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The Treasure in God's Word

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV)

In today’s world of instant communication it’s not nearly as common to write a letter or email to someone just to share your life with them, but I find that it is especially appreciated. Years ago I would write long letters to Phil’s mom telling her what was happening in our lives – the big things and the small things. We would talk with her on the phone at least once a week, but the letters provided more of the everyday things and the deeper what’s-on-our-minds things than we might communicate in a phone conversation. Phil now writes long emails to his sister sometimes. I always ask him to send me a copy of the emails because I get a different perspective of how he views what is happening in our lives as I read him describing situations and encounters to his sister.

Reading a letter has a way of bringing us into the life of the person writing. Think about a time when you have received an unexpected letter or an email from someone you love. As you read, you enter their world for a short time. You can hear them speaking the words that have been written. You can see the gestures they might be making if they were standing in front of you telling you stories you are reading. The letters bring you into their presence.

The same is true of God’s Word, but to an even greater degree because God’s Words are “God-breathed”. They were written under the anointing of the Holy Spirit and they carry that anointing with them. How amazing is that? I mean they are just words on a page, right? No, they are not. They are God-inspired and they bring us into the presence of a holy and amazing God.

16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV)

In a previous blog, I encouraged everyone to read through the Bible each year. It is so do-able. Today, however, I want to talk about different ways to read the Bible. Each has its own purpose and benefits. We’ll look at three methods:

  • Reading for Information
  • Reading for Inspiration
  • Reading for Transformation

Regardless of how you’re reading, there are a couple of principles that apply:

  • Pray before you read. This seems so obvious, but I find that it is so easy to forget this step. I sit down to read each morning and I might be so eager to read what’s next I just start reading. Or I might just be in the routine of things and forget to pray. Ugh! That’s so wrong. Remember, if Scripture is God-inspired (and it is), it is the Holy Spirit that unlocks that inspiration as we read. Pause to thank God for preserving His Word and speaking to you today through that Word. Ask the Holy Spirit to open its treasures for you. Even when we are reading for information we’ll find treasures that will stick with us throughout the day, and sometimes we’ll find treasures that change our lives forever.
  • Avoid distractions. Find a place where you won’t be distracted by your To Do list. I find it helpful to have a piece of paper or spreadsheet open where I can jot down things that might flit through my mind that I don’t want to forget. Writing them down lets me avoid the distraction of trying to remember them. It releases me to return to reading.
  • Look for application in your life. Regardless of how you’re reading, you always want to ask God how and what to apply to your life.
  • Take notes or journal. Develop the habit of taking notes or journaling what you’re reading. I don’t do this every day, but frequently when a verse or an incident in Scripture grabs my attention, I will journal about it. The experience of writing about it opens my thoughts (or perhaps my spirit) to it so that I receive more insight into the passage or verse. I’m a writer, so my journal is all words with the occasional song or diagram. If you are an artist, perhaps your journal will be a collection of pictures instead of words. Let me note here that often when I start to write, I don’t have a clue what I’m going to write – I just know that a verse has caught my attention. So I start writing about it. It almost feels silly sometimes to be writing when I don’t know where I’m headed. But God (don’t you just love those two words? I do)…But God opens the door to more treasures as I write and Scripture becomes more alive to me.

Now let’s look at the three different ways to read Scripture. It’s important to note that there is a great deal of overlap in the methods, but they are distinctly different. God will speak to you when reading using each method.

Reading for information
Typically, when we are reading through the Bible according to a schedule or reading through the Bible in a year, we are reading for information – that is, to get the “Big Picture” and to understand the principles, facts and directives of Scripture. Reading for information is like reading a history book. You are reading to learn names, places, dates, facts. You are reading to learn the story of the Bible. But the Bible is more than a textbook and as you learn the story, you will see how it is the story that leads to salvation and power through Jesus Christ. What I love about reading through the Bible in a year is that by reading larger portions in each sitting, I see the inter-connectedness of Scripture.

Reading for information is looking into the Word and brings light into your life.

Reading for Inspiration
Reading for information engages your mind; reading for inspiration engages your heart. It is devotional reading and usually involves reading only a single chapter or story. Reading inspirationally allows you to get to know God more intimately and love God more deeply. It is reading at a slower pace. It is pausing to consider what characters are saying and thinking about what they’re feeling. It is reflecting on actions and words.

Reading for inspiration is looking into the face of God and calms your spirit.

Reading for Transformation
Reading for transformation is the step beyond reading for inspiration. It is learning what God wants for and from my life. Primary purpose of the Bible is to change and transform us. The objective of reading for transformation is not to cover as much as possible or complete a specific reading assignment. You might find yourself on a single verse for quite a while (that is, a number of days or weeks). The point of transformational reading is meeting God in the text. It’s more indepth. You have to take time with it to hear what it says.

The practice known as lectio devina (literally “divine reading” in Latin) is transformational reading. It involves reading the text slowly and with reflection, meditating on the text, praying through the text and waiting and listening for God to speak to us through the text. It is a relaxed, meditative process.

Simply reading for information doesn’t typically transform us. M. Robert Mulholland, Jr., author of Shaped by the Word: The Power of Scripture in Spiritual Formation wrote this:

 “In informational reading, we try to master the text. In transformational reading, it masters us.”
M. Robert Mulholland, Jr. Shaped by the Word: The Power of Scripture in Spiritual Formation

If reading for inspiration is looking into the face of God, reading for transformation is crawling into His lap and listening to His heartbeat.

Where Does Study Happen?
What we typically call “Bible Study” occurs in all three methods, although you may find it more heavily in reading for information than the other approaches. But in all cases, good Bible Study guides, devotionals and commentaries can improve your understanding and personal application of the Bible in your own life. For me personally, I find that learning what the Greek or Hebrew words really mean greatly enhances my reading in all three areas. But I’m a word nerd. He may speak to you differently. The point is to not eschew outside help. God wants to speak to you, He wants to teach, inspire and transform you. He wants to see you become more like Jesus day by day.

Why Read?

Because God’s Word holds the greatest treasure of all:

13You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.
Jeremiah 29:13 (HCSB)

What is the Holy Spirit speaking to you today?

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6So Isaac settled in Gerar. 7When the men of the place asked about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” for he was afraid to say “my wife,” ?thinking,? “The men of the place will kill me on account of Rebekah, for she is a beautiful woman.”
Genesis 26:6-7 (HCSB)

Sins of the Father Visited Upon Their Children

This verse records Isaac committing the same sin as his father Abraham. In Genesis 12 verses 2 and 3, God makes a covenant with Abraham (then called Abram) to make him into a great nation, to bless him and to bless all the people of the earth through him. (The covenant is repeated in Genesis 17.) He also told Abraham to leave his country and go to the land God would show him.

Also in Genesis 12, just 10 verses later, Abraham instructs his wife Sarah (Sarai at the time) to pretend to be his wife “so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.” (Genesis 12:13).

We have a classic example here of the sins of the father continuing in the son. We read this in Exodus 20:5 (and other places):

5You shall not bow down to [idols] or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity [sins] of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,
Exodus 20:5 (ESV)

Hmmm…does this mean that the children commit the sins or they simply experience the negative consequences of the parents’ sin? I would say both. It’s easy to understand how children experience consequences of their parents’ sin, but if we look around us, we also see many examples of children committing the same sins as their parents. This leads me to believe that the passage can also indicate that the sins of the father somehow spiritually give the children a proclivity toward that sin. John Piper, author of Desiring God and many other books, agrees and says this about the passage:

We are not told how the father’s sins become the children’s sins. That is a mysterious thing left in God’s mind. But they do. What we are told is that when father’s sins are visited on the children it is because the children have become sinners like the fathers. The father’s sins are the children’s sins.

It All Comes Down to Trust

What impressed me more than the repetition of sins through generations is that Abraham’s sin and Isaac’s sin both boil down to being acts of not trusting God. Both men had a covenant with God (although Isaac hadn’t yet received it personally). Both men chose not to trust that God was able to keep them safe so that He could, at some future time, fulfill the promise He had given them.

It was only ten verses of Scripture from the time God established His covenant with Abraham until Abraham denied Him. God’s covenant with Abraham wasn’t a small thing. He made it clear that He was going to make Abraham into many nations and that Abraham would not only be blessed himself, but that he would be a blessing to all people on the earth. So Abraham began to follow God. But along the way, he quit relying on God and began to rely on himself.

I’m sure Abraham (and Isaac) didn’t see that they were missing the mark on this. They were simply doing “what seemed right in their own eyes” (ref. Judges 17:6). They were protecting themselves. Protecting ourselves often seems like wisdom. So they too action – probably without a lot of thinking and certainly not a lot of praying. Abraham and Isaac developed plans to protect themselves in a foreign country.

What they didn’t do was trust God to protect them.

We’re Not So Different from Abraham and Isaac

I suspect that most of the lies people tell come from the same root – wanting to protect themselves either from the consequences from something they’ve done or not done, or from some real or imagined threat. So we make compromises hoping (or perhaps “helping” God) to “protect” our current life so that God can fulfill His promises for the future!

Can there be any Godly wisdom in that? Of course not. It is foolish, earthly wisdom. God wants to use our present situations to prepare us for the future fulfillment of the promises He’s given us. He wants to teach us to trust Him in the little things and the big things of today so that we are better prepared to trust Him in the little and big things we will face tomorrow and ten years from now.

We know that God uses all things for the good of those who love and pursue Him (Romans 8:28). So He takes our lies and our other missteps (aka sins) of the present, redeems them and uses them in our future if we submit them and ourselves to Him. But how much the better to have not sinned at all! How much the better to trust God in our present so that He can bring about the fulfillment of His promises

Where Do We Go from Here?

  • First, friends, ask God where you have made compromises in your life. The Holy Spirit will reveal them to you. Repent in those areas. Make changes where changes are necessary. Trust that God is in the process and He will be faithful as you do the right thing in difficult situations. I’ve lived by one maxim for many, many years: Do the right thing and trust God with the results. I find it especially helpful when faced with difficult decisions. Ask God to reveal the right thing, then do it, trusting Him to protect you.
  • Trust God to forgive past sins. Don’t carry around old guilt. That’s condemnation from the enemy, not conviction from the Lord. Confess your sins and trust that He is faithful to forgive them (1 John 1:9).
  • Be appropriately transparent with your children. Seek God about what, if anything, of your past sins you should discuss with children. They will see the change as you repent of past sins, but if a discussion with them helps them to avoid the same sins, ask God if and when the time is right to have those conversations.
  • Serve God in confidence that He is working in you and will fulfill all the promises He’s made to you as you continue to pursue Him.

God is very good, friends. He already knows your sins and He still loves you. Rejoice in that!

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16All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 (HCSB)

Bible and Gems

I love the Lord, and if you’re reading this blog, I am guessing that you do, too. And I love how He changes things up sometimes. And the source of that change-up usually comes from His Word.

On New Year’s Eve we were worshipping and praying in a small church service. During the service my husband Phil quoted a verse of Scripture that will be his key verse in 2018. It has been a significant verse in our life for many years, but we believe it has special significance this year. (No, it’s not the key verse quoted above.)

As I meditated on the verse on New Year’s Day, I began to develop a sermon around it. About 2 weeks later I went back to polish up that sermon to deliver at a nursing home in which we minister. God didn’t polish the first sermon, He gave me a totally different message.

I tell you this only as an intro to say that it really excites me that God can give two totally different (yet related) messages on the same verse. It also really excites me that God gives the Word or message that specific people need to hear. When He gave me the first message I anticipated sharing it at our church. It turned out that our nursing home service was scheduled before I was scheduled to preach at our church. I thought I would be sharing a small part of the message I had prepared for our church at the nursing home. God had other ideas He used the same verse but totally changed the focus of the message. How cool is that?

God’s Word is amazing. It is what we need, when we need it. I suspect you’ll see bits and pieces of those two messages over the coming weeks, but today I wanted to praise God for His Word. It is good and powerful and life-changing!

God’s Word is a light to our path, correction when we’ve made a wrong turn, and wisdom for daily living. That’s easy to say (or write) but it’s not always easy to live. We can’t live it unless we know it and are immersed in it every day.

Being immersed in God’s word doesn’t mean simply reading your Bible every day. In years past I have placed a great emphasis in this blog encouraging you to read through the Bible in a year. I still do that personally and I still think it’s something that anyone can do. You can easily read through the New Testament in a year – there are only 260 chapters in it, so the only thing keeping you from accomplishing that goal is setting it – getting over the thought that it is un-doable, finding a reading plan you like (google “Bible reading plans”) and getting started. There are 1189 chapters in the entire Bible. Divide that by 365 days and you learn that you can read through the entire Bible by reading less than 3.26 chapters a day. That’s do-able, too! But I digress.

Immersing yourself in the Bible and reading the Bible are two different things. Last year, I decided NOT to read through the Bible. It was actually a hard thing for me to do, but I purposed to read each day until God impressed something from the reading on my heart. Guess what! (Again, I’m digressing, but…) God allowed me to read through the Bible while doing this and I actually finished early! That’s a first!

The point is, I wasn’t just reading. I was reading and listening for God to speak – to impress upon my heart some verse or event or concept. Then I was meditating on that. Now, let me be honest – each day wasn’t a “WOW” impression. That would have been overwhelming. But many days He did open my eyes, spirit and heart to something I needed to know. Many times He did highlight a verse as I read and that verse would speak specifically to a need in my life or the life of someone I would encounter in the next couple of days.

So, friends – in this first blog of 2018 – written here on the 15th of January (and refusing to feel any guilt about that), I want to encourage you to immerse yourself in God’s Word. Read it, study it, meditate on it. The treasures it will unfold will amaze you.

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1 Very early on the first day of the week, at dawn, the women came to the tomb, bringing the spices they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the entrance of the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, two men in shining clothes suddenly stood beside them. 5 The women were very afraid and bowed their heads to the ground.

The men said to them, “Why are you looking for a living person in this place for the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen from the dead. Do you remember what he told you in Galilee?”

Luke 24:1-6 (NCV)

As I read this passage this morning, verse 5 struck me – “Why are you looking for a living person in this place for the dead?” This is the New Century Version translation of the more familiar translation “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

Sometimes reading from a different translation allows the Word of God to speak to us in different ways. We know this verse relates to the women looking for the dead body of Jesus to anoint it with spices. The angel’s words were the first announcement that Jesus had risen from the dead – “why are you looking for a living person in this place for the dead?” In other words, “Jesus is not dead, He is alive so you won’t find Him in this place for the dead.”

Jesus is not dead, He is alive. And you won’t find him in this place for the dead.

We serve a risen Savior, praise God! His life means that I too can find life. It means that you can find life, no matter how horrible – or dead – your circumstances are.

As I read this passage this morning, it was as if God were saying… “If you want more of me, don’t look for me in the dead areas of your life…Don’t focus on those things because they are dead. I’m alive – look for me among the living.” I’m not saying that God doesn’t come to us in our darkest circumstances. I’m saying that finding Him means looking away from our dark circumstances toward His goodness.

You may feel like there is little in your life which is good right now. That’s a lie from the enemy, my friend. Seek even the smallest good, focus on it, and thank God for it, and then ask Him to open your eyes to the greater goodness around you. I have no doubt that if you do that consistently, God will reveal Himself to you in greater and greater ways. Yes, focusing on the smallest good is a discipline that must be learned and developed – but it is doable and you can do it.

That first smallest good thing might be simply an unexpected smile from someone who crosses your path, an unexpected beauty (in nature or in a painting, for example), or an unexpected joy (perhaps from a song or phone call). That good thing is among the living and it is where you will find your Savior.

I am reminded of the old hymn Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus. Written by Hellen Lemmel in 1922, you can find many versions of it on Youtube – performances from the current decade by artists and groups such as Hillsongs, Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Alan Jackson and more. I listened to many of them, but chose this version by Loyiso Bala, Neville D and Ivan Siegelaar. Listen to it. Allow it to seep into your soul and lead you into finding the smallest good thing and then the greatest good thing – Jesus.

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We sure do have it backwards!

Part of the message I preached at our church last Sunday was about making worship a priority in our personal lives in 2016. I encouraged all of us to interrupt our busyness to focus on the Lord more regularly. I talked about how that would impact our corporate worship on Sunday mornings, but more importantly how it would impact our relationship with the Lord and our ability to carry the miracles He wants to birth through us. And I admitted that personal worship is an area in which I’ve become lax. Ouch!

So all week the Holy Spirit has been whispering to me “let’s do what you preached about on Sunday – let’s set aside some time and worship.” “How about today – can we do it today?” It’s been a positive urging, not a nag. It’s the Lord saying “come away with me, my love” (Song of Solomon 2:13b, paraphrased).

Finally tonight I did just that. As I sat with my head back and eyes closed, listening to a song about how much God loves me, sometimes singing along, sometimes not…my mind began to say “you know, you could be sorting that big stack of mail while you listen to this.” And then “You’re really wasting time just sitting here – you can listen to the music while you wash the dishes in the sink.”

And then it hit me – we sure do have it backwards! Our society has it backwards. Society values doing above all things. We have been programmed to think that doing something is better than sitting with the Lord. Even in our time with the Lord, we tend to think we need to be doing something – reading, studying or actively praying for needs.

When God’s highest priority is for us to worship and to listen. Jesus told Martha when she was so worried about getting everything done that Mary, who was sitting at his feet, had chosen the “better part” (Luke 10:42, NIV). For years, I regularly prayed, “Lord, show me the better part.” And over time, I became a worshiper. I learned how to choose the better part… But somehow that got lost in the busyness of last year.

There will always be tasks to do. There will always be things to keep us busy. There will always be things we’re leaving undone. That was as true for Mary as it is for us. But Mary chose to sit at the feet of the Lord. The Holman Christian Standard Bible says that “Mary has made the right choice.”

Wow did I have a challenging year last year. It seems like I was always trying to decide what the “right choice” was in situations for which I had no knowledge, training or wisdom. The right choice in each of those situations would have been to step away from them and sit at the feet of Jesus. (I’m afraid I didn’t make that choice as often as I should have. But you know what? God still loves me with a passionate love! I am loved by God with an everlasting love – even when I don’t make the best choice all the time – and so are you!)

We must go against our culture and training to choose the better part – to choose to relax into worship instead of sorting the mail or doing the dishes. Instead of spending more time at work or helping to plan the next great evangelism outreach. All those things are “needful” but as Jesus told Martha, we are “fussing far too much and getting [ourselves] worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it – it’s the main course and won’t be taken from her.” (Luke 10:41b-42, The Message Bible)

One of my goals for 2016 is to stop fussing so much, to stop angsting over decisions – to make them and trust that the Lord’s got it – whatever it is. Choosing the “better part,” the only thing that is “essential” is what will make that goal achievable. So my bigger goal is to worship me. Want to join me?

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We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.
2 Corinthians 5:20a (NIV)

I was shopping at Walmart the other day and a sales associate smiled and greeted me as I walked by. His greeting took me by surprise and put a smile on my face.

And the Holy Spirit used the opportunity to remind me that I am Christ’s ambassador…and then to ask me how that was going. The answer – not nearly as well as the Lord and I would like it to be. You see, I keep forgetting to act like an ambassador. The Walmart associate was doing a better job that day of being an ambassador for Walmart than I was at being an ambassador for the Lord. Ouch!

I once took a missions trip, and throughout the trip, I was so aware that my behavior represented Christ to the people around me. I made a point of smiling and being pleasant and talking about the goodness of God. Throughout the trip, I was mindful that I wanted people to see Christ in me, their hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).

Then I came home. And I returned to life as usual. I don’t want to live my life as usual in 2015. I want God to use me to impact the Kingdom of God. That requires living life as an ambassador for Christ. Let’s put the verse in context:

16So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! 17This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

18And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:16-21 (NLT)

One of the purposes God has given us – and it’s one He will infuse with His power as we perform it (read this blog for more on that topic) – is telling others about Christ. That’s what this passage says, but it wraps in it in a bit of a different package.

God, through Christ, took the initiative to reconcile the world to Himself. That means He took the first step to restore the relationship between sinful man and holy God. That reconciliation is possible because God no longer counts our sin against us. That’s His gift to us. We are forgiven. And being forgiven, our relationship with Him is restored to the way God originally intended it to be – loving, intimate and ongoing.

He’s given us the message of reconciliation – in other words, He wants us to tell others that they can be reconciled with God, just as we are. God is making His appeal to the world through us – you and me. In other words, we are Christ’s ambassadors. We speak and act for Him.

An ambassador is “the highest-ranking person who represents his or her own government while living in another country” (Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary).

  • We’re not flunkies! As ambassadors for Christ, we are people of high stature and authority. We speak for the King. We’ll need to study what the King would say and how the King would respond to situations we encounter if we want to represent Him well.
  • We represent the government of our true home – God’s Kingdom. To do so, we must know as much as we can about our country – God’s Kingdom. Its values, customs and goals are significantly different from our earthly country.
  • We live in a country that is not our home. While we’re here on earth, we’re just passing through – earth is not our home. Lord, help me to live that way! Someone who is just passing through travels light. I confess that I’ve accumulated too much stuff to be considered one who is traveling light!

It’s important for us to get all three of those points firmly planted in our minds and spirits. Being confident of these things, we can fulfill our role as ambassador effectively. When we lose sight of any of those points, our ambassadorship is hindered. We don’t live or act in the authority of the King, we don’t represent Him well or we become too preoccupied with the way things are done in our temporary country.

While living in our temporary home, it’s important that we have a Kingdom perspective. Verse 16 reminds us that we should not evaluate others from a worldly or human perspective. In other words, everyone we meet is a child of God, create in His image, loved by Him. God wants to shower His love on each person we meet. He wants each person to join us with Him in eternity. Do you view people from this perspective when you meet them?

Lord, change my perspective. Help me to see others as you see them. Help me to love others from a Kingdom perspective and in a Kingdom way.

I want to be a better representative of Christ in 2015. How about you?

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Hi Folks! I initially published this blog in March 2012. It is so appropriate to yesterday’s blog that I wanted to re-issue it – with a bit of updating. Enjoy! Sandy

It All Started with Edward
In 1855 there was a man named Edward Kimball. Edward taught Sunday School at a church in Boston. There was a 17-year-old boy in his Sunday School class who Kimball described as having one of the darkest hearts he’d ever seen. One day Mr. Kimball felt lead to visit the boy outside of Sunday School, so he went to the store where the teenager worked. By his own admission, Mr. Kimball was unsure of himself. He wrote about it later:

“I began to wonder whether I ought to go just then during business hours,” he latter reported. “And I thought maybe my mission might embarrass the boy, that when I went away the other clerks might ask who I was, and when they learned, might taunt [him] and ask if I was trying to make a good boy out of him. Then, I decided to make a dash for it and have it over at once.”

Can you sense Mr. Kimball’s insecurity from his own words? He later described himself as having made a rather anemic presentation of the gospel with the young man. But the boy was ready. God had been working on him.

That young man’s name was Dwight L. Moody.

I see several things in this story…

  • We never know what is in another person’s heart or when they are ready
  • Trust the Spirit’s prompting
  • Believe that God is going to use you! (Need a reminder of that? Read yesterday’s blog!)

Dwight Moody was holding a meeting in the late 1870’s at Lake Forest College in a suburb of Chicago. After the service, he counseled a student who was struggling with the assurance of his salvation. That young man later became a friend and co-laborer with Dwight Moody.

That man was J. Wilbur Chapman.

Mr. Chapman was an evangelist like Dwight Moody and later hired a young man to assist him in his ministry. That man was an former baseball player who had come to know Christ at a city mission in Chicago.

The man was Billy Sunday.

Billy Sunday was saved in 1887. Many years later he told the story like this:

“Twenty-seven years ago I walked down a street in Chicago in company with some ball players who were famous in this world … and we went into a saloon. It was Sunday afternoon and we got tanked up and then went and sat down on a corner. … Across the street a company of men and women were playing on instruments – horns, flutes and slide trombones – and the others were singing the gospel hymns that I used to hear my mother sing back in the log cabin in Iowa and back in the old church where I used to go to Sunday school.

“And God painted on the canvas of my recollection and memory a vivid picture of the scenes of other days and other faces.

“Many have long since turned to dust. I sobbed and sobbed and a young man stepped out and said, ‘We are going down to the Pacific Garden Mission. Won’t you come down to the mission? I am sure you will enjoy it. You can hear drunkards tell how they have been saved and girls tell how they have been saved from the red-light district.’

“I arose and said to the boys, ‘I’m through. I am going to Jesus Christ.’”

His story tells me some things:

  • God uses seeds planted in our childhood.
  • God used the Christians playing various instruments and singing on a street corner to touch long-overlooked memories.
  • God used the gentle boldness, enthusiasm and compassion of some unknown person to bring Billy Sunday to the mission and another nameless person in history to bring Billy Sunday to Christ.

Billy Sunday became a well-known evangelist. He held a series of evangelistic meetings in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1924.

Out of those meeting an organization of businessmen with a heart for evangelism was formed.

This group held an all day prayer meeting in the cow pasture of William and Morrow Graham. During that prayer meeting, someone prayed “Lord, raise up a man out of Charlotte, North Carolina, who will preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth.”

That summer the businessmen invited an evangelist named Mordecai Ham to hold evangelistic meetings in their town. There was a high school student in town who knew his mom and dad wanted him to attend the meetings – but he had determined to have none of it. He would not attend. During the meetings, Billy Sunday challenged students to attend and the student became curious. One evening he jumped in the back of a friend’s pickup truck, went to the meeting and sat in the back row.

That man was Billy Graham and he gave his life to Christ that night. He was the oldest son of William and Morrow Graham, owners of that cow pasture where they held that all day prayer meeting.

In June 1994 Billy Graham held his second crusade in Cleveland, Ohio. My Aunt Dolly attended one evening and gave her life to Christ. My Aunt Dolly died earlier this year. She is now with her Lord and Savior, Jesus. Thank you, Edward Kimball.

Trace it backwards, friends, and you see that Billy Graham (and my Aunt Dolly) came to Christ because Edward Kimball allowed God to use him in his fear and ineptitude. As I wrote earlier, Kimball later reported that he felt like his presentation of the gospel to Dwight Moody had been pretty anemic. It might have felt that way in the natural, but God added to it His dunamis power and a miracle occurred. Again, thank you, Edward Kimball for letting God use you to impact eternity.

Edward Kimball obeyed the whisper of God and stepped into the works God had prepared in advance for him to do.

Lots of Names, One Theme
Well, I’ve just thrown a lot of names and details at you, but the theme is that history is full of people – people just like you and me – whom God has used in extraordinary ways.

Beginning with Mr. Kimball – he was a Sunday School teacher of teenage boys, and by his own admission his presentation of the gospel was pretty weak – but God used him to bring one of the greatest evangelists of all time to the Lord, Dwight Moody. But Mr. Kimball’s influence didn’t end there. There is a direct line of influence from Dwight Moody all the way down to Billy Graham and then my Aunt Dolly. And of course the influence continues. Billy Graham’s son Franklin leads an organization called Samaritan’s Purse that provides food, clothing, shelter and medicine to people in need all over the world. It is not an exaggeration to say that thousands, perhaps millions of people have been impacted by this ministry. Billy Graham’s grandson is a good preacher in his own right. And let’s not forget about my Aunt Dolly – the people she influenced are no less important than those influenced by Billy Graham. Her children and grandchildren influence those around them to love Christ – including Aunt Dolly’s great grandchildren.

And we can trace all of them back to Edward Kimball, a Sunday School teacher in a church in Boston. And we can trace it back to a young man who struggled to believe Scripture that says “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

And we can trace it back to men and women who played instruments and sang gospel songs on a street corner where drunk ball players took a break from their drinking.

And we can trace it back to some businessmen who attended an all-day prayer meeting.

We can even trace it back to that one individual who boldly prayed “Lord raise up a man out of Charlotte, North Carolina, who will preach the gospel to the ends of the earth.”

The thing that stands out so clearly to me from all of this is that within this chain of historic events there are a number of Christians who had large ministries that were used by God to sweep multitudes into His kingdom, and there were a number of ordinary Christians who faithfully lived out their calling and obediently ministered to the few whom God put in their path. The chain of events would have broken down without the obedient and faithful action of the ordinary Christians. While Edward Kimball and the slide trombone player on the Chicago street corner were never called by God to have a worldwide ministry like that of Dwight Moody or Billy Graham, both of those great evangelists can trace their spiritual ancestry back to those faithful Christian workers.

God has a plan for each one of us. Scripture makes that clear in both the Old and New Testaments.

Jeremiah 1:5 (God is speaking to Jeremiah) “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

There was nothing extraordinarily special about Jeremiah. What God did for Jeremiah, He has done for each of us – not necessarily calling us to be prophets to the nation, but creating us for a purpose.

The Psalmist wrote this awesome passage that has the same message:

13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

16 Your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
Psalm 139: 13-16

The message is repeated in the New Testament:

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ephesians 2:10

God has worked in your history, setting things in motion, preparing you and preparing the world in which you live, for the good works that He’s called you to.

So, everyone in that chain of history that began with Edward Kimball and ended with Billy and Franklin Graham stepped up to the plate to swing at the pitch God threw them. They had given their time and their talents to God. Instead of staying home and watching the latest episode of their must-see-TV, they spent all day in prayer. Instead of going out drinking with his buddies, Billy Sunday said “Today, I’m going to Jesus.”

I want to encourage each of us to get in the game. Let’s not be satisfied with life as we know it, but allow God to use us in ways that leave a lasting impact on this world.

I want to see God move. I’m not going to see it without getting in the game. I’m not going to see my community won to Christ by just going to church every Sunday. I’m not going to see men and women grow in their faith by just enjoying fellowship with other believers. I’m not dissing those things. Both are very important. But we can’t change the world without being in it and being purposeful in it.

What has to change for you and me to accomplish the purposes that God has prepared in advance for us to do? Here are some ideas:

  • Believe that God wants to use us (see yesterday’s blog)
  • Change our patterns and schedules
  • Know what He has called us to
  • Step out in faith, even when we don’t have all the answers

A Final Encouragement

Phil 1:4, 6 “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

God will bring the work He’s started to completion, but we have a role to play. Your role may be large, but more likely it will be small. You may not be used by God to lead thousands to Christ, but you may be used by God to lead the world’s next great evangelist to Christ. You are a part of God’s chain of events in human history.

Others can’t keep us from accomplishing the things God has ordained for us to do, but we can. We can step out of the chain of events and not have that impact that God wants us to have. God will still accomplish His purposes on earth…He’ll just use someone else. Don’t let someone else receive the blessing of serving God that He has set aside for you. Get in the game. Step up to the plate. Start today!

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On the third of December I sent myself a fairly cryptic email. The subject line read like this: “Journal/Blog: 2015 – Year of Hope.”

2015 – Year of Hope. I didn’t identify any specific Scripture I was reading when God dropped that into my spirit, but I remember feeling the nudge from God so strongly that I sent myself an email so that I could later transfer the thought to my personal journal and seek God for what else He might want to say about it. Maybe I would develop it into a blog or series of blogs.

That was it. I haven’t done any more writing on the topic or study or research. But God planted the word in my spirit on December 3rd and it’s been growing.

I suspect there will be a number of blogs on the topic of hope in 2015, but I wanted to start with sharing the thing that gives me the greatest hope on a day-to-day basis.

What is it that gives you hope when you are tempted to feel less than hopeful. When life beats you up a bit, or even perhaps when life just continues in the constant sameness day after day – How do you answer the question that comes unbidden into your mind “Is all this worth it?” What is it that gives you hope?

Now as Christians, we have many reasons to be hopeful. As a believer in Christ and one who desires to make Him Lord of my life, I can have hope regardless of my circumstances because I am…

  • forgiven
  • saved
  • sanctified – a fancy word for “made holy or acceptable to God” (a pretty amazing and wonderful thing)
  • filled with the Holy Spirit
  • the bride of Christ
  • seated with Him in heavenly places

And on top of all that, I have the promise of spending eternity in heaven with my Lord. Hallelujah!

Those are all tremendous reasons for rejoicing and for having hope…all great reasons that I’m not going to write about today, except to say that if you are not totally confident in all those things – if you’re not totally confident that you’ve been forgiven, if you’re not totally confident that you will spend eternity in heaven, check out these blogs:

Made Right with God

How Can I Know I’m Saved

There’s another reason to be hopeful that sits at the top of my list. I can get pretty jazzed about the reasons I’ve just identified, but they’re all very future. Yes, they have a “for today” element, but they’re largely reasons I can be hopeful for my future.

The reason I get most jazzed about is a present, for today, reason. That one reason is this: God – the Creator of the Universe and everything in it – the One who holds the world together – the One who created me and knows me better than I know myself – that God has plans and purposes for my life that have eternal significance. He has things for me to do today that will have impacts that continue through all eternity is what I get jazzed about.

And you know what? I can step into those plans because I know that He is the God of the impossible. So no matter what my circumstances are, no matter what my physical or intellectual abilities are, no matter what my personality limitations are, He is the God of the impossible and He wants to use me to impact eternity! Wow! Hallelujah!

You see, I am sometimes tempted to be discouraged by my circumstances or physical abilities. I am tempted to think I’m not smart enough or I don’t have the personality or natural abilities I need to do something for God. But you know what? A God who can do the impossible – a God who has miracle working power – that God (my God) operates outside the boundaries of our circumstances and abilities.

That’s important enough to repeat: Our God is not limited by our circumstances and abilities – He works outside them. Yes, He works within them in the sense that He uses our circumstances and our abilities to accomplish His purposes, but He works outside them in the sense that He is God. He can do what we can’t even begin to imagine. And the thing is, He wants to do it in and through us. He could do it on His own…but He says “come on, let’s do it together.”

Friends, that’s what I get jazzed about. Let’s look at Ephesians 3: 20-21:

20Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Ephesians 3:20-21 (NIV)

In the New King James translation, it reads “to him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.” Hallelujah!

Let’s break look at the passage a bit more closely.

“Now to Him who is able” – are you convinced that God is able? That’s the place to start.

We’ll come back to this passage, but let’s look briefly at Hebrews 11:1. A very common verse…

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)

The Holman Christian Standard Bible says it this way:

Now faith is the reality [or assurance] of what is hoped for, the proof [or conviction] of what is not seen.
Hebrews 11:1 (HCSB)

Choosing to engage our faith – in other words, choosing to say and hold to the “I believe” – comes before the reality of seeing – it is the place where hope lives.

Do you want to have hope? Choose to believe God and His Word. Every day, in every moment, in every circumstances, in every inadequacy, in every discouragement. Choose to believe that God is able.

I’m not asking you to believe that you can do whatever God calls you to do. I’m asking you to believe that He can do it. That He is able.

I know that’s not always easy. But it is where hope lives. When you believe God is able, hope rises in your heart and your spirit.

Even though believing isn’t always easy, there’s an element that’s even harder – choosing to believe means more than simply saying and holding to the “I believe”, it means living the “I believe.”

It isn’t enough, to simply say “I believe” – even if you are believing with all your heart. It must be lived! Faith is living in that confidence that God is the God of the impossible. Living in a way that shows you believe He is able to do the impossible in your life. Not just in Abraham’s and Isaac’s and Jacob’s lives. Not just in the Apostle Peter’s life and in Paul’s life and in John’s life. But in your life and in my life.

And if it’s true that God is able to do the impossible in our lives (and it is), then no matter what our circumstances or physical abilities are, we have a choice to make over and over again many times every day – to believe and live in hope or to back away from it.

Friends, I am exhorting us today not to back away from believing God. Don’t back away from hope.

Let’s return to Ephesians 3:20:

“Now to Him who is able” – Lord we believe that You are able – to do what? “more than all we can ask or imagine.” This verse jumped off the page at me during a Bible study in early November. I felt like God was challenging me to improve my imagination. If God can do more than that, I want to imagine more.

Later, however, I noticed a little word that hadn’t hit my radar before. Scripture says “more than ALL we ask or imagine.” Not more than a little bit of what I can imagine, or some of what I can imagine, but more than all I can ask or imagine.

That’s what the God who is able can do! Lord, I believe you are able. Improve my imagination, give me bigger dreams. And help me choose to believe that you can do it all – that You can do more than all of it.

And even as I say that, the enemy whispers, but…but… you’re 58 years old…you can’t jump as high as you used to jump and you can’t run as fast as you used to run…you have obligations to take care of parents who live 50 miles away…you are overwhelmed with work sometimes…you’re tired…you’re…

And so I am tempted to step back from hope. But the Lord is prompting us to say… “Get thee behind me satan.” “Lord, I choose to believe that you are able to do immeasurably more than all I can ask or imagine.”

Hallelujah! Are you with me? Do you believe that God is able?

Well if so, hang on because there’s more to this verse.

As if God’s ability to do more isn’t exciting enough, here’s the part that I get super jazzed about…How is he going to do that immeasurably more, that exceedingly abundantly more? By the power IN US.

The power – the word is dunamis – the word from which we get dynamite. The explosive power. Miraculous power. When you read the words “mighty works” or “miracles” in the gospels, it is probably the word dunamis in the Greek.

In Chapter 1 of Ephesians, Paul prayed for the Ephesians to know God’s “incomparably great power” – dunamis (Eph 1:19). He went on to say something about that power – He said that the incomparably great, dunamis power, is the same power that He “exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 1:20).

God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to the power that is work within us – that dunamis power that raised Christ from the dead.


The word dunamis occurs in many places, but I want to share one curious place. In Matthew chapter 13 we have the story of Jesus returning to his hometown.

54[Jesus] went to His hometown and began to teach them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, “How did this wisdom and these miracles come to Him? 55Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t His mother called Mary, and His brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? 56And His sisters, aren’t they all with us? So where does He get all these things?”

57And they were offended by Him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his household.”

58And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief.
Matthew 13:54-58 (HCSB)

That word “miracles” in verse 58 – it’s dunamis.

Friends, I don’t want to limit or diminish God’s use of His dunamis power in my life because of my unbelief. I want to believe God’s Word that says He is able.

Now to Him who is able to do immeasureably more…by the power – dunamis – at work in us.

We’ve answered the question “is God able?” – how about the question “does He really want to work through me?” Does He really want to work through you? Ephesians 2:10 answers that for us:

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ephesians 2:10 (NIV)

We were created for a purpose – to do things that God has prepared for us to do. We are not here by happenstance. We are not living in our community, seeing the people we see, going to the places we go by happenstance.

There is a verse in Acts that says God determined the exact times and places where we should live. It’s not happenstance.

God has worked in your history, setting things in motion, preparing you and preparing the world in which you live, for the good works that He’s called you to.

Did you get that? God has worked in your history, setting things in motion, preparing you and preparing the world in which you live, for the good works that He’s called you to.

And that, friends, is what I get jazzed about that. That gives me hope on a day to day, even hour by hour, basis. When life gets boring, I know that God is working – using His dunamis power in me to accomplish immeasurably more than all I can ask or imagine to accomplish the good works He’s prepared in advance for me to do. When life gets tough, I know that God is working. When life is good, I know that God is working. In all the situations, God is working in and through me…if I continue to pursue Him. If I plug myself into the plan. Because the sad news is that at any moment, I can choose to step out.

I want to encourage all of us not to step out of God’s plan. As we look into the new year, tell God you want to plug into the plans He has for you. And then believe it is happening. Live in that place of faith and hope, whether you see it or not.

Here’s an important point, though: God’s dunamis power doesn’t always look like a TNT explosion. It is at work in the every day things. I can be sitting listening to a message at church, and the pastor can say something that rocks my world. And those around me won’t have a clue. My husband may not even have a clue until I tell him. But in my spirit something arises that spurs me on to love God more and to serve God more. And that is no less an example of God’s dunamis power than the more explosive, miracle workings we think of. When God works in one person’s heart to grow in obedience and love for Him, eternity watches with anticipation to see what God will do next, how He will use his dunamis power in that person’s life.

The works God’s created for us to do may very well be low-key acts of obedience – offering a cold cup of water to a prophet, for example. And here’s a cool thing – God promises us that when we do that, we will receive the prophets reward! (Matthew 10:40-42) Why, because we believed that God was working through us, so by faith we acted. And our cold cup of water enabled that prophet, that evangelist, that Sunday school or Bible study teacher, that preacher, that missionary, that lay person, to accomplish the work God has prepared for him or her.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)

And so we act, we step into the good works that God has prepared for us to do. We say, “Lord, thank you for using me today. What small or large work do you have for me to do? I believe it will have impact throughout all eternity.”

That’s how I want to approach life.

Here’s my hope and confidence: Some day, I will be sitting with the Lord, and someone will come up to me and they will say “Sandy, you don’t know me, but I’ve been looking forward to meeting you. In 1981 you led a girls club and you encouraged the girls to share Christ with a friend. I was a friend of one of those girls.” And a while later someone will come up to me and say “Sandy, you wrote that blog and it woke me up out of the spiritual slumber I was in.” Or “you preached that message and made it so simple that I understood for the first time that God wanted to use me.” Or “you shared that facebook post and it made me angry but I couldn’t get it out of my head.” Or “Sandy, you built that Operation Christmas Child shoebox or gave that offering and someone worlds away from you introduced me to Christ.”

Friends, I get jazzed about that. That’s my greatest reason for having hope on a day-to-day basis. And not just that, but for what follows it – that person I impacted will impact someone else who will impact someone else who will impact someone else…should the Lord tarry.

It’s not that I have visions of grandeur. It’s not that I’m so great. Quite the opposite! I have confidence – faith – in my God to do phenomenally cool and exciting things – to use His dunamis power in and through me…if I let Him. If I give Him control. If I follow His lead. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from ballroom dance lessons, it’s that two people can’t lead. One must follow. That’s my job. I’m the follower. It often goes against my nature, but that’s what being conformed to the image of Christ is all about – conforming my will to His.

Lord, as I look forward to 2015, help me hold onto faith – that place where hope lives – believing that You are able to do cool and amazing things that will impact eternity through my typically ordinary life.

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Christmas is such a magical time of year. The snow glistens as it falls during the day and glows as it falls at night. Homes and businesses are decorated in celebration. People seem friendlier and more joyful.

For the Christian, though, it goes beyond decorations and magical snow falls. It’s not just a magical time of year, it’s a miraculous time of year. It’s the time of year in which we remember and celebrate the miracle of Jesus and the message of Jesus. Jesus is the reason for the season. Jesus is the Christ in Christmas – without Jesus there would be no reason to celebrate.

Today  I want us to step back from the Christmas story we’re most familiar with and see what came before it. We’re going to look at what was foretold about Jesus 700 years before the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and Joseph. 700 years before the birth of Jesus in the manger God gave Isaiah a message about Jesus. Isaiah prophecied this:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign:
The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son,
and will call him Immanuel.

Isaiah 7:14 (NIV)

The story of Jesus didn’t start with His birth or when the Angel visited Mary. There are many prophecies in the Old Testament that told the Hebrews – the Jews – that a Messiah, or Savior, would come. It was knowing that a Messiah was promised to them – promised by a God who is faithful – it was this promised Messiah that gave the Jews hope, even during very difficult and dark times.

This verse in Isaiah is one of those prophecies that holds the promise of a Messiah, given to the Jews during a very dark time in their history. The Jewish people had split into two nations – Judah and Israel, and they were each aligning themselves with sinful nations in order to battle one another. The country is in the midst of a civil war, not unlike our own civil war so long ago. I bet many of you had grandparents who fought in our civil war.

It is at this point that God holds out the promise of the Messiah:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign:
The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son,
and will call him Immanuel.

Isaiah 7:14 (NIV)

Isaiah’s statement is very simple, but each phrase is important. Let’s look at it closely.

“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign.”

Who is giving the sign? The Lord Himself.

Isaiah wants to be sure that we understand that it is the Lord’s sign, given to us. It didn’t originate in the thoughts of Isaiah, but from the heart of God. The sign is God’s gift to us.

Was God obligated to send the Israelites a sign? Absolutely not. They were led by an evil king and aligning themselves with evil nations. God could have said “I’m done with them. They have rejected me.” God didn’t have to give them a sign, He chose to give it.

He’s like that with us. He doesn’t have to come into our lives. He doesn’t have to provide for us and love us and even heal us. He doesn’t have to offer us eternal life. But He chooses to because He is compassionate and loving.

“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign.”

Who did the Lord give the sign to? The prophecy is given to Israel, but the sign was given to everyone. The sign wasn’t given just to those who knew the Lord and followed His commands, but it was given to the whole nation – to everyone. Not just to those who believe, but it’s also to those who don’t believe. Signs, by their very nature, point people toward things. Street signs tell you which way to go. Signs in the grocery stores tell you what food is in each aisle. Everyone who sees the sign and follows it ends up where they want to go. In Isaiah’s prophecy, God says He is giving us a sign. If we pay attention to the sign and follow it, the sign will lead us – in this case, to everlasting life.

A few minutes ago we said that God didn’t have to give us a sign – He chose to. It is out of His mercy and compassion that God doesn’t leave us to wander around trying to figure everything out for ourselves. He gave us a sign – a pretty significant one – like a blinking neon sign on a dark night! And His sign points directly to Jesus, as we see in the next phrase of the verse.

What was the sign? The next phrase of the verse tells us:

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth.”

A young woman who has never been with a man will become pregnant and will give birth. Isaiah must have been thinking “That’s not possible, Lord!” Yet what does Scripture say about the impossible? It says that “with God, all things are possible.” There is nothing impossible with God. No matter what impossible situation you’re facing, you can know that “with God, all things are possible.”

If we had been around before Creation and God told us He was going to create light and the land and the sea and all that are in the land and the sea…we’d have thought “That’s not possible, Lord!” Or maybe we wouldn’t have been quite so skeptical and would simply have thought “How in the world are You going to do that?” or “Can You really do that?” With God, all things are possible. I love that God has creative solutions to those situations that cause us to think “It’s not possible.” When that phrase comes to our minds, we can immediately think of the sign that God gave us – the virgin will be with child and will give birth. God interrupts our lives in miraculous ways. Perhaps not as miraculous as the virgin birth. That was a once only event because it ushered in the promised Messiah. But the miracle of experiencing His peace in the midst of our trials is still God doing what is impossible.

The prophecy of Jesus reminds us that God can do the miraculous. Every time you sing a Christmas carol this year that reminds you of the birth of Jesus, remember that God can do the miraculous.

In this verse, the Jews were promised that God would one day do the impossible and that “impossible thing” would be a sign to us. The young virgin would become pregnant and give birth.

But that’s not all. Isaiah finished the sentence by writing this:

“And will call Him Immanuel.”

The word Immanuel means “God with us.” Isaiah was saying that the child would be God with us – here on earth.

The sign that God would give us would be a miraculous birth. The message on the sign – the words written on it, so to speak – is that the child would be God in the flesh, here on earth. God, born as the baby Jesus. We read the stories of Jesus’ life and they become so familiar to us, that sometimes we forget that Jesus is God in the flesh and He walked here on earth.

In His compassion, God gave us a sign to point us in the right direction.

In His love, He came as a human who could literally put His arms around the disciples and say “Go this way.”

Seeing God’s compassion and love, is important because we know that Scripture tells us that He is the same yesterday, today and forever. God’s compassion causes Him to reach out to us, sometimes in miraculous ways, to lead us toward Himself. Jesus is a sign for us today. A Sign that God gave us because He is compassionate and because He loves us. He is a sign that will lead us to everlasting life.

A Child is Born – to Us; The Mighty God and Everlasting Father is Ours

A few chapters later Isaiah continued the prophecy about Jesus and wrote this:

2The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned….
6For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given:
and the government shall be upon his shoulder:
and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor,
The mighty God, The everlasting Father,
The Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:2 (NIV), 6 (KJV)

Isaiah gives us more insight into the child that would be born. We have heard these words so many times, they almost don’t have the impact on us that they would have had on Isaiah. Think about it – a CHILD is born – and he will be called MIGHTY GOD! Everlasting Father! Prince of Peace!

The sign that God would give – the child born of a virgin – would be the mighty God. He would be the everlasting Father. He would be God – with us – Immanuel.

For Him to be our everlasting Father, we must have everlasting life. Jesus became God in human form to show us how the way to have that everlasting life. He tells us this Himself.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
John 14:6 (NIV)

The virgin giving birth was given as a sign and the words on the sign were “God is with us.” When Jesus grew up He said it differently – “I am the way and the truth and the life.” In other words, “follow me and I will give you everlasting life.”

If you don’t know the Lord personally, if you don’t know Jesus as your friend, let me introduce Him to you. He is the Child who was given to us. He is the Mighty God and Everlasting Father. He is Immanuel, God with us. And He is the way, the truth and the life. When we follow Him, we have everlasting life. Tell Him you’d like to get to know Him better. That it is your desire to follow Him. He will reveal Himself to you and if you follow that revelation, you will have everlasting life.

Jesus’ birth didn’t just occur by happenstance. God told us in advance:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign:
The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son,
and will call him Immanuel.

Isaiah 7:14 (NIV)

Will you pray with me? Father, thank you for sending us a sign so that we would no longer have to wander and doubt. Thank you for sending a sign that points back to you. I pray that during the coming Christmas season You would help us to know You better and help us to follow You better. We want to experience “God with us”. We want to know Jesus. We want to follow Jesus. Thank You, Lord, for giving us everlasting life.

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


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.


“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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