FIRST-PERSON: Hope in the New Year

ONTARIO, Calif. (BP) -- Spending several days during the holidays with four grandchildren under age 3 caused me to think about our world, their future and my perspective on what their world may be like when they are my age.

Despite my natural optimism, the overall trajectory of current events, the overwhelming evidence of humankind's capacity for evil, and the negative prophecies about the future in the Bible paint a bleak picture. My hopes are almost dashed -- but not quite.

For believers, our ultimate hope about the future is grounded in our relationship with God. Our hope is the second coming of Jesus. That's both a theological conviction and a practical reality. When He returns, and only when He returns, will the universe be made right. But, in the meantime, is there any cause for hope about the interim time before that momentous day?

We can have hope -- tempered by reality -- now and in the meantime for several reasons.

First, God is at work to create better people. Through regeneration and sanctification, people really are changed for the better.

Second, God is at work in us and through us to do good works. Those works improve conditions around us and enable us to be personally involved in helping make a difference.

Third, on a macro level, God is using churches and institutions (like schools, hospitals and children's homes) to make life better for millions of people.

Finally, Christians have the opportunity in many countries to run for office or otherwise engage political processes to advocate for the common good. This is a precious freedom and significant stewardship that we must take advantage of while it lasts.

As a new year begins, there is hope -- hope for eternity, but also hope we can make a difference now. Let's do more than wish each other Happy New Year. Let's share the Gospel, make disciples, do good works and support organized efforts to do even greater works. While we can, let's be the difference in a world which desperately needs our influence.

Jeff Iorg is president of Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention and author of the forthcoming book "Uncommon Courage: Living Boldly in a Fearful World" slated for release in May.
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