Category » Hope
The house was quiet and dark. The family inside was under quarantine. Diphtheria had found its way inside, claiming the lives of two infant girls; the young sisters had died within twenty-four hours of each other.
Now a group of people gathered outside the house. Among them was Cleland McAfee, uncle of the dead girls, brother to the grieving father. A Presbyterian minister and hymn writer, McAfee brought comfort in the best way he knew how: comfort in song. He had composed a hymn to express the consolation he was looking for during this difficult time. The first verse of his beautiful hymn says:
There is a place of quiet rest,
near to the heart of God;
a place where sin cannot molest,
near to the heart of God.
Words of comfort and quiet assurance. Not everyone finds such peace when faced with loss. But some receive that gift of God, the gift of a peace that passes understanding.
In the Old Testament, we read of King David and his infant son. The mighty king was powerless when his son fell ill; all he could do was pray, begging God to spare his son. Yet the baby died.
When they realized the child was dead, the king’s servants were afraid to tell him. Their whispers gave them away, however, and the king realized his son had died. He rose, cleaned himself up, and went to the temple to worship God. When questioned about his behavior, David replied:
“While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2 Samuel 12:22–23)
May such tragedies never come your way. But should they come, please remember these thoughts. A child who dies leaves a world of strife, finding a place of rest. We can’t bring them back, but we can live our lives in such a way that we will go to them.
Our God gave up his only Son, sending him to this world to bring us the hope of eternal life. He reaches out to grieving families saying, “I know your pain. And I can turn that pain into hope.”
At first glance it seems so unfair. He hired a group of day laborers who worked hard all day, but they were not going to finish the job. Throughout the day he added to his workforce, even adding people who were only able to work the last hour. When it came time to pay his workers, he gave everyone the same amount. For those who had worked all day, it seemed so unfair. But for those who had worked only at the end of the day, it was a wonderful surprise. The employer explained that he had paid the first workers exactly what he agreed to pay. As for the others, it was his choice to be generous.
This is a story that Jesus told and it is a story of hope. It is for those who think they missed their chance to believe in Jesus. There are those times in life when people face their regrets about choices they made. And those regrets are often because they chose not to follow Jesus. It may be that the children have grown up and you wish you had shown them value and purpose based on the eternal principles found in Christianity. Perhaps you have retired, and now realize that most of the things you thought were important really do not matter to you now. Or as you age, you realize that you will die and you are not really prepared for the afterlife.
You realize you do believe, but you wonder if you have waited too long. Is it is too late? Did you miss your opportunity to believe in Jesus? Have you wasted your life? You long for a chance to start over. If you find yourself having some of these thoughts, this story is for you. Our God is generous and gracious. His invitation to believe in his Son Jesus and live forever is still open. It is not too late. Becoming a Christian late in life will make a statement to your family about what matters. God will still use your life as an example to influence others. But most importantly… it changes your eternal future.
I know this because my own grandfather was over 80 when he became a Christian. Of course he wished he had done it earlier. But he received the same reward as my grandmother who became a Christian when she was a young girl. They are together in heaven.
It is not too late.
In the time of Jesus, people hated tax collectors. Admittedly, tax collectors can be unpopular today, but nothing like what it was back then.
The Jews saw tax collectors as collaborators, for these men worked with the Roman occupiers of the Jewish homeland. In addition, the tax system left plenty of room for corruption, and tax collectors had earned a reputation for dishonesty.
Because of this, taxmen couldn’t testify in Jewish court. They couldn’t participate in the synagogues. Because of their constant contact with non-Jews, they were considered to be unclean; even their money was seen as tainted and couldn’t be used for charity work.
There was a group of people at the other extreme of Jewish society. They were religious leaders known as the Pharisees. They were strict adherents to God’s Law, zealously studying the Scriptures to see what God wanted them to do. They looked down on everyone who didn’t do what they did.
Jesus told a story about a Pharisee and a tax collector. It goes like this:
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:10–14)
Sometimes I hear people describing others and saying, “They are faithful Christians.” What they mean is, those people regularly attend church services and don’t commit obvious, public sins.
The Pharisee in this story would fit that description. Yet Jesus wants to remind us that performing a series of religious acts doesn’t make us right with God. Our attitude matters. What the Bible calls “the heart.” While men look at the outside, God looks at the heart.
So even if we’re what the world considers “sinners,” we can be right with God. We need to go to him with faith and humility. We must recognize our sin and accept his forgiveness. We participate in a symbolic death, burial, and resurrection through baptism. And we let God’s Spirit lead us as we live our new life in Christ.
Now here’s a secret… even Pharisees can do the same! Whether we’re living a moral lifestyle or a sin-filled life, God’s offer of salvation is available to us all.
It is a moment of panic. You reach inside your purse where you have put five $20 bills – and you only find four. Immediately you empty the purse out and go through every pocket and every corner looking for your lost money. It really is not comforting to have someone remind you that you still have four. You want to find the lost money. It is the same reasoning behind the lost and found rooms at schools, stores, or churches. Things get lost and people are desperate to find them.
People get lost too. I don’t mean that you need better travel directions. But that you need direction – a reason for living. You hear the phrase “lost boys” concerning war orphans. Or” lost souls” in reference to young people with no sense of purpose. Lost is even used in a spiritual sense to indicate those who have broken their relationship with God because of their sin.
Lost things matter and we want to find them. Watch how people react when they find the lost item. Observe children who find their jacket in the lost and found. Or adults who find the lost money. There will be big smiles, shouts of joy, and sometimes tears of happiness.
Jesus told stories about how important lost things are. He told of how people will do anything to find a lost coin or a lost sheep. He pointed out how happy everyone is when the lost thing is found.
He also told a story about a lost son. One who finally found his way back home. He told it so you would know how important you are to God. He told it so you would know how much God loves you. God will do anything to restore us to a relationship with him. In fact, he did. He sent His Son from heaven to earth to find us and make a way back to God. If you are one of those lost souls away from God, then please know that God is seeking you. He sent a Son to find you and bring you back to him.
I am a baseball fan, and in spite of living in Texas Rangers country, I root for the New York Yankees. But to be honest, MY Yankees were the teams from 1958-1964. The names of Howard, Berra, Ford, Mantle, Maris, Stengal, and Kubek remind me of my “wonder bread” years of living in New York City during the almost Noble Age of Baseball.
A player that I liked a lot then and admire the most now was/is Bobby Richardson. He played second base and spent his entire playing career in the Yankee organization. But Bobby was different. He didn’t just claim or talk about being a Christian, he lived like one and still does today.
I own and have read his autobiography published in 1965 and I also have an autographed copy of his 2012 memoir entitled Impact Player. Both books discuss the challenges of being in the Major Leagues but staying true to your beliefs and not being caught in the temptations of the Major Leagues’ lifestyle.
I had the opportunity to meet Bobby a number of years ago when he came to Abilene, Texas to participate in the Big Country Celebrity Quail Hunt; Bobby likes to hunt quail. He was kind and gracious and signed a lot of baseballs that I gave to sponsors of the event. He was very willing to do anything he could to help.
I am struck by the fact that our culture disregards the “role model” for the “role idol” where everything celebrities do is worshipped including their unseemly behavior and outward expressions.
Like Bobby Richardson, there are some celebrities who strive to live the Christ like life and most never earn the spotlight for it or are ridiculed.
Doing right is always good, but not always honored by the world around you.
At the end of Impact Player, Bobby Richardson writes,
“When accounts of my life are written, I hope two things will be said of me. First, that I played baseball in a way that made my team better. Second, and more important, that I lived my life in a way that drew others to my Savior. To God be the glory.”
Today what celebrities, sports figures or other personalities can you identify that demonstrate a Christian lifestyle? How are those individuals portrayed in the media? Do you think having an obvious Christian faith is positive or negative in our Culture today?
My dogs hate squirrels. Especially squirrels in trees. The dogs bark and whine, running and jumping as they follow the squirrels from below. One of the dogs even used to climb high in the trees after her hated foes, until she got too old for such.
When they are in the middle of a chase, the dogs become frustrated when they find a fence between them and their target. If the ground is soft enough, they quickly burrow under the obstacle and continue the chase.
We’ve recently moved to a new neighborhood, one with more traffic than our old neighborhood. That’s a bit of a problem, since the dogs keep digging out under the fence. It doesn’t matter that the dogs are only chasing squirrels; there’s mortal danger for them if they wander out into the street.
So I spend a lot of time and effort trying to thwart my dogs’ plans to leave our yard. It’s not that I’m against squirrel chasing nor that I want my dogs to feel frustrated. I just want to keep them safe from the dangers that lie outside the borders of our yard.
Does it ever feel like God just made up a bunch of arbitrary rules that were designed to ruin our fun? Someone one said that everything truly enjoyable is either illegal or sinful. Do you ever feel that way?
Some of the lifestyles that the world offers look very inviting, even though we know they are not what God wants for us. Surely life in the fast lane is more fun than life on the straight and narrow!
When I get to feeling like that, I remember my dogs. They aren’t looking to get run over. They aren’t hoping to get lost. They just want to chase squirrels. What they don’t realize is the danger that puts them in. They don’t understand that the fence that seems restricting is actually something put there to protect them.
I need to remember the same. God’s way is the best way. The Christian life is the healthiest life. In the end, it’s the happiest life, as well.
We have to accept the fact that God knows what’s best for us. And we don’t.
I preached my father’s funeral service a few weeks ago and it reminded me of some very important things. It reminded me that I too am going to die someday. My Dad was 86 and he had Alzheimer’s. But there is something about seeing your father die that causes you to reflect on your own mortality. He got old, got sick, and he died. That is probably the blueprint for my future too. And it is probably how you will end your days on earth. It is the way this world works.
How you live is much more important than what you did to make a living. I listened to so many people talk about the difference my Dad had made in their life. People who came to know Jesus because of him. People who gave their lives to telling others about Jesus. I heard of marriages helped, spiritual struggles won, and the power of a marriage that lasted 65 years. I knew my Dad lived life with a purpose. I knew his life was about something bigger than himself. I knew that what mattered to him was being a Jesus ambassador in this world. And I saw evidence of that.
I thought how blessed I am because of him. I am a Jesus follower because of him and my Mom. They taught me to love God and to follow his son. We shared that belief. Because of that faith, I am confident I will see my Dad again. And I cannot imagine how I would have faced his funeral without that confidence.
But here is what I would share with those reading this…
We all die.
Will your life have made a difference in this world?
What happens after you die? I can help you think through these things.
Just like my Dad helped me… even at his funeral.
The World Cup wasn’t part of my life growing up. I loved sports, even though I wasn’t particularly athletic. I watched football, basketball, hockey, golf, bowling. But not soccer. In the southern United States in the 1960s and 1970s, soccer was not a part of our lives.
Then I moved to Argentina in 1985. Everyone was talking about Diego Maradona, the Argentine soccer player who was considered the best in the world. Everyone was nervously waiting for the World Cup, waiting to see if Argentina could win their second title in 8 years.
And they did. The Argentine team fought their way past the competition and won it all.
I remember watching the championship game. I remember the excitement as the end of the match drew near, and Argentina’s victory became a reality. We had won!
Well, they had won. I wasn’t Argentine. I didn’t play soccer. It wasn’t my victory.
And yet… I felt a part of things. When the game ended, I waded out into the crowd in downtown Rosario and cheered along with everyone else. I chanted. I yelled. I jumped up and down. I celebrated our victory.
My Argentine friends had no problem with that. They were willing to let me in on their joy, to allow me to be a part of their celebration. Time passed, and I went back to being a foreigner. But that evening, I was Argentine.
When Jesus died on the cross, he broke down barriers between people. Where there had once been separations between those who could be part of God’s people and those who couldn’t, Jesus eliminated those separations. He gave everyone the right to be part of God’s family.
The apostle Paul wrote:
“He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household” (Ephesians 2:17–19)
My status as an Argentine was a fleeting thing. It ended when the World Cup celebration was over. But my right to be a part of God’s people will never end.
Statistics, surveys, and polls are fascinating things to study. I recently came across some results that I found very interesting. People that are married are often happier than single people. Now, I do not know how they defined happiness, or if the spouses could hear the answer, but as someone who believes strongly in marriage, I was glad to see that. I also saw where married people live longer. So I guess they better be happy. Then I saw some statistics indicating that people who went to church had a much lower divorce rate that those who did not attend church.
So… if you want to be happy and live longer then become a Christian so you can go to church and stay married.
Of course, you have to assume that the stats, polls, or surveys are all accurate. They may be. Or they may not be. But even more to the point, becoming a Christian is not about what makes you happy or helps you live longer. It is not even about helping your marriage. Being a Christian is about restoring your relationship with God. That is why Jesus came to earth. He came to be a way back to God. Being a Christian is about how much God loves you. It is about God and Jesus wanting you to live in relationship with them forever.
As a Christian, you may not always be healthy. Christians get sick because we live in a fallen and corrupted world. Jesus even said we would have trouble in this world. He also said he had overcome this world. You may not live a long time on this earth even if you are a Christian. If you are a Christian, this world is not your real home. Realize the life that God invites you into is for eternity, and not just for the little while you are here.
So while I do believe that following Jesus will help your marriage, and a good marriage may very well help you be happier and live longer, that is not the reason to become a Christian. Become a Christian because God loves you and his Son died on the cross to give you a way to be with God forever.
God wants all of His people to be with Him forever. He’s planned on that from the beginning and even prepared a place far more beautiful than any imaginative conjuring we could create. We have called that place Heaven “and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there will be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Rev. 21:4. It will be a glorious place for God and Jesus will both be there.
If you believe in Heaven, then you must believe in Hell. Scripture talks about both and you have to acknowledge the bad as well as the good. Hell is described as a place that “burns with fire and brimstone.” Rev 21:8 And a place where God and Jesus are not.
And if you believe that God wants all of his people to go to Heaven, then you have to know that, by their choices and actions, some will not be in heaven but will go to Hell. “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” Rev. 21:8.
If you believe in life on this earth, then you must believe in life after death because scripture talks about both. In 1 John 5:13, the writer says he’s written the things he did “that you may know that you have eternal life.”
The question becomes, where will you spend your eternal life?
And the next question is, is that where you want to be?