Hope-Fueled Change

      As the new year has begun millions spend time striving to pivot to a better life.  For many 2023 was a tough year and they hope 2024 will be different.  I have been reading Ezekiel lately.  Much of the book is dark, even strange.  So dark that some rabbis said no one should read the book unless they were thirty years old.  Ezekiel wrote at a devasting time in the history of Israel.  Most of the Jews were in exile in Babylon.  Jerusalem was a mess and the temple had been destroyed.  God’s people were living in the midst of the ruins of their hopes and dreams.  I’m sure some reading this article find themselves in a similar place, a place of discouragement, a place of hopelessness.  Back when I worked for the Careline Crisis Line I spoke to the hopeless and suicidal on a regular basis.  Now that we have passed Winter Solstice, we are slowly gaining sunlight, but the darkness can still feel overwhelming to people.  We want to change our lives.  Change is birthed through hope.  Hope is simply confident expectation.  How can we grab hope that leads to change?
      First, we hope in the cleansing God offers. The prophet Ezekiel speaks for God saying, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols (Ezekiel 36:25).  Old Testament Jews would have thought of some Mosaic cleansing rituals; New Testament Christians might think of the picture of God’s cleansing in Christian baptism.  One image of God’s cleansing I appreciate is what we call the Last Supper.  Jesus was about to face the cross when he had a final meal with his apostles.  Those apostles had just been arguing about who was the greatest among themselves.  How disappointing for Jesus, yet he stripped down to the garments of a servant and went around the room and washed the grimy feet of each of those apostles.  Imagine Jesus washing the feet of Simon the Zealot, a trained assassin who would rather slit the throat of a Roman soldier or Jewish collaborator than love his enemy.  But Jesus washed the feet of that violent man.  Or Matthew who was a Jewish turncoat, who had actually worked for the Roman oppressors as a tax collector.  I always wonder if he kept one eye on Simon!   Or James and John who had anger management issues, even Jesus called them the sons of Thunder.  Or Judas who would betray Jesus and Peter who denied Jesus three times.  Each man, grimy in their grand, proud visions of themselves and yet Jesus washed their feet.  It has been said by many that we are worse than we think yet the beauty of the gospel is that we are more loved than we dared to hope.  Jesus knows every dirty part of our thinking and desires and offers us cleansing anyway.  Grab hold of it.  Confess your sins (1 John 1:9). 
      Second, we hope in the power of partnership with the Holy Spirit.  Have you noticed how many years the SAME items appear on your New Year’s List?  We need something beyond will power.  We need His power, the power of the Holy Spirit.  God promises to His people through Ezekiel, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws (Ezekiel 36:26, 27).  Theologians refer to this as regeneration; we are given a new heart and the Holy Spirit indwells us (Acts 2:38).  We are no longer on our own.  I once saw a picture of a crow with its wings spread standing on the back of a beautiful bald eagle.  The crow was soaring but not under his own power.  This is what is offered to us.  As we begin the new year let us place our hope in the cleansing God offers us through the death and resurrection of Jesus and invite the Holy Spirit to empower us to live differently.  If we invite Jesus in, real change awaits.  Grab the new life Christ promises, become one of His trophies of transformation.  
Pastor Derek Dickinson
Journey Christian Church