Hope as Children of God

My church recently started a great program called: “Your Church Needs You”. The aim of it is to encourage greater involvement from the congregation. I’m not talking more “doing” here, but rather more sharing. The focus is on sharing our talents and testimonies within services and this week my turn had come around again.

As usual, I left my preparations until the last minute and so I hadn’t given much thought to what I was going to share when I had a phone call from the week’s co-ordinator to ensure I was still right to go. He also mentioned the passage he would be sharing from and the topic of the children’s talk. Now it was the children’s talk that caught my attention. It was to contain a simple demonstration comparing two chicken eggs – one white egg and one black egg, but when cracked, their insides were the same.

Naturally, the co-ordinator thought, given my love for Africa and the time I’ve spent there, that I might want to flow on from the topic to the children. As it had also caught my attention, my thoughts began wandering in that direction. The only problem was that whenever I thought about something to say on the topic, I broke down in to tears.

What leads me to tears? I’ve been spending a lot of time in the history of the DRCongo as I complete research for a biography I am writing on an elderly Congolese man. The best descriptors I can come up with for the emotions this research has elicited in me are: “turmoil” and “overwhelmed”.

Africa has and is often portrayed as the “Dark Continent” and the DRC at its “Heart”. Unfortunately, European and Western input made it darker. When you read of the atrocities committed and being committed there it is hard to keep heart. It is hard to keep hope. When wrestling with they why question, some commentators have come to the conclusion that it must be the hearts of the Congolese people that are dark. This theory only made my heart grieve all the more for what the people there have suffered. And having met many Congolese I can say that their hearts are no darker than yours, or mine.

As I tried to process what I know of the Congo’s history, the hopelessness people feel for that nation, and what the Congolese are suffering still, my thoughts were continually drawn to the first three chapters in the book of Romans. In short: “No one is righteous, not even one”. But right at the end of these chapters we find hope: “by grace we are saved through faith”.

Genesis tells us that all men and women were created in the image of God. For this we all have intrinsic value. But we are also all fallen. Throughout history there have been atrocities committed – by people of all nations, colours, and tribes; by both men and women. Likewise, there have also been those who sought to live righteous lives.

Only faith in Christ brings salvation and, with it, the gift of the Holy Spirit. And what does the Spirit bring? Transformation. The Spirit transforms believers. He works righteousness and holiness within us. He also brings other gifts.

During the Advent season we’ve been lighting a new candle each week – love, hope, peace and joy. As I thought of the transformational power of God’s Word and Spirit, I also thought on these gifts that God gives to us who believe in Him. Australians are ‘blessed’ with a war-free nation, but not all Australians have peace in their heart. And not all those who are happy have joy, yet we can have joy in Christ even in the midst of deepest grief. Similarly, we can live in the midst of turmoil and have hope in a better future, knowing that God is able.

I don’t have any easy answers for the Congo, but I do have hope that God is at work in that nation and amongst its people. I know that both people in Australia and in the Congo are in equal need for Christ’s saving grace, as well as the hope, peace, love and joy that is found in Him.

As Australia Day approaches at the end of January, I do not want to celebrate my blessings as an Australian. Instead, I wish to focus on the blessing of being a child of God. We were all created in the image of God, but only those who accept Christ’s gift have obtained the right to be called Children of God. Truly, we who believe are the ones who are blessed, regardless of any hardship we might be facing.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. (Psalm 43:5)

In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:3-7)

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History helps

I would like to bring yet another side to what I wrote of yesterday as I continue to wrestle with the overwhelming feelings in my heart.

I think that I struggle with digging into history because it is exactly that – history. I can’t bring change to what has been. And I have a tendency to ask those nagging “but what if …?” questions. This can be quite demoralising when spending hours in the history of the Congo. I find myself overwhelmed by the wrongs that were committed to the point that I lose sight of the heroes of that generation. I lose sight of those who fought the wrongs, who stood up against injustice, and who brought change to their generation.

How did they fight? Mainly through media campaigns, publicising the issue so that the public became informed of what was occurring in “Leopold’s Congo”.

For example, E.D.Morel, after visiting the Congo as a representative of a large shipping company and seeing the atrocities, gave up his job (and source of income for his young family); started a newspaper focusing on publicising events happening in Africa; and founded an organisation that would campaign for 10 years against Leopold’s private reign of the Congo Free State, going before multiple governments, speaking in front of 100,000 of people over these years and spreading the message of continents. He was only 28 years old when he quit his job and started these works.

And, of course, we must give as examples all the Congolese and missionaries who bravely testified to the atrocities whilst still in the Congo, risking their own lives in order to do so.

Another reason I struggle with history is that I am also futuristic in personality. I love looking ahead, dreaming of what could be, envisioning a project and then working to make it happen. But I understand the importance of learning from the past. Santayana wrote well: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Not only can we learn from history, we should allow ourselves to be inspired by it, too. History should propel us to action. The more we know of it the more we should want to act; so much of history (good and bad) has happened because of inspired and passionate individuals who carry others with them.

And it is  the stories of past individuals who have made a difference – many of whom came from ordinary backgrounds, and low-paying jobs – that should inspire us to hope for change and believe that we really can make a difference. An individual can be a world-changer.

So let us take heart from these past world changers and seek to fight on. Do not lose heart. Let us believe for change. Let us continue to pray and act for the Kingdom of God to come on earth.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:19-25)

Comparisons to make the heart ache

Today, I became a wrestler. Actually, over the last months. The more I read into the history of the DRCongo, the more I become entangled in a mental wrestling match with the West’s popular view of that nation and its people.

We hear that the DRC is a land of darkness. Newspaper articles focusing on the Congo are usually ones about war, or associated atrocities. And yet, just over a hundred years ago, similar atrocities were being committed against the Congolese by the Belgians (as only one example, thousands upon thousands of people with one hand being cut off). How can we say that the Congolese have black hearts, and that it is a land of darkness, when it was foreigners that taught them how to commit such horrors, or commit them on such a grand scale?

As an “international community” we also seem to have given up on the DRCongo coming out of its corruption and continual wars. We hear talk of rape and plunder and we write them off as a hopeless case. And yet, what of the other African nations around them that are making rapid progress? And how can we write them off, only 53 years post independence, when it took European nations hundreds of years to come to their current state of governance and even then it is only tight legislation that prevents larger scale corruption?

Then today, I read an article that Belgium has legalised euthanasia for children! The children at risk as a result of these new laws are those with illnesses and disabilities. And yet we pass judgment on communities in South Africa that still believe children with disabilities are cursed and abandon them to death. It is a terrible practise that these children are abandoned, yes, but what I struggle with is that these stories make press whilst ones of legalised child-euthanasia in Belgium go relatively unpublicised.

Are we really this biased? Is it just the fault of the press? Is it their fault we hear the good side of one country’s coin and the bad side of another’s coin? Do we let the press drain us of our hope for change? What can we do as individuals?

We can keep praying. We can keep our hope alive. We can keep believing for change. We can publicise the articles of hope that we come across, as well as the ones of injustice – no matter which country they’re about. We can allow ourselves to be moved by stories of triumph and those of heartache.

And when it all gets too much for us, we can turn back to God’s Word for strength and renewed hope:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. (Revelation 21:3-7)

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  (1 Corinthians 15:19-20)

. . . Rather train yourself for godliness;  for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come . . . For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:7-10)

A link to an article about the euthanasia bill that I mentioned:

http://www.lifenews.com/2013/12/12/belgium-senate-approves-measure-allowing-doctors-to-euthanize-children/ 

Stand Strong in the Faith

For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. – 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11

Hope is what enable endurance in the faith. Hope is what enables us to stand firm. And where do we find hope? 1 Thessalonians shows us that hope is found in the Lord. It is the hope of His promised return which believers have assurance of by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit brings conviction of the truth; freedom from fear in the knowledge that those in Christ are delivered from His coming wrath.  

Hope of the Thessalonians:

The Thessalonians had their hope through faith in the Gospel, which gave them assurance that the sufferings they were experiencing were only temporary. There hope was rooted in the truth that the Lord will return and Satan will not be able to hinder God’s faithful ones forever.

This hope led the Thessalonians to works of faith & labors of love as service to the living and true God. The Thessalonians were labeled as Paul’s hope of boasting before the Lord. He prayed for his hopes and desires for those under his discipleship; that they would be encouraged in faith, have hearts blameless before God and that he would be able to truth to continue teaching them. Paul had hope for the continued spread of the Gospel regardless of personal reception as a result of the Holy Spirit emboldening him in faith.

For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.  – 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11

Hope for today:

Believers find hope in the truth that God will take those in Christ to heaven – both those dead and those alive. These chosen people of God will always be with Him. Children of light have obtained salvation. They can hope in the knowledge that God will complete their sanctification, making them pure blameless at coming of the Lord. He is faithful.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. – 1 Thessalonian 5:23-24

Living in light of the hope:

How are believers to live in light of God’s promises and as they wait in the hope of the second coming? (From 1 Thessalonians 5:11-22):

– encourage one another and build one another up
– respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord
– be at peace among yourselves
– admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient all
– do not repay anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone
– rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances
– do not quench the Spirit
– abstain from every form of evil

 Hope is found in the Lord.
We will be freed from suffering and stand pure and blameless before Him.
He has redeemed us and will come and take us to be with Him forever.
Walk in the sanctification of the Spirit, encouraging one another.

And have hope in the Lord for He is faithful!