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)

Plagues and Epidemics in History

It is often helpful to place what we experience in the present within the context of the past in order to provide a perspective for the future.

Our present COVID-19 moment demands such a perspective and Christian History Magazine will help provide it. I have every hard copy of the magazine since its inception and have found it to be one of the most helpful and informative resources in all my years of ministry. Each quarterly issue is completely dedicated to a particular theme: the last two were on the historical relationship between Judaism and Christianity and the Church’s relationship to Science and Technology throughout history. Every once in awhile there will be a bonus issue published, such as the one I’ve included for your perusal, Plaques and Epidemics: Christian Responses Past and Present. I encourage you subscribe. There is no set price, but subscriptions are on a donation basis.

If you click on the link below to the present issue and look on pages 22 and 23,  you will find a summary of all the major plagues and epidemics recorded in history. You can compare these with our present global crisis which has infected, to date, 17.3 million and claimed the lives of 674K (154K in the US). This will be helpful in keeping our present troubles in proper perspective.

Also, let me suggest that you read pages 24-29 to gain even more perspective: encouragement by the Reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546) and the ministry of Margaret Blaurer (1493-1541). Especially note the words to the “plague hymn” of Huldrych Zwingli (1484-1583) on page 29, Now, Christ Prevail.

May the Lord give you wisdom, insight, and encouragement as you read this material and think deeply about its application to you and your ministry to others. Blessings!