by David Phelps

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

August, 2008

Recently, I saw an interesting billboard by the side of the highway. It showed the words “Believe in something better,” with a picture of a little girl poking her head out of a cardboard box. I immediately thought, “What a neat sign. I wonder what church it’s for? Or maybe it’s for Habitat for Humanity? Or some political candidate?” You’d think I’d know better after my experience with the casino commercial earlier this year (see “Person-2-Person,” March, 2008). But no, I persisted in my naiveté. Sure enough, when I got close enough, I saw that the billboard was an ad for a cellular phone provider and not a church or other charitable organization at all. And while the difference between casino operators and cellular phone providers might be debatable, I was still wrong.

Still, Christianity—along with its spiritual ancestor, Judaism—is about believing in something better. Joshua told the people, “. . . but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Josh. 24:15b NRSV). In other words, Joshua told them he had found something better than the old ways, better than the gods the ancestors of the people had served in the past, and better than the gods of the Amorites, who lived in the land. He had found the true and living God.

The Psalmist wrote, “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you,” (Psa. 63:3 NRSV) and “The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces,” (Psa. 119:72 NRSV) among other assertions that the ways of God are superior to the ways of man.

The book of Proverbs, compiled by Solomon, contains additional references, such as “Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it.” (Prov. 15:16 NRSV). And in 1 Cor. 13, Paul talks about “. . . a still more excellent way.” (1 Cor. 12:31b NRSV).

But the one book of the Bible that really talks about “something better” is the book of Hebrews. In the NRSV, the word is used eleven times. The author clearly knew what it means to “believe in something better,” because he wrote, “. . . we are confident of better things . . . things that belong to salvation.” (Heb. 6:9b NRSV). The salvation purchased by Christ is better than anything that came before it. The author goes on to talk about “. . . a better hope, through which we approach God.” (Heb. 7:19b ESV). Our hope is based on the promises of God. He describes Jesus as “. . . the guarantee of a better covenant.” (Heb. 7:22b NRSV). The covenant of Christ is “. . . a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises.” (Heb. 8:6b NRSV). We have received even better promises than the saints of old. He writes that those who died in faith, without seeing the promised messiah, were seeking “. . . a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.” (Heb. 11:16b NRSV). That city has been prepared for us too, and we have the advantage of knowing that the messiah has come.

We have a message to spread, a gospel to proclaim. We’ve found something better and it has nothing to do with cellular phone service, although it does involve listening to the voice of the Spirit. We believe in a better way, a better God, a better life; that God’s word is better than material wealth, that God’s ways are better than the ways of humans, that love is better than hatred, that hope is better than despair, and that mercy is better than judgment. There are people who don’t feel accepted, who don’t believe they can be forgiven, who don’t believe they can ever find community. They need to “believe in something better.” We can show them better things, better hope, and better promises. We can tell them what we believe and show them how it makes our own lives better.

“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Heb. 12:22-24 NRSV.)

Copyright © 2008 by David Phelps