Every weekday morning I walked through the same neighborhood.
I watched and listened, trying to see as God sees in that place.
As I walked, I became aware of a place where it appeared the odds were stacked against you. Where you didn’t necessarily achieve your academic potential. Where getting a job that paid enough to support your family was a tall order. Where you dreaded an unexpected bill because there was hardly enough for your everyday needs.
Life here wasn’t lived in the perspective of a pay raise and wondering what you would spend your bonus on; there was no sense of a bigger house with a garden for the kids or a better job or promotion or a retirement devoted largely to going on holiday. Things were probably going to get worse, not better.
As I walked, I slowly began to realize how much of my life and energy was rooted in a different view of the world, where I had many opportunities to have a positive influence.
I had a good education, a job I loved. There was money in my purse, savings and a family who could bail me out if I ever got into real financial difficulties.
But walking here I began to glimpse another experience of life. It was a community where hope appeared to be in short supply.
It’s by no means the only place where hope seems to be lacking.
The silent desperation of loneliness, isolation and relationship breakdown afflicts many communities that outwardly seem so sorted. There is the frantic tyranny of boardroom success and the relentless pursuit of always having to be seen with the right accessories.
There are the politics and economics of our world, where hopes for peace, prosperity, our welfare state, relations with Europe, authentic democracy and for religious freedom are all in short supply.
But amid all this the Bible continually points us to the hope that we have. A hope rooted in the steadfast nature of God and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
We have hope that God is true to his promises to bring us into relationship with him and to establish his kingdom way of life here on earth, now and for eternity. This hope has a very definite future orientation.
We have “a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time” (Titus 1:2).
For suffering and oppressed believers around the world, hope of a future where “all things are made new” is very powerful indeed. It gives hope to endure and motivates boldness and perseverance.
Some have questioned whether this future focus causes complacency in the present and an acceptance of the status quo that is not in keeping with God’s coming kingdom.
But surely this can never truly be the case.
Our experience of God’s hope, embodied in Jesus Christ, is something that cannot fail to affect the present as well.
Romans 15:13 points to this, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Hope experienced is hope overflowing; how can it be otherwise?
It is in the DNA of the church and marks us out as disciples; we are bearers of hope.
As the German theologian, JÃ¼rgen Moltmann, writes in his book, “Theology of Hope,” “From first to last, and not merely in the epilogue, Christianity is eschatology, is hope, forward looking and forward moving, and therefore also revolutionizing and transforming the present.”
And I believe that we are called to share and embody this hope that we have, more than ever before.
As I have been thinking about what it looks like to be beacons of hope, I have been reflecting on a series of images:
Each one of us as disciples of Jesus Christ is a bearer of hope. It may not feel like this day in, day out, when our witness appears insignificant in the face of the global forces that shape the lives of our communities.
Yet, like a candle that sheds light wherever it goes, we too embody and share hope through our actions, attitudes, words and prayers (see Matthew 5:14). We are part of God’s quiet, kingdom revolution.
2. Fire pit
Like many people, we love to have a fire pit. It might be after a family meal on a summer evening or a gathering of young people and their guitars. It is a great time to relax and have fun, talk and be together, and a time to be quiet and simply stare into the firelight as the night draws in.
As churches, we can be beacons of hope in our communities by being places of welcome and hospitality. In a world where unconditional love and acceptance can be hard to practice and discover, we can model and invite people to become part of authentic community.
We often think about a lighthouse steadfastly shining its light in a stormy night, yet the light shines when it is calm too. There is something in this image for our churches: communities that are firmly set upon the rock of the Lord and who are steadfastly present, in good times and bad.
Embodying and offering grace and truth, justice, peace and joy in the place where God has called you (see Philippians 2:16).
The original beacons were lit from hill to hill to warn others and carry the message of impending danger. For me, this image speaks of the prophetic calling of the church.
It is said that we are in a post-truth era and it is imperative that the church does not lose its voice but continues to speak for truth even when this cuts across our culture.
Just like the prophets of the Bible, our churches need to be speaking “truth to power” and to challenge the status quo when it betrays the values of God’s Kingdom.
But the prophetic is more: Another aspect is demonstrated in pioneering and church planting. We know that God’s heart is close to the poor and marginalized, those people and places that no one normally cares about.
As we seek to join Jesus in the places where churches are not formally present, we are establishing beacons of hope in his name and making a powerful prophetic statement that these people and these communities have value, have hope and do matter.
One of the things I love about being a Baptist is our capacity for beautiful, creative, spirit-inspired variety.
And nowhere is this truer than when we are being beacons of hope.