Category » Hope
Her name is Lulu and she is our rescue dog. Evidently she never received much love from previous owners. She spent most of her time shut up in a travel cage. Sometimes sudden movements make her cringe so she may have been beaten in her past. I do not think life was very good to Lulu. Our daughter found out that she was about to be given to the pound and convinced her then owners to let us have her. She is loved and secure in our home. We love her, the grandkids love her, and even our Golden Retriever, Lucky, has accepted her into the family.
There are great lessons to be learned from this part of the story. The world is a hard place where life does not always turn out like you hoped. You may be lonely and even abused by people. Certainly there is a lot of pain and lack of love. And Christians are in this world as those tasked by God to rescue others. To bring them into a family that loves them and cares for them. To show them what someone showed us.
But here is the rest of the story. Lulu is absolutely committed to her new family. She loves us with great exuberance. Jumping, wagging her tail, licking us joyously. She wants to stay right by us. She wants to lie in our lap, sleep at our feet, and snuggle with us. When she is outside she wants to be right by Lucky. I know why. We rescued her. We saved her. We love her. We provide for her.
That is how Christians feel about God, Jesus, and our church family. We want to be together. We love each other. We are passionately committed to each other. All we want to do is please God, follow Jesus, and stay connected in through life. All because God loved us and Jesus saved us. Because someone cared enough to rescue us.
You can experience that kind of love also. If life is hard and you feel lonely and unloved, please know that God does love you and Jesus died to save you. As someone who was rescued himself, I would love to talk with you about finding the love that will change your life forever.
You would have thought that I would learn…for years on Christmas day afternoon I would be assembling toys for my children. You know the toys I’m talking about—the ones that came in boxes warning “some assembly required.” I rarely consulted the instructions and almost always the toy didn’t look like the photo on the box. I had pieces left over or not enough pieces or broken pieces because I was forcing those pieces into places they didn’t go. So as a last resort I would read the instructions, and they explained everything.
I’m obviously a slow learner, because even today, when asked to put together something that has “some assembly required”, my first impulse is just put things together without even looking at the instructions. I know that I am not alone because people have been doing the same thing since, well forever, and that includes God’s people.
From the Garden forward, those who claim to do what God instructs – don’t. Adam and Eve, the Hebrews that wandered in the wilderness, those talked about in the Book of Judges, almost all of the Kings of Israel and Judah. They did things without consulting the instructions.
Even today, after God allowed His Son to die for our sins, God’s people still don’t seem to read the instructions.
The Bible, Scripture, holds God’s directions for his followers. If you don’t read it, you don’t know how to put your life together. And what you actually get doesn’t resemble anything close to what you envisioned; you have pieces lost or pieces that are left over because you don’t know where they fit or you don’t have all the pieces. Without reading The Book you don’t know who has gone before you and you don’t really know where you are going. You wander in your own wilderness.
The instructions help to explain everything! You have to read them to know what you should look like.
Study God’s word, The Bible, and experience how all the pieces fit into place.
The three friends had every reason to doubt God. Though they had been faithful to him, they had been taken as slaves to a foreign country. Their homeland had been destroyed. The history of their nation seemed to be coming to an end.
And now… now they were about to die. Or so it seemed. The king of the country where they found themselves had ordered them burned alive.
This king, a man named Nebuchadnezzar, had built a great statue honoring his favorite person: himself! It was a huge statue, 90 feet high and 9 feet wide. The king gave the order that whenever the royal music was played, everyone was to fall down and worship this idol.
These three friends, named Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, refused to bow down to this statue. So the king had them arrested, threatening to burn them alive in a huge furnace. But wanting to show himself to be a gracious king, he offered them one more chance to worship his image.
That’s when the three friends showed what kind of faith they had:
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16–18)
They assured the king that they would not worship his idol. They also told him quite clearly that their God was able to rescue them and that they thought he would do just that. But they also make it clear that their faith is in God even if he chooses not to rescue them.
Far too often, we want to believe in God as long as he will do what we want, when we want. Just save Grandpa, and I’ll believe. Just get me out of this mess, and I’ll believe.
We need an “even if” faith. We need the kind of faith that says, “Lord, I’ll believe in you even if you don’t do what I hope. I’ll believe in you even if you don’t answer this prayer the way I want. I’ll believe in you no matter what.”
There’s a passage at the end of the book of Habakkuk that says:
“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Habakkuk 3:17–18)
We don’t need a faith that comes and goes according to our circumstances. We need an “even if” faith, that follows God no matter what.
“I love my children so I will let them play in the street.”
“I knew it would really be hot in the car, but they did not want to go into the store, and I really love them, so…”
Of course these kinds of actions are not love. Parents quickly understand that love means saying no sometimes. It means setting boundaries. It does not mean letting your children do whatever they want. Parental love recognizes that you know what is best for your child. It is why vegetables get eaten and dessert is not allowed to be the main course.
So many times people define love based on what they want. Teenagers tell their parents that if they really loved them they would let them go where they want, or spend whatever they want, or do what they are sure will make them happy. Good parents know that real love is making and enforcing decisions that are the best thing for the physical, emotional, and mental health of your children even when it is not what the child thinks they want.
If we understand this concept of parental love, why do think it does not apply to our relationship with God? God is often called our Father. God loves us and his love is perfect. He not only wants what is best for us, but he absolutely knows what is best for us. And because He does love us, He is not governed by what we think is best for us or what we are sure is the best thing for our life.
After all, if babies really knew what was best for them, they would not need a parent. And if we really knew what was best for us, we would not need a God.
Most of us have figured out that we do not always know what is good for us. But God does know what is best for you. He is the Father that loves you and He invites you into his family and offers you the chance to be his son or his daughter.
One of the psalms describes the anxiety pilgrims would feel while making the trip. Many travelers would pass through Jericho; the road from Jericho to Jerusalem rises more than 3200 feet in less than 20 miles. Mountain roads were dangerous, full of robbers and bandits. Traveling on the plain, a traveler could see any ambush ahead. In the mountains, danger could lurk around any bend.
The psalm begins by saying, “I lift up my eyes to the hills— where does my help come from?” (Psalms 121:1) We can easily imagine an anxious traveler eying the ominous mountains ahead and worrying about his safety. Who would protect him against unknown foes?
“Where does my help come from?” The psalm offers an answer to this question:
“My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD watches over you— the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life;
the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” (Psalms 121:2–8)
As we face an uncertain life full of hidden dangers, we ask the same question: where will our help come from? In other words, who will we turn to for help? Where will we put our trust?
Where can we find hope?
The answer remains the same: our help comes from the Lord. He’ll never be too weak or too distracted or too tired or too distant to come to our rescue. We have eternal security knowing that God is our helper. We don’t have to trust in money or politics or armies to rescue us. We can fully trust in God.
What’s your hope for the future? Who or what are you putting your trust in? Let me encourage you to fully trust in the Lord and his salvation. If you want to know more about trusting in the Lord, write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or join the conversation on our www.hopeforlife.org website.
Satan, the devil, has one main goal in life: to separate you from God and keep you separated. Very early after creation, Satan attacked Adam and Eve. He used three basic approaches and they are the same ones he uses today.
- Sow confusion about what God said. “Did God really say…?” Satan does not want you to read God’s Word for yourself. He wants you to think you cannot understand it, or believe that it could not possible mean what it says. So you do not have to worry about doing – or not doing – what it says.
- Lie about God. In this approach, Satan contradicts God. “You will not die if you eat of this tree.” The argument goes like this: God wants you to be happy, and so whatever you want to do to be happy is fine with God. Anytime you hear terms like “God would never…” or “God will do…”, it would be best to check your Bible and see what God actually says about things.
- You can be your own god. Satan told Eve the only reason God would not them eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was that then they would be like God. Of course, the problem is not just to know good from evil, but to know what to do about it. Or how to handle it when you choose evil.
You can read this story yourself. It is in the very first pages of the Bible in the book of Genesis, chapter 3. Satan will use the same approach to separate you from God. He keeps using it because it works so well. He uses the same approach because it works so well. The only flaw in his plan is that he cannot keep us away from God. God sent his Son Jesus to provide a way for us to come back to God. Not only can I show you where to read about that, but I can show you how to live with God instead of living away from him.
The most basic principle of leadership is to keep safe and take care of the people who you are responsible for. And they had failed!! They were to protect, take care of, feed and render first aid, but all they did was secure their wellbeing. And the result would be conquest and enslavement for 70 years. The leaders betrayed the trust of their people and of the one who allowed them to be leaders.
Then their failure was heralded to everyone along with their punishment.
The story is in the thirty-fourth chapter of Ezekiel. The prophet’s utterance of God’s judgment clearly blames the shepherds (leaders) of Israel for its eventual fall to the Babylonians and the forced conquest of the Jewish people. This is what God told Ezekiel to say:
Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves, should not the shepherds feed the flocks? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with wool: you slaughter the fattlings, but you do not feed the flock. The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken nor brought back what was driven away, or sought what was lost: but with force and cruelty you have ruled them. Thus, says the Lord God: Behold I am against the shepherds, and I will require my flock at their hand; I will cause them to cease feeding the sheep, and the shepherds shall feed themselves no more; for I will deliver my flock from their mouths, that they may no longer be food for them. Ezekiel 34:2-4:10
These dynamics of leadership, while ancient, are present today. As a leader, whether political, military, or religious, you are responsible for your people. If you do not take care of, feed, heal and attend to their welfare, they will become enslaved to others and you will be held accountable for their capture and conquest. And God will remember your failure!!
There are plenty of religious and secular examples of failed leadership, but there are also examples for good effective leadership with the primary example being Jesus.
From your experience whom do you think was a good Leader? Why? Who was not and why? Most importantly what do you look for in a religious leader?
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross
Till my trophies at last I lay down
I will cling to the old rugged cross
And exchange it some day for a crown
These words to the hymn “The Old Rugged Cross” used to catch my attention when I was young. I would think a lot about how hard it would be to lay my trophies down. I had trophies for basketball, for football, and for baseball. Some of them were championship trophies, others were merely for participation. But they meant a lot to me. I didn’t really look forward to laying them down.
Recently, while going through some of the things that are still in the house where I grew up, I saw those old trophies. They don’t mean so much any more. They’ll undoubtedly end up in the trash soon. Somehow “laying them down” doesn’t seem as hard as I once thought it would be.
Of course, the hymn isn’t really talking about those kinds of trophies. It’s talking about all of life’s accomplishments and achievements. It’s talking about laying down everything I’ve done and everything I’ve been.
The apostle Paul knew about that. In Philippians 3, he goes through a list of “trophies,” a résumé of sorts, listing the things he could brag about regarding his life and his heritage. Then he says,
“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” (Philippians 3:7)
Paul isn’t just talking about baseball trophies from his childhood. He’s talking about being willing to turn his back on everything for the sake of Christ. He goes on to say,
“I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:8–11)
I know that just as my childhood trophies have lost their value to me, I’ll one day look at all the things that seem so important to me now and see that they are like trash compared to knowing Christ. On that day, I’ll lay my trophies down and receive what God has to give me: life without end.
His name was Bartimaeus and he was a blind beggar who encountered Jesus. He heard the crowd talking about Jesus coming toward him. So he began to shout for Jesus to have mercy on him. Maybe he had heard of the miracles Jesus had performed on others. Or perhaps he had heard the talk that he was the Son of God come to earth and he was hoping to be healed from his blindness.
But it was not very proper for a blind beggar to be shouting at Jesus. Many in the crowd told him to be quiet. Until Jesus called for him to approach. Then the message changed. All of a sudden, the crowd was cheering for him, urging him to get up and go to Jesus. One minute you are being told to shut up and the next you are getting a standing ovation. Mixed messages.
And that is why you cannot let your decision about Jesus be based on what everyone else thinks. Not the culture around you, not your friends, or not even your family. The decision to follow Jesus has to be a personal one. Some people will try to discourage you. They will try to keep you from radically following Jesus. Ignore them.
Others will cheer you decision but you cannot decide to follow Jesus based on what others think. Do not follow Jesus because some will congratulate you or because you think some will like you if you do. Follow Jesus because you believe in him and in his message.
As for Bartimaeus, he went to Jesus. He was healed from his blindness because of his faith in Jesus, and he spent the rest of his days following Jesus as one of his disciples. He did that for himself because he believed.
So do not make a decision about Jesus based on everyone else and their opinion.
Make a decision based on what you believe.
For the first time, and quite possibly the last time, my wife and I are traveling to Israel. We will see many of the places where the great stories of the Bible took place. We will walk the roads of what is called the Holy Land.
What we won’t see in Israel is the temple in Jerusalem. We’ll see partial ruins of where it once stood, but the temple itself was destroyed in the first century and never rebuilt. All that remains is the Western Wall, what is called the Wailing Wall.
Yet it’s not entirely true to say that I won’t see God’s temple while on my trip to Israel. In fact, I’ll see that temple every morning when I look in the mirror, just as I do every day. The apostle Paul twice told the Christians in Corinth that God’s temple still stands today:
“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16)
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19)
I am a temple of God because God lives in me. He comes to live in every person who is born again of water and Spirit.
While preaching to non-Christians in Athens, Paul told them:
“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.” (Acts 17:24)
There’s no building that is more of a temple than I am. God lives in people, not buildings built by human hands.
I’m excited to go to Israel, to see the historical sites there. I’m anxious to come to know better the lands that I read about in the Bible.
I’m also truly excited to have the privilege of being a temple of God. I, too, am “holy land.” The God who made the world and everything in it lives in me.
You can be holy as well. You can be a temple of God. Let him come live inside you.