Category » Hope
I recently watched two very different people walking. One was Nik Wallenda. I viewed his walk on a video clip, not in person. He walked on a tightrope between two buildings in downtown Chicago, the windy city. The tightrope was even slanted upward at an angle. It was courageous, amazing, and inspiring. It was a feat that simply would not be attempted by almost anyone else. He had trained for it. He worked at it. I know it helped that he grew up with a family heritage of tightrope walking, but still…
The other walk I witnessed was an older man crossing the street in a mid-size West Texas town. He had to use a walker and he could not move very quickly. Each step seemed to take a great deal of effort. It was courageous, amazing, and inspiring. Cars waiting at the light, impatient drivers drumming their fingers on the steering wheel. It seemed to take forever. Just stepping up and down on the curb was a major undertaking.
One of these made me think about my life as a Christian, and it may not be the one you think it is. Christians often refer to our life in Christ as a walk. What we mean is that our life on this earth is a journey with the ultimate purpose of living forever with God. What Nic Wallenda did is not really how Christians live. We do not walk above the clouds. We are not on a journey that is impossible for the average person.
Our walk is more like the gentlemen I watched crossing the street. Life is hard. We live as believers in a world full of unbelief. Evil abounds and Satan has made this life dangerous. There are excuses and objections to overcome if you want to follow Jesus. But we walk on with purpose. We have a destination ahead of us. We overcome the obstacles. We walk through the danger. We do not stop till we reach the other side. We are following Jesus right to the throne of God.
He had been the apprentice, assistant, the adjunct for years. Now it was time for him to be the leader of the raucous, nomadic, and hard headed group of under achievers.
Now he was responsible…for everything. Whatever he decided would affect the lives of the people, his people.
Then God told him FOUR times to Be Strong and Courageous.
Joshua, along with Caleb, had been Moses’ “go to guys” during their time in the wilderness. He had seen the things that caused Moses so much frustration as the people did not do what God wanted.
Now they were his responsibility, he was to lead them into the land promised long ago. He had to fight fierce warriors and giants. He had to lead the people in the way God wanted them.
No wonder God affirmed Joshua to Be Strong and Courageous.
Then God reminded Joshua of the promise: Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9
As evil further envelopes this world, with wars, rumors of wars, beheading and horrors, the words said to Joshua resound for us today.
Be strong and courageous. Live life as God Almighty has planned for you.
Be strong and courageous. Face adversity knowing God will never leave you.
Be strong and courageous. Know that all you have to do is persevere; God will see you through the rest.
Be strong and courageous! God will be with you wherever you go.
How is God encouraging you to be Strong and Courageous? And what specifically is he asking you to be Strong and Courageous about?
If you’re going to spend over $650,000 building a new house, there’s one important thing to do before you begin: make sure you are building in the right place.
That’s the lesson a Missouri couple learned the hard way. While building a luxury home in a beachfront development in Florida, they accidentally constructed on the lot next to the one they owned; they built on land belonging to someone else. The initial survey of the property was wrong, leading to the misplaced construction. Hopefully an acceptable agreement can be reached with the neighbors on whose land the house was built.
If the story sounds familiar, you may have heard the news a few months ago about the Rhode Island developer that mistakenly built a $1.8 million house on public park land. Again, the survey was wrong. The error came to light when prospective buyers had their own survey done of the property. In that case, no settlement could be reached, and the Rhode Island Supreme Court ordered the house removed from public land.
Jesus talked about two men that built houses; one who built in the right place, one who built in the wrong place. We read the story in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 6:
“I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.” (Luke 6:47–49)
If we build our lives on the teachings of Jesus, we’ll have a solid foundation that will see us through even the hardest times. If we choose to build somewhere else, we may very well find ourselves with a life that can’t stand up to life’s trials.
Have you stopped believing in God? Maybe you quit when he did not hear your prayers. That is what I hear sometimes. It happens after marriages break up, or businesses fail, or children die. It is what people think when life seems so unfair. Or when the hurt and pain seem too much to endure. And you prayed. You begged God for relief. You asked him for a different outcome. And he did not hear you. At least that is what it felt like to you.
So why are you reading this? Maybe deep down you wish you could believe. Perhaps you are hoping someone somewhere can provide the answers you so desperately want and need. But it is hard to see God through the pain. So you blame God, resent God, even hate God. But there is still that part of you that wishes He was true. You long to believe there is someone bigger than yourself; someone who can make sense of this broken world.
I do not have any easy answers. But I can tell you that you are not alone. I can tell you that those of us who still believe have to wrestle with why things do not happen the way we ask. And I can share with you some ideas that have helped us keep clinging to our faith in God.
- We cannot understand God. Trying to explain God is a futile exercise for any of us. He is the Creator, we are the creation. Even were God to explain things to me, I would not understand. Which comforts me in an odd way. I have to believe that God understands what is unfathomable to me.
- God knows best. He acts, he allows, he prevents, he causes, he does act. And all of these are for the good of his kingdom. He knows what is best. And if he does not, if all the pain in this world is random and pointless… then can anyone face life with any sense of peace or purpose.
- It will all be better someday. That is one reason we Christians keep believing. A better life waits for us after this world. That is the hope we have.
I cannot tell you why God answers us the way he does. But I do believe he loves us, does what is best, and is preparing us for a better life that never ends.
“Choose this day…” Joshua, the leader of God’s people, was addressing his countrymen. They had conquered the land that God had promised to give them and were ready to settle in their new homes. Now Joshua calls on them to make a choice.
“Choose this day whom you will serve…” This was about loyalty. This was about allegiance. Joshua spoke to them about getting rid of the idols that their parents had served and dedicating themselves to the Lord. If that seemed unacceptable, they needed to choose who they would serve: the old idols or possibly the new idols they had found in the land were they were living.
“Choose this day whom you will serve… But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15) Joshua had already made his choice. He and his family would serve God.
To a man, Joshua’s people cried out that they wanted to do the same, that they wanted to serve God. Surely that made Joshua happy, right? He had given such a persuasive talk that everyone wanted to join Joshua and his family in serving God. But Joshua wasn’t satisfied:
“But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.”” (Joshua 24:19–20)
You can’t do it, he tells them. God won’t put up with your indecisive ways. God won’t agree to be one god in your stable of gods, one more deity in the pantheon. God is holy. God is jealous. He won’t tolerate unfaithfulness. If you decide to serve God, you have to serve God alone.
And the people replied, “No, but we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:21)
So I offer to you the same choice today. Choose who you will serve. Will it be money? Will it be passion? Will it be power? Will it be a company or a country or a political viewpoint? Will it be your spouse or your children? Will it be a habit or a vice? Will it be any of the myriad distractions that our society offers?
Or will you put God above everything else? Will you love him above all, loving your neighbor as yourself, but pledging your allegiance fully to God?
Choose this day whom you will serve. If you choose to serve God, serve him with all your heart.
Ebola. It is the latest disease to strike fear into much of the world’s population. People are dying in Africa from Ebola. Now it has appeared in the United States. Even with precautions now being taken at US entry airports, people are frightened. How can I avoid contacting Ebola? Can I survive if I do? And if I can avoid Ebola, what about MERV? Or what if Avian Flu comes back? Or the Black Plague?
If I manage to avoid catching some deadly disease, what about car wrecks? Plane crashes? Industrial accidents? What if terrorists strike where I live? How about school and work shootings? Murders? The possibility of death is everywhere. And we have not even mentioned tornados, hurricanes, tsunamis, fire, and earthquakes.
Even if you manage to avoid all of these threats, there is still the deadliest one of all: old age. It will get you if nothing else does. Let’s face it, we are all going to die. Me, you, everyone. How can anyone live in the face of certain death, and with no certainty about when it may happen? All your plans, hopes, dreams crushed. Everyone you love gone forever.
Unless you believe in Jesus.
Christians believe that when Jesus rose from the dead he conquered death. He defeated the enemy of life. Because we believe in Jesus, we too will live again. We believe that we will be raised from the dead. We believe that we will live with our Christian loved ones forever. We believe that our life here on earth is under the control of Jesus. We believe this world is not the end, it is not our home. We are aliens and strangers here. That is why Jesus followers remind each other to not be afraid. Not to be afraid of anything in this life… even death.
And that is our hope for life. Because we believe.
I have an interesting family heritage. My Dad’s family lived in New York City and on “the Island”. I have ancestors who fought in the Civil War, some on the Union side, some on the Confederate side. Between my sophomore and Junior years in high school, I moved from the Northeast, from a city of 8 million rooting for the New York Yankees to a Southern town of 800 where my new high school team was the Southland Rebels. This would be the last time I would be in New York for over 40 years.
In September, I traveled to Long Island and was able to have dinner with one of my cousins and his wife. I had no idea what he looked like, because all my memories were of a very young teenager. But as soon as he walked in the door, I knew him. He looked just like his father, and he said I looked like my Dad. As we talked that evening over fantastic Italian food I noticed that some of his wording, mannerisms, even the way he held his head were just like his dad’s and that he and I shared some of those same things. I’ve called them “aBrantthing”. Between us there was a family resemblance.
For those of us who claim to follow Jesus, there should be a family resemblance between each of us and God and Jesus. We should not look like the people around us, but we should be uniquely different and by our look we should be part of God’s family.
Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in the knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
Knowing Jesus is to transform us from what we are into the image of He who created us. Being a Christian means we are to be Christ like. We are to have the family of God resemblance.
Do who do you resemble in your physical family?
And who do you resemble in the Spiritual family?
My friend Juan Monroy doesn’t like to talk about age. “Man is not chronology,” he says. “Man is biology. Age is just a number.”
I won’t give away Juan’s age, but I will say that he was born before the stock market crash that brought about the Great Depression. And he has had an amazing life. Juan has been imprisoned three times for being a Christian. He was expelled from his native country for the same crime. He has shared a taxi with a Nobel prize winner and had coffee with a king. He has written dozens of books, preached on five continents, and baptized thousands of people.
A defender of religious freedom, Juan helped found Amnesty International. He has helped found churches in Spain, Switzerland, Portugal, Equatorial Guinea, and the United States. Living in Madrid, he travels several times a year to the Americas to preach and to lecture in universities.
There’s one topic that Juan likes even less than the discussion of age: retirement. Juan says, “God called me to preach, and that’s what I will do until he decides to call me home.”
His story reminds me of a character in the Bible, a man named Caleb. When God’s people were about to enter the Promised Land, Caleb and eleven other men were sent to spy out the land. Ten of the spies came back saying that there was no way that the Israelites could conquer the people of that land; Caleb was one of the two who showed faith in God’s promises and God’s power.
Then we see Caleb 45 years later, at the age of 85, ready to receive the land that God had promised him. When asked which part of the Promised Land he wanted for his own, Caleb replied:
“Now give me this hill country that the LORD promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the LORD helping me, I will drive them out just as he said.” (Joshua 14:12)
Caleb could have asked for part of the land that had already been conquered or some place where the battles would be easy. Instead, he asked for an area where the rest of God’s armies had been unable to drive out their enemies. Caleb didn’t want a place to retire; he wanted to be a part of advancing God’s Kingdom.
I pray that my life may ever be focused on what I can do, not what I can stop doing. I want to be like my friend Juan. I want to be like Caleb. Even if the effects of age force me to limit my activities, may I ever be seeking ways to serve the Lord.
Give me this hill country. May I serve God faithfully until the end.
How about you?
You see them often in large, but very close, families. You hear them among the laughter, the excited conversations, and the greetings when they enter the room. Nicknames. Special names given by people who love them. Nicknames given to special people because they are loved. Everyone in my Dad’s extended family had nicknames. I can still remember as a child wondering when I would get mine. It was a rite of passage in that family. Getting your special nickname showed you belonged, that they accepted you, and that you belonged.
Some were obviously ironic: the really large man called “Tiny.” Some were obvious: lots of athletes are called “Hands,” or “Speedy.” Others clearly affectionate: “Jody Babe,” “Honey.” Mine was “Little Joe,” because I looked just like my Dad looked.
Nicknames are special names, names for people who are loved and belong, names given from people who love you.
Names like the one God wants to give you.
It is a promise from Jesus given to a group of Christians living in a town called Pergamum. And it is a promise to all those who overcome this world because of their faith in Jesus. God is going to give us a white stone with a new name written on it. A name known only to God. Our secret nickname given to us by someone who loves us.
A name that only believers in Jesus get to receive.
It thrills me to know that God has given me a new name because of my faith in Jesus.
You can get one too. The God that made you, that loves you, and that wants you to belong to him forever has a special name for you. All you have to do is believe in the One who has overcome this world. Believe in the One who died and now lives.
“You’ll need to go in first.”
Those weren’t the words I wanted to hear. It was about 3:00 in the morning on a windy, rainy night. I was standing in front of our language institute in Córdoba, Argentina. A middle-of-the-night phone call had yanked me out of bed; now I was in the company of two police officers, looking at the open garage door.
“You’ll need to go in first,” one of the officers said, “Our regulations don’t allow us to enter the property until the owner is inside.”
It was a sad reality that people were more worried about what police officers might steal than they were about the crimes that might be prevented. That’s why the department had those regulations. But that wasn’t my concern that night.
Twice in the preceding months I’d had someone point a gun at me, demanding money. One of those times had been inside the very building we were looking at. Now these policemen wanted me to go in before they did!
Fortunately, it was a false alarm. Someone hadn’t close the door well, and the wind blew it open. But those were some tense moments.
In the Old Testament, when God’s people were about to enter the Promised Land, God repeated a promise over and over: I will go before you. I will fight your battles. I will drive out the people from the land where you are going to live.
I don’t want a God who stays behind while I go first. I don’t want a God who waits until I’m in trouble and then comes to my rescue. I want a God that goes ahead of me. I want a God that I can follow, one who will lead me the way I should go.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:1–4)
That’s the kind of God I want. That’s the kind of God I have. He doesn’t say, “You go first.” He says, “Come, follow me.”