Tag Archives: Hope

Be Strong and Courageous

I am the Lord and beside me there is no other …

Image result for strong and courageousThis phrase is repeated ten times over three chapters of Isaiah 44 – 46. To be repeated this often, perhaps God has a message for us? What is he saying? What are the implications of this saying?

It is interesting to note that there are also five instances of “I made you, and formed you in the womb!”

He’s telling us that he has things under control. He put the king of Persia in place to serve his purposes in rebuilding Jerusalem. Just as he made us he also made the king of Persia and just as he has a purpose for us he has a purpose for the king, even though his people had abandoned the God who created this world.

There are many messages in these three chapters, but a consistent theme is God’s confirmation that He alone is God and there are no other gods like him. He has things under control to the point where he made us and formed us in the womb with a purpose that serves his greater purpose.

If God is in control, we should not be shaken by the events taking place in this world, such as terrorist attacks or changes in leadership. We should not be shaken when our personal worlds are shaken by financial instability or sickness. I have friends who have come through cancer, and other debilitating illnesses. I have friends who are currently going through treatments for illnesses. I have recently lost a friend to a sudden heart attack. There are many in my life who are going through a period of financial hardship. Indeed my own world is shaken in the mighty winds that blow.

There is a two word phrase often repeated in the scriptures, “but God …” Those two words give us hope. God has a larger plan, he sees the larger picture and tells us that all things work together for the good of those who love him and follow him. He also has a plan for this world that will not be thwarted. One only has to look at the book of Revelation to read about the end of the story. It ends with God and everything that is good and right in his eyes surviving and finally bringing the peace that we all seek.

We can have a sense of that peace even today. By placing our faith in the Son of God, we can have peace in the middle of the storm. We can have the hope of an eternity with God. Four times in the first chapter of Joshua, God tells Joshua to be strong and courageous. In verse 9 he says, be strong and courageous because the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

He is the Lord who made us, named us, and formed us in the womb. He is the Lord who made this world and everything in it? There is nothing in this world big enough to disrupt God’s plans for us and for this world. God’s purposes will be done and our job as believers is to be strong and courageous salt and light in our world. Be an encouragement and tower of strength for those who don’t know the God who made them. He said in verse 7 of Isaiah 45, “I call you by your name, I name you, though you do not know me.”

We have a God who made us to be salt and light for him in this world. Each with a purpose and each with access to the hope that he has offered us free of any obligatory behavior. There is nothing we can do to curry favor with him besides believe in his Son whom he sent. Through faith we are all children of Abraham.

Rather than buying into all the fear, uncertainty and doubt in this world, know that he said, “my peace I leave with you.” It is the peace that passes all understanding.

Carpe diem, seize the day, the Lord your God goes with you, it is he who has made you to overcome the world. Be strong and courageous! Let’s have hope and peace even in the face of fear, uncertainty and doubt.

God has told us “My counsel will stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.” Have faith. Have hope. Love God first, then love your neighbor.

A Little Wobbly?

We are in times of transition … in our lives … isn’t the aging process fun? This month the Image result for wobblyleadership of our country will make a shift not only in leaders, but also in philosophical direction. This is unsettling to many, especially when we hear more about the unhappy souls than about those who believe the shift will take us in the right direction. Turning on the TV or radio is akin to turning one’s stomach into a churning mass that begs for a handle bar to stabilize us.

Hebrews 10:23 tells us, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”

Are you feeling a little wobbly? Let’s not lose sight of the real hope that we have. Let’s take a step back and keep our eyes focused on the hope of life with the only one who can and will deliver on promises. There is only one whose promises will be delivered at the end of our time here on this earth.

Use his promises to keep you from wobbling and wavering back and forth. Remember where your help comes from. King David said, “I will lift my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.” (Ps 121:1-2)

Let’s take the assurance of the only One who will deliver on the hope He has given us. This world will come to an end. The doomsday prognosticators  are right on that point.

But for those of us who have laid hold of the Hope, it will be a glorious ending, for he who promised is faithful. Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth … He will wipe away every tear from their eyes and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Rev 21:1 ff) I would add an exclamation point to that  What a fantastic future we have if we’ve taken hold of His promises!

Have a blessed day and stand firm!

Generational Gifts

I’ve talked about this in the past and will likely talk about it again in the future, because it is a subject that is near to my heart. We often talk about heritage and legacy. For centuries Image result for family faithpast we have been a world that has lived in close proximity as families and as communities. We were able to walk from our homes to the homes of other family members. Speaking from my personal family history, my parents with their siblings and their parents, with few exceptions, lived in close geographic proximity. Uncles, and aunts and cousins lived across the street from our house. In fact, at one point, our family shared a house with my father’s sister and her family.

I know from talking with friends, that our experience was not unique. Neighborhoods even in New York City were filled with family networks throughout the neighborhoods. This level of living in proximity facilitated the passing down of family traditions, customs, and generational values that most often were and are interlaced with values of faith, or lack thereof. We sing a song titled “Faith of our Fathers” which talks of that faith living still, and our children dying for that faith. The concept of which we sing is that of passing our faith and system of truth along to the next generation. It is indeed one generation’s gift to the next.

In the sixth chapter of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses says that this is the commandment that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you … that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son … that your days may be long. He goes on to write, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise … You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” In other words, show the next generations, first of all, your faith in God, and because of that how they should live. Pass these values along at every opportunity when you are with your children whether in the house or at play or walking along the path as you work.

In our world, proximity is a rare commodity. Our families are spread across hundreds and thousands of miles. Passing along these generational gifts becomes more challenging but technology gives us many opportunities to cross the miles to influence the next generations. This blog is an example of that. It will be left behind for my children and grandchildren to read and reflect on the words recorded here. I have the opportunity to talk about God’s word across the miles and into the future for the generations that I may never meet until we see each other in heaven.

In many cases, we awaken to the faith long after our children have left our homes and have settled in other parts of our world. We ought not to live in regret, but rather in thankfulness that we have awakened to the need for influencing the next generations. Galatians 6:10 provides this counsel, “And let us not grow weary of doing good for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” And again in Ephesians 5:15-16 Paul tells us that regardless of where we find ourselves, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” So, as an encouragement, at such a point in time when we awaken to God’s call on our lives, we have the opportunity to begin walking as wise people, sharing the wisdom of God’s truths with our children, so that they too will be able to see the love that God has for them.

We all love to give good gifts to our children. What greater gift can one give to the generations that follow but to create an environment that holds the opportunity for that generation to take hold of the faith that is to love and know the Lord our God, which is indeed an eternal gift. The choice is their’s whether they accept the gift or not. Our opportunity is to extend to them graciously and lovingly the gift that we have received from our Father in heaven. Can there be a better time to give such a gift but during this time when we celebrate Jesus, God Himself coming to earth as a baby? Let’s make the most of every opportunity, and let God do the work that He has promised He will do.

Set the table, my friends.

Cheers

Some time ago there was a television show called Cheers. The setting was a neighborhood Image result for friendshipbar and the by-line was “Where everybody knows your name.” The idea was that a wide variety of people from the neighborhood would stop in, not so much to wet their whistles, but more for the conversation that would happen there.

Having lived in eight different communities, I have to say that each city, each neighborhood, each circle of friends have brought different things to my life. There were communities within the communities. We have community with our colleagues in our work, with those in our neighborhood, and among those with whom we worship. But one is forced to ask, why do we have so many lonely people in this world? How is it that we know people, but don’t have any relationships or friends?

As humans we are made to need and to have relationships. A relationship with God first, and then relationships with each other. When we don’t have those relationships, we have a sense that something is missing. We are unique among all of creation, because we alone have the need and capacity for selective relationships.

If this is a basic part of who we are, why are so many of us lonely? Might it be that we will not give others the opportunity to love us for who we are? Might it be that we hold back feeling that we may not be accepted? Maybe it is because we live in a closed garage door world. We go to work, are cordial but not really friendly with our co-workers, then go home, drive into the garage and close the door until we start the cycle all over again.

Now, I’m not so naive to think that this isn’t a gross oversimplification. But I do think it worthwhile to consider whether there aren’t some simple things we can do to know and be known, love and be loved.

Suppose for a moment that you would pick one day in a week when you reach out to a neighbor, yes, that one that you would like to get to know, or that one that you are thinking needs a friend. What if you reached out just to invite for a cup of coffee, or you found a reason to talk to that person on the phone. The worst that could happen is that they are not available or just hang up on you. What have you lost? Nothing. You have the satisfaction of having reached out. You may have to reach out to multiple people before you get a taker. Don’t give up on inviting others into your world.

Now someone accepts your invitation. Now what? A great place to start is to ask the other person about who they are, where did they grow up, what hobbies do they have, what about their family, what makes them really happy? Perhaps there is something that you could really use their input on. Think about it. Do you really have all of life figured out? With minimal thought, there are questions we could pose. You’ll be surprised how many things you’ll find that are common concerns, common viewpoints, or common interests.

This is the beginning. The next time you see that person you greet one another, exchange pleasantries, and ask about that thing that was a concern for that person. No need to make a federal case about it. Just show the other person that you’re interested in them and the things that concern them. Even something as simple as remembering names. I met a couple in church one Sunday. A week later, they came back and I greeted them by name. This simple act made them feel like they mattered. After all, isn’t that we all want? We want to know that we matter to someone? It’s even true of God. We want to know that we matter to God. When he answers our prayers, our deepest heart cries, we then know that we matter to him.

The fact that other people know our names gives us a connection. It is the beginning of relationship. Hey, I know who you are, and it matters to me. I am blessed to live in a neighborhood community where neighbors connect at an uncommon level. We care for one another, pray for one another, have meals together, support one another in causes that are important, not necessarily to me, but to different ones. We’re learning how to carry each others’ burdens.

I write this just to encourage you to sit back to think about how you might encourage your neighbors and colleagues or even family members who have become distant. We’re all on a journey. Some make friends easily, others not so much, but we’re learning. What if you joined with that neighbor to do a good deed for someone? None of us was made to do life alone. Find a way to connect with someone who needs a friend. For all the people in this world there is no need for anyone to be lonely.

Can’t We Just Get Along?

Many people are really getting tired of all the verbal dart throwing that is dominating our news feeds on social media and the news feeds from the so called news media. Several in Image result for loving vs judgingmy circle of friends have recently posted in social media that they just want us all to get along with each other. During the Christmas season we are longing for the promise of the angels, “peace on earth, good will to all men.”

As much as our world wants to believe that mankind is inherently good and that our world is improving and will continue to improve, reality is not showing that to be true. Instead, tensions seem to be increasing and our respective views are being used for division rather than building unity. Forgiveness and understanding seem to be in short supply. Many seem to be wandering into their own peculiar world of isolationism alienating those who disagree and even casting doubt on the intelligence, integrity and even the character and faith of “those people.”

I have come to believe that as much as many of us really do want to get along with the rest of the world, somehow the world of dialog has been reconfigured for us. It seems that it is socially acceptable to love our neighbor so long as they agree with us. Love is a choice, therefore, the prevailing patterns show that we will love those who agree with us and castigate and eviscerate all who disagree, or at the very least avoid interactions with them. It is as though there are other forces at work in our world. As many as there are that say they just want to get along, it seems that lines are being drawn for us that are beyond our control or at least at work in our subconscious. Those lines tell us that as long as you agree with me, we can get along. It is not even alignment of truth systems that matter. If you can’t support my train of thought or behavior, we can’t have rational discussion or cordial relationship, and I may even take you to court. Even though we profess to value congeniality, we seem to have lost our ability to disagree with civility.

I am going to suggest that we need to be careful about discerning what is going on in our world. As much as we claim to be in control of ourselves and our destinies, the Bible tells us that there are other forces at work. Ephesians 6:12 tells us that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against the authorities, against cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” We need to keep in mind at all times, who and what we’re really fighting against.

It is not “those guys.” There is a spiritual battle that is being waged and, if we allow it, we will be pawns in the battle between good and evil. The end result that until Christ returns to this earth, the purposes of evil will sway heavily in our world. The Apostle Paul wrote that we once lived following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. What Paul is saying here is that the world is and has been following the lead of Satan (the prince of the power of the air) and that pursuit takes us in a downward spiral. We need to acknowledge that.

Our current mindset and behavior does not line up with the teachings of Jesus, nor should it be representative of Christians or evangelicals, Catholics or whatever brand a person of faith has these days. How can I say this? Jesus was criticized by the Jewish leaders for having dinner and socializing with those who didn’t live up to the standards the leaders of the faith had interpreted from the Scriptures. To be sure, some of them had made up a lot of rules that were not part of God’s word, and they replaced the relationship that God desires to have with us with a code of rules upon which man would be able to assess our true spirituality. When asked which is the great commandment in the law, Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt 22:34-40) Think relationship, not works, not rules.

In another scene, the Jewish leaders challenged the disciples because Jesus was dining with “tax collectors and sinners.” When Jesus heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt 9:9-13) How would Christ hope to draw sinners to himself if he disassociated himself from any who sinned? The reality is that he would not have come to this world because we are all sinners. Paul wrote in Romans 5:8 that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. He paid the ultimate sacrifice of love before we believed and while we were still sinners. The self-righteous condemnation of others has no place in Christian circles. It only plays into the hands of the forces of evil engaged in the heavenly battle. It destroys the message of love that Christ brought into this world when he came as a baby, and died on the cross, out of love, for our sins. We are the sick and the sinners that Jesus came to call, and continues to call.

So why can’t we all get along? There is a very real battle being waged for the minds and souls of mankind. In his first letter to the early church, the apostle Peter wrote, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. Resist him …” (1 Peter 5:8) It is a battle of good and evil that was set before this world was created when Lucifer, now known as Satan, rebelled against God and led a group of angels to challenge God. This battle is ongoing and is being waged over the souls of mankind. It is interesting to note that God could have obviated this battle over the souls of men by creating us to be automatically obedient to him. But he loved us so much that he created the human species to be unique among all of creation as the only beings capable of making choices of love, hate, indifference, conscious obedience, or rejection. He wanted us to have the ability to love him in return and that ability also required giving us a choice for obedience or rejection of our Creator.

We need to discern and acknowledge which battle we are fighting. It is not against “those guys.” People who make different choices than some of us have made, have ultimately been directly or indirectly influenced by the rulers and powers playing in the heavenly battle over our souls. When all is said and done, we are all human beings put here on this earth for a purpose. Those of us who love God (the first great commandment) need to learn how to pass along the love with which God has loved us to love our neighbors as he has loved us. Does this mean that all of our behaviors are in keeping with his commandments? No, but it means that we still need to love each other so that we aren’t inhibiting others from seeing the God who loves us all, and gave himself up for us.

Would I like to see us all get along? Absolutely. Do I acknowledge that there are forces at work dividing us as people? Yes, for sure. Are there behavior patterns that go against God’s design for us? Yes, there are. Is it my job to poke a finger in your eye to point out those behaviors? No. It is God’s job to judge. It is my job to love the person next to me so that they can see God through me. It is God’s truth that brings light to our path. Don’t take the toothpick out of your brother’s eye before you have taken the log out of your own eye.

Yes, many, if not most, will not accept the truth of God’s word. But let’s not put ourselves in the position of being the arbiters of who has and who has found grace under his truths. Scripture tells us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. This is taking the log out of your own eye before worrying about the speck in your neighbor’s eye. I have many logs to remove. Perhaps you do as well. Let’s learn how to love one another and be distributors of God’s grace in generous amounts as has been given to us. Let’s help our neighbors see who God really is.

Why Do I Do The Things I Don’t Want To Do?

Romans 7 is a classic passage for those who fight against our human reactions and responses to different situations. The Apostle Paul begins by telling us that the wages of sin are death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus (6:23). None of us wants to sin, but as long as we’re in these earthly bodies and until we inherit our glorified bodies we will have a battle with sin. Paul says beginning in 7:18, For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good that I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

So what’s the point? This week I received an article regarding a well known golfer who, while he is a believer, is known for brash comments, angry reactions to poorly played golf shots, and a reputation in the club house of being less than cordial at times. The media have pretty much diminished this man’s Christian witness by pointing out his judgmental and behavioral shortcomings as a juxtaposition against his claims of faith. It is a sad situation, indeed, when the media pick up on such things to point out our behaviors that don’t honor God. Yet, if we all lived in the public eye as this man does, how would we be appraised in the public square?

I, for one, am reluctant to pass judgment on such a man because I too have banged my club to the ground when a golf shot is poorly hit. No, I’m not a professional like he is, but at times, I experience the same frustration. The frustration is unwarranted because I don’t commit the time to the game that might limit the number of errant golf shots. In this arena and others, I find Paul’s words to be so appropriate for me and my life. I am just glad that I’m not in the public eye like the tour pro is. But wait! Is that the end of the story? Is this all there is to the story of redemption and forgiveness that we find in Christ? To use the words of Paul again, may it never be!

This same Paul wrote in his letter to the church at Philippi (3:12 ff), not that I’m already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Jesus has made me his own. I forget what is behind me and strain forward to what lies ahead. Let those of us who are mature think like this. Let’s not be discouraged by our past failures. Let’s press on, asking the Holy Spirit to guide us into right thinking and the resulting behavior. Let’s grab hold of the progress we’ve already made and claim that land.

Now here’s a bold statement, Paul tells the Philippians to imitate him. Imitate those who are following our example. Don’t follow those who walk as enemies of the cross of Christ, and whose end is destruction. Don’t follow those who celebrate their accumulated wealth, or are proud of their “don’t give a damn” attitude and lifestyle. Live as a citizen of heaven whose priorities are aligned with the teachings of Scripture.

Paul writes, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it [heaven] we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him to subject all things to himself.” (3:20-21) We ought to live as though we are anticipating the arrival of Jesus returning to take the people who have placed their faith in him, to heaven to be with him for eternity.

Are you living in expectation? Are you living in realistic anticipation, believing that he will come like a thief in the night, knowing that he will come without two weeks notice? None of us is perfect, but are we confessing our sins so that he can forgive our sins as he has promised? (1 Jn 1:9) You know confession is good for the soul. It keeps us mindful of our true condition as unworthy recipients of God’s grace. At some point we’ll talk about not living in a perpetual pity party, but for now let us understand that it is healthy for us to understand what we have done … or not … to deserve our salvation. God showed his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5:8) It is by grace (undeserved favor) we have been saved, through faith. And this (faith) is not of our own doing, it is the gift of God.

My friends and family, please let us live lives in such a way as to express our love and appreciation for the love that was so lavished on us.

Grace and Peace …

Let us consider …

This week I saw a post from a friend asking for others to share stories of what God was doing in their lives. I thought it was a good entry and one that we should see more of. I sent her some of our story going back to the time we left Atlanta. She thanked me for the encouragement. But this raises a fundamental question in relation to the Hebrews 10:24 passage calling us to consider how to stir one another up to love and good works. How should we, as Christians go about encouraging one another? Is there a set of rules that guides such behavior? Ephesians 5:19 tells us to be filled with the Spirit, talking and singing with one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.

We are to consider how to spur one another on. I am in a Bible study with a group of men whose stories and journeys are becoming well known among the group. When we talk of God’s goodness and faithfulness we have our own set of stories that are sort of a library of battle wins that we can use to encourage one another. When we see the instruction of scripture, we have case studies and examples that we can use to create the picture. Some of these are stories that we share with others, and some we keep within the walls of that room.

This is not the kind of thing that we quote Bible verses to each other whenever we see each other. We know the stories and draw strength from how God has worked in our lives and our faith is built up. There is real value in knowing and being known. I just had a friend go through a very difficult illness, one that threatened her life on at least two occasions. We praise God together now, because he has brought her through the valley of the shadow of death. The stories are endless and in the process of knowing and being known, we remind each other of God’s faithfulness. We can say, “Remember when things were not going well, and we prayed and God answered our prayers?”

Some of this encouragement comes from the Ephesians 5 passage, because we have seen God’s faithfulness in our own lives and sharing an appropriate verse has greater meaning because it is shared in the context of our shared experience and in the remembering of God’s faithfulness. Suddenly you have the living and active word of God (Hebrews 4:12) intersecting with real life and the word comes to life! This becomes part of your testimony.

You know, I’m sure I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but our testimony ought not to be about the single event or moment in time when we invited Christ into our hearts. Our testimonies ought to be on-going developing stories of God’s faithfulness and how he is bringing growth to our spiritual lives.

How can we live in encouraging community? Who are those whom you would invite to be your guides and encouragers when the wheels seem to be coming off? Think ahead to upcoming interactions. Think about how you can be an encourager to get someone to use their gifts. I love how the New Living Translation says it: Encourage someone to outbursts of love and good deeds!

Have a blessed day!