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.

Jesus Is Enough

Today I am sharing an excellent Bible Study by Anne Graham Lotz that appeared in the November 2018 issue of Decision Magazine.

Anne Graham Lotz
Bible Study:
Jesus Is Enough

Thanksgiving is one of my very favorite days of the year! We celebrate it with lots of food, family and football. But woven throughout all that we do is an attitude of abundant gratitude for the blessings God has given us. After our family gathers for a meal, we go around the table and give each family member an opportunity to thank God for at least one blessing received since the last Thanksgiving.

What are some of the blessings that are on your list to thank God for this year? Your physical health … or His faithfulness to see you through sickness? Your financial health … or His wisdom to help you navigate financial disaster? Your family and friends who have stayed with you through good times and bad … or His comfort to ease the pain of those who have abandoned you?

As I think through the things for which I am truly thankful, I sometimes wonder if my list of thanks is superseded by my list of wants. Just walking through the mall can deceive me into thinking that I don’t have enough. In the world of consumerism in which we live, I need to guard against becoming discontented with what I have. I don’t want to become someone who is hard to satisfy … who thinks that I never have enough.

As a child of God, I have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ. My cancer has underscored the fact I have been fully blessed with the things that truly matter from Heaven’s perspective. Jesus is all I need. Jesus is enough.

Read Genesis 1 and Colossians 1:15-23

I. ENOUGH IN HIS DEITY

       Colossians 1:15

  • Who is God, according to: Genesis 1:1, 27? Isaiah 40:28; 44:24? John 4:24? 1 Timothy 4:10?
  • Give characteristics that reveal He is a living person, from Genesis 2:7, 16, 21-22; 3:8; 4:16; 6:6; 11:5 (example: He breathes, Genesis 2:7).
  • How many gods are there in the universe? See 1 Corinthians 8:6.
  • According to John 4:12, has anyone ever seen God?
  • Through Whom has He revealed Himself? See Hebrews 1:1-3; John 1:18; 14:8-9; Colossians 1:15.
  • Comparing 1 John 4:12, John 1:18 and Colossians 2:9, when Bible characters claimed to have “seen” God, Whom were they actually seeing?
  • Can a person worship God without honoring Jesus Christ as His unique Son? Give key phrases from John 5:19-23.
  • If Jesus is God—and He is—what problem are you facing that you think is greater than He can solve?

II. ENOUGH IN HIS AUTHORITY

       Colossians 1:16

  • Who is the Creator, and name one thing He did not create. Read Colossians 1:16; Ephesians 3:9 and Revelation 4:11.
  • What two “agents” of power does God use in Creation that He still uses today? Compare Genesis 1:2 with Acts 1:8; Genesis 1:3 with Hebrews 4:12 and Revelation 1:16.
  • How many times does the phrase and God said, or the equivalent, occur in Genesis 1? List the verses.
  • Was and God said more than just a phrase of language? What explanation does John 1:1-3, 14 give?
  • What preparation has to take place before the power of God’s Word can bring about change? See Genesis 1:2; Acts 1:8 and John 3:5-8.
  • Is there anyone in the universe with greater authority? Give phrases from Matthew 28:18; Ephesians 1:22-23 and John 17:2.
  • If Jesus is the Creator of all things—and He is—what person, culture or force do you think is beyond His reach or outside of His jurisdiction?

Read the rest here.

Artistic Wonder

Artistic Wonder

By Pat Knight

Flourishing, cursive handwriting, such as the art of calligraphy, fascinates those of us with barely decipherable penmanship. Consider how God created the world, its inhabitants, and its surroundings with the flourish of His spoken words. Creation was not merely an isolated week of exuberant creativity; perpetual artistic evidence of God’s miracles have continued for centuries; rampant affirmation that our sovereign Lord is a miracle-worker. Expect the unexpected from an extravagant, extraordinary God! Open your eyes to experience awe-inspiring wonder, initiating commitment to promote God’s glory; to place hope and trust in His unfailing, flourishing love and grace.

Daily sunsets splash the expanse of the western sky with flaming hues of orange, purple, red, yellow, and pink, swirling and swishing across the blue backdrop in a variety of configurations, blending into a blazing neon curtain pulled down at the close of the day. “I am the Lord and there is no other; apart from me there is no God … from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting people may know there is none besides me” (Isaiah 45:5-6).

The headlong crash of a waterfall from magnificent heights originating on mountain ledge smashes into limpid pools of water below, illuminating sparkling rainbow prisms as the sun reflects off water droplets to expose glittering diamonds suspended in mid-air.

Because deciduous trees are seasonally stripped of leaves, the branches that were starkly exposed during winter usher in springtime with barely discernable green growth. Each leaf will mature to the perfect size and shape for specific species, affording sheltered nurseries for the avian population, with millions of minuscule flapping fans to cool the environment, providing shade for all life.

A perfect, crescent rainbow with equal bands of the color spectrum arches across the sky in a convex semi-circle, astonishing observers as we bow to the supreme architect and painter of world wonders.  “I am the one who made the earth and created people to live on it. With my hands I stretched out the heavens. “All the stars are at my command” (Isaiah 45:12, NLT).

Millions of twinkling stars illuminate an endless ebony sky, confirming our perceived individual insignificance in a magnificently vast universe filled with awesome creations engineered by a loving God.  Unsurpassed dazzling beauty highlights His greatness, announcing God’s glory in the cosmos. “He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power” (Psalm 147:4-5).

The unrivaled marvel of a newborn infant expands its lungs for the first time, cooing and slurping nourishment, flailing its limbs and punching air with clenched fists. The baby is perfect in form, its skin as soft and as squeezable as marshmallows. The miniature person is God’s unique handiwork, a gift from the Creator of all life. King David admitted: “‘You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body, and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it’” (Psalm 139:13-14, NLT).

God created humans with free wills, allowing Adam and Eve the freedom to make the consequential decision to disobey Him. From that moment God prioritized forgiveness, dispensing mercy and grace to His human masterpiece. God probes deeply, searching a person’s heart for thoughts, intents, and desires. “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). God explores inner character traits that reveal our desire to communicate and fellowship with Him.

Our heavenly Father is intentionally and intimately involved in the lives of believers. As children of the King, we are royalty, enlisted as citizens of the kingdom of God, empowered with His strength, and enabled to possess the attributes of Jesus. There is no limit to the gifts with which our Lord infuses our hearts and minds, entitling us to live in spiritual victory regardless of physical circumstances.

God’s Son, incarnated on earth, experienced the entire realm of human relationships, challenges, temptations, and suffering. The sinless, holy life of the Son of God was crucified on a cross reserved for the most depraved Roman criminals. During that heinous event, God’s perfect prophecies for His Son and the world were fulfilled. The Messiah’s death and resurrection accomplished redemption of sin for all believers. “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners” (Romans 5:6, NLT). Acknowledging God’s perfect plan for His Son’s sacrifice and His ultimate triumph, why would we doubt God’s astonishing design for each of our lives?

The Lord of the universe desires to maintain an intimate relationship with His creatures. Personally undeserved, God’s grace requires a commitment of faith. Frustration ensues when human efforts fail to earn His grace by good works, for it is a free gift, revealing God’s overwhelming love and mercy. “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5). His pouring action depicts an unrestrained, copious flow, a deluge of love, compassion, and spiritual victory surrounding us at all times. Obedience is our worshipful expression of gratitude to God for His incredible gift of life itself.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us,
that we should be called children of God!
And that is what we are!
—1 John 3:1

Whatever God creates, promises, or performs is marvelous, deserving of glorious praise offered for His characteristics of power, faithfulness, forgiveness, and majesty. “Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the nations. Who will not fear you, Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed” (Revelation 15:3-4).

God’s creations are a testament to His monumental creativity and beauty. As His disciples, may we glorify His sovereignty, righteousness, and His infinite love and grace by worshipping the splendor of His majesty. Let us glorify our Creator with excessive joy and praise. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:3).

Astounding wonder and heartfelt obedience
are manifestations of love for Almighty God!

Outrageous Grace

Outrageous Grace

By Lee Strobel

“This is embarrassing,” my friend said to me over the phone.

“That’s okay,” I assured him. “Go ahead. You can tell me.”

He sighed. “Well, we found out our little girl shoplifted a book from the church bookstore. We were really surprised because she’s a good kid. Anyway, I was wondering whether you would help us out with something.”

Frankly, I was relieved the news wasn’t more serious. “Sure,” I said. “What can I do?”

“We’d like you to represent the church so she can come in and apologize,” he replied. “Maybe you could figure out some sort of restitution. We want to use this as a teaching moment.”

I agreed to help, but I have to admit I had an even bigger lesson in mind.

The next day, the parents and their eight-year-old daughter walked hesitantly into my office and sat down. The girl was so small, she was almost swallowed up by the chair. Her eyes were downcast; her mood was somber.

After I exchanged some pleasantries with her parents, I sat down on the edge of my desk so I was facing the girl. As gently as I could, I said to her, “Tell me what happened.”

She hesitated, her lower lip quivering. “Well,” she said as she started to sniffle, “I was in the bookstore after a service and I saw a book that I really wanted, but I didn’t have any money.” Now tears pooled in her eyes and spilled down her cheeks. I handed her a tissue, which she used to dab her eyes before continuing.

“So I put the book under my coat and took it,” she blurted out, almost as if she wanted to expel the words as fast as she could so they wouldn’t linger. “I knew it was wrong. I knew I shouldn’t do it, but I did it. And I’m sorry. I’ll never do it again. Honest.”

She was so contrite that it broke my heart. “I’m glad you’re willing to admit what you did and say you’re sorry,” I told her. “That’s very brave, and it’s the right thing to do.”

She nodded slightly.

“But,” I continued, “what do you think an appropriate punishment would be?”

She shrugged her shoulders. I knew from her parents that she had already thrown out the book to hide the evidence. I paused for a moment, then said, “I understand the book cost five dollars. I think it would be fair if you paid the bookstore five dollars, plus three times that amount, which would make the total twenty dollars. Do you think that would be fair?”

“Yes,” she murmured, though I could see fear — almost panic — in her eyes. Her mind was whirring. Where was she going to come up with twenty dollars? That’s a mountain of money for a little kid. She didn’t have the five dollars to buy the book in the first place, and suddenly her debt had spiraled completely out of sight.

At that moment, I got up and walked behind my desk. Sitting down, I pulled open the top drawer. The little girl’s eyes narrowed. She couldn’t figure out what I was doing. I pulled out my checkbook, picked up a pen, and wrote a check from my personal account for the full amount that she owed. I tore off the check and held it in my hand. Her mouth dropped open.

“I know there’s no way you can pay the penalty that you deserve,” I told her. “So I’m going to pay it for you. Do you know why I’d do that?”

Bewildered, she shook her head.

“Because I love you,” I told her. “Because I care about you. Because you’re important to me. And please remember this: that’s how Jesus feels about you too. Except even more.”

With that, I handed her the check, which she grabbed and clutched to her heart. She simply blossomed with a look of absolute relief and joy and wonder. She was almost giddy with gratitude. The same little girl who had slinked into the office under the weight of shame now left lighthearted and skipping.

I don’t know how God ultimately used that teaching moment in her life. But I do know this: once a person, even at a young age, experiences a taste of the kind of grace offered by Christ, it leaves an indelible mark on the soul. Who could resist being attracted by the forgiveness and unmerited favor extended by Jesus?

This is one of the greatest dimensions of the unexpected adventure. The message we convey isn’t based on condemnation or shame. We’re not offering people a life sentence of hard labor to try to somehow make themselves worthy of heaven. Instead, we have the privilege of telling people how they can find complete forgiveness as a free gift that was purchased when Jesus died as our substitute to pay for all of our wrongdoing — past, present, and future.

“Grace means there’s nothing we can do to make God love us more,” writes Philip Yancey in his classic book What’s So Amazing About Grace? “And grace means there’s nothing we can do to make God love us less. . . . Grace means that God already loves us as much as an infinite God can possibly love.”

Wow! When I try to let that sink in, I’m just as overcome with gratitude as that little girl. At the same time I feel a renewed desire to let others know about this incredible message of redemption and reconciliation. After all, with good news like that, how could we possibly keep it to ourselves?


From Investigating Faith by Lee Strobel

Please and Thank You Prayers

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy.
—Philippians 1:4

Beloved, do you have a difficult time praying? Do you struggle with how to pray or what to say to God?

Personally, I do not want to keep repeating certain prayers in light of what God teaches us in Matthew 6:7: “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.” But the older I get, the more I find that my mind seeks the comfort of some kinds of prayers because I can easily remember them.

For example, before my feet hit the floor each day I pray something like this: Heavenly Father, thank You for a great night’s sleep and this new day. Please order the steps of my day so that in everything I say and do I glorify Your name and make You smile. On nights when I have been unable to sleep well, I start this prayer with thank You for getting me through the night. I have been praying in the morning like this for years after reading Psalm 37. I was reading the NKJV Bible at that time and verse 23 says: “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way.” I call such prayers my “thank you prayers.”

Now, having said that, my prayer life has been majorly transformed over the last few years.

When I pray what I call “please prayers,” I am asking God to be with me or someone who is going through something particularly tough. In this case, my prayer is that God will make His presence strongly felt as He is surrounding the person with His arms of comfort and teaching them what He wants them to learn through the situation. And depending on the person and situation, I often ask Him to grant the person perfect peace as described in Isaiah 26:3, usually praying that verse with the person’s name: “You will keep _________ in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he/she trusts in You.” Sometimes I will share this personalized prayer with the person for whom I’ve been praying. This passage in Isaiah never fails to comfort me and I pray that it will comfort others too.

I have also started thanking God ahead of time while I am still praying for something, in anticipation of whatever He has planned in accordance with His will. I believe God honors this kind of prayer because although I am typically praying for something specific, I end my prayer by thanking God for however He has already planned to settle the situation.

One thing God has taught me over the years is that praying is the best way to bring us as close to Him as is possible here on earth. The other thing is that although God already knows the outcome of a situation, He still wants us to intercede in prayer, gladly approaching Him with our concerns and hurts. He longs for us to come to Him as our Abba Father, to figuratively sit on His lap and share our hearts with Him—all our concerns, yes, but more importantly our love, praise and thankfulness for who He is and for what He has done and is doing as the Creator of all things. And since He is all of that and much more, we can experience contentment in His presence, no matter what the outcome of a situation, because we can rest in the knowledge that He always knows what is best for us.

In essence, although we know and trust that God has already worked out the details, He still wants to hear from us and loves it when we praise Him and His Holy Name.

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM;”
and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel,
‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
—Exodus 3:14

Our holy God, YHWH (I AM): the meaning is powerful, even when translated into English. To say “I am” means “I exist.” But as a name, it also suggests timelessness, self-sufficiency, changelessness.¹

Our God is indeed awesome, holy, and unchanging. But He also loves to hear us talk to Him in prayer and He hears us when we pray. He tells us this in Jeremiah 29:11-13:

11For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord,
plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
12
Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.
13
You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.

Many people consider verse 11 on its own, but we need to use it in the context of God’s true meaning, which is not complete without also taking into account verses 12 and 13. God begins this passage with the word “for” and completes it with what follows the word “then” in verse 12.

Beloved, we are told to “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion” (Ephesians 6:18a). Praying should be like breathing is to us. We can’t live without being able to breathe, and we can’t stay as close to God as we should without talking to Him in prayer throughout our day.

Prayer: Abba Father, we are so thankful that we can come to You in prayer at any time of the day or night. You love us so much and are interested in every aspect of our day. Thank You for the blessing of being able to depend on You to see us through each and every day. 


¹ 100 Names of God Daily Devotional. Copyright © 2015 by Christopher D. Hudson. Published by Rose Publishing, Inc., Carson, California.

Thankful Prayer for God’s Love

This is another of my devotionals published in an anthology titled Anytime Prayers for Everyday PeopleIt is included in the section titled Prayers of Praise and Thanksgiving.

When I want to thank God
for His love . . .

God’s love will continue forever.
—Psalm 52:1 NCV

This is what real love is: It is not our love for God;
it is God’s love for us in sending his Son to be
the way to take away our sins.
—1 John 4:10 NCV 

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
—Psalm 118:29

[Jesus said] God so loved the world that he gave
his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him
shall not perish but have eternal life.
—John 3:16

We love Him because He first loved us.
—1 John 4:19 NKJV

. . . I will pray.

Loving Father,

I don’t get it, Lord—why You love me, that is. I look myself over, and frankly, I must not be seeing what You see. I can’t understand it. But I’ve decided that I don’t need to understand it. Why, even the nature and logic of love between human beings is seldom knowable. That’s why I’ve determined just to accept it, to let Your love cover me, change me, energize me, make me special.

I’ve read in the Bible that You love me so much that You allowed Your Son, Jesus Christ, to accept the punishment for my sins. I can’t imagine giving up one of my children for anyone—even You. I guess that’s why You’re God and I’m just a mortal human being created in Your image and loved for Your own reasons.

Thank You, Father, for Your great love for me . . . and I want You to know that Your love won’t be scorned. I love You in return. With all of my human strength, I love You. With all of my human determination, I pledge my love to You. I don’t deserve Your love, Father, but You do deserve mine. I give it freely.

Amen.

God does not love us because we are valuable.
We are valuable because God loves us.

—Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen


[From Anytime Prayers for Everyday People. Copyright © 2006 Bordon-Winters LLC]