Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
Nadezhda Khazina was born in Russia at the turn of the 20th Century. She met and married the famous poet, Osip Mandelstam, in Kiev, Ukraine, after the Russian Revolution and establishment of communism. The couple saw enough of that system of government to conclude it was destructive and harmful, so they railed against it as they had opportunity. Mandelstam had a wide audience through his poetry, and his 1934 epigram about Joseph Stalin was a work he called “his suicide note” and that has been described as his “sixteen line death sentence.” He was arrested, exiled, and died of exposure and neglect four years later. Nadezhda became even more active in crusading against the tactics used in the Soviet Union, then near the end of her life she wrote a two volume autobiography of her life and work: Hope Against Hope (1970) and Hope Abandoned (1974)(https://spartacus-educational.com/RUSkhazina.htm). What’s interesting is looking up the name “Nadezhda” or the more familiar form “Nadia”; the name means “hope.” In fact, Lois Fisher-Ruge wrote a book by that title in 1989.
Do you see the irony? Her name meant hope, but her life was full of hopes dashed and hopelessness in the midst of her struggle. But, she kept on working because of the hope she felt.
Peter writes 1 Peter to Christians who were going to see some seemingly hopeless situations in their lives. Some of them lived in Bithynia, a region whose governor, Pliny, famously bragged to the emperor Trajan at the turn of the second century about his pogrom of executing professed Christians for their faith. This was just about half a century after Peter writes this epistle warning of persecution.
Despite Peter’s warning about the testing of their faith in unfavorable circumstances, he frequently mentions not just the ultimate reward we see for faithfully serving Christ but also “hope.” Five times in the first three chapters, Peter mentions this hope. It’s a living hope caused by Christ’s resurrection (1:3), a complete hope (1:13), a hope in God (1:21; 3:5), and a reasonable hope (3:15). The world around them was hopeless; they lived without hope. They wanted to drag the Christians into that hopeless state, but Peter urges them to hold onto hope.
Our hopes are tested by times like these, by a world full of sin and iniquity. It’s easy to restrict our focus to this earth and this life. Peter’s words are for us, too! Do not be hopeless! You have Christ. Only those in Him have legitimate hope!
If you’re remotely religious, you’re familiar with the word “gospel.” It has a wide semantic range, describing everything from a genre of music (and a few sub-genres) to the trustworthiness of a statement (“gospel truth”) to an all-encompassing description of religious doctrine.
The word literally means, “God’s good news to humans,” from εὐαγγέλιον. It is mostly about the life and times of Jesus and the spiritual rewards we have when we accept that hope and follow God’s plan of salvation. It is so common and familiar to many of us that we sometimes overlook its importance.
We often hear about “spiritual blessings,” but the definitions we are given of them are sometimes (if not often) frustratingly ambiguous. Colossians 1:3-12 gives us a beautiful description of those blessings. One of them is the gospel! Here’s why:
1. The Gospel is Hope
A phenomenon so common to my generation (it’s immortalized in more than a few memes) is the idea of existential crisis. We ask questions like, “What am I doing? Why am I here? What’s my purpose? Why am I working this dead-end job?” We don’t like to think of where we’ll be in 20 years because that’s downright depressing. Will it be more of the same? The crushing weight of a meaningless existence is at the forefront of so many minds.
The good news we have is described in Colossians 1:5 as, “…the hope reserved for you in heaven…” That’s purpose! What kind of hope? What are we looking for? We have been given the means to live a life with purpose. It won’t be easy, but it guarantees a perfect existence after we’re gone. This hope for heaven is central to the gospel.
2. The Gospel Makes Us Better People
Once the Colossian Christians changed their lives, were immersed, and changed their lifestyles, they had a great love for each other and all of the other Christians (1:4). We can be friendly to others (even complete strangers), but Christianity promotes unconditional love for others. The world tries to achieve this artificially, but Christianity accomplishes this through unity and self-sacrifice based on guidance from scripture.
If we are as dedicated as we should be, it also gives us endurance and patience when we deal with difficulty (1:11, 12). Those who follow God’s will and are dedicated to serving Him are guaranteed a perfect and meaningful existence after this life (Colossians 1:5, 12).
We are confronted with our own mortality more often than we’d like (especially today). This has a whole lot of people questioning their purpose and their destiny. Christianity offers the greatest gift ever given: purpose and destiny. God has told us how to have both of those things; we can live a meaningful life here, no matter how difficult, and we can have a perfect life there. If you are looking for meaning and purpose in this life, look no further than the gospel – it is how we can be pure here, living a purposeful life with perfect hope for the next.
Have you been struggling with some feelings of hopelessness lately? Whenever we have a hard time seeing the end in sight or we face uncertainty or are exposed to fears and anxieties, it can undermine our determination to have hope. Yet, over a hundred times in Scripture, God points us to the hope His children have through Him and His promises. We have such a resource because of the rock-solid expectation He provides. Whatever may happen to us this week, this month, or this year, the Christian can look forward with confidence at the fulfillment of what God through Christ promises us. And Scripture says it so many ways:
–Hope does not disappoint (Romans 5:5)
–Hope helps us persevere with eagerness (Romans 8:24-25)
–Hope causes rejoicing (Romans 12:12)
–Hope fills you with all joy and peace in believing (Romans 15:13)
–Hope is an abiding quality, alongside such elite qualities as faith and love (1 Corinthians 13:13)
–Hope enables deliverance (2 Corinthians 1:10)
–There is one, unconquerable hope (Ephesians 1:18; 4:4)
–Hope is tied to earnest expectation and boldness (2 Corinthians 3:12; Philippians 1:20)
–Hope is connected to steadfastness (Colossians 1:23; 1 Thessalonians 1:3)
–Hope offsets grief (1 Thessalonians 4:13)
–Hope tunes our hearts to look for Jesus’ appearing (1 Timothy 4:10; Titus 2:13)
–Hope encourages the pursuit of our eternal life (Titus 1:2; 3:7)
–Hope anchors the soul (Hebrews 6:19)
–Hope helps us draw near to God (Hebrews 7:19)
–Hope is tied to endurance (Hebrews 10:23)
–Hope is instrumental to faith (Hebrews 11:1)
–Hope prepares for eternity (Colossians 1:5; 1 Peter 1:3,13)
–Hope helps give a defense (1 Peter 3:15)
–Hope purifies (1 John 3:3)
“How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, Whose hope is in the Lord his God” (Psalm 146:5).
“The hope of the righteous is gladness…” (Proverbs 10:28).
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him” (Lamentations 3:24).
“Christ Jesus…is our hope” (1 Timothy 1:1).
You will face nothing today or ever that is too destructive, terrifying, or powerful to offset this hope! That doesn’t mean be rash, reckless, or rebellious. It does mean be faith-filled, optimistic, and courageous! Are your faith and hope in God (1 Peter 1:21)?
Rattlesnakes are large, venomous snakes that live throughout North and South America. In my humble opinion, they are one of the most terrifying creatures on the planet–from the hair-raising sound of that rattle to those intimidating fangs that can be up to six inches long. The bite from one of these monsters is excruciatingly painful. If you were to be bitten, at first you would experience a tingling feeling, followed by an intense burning sensation. After this you would feel lightheaded and begin sweating profusely. Your vision would become blurry, and each breath would be more strained than the last one.
If left untreated, it can be fatal to humans. All of that sounds terrible doesn’t it? What good could possibly come from a deadly rattlesnake? Well, at some point in history, somebody looked at these snakes and decided that they would make a beautiful pair of boots. That’s how to make something great, out of something terrible. There is no doubt in my mind that the inventor of snakeskin boots was an optimist. He could see the good, even when staring into the dark vertical pupils of pure reptilian evil.
When faced with hardship, that simply comes from living in a fallen world, it can be a challenge to see the silver lining in each dark cloud. American basketball player, Charles Barkley once said, “Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is a train.” That’s definitely how it can feel sometimes! Although we have books in the Bible like Job and James that teach us how we should view our earthly struggles, here are just a few reminders from our God.
Number one, remember that each day is worth rejoicing over. Psalm 118:24 gives us the reason why— because today is another day that the Lord has made. It’s not my day; it’s God’s day. Reminder number two, what we can’t see in times of difficulty, is worth waiting for. Paul would inform us in Romans 8:27, “But if we hope in what we don’t see, we wait for it with patience.” In the muck of life it may feel at times that there’s just no way out. Just because you may not see the end in sight, rest assured that our hope is in a promise that was put in place before time itself began (2 Timothy 1:9). The last reminder is simply this, that God made the world you are living in and Jesus is currently creating the world we will one day live in (John 14:1-3). I firmly believe each day that passes can only mean that heaven will be that much more beautiful. If God created this world in six days, in all it’s beauty, imagine the splendor of our home to come. Now, if that doesn’t make a bad situation a good one, I don’t know what will! Here are the lyrics to an optimistic hymn that I hope get stuck in your head for quite a while.
“I care not today what tomorrow may bring, if shadow or sunshine or rain. The Lord I know ruleth o’er everything, and all of my worry is vain. Living by faith in Jesus above, trusting confiding in His great love. From all harm safe in His sheltering arm, I’m living by faith and feel no alarm.”
One of the more difficult passages to understand in scripture is found in II Thessalonians 2. This chapter talks about a figure known as the Man of Lawlessness. Theories abound concerning his/its identity which, thankfully, is immaterial to our salvation and will not be the focus of this article. I would prefer to focus on the apostasy (also translated “rebellion” [ESV] or “falling away” [KJV]) preceding the appearance of the man of lawlessness in our passage.
Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica because some false teachers, evidently posing as Paul and Sylvanus (2.2), had convinced several members that they had missed out on the second coming (2.1-3). Paul begins by telling them not to believe anything other than what he had already taught them (2.2, 5) and rehashes a proof he taught in person (2.5). Before the second coming, two things had to occur: 1. The Apostasy, 2. The Man of Lawlessness. This would not be a sign of the second coming but an event that would be obvious (2.8, 9) and of unknown duration, eventually brought to an end by the appearance of Christ (2.3, 8). Clearly this had not happened yet or it would be an irrelevant comfort or proof to the Thessalonian church.
Whoever/whatever the man of lawlessness may be, no one argues that its advent is preceded by the apostasy (2.3). The construct of the original language seems to describe this apostasy as being a major, far-reaching event rather than an isolated or regional one. Regardless of the timing of its advent (as in, has it happened or is it yet to come?), the apostasy was or is to be a tragic event.
The word is ἀποστασία which means, “Defiance of established system or authority” (BDAG 121). Keeping the context in consideration this apostasy is an event characterized by a mass “falling away” from the church. It is a tragic event. To quote a great fictional philosopher, “Today is not that day.” It is easy to get caught up in the doom and gloom of current events and think, “There’s no hope.”
Bear Valley Bible Institute recently released their annual report on the work being done through its mission efforts. This is just one school and one evangelistic effort among hundreds, but the church is doing great work in a world that seems to falling apart. Last year alone over 800 preachers were trained and over 3,000 people converted. Again, this is just one great effort among many. The soil is still fertile. There is still work for us to do. There is still hope. When we get overwhelmed by the political chaos in our own country or stressed about events overseas, let’s remember this: this world is not our home, and with our limited time here there is still so much good to be done!
It was nearly twenty years ago that I walked with Keith Kasarjian through an orphanage in eastern Ukraine. I cannot remember how many children were there, but there were many. My first impression was their appearance–unwashed and tattered clothes, dirty bodies, and many had mussed or shaved heads. But my overwhelming impression was regarding their behavior. They clung to us, wanting our attention. They couldn’t speak much, if any, English, and our Russian was sparse. There was a hunger in their eyes, not for food but for attention and affection. While we were not there for very long, the memory of that evening is as fresh today as it has ever been. They had no family, few possessions, and terribly uncertain futures. Legally, culturally, and financially, adopting dozens of foreign children was virtually impossible. Not a few tears were shed when we said goodbye and as we looked back at that evening.
An orphan “is someone whose parents have died, are unknown, or have permanently abandoned them” (Merriam Webster online; Concise Oxford Dict.). While Scripture mentions physical orphans 36 times, including twice in the New Testament, the concept of spiritual adoption is an important way the New Testament describes what God does through Christ to make us part of His family. Particularly, Romans 8-9, Galatians 4-5, and Ephesians 1 describe this process.
Consider how we appear to God. Even our righteous deeds are like filthy garments (Isa. 64:6). He even figuratively described His Old Testament people as like castoff children abandoned and helpless whom He bathed, clothed, and took care of (Ezek. 16:1ff). But, that figure could certainly be applied to us today. Scripture depicts sin as making us stained (2 Pet. 2:13), spotted (Eph. 5:27; 1 Pet. 1:19), and unclean (Rev. 21:27). Yet, God saw us and loved us (Rom. 5:6-8). He wanted us to be part of His family (Eph. 2:19).
The difference between God and us is that He is able to take all of us. He wants to, and He has the resources and power to make it a reality. He feels perfect pity for us who are orphaned by sin, and He acts on that compassion by inviting us into His family. If we accept His offer, He makes it happen. That being the case, why would we ever reject what only He can give? We can go from being the lowliest reject to being a child of God! Truly, it doesn’t seem like much of a dilemma. If we see ourselves, spiritually, as we are, we will anxiously accept what only He can give us.
Quick. Name the top three accomplishments of Grover Cleveland’s presidency. I’ll wait.
Nothing? Don’t feel dense or unpatriotic. He’s not in most historians’ top 10 (25?) of American presidents. But on yesterday’s date, 132 years ago, he was at the helm and dedicated the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. This, if you don’t recall, was the proposed gift of French historian Edouard de Laboulaye in honor of America’s alliance with France during the Revolutionary War, sculpted by Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, designed by Viollet-le-Duc and Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel (yes, that Eiffel), completed in France in 1884, and delivered to America the next year with the last rivet fitted on October 28, 1886 (via Instagram). The pedestal of the statue contains a sonnet by poet Emma Lazarus, well-known to most of us, that reads,
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door” (ibid.).
With all the debate about immigration–a Reuters story revealed that immigration tops the economy and healthcare as the top issue for voters (Read here)–there is no denying why so many people around the world want to come to the United States. We have long been regarded as the haven for poor masses yearning to breathe free and wanting a home inside “the golden door.” Many have come and achieved incredible success in our country. Many more than that have come to find that immigrating here did not solve their problems or make their dreams come true.
There is a greater longing of the soul, a desire for something even more than prosperity. Jesus teaches us that material things won’t last (Mat. 6:19-20). Peter tells us what comes of such ultimately (2 Pet. 3:10).
There is a greater longing of the soul than even freedoms afforded by nations and governments. Many will abuse those freedoms through immoral choices. Proverbs 14:34 strongly applies.
The most noble, highest longing of a soul is for the freedom only Christ can provide. To be free from the slavery of sin (John 8:31-36), from guilt of sin (Psa. 51:1-14), and from the power of sin (Heb. 2:14) is man’s wisest quest. A person with an abundance of money, liberty, and other earthly advantages may still be buried by the influence of sin. To know there’s a solution right now–who wouldn’t want that?
Don’t forget what Jesus tells people everywhere: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Mat. 11:28).
I woke up just before 5 AM to an ominous notification from my Jerusalem Post app. Downstairs, turning on the news, the horrific truth was confirmed. The worst mass shooting in modern American history. Not long after, I was in my gym locker room. A gym buddy, Mike, a self-described C&E (i.e., “Christmas And Easter”) Catholic, greeted me. Usually, I am not tempted to ask this, but I found myself asking him, “How does something like this happen?” His 5-word, profound answer was, “No love, no Jesus, man.”
Some random thoughts occurred to me, in processing the events in Las Vegas late on Sunday night, October 1st.
Big questions emerge from this fog of suffering. Christians, we not only have the answer, but as God works through us, we are the answer! I read a social media post from Sheila Butt, challenging us to take Christianity off the pew and into our daily lives. The soul we reach and life we help change might change the course of the world for good (or the prevention of evil). Mike nailed it. “No love, no Jesus, man.” Amen!