Christmas is Real Hope for Real Life

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He gave her a hug and pressed some folded bills into her hand. “I know this is a hard time, but God is going to come through for you. He has always come through for me.” The woman thanked the man then sighed, “I hope so. I don’t know how much longer we can go on like this.” Hope is a necessary thing, almost as essential to the spirit as oxygen is to the lungs. When every breath is a struggle the heart strains to keep beating, the mind becomes dull, and the smallest task becomes a huge challenge. It seems easier to just sit life out than to push to keep moving. When hope fades, our spirit is weakened, we become disheartened, our thoughts forlorn. When life is hard, hope seems more of a desperate gesture than a sure belief.

That’s why the Bible presents hope as a confident conviction. Micah saw the gathering storm clouds of hardship on the horizon. Judgment was coming to Jerusalem because of her sin. Hope seemed futile in the face of imminent oppression. But Micah hoped anyway saying, “But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me” (Micah 7:7). He understood the reality of their troubles, but he also knew the faithfulness of God. What was the root of his conviction? His hope was not in an outcome – his hope was in the Lord. And it was not a desperate hope – hope in this sense means to wait in expectation. Because his hope was in God, and because he knew God’s character, he knew with a confident assurance that God would hear and act on his behalf. Even though the situation looked grim, Micah hoped in the Lord and “hope does not disappoint us” (Romans 5:5). Isn’t it interesting that Micah also offered these words: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2). You might recognize this as the prophecy of the coming Messiah. No wonder Micah had such confident hope.

Beloved, if hope is in short supply right now, I want to remind you that Christmas confirms the power of hope because of the faithfulness of God. The promise of God that Micah delivered was fulfilled by the Baby in the manger in Bethlehem. I also want to assure you that God does indeed always come through. I was the woman hanging onto a thread of hope. And my hope was not disappointed. God is faithful. Christmas is proof.

Are You Disappointed With Me God?

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“I am so disappointed in you.” She could have hit me, grounded me and taken away my car, and it wouldn’t have cut me as deeply as knowing I had disappointed my Mom. Her words stuck with me for many, many years and colored my life and my relationships. I have always feared disappointing others – teachers, bosses, friends, family, strangers. And most especially God. Oh, I know I am saved and have eternal life – that is rock-solid. But I have carried this sense of being a disappointment to God for as long as I can remember. Until this morning, and something the Lord impressed on my heart.
Paul wrote often about being “in Christ,” meaning to trust in Him for salvation and eternal life. And I have. That also means that Christ is “in me” (John 17:23). I in Christ and Christ in me. By that, God considers me as one with His Son and all that the Son has is mine (Corinthians 3:21), including His righteousness before God (Romans 3:22). Now come stand with me at the water’s edge and hear the Father’s words as Jesus emerges from the Jordan River: “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). This, too, is mine in Christ. This rocked my world this morning: God is never disappointed in His Son. And because I am in Christ and Christ is in me, God is never disappointed in me. Friend, the same is true for you – if you are in Christ, He is never disappointed in you.
“But,” you argue, “Jesus was perfect and sinless, and I am not.” It doesn’t matter. You and Christ are one in God’s eyes. “But I am disappointed in myself.” That doesn’t change the truth. You are in Christ and Christ is in you. God is not – will never be – disappointed in you.
When you grab hold of that, it will change everything. It will become your mantra when the enemy tries to dump shame on you. “There is no condemnation for me, because I am in Christ Jesus!” (Romans 8:1). You will “approach the throne of grace with confidence,” (Hebrews 4:16) because you know He gladly welcomes you into His presence.
Beloved, when God looks at you, He doesn’t see the foolish, sinful person you think you are. He sees His Son in you. And He says – “This one is mine, the one I love, with whom I am well pleased.” Not disappointed. Ever. Christ in you and you in Christ. It’s a beautiful combination.

Looking at Life from Higher Up

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“From the ends of the earth I call to You, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2).

Years ago a choir director told us altos that the best way to hit a high note was not to try to climb up to it – that almost always caused us to flatten the note – but to see ourselves gliding down onto to it from above. He was trying to get us to approach the difficult note from a different – higher – perspective.
Some of you know the struggles we’ve faced for the past several months. My husband was injured at work and had to leave his 23-year career. At the same time I lost my job and couldn’t find another. Two months ago we moved back home to start over. During the move and for weeks after, I dealt with a serious health crisis – with no insurance. I’ve been diligently looking for a job and many of you prayed for me when I went on an interview last week – but I learned yesterday that I did not get the job. We have been without any income for 3 months and our meager resources are almost depleted.
So how do I deal with all this disappointment and life-shaking change? I have two choices – either look at it from the pit of despair, or approach it from a higher perspective. Will I see it all as a hard blow or as God’s shaping and strengthening my faith? Will I roll around in hopelessness or stand in confident trust that God has a purpose and a plan in it all?
Believe me – I haven’t been a shining example of faith. I’ve struggled. I’ve cried. I’ve worried and I’ve questioned God. But I realize that I can either drag myself into misery or climb up on the Rock that never fails.
Beloved, I don’t know your struggles – but I know that your perspective affects your faith and your ability to face it all with confidence and hope. And perspective has everything to do with how you see God – as faithful or fallible, as near and caring or as distant and unconcerned. I know God is here with me. I know He is faithful. I know I can trust Him. I know He will come through. He is my Rock – a high place on which I can stand. Climb up here with me and let’s watch Him work wonders.

When You’re Disappointed with God

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“Lord, if you had been here . . .” John 11:21

Have you ever been disappointed with God?  Be honest here.  Have you ever expected one thing and received something completely different, something less than what you prayed for?  Have you hoped with all your heart for God to move or act and He didn’t?  Have your circumstances gotten worse instead of better, no matter how much you prayed?  If we were talking about human relationships we would quickly say, “He disappointed me!”  But do we dare say the same about God?  Even if, deep down in our hearts that’s what we’re thinking?

Surely Mary and Martha felt that way about Jesus when their brother died.  Take a moment to read their story in John 11. Mary, Martha and Lazarus were dear friends of Jesus. He had been in their home often and they were very close. You can hear their intimate relationship in the message the sisters sent to Him, “Lord, the one you love is sick” (v. 3). So they understandably expected Jesus to come immediately to heal their brother. But He didn’t. In fact, Jesus purposely delayed the trip to Bethany. By the time He finally made His way into the village, Lazarus was dead and already in the tomb. Martha and Mary both responded with words dripping with disappointment: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (v. 21, 32). Jesus, You could have done something. You could have made him well. You could have helped—but You didn’t come.

Consider another person who turned to Jesus for help and was disappointed. Read Luke 8:41-49, the story of Jarius and Jesus. Jarius was a “ruler of the synagogue,” a very powerful and influential man in the Jewish hierarchy, who came to Jesus on behalf of his twelve year old daughter who was dying. Jesus agreed to go, but was interrupted on the way by a woman also in need of healing. By the time they started back to Jarius’ house, word came that his daughter had died. Imagine the father’s disappointment with Jesus.  Why did you waste time with an old woman when my young daughter had her whole life ahead of her? If you had only ignored her, my daughter would not be dead.

If you’ve ever asked “why God?” then you understand that sense of disappointment. Jesus’ unexplained delays crushed their hopes and likely left them questioning Him. Like them, we petition God for His help and expect Him to come through.   What do we do then, when our prayer goes unanswered and the situation becomes hopeless?

I believe we go to the Lord, like Mary and Martha did, with our honest disappointment. We turn to him, as I imagine Jarius did, with our breaking hearts and confusion. He knows our thoughts; He understands our feelings. Notice how the Lord answered them. To Jarius, He said, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed” (Luke 8:50). To Martha, Jesus said “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God” (John 11:40)? What do both of those statements have in common? One word: believe. Jesus didn’t berate them for their feeling—He only asked them to believe in Him. A man was dead, a child was dead; but the Lord wasn’t finished yet.

I think that is the key to believing in the face of our disappointments: trusting that despite our situation, the Lord is still at work. When it all seems lost, God still has a plan—and the power to fulfill that plan in ways we never imagined. For Mary and Martha and Jarius that plan was far more than they ever imagined; they not only received back their deceased loved one, but they saw the power and glory of God with their own eyes! Jesus could have come and healed their sick brother and child, but He wanted them to experience something far greater.

Believe me when I say I’m not just writing about a sweet Bible story. This is my testimony too. I have been in situations that seemed hopeless and I was honestly disappointed with God’s indifference to my prayers. But my Lord had not abandoned me. He was still working in my situation, albeit “behind the scenes” where I couldn’t see. He brought restoration, healing, peace, provision, and hope where there was nothing but disappointment and despair. I still face mountains too big for me to climb and valleys too deep for the light to reach, but I know that my Lord is a good, faithful God and whatever comes, He will come through—maybe not the way I expect or hope, but always in a way that allows His glory and power to shine through.

If your hopes are hanging by a thread, let me encourage you today to not give up on God. He says “Trust in Me with all your heart and don’t lean on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5, paraphrased). He has much bigger plans for you and your situation than all you could ever ask or imagine (see Ephesians 3:20). Hear Him say to your heart: “If you believe, you will see the glory of God.” Beloved, the Lord will never let you down.

Holy Father, in every hopeless situation I have ever faced, You have been faithful; You have done marvelous things beyond my expectations. I believe Lord—and I’m watching to see Your glory. Amen.

Lessons from the Farmer

“Ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God.”  Hebrews 6:7

Today begins a new year, shining and full of promise and hope.  Like a blank page, this year has endless possibilities for us – new stories to write, new songs to pen, new images to draw.  Like a kid on the first day of a new school year, I love fresh and new beginnings.

I always look for a Scripture on New Year’s Day that is hopeful and ripe with expectation, so when the Lord brought our key passage to my attention, I wondered what He was saying to me. It seemed an odd verse to start the new year – but as I studied the words and prayed, I began to see that this is indeed a word of hope and promise.

For some of us, this New Year’s Day signals a grateful end to the old year – a year marked with struggle, disappointment, pain, sorrow, hardship – I’m sure you could add to the list from your own experiences in the past year or beyond.   Like many others, I have been through a long season of storms and turmoil – and I am ready for it all to end.  That is where this verse speaks to me and two words stand out – “rain” and “tilled.”

Do you feel as though you have been standing out in the rain-wet and miserable?  Do you feel as if life has “plowed” you over?  Please hear these words from God – the rain and the tilling are meant to make your life and mine fruitful – “to bring forth vegetation.”

God means for us to drink in the rain that falls on us, just as Jesus declared “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37).  Jesus offers us Living Water for our thirsty souls, and He has said those who receive it will be conduits of this life-giving water – “streams of living water will flow from within him” (v. 38).

If you know anything about farming, you know that the farmer plows the field to prepare the soil for planting; sharp blades and tines dig deep into the fallow ground.  This is what I wrote in my prayer journal this morning: “Lord, I feel like I have been through a long tilling season – and sharp instruments have cut through my life.  But I think you have been plowing to sever the roots of plants that are not fruitful and break up clods that make it difficult to sow seeds in my heart.”  Take comfort in knowing that the plowing doesn’t go on and on. The land is tilled only to prepare for planting.  Hear the words of Isaiah 28:24-25 – “When a farmer plows for planting, does he plow continually? Does he keep on breaking up and harrowing the soil? When he has levered the surface does he not sow caraway and scatter cumin? Does he not plant wheat in its place, barley in its plot, and spelt in its field?”  Plowing and tilling doesn’t go on forever; eventually the seed is sown for a fruitful harvest. Fruit that will bless others as well as bless you and me.  Its God’s own promise, there in our key verse: The fruitful ground “receives a blessing from God.”

My friend, if you have endured difficulties in the past year, take heart – God has prepared you that He might bless you and bless others through you.  Nothing He does or allows is ever without purpose, even the hard things. Especially the hard things.

Holy Father, I look ahead into this new year with hope in my heart, taking Paul’s words as my own: “one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on…” (Philippians 3:13-14a).  Amen.

I Press On…

“One thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on…”  Philippians 3:13b-14a

One day, when my son was younger, we got in the car to run a few errands together.  My husband had driven the car the day before, and, as usual, had adjusted the mirrors.  So I reached up to give the rear-view mirror a tweak before putting the car in reverse.  My son asked me “What’s that for Mommy?”  I replied that it was to allow me to see what was behind me as we drove.  In his sweet, simple thinking he said, “You don’t need to know what’s behind you, just what’s in front.”   Isn’t it amazing when God gives little children such profound wisdom?  My son was echoing Paul’s words in our key verse.

Granted, on the road, we need to know what may be approaching from behind us, but on the journey of life, we often spend more time looking in the rear-view mirror that we do looking out ahead.  I have been guilty of that myself, but I am determined to apply Paul’s words to my life and look ahead rather than behind.

Paul’s emphasis in Philippians 3 is the futility of relying on past successes.  Paul had quite an impressive ancestral history, and had much room to boast about his personal success as a zealous and devout Jew.  In our culture the “self-made man” is highly regarded and even from childhood we are driven to succeed in education, sports, and relationships. As adults we are pulled into the relentless pursuit of success in our careers so we can have the biggest, the newest, the shiniest and the best.  For Paul, as for so many today, the mirror is filled with trophies, accolades, honors and wealth.

But you may be more like me, and the rear-view mirror is filled with dark clouds of pain, heartache, betrayal, grief, mistakes, and sin.  Life is full of struggles – I don’t believe anyone escapes difficulties these days.  Sometimes the pain is self-inflicted, sometimes the heartache comes at the hands of others.    A job loss, financial pressures, health problems, strained relationships, disappointments – just to name a few – can make life hard.  Perhaps your mirror is filled with a hard good-bye: the loss of a loved one, or the end of a marriage.  Maybe you’ve made some choices you regret and you are living with the consequences.  You may find yourself broken by a season of sinfulness.  Maybe not your own.

What do we do with all this?  We take the advice of my son and Paul.  We look ahead, not behind.  We look ahead and “fix our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2).  We set our focus on our Great High Priest and move forward.  We move ahead trusting that God will turn our sufferings into perseverance and character and finally hope (Romans 5:3-5). We leave the past in the hands of “Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will” (Ephesians 1:11) – “His good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). We trust Him with it all, believing that what was intended to harm us, God intended for good, to accomplish His purposes (Genesis 50:20).

The Living Bible paraphrases the first part of our verse by saying “I am bringing all by energies to bear on this one thing.”  That is an excellent perspective, because living with past regrets weighs us down and drains our energy.   Here is one of the most important pieces of advice I’ve ever received.  “It’s done. You can’t change what has been, but you can affect what will be.”   You need to preserve your energy for the next phrase in our key verse: “straining toward what is ahead…” Paul is using a racing image here, picturing a runner stretching forward, pushing and accelerating through the finish line.   God intends for you to finish the race, and not only to finish but to win!   1 Corinthians 9:24 is Paul’s exhortation to “run in such a way as to get the prize.”   And what is the prize? “a crown that will last forever” (v. 25). A crown that we will cast before the throne of God, declaring him “worthy to receive glory and honor and power” (Revelation 4:10-11).

Do not allow your past – either success or failures or heartaches – to bog you down.  God has your life in His mighty and able hands.  He will not let one hard moment go to waste in the fulfillment of His plan for you – if you will entrust Him with it.   I keep coming back to one of my favorite verses, Psalm 13:8 which says “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me.”  The New King James reads “The Lord will perfect that which concerns me.”   God was not caught off-guard when you were hit with the hard things of this life.  He was not wringing His hands wondering how to bring about His purpose in light of my mistakes and sin.  God is still working in your life and mine, still moving toward His intended plan for you, still loving you with an unfailing and lavish love.  He is not finished with you.  He has such wonderful things in store for those who love and trust Him.   Listen to the Psalmist who sings: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.  He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with Him: (Psalm 126:6)

Put the past in your rear-view mirror and look straight ahead at the harvest that God will bring from your life.

Holy Father, I surrender my past to You, all my sin, all my heartache, all my sorrows and regrets – and all my successes too. I claim by faith Your promise that “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). Amen.