Christmas Hope

Christmas Hope

By Pat Knight

When Jesus was born over two thousand years ago, the Jews were a conquered people ruled by the Roman Empire under King Herod the Great. He was a ruthless, jealous madman, a schemer who took advantage of the Roman political climate to claim his way to the top position. Herod launched ambitious building endeavors and capital improvements, creating an unjust burden on the Jewish citizens, extracting thirty-five percent of their annual income.

The Wise Men stopped in the capital city, Jerusalem, to seek information about the newborn King of the Jews after following His supernatural star for many months. They were looking for the exact time and place of His birth. After King Herod gathered the Sadducees to study the Old Testament prophecy, he informed the Magi to look in Bethlehem. Then Herod the Great secretly commanded the Wise Men to present him with a report as soon as they located the new King.

The Wise Men reached Joseph and Mary with the Christ child at their home in Egypt, where an angel had directed them to relocate after Jesus’ birth.  As the Magi prepared to return home through Jerusalem to report their findings to King Herod, they were visited by God’s angel. He delivered the holy message for them to take another route home, avoiding King Herod altogether. Soon, the king suspected he had been tricked by the Wise Men. In his fury he gave orders to kill all boys in Bethlehem and its vicinities two years old and under, in accordance with the earlier visit from the Magi.

Herod’s ordered killings initiated great sorrow and fear when soldiers stormed every house searching for little victims. The soldier’s orders were non-negotiable. What a heartbreaking massacre, a mass killing to ameliorate one man’s pride. Brutal Herod the Great had already killed several of his family members. Herod was deranged. He didn’t hesitate to kill anyone to advance his personal agenda, his means of abolishing those who stood in his way. Herod didn’t handle competition in a healthy way. He kept order with the secret police and firm tyrannical rule.

Herod’s oppressive, bullying, totalitarian rule isn’t so unlike the style of anarchy we are witnessing by leaders in our current society. As we listen to news broadcasts, we are informed that cities are collapsing world-wide. We gasp in horror when acts of terror are committed within our borders. As in King Herod’s day, heinous acts are rationalized to promote personal power and greed. There are just as many merciless, ruthless madmen holding high government positions  today as there were in Herod the Great’s day (37 BC to 4 AD). There is little interest in discussion or tolerance. Oppressive governments first squash, then annihilate dissenters.

Over the centuries, the Israelites had grown weary of waiting for the promised Messiah. As Roman tyranny grew more suffocating, the Jews were anticipating a political Savior, one who would  finally release the nation of Israel from servitude, particularly from fear of dictators like Herod the Great. But the angels announced a Savior who would accomplish so much more—delivering them from sin and death, a miracle that compelled the angels to sing, “‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests’” (Luke 2:14). We are still claiming this victory today.

We cannot ignore the nefarious worldwide activity prevailing all around us. In contrast, Jesus personifies gifts of peace, joy, love, and grace. As we focus on Jesus’ power and authority during this Christmas season, the negativism of this world recedes in our minds; our priorities re-adjust on the blessed hope that changes our perspective.

The cacophony of current event chatter heard from around the world bombards us with discouragement. God assures us that hope is alive and well. Hope is confident expectation in God and His future plans. As humans we cannot manufacture hope by our own efforts. Hope is centered in God, personally demonstrated to us by the death of Christ on the cross. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

Do not allow foreboding fear to overshadow you this Christmas. Instead, renew your hope, gratitude, and love in the Babe of Bethlehem, who matured into our personal Savior. He will lavish believers with love and grace, encouraging you during this hopeful season. God keeps His promises; He never disappoints.

Our Messiah is more creative, powerful, and authoritative than all fear-mongering terrorists combined. Jesus is the very definition of hope, the Prince of Peace, able to rest our fearful spirits with His calming, trustworthy promises. He admonishes you to come to Him for soothing peace of mind. Centuries ago, in the midst of heavy-handed government, the shepherds and Wise Men found cause to rejoice at Jesus’ birth. May we do the same this Christmas.

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it;
let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them.
Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy” (Psalm 96:11-12).

The Hope That Does Not Disappoint

We can REJOICE, too, when we run into problems and trials,
for we know that they help us develop endurance.

And endurance develops strength of character,
and character strengthens our confident HOPE of salvation.

And this HOPE will not lead to disappointment.
For we know how dearly God loves us,
because he has given us the Holy Spirit
to fill our hearts with his love.

—Romans 5:3-5, NLT

Is it really possible to rejoice in our sufferings? I don’t know about you, but I sometimes moan and groan instead of rejoicing. I am klutzy by nature and tend to do things that cause pain. A few years ago I got out of the passenger side of our truck at church and backed up while trying to keep hold of my Bible. Unfortunately, I couldn’t pay attention to both my Bible and my steps at the same time and tripped backward on a piece of wood that was sticking up as a marker for our parking lot. I fell down hard, whacking the back of my head on the gravel. We never did make it to the worship service because Rick had to take me to the ER for some staples in my noggin. 

Last week I did almost the same thing as I backed away from our mail carrier’s car while laden with packages. I completely forgot that the concrete driveway right behind me is about 2 inches higher than our rock landscaped front yard. Down I went onto the rock but somehow I remembered to keep my head up so I wouldn’t hit it hard on the rocks again. I don’t recall rolling to my right side but in the process managed to bruise my right elbow and hip. Sigh… it’s not easy being me at times. I can’t say I was rejoicing after those spills, but I did thank God that I was not hurt worse. 

I tend to be quite optimistic, but what is there to rejoice about when you wake up with the same pain you had when you went to bed last night? When I rest my aching head on my pillow while trying to ignore the various aches and pains that plague me, I still hope to wake up without any pain at all. However, the nature of chronic pain is that it is almost always there in one form or other plus add to that the extreme exhaustion of ME/CFS (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome)  that has decided to stay with me at all the times now. 

Beloved, please believe me when I say there is hope for those of us who feel like things will never get better. We have a hope that transcends anything here on earth and that hope lies in the fact that Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our sins, ensuring eternal life for all who believe. Even though our earthly bodies may suffer, we have the assurance that our heavenly bodies will experience no pain … ever.

How’s that for the hope that doesn’t disappoint? In spite of how I used to react to such things, I have been purposely trying to hold on to that hope as I persevere through the pain I live with during the short time I am here on earth. Compared to living in heaven for eternity, my time here is thankfully very limited. I live in hopeful anticipation of a pain-free eternity with my LORD and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, what would I do without the promise of Your hope? Help me to remember that through my trials I can develop the kind of character that leads to the hope that does not disappoint. May I always be found faithful to lean on Your strength for help in my earthly suffering. You are great and greatly to be praised! Amen.

How God Changes Our “Why Me?” Questions in Suffering to “Why Not Me?”

Sharing today from Randy Alcorn’s Eternal Perspectives Ministries (EPM) blog.

How God Changes Our
“Why Me?” Questions
in Suffering to
“Why Not Me?”

By Randy Alcorn 

There was a time when I could not fully accept any explanation for evil and suffering that didn’t make sense to me, start to finish. However, over the years, and through the process of writing my book If God Is Good, I’ve come to trust my own understanding less, and God’s Word more.

I find a strange delight in being swallowed up by the immensity of God’s greatness and by the divine mysteries that once disturbed me. Know­ing that I’ll sit before God’s judgment seat—not He before mine—I choose to trust Him. And the more I do, the more sense the story makes to me.

And I am certain about this: the best answer to the problem of evil is a person—Jesus Christ. I’m convinced He is the only answer. The drama of evil and suffering in Christ’s sac­rifice addresses the very heart of the problem of evil and suffering. And one day it will prove to have been the final answer.

So whenever you feel tempted in your suffering to ask God, “Why are you doing this to me?” look at the Cross and ask, “Why did you do that for me?”

In this excerpt from his 2018 book God’s Grace in Your Suffering, David Powlison writes about how God changes our “Why me?” questions in suffering. (My thanks to Justin Taylor for sharing this ohis excellent blog.)

So often the initial reaction to painful suffering is

Why me?

Why this?

Why now?

Why?

You’ve now heard God speaking with you. The real God says all these wonderful things, and does everything he says.

Read the rest here.

Doubting Thomas?

Doubting Thomas?

By Pat Knight

Thomas replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

─John 20:25

On Easter Sunday evening, “When the disciples were together with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After this he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord” (John 20:19-20). At first the disciples were paralyzed with fear, but Jesus reassured them, “Why are you troubled and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have. When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, ‘Do you have anything to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish and he took it and ate it in their presence” (Luke 24:38-43), demonstrating that He had a functioning physical body that desired food.

The disciple Thomas was absent from the group on the evening following Jesus’ resurrection. When his fellow disciples relayed to Thomas, “‘We have seen the Lord,’” Thomas replied, “‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it’” (John 20:25).

The following week, when Thomas was gathered with the disciples, Jesus again appeared to them through locked doors, then focused His attention on Thomas. “‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe’” (John 20:27), an admonition which also applied to future believers. Jesus was patient and merciful to allow Thomas the same opportunity to feel His scars as He had provided the other disciples the previous week. Immediately, Thomas confessed a climactic, credible confession, “‘My Lord and my God!’” (v.28).

We have no indication that Thomas touched his Lord’s wounds. It wasn’t necessary; Thomas instantly recognized his Master—His voice, His authority, His love. Jesus tenderly and compassionately meets the honest doubts of believers. As with Thomas, He willingly provides proof without criticism. Often during a period of doubt in our lives, we are led to new spiritual enlightenment. It is important that we allow doubt to function positively to develop our faith in the sovereign Lord. “Do not fear the reproach of men or be terrified by their insults” (Isaiah 51:7b).

God is compassionate toward a believer who seeks self-knowledge and the help only He can provide. Our Lord will supply answers through His Word, Christian literature, church sermons, and other Christians. His resources are unlimited, His love unfathomable. However, if the doubt aimed toward God is accusatory or tainted with unbelief, God will not respond. Faith involves submission, humility, and an open mind of belief in our Lord alone. “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).


God is a friend of believers, and He desires that we communicate with Him in that capacity. Are your prayers as natural with Jesus as conversation with an earthly friend? Our relationship with our Lord must be forthright and sincere, with our hearts consistently abiding in Him, searching God’s guidance and wisdom, absolutely convinced He will respond. “Ask boldly, believing without a second thought. People who ‘worry their prayers’ are like wind-tossed, whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open” (James 1:6-8, The Msg.). The nautical comparison conjures images of believers tossed by waves of doubt.

Jewish rulers of the synagogue clamored for increasingly more proof that Jesus was the Son of God. Daily they witnessed His miracles of teaching and healing, but their doubt and suspicion only multiplied. Jesus refused to perform miracles on demand. He was all too familiar with hardened hearts, those unwilling to believe despite the evidence that convinces a receptive, pliable spirit.

Through the centuries since Thomas lived, he has been encumbered with an unmerited moniker as if he were the only doubter in history. Incredibly, there is an entry in our contemporary dictionaries for “doubting Thomas”, defined as an habitually doubtful person. Nowhere in God’s Word is Thomas identified as a repetitive doubter, aside from the single incident when Thomas sought confirmation that Jesus was the risen Lord, the same evidence afforded the other disciples a week earlier. Jesus didn’t rebuke His disciple, but patiently, lovingly offered Thomas the proof he was seeking.

Every life is more significant than to reduce the sum of it to one experience. Society has judged Thomas harshly and permanently. It causes me to wonder the reason Thomas was specifically singled out as a doubter when the doubt and unbelief of other characters in God’s Word had far-reaching consequences. Would any of us appreciate having our lives defined by one lapse of faith? God’s lack of spiritual censure assures us of His mercy and understanding.

Zachariah and Elizabeth were childless, a major disappointment in their lives, particularly disgraceful for a Hebrew woman. One day while performing his priestly duties at the temple, an angel appeared to Zachariah. “‘Your prayer has been heard. Your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord’” (Luke 1:13, 15a). Zachariah asked the angel, “‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years’” (v.18)? Even though the angel had been sent from God in heaven and had promised the most fabulous gift of their lifetime, Zachariah wanted more proof. His doubt overshadowed his belief. Thus, the angel struck Zachariah mute “‘because you did not believe my words which will become true at their appointed time’” (v.20). The future father was temporarily punished for his lack of convictions. Unbelief is blind and dumb, as illustrated by Zachariah’s lack of verbal communication until the day of John’s birth. Zachariah, a priest, who prayed at the altar of God for a child, questioned whether God’s answer was reliable.

Do we ever pray as Zachariah did, asking God for something specific, but not fully believing our request will be answered? Let us reflect on the belief in our hearts before we pray, to ascertain if we possess tenacious faith anchored in Jesus.

Following Jesus’ ascension, Thomas, like the other disciples, took the Good News of the Gospel into the known world of their time. With courage and convictions, Thomas planted churches in India, establishing Christianity that still survives today in a predominantly Muslim country, and there he was martyred. We owe a great deal to Thomas, who teaches believers by example that Jesus is not threatened by our sincere questions. He welcomes honest, searching inquiries that fuel our daily journey, as we reach out to touch and to be touched by Jesus’ nail-scarred hands. Then we know with certainty what Jesus assured. “‘See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands’” (Isaiah 49:16).


All Bible references are taken from the NIV unless otherwise indicated.

God’s Greatest Miracles Happen in and Around Us All the Time

Sharing today from Randy Alcorn’s Eternal Perspectives Ministries (EPM) blog.

God’s Greatest Miracles Happen in and Around Us
All the Time

By Randy Alcorn

Recently I listened to John Piper answer the question, “Why Do We See So Few Miracles Today?” on his Ask Pastor John podcast.

His answer is great. It also got me thinking about something else I would add to what John says: that visible miracles are reminders of the reality of greater invisible miracles, which in fact are happening all the time as God regenerates hard human hearts. Hence, God is doing far more miracles than we realize. That’s what this blog is about.

The Costly Miracle of a New Heart

Our Lord transforming human hearts, through stunning acts done daily around the globe, is every bit as miraculous as Jesus transforming water into wine. In fact, these redemptive acts make the dividing of the Red Sea, the falling walls of Jericho, and the raising of Lazarus from the dead actually pale in comparison. Is that an overstatement? No, because the greatest physical miracles cost our all-powerful God nothing, but the miracles of salvation, sanctification, and glorification cost the very life of God’s Son.

God gives us a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26), makes us new in Christ (Ephesians 4:24), and changes our destiny from death to life, from Hell to Heaven (John 5:24). He takes drug-addicts, sex-addicts, pride-addicts, gossip-addicts, and every variety of sin-addict and works a transforming miracle in us.

As we yield our wills to Him daily, He provides yet another series of sanctifying miracles for us, so that cumulatively, if we have eyes to see, we’ll realize there have been thousands of intervening miracles of grace in just our own lives, and countless millions more in the lives of others. (For more on this, see The Wonderful Miracle of Conversion.)

When God drew me to faith in Christ, as a 15 year old, my life changed radically. One of the hundreds of verses I memorized was this one: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). And the only explanation of this was nothing less than miraculous. As the next verse says, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself…” (v. 18). Miracles are things which God does that cannot be explained by natural processes or human actions. Hence every true conversion—which is not the same as every outward profession—is by definition a miracle.

God’s Miraculous, Empowering Grace

Often when someone dies it’s said, “We prayed for a miracle, but for some reason God chose not to answer.” I understand this, and indeed it’s true that God sometimes doesn’t perform the miracle we asked for.

When that’s the case, I think we would do well to realize this: “While he didn’t perform the miracle we asked for, He performed many other miracles of grace and encouragement, inspiration and comfort, personal transformation and increased dependence on Jesus, worship and deepened relationships, faithfulness and perseverance, empowerment, and open doors of evangelism…and almost certainly many other miracles we don’t yet know of but one day will. And some—perhaps many—of those miracles happened because the miracle we prayed for didn’t.” (See “If I Have Enough Faith, Will God Heal Me?”)

Read the rest here.

Put Your Hope in God

Why am I so depressed?
Why this turmoil within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will still praise Him,
my Savior and my God.
—Psalm 42:11, HCSB

I think a lot about my Mom these days. The Lord took her home over eleven years ago. I recall one time that Rick and I joined my sisters in a visit to our parents who lived in Florida. Mom suffered with congestive heart failure, angina, arthritis, and a host of associated illnesses. During the final season of her life, she was on oxygen 24/7, slept most of the day, and was under hospice care.

When she was awake, however, Mom was amazingly sharp and a real chatterbox. She would apologize for talking too much and made all of us laugh when she said she needed to get all her words in before she fell asleep again.

In spite of her strong faith in her Lord Jesus Christ, there were times when she despaired of all her pain and frustration and wondered why God had not yet taken her home. She was becoming weary of the daily struggle, the fight sometimes to just breathe.

And yet, she never hesitated a minute to praise God in spite of her pain and difficulties. How did she manage that? Because of the HOPE she had that God would soon replace her pain and suffering with supreme joy and celebration.

Beloved, our HOPE is in the God who truly cares for us and does not allow us to go through our pain alone. Here is a simple way to always hold on to Jesus Christ, our HOPE:

Holy
One
Peace
Everlasting

Where is your HOPE?