H is for Hope

Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:5 NKJV)

I’m not sure about everyone else but I’ve had many hopes in my life. Some, such as a wonderful wife and loving family, have come true. Others, like a recording contract, haven’t been so successful. Living in this world we hope for this and that and sometimes enjoy experiencing our hope come true. But, in this world, hope can often disappoint.

Thankfully, there is a hope which never disappoints. It’s a hope for eternal life and salvation from our sins. It’s a hope that everything will work out for good in the end. It’s a hope we cannot see but are assured will come to pass.

There’s something unique about not seeing our future hope as children of God. That simple invisible attribute of hope makes it more real. Paul writes to the Romans about this, “For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” (Romans 8:24-25 NKJV)

If we can see and touch something, we hope for, it isn’t hope, it’s more like desire. I go to the Apple store (no disparaging remarks please) and see some newfangled updated gadget and hope I can buy it someday. This is a common mistake when we talk about hope. True hope is a desire for something we can neither touch nor see. It’s beyond our capabilities to make it happen. Hope involves something outside our capabilities, something dependent on someone else, something we can’t manipulate or control.

Thus we hope for what we can’t see. But hope can provide us strength for today and eternity. Writing again to the Romans, Paul reminds us that God is the source of our hope and hope brings good results. “Now 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 NKJV)

Our ultimate hope is based on the sacrificial, substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross to redeem us from sin and allow us to approach the throne of God cleansed and justified. “To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27 NKJV)

One of my favorite authors writes . . .

When we are trapped in a tunnel of misery,
hope points to the light at the end.
When we are overworked and exhausted,
hope gives us fresh energy.
When we are discouraged,       
hope lifts our spirits.
When we are tempted to quit,
hope keeps us going.
When we lose our way and confusion blurs the destination,
hope dulls the edge of panic.
When we struggle with a crippling disease or a lingering illness,
hope helps us persevere beyond the pain.
When we fear the worst,
hope brings reminders that God is still in control.
When we must endure the consequences of bad decisions,
hope fuels our recovery.
When we find ourselves unemployed,
hope tells us we still have a future.
When we are forced to sit back and wait,
hope gives us the patience to trust.
When we feel rejected and abandoned,
hope reminds us we’re not alone . . . we’ll make it.
When we say our final farewell to someone we love,
hope in the life beyond gets us through our grief.
— Charles Swindol (Hope Again)

Peter points us to Christ when he writes, “He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” (1 Peter 1:20-21 NKJV)

Enjoy the hope God provides. Don’t wait for eternity to begin, hope begins now.

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G is for Grace

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV) 

Grace isn’t just the smooth motion of a skilled dancer or a prayer before a meal. While both of those are beautiful in their own context, I’m more interested in the grace of God and His extension of that to my life in a fallen graceless world. I’m talking about the unmerited favor of God freely given to all. 

When I say “all,” that’s what I mean. Some, in closed Christian circles, talk of God’s grace only in the confines of believers. But I can see God’s grace extended in some measure to everyone. Just think about it.  

It’s God’s grace that permits us to rise every morning, take a breath of air, and go about our daily business. It’s God’s grace that brings the rains, and the winds, and causes the farmer’s fields to grow and provide food. God’s grace in this (and many other) cases isn’t contingent on the faith of the farmer or his belief and acceptance of redeeming grace through Jesus Christ.  

It’s by God’s grace, extending favor to a world steeped in sin and to mankind born in sin, that allows us to enjoy a sunny day, the beauty of nature and a cooling breeze. I’ve wondered at the love one person can show towards another realizing that love, which comes from God, is only available to experience because of His grace toward us. 

But there is a deeper grace from God beyond His love of the world in general. There is a grace that can only be understood and comprehended within the confines of the family of God. Paul wrote to the Romans outlining the connection between faith, peace, GRACE and hope. He wrote, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2 NIV) 

Because of our faith we now stand in God’s grace. I’m not writing about the general grace which permits the world to function but the close-knit grace of fellowship and love which are available through faith. And this faith is only available to us because of God’s grace. We can’t create it, earn it, manipulate it or apply it. Those functions rest solely in the hands of our creator, maker of heaven and earth. It brings us from eternal death to life. 

Paul also wrote to the Ephesians to remind us of our past. “Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions —it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:3b-5 NIV) 

I’m always amazed at the short phrase, “like the rest.” It’s a personal recognition of our depravity outside of the grace of God forgiven because of his great love toward us. Our nature outside our faith only garners wrath. Our new nature inside our faith makes us alive. I like to be alive. It’s only God’s grace that allows us to enter this restored relationship with Him. “It is by grace you have been saved.” 

Praise the lord this grace is available to all who will take that step of faith. It isn’t hidden. Titus reminds us, “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. (Titus 2:11 NIV) When we have faith in the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus that faith opens the door to experience God’s grace which saves us from sin into eternal life with a restored relationship to God. 

If you haven’t experienced the mind blowing wonder of God’s grace perhaps now is that time. Perhaps now is the time to believe in Jesus’ sacrifice. Just maybe this is the time to have faith, a saving faith, which allows us to experience God’s saving grace.

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F is for Forgiveness

For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. (Matthew 6:14-15 NASB)

When we do something wrong, hurtful, mean or stupid we usually want forgiveness once we realize what we did was wrong, hurtful, mean or stupid. Most people have a built in nature that seeks to restore relationships. We want people to like use, no matter how much we protest we do not, and that requires seeking forgiveness.

One the other hand, as Tevye might wonder, what happens when the shoe is on the other foot? Are we as willing to forgive that wrong, hurtful, mean or stupid thing someone did to us? Or, do we hold it up like a badge of hurt feelings and make the other person go through hoops to “earn” our forgiveness? I find sometimes I’m very forgiving, but I’ve been known to carry a grudge as well.

After providing a model prayer Jesus discusses the parts of that prayer and one of those parts is forgiveness. It’s interesting that he places no conditions or provisos on our forgiving others. The apostle Peter once asked about forgiveness. He wanted to know when someone wronged him how many times should he forgive. Jesus’ answer essentially said to always forgive.

In Peter’s interaction with Jesus, again no conditions or provisos were discussed. Just forgiveness for someone who wronged us. Simple, to the point, forgiveness. Are we willing to forgive a transgression against our person with such loving abandon?

Paul writes to the Ephesians instructing them to, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32 NASB) We are to forgive as God forgave us. We could do nothing to earn His forgiveness but it was given all the more because of his grace and love toward us. It’s interesting to note in Jesus’ discussion on prayer that he ties our forgiveness directly into being forgiven by God.

I think I want God’s forgiveness. So it seems to me I need to check my “grudges” at the door. When someone comes to me seeking forgiveness, from my side of things, I need to forgive. I need to do my part at rebuilding a relationship as God forgave me and rebuilt my relationship with Him.

It’s interesting to note the concern and instruction provided is for the one wronged without reference condition or proviso being placed on the one doing the wrong. That’s a different discussion. We need to be sure on our side of the hurt feelings chasm that we are as forgiving as God was forgiving to us. I don’t see any leeway in this situation.

But, if on my side of things I do “sin” against God I have a promise. John reminds us of this when he writes, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.:” (1 John 1:9 NASB) God forgave my sins, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, at the moment I came and repented before His throne. God continues to forgive my sins as a follower seeking to be faithful but recognizing my human limitations. I sin. I need forgiveness. God forgives me. I need to forgive others.

Perhaps next time someone offends us we should consider the impact forgiveness has on our lives, not to mention our relationship with the one who hurt us. We should remember we asked for forgiveness we were forgiven without conditions and provisos. We should extend this same forgiveness to our fellow man for our benefit, for their benefit, and because our God calls us to forgive.

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E is for Everlasting

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the whole world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
(Psalm 90:1-2 NIV)

With today’s fast paced world, it’s difficult to think of anything everlasting. That new gadget that just hit the market will be forgotten, replaced and superseded in an increasing short period of time. We watch as people declare their love for one another before God and then dissolve their union a few years later. Church members jump from congregation to congregation at the least hint of dissatisfaction.

My head spins when I think of the breakneck pace of change. Working in the computer world I see this daily and it’s difficult to keep up with all the changes. Nothing stays the same. I seem to always be struggling to keep up with the change. It’s a fruitless endeavor that is seldom accomplished for more than a day before something changes again.

I’m glad the same cannot be said for God. Just think of how difficult it would be to have faith in something which was constantly changing. The writer to the Hebrews reminds us of God’s immutability as evidenced in His incarnation. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8 NIV)

We can count on consistency. If the Lord tells us to believe and we will be saved, that is as true in the first century world as it is today. “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:40 NIV)

The goal post is NOT moving. Salvation is a matter of belief. We are the ones constantly changing and, while on this earth, subject to the ravages of time. Peter tells us, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” (1 Peter 1:24-25 NIV)

This world is deteriorating and will eventually decay into nothing. Our desires in this world will go up in smoke. John reminds us, “The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” (1 John 2:17 NIV) If we place our hope and life in the hands of the world we will be disappointed when it all comes crashing down.

God does not change. The grace of God is evident throughout history to those who seek His face and accept the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus. This hasn’t changed and is everlasting. John writes the most spectacular everlasting declaration, “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)

Has this changed? Nope! Nada! No way! There is comfort in the everlasting love of God. There is excitement in the everlasting care of Jesus. “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:27-30 NIV)

Perhaps we should stop looking for the everlasting in a decaying world. I think it’s best to look at the everlasting love and grace of God. There we can find comfort today, tomorrow, and forever.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18 NIV)

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D is for Death

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.(1 Peter 2:24 ESV)

Death is a subject many feel is morbid and avoid talking about our mortal coil failing. But it isn’t going away so let’s take a look. Just to get past the obvious, I have terminal cancer and to be honest it doesn’t bother me. Well . . . mentally I’m at peace while physically my body has its own battle which isn’t quit as peaceful.

While my own condition does concern me, I’m reminded of the ultimate death and its efficacious impact on all mankind. Yep, Jesus died for me. He died for you. But it wasn’t a waste. Although His earthly life was short by our standards it was just the right length.

arm52I find it funny when someone says do such and such and you’ll live another so many years. I always, and sometimes I do, want to ask, “Wow. Are you omniscient? Do you know when I was going to die to know if I live longer?” So much for all those advertisements or medical opinions. In truth, we will die when we are destined to die by God’s design.

And so, Jesus’ life was just the right length and He died at the right time. In His incarnate form casting off his godly attributes He accomplished our salvation from the sin we inherited from the beginning of creation. He showed us it’s possible to live a righteous life by relying on God the father.

Thanks to our inherited sin we deserve just punishment for our sin before God. We sinned against Him big time in our exercise of freedom. On the cross Jesus took our punishment so we can be healed of the wounds of sin and be able to live to righteousness. It isn’t complicated. Believe.

When I think of my own situation I’m reminded of Paul writing to the Philippians. “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”(Philippians 1:21 ESV) And his expanded revelation of our life before God writing to the Romans. “For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”(Romans 14:8 ESV)

While we might not like to discuss death, it is necessary. It is necessary in the spiritual realm to be resurrected into the family of God and receive forgiveness to live to righteousness. But the comfort is that spiritual death, and in truth physical death, is not the end but the beginning of restoring our relation to our creator. The one who loves us.

Paul clarifies our resurrected relationship to God in one of my favorite passages. “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”(Romans 8:37-39 ESV)

I pray you won’t worry about death. Instead I pray you will see how spiritual death, and hopefully future physical death, return you to the loving arms of God for eternity. Praise the Lord.

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C is for Calling

Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues?( 1 Corinthians 12:29-30 NIV)

Calling is a unique subject, especially among missionaries like me. I feel that I, including my wife and family, was called into missionary service. It wasn’t my choice but God’s. My choice would’ve been a cushy job with a comfy house near family and lifelong friends. I wouldn’t have chosen to tramp around the world bringing the gospel message to billions. But I was called, clearly and unequivocally into full time ministry.

For me it was clear but it seems like a cloud in the minds of many believers. They don’t want to be called to something because they become responsible. Being responsible means taking the blame for failure along with the adulation of success. Some don’t want to be called because they are afraid God might call them to something they don’t like or feel unqualified to accomplish. Many don’t want to be called because they fear the unknown.

Fortunately we’re not all called to do all things. The bible doesn’t provide an exhaustive list of options, just some key items where we might be called. In Corinthians Paul touches on some high profile areas. But even in his list he recognizes not all ministries are for all believers. His questions are rhetorical expecting the repeated answer “no.” Look at my calling, are all called to be missionaries? The answer is “no.” So what do we do?

guam59We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. (Romans 12:6-8 NIV)

The key is responding to whatever you’re called to do. And whatever we do we must do with full abandon. I would add some other callings might include, motherhood, fatherhood, businessman, business woman, or just being a neighborhood example. Not all require an outgoing personality. Some are sedate and simple. Some are natural some require training and/or stepping out of our comfort zone. All require all of our effort.

Don’t let others decide your calling. That is between you and God. Preachers love to “encourage” people to find their gifts and calling. Sometimes it comes across as pushy or demanding. Don’t give in and jump into something God hasn’t called you to do just because it is needed. Wait, listen, pray, watch for signs from others, opportunities, interests and allow God to give you the answer.

In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. Simon and his companions searched for Him; they found Him, and *said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.” He *said to them, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.”(Mark 1:35-38 NASB)

Jesus gives us a great example. He demonstrates that just because we can do something doesn’t mean we need to do it. He was healing people and the people were looking for him in the morning. They were expecting more miracles. Jesus wasn’t giving in to the group. He had a calling, a goal, a mission from the Father, to preach the gospel message.

How often are we distracted from our calling because we have skills that others think we can use to fix a different ministry. We give in to pressure and usually become involved not in what God wants us to do but what others want us to do. Instead, we should in most cases, keep to our ministry and demonstrate our faith and trust that God will provide the right person for the other ministry.

We need to seek our calling whether in the midst of our own home, neighborhood, the church or the world. Let’s stop trying to fulfill a calling to which we haven’t been called. Let’s rejoice in other’s calling and not categorize them by our perceived human classification putting one calling higher than another.

We all have gifts and some callings. Some are more public and high profile according to the world’s view. All are from God. All are for building up the body of Christ on earth. All are important in God’s purpose. Enjoy your gift or calling or both.

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B is for Backwards

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. (1 Corinthians 15:1 NIV) 

I’ve spent most of my life working in some sort of engineering field. I’m a broadcast engineer, antenna engineer, audio engineer, satellite engineer, software engineer, theological engineer and always wanted a stint as a train engineer. I like trains. 

The one thing engrained in my head as an engineer, as well as a theologian, is to put things in the right order. First things first and then all the other pieces fall into the right order to produce the right results. So, over the years I’ve learned to put things in a logical order for the best results. 

Part of that order is the dependency of results based on specific actions. Drop a glass on the floor it breaks. Point a satellite off by two degrees and you have signal loss. Reverse the phase on a a stereo channel and you have audio cancellation. These make logical sense and work consistently and strengthen my faith in the proper order of things. 

Then I start thinking as a theologian. Even in this arena I can’t help myself, I need to apply things in logical order. But, contrary to my engineering training things don’t always function in logical order. I think God works backwards sometimes. Take salvation for instance. 

It makes more sense to me that we first do something bad. Then, do something good to show sorrow over our bad thing. Present this to the judge. Wait for the results. But God did it backwards. 

Man is sinful. Man is separated from God breaking our relationship with the creator. So, by my human logic man must then do something to remedy this situation. God finds our actions appropriate. Then God accepts us back and restore the broken relationship. 

God however, started with the judgement and amazingly offered the cure. He sees our sinfulness. He wants to restore our relationship. Nothing in our limited human understanding can ever come up with an action to remedy this situation. So, God provides one. 

God doesn’t wait for us to come looking for a solution. He provides one first. We just need to accept what He has provided. And that provision is the substitutionary, efficacious sacrifice of Jesus to compensate and cleanse us from our sin. It’s backwards. 

He gives the solution before we ask the question. It doesn’t make sense to my human logic. It’s backwards. But, it’s the only way. 

I sometimes get stuck trying to figure out the logic of God and His relationship to His creation. But, I’m limited. I only have human knowledge and understanding. God is not limited. He understands more than I can ever image. This is where faith comes into play. 

I trust God. I have faith that He knows more than I so I trust His actions. I trust Him just as I trust someone in the engineering field who has many years more experience than I to know what they are talking about.  

So, sometimes, I’ll be reading through Scripture or watching God at work in someone’s life and I’ll get confused. It doesn’t make sense to me. If feels . . . backwards. The end is available before the beginning.  

I’ve learned to trust. It might appear I’m acting in blind faith. But it isn’t blind it’s based on what I’ve seen or experienced before so I can trust it’s correct. As we follow God and seek to live a righteous life, sometimes we need to sit back, trust even when it seems backwards, and let God do His work in our lives. 

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