For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth. From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother’s womb. I will ever praise you. I have become a sign to many; you are my strong refuge. (Psalm 71:5-7)
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. (1 Peter 3:15a)
Marilyn gathered our little team at the front of the conference center for the morning worship portion of the daily schedule. Sweet Elias Jabbour, now assigned as pastor to the congregation in Yazdieh, Syria, and his beautiful wife Petra, lead worship each morning so beautifully in word and song. Marilyn was doing a reflection for the group on hope, which is this year’s theme. You read about it yesterday. The theme verse is Psalm 71:5, but she took us two verses farther into the text.
“I have become a sign to many…”
As Christians, followers of Jesus, we do have this hope. It is not the wish kind of hope: I hope I get a close parking space. I hope I get into the university I want. I hope the cancer goes away. No, this hope is not about circumstance, but the assurance that a gracious God has already written the end of our story and accompanies us along the journey. The verse puts the emphasis on the I have, but Marilyn took the moments to remind us all that we have because others have been those signs for us.
She invited Evangeline and me to model this by each of us offering a story of someone who had been a sign of hope to us in our own journeys. Everyone has these signs, whether it is the nurse from Ghana in a one-night hospital encounter who reminds you that your faith is strong and will see you through the anxiety, or the pastor who walked with you for ten years using his terminal cancer to point you to the reason for your faith.
We have this hope. It is modeled to us by others. And as Peter says in his first epistle, we are prepared to give an answer for why we carry this hope inside us: Jesus and his sacrificial redeeming love.
That hope resides in us like we reside in our houses. The light shines forth from those who have this hope as a testimony about our Jesus to the world around us. It shines the light you might have burning in your kitchen, that lights the center of the house and spreads outward.
Houses of hope, lit from within. It is a powerful image.
And so we spent this afternoon down in the old conference hall setting up tables of welcome. Four chairs per table, one cardboard house per seat, six cups of paint, one cup of gesso and an assortment of brushes, were the tools for the women to create their own individual house of hope. Our sister and friend Izdihar Kassis, who shared her ministries with us last week in Zahle, is an artist of the finest kind. In the previous months, she had taken various sizes of these cardboard houses and buildings and painted them in different shades, each having the iconic red roof of this country. They were arranged in the hall before our ladies as the City of Hope. It was a great reminder of what it means when the houses of hope and light form a community.
We invited half of the conference attendees in for a two-hour session. Izdihar showed them how to proceed: first the gesso is applied and allowed to dry. Then just paint away. Apply glitter to your roof for a good sparkle! What would your house look like? Would it be green or blue or red? Would it have a red roof? Would the window frames be a different color? Well, picture yours in your mind, but take a look at the beauty that came out of the house of hope studio at Dhour Chouier today. Magnificent!
The final addition to each house was a small flickering battery light. Oh yes! These houses of hope radiate light. As we finish the project tomorrow afternoon with the rest of the ladies, we will have a city of hope that contains around one hundred shining houses of hope. We hope to arrange them along the paths here on Friday so that the whole place will be shining with hope.
The sign has been given to us. We take it and shine it for the world to see. Our reason is sure: Jesus. Jesus. Give us Jesus.
Amen and amen.