Summer Sweet

  The onset of August spells a couple of very sweet summer offerings:  The crickets begin to sing in morning and in evening, and (at least in my backyard) the blossoming of orange berries on a bush of lovely vintage.  Minor players these may be; nevertheless, but sweet touches to be appreciated, like secondary, “character” actors in the old films and on the British stage and television. 

(August can also be characterized by the old adage of the “dog days,” but I would rather not go there, as the very thought of it makes me profusely sweat!)

There is a sweetness to be savored of God’s manifold blessings to His people.  They are legion and, unlike the demonic herd of the Gospel story, they bring forth one benefit after the other for those who follow Jesus.

Christians are a people of hope:  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  By His great mercy He gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3)

Despair is the opposite of hope.  The suicide rate of the young and the elderly in Europe is staggering; could it be that the decline of Christianity in the lands from which our forefathers came is at least partly responsible, along with the vacuous nature of a more-materialistic philosophy? 

Charles Dickens wrote of hope that it is “Heaven’s own gift to struggling mortals, pervading all things, like some subtle essence from the skies.  It is more infectious than disease, and it is more universal than death.”  Such is hope for the many, however ambiguous and abstract it may appear, especially amidst the bleakness of today’s culture.

The hope of the Christian is decidedly different in that it is decidedly concrete.  Our hope is grounded in and focused upon Jesus, who is our “hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).  Christians place their trust in the person of Jesus and in the finished work of the Cross.  We are assured by the Holy Spirit that our hope in not in vain.

Peter described our hope as “living”; that is, it is conceived in the moment of conviction that our sin must be put aside and our trust in the Lord Jesus must be taken up; further, that it develops and ripens with each passing day of our Christian experience, as we surrender our lives to Christ at every turn; still more, that our hope will find its ultimate fruition when we are with our Lord in the fullness of all things.

Most of the college students of whom I know go to school and even accumulate great debt because they hope to find gainful employment; for a fewer number, there are still those who seek to acquire a broad-based knowledge of life and the world, hoping all the while to find their answers to life’s fundamental questions.  Hope in one’s future and welfare fuels their scholastic labors.   
Catholic monk Thomas Merton said that the whole of Christian life is “a course of spiritual education conducted by the One Master, through His Holy Spirit.”  We are willing to follow Him and to endure much as He shapes our lives into a likeness of Himself.  It is our heart’s desire.  It is our prayer.  It is our hope.

And let it be said that our hope is sufficient.  We are told in Scripture that “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).  We are a people of conviction.  One often hears of the existence of “committed Christians” (as if there were any other kind; truly, it is a rather oxymoronic statement!), but one friend of mine from Holland speaks of “convinced Christians.”  We are convinced that Christ died for us, rose again from the dead and will claim us as His own.  Our hope, as the old hymn says, is built on nothing less, than Jesus and His righteousness.”

Christians are assured of all needed provision:  My God will supply your every need according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19). 

A simple anecdote of recent days will suffice to tell the tale of this truth.  We are hoping to enter our church building before the end of the year; for reasons germane to our situation, we have come to believe that this is the will of God for us.  It has been a long haul, but our people have been patient and the good Lord has been faithful.

We were given a gift of $34,000 in the spring of 2012.  The monies carried us through the year and brought us into what football terminology describes as the “red-zone.”  We could feel entry and habitation, but were still some fundamental work removed from such reality.  But we just said that we were a people of hope; correct?

Earlier this year we received two checks totaling $6500.  It bought a number of things, bringing us to the brink of, but not actual, entry.  We still needed the price of carpeting.  My wife and I were invited to a luncheon within the last two weeks of this writing, wherein we were treated to fabulous fellowship with other servants of the Gospel, excellent cuisine and (would you believe?) a check for $10,000! 

We speak of things material and, of course, the promise of provision transcends merely that; we would be criminally remiss if we weren’t also attuned to the need for spiritual gifts.  The Apostle Paul reminds us that we are the beneficiaries of “every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3), not least of which are the spiritual fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22, 23) and the myriad of spiritual gifts given for the church’s benefit. 

Many people ask me if one can ask for an increase of faith; yes, I reply, but I also take the Scripture quite literally that says that we can move mountains with an amount of faith that equals the miniscule size of a mustard seed (Matthew 17:20).  We have what we need, even as He assures us that we will have what we need.  There is nothing that He will not give us if we ask in faith, believing that we will receive it.

Christians are also a people who are well-protected:  The Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one (2 Thessalonians 3:3).

It is not for nothing that Jesus instructed us to pray for a path away from temptation and for deliverance from evil (Luke 11:4).  It is not for nothing that Jesus made the pronouncement that the gates of hell should not prevail against His Church (Matthew 16:18).  And it is not for nothing that James instructs us to resist the Devil, as he will flee from us (James 4:7).

We have our being on our planet that is compromised and cursed.  We play out our lives amidst a spiritual battle, a battle concerning which there are no innocents, as all have sinned; nevertheless, those who are washed in the blood of Jesus and filled with His Holy Spirit are well-armed and fortified. 

The classic passage that itemizes our armor and describes the spiritual situation at hand is instructive:  “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:10-13).

What strikes me is that we have a roll to play.  We are instructed to make ourselves ready.  What also strikes me is that we are assured that, having done everything on our part, we will stand, thanks to God in all of His marvelous grace.

But we must be diligent:  Scripture doesn’t let us forget that our mandate is to be alert and to be aware (Joshua 8:4; Mark 13:33; Ephesians 6:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:6).  We pay a heavy price for spiritual indolence.  It must be obvious that at least two whole generations of out young have forsaken the faith of the Gospel, and many within the Church have abandoned the standards of holy living.  What hope will there be?  When will God’s people awaken and resume their stand?  Victory is promised us, as is all-needed protection, but if we have let down our guard, does the fault belong to God if the Church is being damaged and individual Christians find themselves as spiritual fodder?

He will never leave us, nor will He ever forsake us.  He is faithful, even when we are not.  He is our Rock and our Redeemer, our Fortress and our Strong Tower – May all His people praise Him!

Bradley E. Lacey
August 25, 2013