Tag Archives: hope

4. the saving grace of the gospel

Tim Keller

I recently read through a book (review here) where I read this statement for the first time and my heart literally fell to its knees in humble surrender and I cried. Not full out sobbing though there were tears and an ache that ran so deep I couldn’t help but allow Jesus to embrace me in that moment.

Mercy

Not getting what I deserve.

Grace

Getting what I don’t deserve – Undeserved favor.

I am more sinful and flawed than I ever dared believe and yet, through the blood of my Savior, Jesus Christ, I am more loved and accepted than I ever dared hope…at the same time.

Just let that statement wash over you.

You are more loved and accepted, in spite of yourself, than you ever dared hope by a man who died to know you.

“The gospel of justifying faith means that while Christians are, in themselves still sinful and sinning, yet in Christ, in God’s sight, they are accepted and righteous. So we can say that we are more wicked than we ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope – at the very same time. This creates a radical new dynamic for personal growth. It means that the more you see your own flaws and sins, the more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to you. But on the other hand, the more aware you are of God’s grace and acceptance in Christ, the more able you are to drop your denials and self-defenses and admit the true dimensions and character of your sin.” – Timothy Keller

I am grateful for so many things, but this…

This trumps all.

If it weren’t for the saving grace of the gospel, I wouldn’t have hope; we wouldn’t have hope.

There would be no reason to.

The gospel is a message from God about him…

about our sin…

about his Son, Jesus Christ…

about his sacrifice…

about his love for us, his beloved children…

and a summons to faith and commitment…to him, and him alone.

It’s sad to say that some churches give a good presentation of God’s gospel message, teaching his commandments and how we should live them out from the pulpit, but never give their listeners the opportunity to make a commitment to following him or what following him really means; what it really looks like.

I grew up in such a church.

Between my birth and the age of 18, I had only been given an opportunity to respond to that call on my heart once…through the amazing love and kindness of my mother and God’s use of a bedtime story at the tender age of four. I’ll forever be grateful for that moment in my life. The real adventure of my life began that day.

Let me backtrack on that a moment:

Yes, I grew up in the church.

Yes, I heard about Jesus and learned how to obey his commands each week, through the sermons, through Sunday school, through catechism, through GEMs and through my education at the local private elementary school.

But…it’s not enough to simply know all of these things and try to live them out (works-based faith (i.e. legalism).

It is not enough.

“The gospel is news of what God has done to reach us. It is not advice about what we must do to reach God.” Timothy Keller

Jesus didn’t give his life for me just so I could live my life believing (head knowledge) that he is the Son of God and that he died on the cross for my sins. Even the devil knows and believes this.

The gospel isn’t about how good I am or how well I live out those commands. Attempting that on my own isn’t enough. I can’t earn God’s favor. He already gave it…freely.

Grace

The entire Bible is God’s story, our history, and sums up the gospel in this:

  • God created us to be with him; to take joy in him (Genesis 1-2).
  • Our sin separates us from God (Genesis 3).
  • Sins cannot be removed by good deeds – we cannot earn our way to heaven (Genesis 4- Malachi 4).
  • Paying the price for our sin, Jesus – God confined to human flesh – died and rose again, bridging the gap in our relationship – enter mercy and grace (Matthew-Luke).
  • Everyone who trusts in Him alone has eternal life (John).
  • Life with Jesus starts now and lasts forever (Acts-Revelation).

“The gospel is neither religion nor irreligion – it is something else altogether. Religion makes law and moral obedience a means of salvation, while irreligion makes the individual a law to him or herself. The gospel, however, is that jesus takes the law of God so seriously that He paid the penalty of disobedience, so we can be saved by sheer grace.” – Timothy Keller

Mercy

Not getting what I deserve.

Grace

Getting what I don’t deserve – undeserved favor.

Everything written in his Word directly applies to our lives today and the gospel needs to make its way to my heart for it to have an impact and for its transformational power to work in not just my life, but on those whom my life touches.

The gospel has the power to heal, redeem and restore… making all things new. The gospel allows me to live by the standard of grace rather than works:

“To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story [not just the good…the dark/bad too.] In admitting [my dark side] I learn who I am and what God’s grace means.” – Brennan Manning

I needed to make a commitment to following Jesus; to allowing him entrance into my life and my heart so he could begin his redeeming work in restoring me.

Not just once in my life, but every single day.  romans 1.16

I need to be intentional when it comes to my relationship with Jesus (more on that later). I need to make the choice to follow him with each passing moment and choose to give him first priority with each decision I make and all that I do. It’s intentionally choosing to surrender my life to Jesus and allowing him to work within me…throwing out the rubble of lies I’ve believed and renewing my mind with his truth.

It’s about defining myself as loved by God. This is my true self…all other titles, names, and faux identities will pass and fade, as will anything this material world offers – daughter, sister, lover, co-worker…my job title isn’t my identity. I am a daughter of the one true God. I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine (Song 6.4). That is my identity. That is who I am.

And living this way is radical.

It goes against the grain of our culture and our world.

It isn’t easy. Nothing in this walk with Jesus has been or is. I will say that life is easier with him than it ever could be apart from him.

I don’t want to be like this broken, beautiful world I live in. I want to and long to be like my precious Jesus.

This isn’t just for me. It’s for all:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3.16 NIV

God so loved the world

Jesus stands at the door and knocks (Revelation 3.20). He doesn’t barge in. He patiently and lovingly waits for you to invite him in.

We need to be active in seeking God…”and those who enter a relationship with God inevitably look back and recognize that God’s grace had sought them out, breaking them open to new realities.” (Tim Keller, The Reason for God)

I am aware of so much more now than I would be if I had not chosen to follow Jesus. I am no longer blind. I see…more and more with each passing day.

“My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I’ve done nothing to earn it or deserve it.” – Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

I’m thankful for the saving grace of the gospel that, because of it, I am more loved and accepted than I ever dared hope.

We all get to choose between life and death. Today, and every day that follows, I’m choosing life.

What will you choose?

“The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creation. Not to make people with better morals but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within, who would live in ever greater fidelity to the omnipresent Word of God, who would enter into the center of it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the center of the flame that consumes, purifies, and set s everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love. This, my friend, is what it really means to be a Christian.” Brennan Manning, The Furious Longing of God

If you’re seeking guidance or wanting a relationship with Jesus, please reach out to and get plugged in to your church in your area or a friend/co-worker who you know is a Christian. Or, leave me a message here.

thankful

a place to start

Starting anything seems to be the hardest part for us.

How often have you thought that you needed to begin a diet and exercise program but this week doesn’t seem like the right time to begin? Or you found that if you started on Monday, come Tuesday you had already fallen off the wagon? (I’ll let you in on a secret: Start on a Saturday…you’re welcome.)

Most of us know at least three things that, if we did them, would immensely improve our lives. Maybe one of those things would be to do a better job at managing our money, or spend more time with our family, or decide once and for all that we’re going to change careers, go back to school, or start a business.

Not having enough information is rarely the problem. We just never get started.

I’ve struggled with this too, in the fact that I have multiple dreams and goals I would love to see met in my life. I have all the facts. I know what to do. I just get hung up on all of the “buts” that tie into each idea.

Allow me to elaborate on that one word for a moment. 

I’ve had many opportunities to talk with friends, family, coworkers and acquaintances about their life goals; they willingly and readily share the processes they need to go through get there or the ideas they had on how to get there but…

There’s always a “but.”

I stumbled on several articles just this past week on the power this one word has on all of us. An interesting power, actually. Whenever the word “but” is used, people tend not to remember anything that was said before it.

For example, your boss asks you to join him in his office late on a Friday afternoon. The conversation begins like this: “We have really appreciated your work for our company these last several years, but…

or

“You did an excellent job heading up the project for such and such, but…”

Or maybe, a young man receives a text message from a girl he’s been seeing and it reads: “I have really enjoyed dating you these last three months, but…

See what happens there?

Hearing that one word removes everything before it from our memory and we tend to focus on everything that comes after it.

Isn’t that strange?

Unfortunately, we tend to do the same when it comes to Jesus and the free gift of grace He offers. Sin possesses the same kind of power that one word. Sin is the negation, the “no” that attempts to blot out the truth Jesus Christ offers.

Sure, Jesus loves me, but I’m a sinner.
The Bible says all are saved by faith in Jesus Christ but I’ve done too much.
I know Jesus can do much through me, but I need to fix me before He can do anything.

But…

We forget everything else that comes before that one word.

We forget the price He paid.

We forget that He covered everything with His blood.

No sin is so far removed that it hasn’t been covered.

In The Gospel of Yes, Mike Glenn writes, “The memory of past sin and the realization of current sin loom large, blocking out our view of the work Christ is doing in our lives today. Sin has a way of making us forget the goodness of God. Sin denies the presence and power of God in us and our world.”

Satan uses our awareness to twist the truth of grace; to blind us. He uses our sin to trick us into believing it has more power than it really does. Sin devalues us as people and causes us to see others and all creation as lacking worth. It belies the good work Christ does in us and in the world.

Jesus gave His life for you; sin has no power. Death has no sting.

We all have a past. We have things in our lives that cause shame or grief (tools used by Satan to keep us down). We forget the promise of forgiveness and the second chance(s) that Christ offers.  We have a hard time believing that a second chance could still apply after all that we’ve done.

I struggle with my past and my sins just as much as the next person. Satan uses those things to blind me; to trick me into believing that it has more power than it really does.  He has a thing about keeping me down.

But how does one overcome that “but” in their life?

First, we must let go of the lie; the one that we aren’t worth it; that the second chance does not apply.

Second, we must confess and repent and not the way many have preached/taught since the birth of the church. We don’t simply show up to confession, list off our sins and go on our merry way. Grace does not work that way.

It’s about the combination of confession and repentance. True confession and repentance cannot exist without the other. There is a vast difference between the two and yet, they play a very important part in the process of forgiveness. We are very familiar with the term forgiveness. How many times have we been told to simply confess our sin(s)? There is a certain emphasis on God’s forgiveness as a free gift, and in emphasizing it, we unknowingly cheapen it. We hop, skip and jump right over repentance…which includes confession and so much more. It goes beyond simply confessing sin to a definite change in how a person approaches life.

Grace extended/Forgiveness is not a do-whatever-I-want-and-get-away-with-it ticket.

Grace is God’s unmerited favor. We did nothing on our own to deserve it and, yet, He freely offers it. We are saved by grace, not by works (Romans 11.6). We cannot save ourselves. Only God can and He did. Through His Son, Jesus.

He paid it all. No part of that debt has been left for any one of us to pay by working hard and cleaning up our own lives. We cannot do that on our own. Jesus opened the door. We only have to walk through it. And yet…we struggle with accepting the truth that this gift, the gift of salvation, is free. Who would give away something like that? So we think we have to earn it.

Here’s a nugget of truth that makes my heart and soul smile: The mess you are in, the mess I am in, is why He came.

Jesus isn’t unaware of the brokenness of this world or the circumstances of your life. He knows better than anyone that we cannot fix it ourselves.

He came. He gave.

Everything

Himself

His life

All He wants in return is you…

Me…

Us…

We must allow Him, through that repentance, to change our minds. After confessing sin, a person turns from his or her previous lifestyle and commits to following Jesus. This isn’t easy. It’s something that happens daily; a moment-by-moment decision we must make on a constant basis.

It’s about living out the following:

Then He said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be My follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for My sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost and destroyed? If anyone is ashamed of Me and My message, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when He returns in His glory and in the glory of the Father and the holy angels.” Luke 9.23-26 NLT

or from The Message:

Then he told them that they could expect for themselves: “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat – I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? If any of you is embarrassed with me and the way I’m leading you, know that the Son of Man will be far more embarrassed with you when he arrives in all his splendor in company with the Father and the holy angels.”

Our minds are transformed when we allow Him a place to start.

Things are not perfect and they won’t be in this fallen, beautiful world we live in until the day of His return. All God is looking for is a place to begin.

A place to start

Jesus Himself took challenges and difficulties in stride. They gave no reason for Him to change course.

When He had been preaching to the five thousand men and their families, Jesus worked with what he had to feed them: two fish and five loaves of bread. He started there.

And when He met the Samaritan woman at the well, He did the same. In Jesus day, men did not speak to women in public – not even their wives – and they definitely didn’t speak with Samaritan women. Jesus did. He came to her in her need. He started there. He opened her eyes to God and His truth: That her being a Samaritan did not lessen God’s love for her. He told her about her life; He didn’t tell her to first get her life straightened out and then come back. He said, in effect, “This is who you are…This is what is going on right now in your life… And this is a good enough place to start.”

“Starting seems to be the hardest part for us…there is always a cost associated with changing your life.”

All Jesus really wants is a place to start.

True change isn’t about you or me trying harder or working on a new plan. It’s not about reading the next best-selling self-help book out there. Until you allow Him to change your mind and your heart, anything you do or attempt to do will be filtered through a mind formed by the ways of the world. Mike Glenn writes, “The Kingdom of God has come near in Christ, so we have to change our minds about love, truth, reality, eternity, Jesus, God, wealth, success, strength, weakness, hope, joy and love. In other words, everything!”

What does that look like in our lives?

Jesus says that we are to love God with our hearts, minds, and souls. To love God is to think in an entirely new way. We think of Jesus in a new way. We see and understand God in a new way as Jesus reveals the Father to us through His Spirit. We transform our minds by spending time in the Word, in prayer and surrounding ourselves with others who believe and want the same things. We grow and are transformed in that; through community, through the body of believers, through His family.

Rather than being buried under our mistakes, failures, griefs and regrets and living in a place where we no longer recognize ourselves when we look in the mirror, we let Him in.

The gift of life that God offers through His Son, Jesus, changes that. When we let Him in; when we let Him take the driver’s seat, the Spirit changes our true identity in Christ. We leave behind everything that is false and start walking toward the truth of Christ and who He created us to be.

But to allow Him the room to change your life, you must allow Him the space to change the way you think. You stop fighting the current of God’s grace and start flowing with it. Once the mind is transformed, the heart soon follows. To be truly transformed, to truly live a new life, our salvation has to be about our entire person, including our minds. This allows us to truly love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength…and it gives us the ability to love others as we love ourselves. The love we have for ourselves is transformed into the way God loves us…He is our identity.

We no longer condemn ourselves or others.

The truth of the gospel is that Jesus came to offer life; more of life to all of us, no matter what happened before; no matter the choices we made before we met Him. We have been purchased with an immeasurable price. Knowing that should change the way we live.

Peace is more than the absence of conflict and joy is more than not being sad.

We all have a past, but we are not defined by it.

The image of God defines us and the price the Christ paid confirms our worth.

We all have a past and even though you and I have found life in Christ (oh, how I hope you have), no one starts at zero. Our past is part of our story; part of our present and it, along with the choices we make right now, affect our future. We cannot separate it as it serves as our redemption story. The truth of that gives other a testimony of the gospel at work in your life. Jesus is simply asking you to let Him start somewhere. Embrace the truth of Whose you are and to Whom you belong.

hope: in light of the incident in Boston

“I wonder…if the rent in the canvas of our life’s backdrop, the losses that puncture our world, our own emptiness, might actually become places to see.
To see through to God.”
– Ann Voskamp –

My heart aches

…aches for those in Boston

…for those affected by yesterday’s events.

I can only imagine what it would be like to live through that ordeal…and the more I think about it, the likelihood of that happening in my lifetime, directly to me or to those around me, is higher than it would have been the year I was born.

Oh, the world we live in.

darkness

sin

brokenness

And yet…there is hope.

Hope because we’ve been saved; by grace through faith.

Hope in Jesus.

Hope in His Kingdom to come.

Granted, I see events (am somewhat indirectly affected by them, rather) like yesterday’s bombing and I want nothing more than to go Home. I also know how difficult it is to see the hand of God in those types of situations, but He’s there…and He’s very much alive.

I’ve been rereading through A Sudden Glory by Sharon Jaynes (find book review here) and taking part in her online Bible study the last seven weeks and this week’s lesson really hit home today: “Trusting God in Tough Times.” She asks some pointed questions right in the first chapter: Could it be that the puncture wounds in the canvas of [my] life might actually become the rent places of the soul through which you can see God? …through which you can see His light burning through the openings?…How do we allow life’s difficulties to become see-through places? How do we see those glory moments?”

I’ve been working on another entry for quite some time – and I hope to have it up soon, but you know how temperamental writers/artists are; not including the fact that I’m a bit of a perfectionist – regarding such an experience. Did you know you can experience those moments on a daily basis? It’s true. It’s easy to find God when things are going well; when life is coasting by with the pay raise; the new home; a new love interest; a new addition to the family – but…

but…

when life gets dark…

when life gets tough…

when the road gets hard…

Where is God in all of that?

Jesus Himself states, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). And the beautiful thing? He has overcome the world! That statement, in and of itself, makes my soul smile. Have you ever experienced that feeling?

“When we experience shattered dreams, broken relationships, tragic losses/events, or unfulfilled longings, it can be difficult to feel God’s presence, to see His hand, and to hear His voice. Moments of His glory cease when we close our eyes in pain and tune God out in anger” or hurt. But that doesn’t mean that God isn’t there. He is.

People let us down. Life disappoints. And so does God…in a sense. We expect Him to move one way and He doesn’t. We show Him the roadmap we’ve drawn out for this situation in our lives according to the way we think it should go and He doesn’t follow it to a tee. Then, like a lover wronged, we guard our hearts against future disappoint and lower our expectations and trust. But…God understands. He’s been there. He knows exactly what you’re going through; what I’m going through.

He sympathizes.

He sees.

El Roi

“The God who sees me” (Genesis 16.13).

I’ve always thought the ancient Hebrew language was beautiful…and (on a side note) I’m thankful for the scholars, theologians and researchers who have done research and studied to uncover these truths about the Word of God that make the emphasis and its power that much more real…to me, at least.

Instead of following our tendency to be the child throwing the temper tantrum, maybe we should take God at His word and simply “be still.” I know…easier said than done, right? But not impossible. We simply need to shift our focus from what we see (but don’t completely understand) to what we cannot see (2 Corinthians 4.18). It may not make sense today, but some day? It will.

Isaiah 55.9 reads: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

I stumbled on a fellow believer’s blog entry posted by a friend on Facebook today – which can be found here. Tim Meier asked a valid question: How do we respond to these events?

And, being human, I would tend to agree with his answer…and in agreement with Obama: justice. But…

but…

I also know that just punishing these people, while the right thing to do, won’t end a culture of violence or hateful evil.”

Ending that cycle starts with us.

And we must remember that God will bring judgment due to those based on what they’ve done with the life God gave them. That breaks my heart…the thought that thousands of could-be brothers and sisters won’t be saved before Christ returns. It’s my responsibility to live out His gospel on a day-to-day, moment-by-incredibly miraculous-moment basis; to show others what it means to have life to the full; to follow Jesus.

We may never understand the actions behind the tragic events of yesterday’s attack in Boston. But I know that God was and continues to be there. He is omnipresent….everywhere at once. He did not write the story of our lives to simply sit back and watch it play out. He is in the story with you; with me. In fact, He has the leading role.

Does that surprise you?

It shouldn’t.

We try to butt in and take the spotlight…often. Remember the statement I made earlier about showing Him your life’s blueprints? Yeah…we do that all too often. I’m guilty of it. You’re not alone on that.

Imagine this:

Imagine getting to heaven and looking at your playbill…personally, I think it will be the entire tapestry and I’ll automatically see that role He gave me to play in His bigger picture…and you’ll see that God had the leading role all along. His life covers ours. Our names will be listed in supporting roles as a display of His glory.

And His glory can be found here:

  • in your current timeline.
  • in the community that came together to help following yesterday’s events.
  • in the lives that were/are being saved.

Our limited vision doesn’t allow us to see how God is working behind the scenes, but we must believe that He is there. “Difficult times are pregnant with glory moments just waiting to be birthed in the lives of those willing to labor through the pain. The key is to not allow bitterness and anger to make our hearts infertile to God’s gifts.” Those moments in difficult times are not dependent on our circumstances but on our focus.

But how do we focus on God during trying times?

By cultivating a grateful heart…being thankful for all that you have…and keeping your focus on God through it all. Trials test and stretch us (read the book of James); they rip away the flimsy fabric of self-sufficiency and become the raw material for God’s miracle in our lives. God is far more interested in developing our character than doling out a life or comfort and ease. “Consider it pure joy,” James said, “when you encounter various trials.” (James 1.2). Note that he said when not if. It will happen. Believe it. And be prepared to grow in faith and character because of it.

C.S. Lewis (enjoy his work) stated, “If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place of training and correction and it’s not so bad.”

Phillip Yancy also wrote: “Faith means believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.” That is so true. Often times, I’ve looked back over past journal entries and have been recognized God’s hand in my life during a past struggle…when I didn’t feel His presence or couldn’t see Him at that precise moment. He was there.

He’s here now.

The dark places are simply opportunities to trust that He knows the way – and the perfect time to hold on…

…hold on to faith.

…hold on to hope.

…hold on to Jesus.

Video – Give Me Jesus – Jeremy Camp

Works Cited:
A Sudden Glory: God’s Lavish Response to Your Ache for Something More. Sharon Jaynes. 2012.
When Terrorism Comes Close. Tim Meier. <http://www.theunitive.com/when-terrorism-comes-close-the-boston-marathon-ill-never-forget>

Love Always Hopes; Always Perseveres

Love believes all things, hopes all things. 1 Corinthians 13:7

Love always hopes; always perseveres.

Love always hopes because love sees possibilities where none seems to exist. Love always hopes because love never despairs. Love is not dependent on the fulfillment of immediate expectations. Love takes the long term point of view. Love will not give up on others. Love does not give up on God’s purposes. Love keeps us hopeful, in all situations, against all evidence, because hope is stored up for us in heaven (Colossians 1:5).

Webster’s dictionary defines hope as a desire accompanied by expectation of or believe in fulfillment…to desire with expectation of obtainment…to expect with confidence.

How can love always hope when the situation seems hopeless? How can you continue to love when your son or daughter rejects your faith and all the values you taught them to respect? How can you continue to love God when an incurable disease is destroying your loved one? How can we continue to love when prospects in this life seem hopeless?

The answer is that love’s source is in God. Love’s hope is not just wishful thinking. Love’s hope is not just unrealistic expectations. Love’s hope finds its confidence in God’s eternal plan which is beyond human understanding.

In hoping, love always perseveres and never looks back. Love never stops, never quits, never doubts, and never goes against the good. Love perseveres because Christ perseveres, because God perseveres, and because the Holy Spirit enables us to persevere.

Relationships are never a walk in the park every single day. No matter how much you love someone and they love you, there will be moments of disappointment, struggle, discontentment, and resentment. The simple reason for that is that relationships consist of human beings and human beings are not perfect. We all hurt those we love and they hurt us, whether it’s intentional or unintentional.

No one was more betrayed and hurt by those He loved than Jesus. The very fact that He had to suffer the pain of the cross was due to the fact that those He created turned against Him and sinned. God had to sacrifice His own Son because His creation failed to love Him as He so loved them. But despite our rejection of God, He did make that sacrifice, paying the ultimate price to reconcile with us, His fallen creatures. Love won out because our Father was willing to do what had to be done to restore our relationship with Him.

When you pray for others, do you pray with perseverance? Do you pray with the hope that they’ll see the Father come through for them? Do you pray with the hope that you’ve asked according to God’s will? When someone’s heading down the wrong path, do you have hope for them that they can be redeemed? Do you find hope in the fact that everything is working toward the purposes of God?

Love always perseveres in order to avoid the dishonor of letting someone else down who is depending on us, who believes in us, for whom we are the hands and heart of Christ. Love does not walk away from commitments when it would be easy and reasonable to do so. Love endures to the end. The world has a lot of starters but very few finishers. Love finishes the race. Love does not give up. Love does not quit. Love perseveres in the battle against evil because it wants to win the victory.

When Jesus, who is love, came to earth to bridge the gap between us and God, He brought us hope. In Him we can rest assured that all things are being held together and sustained by our Creator, who loves us and calls us according to His purposes. Love doesn’t look at this world all around in despair. Love hopes in all things.

Scripture to encourage you in your walk today:

As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. 2 Thessalonians 3:13

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. Romans 5:3-4

Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. James 5:11

Know that wisdom is such to your soul; if you find it, there will be a future, and your hope will not be cut off. Proverbs 24:14

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11

…Being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:7

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1

Today’s Challenge: Pray for perseverance in trials and that the Spirit will continue to feed your hope in the things to come.

Day 20: Wishing You Hope This Christmas

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13 

“A thrill of hope; the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.” ~~ O Holy Night

Have you ever wanted to travel back in time to be an eyewitness of the celestial celebration that took place in Bethlehem the night that Jesus was born?  Now, I’m a bit fussy about fashion, but I’d even consider donning shepherd garb and hanging out with a few sheep for that opportunity! To see angels fill the sky, to hear the voice of God through the cries of a baby. To catch a glimpse of the brilliant Star of David, and to satisfy my curiosity as to what exactly a host of heavenly angels sounds like.

Oh, and to talk to Mary!  Wouldn’t that be amazing to hear what she was thinking as she witnessed, and took part in the greatest miracle ever known to man? This baby she gave birth to was God-in-flesh, a true bundle of love.  What do you think she treasured in her heart as she took it all in?  I’m struck by this thought:  As she held the Hope of the world, the Hope of the world was also holding her. Ponder that!

The baby born in a barn that holy night long ago is the Hope of the world – the Grace that saves us – the Love that heals us.  Jesus is Hope that changes our worthless into precious, our guilty to forgiven, our hungry into satisfied, and our empty into full.  His presence is inescapable.  We cannot flee from His stubborn grip.  The psalmist, David said: “If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast” ( Psalm 139:8-10).

The Bible tells us in the New Testament that Jesus Christ sits at the right hand of God, the Father in heaven and that He “holds us fast.” Relish that thought. The Hope that holds us is Jesus Christ. You and I are held by Hope.

In the Old Testament, God told Joshua that He would “never leave or forsake” him (Joshua 1:5). God says the same to us. He will never leave us or forsake us; no matter the circumstances, not matter the diagnoses, no matter the financial struggle. Our faithful LORD is the same yesterday, today, and forever. We can rest assured that in everything, we are held by Hope.

After His resurrection and before His ascension into heaven, Jesus said, “Surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).  My girlfriend Mary Southerland often reminds people that the word “always” actually means … drum roll please … “always!”  He is always with us.  Always loving us.  Always wanting us to find comfort, refuge, joy and satisfaction in Him.

As a Christmas approaches and New Year dawns, let’s be mindful of God’s promise that we are never alone. Just like the shepherds received the headline news of Jesus’ birth from singing angels so long ago, receive this glad tiding of great joy today: If you are in Christ, then you are held by Hope.

Advent Week 1: Hope of Christmas

“A thrill of hope; the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.” ~~ O Holy Night

Does Christmas thrill you?

Children get excited at the coming of the season. Some in anticipation of Santa, other simply because it’s Christmas. I still feel that same wonder. And maybe it’s because I’m single. Maybe it’s because I have the heart of child and, boy, do I hope that last through the rest of my life!

And yet, I have the same distractions every other adult faces each year. Trim the tree, plan a party (or parties), whatdo I get this person or that person, wrap, ship, write my annual Christmas letter.

And that is why I’m thankful for the season of Advent. In going through it at church, I can shift my focus on the things that truly matter this time of year.

The word advent derives from the Latin word for coming – the Lord is coming. The entire focus? The birth of Christ and the anticipation of His return as King. Advent is far more than simply marking history. It is celebrating a truth about God, the revelation of God in Christ so that all of creation might be reconciled to God.

The first week of Advent brings Hope. Or Expectation. This draws attention to the hope we have in Christ and the expectancy of His return.

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1

Did you catch the parallel between things hoped for and things unseen? Try applying assurance to something your five senses can’t detect. It’s challenging, isn’t it? The benefit of this is that hope, through Christ, is available to us no matter what we see, hear or feel. It’s above our circumstances.

Max Lucado agrees with Paul’s claim that hope does not disappoint (Romans 5:3-5):

Hope is not what you’d expect; it is what you would never dream. It is a wild, improbably tale with a pinch-me-I’m-dreaming ending… Hope is not a granted wish of a favor performed; no, it is far greater than that. It is a zany, unpredictable dependence on a God who loves to surprise us out of our socks and be there in the flesh to see our reaction.

Isn’t that amazing? How many times has your hope in Christ knocked your socks off?

Love…hopes all things…but now abide faith, hope and love; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:7, 13

Have you ever wondered why those three are written in that order? Maybe hope isn’t something we automatically do. Maybe it’s something we receive, like grace. Check out Hebrews 11:6. Could it be true that without hope, God wouldn’t be able to please us? The same verse says that God is a rewarder of those who seek Him. Is hope that reward?

Think about this. If faith is what we give to God and hope is what He gives to us, then we have the dynamic of a relationship. With that in place, we can love. So love is built on hope, which is built on faith.

For hope to exist, hopelessness would have to exist first. We didn’t have hope prior to Christ. That, among many other reasons, is why God sent His Son. After all, a perfect world wouldn’t have the need for a Savior. Deliverance arrives undeservedly and perhaps, unexpectedly, just as in the unlikely way God came to earth to provide a once-and-for-all substitute for the sins of all men on that first Christmas 2000 years ago. That’s why circumstances in life can look bleak, but that’s where hope lives and thrives.

The good news? We can’t hope enough. That’s why our senses  and minds are inadequate to judge God’s design and methods and hope becomes more a function of God’s involvement than our desires. I, myself, could not have created the plan of salvation or the virgin birth. My creative imagination could not have concocted the plan for the walls of Jericho to come tumbling down, for the Red Sea to part and offer up dry land, or create all that we see (or Eden for that matter).  Nor do I have any idea what the answers are to my problems  or know what I will be blessed with this Christmas.

My prayer is this: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).