Yesterday, Highlands began it's four week Sunday journey through the book of Philippians, in a new series called H20 - Hope to Outsiders. In the process of doing study for this series, I have been reminded again of just how "hope-filled" the Christian faith really is. More specifically, I have remembered just how astoundingly hopeful the apostle Paul was, even in the face of the darkest times.
Paul, of course, wrote the book of Philippians from the Roman Praetorium (prison), probably about they year 62 AD (just four years from his own death by beheading at the hands of the Roman government). Contrary to the comments of a few Biblical commentators, the Praetorium was no easy place to be a guest - it was no easy place to be in prison. During his time in the Praetorium, Paul is literally shackled to a prison guard in constant servitude and enslavement. Whenever Paul sits down to eat, he eats with his guard. Whenever Paul goes to the bathroom, Paul goes with his guard. Whenever Paul prays, his guard goes down on bended knee with him. Paul loved a captive audience! And yet, even though Paul's circumstances are very challenging, he muses in the first chapter about the fact that imprisonment has actually been a good thing, "What has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel." (Phil. 1:12).
Above and beyond the circumstances of Paul's life, it is the "theology of hope" in Paul's letters which is so powerful to me. In the book of Philippians, and throughout his epistles, Paul seems to be casting a vision of a forward movement in our lives from all things "dark" to all things "light". The Christ following journey, for Paul, is an irrevocable, unalterable trajectory from challenge into ease, from hardship into happiness, from difficulty into joy, from negative to positive. All Christ followers are on this journey. All Christ followers are on this "river of hope." The centerpiece of this theology is this verse in chapter one of Philippians; "Be confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Phil. 1:6).
The hopeful power of this verse is manifold:
1. God isn't finished with us
2. God is continuing to move us in a direction of positive change
3. God does this through giving us good things
4. God will continue to do this all of our lives, and until the end of time
5. There is nothing (no sin, no evil power, no change in attitude) which can separate us from this continued on-pouring of good gifts
In my message yesterday, I compared this process of God pouring good things into our lives as a canoe trip my family took, when I was growing up, in Bozeman Montana, down the Missouri river. Prior to the trip, we all thought that the Missouri would be this incredibly fast river where we would be confronted with white water rapids. "Perhaps we would have to wear crash helmets because the waves and white water would be so fast," we mused. When we arrived on the Missouri, however, we found that the river was not a gushing maelstrom of torrential rapids, but a meandering, slowing rolling front of water. The river literally inched along at about 1 mph - no rapids, no whitewater, no excitement. It took us more than two weeks to float down that river. Sometimes when we would paddle, it would seem that our canoe actually went backwards. However, the end result was undeniable. Though we were moving slowly, we were still moving down the river.
God does the same thing in our own lives. Though life may throw many challenges our direction (job loss, marital struggle, family hardship, economic issues, health challenges), God still moves us down the river of our journey with God, away from darkness and towards the light. All Christ followers remain on the river, flowing towards better things, imbued with constant good gifts by Jesus Christ.
"Be confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Phil. 1:6)
Ultimately, faith, then is about riding on a river of hope...
All For Now,