Category » Hope
All three were proud of their medals. My wife, our daughter-in-law, and our grand-daughter recently ran in a Road Race for charity. They wore those medals as they posed for pictures afterward. I learned something that day about racing and medals. You do not get one for signing up, you cannot buy one, and you do not get one unless you finish. Some people do not show up at all. Others quit during the race. For some, it is too hard, they get too tired, or get too discouraged. No medal unless you finish.
It was interesting to see the different runners. Some were fast, ran confidently, and were among the very first finishers. Some were not very fast and it took them much longer to finish. Many of the first finishers stayed around to wait for the others and to cheer on their family and friends. I saw some fast runners who went slower than they had to because they were running alongside of someone to encourage them and help them finish. Some quit running but they did not quit the race. They kept walking until they finished. There were a few who looked like they may have fallen down, but they go up and finished the race.
No medal unless you finish. And everyone who finishes the race gets a medal.
It is just like being a Christian.
It is a race to heaven. The prize is to live with God forever. That is the medal you receive for finishing. The medal is not because of how good you are. It is not about whether you sometimes fell down. It is about finishing.
Paul, one of the writers of the New Testament, said it this way.
I have finished the race…Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day…
It had been a very long and very miserable day. Their conveyance hit every rut and rock in the primitive road. Her nine month pregnant body was more than uncomfortable. They had to stay in a stable, a cave actually, and then the pains began. After hours of labor, among the straw, the animals and the manure, her son was delivered! She lovingly wrapped him in what clothes she had and placed him in a feeding trough, for that was the only thing available. She remembered the shepherds, the star, the Wisemen, the gifts and was told of the celebration in the heavens. “Good tidings of great joy…born to you this day….a Savior….who is Christ the Lord….Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men! And held those memories in her heart.
The passage in Luke 2 is the beginning of our salvation story that will conclude with our arrival at the throne room of God in Heaven.
As you remember the Christmas story this December, amid the buying of presents, gathering with family and no doubt overeating, take some time to remember your own Salvation story. Then share it with your friends and loved ones.
As followers of Jesus we must remember that His resurrection would not have happened without His birth to a teenaged virgin, and his birth would have no significance without His death and return to God.
The Christmas story is the beginning of our Salvation Story.
Where do you personally fit into the Salvation Story or do you?
One came back to say thank you. Ten men were healed, miraculously healed. Only one came back to say thank you.
As we see in Chapter 17 of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus was traveling along the border between Samaria and Galilee. The people of Galilee were his people, Jews. The people of Samaria were the others, the half-breeds, the ones that the Jews wouldn’t have anything to do with.
Unless they had leprosy, a terrible disease that forced people to live away from the rest of society. Then Jews and Samaritans could mix. As these ten men had done. Nine were Jews. One was a Samaritan.
They saw Jesus from a distance and called to him, asking to be healed. In answer, Jesus told them to go show themselves to the priests. According to the Law of Moses, the law that the Jews followed, that was the only way a leper could be certified as having been healed. He had to show himself to the priests.
As they went along, they were healed. Cleansed, as the Bible says.
Only one of them went back to thank Jesus. The foreigner. The Samaritan.
I’m sure the others were grateful. I’m sure they would profoundly thank Jesus if they ever met him again. But now they wanted to get back to their lives. Get back to their homes. Get back to their families.
Nine of them did exactly what Jesus told them to do. Nine of them did what the Law said to do. But only one did the right thing.
What about you? Do you stop to recognize the things that God has done for you? Do you thank him and praise him for his goodness?
Here in the United States, we have a day for giving thanks. But our gratefulness shouldn’t be a one-time-a-year feeling. Let’s stop, go back to God, and thank him for all that he’s done for us.
It is a question asked by people who believe they are so important that they deserve special treatment. They expect waiters, receptionists, and — well, anyone in a position to help them – to make them the highest priority. They do not want to wait their turn, they do not want to be told No, and they think the rules that apply to everyone else do not apply to them. They may think this because they have a position of status. They may be rich, or they may be a powerful person. They have developed a sense of entitlement that leads them to believe they are not like everyone else. They are Special … or at least that is what they think.
So imagine how Jesus could have felt. The son of God reigning on his throne in heaven. Every creature worshipping him. The entire world created by him and his Father. They looked down at the earth they had created and saw what a mess it was. Man had made so many wrong choices; choices that separated us from God. So God asked his son to come down where we were and fix it. He asked him to show us how to live, die so our sins could be forgiven, and to show the way back to God.
So he did. But he did not do it the way most of us would have. The Creator of the Universe was born in a barn among a bunch of animals. He grew up in an ordinary family in a no-name village. His closest followers were ordinary, uneducated people. He washed dirty feet. He let some of the very people he came to save hang him on a cross.
Most amazing of all is that he invites us to know him. Even more, he invites us to become part of his family. He wants us to become his adopted brothers and sisters. He has made it possible for us to live forever in heaven with him.
Do you know who I am? Jesus never asks that question as a way to exert power or to boost his own ego. He asks it as a promise. He asks it as a gift of love. He asks it as an invitation.
Is your computer safe? Do you know who might be lurking in your files, swiping your private information, accessing your financial records? Is someone stealing from you?
Studies say that one out of every twenty Americans has suffered some sort of identity theft. Smartphone users were one third likelier to be targeted by thieves. There are approximately 378 million victims per year, or more than 1 million each day and 12 per second.
Have I made your paranoid yet?
In Jesus’ day, identity theft wasn’t a problem. Computer hackers didn’t steal information. No one worried about cybercrime.
Yet Jesus issued a security warning. He said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19)
Even then, almost two thousand years ago, people had to worry about having their treasure stolen. Jesus had a solution as to how to prevent that: “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:20)
Treasure in heaven? I haven’t seen any celestial ATMs around. What did Jesus mean by “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven”?
Fortunately for us, the apostle Paul explains what that phrase means. In talking about wealthy people, Paul instructs his friend Timothy: “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” (1 Timothy 6:18–19)
We put our treasure in heaven by being willing to share what we have, using our money to do good things. And not just our money… we can build up our heavenly account by sharing of our time and our talents.
Jesus went on to say, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21) If “heavenly treasure” is our measure of success, then we’ll live our lives thinking about how to please God and serve others, rather than accumulating goods that can be targeted by thieves.
Go ahead… build up your celestial bank account. It’s the safest investment you can make.
Our culture loves to rank things. Just take a look at all the top ten lists that are published. There are lists ranking the best – or worst – songs, movies, jobs, places to live, and things to see. We rank people too. There are lists covering looks, bodies, popularity, effectiveness, and abilities. High school athletes are rated by recruiting services as 1 star up to five stars. The only thing worse than a low rating is no rating. People even rank themselves. Just listen to conversations that include phrases like “… at least I am better than so and so.” Or, “… at least I look better than she does.”
It even happens when thinking about God. “I may not be as good as he is, but at least I am better than she is.” We can always find someone we think is worse than us. It is as if God is going to let people into heaven based on some kind of top ten list where the goal is to be better than enough other people so that you make the cut.
Except that God is perfect. He is never even tempted to do the wrong thing. So the issue is not how I rank compared to anyone else, but how I rank compared to God. And there is the problem. No one is good enough to live with God forever. Not me. Not you. Not anyone. That is why God sent his son Jesus to take away our sins. And that is why there are only two places of God’s list: those who believe in Jesus, and those who do not.
So the not so good people, the pretty good people, and the really bad people can end up all together in the first spot on God’s list. Because they believe in Jesus. And that is how some pretty good people, even some really good people end up all together in the last spot. Because no one is good enough.
And that is the point. You do not have to be. Jesus is good enough for us all. You just have to follow him.
I look at the photographs often, especially the faces. There is always joy and excitement as they have just been baptized. They exhibit the overflow of emotions as they tell everyone around them about what this moment means to them.
Remember when you were baptized? You made the confession that millions throughout the centuries have, “I believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and he died for my sins that I might live with him forever.” Then the water came rushing over your head and you plunged beneath the surface. Almost as quickly you were pulled to the surface. Remember? It might have taken place in a lake, a church baptistery, a stream, a stock tank, a river or a bathtub. Remember?
After you dried off and put on your clothes, you were greeted by people, some clapping, some crying, all smiling. Remember?
You wanted to tell people why you did it. Why you chose to follow Jesus, what he meant to you and how you wanted others to do the same thing. Remember?
Somewhere before the baptism, before the confession, before you decided – someone told about a Savior who could rescue you from sin, save you from Hell, helped you understand that God wanted you to be with Him forever. Remember?
Tell me what you felt when you committed your life to follow Jesus.
Where were you when you were baptized?
Why was it important for you to do that?
It was the longest inaugural address by any president of the United States. And it led to the shortest term of office for any U.S. president.
William Henry Harrison was elected president in 1840. He took the oath of office on March 4, 1841, a cold and wet day in Washington. Harrison was the oldest man to become president (until Ronald Reagan in 1981) and wanted to be seen as healthy and strong. He rode on horseback during the inaugural parade and didn’t use an overcoat or hat. He read every word of his 8,445 word address, taking almost two hours to do so.
Within a few weeks, Harrison would die of pneumonia.
Who are you trying to impress? Do you worry about what others think of you? Do you do certain things so that people will see you as a good person?
Jesus said, “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1) It’s a temptation that we all face, wanting to look like something that we aren’t.
Just remember, others may be impressed by the things they see you do, but God sees your motives and your intentions.
People look at the outside; God examines the heart.
Rather than trying to impress those around you, put your time and effort into doing the things that God would have you do. Don’t do it to try and get something in return; make pleasing God your goal.
Here are some simple suggestions:
- Study God’s Word to learn the things that please him
- Pray, asking for help to live a godly life
- Join with others who are trying to live the way God wants
Don’t worry about pleasing people or trying to be something that you’re not. Focus on becoming the person God wants you to be.
In many ways this statement is the mantra for our world. You see it on tee shirts and hear it quoted often. Originally written by author David Gerrold, it has become the cynical slogan for a world view. Life is hard. Things do not work out the way you thought they would. Relationships are difficult to sustain. You get sick. You worry about the economy. You get old. Job loss. Hair loss. Natural disasters strike. And on and on it goes.
Then you die. As if everything was not bad enough, it gets worse. You die. Life ends. If you think it is bad now… just wait. It gets worse. You work hard, try to survive, and then what happens? You die.
It is a cynical, depressing, laugh so won’t cry philosophy.
And I think the statement is true. Life is hard. Bad things happen.
Then we die. It will come to us all.
But I disagree with the outlook. I do not think it is bad news, and I do not think it is a matter of a bad time getting worse.
I see it as a message of hope because I believe in Jesus. I believe he is the answer to surviving a hard life. I think he is key to a life of joy, peace, hope, and purpose – no matter what happens in this life.
And then we die. But for those who know Jesus that is good news. We live forever with God. We will be in heaven where there is no pain, no death, and no evil. The place where God will wipe away all tears.
So here is good news: life is hard and then you die.
I’ve been privileged to spend the last few weeks with my friend Tony Fernandez. Tony is the representative for Herald of Truth Ministries in Cuba. For 18 years, he has traveled across the island to follow up on contacts from our radio programs. Because of his work, hundreds of people have become Christians.
Tony was in the States to speak at several Christian universities, sharing with students and others about his experiences in Cuba.
Tony spoke with me once one of his fears for the future of the church in Cuba. At this time, many people in Cuba are looking to God to help them deal with the difficulties they face. Tony said, “I worry about what will happen when abundance comes to the island.”
There are lots of people who want to preach a gospel of prosperity, teaching that God’s goal for Christians is to make them rich here on this earth. That goes against what the Bible says.
Jesus told his followers that it was hard for the rich to become a part of his kingdom (Matthew 19:24). The apostle Paul said that those who want to have wealth fall into a trap, and some have ruined their faith because of it. (1 Timothy 6:9-10) And James wrote: “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” (James 2:5)
Sometimes it is those whose needs are greatest who find themselves better able to depend on the Lord. And those who seem to have everything find it difficult to have what they most need: faith.
I pray for Tony and other Christians in Cuba. I pray that they will have what they need, both physically and spiritually. I especially pray for the poor, the elderly and the sick.
But I don’t seek abundance for them, at least not an abundance of material goods. I’ve been to Cuba and seen the abundance they have: an abundance of faith, an abundance of love, an abundance of joy. Situations beyond their control have led them to lack many common things. Yet they’ve compensated by filling their lives with God.
What about you? Do you find your fulfillment in things that you can buy, in the money you earn, or the business you’ve built? Or, in the words, of Jesus, is your treasure in heaven? (Matthew 6:20)