Maybe it does sounds pretentious. But the calling of those who name Jesus as Lord is nothing less than to help shape the future. We are not simply to let the future happen, fatalistically shrugging our shoulders and mumbling about God’s sovereignty.
Yes, God is sovereign. But that doesn’t put him in the same category as Islam’s Allah. Muslims believe that everything that happens is the will of Allah. But the Bible teaches that, while God’s ultimate purposes will be fulfilled, not everything that happens along the way is his will. It was not God’s will for Israel to wander around in the desert for a whole generation. Sin and disobedience delayed God’s plans for Israel.
Six years ago when we organised the HOPE.21 congress in Budapest, we chose the subtitle: Shaping Europe’s Future… Together. Some thought that sounded pretentious and arrogant. But no, we responded, that’s our calling! If politicians and businessmen, mafia and terrorists can set out to shape the future of Europe, should not that be our ambition too?
I have just returned from the Czech Republic, meeting with 400 young charismatic Catholic leaders mainly from central and eastern Europe. They chose as their conference theme, ‘Living as a people of hope’-which sounded to me like a good book title.
Opening speaker was Father Raniero Cantamalessa, Preacher to the Papal Household during advent and lent over the last 28 years. As I entered the packed hall with the meeting already under way, the audience was transfixed on the genial, bearded figure in a Franciscan robe speaking about the recovery of the Kerygma in the Catholic Church-by which he meant the gospel of salvation through personal faith in Jesus. He admitted to his listeners that Catholics generally had been better shepherds than fishermen.
Quoting Paul, he reminded the young leaders that ‘if we confessed with our mouth that Jesus was Lord, and that the Father had raised him from the dead, we would be … what?’ ‘Saved!’ came the chorus from the hall.
Telling his own testimony, he shared how he had been transformed from a sceptic into an ethusiastic proponent of the charismatic movement, preaching on more than one occasion to the pope and his household about the baptism of the Spirit.
My task at the conference was to deliver the closing message, unpacking the implications of being people of hope.
I began where Father Cantamalessa left off. ‘Jesus is Lord!’ everyone repeated after me. ‘But, Lord of what?’ I asked. ‘If we only understand his lordship to extend over our own personal lives, then we have a shrunken understanding of his lordship.’
‘Of the world!’ someone shouted. ‘Yes, the earth is the Lord’s, and almost everything in it, right?’ I responded. ‘No!’ they corrrected me, ‘everything!’
‘Of the heavens!’ ‘Of the universe!’ Of history!’ ‘Of the future!’ They began to call out the answers I had wanted to hear. ‘Yes, and of the nations, and of course, the church!’ I added.
When we really believe that his lordship extends over all these areas, not just over our personal lives, it changes our perspective on the way we face the future.
People of hope are people who are expecting something. So what is it that we are waiting for? And how does that affect our daily lives now? A pregnant mother lives towards the day of the coming birth. Her daily activities and the way she conducts herself are shaped by her future. (I’m thinking about these things because I am an expectant grandfather! Due date, September 9.)
To impress my Catholic audience, I quoted from Pope Benedict’s last encyclical, Spe Salvi, Saved in Hope: ‘The one who has hope lives differently. Faith draws the future into the present, so that it is no longer simply a ‘not yet’. The fact that this future exists changes the present; the present is touched by the future reality.’
If we truly believe that Jesus is Lord of the cosmos, and Lord of the future, we too live differently. We live today towards God’s tomorrow. What that really looks like we don’t yet fully know. We see through a glass darkly.
Yet the Bible does give us tantalysing glimpses of God’s future: a healed creation, a restored earth and a cleansed spiritual atmosphere (2 Pet 3:13, Rev 11:15).
Our task then as people of hope is to live today towards this future wherever we live, work, study or play. That is, to see God’s will being done, his kingdom coming in greater measure, the Lordship of Jesus extending into our community and into every lifesphere. We are to pull the future into the present through our prayer, proclamation and presence, acting as salt and light, yeast in the loaf, as a mustard seed conspiracy.
Moltmann describes the church as an arrow sent out into the world to point the way to the future. And in so doing we are to shape the present.
Here we are just touching on some major themes which we expand on during the third and last module of our Summer School of European Studies, July 21-25, in Einigen, Switzerland (see www.ywam.eu/sses). the theme is Europe tomorrow: Shaping the future. Come and join us as we explore together how to recover faith, hope and vision for tomorrow’s Europe.
Till next week,