Learning to Hope

Romans 4:18-21
In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 

25 years is a long time to wait, especially when you are already old and God promises you and your wife you will have a baby. Paul said after this period of time, Abraham hoped against hope and trusted God that He will deliver on His promise.

If you have been through great loss and sadness, it is hard to hope for good again, but we can learn to hope again just like Abraham and Sarah did. It takes time. But we are reminded that we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we do not stay there (Psalm 23). Take time to look at the Psalms to see the goodness of God and His wonderful works for you (Psalm 103). Remind yourself of passages in the Bible that give hope (Romans 15:4), like the story of Abraham and Sarah. Cry out to God in your pain, and He will in time heal your broken heart (Psalm 147:3). Surround yourself with encouraging people who will lift you up in your pain. I had a friend, Benjamin, who gave me an assignment to take a mason jar and fill it with accomplishments, positive things, and what God has done for me. It was an encouraging and hope-building exercise to see all the great things God has done. The jar is full. Your jar is full too. You can hope again.

Proverbs 13:12 – Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life. 

He grew in faith

Abraham’s great unwavering faith did not happen overnight. He grew in faith.

Romans 4:16-25
That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring–not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”–in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.
In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.
No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.
That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.”
But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone,but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

We are told by Paul in Romans 4 that Abraham did not “weaken in faith” or “waver” at the promise, yet when you read Genesis you see a lot of wavering. But what we must see is what Paul pointed out about Abraham’s faith here in Romans 4. It grew! He grew in faith! Abraham became fully convinced over time. Abram (“father”) turned into Abraham (“father of a multitude”). As Abraham grew in his faith and continued to give glory to God, he became fully convinced that God was able to do whatever He promised.

You will see below the times Abraham and Sarah wavered as they “grew in faith.”

Genesis 12 – Abraham lied to project himself. There was no need to lie. If God had promised Abraham and Sarah that they would conceive and bear a child, nobody would have the power to kill Abraham.

Genesis 15 – Abraham asked God, “Where is the son you promised me?” God promised Abraham again, and he believed. Genesis 15:6 is often quoted in the New Testament. But notice what happens in the next chapter of Genesis.

Genesis 16 – Abraham and Sarah came up with an alternate plan to bring the promised son into the world. Sarah convinced Abraham to go into her servant girl, Hagar, and have a son. Ishmael was born.

Genesis 17 – Abraham fell on his face and laughed at God’s promise of him and Sarah having a son. He also begged God that Ishmael might be considered the promised son.

Genesis 18 – Sarah also laughed at God’s promise.

Genesis 20 – Abraham lied again to protect himself. See Genesis 12. It was unnecessary to lie. God’s promise of a “multitude of nations” through Abraham showed that Abraham was not going to be killed at that point.

Now, consider what happened after Isaac was born. God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to Him. Look at where Abraham’s faith had come. He did not lie. He did not waver. He did not try to form an alternate plan. He did not fall on his face and laugh and ask for another way. Abraham just did what God said.

But what gave Abraham such strength to offer up Isaac? His strong faith. Look at what Hebrews says about what Abraham’s faith did for him.

Hebrews 11:17-19
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.

By this point, Abraham had such trust in God’s promises that he concluded by faith that if Isaac was killed on that altar, then God would raise him from the dead. That’s incredible faith!

But remember that Abraham did not get to that faith overnight. He grew in faith. Just like you and me. Growth is a process.

I would encourage you to go back over those chapters and take note of all of the great moments of Abraham’s faith. We can list out our failings or moments of weakness in faith, but can we also look back at the times we stood strong in faith? Abraham left everything to go to a strange land (Gen. 12). He showed great humility and generosity to his nephew Lot (Gen. 13). Abraham fought for and rescued Lot (Genesis 14). He trusted in God’s promises (Gen. 15). He obeyed God and was circumcised at 99 years old (Gen. 17)! Abraham showed generosity toward strangers which turned out to be angels (Gen. 18). He prayed for Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18), and he also prayed for Lot (Genesis 19). As you think about Abraham, think about your own faith. You are growing. Don’t just focus on the failings, focus on the victories!

Some thoughts about hope

Romans 5:1-5
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Romans 8:22-25
For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

We rejoice in hope of the glory of God. God’s grace has granted us access by faith into the grace of God in which we base our lives now. That salvation and that relationship with Jesus leads to rejoicing in hope of the final glory that will be brought upon us as God’s children in heaven.

We rejoice in sufferings because they produce hope. Just as Paul said, suffering produces endurance. We learn to stay with God and depend upon Him through suffering. The endurance we develop transforms our character as we grow in Christ through trials. And as our character grows, our hope grows with it.

Hope does not put us to shame, because we have God’s love poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. We will not be disappointed, ever, when it comes to our hope in Christ. The Holy Spirit has been given into the heart of each Christian as the “guarantee” of our salvation. All of the other things we hope for in life can and most likely will disappoint, but never God’s Holy Spirit and never our hope in Him.

Our hope is the groaning inwardly for the redemption of our bodies and the completion of our adoption as sons into heaven with God. Can we even begin to imagine what it will be like to have God say to you and me, “Enter in…well done!”?

In this hope we are saved. Salvation in Christ and the hope of heaven why we became Christians. Hope for glory in heaven with God is what sustains us after we are saved.

Our hope is in what we do not see (our eternal redemption), but we patiently wait for it. This hope should calm our spirits and settle us into a patient waiting for being glorified with Christ. So no matter what may come or what we may endure, the hope we have in Christ is to be our focus so that we can endure the trials of today with a quiet confidence.

Yosemite – Benefits of Fire

Our family watched this PBS Nature Video this week, and it was about Yosemite National Park. There were some really cool things in this video, but here is something that struck us. They started talking about the Sequoia trees and how fire is necessary for their reproduction. For a century people were trying to “suppress” the forest fires, and the thing people were with good motives trying to stop was the actual thing that was necessary for promoting the reproduction of the sequoias. Fires have actually been a benefit to the health of the forest, even though it has been absolutely devastating to those who live nearby.

The forest fires clear away the debris on the forest floor, and the heat from the fire opens the cones and the seeds drop on the forest floor. Of course you can see that the fires have scarred and permanently damaged the Sequoias, but the forest thrives and is healthy because the fire has promoted the growth of new Sequoias.

I’ve stood inside these trees. They are massive. I’ve looked up from within the hollow inside of these gigantic trees that are blackened from fire and lightning damage. Yet, the the forest is stronger for it.

That’s what I want to leave you with today. We can try to “suppress” the trials and adversity and fires that come our way, but consider that those things are actually clearing away the debris and creating strength within us and growth in others around us.

1 Peter 1:7-9 – so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

 

Full Episode

 

Case Makers Academy

Earlier this year I posted about the Cold Case Christianity books for kids, but I thought I would do it again. Since the kids are home from school, and a lot of parents are home too right now, this would be a great time to take advantage of online resources to strengthen all of our faith.

The kids at our congregation are meeting virtually this Saturday to continue our study of Cold-Case Christianity for Kids. If you are not already doing something like this, you could start this week. Find ways to take advantage of the technology of our time to reach out to encourage others. I really appreciate my friends, Nathan and Shane, for their leadership and vision in making sure our church family is staying connected during this time.

Here is the link for J. Warner Wallace’s Case Maker’s Academy, which goes through each of his three books for kids.

Here are the three books for kids by J. Warner Wallace:
Cold-Case Christianity for Kids
God’s Crime Scene for Kids
Forensic Faith for Kids

You can purchase these books on Amazon. here’s the link:
https://www.amazon.com/s?k=cold+case+christianity+for+kids&crid=3S8R3OF7UCW4K&sprefix=cold+case+chris%2Caps%2C188&ref=nb_sb_ss_i_4_15

Could This Thing Be?

But Elisha said, “Hear the word of the LORD: thus says the LORD, Tomorrow about this time a seah of fine flour shall be sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley for a shekel, at the gate of Samaria.” Then the captain on whose hand the king leaned said to the man of God, “If the LORD himself should make windows in heaven, could this thing be?” But he said, “You shall see it with your own eyes, but you shall not eat of it.”
(2 Kings 7:1-2)

In the days of Elisha, things got bad, really bad in Israel. The nation of Israel was rebelling against God, the king was a wicked son of the wicked king Ahab. Syria (Aram) came against Israel and besieged them. Look at how bad things were economically in Israel:

Afterward Ben-hadad king of Syria mustered his entire army and went up and besieged Samaria. And there was a great famine in Samaria, as they besieged it, until a donkey’s head was sold for eighty shekels of silver, and the fourth part of a kab of dove’s dung for five shekels of silver.
(2 Kings 6:24-25)

We think we’ve got it bad that there is no toilet paper on the shelf? They were paying a high price to eat donkey brains and bird poop! Yuck! It even got so bad that some moms agreed to eat each other’s children (2 Kings 6:26-29). It’s sad that even in this destitute condition people were not turning back to God. Even worse, the king of Israel was blaming God. God was the problem, how could He be part of the solution?

And he said, “If the LORD will not help you, how shall I help you? From the threshing floor, or from the winepress?”
(2 Kings 6:27)

And while he was still speaking with them, the (King’s) messenger came down to him and said, “This trouble is from the LORD! Why should I wait for the LORD any longer?”
(2 Kings 6:33)

That’s what brings us to the beginning of chapter 7 when Elisha through the Spirit promises that the change and recovery will happen overnight. They were paying high prices for donkey brains and bird poop, but by tomorrow they will be paying cheap prices for barley and flour. Would you believe that if a prophet of God said that to you? Would I believe it as I am eating donkey brain soup? We can see in verse 1 of chapter 7 that a captain who was very close to the king didn’t believe it. He said,

“If the LORD himself should make windows in heaven, could this thing be?”

God has made windows in heaven. Remember the flood in Noah’s day? It is clear that the captain here did not believe that (1) God had the power to make such a quick change, nor (2) could God make such a change happen overnight.

Elisha said, “Oh it will happen. You just won’t be able to enjoy any of the blessings of it.” What happened is that as the people were rushing out to get the food and supplies, the captain was trampled by the crowds (2 Kings 7:17). This leader could not see nor believe that God was able and willing to restore goodness to His people.

But God did make windows in heaven, and God did care, and God did make immediate changes to care for His people. God is good, and God is all-powerful.

Sometimes things are so bad we have a very difficult time hoping that there will be any improvement. But this passage reminds us that we serve an awesome and loving God, and that even when things are at their darkest, God can make incredible changes in a hurry!

David and Goliath, Facing the Giants – Part 4

1 Samuel 17:38-40 Then Saul clothed David with his armor. He put a helmet of bronze on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail, (39) and David strapped his sword over his armor. And he tried in vain to go, for he had not tested them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.” So David put them off. (40) Then he took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the brook and put them in his shepherd’s pouch. His sling was in his hand, and he approached the Philistine.

You Can’t Wear Someone Else’s Armor

David couldn’t wear Saul’s armor. David wasn’t Saul. David had to fight like David with the abilities and grace God gave David. You can’t be someone else. The armor David had was very simple as a shepherd, a sling and a spear. But don’t be fooled, a sling in the hand of a skilled shepherd was deadly. This weapon has been used for thousands of years with deadly accuracy. God prepared David to be a shepherd who used a sling, and most importantly, God prepared David to use God’s armor. David did not go into that battle unarmed. The Lord was with him. David was clothed with God’s strength.

You can’t be someone else. You can’t fight this warfare with somebody else’s talents and abilities. You have to be you. God’s grace has given you amazing gifts and strengths that are unique to you, and that’s what you need to take into the battle. Stop trying to be somebody else.

Here is one final thought. My sister-in-law made a great point on Sunday that I’ll share with you. “David didn’t have to know Goliath’s strength, because he already knew God’s strength.” Amen! David didn’t have to take a detailed assessment of the armor and strength of Goliath, because he had already deeply believed and was familiar with God’s strength. That’s the real weapon David took into the battle.

 

David and Goliath – Facing the Giants, Part 3

As we continue our unpacking of 1 Samuel 17, we can see David being run down by those in his life who should have been encouraging him. Here’s what is said by David’s oldest brother and by King Saul himself.

1 Samuel 17:28-33 Now Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spoke to the men. And Eliab’s anger was kindled against David, and he said, “Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle.” And David said, “What have I done now? Was it not but a word?” And he turned away from him toward another, and spoke in the same way, and the people answered him again as before. When the words that David spoke were heard, they repeated them before Saul, and he sent for him. And David said to Saul, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.”

Don’t be distracted by naysayers on the sidelines.

Who of all people should have encouraged David as he went to face the Giant?

How about his brothers? Yes, they should have, but they didn’t. Eliab made fun of his little brother and called into question David’s motives. You can see why God refused Eliab (see 1 Samuel 16:6-7). What was Eliab doing about Goliath? Nothing but tucking tail and running like the rest. So how do you think Eliab liked it when his little kid brother comes from watching sheep saying he could take on Goliath? That didn’t go over well, did it? Those who are sitting on their hineys doing nothing have all kinds of comments about those who are standing up and facing the Goliaths of the world.

How about the king himself, King Saul? If anyone should have been an encouragement to the man who offered to take on Goliath, it should have been the King of Israel, but that’s not what happened. Remember that Israel wanted a king to go out and fight their battles for them (1 Samuel 8), but King Saul isn’t facing Goliath, is he? And what words does the King have for David? “You can’t do it! Goliath is too much for you, you are not even close to being able to do this.”

This happens today, too. Sometimes those who are older are not as encouraging as they should be to the younger. In fact, Paul had to encourage Timothy not to be swayed or discouraged by those who would “despise” or “look down upon” his youth (1 Timothy 4:12). There are times when the younger person is reminding the older ones about faith, courage and the proper way to behave. That is exactly what Paul told Timothy to do. Timothy was to be an example to the believers and that includes those who are older. We all need reminders, don’t we? Even if we are older, and even if those who are reminding us are much younger, we still need to accept the lessons God is sending our way. David was probably a teenager, and King Saul was older (not sure how much older), but David was showing the King and all of Israel what real faith looks like.

What does David do with all of this negativity? Here is a great quote, and I’m not sure who first said it…

“In order to lead the orchestra, you must first turn your back on the crowd.”

David had to turn his back on the negativity and keep his focus on God’s strength. Verse 30 says that David “turned away” from his brother and kept asking about the reward. David had to move away from the negativity and keep his eyes focused on God and on the reward for following God.

Draw from past victories, don’t just sit on them.

David answered Saul’s negativity and discouragement by focusing on what God had already done for David.

1 Samuel 17:34-37 But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you!”

God had already worked amazing things in the life of David. With God’s strength, David had already struck down and killed lions and bears. What was a giant to the God who helped him kill such dangerous creatures? David was able to look back on what God had already done for him and draw strength for the next battle. This is what we need to do, too! What has God already done for you, with you and through you? Meditate upon the amazing things God has done for you already. If He helped you then, will he help you now? Of course God will. He promised it!

Remember that God’s victories He has worked through you are not intended to be used as trophies filling a case, they are intended to give you strength and courage to face the next Giant.

Hebrews 13:6 – So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

David and Goliath – Facing the Giants, Part 2

We continue our dive into the epic battle between David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17.

We are going to take two observations today from the text:

Saul and his soldiers were fighting the Philistines, but they were not facing the Giant.

1 Samuel 17:11 – When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.

1 Samuel 17:19 – Now Saul and they and all the men of Israel were in the Valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines.

1 Samuel 17:23-24 – As he talked with them, behold, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines and spoke the same words as before. And David heard him. All the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him and were much afraid.

Above are a few excerpts from 1 Samuel. What you see is that when Goliath came and spoke, Saul and his men cowered and fled. Yet, what do we see in verse 19? Saul and his soldiers were fighting with the Philistines. That is a point that cannot be overlooked. They were fighting with the Philistines, they were engaged with a war against the enemy, but they were not facing the Giant. Whenever the Giant came back (vs. 23-24), they all tucked tail and ran away in fear.

We can fool ourselves in our marriages, in our parenting, in our churches, etc., that we are doing good things and engaged in the “good fight,” but are we really facing the Giants? Some may call it, the “elephant in the room,” but it is the same concept. I can be doing great things for God with my wife, and engaged in the spiritual warfare with her, but is there a giant like lust (Matthew 5:28) or bitterness (Colossians 3:19) that needs to be beheaded? We can be doing good works for God in our churches, but is there a “Giant” that needs to be defeated there? Think about it. Saul and his men were fighting the Philistines, but they were not progressing, because they did not have the faith to face the Giant head on.

The reward was offered to every soldier in Israel.

The final observation for today is that King Saul’s reward was offered to every soldier in Israel…to anyone. Here is the reward offered.

1 Samuel 17:25-27 And the men of Israel said, “Have you seen this man who has come up? Surely he has come up to defy Israel. And the king will enrich the man who kills him with great riches and will give him his daughter and make his father’s house free in Israel.” And David said to the men who stood by him, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” And the people answered him in the same way, “So shall it be done to the man who kills him.”

David comes to the camp and finds out that the prize for conquering the Giant is (1) Money, Money, Money (2) Marrying into the King’s family (3) No taxes for all his family. Dude, that is some reward, isn’t it? But go back to the text and see that this was offered to “the man” who kills Goliath. Not specific, this reward is offered to anyone.

Question, why were there no takers? If you were offered this great of a reward, wouldn’t it be a no-brainer? Nope. Because for every soldier in Israel, this reward wasn’t worth the risk. If you offered me a billion dollars to tightrope 1,000 feet in the air in between two skyscrapers, I wouldn’t take the challenge! Why? It’s not worth the risk to me. All I can see is me becoming tomato sauce on the pavement.

The men of Israel were not encouraged by the reward because their faith was not strong enough to face the Giant. This point is true for us today, men. We can sing songs about heaven and read passages about heaven all day long, but if it is not joined with faith in the God who has conquered Satan and will conquer our Giants, then those rewards are just pie-in-the-sky dreams. Do you believe that God will help you overcome the giants in your life?

God’s reward of heaven and grace is offered to every man (Titus 2:11), but not every person has the faith in God to walk into the fiery battle with Him. Are we like David? Or are we like every other soldier in Israel?

What Kind of Faith?

I am reading a series of books with my 11 year old daughter that are written by J Warner Wallace. He is a cold-case detective who uses his skills as a detective to analyze the evidence for God, the Bible, and Jesus as the risen Lord.

Here are the books that are in the series:

  • Cold Case Christianity for Kids
  • God’s Crime Scene for Kids
  • Forensic Faith for Kids

Here is the link where you can purchase them at Amazon

Detective Wallace and his wife also have an online “Academy” for kids where they can go through these books and fill out worksheets and watch videos. At the end they get a certificate like they are a real detective. It’s pretty cool. My daughter loves it. Here is the website.

casemakersacademy.com

In the book Forensic Faith for Kids, the point is made about the different kinds of faith (pg. 30).

  • Unreasonable faith – This is a faith in spite of the evidence
  • Blind faith – This is a faith without any evidence
  • Forensic faith – This is a faith because of the evidence

What kind of faith does God want us to have? A faith in spite of the evidence? No. A faith without evidence? No. How about a faith based on evidence? Yes!

Think of all the times that God tells his people to look at the evidence for His creation (Psalm 19; Romans 1:20; Acts 14:17; Isaiah 40:26). He does not want us to believe Him without any evidence, nor does He want us to believe in spite of the evidence. You may have friends or teachers that say Christianity is based on blind faith, but that just isn’t so. Jesus gave us plenty of evidence and He wants us to investigate it.

But that doesn’t mean that God answers all our questions. J Warner Wallace makes a great point where he talks about how a jury can convict a criminal based on great evidence, but there are still always unanswered questions. Having faith in God based on evidence does not mean that we will figure every question out in this life.

Deuteronomy 29:29 “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.