Archive for November, 2014

I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry.
Psalm 40:1 (NIV)

Hope

There are many words translated “hope” in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, but all the words used in phrases like “put your hope in the Lord” or “our hope is in the Lord” mean more than the wish-washy way the word hope is used in contemporary English. In modern usage, the word “hope” means something like “I wish” or “it would be nice if.” For example, when we say “I hope it doesn’t snow tomorrow” we mean “it sure would be nice if it doesn’t snow tomorrow.”

But that’s not what the Bible means when it uses the word hope. When scripture talks about hope, it’s not talking about some folly or wish. In the Bible, the word “”hope ”means a deep-seated confidence. The words that are translated as “hope” are also translated as confident, trust and rely upon.

So when we talk about having hope in the Lord, it’s not the kind of hope of wishful thinking. No, we’re saying “I have a confident expectation. I am fully persuaded of what I put my hope in. I have full trust in the Lord.”

Perhaps you’ve heard that explanation before. I know I had. I learned something interesting about one of the words translated “hope” in the Old Testament, however, that brought the definitions to life. The word we’re looking at is tikva, and it literally means “cords,” with the implication being “bound with cords.” In other words, we are bound to that which we put our hope in.

Let’s look at Scripture. We’re going to start (and end) in Psalm 40. In my last blog, I wrote about listening for the Lord each morning and some of the things He wants to say to us. Today, we’re turning the tables a bit and looking at what happens when God listens for us.

I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry.
Psalm 40:1 (NIV)

Those fourteen words fill me with such excitement. First, the words translated “waited patiently” is actually the same Hebrew word repeated twice. The word is qawa (pronounced kaw-vaw, accenting the second syllable). It is the root word from which tikva – hope – is derived. It literally means “to bind together (perhaps by twisting)”.

The first half of the verse could also be translated “I bound myself to the Lord – I put my hope in Him.” David then went on to write that two things happened when he trusted God.

The first thing is that the Lord turned to him. When we trust in God, He moves closer toward us. Another translation says He “inclined to me”. You could say He stretched out toward me. Friends, there are many things I don’t understand about Scripture, but I am increasingly coming to understand that when we actively believe and trust God, it activates something in the spiritual realm. It moves God closer to us so to speak.

The second thing that happened is that the Lord heard David’s cry. The Lord is always listening for our cry. He always hears it. God is always listening – and when we put our trust in Him, He turns and responds.

In verse 2 David explains how God responded:

He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.
Psalm 40:2 (NIV)

You know, when we forget to listen to God, we make a mess of things. We fall into the slimy pits that Satan puts in front of us. We fall into the muck and mire and get sucked in by our own self confidence and pride. We make a mess of things.

But when we cry out to the Lord, He lifts us up. He sets our feet on a rock. He doesn’t set me on the edge of the pit where the mud is still a bit slippery. He sets my feet on a rock and He gives us a firm place to stand. As I was thinking about this, the picture of a small child learning to walk came to mind. Their parent helps them to stand and they wobble a bit back and forth. The parent doesn’t let go until the little one has firmly planted his feet and stabilized himself a bit. Then, the parent lets go, but keeps his arms loosely around the child ready to catch the child when he falls. God is like that. He makes sure our feet are firmly planted – the word can also be translated “established” – before he gives us a bit of freedom. But He is always there to catch us when we cry out to Him.

Rocks

“He set my feet on a rock.” A rock is solid. It is immovable. And throughout Scripture, God is described as a rock.

30 God’s way is perfect. All the LORD’s promises prove true. He is a shield for all who look to him for protection.
31 For who is God except the LORD? Who but our God is a solid rock?
Psalm 18:30-31 (NLT)

6 He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I will not be shaken.
7 My salvation and glory depend on God, my strong rock. My refuge is in God.
8 Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts before Him. God is our refuge.
Psalm 62:5-8 (HCSB)

God is our solid rock. When we put our hope in him, we are secure.

How secure are we? Remember, the word hope comes from a word that means bound by cords. When we put our hope in Jesus, we are bound to him. Imagine the strongest cords you can and then imagine them wrapping around you and the Lord. And every time you choose faith – every time you choose to put your hope in God – those cords are wrapped more securely. It’s like they encircle us again and again each time we choose to trust God, with each layer of cord making us more and more secure.

Now I don’t want to mislead you. It only takes one cord to make us secure – because it’s God who is holding us. He is the one wrapping us in His arms. When we turn to Him, He is the one who turns toward us and hears our cry. He’s the one who picks us up out of the muck and mire. He’s the one who says “I gotcha.” God’s protection doesn’t depend on how strong our faith is. It depends on how good and how mighty God is. (And He is those things to the nth degree.)

But, I find that the more I trust God, the more I sense the cords that hold me secure.

God is the rock to which we’re bound. Hallelujah! When David thought about this, He wrote songs of praise.

The LORD lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be God, the Rock, my Savior!
2 Samuel 22:47 (NIV)

Spider Webs

As I was studying hope, I was surprised to find myself in Job. Many people consider Job to be a pretty depressing book, so I was surprised to learn so much about hope from it’s pages.

Scripture describes Job as a man who was blameless and upright. A man who loved God. He was also a very rich man, described as the greatest man in all the east…Until Satan took everything from him. He lost his house, his children, his animals, his livelihood, and eventually his health. He was left to sit at the gate and beg while dogs licked the sores from his body. Even his wife encouraged him to curse God and die.

After he had lost everything – after he was no longer the richest man – no longer the man that everyone looked up to and even envied – no longer a man who could provide for his family…After he had lost his children and his money and had no ability to care for himself..After his wife told him to give up on God, to curse God and die…After all that, Job made an astounding declaration of faith.

25 I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.
26 And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God;
27 I myself will see him with my own eyes – I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!
Job 19:25-27 (NIV)

Job was securely bound to God. His hope was secure. He was fully confident in God. He knew that when his body was destroyed, he would still see God. Job knew that nothing was going to separate him from his rock.

Job knew that a hope that was secure was one that was in God. He also knew that a hope that was in anything else was not one you could put your trust in. Not something you could rely on. Listen to what he wrote about those who forget God:

13 This is the destiny of all who forget God; the hope of the [person without God] will perish.
14 His source of confidence is fragile; what he trusts in is a spider’s web.
15 He leans on his web, but it doesn’t stand firm. He grabs it, but it does not hold up.
Job 8:13-15 (HCSB)

The hope of those who forget God will perish, Job wrote. Their hope will fail. If their trust is in anything other than God, their trust – their confidence – is fragile. It is like a spider’s web. When they lean on the web, it doesn’t hold them up. When things in life come at them and they try to grab onto their hope, it falls apart in their hands.

Now remember a time when you’ve walked into a spider web (or perhaps a cob web if the spider web has too much of an eeoow factor). If you’re anything like me, you begin to scream and thrash around, trying desperately to find the web (and the spider that lives in it) and get it off of you. But there’s nothing to grasp. It’s there, but it’s not there. It doesn’t hold up.

Friends, if our faith is in our strength, our youth, our wisdom, our finances, our friends, our spouse – anything other than Jesus Christ, the holy Son of God – our hope will perish. Perhaps I should write “when” our faith is in any of those things, our hope perishes – because I find it easy to slip into trusting those things sometimes. When our faith is in any of those things, we will fail. We will reach for our faith and it will disintegrate in our hands. We will try to lean on it and we’ll fall over. It is like a spider’s web.

But if we trust in Christ – when we trust in Christ – we know that the object of our faith is sure and true and strong. We have a firm foundation. We know that it will never fail us.

Hope and Joy

Now let’s go back to Psalm 40 and look at what happens when we put our hope in God and He turns and hears our cry.

1 I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry.
2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.
3 He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD.
4 Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.
Psalm 40:1-4 (NIV)

David, a man that God described as a man after God’s own heart, wrote that when he waited patiently for God, God turned and heard his cry. Then God reached down a lifted him out of the slimy pit he had found himself. He lifted him and put his feet on a rock. God gave David a firm place to stand. But God didn’t just leave him there to stand. He put a new song in David’s mouth – in other words, he filled David with joy and song. And the result is that others will see and put their trust in God.

David confirms that the man or woman who puts their trust in the Lord is blessed.

So friends, I want to encourage you to put your hope in that which is firm, that which is the solid rock. Put your hope in the Lord. Let’s not trust in our own efforts because they’re like the spider web. Jesus is the rock.

Is there an area in your life where you need to put your hope in God? Is there an area in which you’ve fallen into the pit of self-reliance or trusting in anything other than God? Spend a few minutes with God right now and ask Him to forgive you for trusting in that spider web and then place your situation in His hands. Put your hope in Him. He’s the rock to which you want to be bound.

Footnote: Word definitions and discussions are based on Strong’s Talking Greek and Hebrew Dictionary.

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Recently God reminded me of a very important principle in Scripture. He reminded me as I was reading one morning in Isaiah:

God awakens my ear in the morning to listen.
Isaiah 50:4

Every morning when God awakens us, He does so for one purpose – to listen to His voice. His desire is that we begin each day listening for His voice.

The theme is carried over in the New Testament. In the book of Revelation, for example, Jesus urges over and over again, “let everyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit says.”

Yet I find that it’s often so much easier to wake up in the morning and listen, instead of to the Lord, to the radio or the television or the first person we see. Often, we allow them to set the tone for our day.

Imagine, however, if we asked God to help us listen to His voice every morning. What kinds of things would He say to us?

I’m writing to Christians today – people who have asked God to forgive them of their sins and take control of their lives. If you haven’t done that, you can do so at any time. Check out this blog to learn more.

If you are a Christian, here are some of the things God would say to you each morning:

God would say: “You’re forgiven.”

He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases.
Psalm 103:3 (NLT)

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.
Colossians 2:13 (NIV)

I am writing to you who are God’s children because your sins have been forgiven through Jesus.
1 John 2:12 (NLT)

What does that simple phrase “You’re forgiven” mean? It means that the separation that existed between you and God has been put back together. Scripture describes us as being at war with God because of our sin, but we have been reconciled – brought back together.

It means that we can live in the freedom of knowing that we are accepted by God without reservation. There’s nothing you or I have done that God isn’t ready to forgive. Scripture says that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

And it means we will one day spend eternity in heaven. Being forgiven brings us freedom in this life and eternity with God in the next life. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Not only would God say “You’re forgiven”, He’d also say: “You are loved.”

But the love of the LORD remains forever with those who fear him. His salvation extends to the children’s children
Psalm 103:17 (NLT)

Long ago the LORD said to Israel: “I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.
Jeremiah 31:3 (NLT)

I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love.
John 15:9 (NLT)

Knowing we are loved gives us courage to live the life that God has prepared for us. I don’t know about you, but it makes me smile every time I think about it. You are special to God. You are loved. Deeply loved.

God would say: “I gotcha! Don’t be afraid. I’ve got your back. Whatever comes your way – I’m with you.”

27My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, 29for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand.
John 10:27-29 (NLT)

God is our protection. He has our back! No one can snatch us from His hand. But there’s another element to God having our back. Not only is it His protection, it’s also His provision.

And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:19 (NIV)

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence.
2 Peter 1:3 (NLT)

Friends, for those of us who have trusted Christ as our Savior, when we listen to God’s voice in the morning, we face the day knowing that we are loved, that we are forgiven, that there’s nothing that will come up during the day that God we have to face alone.

God’s reminder that He awakens me to listen was one I needed to hear. It came after a very long time of being very busy. Yes, I kept reading my Bible during that time. Yes, I prayed regularly. But at some point, I wasn’t lingering with God. You know, Phil and I have our best conversations when we’re not rushing from one thing to another. The same is true with God. I am being more purposeful about lingering over my Bible reading and prayers. And every morning, I am reminding myself that I am forgiven, I am loved and God’s got my back. I gotta tell you – it’s  a great way to start each day!

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About six months ago, the church Phil and I had attended for the past eight years closed when the founding pastor retired from ministry. (Sigh.) It’s hard having your family disbanded. We miss meeting together and celebrating the Lord with the friends we shared that privilege with each week.

The process of finding a new church home has given us an opportunity to see what God is doing in our community. But finding a new church is hard work. We feel like wanderers and in all honesty, as much as we love church, the temptation to sleep in on Sunday mornings and enjoy some leisure is pretty strong.

We resist most Sundays because we are committed to the local church. We’re committed to it because we believe it is God’s desire for each believer to be a part of a local fellowship. We grieve deeply at so many Christians who consider attending church optional. Writing about that will be the bulk of this blog, but first, I just want to share some random thoughts from visiting different churches over the past six months.

Random Thoughts About

  • There are many pockets of people who love the Lord. Each provides their unique expression of His love.
  • It’s so easy to be critical of those bodies we visit – after all, we’re evaluating each of them as a potential church home. Of course, none of them are the one we loved and can no longer attend. They don’t sing the songs we’re most familiar with. The people aren’t as loving as the ones from our church (or so it seems – I don’t really believe they are – I just don’t know them and they don’t know me so it doesn’t seem as if they are as loving as my friends). The preaching is a different style. You see, it’s so much easier to see what annoys us than to set our preferences aside and look for the good things God is doing.
    I know we’re not unique in this experience. We meet for Bible study with others searching for a new home and none of us has found a home yet. It seems there is something wrong with each church we visit. Of course there is. There’s something with every church. There were things wrong with our previous church. (“Get over it – quit looking for the perfect church” my brain whispers to my heart.)
  • The Holy Spirit regularly reminds me that we miss a tremendous opportunity if we’re not blessing the churches we visit and we do Christ a terrible disservice when we complain about them.
  • Each church we visited has at least three needs: More passion for the Lord, a stronger sense of purpose or vision, and committed believers who align themselves with that purpose or vision. The first two elements – passion for the Lord and a vision for the Church – were evident in some of the leaders, but rarely seen in the congregation.

I don’t write these things as criticism from the outside looking in. I count myself among those who need more passion for the Lord. God has been speaking to Phil and me about passion lately so I’ll be blogging about that in the future.

I grieve for the lack of vision I see in many churches, and for the lack of committed believers attending those churches.

Where there is no vision, the people perish.
Proverbs 29:18a (KJV)

And where there is no vision (or revelation) of her purpose, the Church perishes. She becomes filled with people who see no purpose and become complacent in their commitment…or simply leave altogether.

The Church in America is in desperate need of revival, and none of the churches we visited is currently experiencing it. Spotty attendance by members of the congregation is a symptom of our lack of passion. We visited a number of churches whose attendance varied as much as 50% from week to week because so many people who were regular participants in the congregation prioritized other things over church. Yes, we may all do that occasionally. But for many it is not the occasional or rare re-prioritization – it seems to be a weekly decision of whether or not to join fellow believers in worship and equipping. And for still others, it has become a decision to not attend regularly simply because…well, the best I can understand is that the Church isn’t doing or being what they want it to do or be.

I understand the Church not doing or being what you want it to be. I’ve been there. As we look for a new church home, I’m there almost every Sunday. What I don’t understand is allowing that situation to override God’s Word to you:

24And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, 25not staying away from our ?worship? meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
Hebrews 10:24-25 (HCSB)

Christianity Today published an article online in August titled “The Promise of Church: Reasons we must go—and keep going.” The author, Jen Pollock, brings correction in the midst of hope:

No, we don’t go to church (and keep going) because it’s easy. We go because it’s necessary…When we declared our allegiance to Jesus Christ, like it or not, we became a part of his family, binding ourselves to the domestic responsibilities to love and to serve our spiritual fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters. The Apostle Paul said church is like marriage, and in my estimation, that means there’s a lot of ordinariness to it (and not too few fights). And yet, as in marriage, there is great promise of transformation in church. When we dare the difficulty of abiding the promise to love unlovable people in the everyday, we are being formed into the image of Christ.
Christianity Today; “The Promise of Church: Reasons we must go—and keep going” by Jen Pollock Michel

No, we don’t go to church and keep going because it’s easy…or because it’s fun…or because we like the worship or the preaching or the people or….we go because it’s where we meet with other believers and are challenged to live out our faith – among one another and out in the world.

As we’ve been visiting churches, God has repeatedly reminded me of a favorite verse of mine:

Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.
Jonah 2:8 (NIV)

Church – that is, the gathering for worship and teaching in the format and style that most appeals to me – church, the way I want church to be – can easily become an idol that causes me to miss the grace God has for me to embrace a church with a different style and personality from what I’m accustomed. As I write this, it sounds like I am an old stick-in-the-mud church member who isn’t open to new patterns of worship and new formats. I don’t think of myself that way. I don’t want to be that person.

No, we don’t go to church because it’s easy or fun. What a blessing when it is! Easy and fun and spiritually challenging and encouraging and worshipful should be the norm. But when it’s not, we shouldn’t quit going. Nor should we immediately begin looking for a new body to align ourselves with.

For it to be acceptable for a Believer not to attend church is a thoroughly modern day perspective. For hundreds and hundreds of years after Christ, one was not considered a Christian – a Christ-follower – unless they were participating in a local fellowship of believers. Christ didn’t intend for His children to be lone rangers. We need one another. And the Church needs us. And the world needs to see us attending church.

Friends, the Body of Christ needs you to demonstrate your faith, in part, by taking the place God has set aside for you in a local church – to be a believer committed to be a part of a specific expression of the family of God. Without you, there’s a missing piece of the puzzle. There’s a body with a missing arm or leg or hand or foot. The Body of Christ needs your time and your talent, your gifts and your finances. It needs your prayers and your encouragement. It needs your faith to be added to the faith of others, and other believers need your unique contribution to fellowship. The Body of Christ needs you.

And you need the Body of Christ. You need the regular encouragement that comes from gathering with other believers. You need the regular teaching from other believers. You need the discipline that being committed to a local body brings. You need the opportunities to serve that are available through your local church. You need practice in submission, which is a natural consequence of committing to a church through good times and bad.

We don’t love church because she is always lovely. We don’t attend church because she meets our immediate needs. We go in the promise Scripture holds out, that the goodness of God’s people gathered and unified is “as precious as the anointing oil that was poured over Aaron’s head…as refreshing as the dew from Mount Hermon that falls on the mountains of Zion. And there the Lord has pronounced his blessing, even life everlasting” (Psalm 133:2-3).
Christianity Today; “The Promise of Church: Reasons we must go—and keep going” by Jen Pollock Michel

Last but not least, the world needs you to join yourself to a local fellowship of believers. If you are a believer who is not regularly attending church, I can guarantee that there is at least one person (probably more) in your sphere of influence who is thinking and perhaps saying “Mary is a Christian and she doesn’t go to church. If she doesn’t go to church, why should I?” And perhaps there is the non-believer who is thinking “Even David quit going to church. He knows it’s just full of hypocrites. I don’t want to have any part of that.” Our actions impact those around us. Do you want your church attendance to encourage those around you to fellowship with other believers or to discourage it?

Friends, let me encourage you to be a part of the blessing described in Psalm 133 and a positive influence on those around you. Make a commitment to a local fellowship today. You, the Church and the world need you to take your place in the Body of Christ.

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