Hope

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Where Are You From?

A question that often comes up the first time we meet someone is, “Where are you from?” It’s a good question because it may provide context about the person. I have a brother-in-law that grew up in south Georgia. His conversations are filled with “yes, sir, and yes, ma’am.” It’s a courtesy spoken by people from the South, and it is like comfort food to me.

If you’ve read my posts for a while, you may have noticed that I’ve lived in many places. Each time I got a new driver’s license, it showed my permanent address. Well, that state thought it was permanent 😉 , but I knew better. Still, my birth certificate never changed for my many permanent addresses.

A Prophetic Message

When we turn to Psalms 87, we find the Psalmist drawing on the culture of the Israelites and writing about the registration of people. It would be easy to miss God’s prophetic message in this brief Psalm. In verse three, we find the Psalmist praising God’s city, Zion (Jerusalem): “Glorious things of you are spoken, O city of God.” Then, in verse four, we learn that a time will come when some people who are citizens of nations other than Israel will be counted as having been born in Jerusalem. This is precisely how Christians live in the world today.

Every Nation

There are currently 195 nations in the world. There are at least a few Christians in every country. Even Somalia’s population has 0.01% Christians. So, there are people that were born outside of Jerusalem but are now born, by faith in Jesus, in God’s city. Wow!

Now we come to verse six of Psalms 87 and find a promise from God for every Christian.

The LORD will write in the register of the peoples: “This one was born in Zion.”

Psalms 87:6

Birth Certificate

O, how my soul leaped with joy when I read verse six. My heavenly Father looked at me and saw Jesus in me, so He wrote of me, “This one was born in Zion..”

Almighty God wrote on my birth certificate, “born in Zion,” does yours? I pray that it does!

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Prisoner of Hope

Have you ever had such a need to feel the hand of God that, like a puppy, you became so frantic that you couldn’t receive the very thing you wanted? I think I’ve been in one of those times. You see, I’ve been asking God to directly intervene for the health of several people and a church. But when I pray, I get so wound up in the needs that I feel like I’m chasing my tail.

Called to Serve

I’ve never been a puppy, but my observation is that an excited puppy will spin and tumble and nuzzle in attempts at feeling his master’s hand. But only when the puppy quiets, panting from exhaustion, can his master rest his hand on him, and only then does the puppy feel what he craves. I think I’ve been caught in “puppy syndrome” and am still in the frenetic phase. But I am changing my ways.

Jesus didn’t call me to chase my tail; He didn’t call me to chase the devil; He called me to serve Him, and may God have mercy on the soul of anyone that attempts to mess with His will. So, as I was reading my Bible, the Holy Spirit gave me a verse to grasp hold of that has settled me down. This verse is a promise, and the good news is that it is as much for you as me. Here is God’s promise:

Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.

Zechariah 9:12

Prisoner of Hope

Did you catch God’s promise in this verse? It is the “prisoners of hope.” That’s what I am; I am a prisoner of hope. I cannot deny so great a salvation. I am not ashamed of the Gospel. Because of what Jesus has done in me, through me, and for me, how can I not be wrapped in chains of love and lashed to the Rock of my salvation? I am a prisoner of hope.

I no longer need to cast my soul into a frenzy when my Master stretches His hand towards me. There is no need because I am already bound to Him, fed by Him, and continually communicating with Him. Do I still need the touch of His hand? Absolutely. Do I still have petitions for Him? Yes, indeed. Should I be concerned that He may not hear my prayer? Not at all, for I am a prisoner of hope.

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Don’t you understand even yet?

Today, I was caught off guard while reading Matthew 16:5–12. This is the account of the disciples misunderstanding what Jesus meant when He warned them about the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees to which Jesus asks, “Don’t you understand even yet?

The Disciples Worry

In response to Christ’s question, the disciples began to worry about not having anything to eat – they had forgotten to bring bread (v5). They discussed this predicament while traveling by boat, so they obviously couldn’t do a door-dash. With the thought of bread on their minds, they were baffled when Jesus suddenly told them to be on guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (v6).

The disciples focused on food while Jesus was focused on fulfilling the plan of His Father. Rabbit Trail: I asked myself if my default response to every question was first spiritual and then physical? You can guess my answer.

Now back to Jesus and His disciples in the boat.

The Disciples Misunderstand

Jesus has just warned His disciples – the ones upon whose shoulders the growth of His Church would soon fall – to beware of the yeast (leaven) of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Their response had been to huddle together to figure out how to tell Jesus that they forgot to bring bread. At this point, Jesus sternly asked, “Don’t you understand even yet?

Forgive my very loose paraphrase of what Jesus next says in v9–11. Jesus says, “Get your head in the game. I can bury you in bread, so why are you asking Me about bread? That makes no sense.” From the disciples – silence.

Our Patient Lord

Then Jesus shows His patience. “So again I say, ‘Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’” (v11) Now His disciples were in tune, sort of, with Jesus. They understood that Jesus meant that they should guard against false teachings because they can quickly grow and permeate what the Church teaches (v12).

Good News

We should not worry about the things we need – food, clothing, shelter. What we do need is to keep our thoughts fixed on God (Isaiah 26:3) – whose mind is stayed on thee (KJV)

Many things can plant worry in us, but we don’t have to let them. Our God is El Shaddai, the All-Sufficient God. We’ll keep focused on doing the work that Jesus assigns us and let the world worry about itself.

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Where Shall I Go

How can we feel isolated while we are in a crowd? Why are we lonely after a Thanksgiving meal, or potluck supper, or family get-to-gather? What makes special events tax not only our energy but also our spiritual health?

King David understood these emotions. He wrote, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” (Psalm 43:5) For many reasons or no reason at all, even when we are physically and spiritually healthy, our souls can be downcast. Well, be encouraged by Psalm 139:7–12

Where shall I go?

7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning.
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.

God’s Hand Guides Us

I love this Psalm because it reminds me that God is everywhere. He’s not like a wireless network that has spotty coverage – some places I can be near God, but other places I’ve got zero bars! I may be stuck with a dead battery or at a mandatory office party or at a relative’s house that is full of darkness, even there I can communicate with God!

Verse ten, “even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me” is so encouraging. Innumerable times I’ve led one of my five kids by placing my hand on his or her back and guiding them through stores, trains, school events, and more. They were too short to see where to go and their environment was unfamiliar. Yet we made it through.

Good News

That is the way the Holy Spirit is with us. We may be too small in spiritual stature to see above the crowd and the environment may make no sense to us, but God has our back. In those times we can trust that God was with us, His desire was to see His will done through us. As the Apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.

As we enter the most frenetic time of the year, trust Jesus, I mean really trust Him, uninhibited and not restrained by long worn ruts in family relationships. Let God’s light shine. As the Psalmist wrote about God, “even the darkness is not dark to you.” (Psalms 139:12)


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Between My Ears


“For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn”

Ernest Hemingway

Much lore now surrounds this six-word story, accredited to Ernest Hemingway. So much has been made of these six words that the story now stretches around the world with countless book clubs holding annual six-word story contests, with the first and most well-known contest in Key West, Florida, Ernest Hemingway’s home where he allegedly gave this answer to a journalist.

So, what would your six-word story be about Jesus? To get things rolling here’s two of mine.


The Lamb of God saved me.
In Death, Thought Lost, Arose Victorious.

Gary

Include your six-word story in the comment section!


The story must present the truth about Christianity in a positive light. I reserve the right to remove any comments that are not appropriate for this site.


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a pic full of rocks with a question mark painted on one of them

Between My Ears



 These are the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses for the people of Israel on Mount Sinai.” 

Leviticus 27:34

This is the final verse in the book of Leviticus. Read this verse to anyone who says, “If there is a god, that god does not care about their creation and certainly is not involved in the affairs of humanity.” (This is a common belief of an agnostic.) I can find nowhere in God’s Word where is say, “I don’t care anymore about my creation. I’ve got greener pasters to tend to.

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Are We Living the Wrong Life?

Yes, the above is my sarcastic way of addressing the 800-pound gorilla featured in so many sermons and small-group Christian meetings. Christian publishing companies and magazines can’t churn out “bloodless” Christianity fast enough. And now, these morally bankrupt folks are stripping Christian teaching of such basics as service to Jesus through sacrifice, punishment, and loss of life. What has gotten into us? There is good reason that countries we previously considered “backward” are sending missionaries to America. Praise God for these bold ministers.

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Romans 5:3-5

In the “Watch What You Pray For” department, notice how Jesus answers prayers for hope! When was the last time that a Christian elder encouraged you to actually suffer loss for Jesus? Have you witnessed a fellow believer who suffered (beaten, loss of employment, their children verbally abused)? I think we are beginning to see some of this in school board meetings. I had the privilege of working with a pastor in another country that was beaten, tortured, put in jail, and suffered the loss of personal items for many years specifically because he was a Christian. We know that the apostle Paul wrote Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” (2 Timothy 3:12)

A Life That Pleases Jesus is Dangerous

If our lives do not parallel the lives of Christians before us, then we need to judge ourselves, not our spiritual ancestors. “For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. (2 Peter 2:19)” We often think of “enslavement” to things like alcohol, gambling, sexual sins, greed and so forth. But a Christians can just as easily be enslaved by wasting money, eating too much food, and taking any healthy thing (e.g., jogging, golfing, swimming) and allowing it to control him/her.

Our LBJ (life before Jesus) was founded upon death – have all the fun you can because we’re all going to die. But our LAS (life have salvation) cannot be built upon the foolish idea that we just wait, doing nothing, until Jesus returns, or we die. How crazy is that. What Jesus wants us to do is wade into humanity, so people smell our S.B.O (spiritual body odor).

To the one, we are an odor of death and demise; to the other, a fragrance that brings life. And who is qualified for such a task?

2 Corinthians 2:16

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a chipmunk on its hind legs

Second Glances

Our God is the God of second chances, but the devil has mastered the art of second glances. It can be an Ad for a new car, a visit to an ice cream shop, an incidental eye contact with an attractive person, or a salacious Ad that pops up on Facebook. Those are not sins. However, as a verse says in Casting Crowns Slow Fade states, “It’s the second glance that ties your hands.”

No matter how diligent we are, being assaulted by the temptations of this world is unavoidable. It’s when we stop for a second look that temptation’s hook pierces our soul and begins to reel us back into the world and away from our safety in Christ Jesus. This proclivity to sin goes back to Adam. We can read God’s warning to Adam’s firstborn son, Cain.

If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”

Genesis 4:7

Temptation is like a chipmunk

For a modern perspective, consider my office. My office is in a shed. We bought one of those wooden sheds that are sold everywhere. We had it placed in our backyard, and that’s where I’m writing these words.

I love my office, but it sits on the ground. So, last night, as I was publishing an updated version of my book on Amazon, I kept being interrupted by the sound of claws scratching under my floor. The critter – a chipmunk – was incessant in its determination to dig through my floor and enter my friendly, warm office. That’s how temptation is.

It scratches and digs, trying to get us to take a second look. If we give in, then it becomes sin and gains access to our souls. This danger is why it’s the second glance the ties your hands. That second look entangles us.

But here’s the good news! 

The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant. My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for he will pluck my feet out of the net.

Psalm 25:14-15

If we love Jesus by obeying His commands, we are pleasing to our heavenly Father. Therefore, the God of all creation looks after us, and He will pull us out of the nets this world casts to entrap us!

So be strong, keeping your eye on the prize God has set before you. Don’t look back. Don’t take a second glance at temptation. God has prepared your new home. He has made crowns for you. He has prepared a celebration for you. The race you run for Jesus is so brief when compared to eternity. 

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” 

Galatians 5:1

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Storm On the Horizon

God made You and I and all of humanity in His image. One facet of God’s image in us is our trinity; we are body, soul, and spirit, which is an image of God, for He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

My prayer today, for every Christian, is this: I pray that the Holy Spirit would embolden my spirit to influence my soul to defeat my flesh. We can pray this because:

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

Romans 8:26-27

As Christians, we are set apart

How different is the life of a Christian from that of the unsaved (2 Corinthians 5:17). Yet, many times, we forget who we are. We fail to give our worries and fears to Jesus, even though He is in us.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

 Revelation 3:20

When I was reading my Bible this morning, I came across the event in Mark 4:35-41, where Jesus calmed the storm. I was once again reminded how easily we become focused on a problem and wait until it seems all is lost before we turn to Jesus, even when He’s so close at hand.

But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

Mark 4:38

Peace

As Jesus so often does, He “rebuked the wind and said to the sea,Peace! Be still!’ Perhaps you see a storm brewing on your horizon, or maybe the storm has already encompassed you. Throw your worries upon Jesus. He’s strong, and He commands even the wind and waves. Ask Him to speak to your storm.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

1 Peter 5:6-7

So, if we have received Jesus and are alive in Him, let’s not wait until we are in the midst of a storm before we cry out for help from Jesus. Instead, while the storm is still on our horizon, let’s pray in the anointing of the Holy Spirit “because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

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used car lot

Co-Sign for Me?

Rite of passage

A rite of passage for teenagers is the purchase of their first car. That usually requires a parent to co-sign on the loan. Why? Because the bank considers the teenager unreliable. Why would they loan thousands of dollars to someone that has no credit history? So, a parent that has a track record of fulfilling their commitments and paying their loan payments on time must “stand with” the teenager and promise the bank that they will meet the obligation, if the teenager fails to do so.

Now let’s consider ourselves. Are we a good credit risk to God? Are we reliable, timely, and consistently completing all our commitments that we’ve made to God? Have we received benefit from the salvation God made for us and which we’ve entered into covenant with God, a covenant purchased with the blood of the Father’s only begotten Son? I can answer these questions for all of us: No!

Jesus is our guarantor

So how is it that we can not only commune with God, but also ask and receive from God, while we are so deeply flawed and inconsistent? You know the answer. Jesus has bridged the gap for us. But where does God’s Word assure us that this is so? There are several passages of Scripture which we can go to find the rest and assurance we need. But none are more direct and clearer than this:

but there was an oath regarding Jesus. For God said to him,
“The Lord has taken an oath and will not break his vow:
‘You are a priest forever.’”
Because of this oath, Jesus is the one who guarantees this better covenant with God.

Hebrews 7:21-22 (NLT)

Jesus co-signs for us

This makes Jesus the guarantor of the New Covenant, the covenant that contains the provisions for our salvation and promise of resurrection. So, Jesus is the co-signer for salvation, resurrection, and promise for us to spend eternity with Jesus.

Praise be to God. Without Jesus co-signing (guaranteeing) the New Covenant, God would never extend His offer to us. We are completely unreliable, and easily distracted by squirrels! Therefore, lets worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). Let’s not deny so great a salvation (Hebrews 2:3-4). Let us give thanks to the mediator (1 Timothy 2:5) and guarantor of our hope of glory (Colossians 1:27)!

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