Category » Hope
In that day you will say: “Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted. (Isaiah 12:4)
As people in the United States stop to have a day of thanksgiving, let all of us stop and say thanks to the Lord for what he has done. And let’s tell others about God and his goodness!
The last few months have will proven to be a time of drastic contradictions and improbable outcomes.
In the United States we will threatened our neighbors with “Trick or Treat”, and now we offer thankfulness followed by acknowledging a time of offering gifts and love. Ironically we will then plan to do it all again next year.
We also endured a political campaign of egos and personalities who screamed, hurled insults and accusations followed, once the electorate had chosen a “winner”, with the call for unity and healing of wounds in two short months.
I, like you, stand on the edge of the stage of the whirling world, seemingly inept to affect the spiral that sees violence and conflict as the only realities.
And yet, thankfully there is an “and yet,” I am reminded that things here in our world are only temporary. Our faith is grounded in the promise given in the gospel of John, where we are told we have eternal life. As faithful followers of Jesus we believe that:
….God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved. John 3:16-17
So while the world around us tilts ever closer to self destruction, and the choices being made offer harsh contradictions of almost horrible conclusions, our focus must be on God and His Son.
Our reality is the And Yet, for God sent Jesus to be born and then to die for each one of us. And offers the hope and promise sung by angels:
Glory to God in highest and on earth peace,
Good will toward men. Luke 2:14
So what are YOU going to do with your “and yets”?
Most people remember the bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II. Fewer remember the bombing of Brookings, Oregon, that occurred in September 1942. A Japanese submarine traveled to the U.S. coastline carrying a small plane with folded wings. Once there, the crew used a catapult to launch pilot Nobuo Fujita in the reassembled plane to drop two incendiary bombs on a wooded area near Brookings. His attempt to start a forest fire failed due to rainy weather and quick action by first responders. Fujita repeated the mission two weeks later, dropping two more bombs, but obtained the same results.
After the war, Fujita was remorseful over his attack on this Oregon town. He returned to Brookings in 1962, bearing the gift of a 400-year-old Samurai sword that had been in his family for generations. Fujita later admitted that he fully expected to be physically assaulted when people learned who he was.
Instead of attacking Fujita, the townspeople of Brookings received him warmly, raising money to pay for his trip and presenting him with the key to the city. In return for the kindness shown to him, Fujita donated $1000 to the town library to buy books about Japan; he also paid for several citizens from Brookings to visit Japan. In 1997, Nobuo Fujita was made an honorary citizen of Brookings, Oregon.
Fujita could have lived his entire life without ever seeking to make amends. He could have justified his actions as a natural part of war; he could have continued viewing all U.S. citizens as hated enemies.
The people of Brookings could have sought revenge on their former attacker. They could have rejected his repentance and allowed their enemy to commit suicide.
Instead, both Fujita and the people of Brookings experienced the power of forgiveness. Their lives were richer because they were willing to show love to their enemies.
The apostle Paul wrote:
Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Romans 12:19-20)
The best way to get rid of an enemy is to forgive them and make them into a friend. Holding a grudge does no one any good. Jesus taught us to love our enemies and to return good for evil. Doing just that will make us happier and make the world a better place.
My grandson Austin started Kindergarten this year and he enjoyed his first week. Over the weekend, his older brother asked his Mom, Jamie, if she would come have lunch with him. Austin answered, “Of course we will.” Jamie then explained to Austin that he could not eat with his brother because he would have to eat at his school.
Austin: “You mean I have to go back next week too?”
It was evidently quite the shock for him. They were nice enough not to inform him that he would be going almost every week for the next twelve or so years.
And that reminds of how some people want to follow Jesus. They are fine with a week or two, but do not always buy in to a lifetime of following him. Or they do not mind giving up Sunday, but have problems with Christianity being an all-day everyday process.
Jesus said: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
Following Jesus is to commit to a life of saying no to ourselves so we can say yes to Jesus. It is to embrace the cross of Jesus. Every day. It is a conscious decision you make daily to follow Jesus. Deciding to do what he would do. Deciding to not do what he would not do.
So make no mistake. Jesus offers you a new life here and then life forever after this. But he expects you to surrender your life to him. Not just for a day or a week, but from now on. But it is worth it. Just ask any of his followers.
In the Old Testament, we read about the tabernacle that God had his people build. This large tent-like structure was the physical reminder of God’s presence with his people. Later that tabernacle was replaced with a temple, which served the same function.
These sacred places had outer courts which could be accessed by all the faithful. They also had what was known as the Holy Place, where only those designated as priests could enter. Within the Holy Place, there was a special area known as the Holy of Holies. This was where the Ark of the Covenant was kept; it was seen as the place where God manifested himself.
Only one man, the high priest, could enter the Holy of Holies. He could only enter once per year on what was known as the Day of Atonement. Anyone else risked death if they dared go into the Holy of Holies.
During Jesus’ lifetime, the Holy of Holies was separated from the Holy Place by a thick curtain, said to be as thick as the width of the palm of a man’s hand. It was reported to be 60 feet long and 30 feet high. That curtain must have been an impressive sight. That’s why it’s interesting to read what happened the day Jesus was crucified. In his gospel, the writer Mark tells us: “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” (Mark 15:38)
This massive curtain was torn in two, a feat which took an enormous amount of strength. Not only that, but the tear started at the top, where no human hand could have reached it. God himself took the curtain and ripped it in half.
The way into the presence of God is open. No curtain is needed. Men no longer require priests to intercede for them, no longer need a representative to enter the Holy of Holies. Now everyone may freely approach God. The writer of the book of Hebrews tells us:
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19–22)
Not only can we approach God, but we can do so with confidence. All of us, not just the one designated high priest. We don’t have to worry about whether it’s the right day or the right time. Because of the sacrifice of Jesus, those of us with faithful, sincere hearts, who have been washed in the blood of Jesus, may confidently enter the presence of God.
Whether you’re a longtime believer or someone just coming to the faith, there’s only one logical thing for you to do: draw near to God. Get to know him, learn his will for you, and give your life to him.
There is a Presidential election happening in the United States and many people are afraid, apprehensive, or nervous over what will happen in this country. There is harsh rhetoric, angry voters, and lots of rumors, lies, and fear mongering. And this is happening on both sides of the political divide. What will the country look like if the “other” candidate wins the election? Is the country going to be destroyed by this election? Are we doomed? Of course, this happens in other countries also. When your emotions, your loyalty, and your faith in the future are wrapped up in any one nation or any one system of government then you are going to be worried much of the time.
So let me suggest an alternative. Christians have a different view of this world.
The followers of Jesus believe this world is not our home. This world is not where our future is. It is not the focus of our hope. We believe we will live forever in heaven with God and Jesus.
We do not count on the powers of this world to offer us hope. After all, nations rise and fall. The United States is only 240 years old. But God’s Kingdom is forever. It will not fall. It has outlasted all the governments of this world.
Christians partner with God to increase his Kingdom. We believe that God wants everyone to be in a relationship with him and that he sent his son to die for our sins so we could have that relationship. So we tell people that good news. That is our purpose. We Christians make a forever difference.
Someone bigger than any political system is in charge. And he will be in charge forever.
So if you are worried and upset about election politics … there is a different, and I believe a better, alternative. I can help you find it.
The Gospels, those four books of the Bible that record the life of Jesus, focus on the same subject material but are unique and different from each other. Obviously written by different people, not all of them necessarily eye witnesses to all they write about, each book is written to a different audience and includes or omits things that the others don’t.
This can be seen in the scenes mentioned in all four Gospels like the scene on the Mount of Olives found in Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, John 18. Matthew provides a broad overall panorama. Mark identifies the place as Gethsemane. John identifies the sword wielder as Peter and Malchus as the one whose ear is cut off. Luke highlights the fact that Jesus touches the ear and healed Malchus.
One of those almost overlooked and easily forgotten revelations is the notation in Luke that as Jesus is praying to his father to “take this cup away, ”that “ an angel appeared to Him from Heaven strengthening Him”. Luke 22:43. The other three Gospels do not mention this and Luke only mentions it once. Yet, the fact is that Jesus was not alone in the garden, for while his closest disciples slept, an angel was there comforting Jesus as he agonizes over his impending horrific suffering and death.
To fully know, appreciate and understand the story of Jesus, you have to study all four Gospels. For us over 20 centuries removed from the event we must rely on Eye Witnesses and Expert Witnesses to garner the full story of Jesus, the Messiah.
What things have you discovered about Jesus from your reading of the Gospels?
I like the imagery of taking the things that I’m worried about and throwing them on God. That’s what the word “cast” means in the original language. Peter is telling his readers to throw their worries on God and let him take care of them.
I use a mental exercise to try and deal with the stress in my life. When I’ve got something that I’m worried about, I try to imagine something that represents that concern. If I’m worried about my health, I might think of a hospital or a bottle of pills. If it’s a financial problem, I picture a stack of money. It doesn’t really matter what I choose, as long as it is something that I can visualize.
Next I take that symbol of worry, and I imagine that I’m placing it in a burlap sack. I proceed to close the sack, whirl it a few times in my mind, then toss it to God. I visualize myself casting that anxiety on him.
It may sound silly, but I find that the visualization process helps me do what I need to do: stop worrying and trust that God will handle my problems.
The apostle Paul wrote:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
If I can learn to turn my worries over to God, he will give me his peace, that divine peace that defies all logic. I decide to give my cares to God, I pray about them, and I thank him for handling them. In return, he gives me peace.
I don’t know about you, but I much prefer peace to worry!
So next time something is weighing on your mind, try the mental exercise I described. Combine that with prayer and thanksgiving. You very well may find that God takes your worry away and gives you peace to replace it.
It is one of the best known stories in the Bible. A man named Jonah was swallowed by a giant fish. It is so dramatic and vivid that it is easy to miss the main points of the story. There are three lessons that stand out from Jonah’s story.
- Stop running from God. That was how Jonah ended up in the belly of a whale. God had something for Jonah to do and he ran from his responsibility. God pursued Jonah until he got his attention. You may be running from God’s call in your life. You may be one who has never made the decision to follow Jesus. You may know he died for your sins and you may believe that God raised him from the dead. But you have never acted on that reality. Stop running from God. Surrender your life and your will to him.
- God wants everyone to know him. God asked Jonah, one of his followers, to go to the city of Nineveh. This city was populated by a different race of people than Jonah and was a city that did not follow God. Yet God desired for the people of that city to come to him. God still wants all men everywhere to know him and to be in relationship with him. If you have wondered if God loves you and seeks you … then I can assure you that he does. Just as He sought the people of Nineveh.
- God is a God of second chances. Jonah did repent and go preach the truth about God in Nineveh. The people of Nineveh believed that message and turned to God. God acts in love to bring people to himself.
If you have been running from God, if you want a relationship with him but worry that it is too late, or if you wonder whether or not you have run out of chances, then I have good news for you. Remember the story of Jonah.
- In 2014, a student attempted to take pictures of himself sitting on the lap of a 19th-century statue at the Milan Academy of Fine Arts of Brera; one of the legs of the statue broke off, and the statue was destroyed.
- In 2015, two tourists visiting Cremona, Italy, decided to stand on a statue of Hercules while taking pictures of themselves; when they bumped into the crown of the statue, a piece broke off and shattered on the ground.
- In May of this year, a young visitor to Lisbon, Portugal, chose a 126-year-old statue of Dom Sebastian as the backdrop for his selfie. His clumsy attempt at climbing the statue, however, resulted in disaster. The artwork fell from its perch and smashed onto the tiles below.
Many museums are considering banning selfies all together. Can you blame them?
While I haven’t seen broken artwork in church, I have seen much damage done by Christians who are too focused on themselves. When we only think about ourselves and our projects, we run the risk of trampling others and shattering the faith of those around us.
The apostle Paul wrote, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4)
That’s good advice for life in general, but especially for life in the church. We need to be sure that we aren’t just focused on ourselves, but that we’re thinking about what’s good for everyone.
Paul also wrote:
“We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” (Romans 15:1–2)
Our goal is to build up, not to tear down. We don’t want to accidentally hurt those around us. So we need to quite focusing on ourselves and do our best to build others up. Rather than selfies, let’s work on our “everyone-elsies.”
Get the picture?