Fear & Hope

Fear is all around us. We watch scary movies. We are afraid because of terrorists, diseases, and natural disasters. We are afraid for our children, our parents, ourselves. So when we read in the Scriptures to not be afraid, it can appear to be a pipe dream. What is this power that God seems to think we have to not be afraid? That power is hope!

In Matthew 8 there is an interesting story about Jesus, the disciples, a boat, and a rain storm:

When He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being covered with the waves; but Jesus Himself was asleep. And they came to Him and woke Him, saying, ” Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” He said to them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it became perfectly calm. (Matthew 8:23-26)

I am struck by Jesus’ question, “Why are you afraid?” He connects their fear with their lack of faith in the second part of the question, doesn’t He?  He isn’t talking here of saving faith.  He is talking about the faith to live everyday life. You see, faith is a special Bible word to describe a certain type of trust. Yes, it is the type of trust that solidifies our side of salvation. However, it is more than that. We are invited to keep living in that trust everyday. That is what Jesus is saying simply in His question to them. In other words, He is saying – “Why are you afraid if you are trusting me to take care of you everyday? Is your faith in my care really so shaky?” That is where hope comes in. Hope is the lived out expression of our trust. It is not an emotion or mere wishing. It is the perspective we get when we live in our trust.

So, how does a person get good at hope? Well, here is the rub… Trust comes with experience. It can’t be fabricated nor is there a shortcut to get there. Paul describes it this way:

And not only this [rejoicing in the glory of God], but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;  and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

He rejoiced (exulted) in struggles because they proved something. They proved over and over that God would always be there for us in Christ. We would persevere because of Jesus. As we persevered our character would be honed. That change of character would affirm our trust and give us hope. Why? Because the growing of Godly character in us shows us that God will never leave us or abandon us – He loves us!

No shortcut – just lived out love. God’s love for us and our love for God lived out in the arena of life with all its bumps, cuts, and bruises. When He changes us, we are reminded again that He told us that He would empower us to face challenges and grow. What happens then? Our trust grows too.

So, when you go through those hard times, keep trusting God. You are laying a foundation for hope. That hope will not disappoint you. It will remind you that you are never alone. God goes before you. He upholds you. He cares for you everyday. Then, you and I can face the future without fear.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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The Gift of Hope

This happens to us every Christmas. Invariably we accidentally leave a present unopened under the tree. It is behind the trunk. The rug we put down to catch the needles is partially covering it. How fun it is to find the gift hours after the official opening time! We say it is the Christmas that keeps on giving. In the Christian life, hope is like that. It is the gift that keeps on giving.

Lamentations 3: 21 This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. 22 The Lord’s  lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,  For His compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.

Hope is one of those stealth gifts from God. It is easy to overlook its importance until you need it. Like prayer, it is easy to neglect – there are few ministries devoted to it. No one holds you accountable for hope like they do kindness or holiness. Yet, when you need it, hope is a profound and powerful friend.

Jeremiah used hope to interpret the calamity of his day. He used to answer the question, “Why am I surviving when others around me are dying?” The Apostle Paul declared that, “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5) Hope doesn’t disappoint because hope explains what God is doing when hard times come upon us. Whole sections and books of the Bible (Jesus’ final teaching in John 14-16. and the book of  Revelation are a couple of easy examples) are intended to point Christians to the profound hope that the struggles of this life are not the end.

Have you discovered the gift that is hope? As a Christian, have you unwrapped the gift yet? Have you opened it up and discovered all that it offers? Has it changed your understanding of your sufferings? Has it put into perspective the evils and hurts that you have faced?

There is hope. It is a wonderful gift of God. If you haven’t opened that hope, discover it today. If you have neglected the gift, pick it back up today. Tomorrow can be different. Forever will be different. That is the promise of hope. It is a promise that tomorrow can be better as we follow Jesus. It is the assurance that forever will be better because of Jesus.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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In God We Trust… Not just a slogan for money

Trust matters. Trust is at the heart of so much of our lives. It is why we will buy a car from one dealer and not another. It is why we will pick a slightly more expensive paint over another. Because it matters so much, we had better trust the right people, right?

God addressed this important aspect of trust when He confronted His people through the prophet Isaiah.  He said, “Because you despise this word and trust in oppression and perverseness and rely on them,  therefore this iniquity shall be to you  like a breach in a high wall, bulging out, and about to collapse, whose breaking comes suddenly, in an instant; and its breaking is like that of a potter’s vessel that is smashed so ruthlessly that among its fragments not a shard is found with which to take fire from the hearth, or to dip up water out of the cistern.” (Isaiah 30:12-14) Notice the words I emphasized above: because, trust, therefore. The people of God is Isaiah’s day trusted in oppression and perverseness (twisted thinking, not just immorality) to get what they wanted. They twisted God’s plan for people and used force to get ahead.

Trusting the wrong thing has consequences. We’ve all had that happen in our physical lives. Hopefully for you it was a funny lesson like sitting on a broken chair and falling on your rear end. My wife and I once tied a rope to a tree we were cutting down – it was partially rotten. Let’s just say we found ourselves on our bottoms laughing as the rope broke while we were pulling for all we were worth. That was an easy lesson. God warns us that the lesson may not be so easy when we trust in that which is not trustworthy for life. What was the result for them? Because of their trust in that which was not trustworthy they were going to experience pain. It was going to be the decimating kind of pain that would not give them much to rebuild with.

Now, let’s flip this over. Paul had a better perspective. He said, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?… But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31, 37-39) Did you see that word convinced? Paul trusted God. He had discovered that God could be trusted. Instead of discouragement in the face of persecution or suffering, Paul’s whole understanding of life flowed through the filter of God’s commitment to us. His trust in the One who is worthy of our trust changed everything! Instead of being knocked down, Paul was more than a conqueror. Instead of seeing loss or defeat, Paul saw victory.

That is the power of well-placed trust. It not only protects our life, it also protects our understanding of it. Well-placed trust helps us understand who we are and how we fit in this life. In Whom will we trust to live our lives?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Faith Today Calls us to Believe Forever

Sometimes I forget how valuable lived out faith really is.  I know that the Bible says our testimony is precious, but I forget why. As I studied what the Bible says faith is this week, I was reminded…

Acts 3:16 says, “And his name — by faith in his name — has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.”

Peter and John were walking in the temple when they saw a man who couldn’t walk. In the name of Jesus they declared him healed. What a stir it caused! Everyone was dumbfounded. Peter explains the event in a very matter of fact manner. He declares it to be a simple cause and effect relationship. In other words he is saying, “Why are you surprised that this man is walking? It isn’t us who did it by our power or holiness – this is simply the promise given to us in Jesus.” (See Acts 3:13 & 16)

That is the connection between the faith we have in Jesus for forever and the faith we express in our daily living. The faith of everyday life comes from and points to saving faith. When what we believe about Jesus’ death and resurrection makes it easier for us to sacrifice or change or pray– people notice. They notice the faith we have today. They notice that we trust Jesus in the today. It makes people pause and consider the power of Jesus in our lives.

So, I am reminded again how important it is for me to live out this faith I have in everyday life. Then, when others are confused about my decisions or my perspective I can be like Peter. I can ask them why they are surprised that a follower of Jesus would follow Him. I, too, can point out that it only makes sense for someone who trusts Jesus for forever to trust him for today. That is the power of lived out faith. It opens the door to share saving faith with those around us. (It doesn’t hurt us any either!)

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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When Reading God’s Word – Don’t Miss the Obvious

I hate it when I miss the obvious. For example, I can look for a book on my shelves for what seems like forever and can’t find it. Then, when all hope is gone, my wife comes along and grabs it right from the center of the shelf that I was just looking at! Arrrgh! The same thing can happen with God’s Word. To understand it rightly I must not overlook the obvious – God’s Word explains itself!

2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

In church history there was a time of awakening.  It is called the Reformation. It was a time when Christ’s church began to examine itself and came to this realization – the Bible was sufficient to understand the Bible! It seems so obvious now, but back then it was revolutionary! As our Scripture today declares, it is the whole of Scripture that God has breathed into existence and made useful for teaching us everything we need to know to be ready to be used by him.

This is not to diminish the helpfulness of historical and language and theological study. However, those studies do not replace the straight forward study of God’s Word. They simply are means by which we can shine light on places that we might not understand as clearly because of the changes of time and culture. However, even for those of us who are not as well read or as theologically trained, God’s Word can still be clear. All it takes is three things:

  1. Time. We must spend time with God in his Word. No spiritual laziness can be tolerated if we are truly wanting to study and know him.
  2. Care. We must carefully study his word and pay attention to the details. We must try to place ourselves back with Moses, and David, and Paul. Why? Because these were real people. They aren’t just characters in a novel. They are real people with real struggles and real lives. The details are important for they explain why God worked through them the way he did.
  3. Openness. We must be open to change. Whatever culture we grew up in, it isn’t perfect. All of us have skewed understandings of the things that the Bible speaks of. Love, hope, joy, trust, family, and faith are all words we use often. The Bible uses these words too. Will we let the Bible tell us what those words really mean? Will we be open to what God is saying?

So, will you and I carefully study God’s Word? Or, will we give that task to “professional experts” who will tell us what it really means? I think that we lose something precious when we give our study of God’s Word to someone else. That is especially true when we realize that God gave us his Word to specifically to make us what he created us to be!

Something to think about

Pastor John

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Say ‘Good Morning’ to God

There is a sweet reality – God never sleeps. I do. He doesn’t. So, if I need Him at 2 AM, He is awake. If I wake before the sparrows, He is awake. If my day is packed, He is ready for me. If my day is free, He has all the time in the world.

David says in Psalm 143:8, “Let me hear Your lovingkindness in the morning; for I trust in You; teach me the way in which I should walk; for to You I lift up my soul.”

I hear a great invitation in these verses. Do you? It is the invitation to come to God at the beginning of my day. It isn’t the only time I can come to Him, but the invitation is there: Come.

God says, “Come, because you need to hear of how I love you.” “Come, because you trust that I have the answers.” “Come, because you need to hear of how you should walk.” “Come, because you can trust me with your very soul.” “Come…”

I  have all of these reasons and more to come when God invites. I do this for the people I love. I kiss my wife good morning (not absent-mindedly either!). I tell my children I love them with the same intentional purpose. I wish them a good day with that same desire. So, why wouldn’t I do the same with the lover of my soul? He invites me. Glory! He calls to me so that I will know that I am not alone. I shouldn’t miss Him.

What about you? Do you hear the invitation? What will you do about it?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Worried about what to say… don’t be

Luke 12:11 “And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, 12for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”

We all do it.  We have an important meeting with an old friend or a time of encouragement with someone who is struggling, and what do we do?  We worry about what we will say.  We are trying to witness to a lost co-worker or friend, and what do we do?  We worry about what we should say.

It’s ironic to me that of all the things that Jesus says not to worry about, this is one that most Christians struggle with.  We want to know how to say the right thing.  Some of us worry about what to say so much that we don’t say anything.  Some of us have books and books on finding just the right thing to say.  Some of us are intentionally looking for the trendy or acceptable way to say what we want to say.

Did you notice what Jesus tells us to do?  He says – don’t be anxious about what to say.  In fact, He even tells us why.  He says that the Holy Spirit will teach us in that very hour what we will need to say.  Imagine that.  Instead of spending our moments being anxious or trying to use our minds to figure out the magic bullet that will lead someone to the truth of Jesus, we can trust that out of the well-spring of our relationship with Him that the Holy Spirit can and will show us what to say.

For me, this means that my study of the Bible and my reading of other’s thoughts about God doesn’t have to be like cramming for a huge test.  I am not prepping so that I will have the exact right thing to say to that lost person or that hurting friend.  I am simply growing in Him.  I am soaking up Jesus.  For myself.  For Him.  Then, out of that pool of trust and love He will bring to mind what I need to say to that person to whom I want to minister.  How encouraging is that?!  It is a reminder for me that this relationship I have with Him is truly profoundly life changing.  Even what I should say is not about me doing it on my own.  He is with me.  He will use me.  I just need to rely and trust on Him.

Jesus will lead through His Holy Spirit when those I love are hurting.  He will give me words when they are lost.  He will even lead me when others are hostile to the gospel (which is the context of our passage today).  What hope! Let us trust in that.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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