Category » Hope
We have all been there. It is that moment when you have knowledge overload. It is the reason why after a meeting someone often distributes a memo highlighting the main points. It is why students ask if certain material will be on the test. It is the reason we ask people to just give us the most important facts. Trying to learn new things can be overwhelming.
This is especially true when you are not familiar with the subject matter. You may be one of those who has had interest in Jesus but not sure where to start learning about him. Church language seems confusing and just for the insiders. The Bible can seem daunting when you first begin to read it. I get it. After all, one author in the Bible said about another writer that he said things that were hard to understand. There is a story in the Bible about a man who did not understand the Scripture he was reading until someone explained it to him. The Bible says that we only know a small part of what Jesus did while here on earth. It can be overwhelming.
If you have any interest in following Jesus, you may ask if there is some way to identify what is the most important thing to know.
There is! It is found in I Corinthians 15:1-4. Here is the way this information is described.
The basis of the Christian message…
The foundation for the Christian world view…
The news that saves us…
Of first importance…
So here it is. Here is the most important thing for you to know if you have any interest in learning about Jesus:
He died for your sins.
He was buried.
He was raised from the dead on the third day. That is the most important thing you need to know.
That is the good news that will save you.
It’s called The Bucket List, a movie about two men who endured treatment for cancer only to be told they had months to live. Together they compile a list of things they want to do before they “kick the bucket”. Thus begins a hilarious and poignant journey to discover what is important when life is short.
There is a real life equivalent. On September 18, 2007 at Carnegie Mellon University, a computer professor delivered a lecture entitled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” a hopeful and ironic marquee, considering that cancer was already devouring his pancreas.
Two presentations: one imagined, one all too real, for Randy Pauch died from pancreatic cancer on July 25, 2008, 10 months after his “Last Lecture.” Both stories reflect the sense of urgency as time is running out and the need to cut all extraneous things of life to focus on what is really important.
These same motivations are seen and felt in The Last Letter. Written by an old man on death row, written in a dark, dank, cell. Written knowing he will not escape the executioner by a last minute reprieve or by a technicality. Written knowing that his end is quickly approaching.
He writes with the urgency of a condemned man and tells his only relative, his adopted son, the most important things to remember. This is what he wrote:
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
The prisoner is the Apostle Paul. The adopted son is Timothy and the Last Letter is the New Testament book of II Timothy, written shortly before Paul’s execution around 67 AD.
Today, now, as our world continues to spiral from disaster to warfare, to inhumanity, we must also proclaim the Urgently Important: that our Savior, Jesus Christ, has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.
If you had the chance to write your Last Letter, who would you address it to? What would you tell them?
“What prevents me from being baptized?” It was a question asked with a mixture of hope and resignation. It came from a man who was used to being told that he wasn’t good enough or whole enough or man enough. Now he was waiting to be told why he couldn’t become a Christian.
This man was an official of the queen of Ethiopia. He was also a eunuch, having been castrated to enable him to work in close proximity to the queen, a common practice in ancient times.
We read his story in chapter 8 of the book of Acts in the New Testament. This man was returning from a trip to Jerusalem. Apparently he was a Jew and had gone to worship in the temple. However, as a eunuch, he wouldn’t have been allowed to enter the temple. Jewish law didn’t allow it. As had happened so often in his life, this man had been told he wasn’t able to do what others could do.
As he traveled through the desert, making the long trip back to Ethiopia, he read from the book of Isaiah. We don’t know where he got the scroll from; personal copies of the Bible weren’t common then. Maybe he bought it in Jerusalem. The book of Isaiah has a famous passage with promises for eunuchs (Chapter 56); maybe he had purchased the scroll for that reason.
As he traveled and read, he began to puzzle over some of what he was reading in Chapter 53. A man named Philip approached the chariot and asked if the eunuch understood what he was reading. The eunuch admitted he didn’t, that he wasn’t sure who the prophet was talking about. Philip taught this Ethiopian man about Jesus, using Isaiah 53 and other passages.
In explaining the good news of Jesus, Philip obviously mentioned baptism, for when the eunuch spotted a body of water, he said, “There’s water! What prevents me from being baptized?” He was waiting for Philip to explain that salvation wasn’t for eunuchs, that only whole people could be a part of God’s kingdom. Instead, Philip assured him that everyone with faith could come to Jesus in baptism.
It was good news for the Ethiopian. It’s good news for us. Everyone who is willing to put their faith in Jesus may come to him.
The Bible says the Ethiopian eunuch was baptized and went on his way rejoicing. You can too. You can accept Jesus as Lord and spend the rest of your life rejoicing over that decision.
Do I have to start going to church?
How much of my lifestyle has to change?
Am I going to be asked for money?
What do I have to do?
What do I have to give up?
What do I have to believe?
The problem with all these questions is that they are addressing the wrong subject. They are about you, not Jesus. So I often respond by apologizing for not explaining the story of Jesus better. If you believe in Jesus, the response is never about what you have to do, how much time or money is involved, or what behaviors are allowed.
The key words for following Jesus are things like “deny yourself”, “die with Jesus”, “being crucified with Christ”. These words are about complete and total surrender to the call of Jesus. There is no bare minimum standard of behavior. There is no set of steps to complete. Nor is faith measured by a percentage of belief in certain facts. There is only surrender of your body, mind, soul, and heart to Jesus.
Some have asked at this point – “but don’t I have to get baptized. Isn’t that an act or a step.” No it is not. The language of Scripture about baptism is language of faith, death, and resurrection.
So if you want to follow Jesus there is just one decision. Do you believe in Jesus, or do you not? If you do, then say no to yourself, die with Jesus, and be raised to a new life following him with all of your heart. Anything short of that and you are missing the truth about Jesus.
A ladder sits outside a window of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It’s been there for centuries. It’s become known as the Immovable Ladder.
It’s not particularly heavy. It’s not serving any special purpose. But it has to stay where it is.
There are six Christian orders which claim rights over the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is the traditional site of Jesus’ tomb. The dealings between these groups have been less than peaceful; many physical altercations have taken place between monks representing different groups. In 2002, a Coptic monk moved his chair 8 inches to a shadier spot; the fight that broke out because of this “hostile act” sent 11 holy men to the hospital.
Because of these frictions, many agreements have had to be drawn up to keep the peace. The actual keys to the church are held by a Muslim, for none of the orders trust the others to allow them access.
So it’s come to pass that a ladder has been in place for over 250 years; there are writings from the 18th century that mention it. No one really knows where it came from. Nobody uses it. The ladder stands as a symbol to the division in Christianity.
Which is exactly what our Lord didn’t want. The night of his arrest, Jesus prayed the following words:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20–23)
As long as the world sees Christians fighting among themselves, Christianity will never have a chance to spread as it should.
Enough is enough. It’s time for Christians to unite. Let’s return to the basic truths of the Bible, and leave the fighting to those who don’t believe in God.
And would someone please take down that ladder!
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.