her that her birthday was coming up, and then she would be the one receiving the gifts.  Since then, a few of her little friends have had birthdays, complete with all the trimmings and gifts, and Kelly knew that she just had to wait for her special day to arrive.  She is really looking forward to that day.  On any given day she can be heard singing “happy birthday” and eating pretend birthday cake and swinging a stick at imaginary pinatas.
How about you and me?  Is there anything that we are looking forward to that much?  According to St. Peter, there is a day coming that should excite us more than all the birthdays, holidays and vacations combined.  It’s called the “Day of the Lord”.

Peter writes about this Day in the last chapter of his second book.  This “Day of the Lord” is characterized by two things: one, the destruction of the heavens and the earth, and two, a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.  I think this is what Peter was really looking forward to.  In chapter two Peter describes some nasty stuff in this present world to indicate that this place is definitely not the home of righteousness.  He writes about false prophets, false teachers, destructive heresies, denying the Lord, depraved conduct, greed, exploitation, lawlessness, unrighteousness, corrupt desires of the flesh, arrogance, blasphemy, doing harm, carousing, adulterers, seducers, sinners, lovers of the wages of wickedness, lustful desires of the flesh, slaves of depravity, and people who turn their backs on God.  What a wretched stew pot this world is.  No wonder Peter says three times that he is looking forward to the destruction of this world, and the creation of a new world which will be the home of righteousness.

Me too!  I not only long to be free of the wickedness of this world, but the wickedness in me.  I know that if I look closely at my life, I can see elements in me, in my soul, of every thing Peter mentions, in my very being, and I hate it; I hate the struggle I face everyday against the world, my flesh, and the devil.  I hate it when I see on the news, or read in the paper’s of people being murdered, children being abused, the poor being taken advantage of.  I hate it when I see children with birth defects, when I hear of people dying of cancer, when I learn of loved ones suffering.

So what is God waiting for?  The world  of Noah was wicked, and God destroyed it by water.  Sodom and Gomorrah were wicked cities and God destroyed them by fire and brimstone.   The first century world and our world are full of evil, why doesn’t God go ahead and do it in?  Get it over with?

Peter answers that question in chapter three.  He tells his  readers that “the Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  This verse, and the idea behind it, remind me of Paul and the  Corinthians.  Acts 18 tells us the story.  Paul went to Corinth and was preaching and teaching his heart out, giving his all to the people in the city, and what happens?  Verse six says that some Jews opposed Paul and became abusive.  I can just hear Paul screaming out in frustration, “That’s the thanks I get?!  I’m outta here!”    That night God speaks to him in a vision.  The Lord said, “Keep on speaking, do not be silent.  I  am with you and I have many people in this city.”  God is telling Paul to be patient, continue on with his good work, because God had “many people” that He had chosen  for  salvation in the city of Corinth.  Most of them had not heard the Good News of salvation, of God’s love and mercy.  They didn’t know that  God loved them and wanted them to be happy.

God says the same thing to His followers in this wicked world.  This is  not your home, you are just a passin’ thru.  You are strangers and aliens in a foreign land.  I know you long to go home and be with me forever in the perfect land of righteousness, but just wait a bit.  There are a lot of people that  I have chosen (Peter’s first letter is  addressed to the elect, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father; 1:1,2), that are the elect, that have not yet heard the message that the  Kingdom of God is near; that it is accessible to them, and that they have received a royal invitation from the King of Kings to be a part of  it.  It is your job to get the  message out, give the invitations, spread joy and grace and compassion to all around.  And then one day, the  work will be complete, and all my followers will come home.  What a day of rejoicing that will be!

One day this world as we know it will be utterly destroyed by fire, according to Peter.  A new world, the home of God and righteousness and all that is good and lovely, whole and just, peaceful and complete, will replace this bad old place, and I am really looking forward to going home.  How about you?

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Our present purpose is inseparable from God’s stated eternal purpose for us to rule the  earth forever as his children and heirs.  That is at the core of  the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s defining statement:”Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”  We will glorify God and  find joy in him as we do what he has made us to do,” serve him as resurrected beings and carry out his plan for developing a Christ centered, resurrected culture in a resurrected universe.”       Randy Alcorn in his book Heaven

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Next blog – The Ruler and the Shepherd

I am thinking of a father and his soon to be 10 year old daughter.  He loves her very much and wants to give her the best birthday balloonsbirthday party ever.  He has been planning  it for months, considering every detail so that it will be a beautiful affair, to be remembered always.  It is to be a surprise party, so when the  day arrives, mom takes the little princess out to have her hair done and nails painted and a special dress purchased.  Meanwhile, the doting father is hanging miles of party streamers, inflating dozens of balloons, and placing hundreds of flowers all over the living room and kitchen.  On the dining room table sits a beautifully decorated cake, filled with icing flowers of all colors and 10 candles.  Loading down the kitchen counters is an array of catered food, the likes of which few people have ever seen, along with plenty of chips, and five kinds of pizza.  The  fridge is filled with soda and the freezer with ice cream.  On a nearby shelf sits the gifts the father has chosen for his daughter’s special day.  An i-phone, a Kindle tablet, a Blu-Ray player, and a 32”  Sony LED TV, all wrapped up, waiting for his darling daughter to unwrap.  He can almost hear her cries of delight and joy.

Her classmates, friends and family members, all decked out in their party best, begin arriving for the celebration at 1:3happy-birthday-cake-wallpaper-225x300 p.m. for the 2 p.m. scheduled big surprise.  At eight minutes past 2:00, the birthday girl and her mom walk through the front door and a thunderous cry of “SURPRISE – HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!” erupts.  The young girl is blown away, overwhelmed by the decorations and love from family and friends.  Music starts up from the live band out on the back patio and the party goes into high gear

The birthday girl rushes to her room to  put on her new dress.  Coming out of her room she runs into a 12 year old boy that she has a crush on.  She is thrilled to see him at her party.  He is looking at a red button on the hallway wall.  He wishes her a happy birthday, and then asks her about the button.  She tells him her house has a fire sprinkler system, and if there is  ever a fire, all you have to do is to push the red button and the sprinkler system will go on.  He tells her that sounds cool.  He tells her that sounds like fun; just like playing in the sprinklers outside on a hot day.  He tells her that she should push it; that it would be a great big joke on everyone and that everybody would laugh and dance around in the shower.  She tells him that her dad said no one should ever push the red button unless there was a real fire emergency.  He bets her that her dad would think this was a special exception, and that he would laugh and laugh and pick her up and dance around the room in the falling water, just like in the movies.  She says that she will go and ask her dad first.  He tells her that that would ruin the surprise.  He gave you a big surprise party, and now it’s your turn to surprise him.

She thinks about it for a few seconds.  She looks at the older boy with a bit of doubt in her eyes.  He looks at her pleadingly.  She looks at the red button and imagines what fun everyone will have in the  water shower.  She also thinks about what her dad has told her.  She thinks and thinks.  The boy says he’s getting a bit bored, and just remembered there  was  something he needed to do  at home.  He turns to go, and she pushes the  red button.

Water gushes down on everyone and everything.  It is all ruined.  No one is dancing around in the water.  No one is laughing .  At first, all the guests look panicked – they look for a  fire.  They hurriedly make their way out to the front lawn or back patio.  The party streamers turn soggy and drop from the ceiling onto party clothes and new carpet, which become stained. Frosting and cake slowly disintegrate.  The pizza is inedible    Some balloons drop and pop, adding to the chaos.  Expensive electronic gadgets are flooded with water and become worthless.  Firetrucks arrive and fire fighters rush into the house.   All the  people hoping for a happy, beautiful party go home upset.  It was definitely one to  remember.

The father is beside himself.  He doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry; yell or die.  The good, loving father truly wanted the best for his child.  The best decorations; best food; best presents.  Now it was all ruined.  Now it was all  ugly and bad; all because of a lie.  All because of disobedience and distrust.  All that’s left are regrets and remorse.

This story makes me think of our Heavenly Father.  One time He prepared a great party for His children.  It was a garden garden_of_eden_by_amosha-d3ijz4tparty.  The garden was filled with the most beautiful flowers and plants ever seen.  The variety of trees filled with good fruit was beyond description. All kinds of incredibly, beautiful animals roamed about freely. He  invited His children to go in, and then yelled “Surprise!”  His two children were overwhelmed with joy and the great. good, beautiful experience that they had.  In the midst of their happy celebration, the Father walked them over to a tree.  The name of  this  tree is “Knowledge of Good and Evil.”  There are hundreds of beautiful trees in this garden, loaded with juicy, tasty fruit that will dazzle your taste buds and energize your bodies.  I  want you to enjoy all of them.  But this tree, “Knowledge of Good and Evil” you must never eat of.  You should never even touch it.  In fact, just to be on the safe side, you should never even come to  this  part of the garden.  The reason is, is, that the day you eat from it you will die.

I looked up the Hebrew words and definitions for “good” and  “evil”.

Good is tobe:

good (as an adjective) in the widest sense; used likewise as a noun, both in the masculine and the feminine, the singular and the plural (good, a good or good thing, a good man or woman; the good, goods or good things, good men or women), also as an adverb (well): – beautiful, best, better, bountiful, cheerful, at ease, fair , fine, glad, good deed, graciously, joyful, kindly, kindness, like (best), loving, merry,  most pleasant,  pleasure, precious, prosperity,  sweet, wealth, welfare, (be) well ([-favoured]).

Evil is rah, raw-aw’

 bad or (as noun) evil (naturally or morally). This includes the second (feminine) form; as adjective or noun: – adversity, affliction, bad, calamity, + displease (-ure), distress, evil, + exceedingly,  great, grief , harm, heavy, hurt (-ful), ill (favoured),  mischief, (-vous), misery,  noisome,  sad (-ly), sore, sorrow, trouble, vex, wicked (-ly, -ness, one), worse (-st) wretchedness, wrong. 

Without eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and  evil, they had all the good, beautiful, fair, bountiful, cheerful, joyful,loving, pleasurable, merry life that they could  ever want.  Unfortunately they disobeyed God.  They believed the lies of the Evil One.  They touched the tree and ate the fruit of the tree of  the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Banished from the Garden, their right relationship with God dead, thus their spirits dead, they suffer daily with the curse and punishment of God and experience the  bad, evil, adversity, affliction, calamity, displeasure, distress, misery, noisome, hurtful, sorrowful, trouble, and wretchedness that most people in this world experience on a daily basis.  They gave up all the good, and began to experience all the evil, the day they believed a lie.

Yet, some beauty, goodness and truth have survived.  G.K. Chesterton gives us the image of a shipwreck and survivors living on a deserted island, in his book Orthodoxy.  The survivors cherish the things that have washed up on shore from the lost ship.  In the same way, after Adam and Eve made a shipwreck of humanity, God has left us remnants of the beautiful, good party.  His love.  His true Word.  His grace and mercy.  Things to cherish.

So we cling to beauty, goodness and truth for the basis of our happiness and joy in God.  Daily, ugliness, evil and lies intrude into our lives, and often we have to battle to hang onto the good and beautiful and true.  We seek to share the truth, the beauty, the good with a hurting world.  We want to share our treasured remnants of the crash with those around us who have given up on having a good, beautiful life full of truth.

The Father has planned another party, bigger and better  and more beautiful than the first.  It’s called Heaven, or The New Jerusalem.  Our invitations are found in the Bible.  Have you RSVP’ed?

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Every component of our faith (worship, liturgy, creeds, theology, fellowship, spiritual formation, religious education, etc.), though in itself is valid and valuable, must lead to  good works, good lives, good creativity, and goodness to help our world get back on the road to being truly and wholly good again, the way God created it to be.  Brian McLaren in a Generous Othodoxy.

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Next blog – Purple Litter