Category » Hope
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?
Going to heaven is a more frequent topic of conversation than you might think. Of course it comes up among church goers, but I hear it at funerals and in hospitals from people who are not regular church goers. It comes up in casual conversations with people who find out I am a believer. I have discovered that that for most people there are three basic views about going to heaven.
- I wish I was going to heaven. This is usually expressed by someone who thinks they are not good enough for heaven. They have done things, or are doing things, that they assume disqualify them from eternal life. But God is able to make wishes come true. If you really wish you could go to heaven … it is possible. Jesus died for your sins. All of your sins. You can die with him and have a new life. You can be forgiven. You can live forever in heaven.
- I want to go to heaven, but… This is often said by someone who acknowledges that heaven would be a good place to end up, but they are not sure what to do about it. It may be a matter of desire. How badly do they want to go to heaven? Jesus is the way to God, but the Jesus way is one of total surrender. You surrender your will to follow the will of Jesus. You deny yourself in order to follow him. And that is a hard road that most people will not choose. But if you want to go to heaven, it is possible. You just have to decide if you really want to be there.
- I will go to heaven. Getting to heaven is not a moving target you can never be sure you hit. It is not based on some mysterious point system where you get points for doing good things and lose points for doing bad things. Getting to heaven is based on believing in Jesus. He is the way to God. And you can know you are going to be there forever.
If you want to know that you will go to heaven, I can help you with that.
Of the four gospels in the New Testament, the one written by the physician Luke is my favorite. It has more words of Jesus than any other book in the Bible. If you have a Red Letter Bible, where all the direct words of Jesus are in red letters, there you will notice at times page after page is all in red. This is a marvelous fact, since Luke was not one of the original disciples and came to know Jesus through the memories of others. Secular tradition says that Luke was well acquainted with Peter, Paul and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and it was through their telling that Luke was able to transcribe the words of Jesus.
The 15th chapter of Luke’s gospel consists of three parables of Jesus. I call it the “Lost” chapter because the coin, the sheep and the son are lost. The irony is that the three didn’t know they were lost.
The coin, being an inanimate object, has no mechanism of thought or discernment. The sheep, while being a living animal, simply follows its instinct of looking for food regardless of what dangers might be present. The son, felt entitled and thought he was smarter and knew how to avoid the perils of life or simply didn’t care.
Yet, in all three stories, the action of reclamation is taken by someone other than the “lost”. The woman, the shepherd and the father all initiated their search of the thing that was “Lost.” Each of those individuals represent our Father, God Almighty, who when we are “Lost” begins His search of us. Whether we are just misplaced or wander off to satisfy our basic biological needs or when we think we know better than everyone else because “we have it under control”, God searches for us.
Even after we betray him, he still looks for us. He did it in the Garden of Eden. When both Adam and Eve sinned by eating of the tree that God had told them not to eat, he still wanted to know where they were. (Gen 3:8ff) He has, does and always will want to know where we are when we have become so lost.
As you read Luke 15, which are you? the coin, the sheep or the son? Do you hope God still is searching for you?
What is your response to knowing that God Almighty still is searching for you?
Priscilla Tirado was one of those thrown into the river after the crash. When a helicopter arrived, trying to rescue the few survivors, Tirado was too exhausted to grab the lifeline that was thrown to her. She had been in the water too long, and her arms were too numb. Although her rescue was at hand, she had no strength to take advantage of it.
That’s when Lenny Skutnik went into action. An employee of the Congressional Budget Office, Skutnik was on his way home when he saw the crash. As he watched from the riverbank, Skutnik saw Tirado’s predicament and came to her aid. He jumped into the frigid waters, swam about 25 feet to where Tirado was, and pulled her to safety.
That aspect of this tragic story reminds me of what the apostle Paul said about our salvation:
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:4–5)
We weren’t just wounded by sin. We weren’t merely crippled. We were dead. We were helpless to save ourselves. There was nothing we could do to escape the trap in which we found ourselves.
That’s when God intervened. He sent Jesus to die for us, to rescue us, when we were powerless to rescue ourselves. Just as Tirado needed more than a lifeline in those frigid waters, so we too needed a rescuer. And we got one in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul also wrote:
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
God didn’t wait until we were good enough. He didn’t wait until we deserved it. He saw that we were dead in sin, and he sent his son to die for us.
No matter what you’ve done, no matter where you’ve been in your life, there is salvation available. Not because you have earned it. Not because you deserve it. But because God loves you and wants to rescue you.
Let him pull you out of the icy waters of sin. Let him free you from death. Let God save you.