Thrive in Hope

Thrive in Hope
Recently I read a true story of a man who was trapped in the North Tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11/01. It was almost too late by the time he and some colleagues knew what was happening and decided to get out. They made it to the 22nd floor when the building began to collapse down on them. He huddled down in a corner on the landing as the walls ripped apart around him. He thought of his wife and that he would never see his unborn daughter whom they had named Hope.

The last thing he felt was a blast of hot air coming down on him as the walls tore apart. As he was swept forward through thick debris, smoke, and dust, he saw patches of light, patches of hope. He woke up on top of a small chunk of the stairwell landing on top of a 7 story high pile of debris, alive looking up at blue sky. All others in that stairwell perished.

They call this man the 9/11/01 surfer, because he seemed to have ridden a wave of air out of certain death into life and Hope.

Hope and Associates
Hope is a beautiful word. It radiates life, light, joy, peace and promise of good to come. The Bible has much to say about hope.

In the Old Testament there are several words used for hope. In general it means confident expectation of good to be experienced. It often carries with it associations with of waiting, anticipating, looking forward to, and trusting in.

In Psalm 25:5, “Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long;” the word hope carries with it the idea of constant waiting in expectation for God’s acting in our life.

In Psalm 33:18, “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in His steadfast love;” the word hope has the idea of tarrying, waiting, remaining, abiding with expectations of God’s love.

Hope is a confident expectation. The expectation is so certain that it leads to praising God for its fulfillment, sometimes even before it is fulfilled. Psalm 71:14 expresses this thought; “But I will hope continually and will praise You yet more and more.”

In Psalm 71:5, we see that hope and trust are used in conjunction with each other: “For You, O Lord, are my Hope, my Trust, O Lord, from my youth.” Faith is at the heart of hope.

A New Testament, a New Language, a Same Hope
In the New Testament the concept of hope permeates the story of Jesus and the epistles. It is stronger in that the reason for hope, the author and fulfillment of all hope is a reality in our world.

The Greek word “elpis” is most often used for hope and it means a confident expectation of good; a joyous and confident expectation of salvation in every sense and eternal life.

Jesus Is Our Hope
Hope is the foundation to our relationship with God. Hope is Jesus Christ, Himself.

In Col. 1:27, Paul leaves no doubt as to who our hope is: “To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

This hope is based on the resurrection power of Jesus: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” 1 Peter 1:3.  Hope is living and breathing.  It is God in Jesus Christ – “Waiting for our blessed Hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,” Titus 2:13.

Why This Hope?
The very nature and character of God transmits hope. God is faithful, steadfast, true, righteous, loving, wise and all powerful. He always loves and works on our behalf. Let’s review God in action – Hope.
Hope is:

  • Jesus reaching out and touching the leper before he was healed (Mt.8:3). This gives me hope that he will touch me, all spotted, marred and deformed by sin, and make me clean.
  • Jesus calling the blind man to come to Him while everyone else tried to hush him (Mk. 10:46-52). This gives me confident expectation that He will hear me though other voices try to tell me He doesn’t, and that He will open my eyes to Him.
  • Jesus feeding 5,000 people from five loaves and two fish, while the apostles are counting their change and wondering how can we buy for so many and how can we get it here (Mk. 6:32-44). This inspires me to trust that God will supply all my needs and that He will feed me His Bread from Heaven and cause me to thrive, (John 6:51).
  • Jesus allowing a desperate woman to touch His garment as He passes through a crowd. He allowed power to go from His body to heal her, while others are annoyed that He asked who touched me, (Luke 8:43-48). This gives me confidence to know that in the busy-ness of life and the press of many needs, Jesus will take time to touch my life. His power will lift me up and purify me so I can stand before Him.
  • Jesus standing outside the tomb of His friend, Lazarus when all hope for life is gone. People are standing around grieving wondering why didn’t you come and heal him before the finality of death, as Jesus called His friend out of death to life. (Jn. 11: 30-44). Jesus has the power to call us out of the death of sin and give us new life. If you know your “self” and your sin, you know this is true hope.

Hope – the Anchor for Our Soul
My hope to live and thrive in this life is not contingent upon my knowledge, skills, looks, health, achievement or heritage, though I often try to make it that. My hope is in the living Son of God, Jesus.

Jesus was the very sacrifice with which He entered into the presence of God for me.  It is through His atoning work that I have hope. (Hebrews 6:19-20b – “We have this hope as an anchor for our lives, safe and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain. Jesus has entered there on our behalf as a forerunner…”).

No matter how battered we are by life, we have hope. No matter how many waves we ride through life’s trouble, we have hope. No matter how often we sit on the debris of our life, hope abides. No matter how low or discouraged we are, we have access to thriving in the middle of it all through our faith in God and in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Hope of glory.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him,
so that you may overflow (thrive) with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Romans 15:13

Helping Others: by Jeannine Loftus

Introduction: by Lory Demshar:
This is an article written by my friend Jeannine Loftus. Jeannine has been through many trials so she is acquainted with suffering and grief. I asked her to write about what it takes to help others through difficult times, and how to help people grow.

Divinity in Helping
We may view helping others as a lower or subservient position. But in truth it is a role that God, Himself, fulfills in our life. In Psalm 54:4 David calls God his helper. In Psalm 27: 9, David praises God because He, God, has been his helper. In Psalm 46:1, the psalmist says God is an ever present help for us.  So when we are helping others, we are being like God.

God Directs Us to Help Others
There are many directives in the Bible to help others.

  • “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.” Proverbs 19:17 (ESV)
  • “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” 1 John 3:17 (ESV)
  • Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”” Hebrews 13:6 (ESV)
  • “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” Luke 6:38 (ESV)
  • “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ”. Galatians 6:2 (ESV)

There are so many more scriptures that can be shared on this topic and there is no question that this was the example of Jesus in healing physical ailments, forgiving sin, loving people, walking with them in their grief, teaching, spending time etc. This is not optional for us as followers of Jesus, it is essential to our own salvation, consider this scripture.

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also, faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” James 2:14-17

 How to Help Others
When reading an article like this most people tend to gravitate to the part of the article that provides practicals.  They look for a quick list of ideas for helping someone. You won’t find that in this article, but here are some principles to help.

Immerse yourself in God’s Word and Communion with Him
Be someone God can whisper to through His Holy Spirit. He does this, when we are in step with God, He puts people and actions on our hearts and if we obey His prompting, we find that God uses us to meet a need at the perfect moment. This is not always easy. Sometimes this is a battle with our fleshly nature. We may push down those promptings when the still quiet words say, “You should call that person,” or whatever nudging we receive.  If we keep pushing those thoughts down and away, we lose touch with them and with God and his Spirit.

Listen for the Needs
When you learn of a difficulty someone is going through, think about the person and the situation, and ask yourself, “What would I need in a similar circumstance?”  Maybe you will need to do the laundry; take care of their children; have coffee and just talk with them; or, have a time with God together of reading the Word of God and praying.

You’ll know best what the needs are if you visit with them and talk to them. If you talk and listen, you can hear the deeper needs that someone has.

I had a period of extended illness some years ago and had one friend who was amazing. She would just jump in and do whatever she saw as a need. At one point, it came out that my head was muddled during what was going on and I was paying my bills late. She offered to help me by taking it over for a bit. She got that under control and then automated some payments for me etc. That released an incredible burden from my shoulders, larger than I realized. Our inability to perform such tasks can become a point of shame for us.

Talk and Share
The caveat in talking and sharing is to share, but keep the focus for the benefit of the other person. Don’t let the conversation become all about you. Don’t talk to expel your own grief or issues. Focus your sharing on what you learned from your experience; what you have learned about how God worked; and what you needed in that time, Such sharing can open people up to talk more deeply.

People can feel ashamed and want to hide their spiritual struggles during the tough times, but that is the time they most need to feel loved and accepted. Sharing how you struggled with some issue will be helpful. They will feel that you can relate to them. They will need reassurance that as people we all grapple to understand what God may be working out, and it won’t always look/sound pretty but if they are to grow through it they need to feel heard.

Lead Them to God
In whatever ways you are helping, whether in physical action or in a listening capacity the most and best we can do for people is to help lift up their eyes to see their Creator for who He is.

There is something about difficult times that flips a switch for us, many of us (myself included) immediately begin to wonder if God is displeased with us. We may even progress to the thought that God doesn’t love us.  Or, we may think, “God loves me but I’m not sure if He likes me very much.” We need help to think differently.

Again, I go back to a time of my own illness and difficulty. A time when a faithful friend helped me keep my eyes fixed on God. When the ridiculous thoughts came up she pointed me to the scriptures so I could see the truth about who God really is, how He views me and interacts with me. She was patient, faithful and loving no matter how many times I wrestled with the same thoughts.

Jesus Our Example
There are a lot of ways to help people. Jesus is our role model in this. He knew when a touch was needed with a leper or when He needed to allow a sinful woman to clean His feet. He knew when His disciples needed to be with Him. He knew when they needed a sharp rebuke and to face truth. Jesus knew His followers and what each one needed. He spoke differently to Thomas, than He did to Peter or John. We will do well to be immersed in the Bible and to know God and His example in Jesus, and imitate Him.

 

God Makes All Things New

Alfred Tennyson said. “Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come. . .”  What a word picture! Do you stand at the brink of this new year wishing all things could be new for you, looking with hope towards this new year?

It is true, many people celebrate the New Year with a sigh of relief concerning things difficult, painful and troublesome that occurred in the old year with an expectation of better things to come in the New Year. Each New Year brings with it the promise of a fresh start, and new blessings.

God is a fan of “new!”
New means something that is just brought into existence, or something that is different from the old, or former things.

The term “new” is used approximately 131 times in the Old Testament and 54 times in the New Testament. God talks about all types of new things: a new name (Is. 62:2; Rev.2:17); a new song (Is. 42:10; Ps. 40:3); a new covenant (Jer. 31:31; 1 Cor. 11:25); a new commandment (John 13:34); a new birth (1 Peter 1:3); a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26); a new man (2 Cor. 5:17); a new life (Rom. 6:4); a new attitude, and a new self (Eph. 4:23-24).

The thought of ushering in a new year with God holds promise for real change.

Re-think Resolutions
All newness begins in God, because it is He who makes all things new (Rev. 21:5), including you and me.

Most people approach the New Year with the thought of change; of some-how making things different, better or new. Many people make resolutions – a list of things they want/need to change; things they want to add to their life; things they want to re-new or re-do.

A resolution is a resolve, a firm decision to do something that you were not doing.  A resolution is a statement, a plan for change.

Is there anything you need to change, or want to change? (Maybe you want to change an attitude about life, or about someone; a habit that is harmful to your physical or mental health; a pattern of hurtful interactions within your relationships; a mindset of being critical and negative; a prideful or self-sufficient spirit; or _______________ (you fill it in).

A Resolution by Any Other Name Is…
Believe it or not, changing our mind or renewing our mind is repentance! In the New Testament of the Bible, repent comes from the Greek word metanoia which means a change of mind; a change in the inner man; a change of thinking and of purpose. In the Old Testament repentance is the concept of turning to God and away from sinful ways.

Repentance involves a turning away from our “selves” and our ways, and a turning to God.

Acts 17:30 describes repentance in a very clear way:
“God overlooked the times when people didn’t know any better. But now He commands everyone everywhere to turn to Him and change the way they think and act.”

Repentance is a word that some modern thinkers find repugnant or old fashioned. Yet to change how we think and act is the very definition of repentance.

The New Year is a time when we think of change. Resolutions are resolves and plans to repent and change.

Renewal Begins in Our Mind
In truth, God calls us to change all the time. God is all about change.

In Romans 12:2, God speaks to us about change and renewal:
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed (changed) by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.”

In other words, do not remain molded to your old, ineffective ways of thinking about your life and then acting, but allow your way of thinking to be changed.

Part B of this verse indicates that the renewing of our mind involves the will of God. It involves learning how to think about life and our selves the way God sees us; the way God wants.

Renewing our mind in this manner involves the Word of God. God’s will is in His Word, the Bible. Make a resolve to read the Word of God every day, so that you can know the will of God and begin to change, to have your “self” and your life transformed.

Change Is Refreshing
As we read through to the end of this verse we see that such a renewing by changing our mind produces something good and pleasing. Isn’t this the main idea of why we want to change certain things in ourselves and our lives?

Such change or repentance leads to inner peace, contentment, strength and refreshing, that comes from the presence of God in our life as indicated in Acts 3:19.

“Now change your mind and attitude to God and turn to Him so He can cleanse away your sins and send you wonderful times of refreshment from the presence of the Lord.”

God, Our Power to Change
There have been years I have made resolutions concerning things I wanted to change and things I needed to change, yet within 3 months of those resolutions I gave up.

You may say well you didn’t have the right plan; or you did not persevere; or you did not have the encouragement from others to change. Possibly all those are true, but the truth is I tried to do them in my own strength.

Change is hard. It is a process that occurs overtime. It does require perseverance, self-discipline and support from others; but, it also requires the acknowledgement of the active presence of God in our lives and the turning to Him. Turning away from our “self,” our thinking, and turning to God is not a one-time event, it is a daily, even hourly, act of trust and reliance on God, His love and His power.

God is the champion of change and He provides what we need to change.

2 Corinthians 3:18 clearly describes this process:
“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

The English Standard version of this verse indicates that with the help of God we are being changed to be like Him, to have His heart and His character degree by degree. This is a truth.

The fact is that God is working in me, that I am not left to make these changes on my own, and, that I am not expected to change overnight, gives me hope. God’s life giving and life changing power are working with me, in me and for me.

So, I urge you to re-think your resolutions this year. Bring God into your resolutions! Renew your mind, and turn to God to be transformed. Remember these changes are a part of our walk with God. We may fail at times, but He will not fail us.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness”  Lamentations 3:22-23
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P.S. A friend of mine recently published a book about chances for change. The title of this book is “Every Day Is A New Chance” by Jeanie Shaw. It is published by Illumination Publishers.

 

 

God, the Gift Giver

During the Christmas holidays many people practice a tradition of gift giving. However, there are those who criticize this as materialistic. While the gift giving aspect of the holiday can be characterized by greed and commercialism, I would like to suggest a different way of looking at this practice. Although we know neither the day or season in which God Incarnate came into this world, we do know the scriptures say that God gave His Son, John 3:16.

God gave of Himself in coming down in the” Son of God – the Anointed One” to live among men, to become the true sacrifice of atonement for sin. This was the greatest gift of all. Gift giving by us, at any time of the year, imitates the love and grace of God.

God has given us many gifts. Let’s review some of the gifts God gives to us. It is difficult to talk about just one of these gifts, because they are inter-related. They all flow into each other.

 Grace unto Salvation
There is a popular Christmas song that talks about being nice or good as meriting gifts at Christmas time. Yet, God gave the gift of His Son when we were at our worst state; still His gift came from His love and good intent to us.

  • “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
  • “For at just the right time, while we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” Romans 5:6
  • “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 2:4-5

I am very drawn to this next passage since it shows that God’s grace was not just an afterthought. God did not just give something to give it; nor did He re-gift something. God did not impulsively or on the spur of the moment get and give this gift. But He deliberately chose to give this gift; carefully planned and worked through time the giving of this gift of grace. This makes me feel especially loved and provided for.

“He has saved us and called us to a holy life–not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.”
2 Timothy 1:9

Grace into His presence
Through the gift of God’s Son Jesus, we receive the gift of coming into the presence of God. We can come before “God Most High, God Almighty” in the grace that Jesus gives us.

  • “But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah.” Ephesians 2:13
  • “In Him (Jesus) and through faith in Him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” Ephesians 3:12
  • “Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.” Romans 5:1-2

Not only are we given the gift of coming into His presence, but His presence actually abides in us. What a gift! God allows us to share in His divine nature. This is a mind blowing truth.

  • “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”
    2 Peter 1:3-4
  • “And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” Acts 2:38-39

The Gift of Peace
Jesus has come to give us peace; peace within our hearts; peace within our relationships with others and peace between us and God.

  • “I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take courage; I have overcome the world!” John 16:33
  • “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…” Romans 5:1
  • “God was pleased to have all of himself live in Christ. God was also pleased to bring everything on earth and in heaven back to himself through Christ. He did this by making peace through Christ’s blood sacrificed on the cross. Once you were separated from God. The evil things you did showed your hostile attitude. But now Christ has brought you back to God by dying in his physical body. He did this so that you could come into God’s presence without sin, fault, or blame.” Col.1:19-22

The Gift of Joy
Most people pursue happiness. Who does not want to be happy? Even the Declaration of Independence of the United States claims that the pursuit of happiness is an unalienable right of every human being.

God gives us more that circumstantial happiness, He provides a true deep, abiding joy. This joy remains, even when there are difficulties in our life. This joy is given to us, a gift through Jesus.

  • “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” John 15:10-12
  • “Although you’ve never seen Him, you love Him. Even though you don’t see Him now, you trust Him and so rejoice with a glorious joy that is too much for words. You are receiving the goal of your faith: your salvation.” 1 Peter 1:8-9

Gifts to Treasure
There are many gifts given to us from God. You can probably name some right now. Over this holiday season take some time out and meditate on the gifts that God has given us in Jesus Christ, our Lord. Take time to give God due thanks and praise for the good gifts He has given you, in much the same way you would thank your friend or relative for that special gift they gave you.

After the holidays, as you move into the new year, establish the habit of reading the Word of God daily. As you read look for the treasures God has given you.

God in The Nothing Times

One evening in a woman’s Bible study group we talked about the “nothing times”. It started when a young woman said something like this, “I moved here about five years ago. I had a baby who turned out to have serious life threatening health issues. My whole life has changed.  My husband and I used to be respected leaders in my church. I was a professional in the field of law and had a respected job. But now I am nothing. No one knows who I am or what I was.”  So we talked about those times in our life when we feel as if we are worth nothing, and we are doing nothing.

“Nothing  times,” such as experiencing a major health problem that alters our life style; losing our job and title; experiencing a major financial loss; marital problems; problems with children, and countless difficulties and life changes, can reveal what our identity and life is based on.

The truth is in order to make it through these times we need to have a value beyond ourselves, our position, looks and what we can do or achieve. Who we are needs to be defined by something greater than our appearance, education, position, achievements, health or success in life.

Great Men and Nothing Times
The Bible tells stories of men and women who experienced “nothing times.” Nothing times or desert times, are those times when everything we associated with who we are and what we do that gives meaning to our lives is stripped away. We may feel like a no body, a nothing, a non-contributor, but it is in those times we can learn whose we really are and how the truth we learn can change our life.

We could study the “nothing times” of Abraham, Sarah, Joseph, David, Elijah, Elisha, Mary, Paul and others, but today let’s look briefly at Moses.

Moses’ Nothing Time
Moses was a prince of Egypt but was demoted to a shepherd in the desert (Exodus 2:11-25).  Truly this must have seemed like a “nothing time” to Moses. After all, Moses had been educated in the pharaoh’s courts, trained as a soldier in the Egyptian army, entrusted with leadership and responsibility, experienced wealth, luxury and privilege. Moses was in running to be the next ruler of Egypt.

What a come down it must have been for Moses when he found himself a fugitive running from Egyptian officials and then tending sheep in a desert. Yet, God used this time when Moses probably felt like a “nobody,” who was doing nothing of importance, to teach Moses how to live in relationship with God, and what his true identity and purpose is.

This “nothing time” is referred to as Moses’ desert experience. During this time, Moses learned to be humble before God. Moses fell in love with God during this time and became deeply bonded to God. It was because of this humility and bond that God was able to use Moses in such a powerful way. Even though Moses was well educated and powerful within himself, God worked through Moses’ humility and Godly devotion more than any of Moses’ previous education and training.

A key for Moses was that he did not hold unto his past position, or continue to define himself as a privileged son of Egypt, but rather he opened himself to learn of God and to do God’s will, God’s way. God used Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt and to bring Israel into a covenant relationship with God.

The Glory Times
As we read through Exodus, we see what a beautiful and close relationship Moses developed with God through his nothing time, as well as time when he led God’s people through their wilderness. Through humility and faith, Moses developed an intimate relationship with God so much so that Moses had the faith to ask God to see His glory, and God did as Moses requested in Ex. 33:18-23

“Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”.

Something Out of “My Nothing”
As we read through the Bible, we can see many other people who had those “nothing times.” Some, such as King Saul, responded in pride and fear, and as a result were unable to be used by God. Others responded in faith.  In conclusion, as we reflect on Moses we see some of the keys to surviving and growing in the “nothing” or desert times:

  • relinquish your hold on your  self-made identity, value and purpose
  • define yourself by your relationship with God
  • be humble and open yourself to God’s working; allow Him to show you what you need to know about yourself and Him
  • trust that God is in control, He sees your distress and is working in and for you behind the scenes.

I believe that all of the seemingly nothing times in our life can bring us closer to God and help us see Him in a way that we may have never seen Him before. The question is:
“Are you willing to look to God during the “nothing” times?”

A Verse for Thought
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” 1 Peter 2:9-10

Playing Ball With God

According to statistics listed by ESPN, Johnny Bench was the all-time best catcher in the history of MLB, and according to Bleacher Report, Roy Karkovice was the best all time defensive catcher in the history of MLB. I am sure there are those who would debate this. However, I want to go on record as saying I have found the best “catcher” of all, both defensive and offensive, His name is Jehovah, the God of heaven and earth.

Play Ball!
This morning I played ball with God. Yes, I did. I was the pitcher, He the catcher. This may sound crazy, but God invites us to do this.

1 Peter 5:7 says “Cast your anxieties on Him because He cares for you.” The word “cast” in New Testament Greek means throw.  So basically it is saying, “Throw your anxieties on God because He cares for you.”

Where did Peter get that idea? Most probably he heard it as he sat in the synagogue listening to the Hebrew scriptures.

David used this expression and set up this concept of throwing things to God in  Psalm 55:22. He writes: Cast your burdens on the Lord, He will sustain you…”

The lexicon provides a detailed description of this Hebrew word, “cast’” defining it with several synonyms: hurl, fling, and throw. Each word draws out a different nuance of meaning.

Hurl implies a forceful throw, something with strength and determination behind it. Fling implies a quick, “I have to get help with this” toss. A “throw” may be done with more deliberation and focus.

Whatever way you throw your concerns, fears and troubles onto God, He is there to catch them. In fact He welcomes us to “cast,” and He is waiting to catch.

Trust the Catcher
Knowing that God invites me, even urges me to throw my cares on Him reassures me and gives me peace amid the questions, and troubles of my life. I know I can rely on God for help.

I need to know that there is someone more powerful and faithful than myself, or even than my best confidante.  Some of the times I need to remember this truth are when I am struggling in a relationship; dealing with things I see as unfair; overcoming a weakness; trying to grow in my faith; or, when I am challenged by situations or people that seem impossible.

I have found that when I look in God’s word for truths about the character of God, I am building  a foundation for my faith.  I more readily see God as the faithful Catcher. He can field any hard ball we throw at Him or unto Him.

There are truths about God in His Word that help me to trust that He will not only catch what I hurl unto Him, but that He will work with it. Here are a few truths about our Perfect Catcher that make me feel safe and stir my heart to trust Him.

God is Faithful in His Love
One of these truths is found in James 1:17.
“That every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights. Who does not change like shifting shadows.”  James 1:17

This verse states that God is good and as a result good things come to us from Him. It also states that God does not change. In other words He has had, and always has, good intentions towards me and He will not change His intent.

Ephesians 1: 4-5 makes this truth in James 1 very clear: “For He chose us in Him (Jesus) before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will—.”

Before the foundation of the world, God looked down through time and He saw that I was not always going to trust Him, obey Him, or choose to do what was right. He saw times when I would be blind, ignorant, arrogant, and forge ahead in my own way and dishonor Him. Yet, even before all this came to be He planned to bring me close to Him, into His family, through His Son Jesus. To top it all off, it was His good pleasure to do this.

The cross was not an instrument of pleasure, yet it was God’s pleasure to give up His Son to the cross so I could be in “God’s good graces,” so to speak.

God Is Trust Worthy
I think of these truths and I know that God is faithful in His love and good intent towards me. When I feel overwhelmed by troubles in my life, it is not always my first response to cast my troubles on Him and trust that He will sustain me.

Sometimes my mind and heart are slow to do this. I have to push through my feelings and make a deliberate effort to recall truths like the one stated in Ephesians 1:4-5,  and then choose to believe it. Then, I can hurl my cares on Him with confident expectation of His care.

Studying the meaning of a small word like “cast;” seeing its history in the Old Testament through to the New Testament enriches my understanding of God and increases my faith. God relishes a relationship with us.

There are many other passages in God’s Word that show Him reaching out to us. I urge you to search out these passages and be encouraged by God’s good intent towards you.

Language of Prayer

Prayer Speak
When I read through the Psalms, I see what I would call a “language of prayer” interlaced through these scriptures. It is a language that is open, vulnerable, reverent and, at times, desperate.

It is a language that reveals truths about God’s character, His interaction with man and man’s interaction with God. For example, in Psalm 46:1, the psalmist shows us that he has found God to be a refuge and a present help in time of trouble. These descriptions of interactions between God and man, and the actual prayers that are detailed in the psalms help me in several ways.

First, it increases my understanding of God and His intentions towards me. Sometimes, during the problems of life, I mistrust God’s good intentions towards me. I tend to question His love for and care of me. At times, I have wondered if God had forgotten about me, or if He was mad at me. When I read how the psalmists felt and saw God, and how God interacted with them, I can see more clearly the truth about God and His nature, rather than be blinded by my feelings or circumstances.

That in turn increases my ability to trust God, because I can see Him for who He is, and more readily believe His good intention for me even if I am not “feeling it.” Being reminded of these truths about God encourages me to choose to trust the goodness of God. The third result is a deepening of my ability to express my praise, thankfulness and love for God. When I am trusting God’s goodness and care, it opens my heart to thank God.

Some of these actions of God are listed below. I encourage you to read them with care and thought, and ask yourself, “Is this how I see God in my life?”  If not, then take some time to pray and ask God to help you to see Him in these ways.

The God of the Psalmists and the Prophets Is Our God Too!
We speak to the same God that the psalmists, prophets and patriarchs spoke to, and we have a relationship with this same God. Perhaps you read these scriptures in the Old Testament and think that such interactions were from of old and not for me today. Yet God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow (Hebrews 1:12 and 13:8). God’s character and nature are unchanging.

In Jeremiah 23:23, the prophet in chastising Israel quotes God as referring to Himself as “the God who is near.”
“Am I a God who is near, declares the Lord, and not a God who is far off?”

In context, God is telling the people that He is near to them, but also He knows them when they have distanced themselves from God, and so to speak are hiding out from Him.  The word for “near” is “karove” and it implies a nearness in time, in place and in personal relationship.  Other words for near in this context are: close at hand; neighbor; next to and approachable.

We worship the same God who defined Himself as the God who is near. Read about how the Psalmists describe God’s closeness and intimacy with His people. Let these words encourage you about how God interacts with you today. Again, I ask you to ask yourself these questions: Is this how I see God? Is this how I interact with Him?

Ps. 3:3– God is our protector. God is a shield and the One who lifts us up.
“But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.”

Ps, 4:7 –. God is the source of joy.
“You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.”

Ps, 56:8 – God knows our sadness and hurt.
“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.”

Ps. 9:12b – God does not ignore us, no matter how we are feeling about Him, or our circumstances.
“He does not ignore the cries of the afflicted…”

Ps. 38:3 – God answers our prayers to Him and He encourages our faint and weary hearts.
“When I called, You answered me; You greatly emboldened me.”

Ps.11:4– God is Sovereign. God is in control, even when things in our life or the world around us are out of control.
“But the Lord is still in His holy temple; He still rules from heaven.
He closely watches everything that happens here on earth.” (TLB)

Ps. 42:8– God is constant. He is always acting on our behalf.
“By day the Lord directs His love, at night His song is with me.”

These are just a few examples of truths we can learn from the language of prayer and praise found in the book of Psalms. I encourage you to read through the psalms to find your own expressions of how God interacts with us.

Snapshots of Compassion

I have always loved pictures painted, drawn, or photos taken.  Currently, I am taking a photography course and it has opened my eyes even more to the beauty and the story (ies) within each picture. As I read the Bible I realize there are pictures of God, of man and even videos (so to speak) of God and man together. I would like to present some to you. In my photo album of God these are filed under compassion and love.

Snapshots of Compassion
Picture this: A man is dressed in dirty clothes with holes and shreds. As we approach we see he is disfigured and has scaly, crusty white patches on his arms. Some of his fingers are missing, People begin to move away from him and murmur sounds of disgust.

Then we see a young man and a small group of his friends nearing the man. The man calls out something. He is calling out for help. His friends shrink back, but the young man moves forward and reaches out and touches the man.  Almost instantly, we see the man’s flesh restored to normal. His fingers are whole. His skin is not scaly and crusty, but smooth and new. Onlookers, still at a cautious distance, gasp. The man in tatters praises God.

Maybe this is what it was like when Jesus looked on the leper with compassion.  This photo is found in the gospel of Mark in chapter 1, we read of the incident in which Jesus looked upon a leper with eyes of compassion and a will to help him.

“A man with leprosy came and knelt in front of Jesus, begging to be healed. “If you are willing,  you can heal me and make me clean,” he said.  Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” Instantly the leprosy disappeared, and the man was healed. Mark 1:40-42.

I love the part that says the Son of God was “moved with compassion,” and “I am willing.”  It is reassuring to know that God sees me with eyes of compassion, and that He is willing to help me. On the days when I feel like a leper on the sidelines of life, ignored, cast off, weighed down in my sin, or hurt by another’s sin; I pull out this picture and see God and His compassion. It reminds me of the truth about God and me. I return the photo to the album and move forward with new courage, faith and strength.

Snapshot: A Guilty Woman
There is a small crowd. Men’s angry voices can be heard. Wait! They have stones in their hands. Who is that in the middle of the circle? A women partially clothed is cowering in the dirt. A young rabbi looks on the scene with sadness and indignation. He enters the ring and scratches something in the dirt. Men drop stones and turn away. He turns to the woman, and speaks gentle words of forgiveness and direction. She rises and returns home. (See John 8:1-12).

When I am distraught about my sin, about wrestling with overcoming it, and failing; I pull out this snapshot of truth and am encouraged. Knowing that God views my distress through eyes of compassion helps me trust in Him, stand up, and move forward.

Snapshot: Men with Hard Hearts
The next picture was taken on the Sabbath in the synagogue. The synagogue was a great location for a picture. It was the focal point of the Jewish religious community. People went there to hear the law of God read and discussed.

In this picture we see men sitting, some are in the chief seats and there is a commoner seated on the floor. If we look closely at the expressions we see critical eyes and cold hard stares of the men in the “chief seats.” The man seated on the floor has a withered hand. Look closely at the picture and you will see sadness and fear in his eyes.

Also in the picture is a young rabbi who is looking with compassion on the man with the withered hand. He calls this man forward and heals him. In the next photo we see indignation and grief on the young rabbi’s face while we see anger and hatred on the faces of the men in the chief seats.

It is said that after this compassionate healing took place, the men of the chief seats met in a group and conspired to kill the young rabbi. (See Mark 3:1-6)

I love the fact that Jesus’ compassion for the man leads Him to act on his behalf even when it posed a danger to Himself.  While Jesus felt compassion for the man with the withered hand, He felt deep sadness at the hardness of heart of the other men. Seeing this picture of God helps me to trust Him. He is righteous and has a sense of justice. I can feel safe in confiding my hurts and problems to Him. He stands up to evil and champion my cause.

What’s in Your spiritual Wallet?
The compassion of God is well documented in the scriptures. Jesus manifests the character and nature of God to us (Col. 1:18; John 1:1-3). As we read the gospels we see pictures of God’s compassion.

When I was younger it was the custom for people to carry a wallet for their cash, but also most of these wallets had a section of plastic holders for pictures. Usually people put pictures of their family and close friends. It was a reminder to them of their loved ones and they could whip it out to give others a true description of their family and friends.

It is important to picture these truths about God in our minds and carry them with us in the wallet of our hearts.

In times when I am discouraged; feeling hurt and alone; misunderstood; let down by others; weary and tired of life, or guilty of sin, I pull out these truths of God. I look at them carefully. I put my faith in God anew and trust His compassion for me.  I am reminded I am not alone. I have a Father who understands, who cares and whose compassion is active in my life.

I urge you to read the Word of God, find and keep pictures of God in your spiritual wallet.

“I will rejoice and be glad in Your steadfast love, because You have seen my affliction;
You have known the distress of my soul.”  Psalm. 31:7

The God Who Sees

Looking for Compassion
Recently a friend of mine became homeless due to family stressors. She actually slept out on the streets a few nights. Eventually she returned to her home state and sought refuge living with her aging mother and a sister who is disabled.

In addition to being homeless, she was separated from her 10 year old son for about 6 weeks. They have since been reunited and are at her mother’s trying to put together their life. On top of all this, my friend found out that she has a bulging disc and needs immediate surgery. Such imminent surgery will hinder her ability to work and earn a living for her and her son. In my friend’s case it seemed like one difficulty after another happened.

At such times, we may ask; “Where is God? Does He see what is happening? Does He care about things like this and feel compassion? Will He help me?” To a “seasoned believer” these questions may seem ridiculous and even faithless, but to those who are enduring severe trials, such questions don’t seem so unreasonable. I have at times asked some of these questions during physical, spiritual and or emotionally trying times. I believe such questioning is a way the soul expresses its desire for God’s compassion and help.

We all want to be seen. We don’t want to be ignored or feel invisible especially when we are hurting or in difficult circumstances. There is a sense of comfort or peace knowing someone else knows and understands, even if our circumstance does not change.

Looking to God for compassion in our difficulties is a natural thing, whether we do it through pure faith or in frustration with questioning, we are, nevertheless, seeking God’s help. We see an example of this relentless looking to God for compassion in Psalm 123: 1-2.
“To You I lift up my eyes, O You who are enthroned in the heavens! Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, until He is gracious to us.”

The question we may wrestle with is: Does God see me?

The God Who Sees
In Genesis 16 the Bible relates a similar story of a homeless woman, a woman pregnant with a child who was forced out of her home and ends up sitting alone in the desert, and to her utter amazement she is seen by God.

This is the story of Hagar, the Egyptian maid servant of Sarah, who is with child by Abraham as a result of Sarah and Abraham’s attempts to have a child. Actually, Sarah gives her handmaid, Hagar, to Abraham to sleep with in hopes of having an heir through Hagar.

When Hagar becomes pregnant she behaves in a disrespectful way to Sarah. Sarah retaliates with severe treatment and makes Hagar’s life miserable to the point that Hagar runs away. As Hagar sits alone in the desert an “angel of the Lord” appears to her and provides hope and guidance to her. Hagar is in awe that she has been seen by God, and she gives God the name “El Roi” meaning “the God who sees.”

This scenario is repeated in Genesis 21. Hagar’s son is growing up as the apparent heir, but in the meantime Sarah has a son, who is the true heir. Sarah cannot abide with Hagar’s son presence and demands that Abraham turn them both out. So again, Hagar finds herself homeless in the desert, but this time with a 13 year old son. She sat under a tree grieving, thinking she would have to watch her son die, but God saw her and heard the cries of Hagar and her son. God sent the “angel of God” to help them. Again Hagar has been seen by God.

God sees our condition and hears our cries. God is aware of us at all times and looks on us with eyes of compassion.

God Sees Us and We See God!
Maybe you are not homeless but I am sure that at some time you have had other situations going on in your life or heart that caused you to wonder if God sees and cares. The story in Genesis 16 and 21 reveal God’s character of faithful compassion. He sees; He cares, and He works on our behalf.

Our situation or our feelings do not change the truth of God’s faithfulness and compassion. I tend to see things from my small self oriented perspective. I think that if God sees and cares that He will automatically change my circumstances. I often have a “presto-change-o” view of God. When He doesn’t change my situation I can be tempted to charge God with unfaithfulness.

Sometimes God provides immediate healing or an immediate blessing to my need, but sometimes not. How and in what time frame God chooses to work in my life and reveal Himself to me is not my concern, but the fact that He does see me should be my focus.

When Hagar was out in the desert crying and the angel of the Lord appeared to her, God did not change her circumstance. In fact, the first time, He sent her back to Sarah. We don’t read of Hagar being disappointed or accusing God of not helping her. Why? Because she had seen God! Her focus was no longer on her, the situation, or Sarah. Her focus was on the wonder of encountering God. The scriptures record her response:

 “So she called the LORD who spoke to her: The God Who Sees, for she said, “In this place,    have I actually seen the One who sees me?” Gen. 16: 13

She was in awe that that God saw her and spoke to her. She met God in the angel of the Lord. He acknowledged her and her difficulty. Her focus was off of her “self” and onto the great and awesome God. She was, so to speak, blown away by realizing that God saw her and acted in her life upon what He saw. I have to ask myself, how many times do I miss encounters with God because I am focused on myself or my circumstances?

We do encounter God, through His Word; through answered prayer; through the leading of His Spirit within us, and through people He places in our life. My soul burns within me when I read something in the Word of God, or experience something that helps me see God in a more real way in my life. I look for truths about His character, such as this one in Genesis 16 about God seeing us with compassion.

This story reconfirms for me that God does see me, but what is even more amazing is that He reveals Himself to me, and I see Him! What about you? Are your eyes open to seeing God?

In, By, Through and From Jesus

I have believed in God since a young girl. When I was teaching third grade a coworker invited me to study the Bible. I wanted to know God and had never read the Bible before so the thought appealed to me. (Imagine, saying you believe in God and yet never reading His Word)! My true walk with God began, the moment I opened the pages of the Bible.

I took the summer off from work that year and began to read the Bible from front to back. I fell in love with the God I met there, especially the God I saw in the Old Testament. Yes, I understood about Jesus and loved Him, but the character and nature of God that I saw in the Old Testament captured my heart.

A few years ago I read this verse in John 5:22-23: “For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. “

This verse made me think more deeply about my understanding and honoring of Jesus, so I began studying truths about Him in God’s Word.

I looked at what the Bible says we have in, by, through and from Jesus. These prepositions are small words, but they introduce great truths about Jesus. I would like to present a few of these truths, without much comment, for your consideration. Perhaps they will magnify Jesus in your mind and heart, as they do in mine.

Redemption in Jesus
Romans 3:23-25b states that we have redemption in Jesus through His atoning blood.

“… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation (atonement) by his blood, to be received by faith.”

No Condemnation in Jesus
Romans 8:1-2 states that God in Jesus removes all condemnation from us. What a relief to our mind and spirit!

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”

Grace in Jesus from Before the Beginning of Time
Before the creation of the world God planned to send His Son to save us and bless us.
The salvation of man through the Son of God, Jesus, was not an afterthought or hastily contrived bandage to the troubles of mankind.

I Timothy 2:9 and10 clearly reveal this truth:

“He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”

We can read this same truth in Ephesians 1:4-5.

“In Christ, He chose us before the world was made. In His love He chose us to be His holy people—people without blame before Him.  And before the world was made, God decided to make us His own children through Jesus Christ…” (ICB)

Access to God through Jesus
I long to be near God, I think you do too or you would not be reading this. Jesus gives us access to God, to be able to draw near to Him, to be in His presence and to be able to interact with Him.

In speaking of the Gentiles and the Jews, the writer of the Ephesian letter reveals this truth about Jesus to us in Eph. 2:17-18.

“And He (Jesus) came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”

And again, we see it in Ephesians 3:12:
In Him (Jesus) and through faith in Him we may enter God’s presence with boldness and confidence.

God’s Handiwork Created in Christ Jesus
When you are feeling that your life has no value, or you have no purpose meditate on this truth – a blessing in Jesus that is found in Ephesians 2:8-10:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are His workmanship (His hands on work; His masterpiece), created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”

No Discrimination in Christ
Galatians 3:25-28 reveals our true identity and value. We are all the same, we are one in Christ, and what is more we are siblings in the family of God in Christ.

“But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Truths for Life
There are many other passages in the Bible that reveal what I call the “in, from, by and through” truths about Jesus. These truths have magnified God in Jesus to me, and revealed the blessings I have in Jesus. They keep me strong in times of temptation; in times of doubting God; when I am question His goodness towards me; and in times when I feel under attack by others.

These truths help me to worship God and give Him the thanks that is due Him. I post these truths for you to meditate on and add to your faith, your gratitude, and relationship with God in Christ Jesus.