Cry With Hope

At the start of this year, the youth ministry director at my church gathered all of the middle school small group leaders.  He wanted to check in on how we were, hear how our groups were going, and encourage us.  He shared how, when he has worked at Christian camps, everything is designed to help kids experience great moments, “highs,” and you have a very focused time with each group of kids to bring those highs about.  In contrast, in congregational ministry, there are many distractions, and kids often are weighed down by day-to-day concerns.
Each type of ministry has its challenges, but how do you handle all the distractions and burdens kids bring week after week and month after month?  Our youth director had wise words.  He said you love the kids, let them know how much God loves them, welcome them with all their challenges, and pour yourself out for them.  Then, when you get home at the end of the day, you cry with hope.
Cry with hope!  What a beautiful phrase to express the hardness and goodness of Christian ministry.  We cry because there is so much pain even as we hope because God is good.  Cry with hope is an especially fitting expression for the ministry of Inheritance of Hope.
 


No Artificial Ingredients Needed

Have you ever looked at the ingredients on some of the food you eat? If you’re like me, you can’t pronounce most of them let alone know what they are. When you taste something with artificial ingredients, it doesn’t taste the same as the real stuff. The same goes when we start to add things to God’s Word that weren’t there originally. It feels fake. We are drawn those products that say “All Natural no artificial ingredients needed.”

Deuteronomy‬ ‭4:2, 24‬

You must not add anything to what I command you or take anything away from it, so that you may keep the commands of the Lord your God I am giving you….“For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.

The Subtle Trap

False teaching permeates the church. It’s subtle, but some of what Christians say just isn’t supported by Scripture. Take for instance, “God helps those who help themselves.” Sounds Biblical and right on but it’s not found anywhere in the Bible. In fact, God helps those who can’t help themselves. No one can save themselves only Jesus can.

No Artificial Ingredients Needed

We are to take God’s word for what it is. We cannot edit it or add to it. We can’t remove a verse that we disagree with or embellish a verse that we cherish. God’s word is perfect as it is. Either we accept the whole Bible, or we reject it all. Some churches like to add traditions and regulations on top of God’s word. God tells Moses not to add anything to His Word so that people can obey him. If we change it at all, we run the risk of sinning against God.

Consuming Fire

God also told Moses that he is a consuming fire, a jealous God. Moses is making a point that if God didn’t spare him when he sinned, he wouldn’t spare them if they turned to other idols. God is jealous for us. He doesn’t want to compete with idols. He will take action to remove them from our lives so that our communion can be pure.



The Christian’s Walk

Ephesians 4:1-2
After placing trust in Jesus, a person should begin to walk in a new direction. Believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and therefore have real purpose; it isn’t fitting for Christians to live aimlessly. The apostle Paul presents a dramatic contrast between who we once were and who we’re to be after coming to faith. (See Eph. 4:15-24.) Formerly, we might not have felt too bad about sin, but now that we are one with Jesus Christ, our mind is being renewed and our behavior should become increasingly God-pleasing.
As God’s children, we’re also to walk weighty—that is, leaving an imprint and an influence wherever we go. When we understand who we are in Christ and commit to walking in holiness, we begin to reflect the Lord Jesus to others. The joy we have in Him becomes an expression of His presence in our life and evidence of our relationship with Him.
So think of all the people you cross paths with each day. You might be reflecting Jesus to some who have been blind to the truth of God. In addition, your oneness with the Lord and your unity with other believers make you an asset and an encouragement to the body of Christ, too. You have no idea how many lives might be touched by yours. 
I’m certainly one who believes in the value of sermons, but God’s people must do more than simply sit and listen. Our life must change so that everybody who meets us will meet Christ in us. Our old life—how we lived before meeting the Lord—was self-centered; our new life is Christ-centered. Is that becoming more evident in you?


Sin Sensitive

“No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.”

1 John 3:9

The mark of a healthy body is a healthy immune system. God designed our immune system to keep harmful germs out of the body and to destroy any that do get in. The immune system is made up of a complex network of cells and organs, which are designed to protect the body from infection. When infection is detected, a healthy immune system will release lymphocytes – a certain type of white blood cell – into the body to fight the infection. A compromised or unhealthy immune system leaves the whole body open to attack.

Just as a healthy immune system will want to fight infection and rid the body of sickness as soon as it’s detected, a healthy Christian spirit will want to rid the heart of sin as soon as it is detected. You see, when you give your life to Jesus Christ, God’s Holy Spirit comes to live inside of you. From that moment on, there is a constant internal war raging between the Spirit and the flesh…between the new heart and the sinful flesh. Trusting in Jesus doesn’t make us immune to sin, but it does make us more sensitive to sin. It may not always eliminate the urge to sin, but the Holy Spirit will – over time – increase our desire to please God rather than ourselves. God’s Spirit becomes like a spiritual immune system, detecting the threat of infection and teaching us to protect our hearts from sin.

The ravages of physical disease are evident to most of us. We have watched someone we love suffer…or maybe ourselves have suffered…the effects of earthly diseases like cancer, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s, or Parkinson’s. We have studied the devastating historical effects of epidemics like small pox and the plague. But how many people truly understand the even more devastating and far-reaching ravages of the worst epidemic in all of mankind- sin? How many of us fear its consequences in the same way? Shouldn’t we, after all, since those consequences are eternal? Eternal death. Eternal judgment. Eternal separation. Eternal punishment. If we never force ourselves to see the reality of sin’s destruction, we will never be able to fully appreciate the depth of God’s love and forgiveness.

All of the ravages of sin have been answered in Jesus Christ. He satisfied every righteous requirement and then He overcame every eternal consequence. In Jesus there is eternal life. Eternal pardon. Eternal fellowship. Eternal forgiveness. One of the marks that you are healthy in your relationship with God is in how sensitive you are to sin and how quickly you want to rid your life of it when it enters.

God, thank You for saving me from the ravages of my sin. Thank You for giving me Your Spirit to make me sensitive to sin in my life. Show me any sin that is hidden in my heart so that I can confess it to You. In Jesus’ name, amen.



God’s Grace in a Savior

“May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”  Psalm 19:14

We can actually come into the presence of the God of the universe and be pleasing to Him, and accepted by Him, because of our Rock and our Redeemer. Do you know who the psalmist was talking about in Psalm 19:14? Jesus. Jesus is the Rock of Ages. Jesus, by dying on the cross, became the Redeemer of the human race. God has spoken in many ways. He has spoken in the skies. He has spoken in the scriptures. He has spoken in the soul, but He saved His best word for last when he spoke through Jesus.
In Jesus, we discover all of God we can know and in Jesus we have all of God we need.  We see the glory of God in the skies, the guidance of God in the Scriptures, the goodness of God in the soul, but we see the grace of God in the Savior.
 
Jim Irwin was one of the astronauts who went to the moon. After he got back he said this, “When I looked out and saw the earth, about as big as a little marble, I thought, ‘How big am I?  I am just a speck of dust – if that big – compared to the universe.’ Yet, this little speck has the capacity to know God! To know the One who holds the universe, to know His love, and have His direction.  For the first time, I saw – felt God’s love for the earth… I realized then that God loved that little blue marble, that little blue planet. He loved all the billions of people on it, and He loved me! I realized at that moment that my relationship with Jesus Christ was the most precious thing I had.
”Irwin was right. Whether you are on earth looking up at the moon or on the moon looking back on earth, God is here, there, and everywhere and you can find Him at a cross and an empty tomb where He is ready to meet you anytime.
 
God, thank You for sending Your Son, Jesus, to die on a cross for me, and to be raised from the dead so I can have eternal life. The Psalms talk about how You reveal Yourself to us in many ways—in creation, in Scripture and also in the Person of Jesus. As you reveal Yourself to me, help me to know You more closely and obey You more fully. In Jesus’ name, amen.


Removing the Mask

For many years, everybody, including me, thought the Christian brother who had come to talk to me was a godly, gifted man with much responsibility in God’s kingdom. Now he was sitting before me weeping and confessing to a secret failure that had been going on for 12 years.
When I asked him how he managed to live such a double life, he answered, “I wore a mask. When I met you and others, I knew exactly what to say. I worked hard, performed well and made things happen. Nobody suspected anything. But I could not hold on to this mask any longer. It began to crumble, and my face began to be exposed. I could not sleep at night or think clearly anymore.”
King David wore such a mask for one year after his secret sin with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband. He described in Psalm 32 how his physical body began to waste away, how his vitality was lost and how his sin was haunting him day and night. When he could not bear it any longer, he pulled off his mask, confessed his sin and genuinely repented. God forgave and restored him and called him a man after His own heart.
Judas too was wearing a mask for three and a half years. He did it so skillfully that the rest of the disciples didn’t suspect anything. Only Jesus knew the truth. Judas never removed his mask, and it led him to betray the Son of God and eventually hang himself in despair.

A Mask to Hide What’s Inside

What could make us, as believers and Christian workers, resort to wearing a mask?
It all has to do with our inner life. On the outside we have the needed head-knowledge, expertise and gifting to accomplish great things for God, but on the inside we have not grown up. Our spiritual maturity and Christlike character has not developed enough to be able to support the ministry or leadership position we were given. In order to compensate for the lack of our inner life, we resort to wearing a mask and pretending to have a spirituality we don’t possess.
We keep wearing the mask because we fear others will reject us if they really knew who we are on the inside. We feel threatened that we may lose our important place in the church or ministry if people could see our real life and discover how spiritually unqualified we are for the position we hold.

An Empty Life vs An Authentic One

What do we really want: an empty life or an authentic one?
If we wear a mask, we have to constantly scheme, plan and pretend to keep the deception going. But sooner or later the truth will catch up with us, and the mask will start to crumble, and our inner emptiness will be exposed.I
f we want an authentic life, we must be ruthless with ourselves and, like David, pull off the mask we wear. We must humble ourselves before God, before those in authority over us and possibly before others we have hurt, and confess our pretense and ask for forgiveness.
Yes, there will be consequences, such as possibly losing a position, facing up to failure and even public embarrassment. But in the end, it’s all worth it because our fear is gone, we are cleansed from sin and guilt, and we are free to be honest and walk in the light. The fruit we produce in the future will be lasting because it will be the result of an authentic inner life.

Receiving the Grace We Need

More than anything else, we need grace when we finally pull off our mask.
We need God’s grace to give us the necessary courage, openness and vulnerability to come clean about our life of pretense. The only way we can receive His grace is through humility.

“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).

If we humble ourselves, we will experience God’s abundant grace to cleanse us, fill us with new strength and bring about a supernatural transformation in our inner life.

Being Stewards of Grace

We very much need grace from our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ. Our double life not only hurts them personally, but they also have to pick up the pieces we left behind and face the dishonor we brought to the name of the Lord.
How can we extend such grace to one another? Only if we remember that none of us is without sin and failure—that is how. Therefore, let us show others the same compassion and grace God has shown to us.
My dear friend, only you can remove your own mask to become authentic. No one else can do it for you. When you take this step, God promises to be there to extend His grace to you and transform your inner life into the likeness of His dear Son. In the light of eternity, it’s all that counts.


A PROPHECY WE CAN COUNT ON

The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw. Isaiah 1:1

Isaiah’s name means “salvation of the Lord,” and salvation (deliverance) is the key theme of his book. He wrote concerning five different acts of deliverance that God would perform: (1) the deliverance of Judah from Assyrian invasion (see chaps. 36-37); (2) the deliverance of the nation from Babylonian captivity (see chap. 40); (3) the future deliverance of the Jews from worldwide dispersion among the Gentiles (see chaps. 11-12); (4) the deliverance of lost sinners from judgment (see chap. 53); and (5) the final deliverance of creation from the bondage of sin when the kingdom is established (see chaps. 60; 66:17).

Sir Winston Churchill was once asked to give the qualifications a person needed in order to succeed in politics, and he replied: “It is the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn’t happen.”

Because God’s prophets were correct all of the time, they didn’t have to explain away their mistakes. “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true,” wrote Moses, “that is a message the LORD has not spoken” (Duet. 18:22). Isaiah wrote: “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn” (Isa. 8:20). Isaiah was a man who had God’s light, and he was not afraid to let it shine.

Applying God’s Truth:

  1. Isaiah’s name means “salvation of the Lord.” If you were given a name to reflect your spiritual goals or mission, what do you think it would be?
  2. In what ways do you think others see God’s light shine from your life?
  3. What are five “acts of deliverance” that you wish God would perform in your life?


No Pain, No Gain

Bible Reading: Hebrews 4:12-13

The word of God is full of living power. It is sharper than the sharpest knife, cutting deep into our innermost thoughts and desires.   Hebrews 4:12

“How bad is it, Doc?” the patient asks. “Tell me the truth.”

“I’m afraid it’s bad—very bad,” the doctor replies. “If I don’t perform major surgery and remove the tumor, you will die in a matter of weeks.”

“I don’t want surgery, Doc. It will hurt.”

The doctor smiles. “You won’t feel a thing. You’ll be asleep during the surgery.” “But there will be pain after the surgery, maybe for weeks, right?” “We have medications to reduce the pain.”

“But the incision will still hurt a little; taking out the stitches will hurt.”

“Well, yes, there is always some pain involved in a major—”

The patient interrupts. “No surgery then. I don’t like owies.”

Talk about it: What things do you do to avoid experiencing the owies of life?

If we’re anything close to normal, we make it a rule to avoid pain whenever possible. We wear seat belts so we don’t fly through the windshield. We put on shoes so we don’t step on glass. We wear skid-lids when we bike so our noggin doesn’t knock against the pavement.

But no sane person shies away from the surgeon’s lifesaving knife because of being scared it will cause an owie. We know that pain sometimes produces something good, whether it’s the pain of a must-do medical procedure, the effort of a sweaty fitness workout, or the agony of attending a little brother’s tuba recital when we would rather be hanging with our friends.

Did you know that God’s Word can sometimes hurt us? I’m not talking about the pain we feel if we drop a ten-pound study Bible on our toes. The writer of Hebrews pictures God’s Word as a surgeon’s knife. God, the master surgeon, knows exactly where tumorlike growths of wrong thoughts and desires are lurking. And he knows that those growths will destroy us if they aren’t sliced out. His Word is the instrument he uses to expose those growths, bringing them to light and showing us how to get rid of them.

So whenever you read the Bible and feel the pain of God’s knife poking at you to correct you, don’t pull away. The Great Physician allows the hurt only because he loves you and wants to give you spiritual health.

TALK: How is God using his good Word like a knife in your life? Are you pulling away or letting him do his healing work?

PRAY: Thank you, Lord, for sending your Word to heal us.

ACT: Pick a Bible command that makes you hurt inside because you don’t want to hear it. Write it on the front of an index card. On the back, list the benefits of obeying. Put your card where you can see it often.



Hope: Day 1

“but those who hope in the Lord, will renew their strength.” Isaiah 40:31

Hope. Such a powerful word in those four little letters. We think we can live without it. Oh, but friend, we can’t. Without the hope that tomorrow will be different, we sink further and further into despair.

The Word of God is full of snippets of hope…glimpses of glory…bits of truth and wisdom by which our soul comes alive. We were born for hope.

My heart is to share these verses of hope with you, not to be the one with all the answers, but to point you to The Answer for all hope. Hope is a person. Jesus.



The Way Up Is Down

Journey back with me for a moment to one of the many scenes that demonstrated just how ordinary Jesus’s disciples were. What makes this account interesting is the presence of a mother of two of the disciples. She’s Mrs. Zebedee, wife of a Galilean fisherman and mother of James and John. Let’s consider her request to Jesus:

She said to Him, “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left.” (Matthew 20:21)

Now don’t be too tough on this dear Jewish mother. She’s proud of her sons! Her motive was probably pure, and her idea was in proper perspective. She didn’t ask that her sons occupy the center throne, of course not—that belongs to Jesus. But she pushed for James and John as candidates for thrones number two and number three. She wanted people to think highly of her boys who had left their nets and entered this up-and-coming ministry. They were among “the Twelve.”

And that needed recognition!

Just in case you’re wondering how the other ten felt about this, check out verse 24. It says, “The ten became indignant.” Guess why. Hey, no way were they going to give up those top spots without a fight! They got downright ticked off that maybe James and John might get the glory they wanted. Sound familiar?

Jesus pulled His disciples aside and spelled out the sharp contrast between His philosophy and the world system in which they lived. Read His words slowly and carefully.

“It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26–28)

In the secular system there are distinct levels of authority. It’s true today, for sure. In the military there are officers and enlisted men . . . and ranks within each. In sports there are coaches and players. In the business world there are corporation heads and lines of authority between managers, personnel, foremen, and laborers. The person in the labor force is expected to punch a clock, show up on time, work hard, and not take advantage of his or her employer. There’s a name for those who choose not to follow those directions. Unemployed! Why? Because the boss is in charge.

That’s the way the system works. As Jesus put it, “Their great men exercise authority over them.” But then He added, “It is not this way among you” (20:25–26). What isn’t this way? Simply this, in God’s family there is to be one great body of people: servants.

In fact, that’s the way to the top in His kingdom.