Hopeful prospects for 2004?

January 12, 2004

Here we go again into new year. And, as always, we wonder what it will bring.

Well, I for one see many reasons for hope. (What else did you expect from me?)

Ultimately, our hope is not based on present evidence or trends. The grounds and goals of our hope are anchored in the unchanging Triune God. That’s why the writer to Hebrews talks of an anchor, a sure and steadfast hope – chapter 6: 19. Our hope needs to be anchored on God’s character, promises and purposes, on God’s future. Even when there is no visible evidence, there is still reason for hope.

Faith is being sure of the things we hope for, and being convinced of the things we can’t see, as we read in chapter 11:1. That whole chapter is about heroes of the faith who had hope despite the lack of present evidence. It also teaches us that the future is not necessarily without suffering, setbacks or hardship. There was nothing lacking in the faith of these heroes who suffered.

Read the book of Revelation too! The purpose of that book was to encourage saints through the centuries as they go through hardship by understanding what the end result will be: Jesus and the church triumph! God’s future arrives!

Our hopes are false when based on fulfilling the western dream of success, pleasure and prosperity. There may be a few ‘winners’ who, if they are honest enough, are left wondering what they have actually won.

Nevetheless, over the next weeks I do want to look somewhat randomly at some present evidence and trends that do encourage hope.

These include:
1. on going signs of growing spiritual hunger
2. consequences of the expansion of the European Union and the ongoing God-in-the-constitution debate
3. the slow dawning in the west of global spiritual realities
4. signs of an awakening people of hope…

One ‘winner’ in the race to worldly success was a fellow-traveller on a recent easyJet flight from Geneva. I noticed him first as he walked past me to the front during the flight, simply to stretch his legs. His pin-striped suit set him apart from the average easyJet passenger. The grey-haired figure paused momentarily before turning to walk back to his seat. I then recognised the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, perhaps better known as Holland’s former prime minister, Ruud Lubbers.

Now, why should Lubbers figure in my reasons for hope for 2004? Well, that he was on this egalitarian flight, and not, say, in a KLM business class, hinted that something had happened to this man since leaving the PM’s office. That was confirmed a few days ago by a television interview with him in which I glimpsed again the same pin-striped suit. But mostly he was wearing casual safari-type clothes as the interviewer travelled with him on official visits in Africa.

I remember an interview from several years ago, in which Lubbers, a successful businessman before entering politics, confessed to having very few friends after leaving politics. He was obviously wondering what he really had achieved in life at that stage. Now, asked about the disappointment of being blocked by Herman Kohl for the presidency of the European Commission, he reflected that he considered himself fortunate to have been only 55 when he stepped out of politics. That had given him the opportunity to evaluate life and specifically take time to pray. That, and his subsequent UNHCR role, had given him new perspectives, he said, new values and new understandings invisible from his pinnacle of success. That this seasoned European politician talked so openly about the importance of prayer in his life was to me a hopeful signal of growing awareness of spiritual values in high circles.

Lubber’s interviewer, Paul Rosenm√ºller, was also a former Dutch politician, leader of the Green Party. He too is known for his own spiritual sensitivity and openness, evident in his respectful handling of the high commissioner’s prayer life.

But the programmes which have stirred more discussion in recent weeks have been a sort of “spiritual-reality-television” series called “Henny seeks God”. A well-known tv personality from a secular broadcasting company was asked by the Evangelical Broadcasting Company (EO) to go on unknown assignments in Holland and abroad in search of God. Henny Huisman accepted the challenge, and in subsequent programmes was told to pack his bags to go to places like the Ukraine and to Israel, or to Amsterdam and Volendam closer to home. There he met Christians in various situations of need or tragedy, celebration and meditation.

While talking to evangelist Peter Scheele in the Garden of Gethsemene, Henny was visibly touched while on close-up camera. He moved away to grasp a wrought-iron gate, back to the camera, and for a long moment was in obvious deep reflection. Later he talked openly about what was going on in his mind and heart at that moment, as he thought about family, friends and enemies in the new light of Christ’s suffering and personal forgiveness for Henny Huisman. In several subsequent programmes, Huisman has transparently shared about having ‘found God’ in Jerusalem – even describing the great new feeling of forgiveness and new life as probably like being on “cocaine”, while quickly adding he has never tried that! Right now, Huisman could be described as Holland’s leading television evangelist!!

More signs of hope next week.

Till then,

Jeff Fountain

Till next week,

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