Lenten Devotional 2022
Today, in our society, hope seems to be a rationed commodity. What you read, what you listen to, what you watch, all impact your level of hopefulness. The Bible speaks often about hope, and one of my favorite Scriptures addresses the problem of hopelessness with some wise counsel. Philippians 4:8 (NIV) “8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
It is easy to be drawn into the dark hole of hopelessness when we focus on the questions more than we focus on the answers. Despondency, despair, oppression, and sorrow are all synonyms for hopelessness. Inside of each of us, a little voice cries out, “Why me? Why now?” And when the answers are hard or are delayed, the voices become more insistent- louder. Suddenly, the questions focus our attention on the negative answers until those dark answers consume us. Perhaps you find yourself just entering that dark pit, or maybe you have taken up residence in the darkness. God tells us that there is hope. The Bible tells us that there is no hole that God cannot pull you out of. Trust Him. Look for what is true. Look for what is lovely. Find something admirable. One step at a time, you can reach for the “Son-light.”
Join us this Lenten season as we search for the Scriptures for our Hope.
March / April 2022
“And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind Him and touched the edge of His cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.
‘Who touched me?’ Jesus asked.
When they all denied it, Peter said,
‘Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.’
But Jesus said, ‘Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.’
Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at His feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched Him and how she had been instantly healed. Then He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.’” Luke 8:43-48
Imagine a life so heinous that no one could or would touch you. According to your beliefs, your disease has made you unclean; therefore, you have not known the touch of another person for twelve long years. Forget about going out in public, for you cannot possibly be with others without contaminating everyone you come in contact with. No hugs, no one to hold your hand, no place to go, no one to see, no one to talk to, no one who wants you, and no one can heal you- the emotional pain cuts deeper than any knife. Your heart has been shattered, and there is no one there to pick up the pieces, to help you through your struggle. Twelve long years of perpetual torment have passed, and you are passed hoping that anyone could ever see your value, could ever want you. Such was the state of this unfortunate woman. She was a Jewish woman plagued by a disease that caused her to bleed continually; as a result, she was constantly ceremonially unclean- an outcast through no fault of her own. Any woman knows the embarrassment that accompanies certain aspects of womanhood, but how many of us could swallow the despair that this woman felt enveloped by? She was out of options; every doctor had been consulted, and every remedy tried. Not only was she in an every present state of physical agony, but she was also left alone to shed tears, without any source of comfort.
One day, this invalid learned that Jesus was in the area. Normally, she would cower in shame away from the eyes of the world, but Jesus was different. She had heard stories- stories of miracles, of miraculous healings, mercy, grace, and love. A flutter of hope passed through her bleeding heart. Where did that come from? Did she dare to believe that Jesus could heal her, when no one else could? What else did she have to lose? What more could possibly be taken from her? The woman heard the crowds outside, and Jesus’ Name being called. She crept out of her house, covering her head. No, she did not want attention, but, if she could just touch His clothes, she would be healed. Just a little closer, even a little part of His clothing, He would never notice. Got it! Suddenly a jolt passed through her, and the pain dissipated instantly. The bleeding that marked her daily life ceased. Hallelujah! She was healed! No, she was free!
At the same moment, Jesus stopped. Searching the crowd, Jesus asked who touched Him. He felt the power leave, and He wanted to know whom it was. As God-incarnate, Jesus knew the woman touched Him, but she needed more than physical healing. Her heart needed healing too, and that is why Jesus searched her out. Caught, the woman fell at Jesus’ feet and told her story. It was then that Jesus healed the emotional pain that she kept hidden for so long. He called her daughter. How long it had been since someone called her a name of endearment! She stared at Jesus, as He told her that her faith had healed her- all of her. The physical healing was important, but her emotional healing was just as important. With a single sentence, Jesus restored this lady body, heart, and soul.
So many times, we feel beyond Christ’s power to heal, but our God is great. He has the power to physically heal, and the power to heal emotionally. What great hope we have knowing that our circumstances are never to big for our God! Like the woman who bled for twelve years, our faith in Jesus can set us free and heal us- body, heart, and soul. Are you willing to reach out to Jesus? It is your choice. Are you willing?
“He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’” Luke 4:16-21
Read the above Scripture, and many thoughts come to mind: the fulfillment of prophecy, the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the example of worshipping with fellow believers, but does courage come to mind? Today, for the first time, courage was my first thought. Jesus had a lot of guts- courage, bravery. Think about it; to officially begin His earthly ministry, Jesus returned to His hometown, to the one place where people He loved and cared about could reject who He truly was. They grew up with Jesus, the carpenter’s son; here was the Son of a local craftsman who was about to take His first stand among the people whose rejection would hit Him harder than anybody else’s. Jesus went home to His family and friends, knowing full well that they would initially reject Him. These were the people who watched him grow up; they saw Him fall and watched Him learn new skills. The closest people to Jesus were the very ones who failed to support Him in His mission, and it took a long time before even His family did believe in Him.
In spite of the fear of rejection and the opinions of family and friends, Jesus boldly stepped forward, proclaiming who He was, is, and always will be. Why would Jesus do this? He did it to give sight to the blind, for these people were blinded by who they thought Jesus was. Jesus did it to set people free, including those that refused to see Him as He truly was. That takes a lot of courage; to be true to yourself and to allow others to see you as you are takes more courage and strength of character than almost anything else. It is for this very reason that many movies, television shows, and stories are based upon this theme: Beauty and the Beast, The Incredibles, Cinderella, How to Train Your Dragon (both), Tangled, Frozen, The Flash, Girl Meets World, and the list goes on. All of these have one common thread: having the courage to be the person you were created to be for all to see.
Perhaps this is why Jesus chose to reveal himself to those closest to Him first, for He knew just how much we struggle with this very thing. We do not want to be considered odd or unique, and we hide whom we truly are. It never dawns on us that God wants us to be unique to perform the job He has for us. Perhaps by seeing Jesus take that first step, it would give us the extra boost of courage that we ourselves need. The fear of rejection keeps us captive in a life that God never intended, and it is time to break the chains and be the people that we were created to be. As we prepare our hearts for Easter, let us allow Jesus to break the shackles that bind us and set us free to be His children. Ultimately, it is this freedom that allows us to stand courageously on the hope we have been given: the blood of Jesus.
“Even if I thought there was still hope for me.” Ruth 1:12 (NIV)
Have you ever given up? I know I have. When I was a child, I was so focused on how smart and talented my sister and brother both were that I just plain gave up. Did my parents love me? Of course, they did. After my father died, my mother showed me the beautiful poetry my father wrote about each one of us. Did I recognize that they loved me just as much as my older siblings? Of course, I did not. That is the trouble with comparisons, we can never measure up to an unreachable goal. I have talents and abilities that neither of my siblings cultivated, and they have talents and abilities that I never cultivated. In the end, we became our own people just as God wanted us to be.
All of which brings us back to Naomi from the Book of Ruth in the Bible. Naomi and her family left Israel for a foreign land because of a severe drought in their homeland. As time passed, Naomi’s sons married women who were from the land they were living in. Unfortunately, the story is not a happy one for Naomi. Both her sons and husband died in this foreign land leaving the three women alone and penniless. Seeing no hope in a future tied to that new land, Naomi decided to return to Israel alone.
Hopelessness isolates us from the ones we love. It turns possibilities into nothing. Naomi was at the point in her life where she wanted to be left alone to die. But God did not fail Naomi. Naomi’s daughter-in-law, Ruth, would not permit her to go alone into the unknown. Ruth spoke gently, yet forcefully to Naomi, “16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”
Yes, hopelessness isolates us from those who love us. It isolates us from God, our Father. Just like Naomi, you may not see a way through your situation, but God sees the way. Permit Him help you through your situation. You may not be instrumental in establishing the royal line of Israel as Naomi was, but whatever plan God has in store for you was designed with you in mind. Take that step today. Ask God to help you. Read His Word. Perhaps you should read how God worked Naomi’s desolation into a wonderful promise. God is always available for you to rely on. He is your hope.
“As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him.” Matthew 4:18-20
“Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” This was the offer placed before Peter and Andrew, and it is the same offer placed in front of us. At some point, every person is faced with this offer, and it is up to each of us how we decide to respond. Such a simple statement is fraught with the promise of adventure? Danger? Loss? Comfort? Joy? Heavenly riches? Uncertainty? Hope? In reality, all of these aforementioned categories are held within the offer to follow Jesus.
Why did these two men decide to follow a Man that they had never met? What drove them to give up everything for the sake of the call? They came face to face with their Savior, and they were drawn to Him. For Peter and Andrew, their hearts were ready and waiting for the invitation; here was the One they were waiting for. They jumped at the chance of eternity. As a matter of fact, both men gave their earthly lives for it, and they left behind their mortal husks for the raiment of heaven.
Have you heard Jesus’ call? In the business of our modern lives, do you hear the persistent call of the risen Savior? The offer is still waiting for you. Following Jesus requires us to lay down all we are and have at the foot of the cross and going where He leads. The road is narrow and difficult, and the cost is great. It was this call that called a man named Eric Liddel to go to China as a missionary and ultimately give his life at the hands of the Japanese during WWII. As Steven Curtis Chapman’s song, “For the Sake of the Call,” says, “We will abandon it all, for the sake of the call. No other reason at all, but the sake of the call, Wholly devoted to live and to die for the sake of the call.” Why follow Jesus’ call? Because His call is the call of hope, the God of Hope is waiting for your answer. Will you follow?
Hope sees through the veil of darkness
“Ah! What beauty.”
Psalm 89:1-2 (NIV)
1 “I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever;
with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known
through all generations.
2 I will declare that your love stands firm forever,
that you have established your faithfulness in heaven itself.”
12 “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Romans 12:12 (NIV)
Hope is a fragile thing. It will wither and die if it is not carefully tended. Too often, we confuse expectations with hope, and, therefore, when those expectations are not met, the hope fades or dies.
As I look out my kitchen window, I can see the first buds of spring dancing in the wind that is tossing them playfully about. They have no expectations. When the sun warms the earth, the hormones within the bulbs are activated, and they begin to grow. The plants have no concept of weather. In the past week, the weather warmed to balmy temperatures of 70 degrees and above, and in the expected way, the plants sent their green leaves to the surface. As this past week progressed, people donned shorts and tossed heavy winter coats to the lower corners of their closets. The plants just continued on their journey of life with never an expectation that the temperatures would remain warm and welcoming. The people on the other hand abandoned wisdom. They reacted to the false promise of spring. (Sometimes it is hard not to get carried away by the present circumstances.) Today, a stiff wind is blowing, and the temperature is running about 38 degrees. The sun is playing peek-a-boo with the clouds making the air temperature feel even colder. Reality is back. Winter is still upon us.
Today, there are yellow daffodils where just yesterday the green leaves and tiny bud were a promise of lovely things to come. The stems hold the flowers high for all to see. There is no fear of frost or of tomorrow. Today, people are again in their winter coats with hats pulled over their ears. Some are still smiling, but for many people the colder temperatures bring frowns and furled brows. Questions abound. What happened? Where is summer- who cares about spring?
We can be like the lovely plants patiently pushing forward with a jaunty air trusting in God and His promises while lifting our hands towards the heavens joyfully proclaiming His goodness. When difficulties come our way, we can be patient knowing that as each day passes God is working through us and around us to change us as well as our situation. Finally, keep grounded. Keep connected to your Heavenly Father through prayer. You can always talk to Him. Speak your heart. Are you crying? He will comfort you. Are you upset? He will send you peace. Is there no other place to go- to turn? Turn to the one who cares more than anyone you will ever know- God.
“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” Mark 1:35
Morning routines are comfortable. Each routine is as different as the individual, but all perform the same function, easing one into a brand new day. Many people begin with exercise, and others shower. Children eat breakfast in the hopes that a few minutes of playtime can be obtained. Some people are not lucid until they have drunk at least one cup of coffee and heard the morning news. How did Jesus begin His day? He got up, went by Himself, and prayed.
I can remember when I was in high school and college that my morning routine did not necessarily include prayer. It was not until I was a college senior that prayer really became a part of my morning routine. Now, I cannot conceive beginning my day without my conversations with God. That time alone with God is precious to me. I value the sense of peace and assurance that come with praying, and I yearn for the strength and comfort found in the Scriptures that He brings to my mind. I imagine that is why Jesus left the house to pray by himself in the wee morning hours. As God incarnate, He knew exactly what was at stake each and every day. He needed strength from His Heavenly Father to help Him through the trials of the upcoming day.
If God Himself needed time alone with God the Father, how much more do we? Being simple humans, we fail to realize that our strength is made perfect in our weakness, allowing the strength of God to become our strength. This Lenten season, let us learn to be still and know that He is God. Let us spend some time with Him at the start of the day, renewing our strength for the challenges ahead. Jesus is only a prayer away; take some time alone away from the hubbub of this hectic world and get to know the heart of Jesus, the Hope of the world. It will be the best spent time of our day.
18” But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,
on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,” Psalm 33:18 (NIV)
My family made its home in a small city in western Pennsylvania. As a child, I remember winters of never-ending snow, bitter cold temperatures, and biting winds. I loved it!
Because my brother and sister were on the upper end of elementary school when I began Kindergarten, I did not travel to school on the same bus that they did very often. When we did travel at the same time, my mother would kiss us all good bye and warn me to stay with my siblings. (I had a tendency to wander.) She would tell my sister to watch out for me and repeat the same information to my brother. The goal was always the same- get to school safely and come home together.
My sister was in the Safety Patrol which made her the leader at the bus stop. In inclement weather, all of the children would pile into a family garage. It was dark and dingy with a large automobile placed right in the middle. It really was not a comfortable place to be at all. What made it magical was my sister. Each day, she would tell us stories. The time spent waiting for the bus always flew by because Paula could tell the best stories. When the bus arrived, the story installment paused until the next day, and off we went to school. I can still hear her call my name to make sure I was not left behind.
I do not remember what my brother was doing during those stories, but do I remember the walk from the bus stop to the house. One time stands vividly in my mind. It was one of those incredible snowstorms that stole your breath away and knocked you off your feet. At the time I was tiny, and a lesser wind could have knocked me down. The snow was deep, and I struggled to get through the drifts. Both my brother and sister called for me to hurry, but the distance between us continued to increase. I called out to them, but the wind snatched my breath away. I felt panic rise in my chest. I could not see. I could not breathe. I was freezing! Suddenly, my brother turned around, and he came back to me. His voice sounded annoyed, but he saw my plight, and he helped me. I remember how grateful I felt. He told me to hold onto his belt and to not let go no matter what. I grasped his coat, and I did not let go. If I faltered, he knew it. I was not left behind. He was the plow in front of me. He carved the way for me with his legs, and he shielded me with his body.
It is easy to trust and hope in things until we realize that things are just temporary. My sturdy little legs were no match for a ferocious snowstorm. I needed help. I trusted my big brother and sister to watch out for me. I hoped that they would pay attention to their little sister.
Today I know that because He loves me, God is watching over me. I know that His love will never fail me. I know that He carves the paths for me to follow, and that He lifts me up when I fall down. When I cry out to God, He listens to me. God is here for me, but He is here for you too. He is watching over you, caring for you. He is waiting for you to look to Him for your answers. Do not be panicked. He is waiting to carve a way for you too. You will not be left behind.
“A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees,
‘If you are willing, you can make me clean.’
Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out a hand and touched the man,
‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’” Mark 1:40-41
Leprosy is one of the world’s most heinous disease- a highly contagious disease that affects the skin, mucous membranes and nerves causing paralysis and eventual death. Today, it is confined to tropical areas in Asia and Africa, but, in Biblical times, it was a disease to be feared and treated with the utmost caution. The Old Testament books of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy dealt with how to protect the Hebrew community from its spread; by the time of the Jesus, it was not uncommon for a leper to be held in contempt by the greater community. There were even laws governing these poor, wretched outcasts from the onset of the disease to the restoration of said individual’s health or his death. They were driven from society, never to know the comforts of their loved ones again. Desperation was a way of life.
Desperation drove one leper to disregard the conventions of his day and fall at Jesus’ feet, begging for mercy. Can you hear the cry of this man’s heart? He threw caution to the wind, knowing the consequences of his actions should Jesus turn a deaf ear to his plea. “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” This leper knew the power that Jesus held; he had the faith to believe that Jesus was capable of healing him. However, he did not know if Jesus cared enough to heal him, yet that did not stop the man from dropping to his knees and begging Jesus to restore his health, life, honor, and make him whole. What faith and sincerity of heart this simple leper had! Jesus looked upon him and immediately opened the floodgates of heaven. All Jesus said was, “I am willing; be clean.” His heart said, “My child, great is your faith. Let me make you whole once again.”
Sometimes, circumstances in our lives suffocate us, and we feel as if we are drowning. We fall on our knees crying out to the Father to make us clean, if He is willing. But we have done so many things wrong. How could He possibly want to fulfill our earnest prayer? We turned our backs on Him so often; why should Jesus not do the same to us? It is in that moment, when our backs are to the wall, and there is nowhere else to turn, that we hear the voice of God saying, “I am willing; be clean.” We hear the heart of God saying, “My child, welcome home. Great is your faith. Let me make you whole again, for I have been waiting just for you.” Hope springs eternal as we reach the end of ourselves and fall on our faces in front of the One who can and will make us whole again. He is waiting for you to ask; will you?
7 “But now, Lord, what do I look for?
My hope is in you.” Psalm 39:7 (NIV)
On Thursday, I sat down to write this devotional. Once I finished writing it, I had someone else read it to correct punctuation or spelling. After a few minutes, my editor stopped, turned to me, and said, “You’re not feeling very well, are you? I really can’t tell what this sentence is trying to say. Actually, it’s a fragment.” No, I was not feeling particularly well. I have been ill these past few weeks, and I had had a very tiring coughing spasm prior to sitting down at my computer. Today is Saturday, and I learned something since Thursday. I learned that illness can make me spiritually, as well as physically, weak. The longer the illness dragged on, the more my reserves were drained. Obstacles that were typically hurdles became huge walls, since I was not looking at them from a Godly perspective.
Last night, I had one too many obstacles in my path. I began to feel angry and annoyed. It was at this point I should have recognized that a spiritual attack was coming my way and walked away to pray. Instead, I wallowed in the annoyance. I blew up. Even though what I said had truth to it, it was not said in love. It was meant to wound as I felt I was wounded. After the explosion, the air was not cleared. Everything just felt awkward and unhappy. I knew that I had stepped outside of God’s will for me, and others paid the price.
Today is a different day, and my perspective is different too. Last night, I spent time with God. I read His word, and He and I had a heart to heart talk. He did most of the talking because my side of the conversation consisted mostly of “I blew it again, Lord. Help me!” Yes, today is a different day because I stopped looking at the circumstances. I turned my focus back to God my Father. Today, Psalm 39:7 has a more personal meaning because of my personal failing last night. Today, I can say with a renewed perspective, “7 “But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.” It is my hope that you too will have a renewed perspective and put your hope in Him too.
“After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. ‘Follow me,’ Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.
Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples,
‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collects and ‘sinners’?’
Jesus answered them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’” Luke 5:27-32
When a person is sick and is not getting any better, they will hopefully visit the doctor to find out the cause of his illness and receive the treatment to set him on the road to recovery. Why is it that people do not have the same drive to visit the Great Physician for their immortal souls? Levi was a tax collector, and, while people today do not have any great love for the IRS, there is not the virulence that existed for the Roman tax collectors. Rome used local people to gather taxes, and any additional monies gathered became the collector’s salary. Unfortunately, this often led to rampant stealing on the part of the tax collectors; consequently, society hated these men with a passion. In spite of this cultural faux pas, Jesus looked at Levi’s heart, and He called Levi to follow Him. Levi immediately left behind his former life to follow Jesus.
The joy that enveloped Levi as he stepped out in faith to follow Jesus was enormous, and he wanted to share that joy with his friends, fellow tax collectors and other ‘sinners’- the riffraff of Jewish society. Levi threw a party for Jesus and the entire village. Knowing Jesus, He listened intently to those on the outskirts of society, and His eyes were filled with compassion for those who did not know where else to turn. The Great Physician was at work, diagnosing and prescribing treatments to each tortured soul.
However, there were others passing judgment as Jesus- the Master Carpenter, the Good Shepherd, and the Great Physician- loved those deemed to be unlovable. The Pharisees stood in a group off to the side, muttering to themselves. Arms crossed, sneers on faces, dressed in the garb that set them apart from these untouchables. Their hearts were cold as ice and their hatred could freeze blood. Finally, one of the Pharisees could not stand it anymore. He had to know, stalking over to Jesus to find out once and for all why Jesus would associate with these insufferable creatures.
Imagine the Pharisee’s shock when Jesus looked at him with the same compassion, offering this Pharisee and all of his cohorts the opportunity to go under the Great Physician’s scalpel. Jesus offered the man a simple explanation, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” As Jesus spoke, the man’s eyes faltered, for he felt Jesus cut through his persona to his very heart. In spite of the offer, he turned away; all of the Pharisees turned away. They had the opportunity to be forever changed, to have the hatred that held them captive removed as a tumor is removed. Yet, they refused to schedule an appointment with the Great Physician.
What happened to Levi? He chose to allow Jesus to change him forever, and future generations no longer called him Levi, but Matthew. We also have a choice. We can choose to ignore the call of Jesus and continue along our merry way, or we can be like Matthew and accept the hope extended out to us. We can allow the Great Physician to cut away the guilt, shame, hatred, selfishness and apply the salve of love, mercy, and grace. Jesus is waiting for each one of us to turn to Him for healing. The question remains, will you ask God to heal your life too?
Hope sees through the veil of darkness
“I will obey.”
Genesis 7:4 & 10-12
4 Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.”
10 And after the seven days the floodwaters came on the earth.
11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. 12 And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.
18 But God will never forget the needy;
the hope of the afflicted will never perish. Psalm 9:18 (NIV)
If God will never forget the needy, should we? It is easy to say I want to help others, but the actual helping gets lost in the busyness of our everyday lives. That is why we need to make a deliberate plan to help others. Have you gone through your clothing recently? Perhaps you have good clothing that you do not wear anymore. The Salvation Army and other organizations have drop off boxes conveniently located where you can place your lightly used clothing. Cleaning out your attic? Perhaps you have old furniture that you no longer need. That furniture could make someone very happy. You could schedule a pick-up with the Salvation Army, the United War Veterans, or the Lupus Foundation truck. Most organizations are willing to help you help those less fortunate than you are.
At HOPE, we have four Spirit Days during the school year. Each quarter, our students are asked to support the needy in some way. Usually HOPE families collect food for the local food pantry, fill and wrap shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, or donate supplies to another local non-profit. You see, HOPE’s Spirit Days are motivated by the Holy Spirit. In the Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he tells us that “10 We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10 (NIV) HOPE’s students are acting as God’s hands and feet by reaching out and touching those around us. As we teach our students through example; they will, in turn, carry on the tradition as they travel through life. What are your traditions that you are passing on through your children and grandchildren? Remember your children are watching you. Are you forgetting the needy? God never forgets them, and neither should we.
“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
~ Teresa of Ávila
“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Luke 6:35-37
We live in a world of unforgiveness, condemnation, and revenge. One person did not get the promotion hoped for and spends his time trying to discredit the person who was promoted. Another person is angry because the political candidate of his choice was not elected, and he has chosen to be civilly disobedient, not to mention rude and crude to those who voted for the elected individual. Someone shared a snippet of a video of a police officer restraining a person of a different race; suddenly, people are protesting, rioting, and looting to express their displeasure. What has happened to our country? This is not the America I know. More importantly, this is in stark contrast to how Christ wants us to act.
How do you love your enemies? How do you bless those who hurt you? How do you stop yourself from judging and condemning when the “proof” is right before your eyes? How can you forgive when anger consumes you? In reality, we cannot. In ourselves, each of these actions is impossible, for our sinful nature has control. However, with God, all things are possible. When we allow the Holy Spirit to begin to work within us, we find that the impossible is actually possible, for we are changed from the inside out. The Spirit continually changes us, until we are reflections of Christ for the entire world to see.
During WWII, a monsignor named Hugh O’Flaherty became known as the Vatican Pimpernel. This man was the leader of an underground group located in Rome; they rescued thousands of people, regardless of their nationality, religion, race, or wealth. In 1944 alone, O’Flaherty’s group was responsible for the lives of over 4,000 people, and O’Flaherty himself visited each person, in spite of the personal risk involved. He was a master of disguises, and he consistently stayed one step ahead of the Gestapo. Finally, the Allies wretched control from the Nazis, and the head of the Gestapo in Rome, Pietro Koch, was arrested for war crimes. Prior to his arrest, Koch sent word to O’Flaherty asking that his wife and children be taken to Switzerland. O’Flaherty initially refused, for how could he possibly help his mortal enemy? One week later, the Allies questioned Koch regarding his family’s escape to Switzerland. The Monsignor chose to forgive Koch and rescue his family. Although Koch spent the rest of his life in prison, he did have one visitor each month: Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty. Because of the forgiveness and love that Koch received at O’Flaherty’s hands, Koch came to know Christ. He found hope because one man chose to live out Christ’s words. Likewise, may we live our lives in such a way that others are led to the God of Hope.
5 “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in His word I put my hope.” Psalm 130:5 (NIV)
Do you know what it is like to wait with your whole being? Have you ever desired something so much that your world turns upon that axis? Those who have waited with their whole being know that waiting can be painful. Let me give you an example of waiting. When my husband and I were first married, we both wanted a single-family home located on some property with a backyard. To us, it did not seem to be an unreasonable desire. Since we were young, and we had our whole lives before us, waiting for just the right house with a small mortgage did not seem to be impossible wish. However, time passed; financial reverses happened, and babies one, two, and three came into our lives. Though we had almost purchased several houses, the deals always fell through, and we remained in our apartment. After baby number 4, and yet another housing disappointment, it finally occurred to us to “bloom where we were planted,” and we made a permanent home out of a “temporary” situation. As one young teenage guest said to her friend, “It was the largest apartment in Flemington.” She went on to compare our 850 square feet of living space to her home which was over 2,000 square feet of colonial house. At the time, I could not help but smile and nod in stunned disbelief. But, at that moment, I realized something very important. God had stretched our little corner of the world with His love, and we did have a huge home with a lot of land for children to play- we had bloomed. Our apartment continued to be our home for another fifteen years, and it was not until God was preparing us to move that the apartment became too small for our family.
God has a plan for each of us. He hears our plans, and He keeps His course, because only He knows what we need and when we need it. After thirty-six years of marriage, we were able to purchase the perfect house for us, but God’s plan is still being revealed to us on a need-to-know basis. When I take my eyes off the Lord, I can become anxious. It is in those times that I seek God’s Word and His favor, and my hope is restored.
Are you waiting for something that is very dear to your heart? God knows. He sees your desire, but He also knows what you need when you need it. Trust in His love. Entrust yourself to His care, and follow His direction. Hope in His ultimate love for you. Your journey may be bumpy, but it will genuinely be worth the ride.
“The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45
“Put garbage in; get garbage out.” Growing up, I heard this saying often, and it applied to just about anything: movies, television shows, music, books, speech, etc. When I was little, I did not quite understand what the saying meant, yet I followed this mantra. I was the child who was perfectly happy watching Sesame Street or Reading Rainbow, preferred listening to Christian music, loved reading classic books such as Anne of Green Gables, and stayed as far away from horror movies as I possibly could. I just had no desire to test those boundaries.
It was not until I was a freshman in college that I fully understood what this saying meant in relation to Luke 6:45. I was taking an English II course, and the professor chose to teach about different genres of literature. I like reading, and I could not see any difficulty with reading from different genres. The problem was that one of the units dealt with horror. Our assignment was to critique a horror movie. Big problem! Mayday!!!! My spirit started to scream within me, as the professor turned off the lights and turned on snippets from the movies The Shining and The Silence of the Lambs. Immediately, my spirit began reacting against the evil on the screen. I jabbed my fingers into my ears, closed my eyes, and prayed. My spirit was so agitated that I was literally shaking, and it did not settle down until I was halfway home listening to praise songs. Why did I have such a reaction to those movies? Ultimately, it was because I had not desensitized myself to the evil portrayed in those films; rather, I put good into me.
We look at today’s world, and we wonder how evil was able to get such a stranglehold. Do we put forth movies, television shows, books, and music that honor God, or do we permit and praise the evil within them? How can children be so cruel? We often wonder at this, yet we model cruelty. If we want to truly change the world for Christ, we need to stand as people of faith against the evil that we see, even if it is not popular. Start by putting good into you, and you will begin to spread good around you. This in turn leads to hope, and hope is something that we all need.
5 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God. Psalm 42:5 (NIV)
Things do not always go the way I want them to go. It is almost a system of defeat. I make plans, and the plans fall through. Then I become dejected and downcast. Do you have that problem too? Let me give you an example. On Monday, our little area of the world was told to brace for a pretty bad snowstorm. If you were like me, you made sure that you had enough food and water for the next few days. You positioned your snow shovels within easy reach of the back door; for immediate snow removal. All was in readiness. Instead of a snowstorm, the storm became a snow/ice event. On Tuesday, the typical 2 hour shoveling became a back- breaking three hours, and the job was still not complete. (Deep breath) Okay, it is time to punt. Next plan, I will wake up at 7:00 to finish the snow removal before the students arrive at 10:00 on Wednesday morning. It was a good plan except for a few items that I had not planned on happening. First, it is now Daylight Savings, and the sun does not come up until after 7:00 A.M.; the sun was not able to warm the snow. Second, the temperatures last night were in the teens to lower twenties; the snow froze to all ice, and became unmovable. (Sigh) If you have not seen the trend in my story I will explain, the school entrance is snow covered in a sheet of ice. It is not what I planned for, but it is what has happened. I must admit that my first reaction was frustration, not prayer or praise, but that last feeling lasted only a minute. After that minute, I smiled and began praising God because He is good. He has a plan that I know nothing about. He knew that the snow would be impossible to move today, and He knew that the students were coming to back to school on Wednesday. It did not pay for me to feel defeated or disturbed. I can only do what I can do. Often my plans do not take into account extenuating circumstances, but God has all the information to show me what I need to do. Today, just like every other day, I will put my hope in God, and I will praise Him because He is good.
“When Jesus finished saying all of this in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, ‘This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.’
So Jesus went with them.
He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: ‘Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.’
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, ‘I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.’ Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.” Luke 7:1-10
Jesus is the God of the Impossible, yet we Christians have a difficult time accepting this truth. The same was true of the Jewish people during the time of Christ; Jesus performed miracle after miracle in their presence only to be doubted time and again. Is it any wonder that a Roman centurion’s simple declaration of faith turned Jesus’ head? This was a soldier of authority, and he expected to be obeyed without question. There was no doubt in the centurion’s mind that Jesus was capable of healing his servant. Imagine his surprise when he learned Jesus was coming directly to his house. As a Roman soldier, the centurion was baffled that Jesus was traveling to him; he understood that Jews were not permitted to enter the house of a Roman. However, convention never stopped Jesus, and it was this apparent disregard for the culture of the Jewish people that caused the centurion to send his friends to Jesus. The centurion never expected Jesus to come; he expected Jesus to heal. Jesus had the power and the authority to heal anyone anywhere, and the centurion took Jesus at His word. No doubts entered his mind, just assurance that Jesus healed his servant. The healing was as good as done as soon as Jesus was asked. How many of us can say the same of our faith? I sometimes hang my head in shame as I realize that once again, I have allowed doubt to crush the faith that Jesus can and will do as He says. We stand in awe of those who see the miraculous and believe that their requests are fulfilled. If only we had the faith of the centurion!
When I was in Seventh Grade, my history teacher showed us an episode from Stephen Spielburg’s show Amazing Stories. The episode was entitled “The Mission.” After flak disabled a B-17 bomber during a bombing run, the pilot attempted to return to home base before running out of fuel. Shrapnel holes riddled the B-17, and the crew’s gunner was trapped in the belly gun, which sits below the plane just above the wheels. As the B-17 flew closer to base, the pilot attempted to lower the landing gear to no avail. He tried repeatedly to lower the wheels, still nothing. The pilot got on the intercom and told the trapped man the bad news- if they landed, he would be killed.
This gunner was an aspiring cartoonist, who dreamed of someday working for Walt Disney, yet it seemed as if he would never get his chance. The entire crew said their goodbyes to the young man; as his final request, the gunner asked for his sketchpad. He drew a picture of the bomber with working landing gear. The picture was beautiful, and, as the tears flowed from the young man’s eyes, he drew the wheels. His pencil traced the wheels over and over and over; suddenly, the gunner spoke into the intercom and asked the pilot to try the landing gear one more time. The pilot obliged, although he knew it was a lost cause. To the shock of all on board, cartoon landing gear started to drop into place as the plane lined up with the runway to come in for its landing. The emergency crews ran to the plane and took blowtorches to the belly gun to release the gunner. As they pulled him out, someone poked the cartoon tire causing it to blow air at him. The gunner was carried out of harm’s way to where the rest of the bomber’s crew was waiting. A doctor rushed over to the frozen young man, still clutching his pencil and the picture. Suddenly, the gunner snapped out of his trance, and the wheels that held the plane up disappeared with a resounding crunch. The doctor carefully disengaged the drawing from his hands, and the men found themselves looking at the very wheels that held the plane up.
I have never forgotten that episode. The faith of that young man saved the entire crew. Like the centurion, the young man did not doubt, for he knew that the God of the impossible performs miracles, any time and anywhere. This Lenten season and always, let us live like the centurion, with an unshakable faith that says, “If You, Lord, say the word, it will be done.” May our faith move mountains too.
Hope sees through the veil of darkness
“Ah! What a promise!”
Genesis 8:1-2 (NIV)
8 But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. 2 Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky.
19”The thought of my suffering and homelessness
is bitter beyond words.[a]
20 I will never forget this awful time,
as I grieve over my loss.
21 Yet I still dare to hope
when I remember this:
22 The faithful love of the Lord never ends![b]
His mercies never cease.
23 Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
therefore, I will hope in him!” Lamentations 3:19-24 (NIV)
Life has its ups and downs. Sometimes we breeze through the everyday with hardly a second thought. We each have an autopilot mechanism inside us which does the everyday duties with very little effort. However sometimes we are faced with decidedly difficult situations. When that happens, our autopilot turns off, and we are left to deal with the circumstances. During those difficult times, we need to be like the prophet Jeremiah who, though rejected by his fellow Jews, spoke of God’s judgment and reconciliation.
The prophet and priest Jeremiah lived during a time when there was little hope for the Hebrews. A series of terrible kings who made terrible decisions for their people left Judah in religious, moral, and political decay. Because the Hebrews turned away from the God of their fathers, they were conquered and became part of the Chaldean Empire. Many of the Hebrews were not killed, but were carted off to Babylon. It is because Jeremiah recorded the traumatic events of those years that we are able to understand the pain and suffering the Hebrews withstood under God’s judgment. However, as Jeremiah chronicled the judgment of God on His chosen people, we are able to catch a glimpse of God’s mercy and love for His people. Though he is grieving, Jeremiah still has hope in the future because God’s love for His people is so great.
Like Jeremiah, we need to look at our lives through God-centered glasses. Though God is a just God, He is also a loving Father who does not turn His back on His children. Each day God sends us the promise of a new day. The sun rises; the birds chirp, and a new and glorious day has begun. It is the promise of a new day which brings the promise of new hope. Though we see the signs of the new day, our hope is not in the creation displaying God’s pleasure, but our hope is in the Creator, God. Today, be like Jeremiah the prophet who wrote:
22 “The faithful love of the Lord never ends![b]
His mercies never cease.
23 Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
therefore, I will hope in him!”
12 “Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12 (NIV)
18 “There is surely a future hope for you,
and your hope will not be cut off.” Proverbs 23:18 (NIV)
Sometimes our choices lead us into a “dead end.” One poor choice can often lead to another and another, and, as it turns out, a choice that once offered promise was really no promise at all. Suddenly, you have nowhere to turn and no one to talk with. The future looks bleak at best. The new job with the big salary and the fringe benefits held great promise, but ended in your lay off. Your salary no longer covers the bills due because the house exceeded your budget. Even though you felt that something in your relationship was not quite right, you pursued that relationship, and now you are alone wondering what happened. Perhaps you recognize similar choices in your life; if you do, I am sure you understand that sick-at-heart feeling. I know I recognize them because I have chosen poorly a few times in my life too. The crushing weight of poor choices is often devastating, but there is hope- if you just look up. Your Heavenly Father, God, is waiting for you to talk to Him. I have looked up, and God was waiting to cradle me in His arms. He listened to my cries for help, and He helped me. The consequences from my poor choices did not vanish, but I could handle them. God helped me see that I had friends and family that were more than willing to listen and to help me too. I can still make poor choices, and sometimes I fail to look to God for direction. But I have learned through experience that I am much better off when my choices are directed by my Heavenly Father. Yes, I have a future, and my hope is not cut off because my hope is in God.
“Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out- the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, ‘Don’t cry.’
Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, ‘Young man, I say to you, get up!’ The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
They were all filled with awe and praised God. ‘A great prophet has appeared among us,’ they said. ‘God has come to help his people.’ This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.” Luke 7:11-17
Who can fathom how great our God truly is? Reading this passage, I was struck by a single line- “God has come to help his people.” Imagine the scene. All of the mourners wailing and sobbing with the widow as her dead son was carried out in a coffin. There are few things in life more heartbreaking than the loss of a loved one; the grief cuts one to the core. How can life possibly continue? Jesus was walking along the dusty road, approaching the town gates when He was greeted with the funeral procession. In an instant, He saw the mother’s anguish and sorrow, and Jesus acted out of the His love for the mother. Walking up and touching the coffin was enough to stop those carrying it; then Jesus spoke. Instantly, the young man sat up and began talking. The mother’s joy was indescribable, for her precious son was restored to her. “God has come to help his people.”
Jesus is the same today; He comes to help His children. A child suffers from a rare disease, only to be healed in a freak accident. A family escapes from a wrecked car without a scratch; a drug addict is freed from his addiction. “God has come to help his people.” Those are the examples where God’s power is clearly delineated; however, there are the times that God does not change the situation or bring back those whom we have lost. We wonder why. A baby dies, and the parents wonder why. A wife leaves her husband, and he wonders why. An only daughter is killed in a car accident, and people wonder why. A terrorist sheds innocent blood, and we scream why. Why? Why? Why? Where is God when our protective covering is yanked away? In our questioning, we fail to hear Him say, “Here I am.”
Where is God in our sorrow, our pain, our trials, and our tribulations? He is right behind us, surrounding us with His love. “God has come to help his people.” If we permit Him to, Jesus helps the brokenhearted parents by wrapping them in His love and comfort. He restores relationships; he brings healing to our spiritual beings rather than our physical bodies. Though God is not the author of evil, He will use those situations to bring His children to His loving, saving grace. In spite of what we see, God is still helping His people. The mourners and the mother saw a dead body; Christ saw a life restored. We see pain and suffering, and Jesus sees love and mercy. We see death, but Jesus sees everlasting life. What amazing hope is found in this simple statement! “God has come to help his people.” Thanks be to God for His incredible hope.
31 “But those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31 (NIV)
Today the weather is bright and sunny. The air is nippy, and a brisk wind is whipping the flags on their poles. There are even lingering snowdrifts and piles scattered across the landscape. It is a wonderful day to be alive. To many people, the colder temperatures are just a reminder that the weather can still be winter-like, but, to me, today’s weather brings a smile to my face and a bounce to my step. I feel the colder temperatures, and I am invigorated. The promise of spring seems even more real to me as the buds begin to emerge on the trees, and the green leaves push stalwartly out of the dirt. To me, each new growth is part of a promise.
This past winter was a warmer winter, which gave the false promise of an early spring. As the bulbs planted deep in the earth responded to the warm temperatures, their green leaves pushed valiantly to the surface of the earth. Soon tiny buds appeared, as the snowdrops, crocuses, and daffodils in turn began to produce their lovely white, purple, and yellow flowers. It was at this point that the brutal winter weather returned in the form of twenty degree temperatures, and eventually, snow. The flowers that blossomed early drooped and then dropped to the ground. They lost vital strength in their stems due to the frosty weather. It was too soon to bloom. The other plants that pushed from the ground grew more slowly, and, when the weather shifted, they remained protected by their winter covering. They waited.
Like the flowers, we too have seasons in our lives. If we are connected to God, our hope is in Him. It is with His guidance that we learn when to move and when to wait. God’s timing is always the best. If we move too quickly, we can be like the frostbitten flowers drooping in the cold. However, if we wait on God to give us permission to move, we will be like the second group of flowers- gaining strength and vitality under God’s protection. God offers us a new portion of hope each and every day. It is up to each one of us to renew our strength as we decide whether to accept or reject His gracious gift of hope.
“John’s disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’
…So He replied to the messengers, ‘Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.’” Luke 7:18-19, 22-23
Has God ever spoken to your heart and revealed something about your dreams to you? Has that dream been so elusive that you have begun to question whether or not you heard correctly? Has the path toward that dream been filled with such insurmountable obstacles that you cannot fathom how this could possibly be a part of God’s plans for you? Have your expectations of God’s plans colored the inevitable actuality that you experience?
John the Baptist knew these feelings incredibly well. God used John mightily, and John recognized Jesus as the Messiah right away. However, soon after Jesus began His earthly ministry, John was arrested by King Herod and thrown into a dungeon. The reports and rumors that John heard did not seem to match up with the expectations of the Messiah that John had built up in His mind. Jesus did not physically free Israel from Rome’s chains, and Jesus certainly had a lot of enemies in an extremely short period of time. What was John to do? He sent some of his followers to speak with Jesus. John was stuck in a rut, questioning whether he heard God’s voice correctly, or maybe his cousin Jesus was not the Messiah after all. Surely, Jesus could clear up this misunderstanding. Count on Jesus to point to the obvious. Look at the evidence before you, and tell John what you have heard and seen. That is all the evidence that he needs.
Like John the Baptist, I sometimes question whether the voice I heard was truly God’s. If this is the path God has for me, then some forward progress should be made. If the dreams God has placed on my heart are true, then why does it seem to be one setback after another? Is this truly the path God has for me? Some of my friends and family think that I am wrong, yet God keeps saying, “Hang on just a little longer. You will see the dreams that I have for you coming to pass very soon. Keep trusting Me.” Expectations that I place on the dreams God has given me inevitably get in the way of God’s actual plan, and I end up disappointed. Then, God reaches down and lifts up my face, saying, “Look at the evidence around you. Look at the path I have led you down and how far you have come. I have not given up on those plans. Keep trusting Me.” God’s hope is before me, and it is in front of you too. Look at the evidence before you, before us, as we trust the One who holds out hope.
“Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so He went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind Him at His feet weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.” Luke 7:36-38
What do you do when you come to the end of yourself? Many of us give up hope; however, in actuality, we should take a page out of the sinful woman’s book. Here was a sinful woman, an outcast of society. Now, we do not know what she did, only that she was sinful; most of us already have created some kind of horrible life for her: maybe she was a thief, an adulteress, or a prostitute. The Bible does not tell us because it does not matter, for, in God’s sight, we are all equal- we are all sinners, just like this woman. We do know how this woman reacted when she reached the end of her rope: she turned to Jesus.
Imagine the scene. Jesus, his disciples, some prominent Jewish leaders, and his host and family are reclining at a bounteous table of tasty morsels. Each one is laughing and talking to one another. No one notices the town disgrace slink into the room; no one notices, that is, until she stands at Jesus’ feet, tears streaming down her cheeks, despair in her body language, clutching a single bottle of perfume. Suddenly, the room is so silent you can hear a pin drop; mouths gape, and shock registers on faces. Jesus alone sedately continues to eat. He knows the woman is there to see Him, but He waits patiently. As the woman’s guilt overwhelms her, she falls at Jesus’ feet, and her silent tears rush out in torrents as she can no longer hide the pain she is feeling. She weeps at Jesus’ feet, and, to her horror, the woman realizes that her tears have touched Jesus’ feet. Not knowing what else to do, the woman uses her hair to wipe the tears away and kisses them. Then, she uncaps the bottle clutched in her grasp, and a sweet-smelling fragrance wafts into the room. This woman liberally pours the perfume on Jesus’ feet; the perfume was not cheap. No, indeed, this was an expensive perfume that easily could cost an individual an entire year’s salary. When the woman came to the end of herself, she fell at the feet of Jesus and gave Him everything she had. She had nothing left, and she gave Jesus what she could: herself.
A couple of years ago, I had a moment like this. On the outside, I seemed to be fine, but, on the inside, I had nothing left to give. Who would want me- the weak, guilty, sin-filled woman that I was? Everything that I held dear was ripped away, and I had nowhere else to turn. As the tears turned into heart-wrenching sobs, I just prayed, not getting any farther than, “Dear Jesus.” At that moment, I felt His peace surround me, and His love flow through me. When I reached the end of myself, I found Jesus, and, through Jesus, I found who I am in Christ. Like the sinful woman of our story, Jesus is waiting for us to fall at His feet, and say, “I have nothing left; take me as I am.” Then, Jesus goes to work on His masterpiece, molding it bit by bit until we are the new creations He intended us to be. What great hope is found when we come to the end of ourselves!
Hope sees through the long night,
“Ah! I will trust!”
3 and the waters receded from the earth continually. At the end of 150 days the waters had abated, 4 and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. 5 And the waters continued to abate until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains were seen.
5 “For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lord,
my confidence since my youth.” Psalm 71:5 (NIV)
Each day I reach out to God in prayer. Sometimes, I talk to God about how wonderful He is, or how beautiful His creation is. At other times, I talk to Him about my difficulties and problems. God and I have a history. He loved me long before I loved Him in return. Like most children and young people, I thought of God as a blessing machine. I asked for things, and He blessed me. Then, I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior, and my prayers changed from selfish “I want…” to “How great are you, Lord.” I often wonder what it would be like to have known God in an intimate way from childhood. The author of Psalm 71 knew God very well from his youth. I must admit that knowing God more intimately has taken years. His love surrounds me each day, and His direction is as close as His word, the Holy Bible. Today, I know God as my Protector and my Defender as well as my Provider. Like the author of Psalm 71, I have learned that God will protect me, save me, defend me, and deliver me, not because of anything I have done, but because of His great love for me.
“One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.” Luke 6:12-16
What constitutes a friend? Is it someone with similar interests? Is it someone who is there for moral support? Is it someone who listens? Is it someone who will tell you when you are wrong? Based upon the above Scripture, a friend is someone God has chosen to walk with you through life’s journey. Whether that friend remains for a lifetime or for a season, only God knows. However, we are not meant to go through life alone; we are meant to face life with friends by our side.
I am constantly amazed at how I can read the same Scripture many times, yet, suddenly, I see something I never noticed before. Such was the case with this Scripture. As I read through this, I discovered that prior to Jesus selecting the disciples, He spent the night in prayer. Any guesses as to what He was praying for? I would venture to say that Jesus was praying for the perfect companions for the long road ahead of Him. Jesus was not just planning for His earthly ministry, but He was looking to the future and the beginnings of the early church. He needed friends by His side whom He could teach and rely upon, those who would remain strong in faith regardless of the sacrifices facing them.
Over the years, I have had some friends; most of them have only been friends for a season. It was not until college that I found friends “who stick closer than a brother.” One of these friends got married in January, and we all took a group photo together. Who would have thought that we have been friends for thirteen years? All of us have been through the ups and downs of life. Relationships have come and gone; broken friendships, mended fences, marriages, children’s births, new homes, separation by an ocean, new jobs, and even death of a parent have all passed through our lives together. I am grateful that God chose these friends for me, as I often prayed for good friends who would remain. God does the same for each one of us, putting the perfect people in our paths to walk this road with us. Pray for your friends, and value the time you have together, whether for a season or a lifetime. If Jesus needed friends to help Him, trust Him to provide the friends that you need. We can live with hope knowing that our God knows exactly what we need, friends included.
4 Anyone who is among the living has hope- Ecclesiastes 9:4 (NIV)
Last year after our daughter’s plum tree blossomed, we had a “killer” frost. Rightly named, that frost froze the blossoms to such a degree that we lost 95 % of the fruit crop. We did not realize the damage right away. It was only during the summer when we wanted to make plum jam that we understood the extent of that frost. Even as we reconciled ourselves to a jam-less winter, we had hope that this year the plum tree would produce a plentiful harvest. Today as I passed under the tree to go to school, I realized that the tree was once again filled with blooms. The buds are just now emerging from their winter slumber, and they are still protecting the fragile blossoms that are waiting inside for sunnier and warmer weather. Like the living plum tree, we may produce fruit too. Unlike the plum tree, we have hope because we are connected to Jesus who is the living vine. It is under His care and protection that we, the branches, blossom and produce fruit.
“When Jesus had called the Twelve together, He gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and He sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. He told them: ‘Take nothing for the journey- no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them.’ So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere.” Luke 9:1-6
Jesus came to set the captive free. As He began His ministry, He called various people to stand with Him, friends to walk beside Him on life’s journey. Interestingly, Jesus immediately sent His friends out into the neighboring towns to share the good news and heal the sick. Why send out disciples who did not have all of the answers? Simply put, the disciples were set free. It was time for them to sing of God’s great love and glory.
As I write this, Christy Nockel’s “Freedom Song” is playing in the background. The entire song encompasses our lives when Jesus sets us free, just as He did so many years ago for the disciples. They were lost, but Jesus found them and called them into the light. He met them where they were, and He does the same for us. Jesus changes our sadness into joy and laughter; His strength is sufficient for us all. How can we not sing of our Freedom Song? The mission of the disciples was simply to share the good news that Jesus came to set the captive free. They were singing the song of freedom. The shackles were broken, and the disciples moved and healed through faith in Jesus’ Name. They were reliant upon God for their very survival, but worry did not enter their minds. Freedom in Christ was on their tongues, in their actions, and in their hearts. Their hope was in Jesus; our hope is in Jesus.
“I was lost, Your mercy found me
Called me from darkness, now I can see .
I could not make it, all the way to You;
I thank You, Lord, You made it all the way to me.
I will sing, my God, of Your great love
Telling of the One, who has saved my soul.
I will shout it out to the mountaintops
That You're my freedom song.
You're my freedom song.
You are my freedom song.
You turned my mourning into dancing
Lifted my sorrow, joy filled my soul.
When I grow weary, Your strength renews me;
I thank You, Lord, Your love never lets me go.
Jesus, my Savior, my rock, my redeemer
You are my Lord, You're my All.
Jesus, my Savior, my Hope and my Healer
You are my Freedom Song.”
74” May those who fear You rejoice when they see me,
for I have put my hope in Your word.” Psalm 119:74 (NIV)
When my mother was alive, my family and I would travel several hundred miles into Pennsylvania to visit her. Because the winter months are quite snowy in that part of Pennsylvania, our first trip each year would be at Eastertime. During the warmer months of May through September we would make three trips, and our final trek of the year would be at Thanksgiving. December, January, February, and March were always difficult for me because I wanted to be home. I wanted to see my mom and visit the locations that I knew so well from my childhood. The anticipation to be home was always with me, and, by the time Easter rolled around my joy, knew no bounds. Even if we left later in the afternoon, I would have the suitcases packed, and the car loaded prior to 8:00 in the morning. Nothing was going to stop me from going home.
As a Christian, I have another face and another home that I am anxious see. The Bible tells me that heaven is a wonderful place, but it is made wonderful because it is where God, my Father, lives. He is the One I really want to see. When I arrive in heaven, I will not ever need to leave. It will be my permanent home. Right now, I am in those December, January, and February months, and my anticipation is growing. As I wait, God sends me little glimpses of His face when I see other believers- and as it says in Psalm 119:74, I rejoice when I see them. Since my hope is in Jesus my Savior, I pray that others can see God as reflected through me and rejoice.
5 “Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God.” Psalm 146:5 (NIV)
What or who do you trust in? Some people trust in money, while others trust in their good name. Even more people trust in power or armies. Perhaps you find yourself identifying with one of the groups I have mentioned, I know I have. Today, time and experience has showed me not to trust in things on earth. A good name is only good, until someone smears it. I might be a very upright person, honest and kind, but, if someone does not like my looks or misinterprets what I say or write, my good name may end up sullied. Wealth is transitory. I might be a very wealthy person who donates much of my money to good causes. As time passes, my business might suffer a downturn from which I cannot recover leaving me homeless. Many powerful men and women have trusted in armies to keep them safe, only to find the neighboring country has a better equipped and better trained army. Children trust in their parents words. “Do you promise?” is the child’s plea. To which the parent answers, “Yes, I promise.” At the time of the promise, it seems as if nothing can affect it. The promise is well meant, but outside influences often derail the promise’s fulfillment. Trusting in the people and the things of this world is foolish. However, when you trust in the God of Jacob, the promise is always kept. Since God is omnipotent, there is nothing in heaven or on earth or under the earth that can stop God from fulfilling His will for you. 37 “‘For no word from God will ever fail.’” Luke 1:37 (NIV) The first step is yours. You can put your hope in the Creator of Heaven and earth. It is simply a step of faith. Ask Jesus to be your Savior today.
Hope sees through the dawn of a new beginning
“Ah! What a gift!”
Genesis 8: 6-7
6 At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made 7 and sent forth a raven. It went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth.
“On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus.
‘Teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’
‘What is written in the Law?’ He replied. ‘How do you read it?’
He answered: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
‘You have answered correctly,’ Jesus replied. ‘Do this and you will live.’
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’”
In today’s day and age, love has almost become synonymous with “like a lot.” “I love you,” holds the same weight as, “I love ice cream,” or “I love (insert celebrity name here).” We have forgotten the value of love, and we have forgotten how precious a commodity it is. When I was in college, I took several American Sign Language classes. It was interesting to see the difference between cultures, for in the Deaf culture, there is one sign for loving an object or an animal and another for loving a person. Never shall the two meet.
The expert of Jesus’ day seemed to have the same difficulty. He could give the textbook definition as he was trained to do, but, when it came to reality, he did not want to be bothered with those unsavory to him. Sounds familiar, does it not? If we are truly honest, we do not want to love the unlovable…No, we do not want to love those we deem unlovable. We want to love God with our heart, soul, strength, and mind, until it becomes inconvenient, painful, or difficult. At that point in time, we put up roadblocks by asking, “Do You really want me to befriend that person, God? How can I possibly give all this away? How about I give only this part? Give that habit up? Surely, You jest!”
It is time for a reality check. Love is a verb. Did you catch that? Love is a verb- an action verb to be precise. In the early 1990s, there was a DC Talk song called, “Luv Is a Verb,” I still remember being struck by how powerful that statement was. The final verse always hit home because it sums up love perfectly:
“Back in the day, there was a Man,
Who stepped out of Heaven, and He walked the land.
He delivered to the people an eternal choice,
With a heart full of luv and the truth in His voice,
Gave up His life so that we may live.
How much more luv could the Son of God give?
Here is the example that we oughtta be matchin’
Cause luv is a word that require some action.”
This year, let us strive to live out love- the love as exemplified by the Son of God. It was Love that sent Him to earth, and it was Love that saved us. Hope is born of love. How can we do any less than share that love that we have been so freely given?
Peace and Hope Romans 5:1-5 (NIV)
5 “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we[c] also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
In the past when I thought of sufferings, I did not think of them in a positive way. Sometimes, I cried out to God with a one word question- “Why?” But over the years, I learned that the sufferings helped me to grow emotionally and spiritually. They strengthened and prepared me for my uncertain future. For that growth, I am grateful. But as I walked through those sufferings and trials, I cried, “Why me?” Or “Why us? Or “What did I do to deserve this treatment?” I ranted and I raved.
Have you ever reacted in a similar way? As trial after trial came and went, I learned to turn to God in another way. When I turned to Him for solace and wisdom, I learned to search His Word, the Holy Bible. As He took me through Scripture after Scripture, a remarkable thing began to happen. My attitude began to change. As my attitude changed, the difficult times began to change too. I was no longer devastated by events, and I could feel God’s peace flow through me. The more I read the Bible, the greater the strength I gained. God lead me to read Scriptures such as Romans 5:1-5 which helped me to understand His greater plan was to help me to grow into the likeness of His son Jesus Christ. I realized that God’s great desire was for me to grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man, as Jesus had grown so many years ago- Luke 2:52. Today, I try to look at trials as a challenge- one that God will guide me through. I must admit, that during stressful situations I do not always react immediately in the way that I know I should, but I am a work in progress. Little by little, through the Holy Spirit’s work and God’s tender nurturing, I am growing in perseverance, character, and hope.
“In reply Jesus said: ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. When he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
‘Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’
The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’
Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’ Luke 10:30-37
Growing up, I can remember my parents telling me to love my neighbor, to help others, and to be kind. The downstairs neighbors in the apartment complex where I grew up were very nice: Mr. and Mrs. Crandall and their girls Jeannette and Joanna (who were much older than I was) and Mrs. Meister, and I can remember liking them all. Mrs. Crandall always seemed to be sad, but Mr. Crandall always had something nice to say to us. Mrs. Meister always wanted to share cookies with us, and she loved to garden. Yet, as time wore on, Mrs. Meister’s son came to live with her. To say that her son was a little odd was an understatement. He was the epitome of a cranky, self-centered person who did not care one whit about potentially hurting others. This was the man who raised baby copperheads (yes, poisonous snakes) and released them in the woods behind the apartments; he was the man who accidentally blew up the laundromat one December afternoon. (Thank the Lord that no one was hurt, but the family above the laundromat was displaced for an entire winter, not to mention that all of the families who used that laundromat had to walk to the far ends of the complex to wash their clothes. Did I mention that it constantly snowed that year?) This was the same man who tried to throw away harmful chemicals. After a while, it was almost typical to see the EPA, FBI, local police, EMS, and firemen in the parking lot.
What does this have to do with helping others? We continued to be friendly with the people who came and went; we shared and played with the neighbors’ children. We tried to cheer up Mrs. Meister, for she grew increasingly unhappy. Yet, not one of us children had anything to do with her son; no one wanted to get yelled at for crossing the line into “his yard” or making too much noise as we played. We tried to keep as far away from him as possible, for he scared most of us. Eventually, he moved to Florida and took all of his dangerous chemicals with him, courtesy of the EPA car following behind him. I am sorry to say that it was a relief to see Mrs. Meister’s son go. Perhaps in our fear, we failed to be the neighbors that we are called to be as Christians. Perhaps, we should have continued to visit with Mrs. Meister instead of fearing the wrath of her son. Perhaps the neighbor who needed the most help was Mrs. Meister; we could have helped weed her garden, brought her flowers, made cookies, and the list goes on. Instead we allowed fear of someone to stop us from being a light for Jesus.
Who is your neighbor? It is the person who needs help, whether he knows it or not. It is the lonely, the helpless, the hopeless, the hurting, and every single person we meet. Like the Good Samaritan, we love God with our heart, mind, soul, and strength when we give of ourselves for others. May we truly learn how to love others as Christ has loved us.
12 “Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope;
even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.” Zechariah 9:12 (NIV)
What an unusual thought- I am a prisoner of hope. If you look at me, you will see no chains to hold me in one place, nor will you see iron bars surrounding me, for I am free to move about in my daily tasks. I am in no alternate world. I live and breathe here on planet Earth. And yet, my fortress is strong and secure for my hope is not based on anything or anyone that changes. No, my hope is anchored in God, my Father, the Eternal One. This fortress is strong and secure. The winds of change and the sands of time try to erode the fortress that surrounds me, but because my hope is in God, the walls remain strong and secure. Though quakes often shake the foundation walls, they remain intact for nothing shakes my Savior- the Master Builder who constructed the foundation of my fortress. When I first became a follower of Christ, I learned some hope-strengthening hymns. Since God gave me an ear for music, I am grateful that in times of stress hymns ebb and flow through my mind. I have included the lyrics to the hymn written by Edward Mote in the 1800’s: “My Hope is Built”.
“My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus' name.
On Christ the solid rock I stand,
all other ground is sinking sand;
all other ground is sinking sand.
2. When Darkness veils his lovely face,
I rest on his unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
my anchor holds within the veil.
3. His oath, his covenant, his blood
supports me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
he then is all my hope and stay.
4. When he shall come with trumpet sound,
O may I then in him be found!
Dressed in his righteousness alone,
faultless to stand before the throne!
You may listen to this hymn at The music group 4Him is singing the hymn for you. I hope that when you need shelter, you will turn to God your fortress.
“Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the second or third watch of the night. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he could not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Luke 12:35-40
Our God is the God of surprises. As I was reading this passage, I was immediately struck by my own aversion to surprises; I like to know what is coming and what to expect. In fact, I remember one birthday when I was in high school that my church family surprised me with a birthday cake and singing during a rehearsal for the Passion Play. My response was to curl in on myself and try to hide. I was exceedingly grateful for the kindness and thoughtfulness of each person, but I did not expect it and could not prepare for the surprise of being the center of attention, something that I avoid like the plague.
The servants in this parable knew something about surprises too. Their master was away, and they needed to be ready for his return at any given moment. Middle of the night, middle of the day, early morning, or late evening- it did not matter; the servants were expected to be on their toes, alert to their master’s arrival. Those attentive and faithful servants were to be rewarded for their diligence, and they would be the center of attention, while the master served them. It certainly sounds like the surprises that I try to avoid.
Yet, God has shown me that my job, my gifts, talents, and future are filled with surprises- some good and some bad. Each surprise prepares me more for the ultimate surprise: Jesus’ return. More than anything, I want to be a woman after God’s heart, and I want Him to see me and say, “Well done, good and faithful Servant!” I may not know what the future holds, and I might not like the uncertainty that comes with it. However, I do know the One who holds it all in the palm of His hand. Our Master is returning, and we must be attentive to His footfall. This year and always, let us live our lives in a way that whenever Jesus chooses to return He may say, “Well done, good and faithful Servant. You have run the race well.”
16 “Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. 17 As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.”[a] He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.
18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”[b] Romans 4:16-18 (NIV)
Often hope just does not make sense to us. You see, we have a plan- a perfectly good plan, which fits within the parameters of what we want our lives to be like. It is a splendid plan. In our plan, everyone is always well and happy. The family members always get along with each other. There are no harsh words. The money is plentiful, and the bills are always paid. In other words, we form a personal utopia within our minds. This is a quote from While You were Sleeping:
“I’ll tell ya. You know? You work hard, try to provide for the family, and then, for one minute, everything’s good. Everyone’s well. Everyone’s happy in—in that one minute, you have peace.”
“Pop, this isn’t that moment.”
For this father, another bump in road called life hit. Fortunately for us, our lives also have bumps and twists and turns. Sometimes nothing goes our way, and then, at other times, life could not be better. It is because our lives are not perfect in every way that we are able to grow. It is also the reason that we need hope. Hope tells us tomorrow will be a better day even though life looks pretty bleak today. Tomorrow may be similar to today, but there is a future time when life will be better. It is that hope that takes us through the harder times in our lives. We hope for a better tomorrow, and we are certain that God’s promise will be fulfilled. Hope is the dawn after a dark, dark night.
Hope sees through the veil of darkness
“Ah! I must persevere!”
Genesis 8:8-12 (NIV)
8 Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. 9 But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. 10 He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. 11 When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. 12 He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.
“When one of those at the table with Him heard this, he said to Jesus, ‘Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.’
Jesus replied: ‘A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’
Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’
Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’” Luke 14:15-24
Can you imagine preparing for a party, only to have no one come? The invitations were sent; the place decorated, and the food set out on massive tables- no detail was forgotten. The R.S.V.P. date came and went, but, in today’s day and age, those seem to be more like guidelines rather than practices in etiquette. The moment you have been waiting for arrives, and not one person shows up. I wish I could say that I could imagine this, yet this scenario just drags up real memories of my eighteenth birthday party. Not one of my friends bothered to come, and not one of them told me until that day with flippant excuses tossed over a shoulder as they walked out the school door. My parents made the best of the situation, and my cousins came over instead. However, this did not take away any of the devastation that I felt. Why did no one come? I wish I had an answer, but, to this day, it remains a mystery. My heart aches for the master in Jesus’ parable, and my heart aches even more, knowing that God the Father is the Master in the parable.
There is nothing worse than feeling unwanted, unloved, and insignificant- those are feelings that stay with you. They are the kinds of feelings that a person has to fight against each and every day. Like us, the master of our parable was hurt by the affront of his friends; nevertheless, he chose to extend the invitation to those deemed less desirable in society. The blind, lame, crippled, poor, and destitute were treated like royalty at the master’s table, and there was still room for more people. Once again, the servants were sent out into the streets to welcome those milling about to a party fit for a king. What was to become of the master’s friends? Not one of them was permitted to join in the celebration. They missed their chance.
We all have been invited to the Master’s banquet. The table is set; the decorations are hung, and the food is prepared. All we have to do is show up. We have the choice; it is up to us to decide. Will we throw the invitation back in our loving Father’s face? Or, will we come to the banquet at the appointed time ready to celebrate with our Master? I pray we all R.S.V.P. to this celebration, because it will happen only this once.
22” We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”
Romans 8:20-25 (NIV)
“Wait patiently” is not a new mantra for the inhabitants of this world. “Hurry up and wait” is a well-known phrase for our service people, and, in the world of politics, good ideas often languish for the want of implementation. Flowers form their buds, but do not open until the optimum temperatures are reached. Waiting- it is a worldwide pastime. No, waiting is not the problem with people. It is how we wait that can raise issues. Often, how we wait is an indicator of our maturity. Do we anxiously pace or angrily snap at our loved ones? While we wait, do we wail and cry- mentally stomping our feet like a two year old? If that is how you wait, you are looking at the wrong model. Hope waits patiently, quietly. Hope sees the finished product, long before the product is finished. In the past week, my part of New Jersey has had some very cold, winter coat, hat, and gloves weather and, four days later, t-shirt, shorts, and sunblock weather. It was an incredible ride. As we people complained or yelled our approval of the weather, the plants just grew. The hyacinths and daffodils bobbed their heads in the breeze and continued to grow. The fruit-bearing trees burst suddenly into colorful display, while the bushes went from bear to leafy. There was no fanfare. The only indication of change was the greenish tint to the otherwise bear trees. Suddenly, the leaves are out of their buds, and the blossoms are blooming. Just like that, hope is fulfilled. To wait patiently is to quietly wait. To hope is to wait expectantly unencumbered by doubt. How you wait is a choice you make freely, but remember that, when your hope is in God your hope is grounded in the faithful Lord of all, you can trust Him.
“Now the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ were all gathering around to hear Him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’
Then Jesus told them this parable: ‘Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully put it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.’” Luke 15:1-7
Have you ever lost something of great value? No matter where you look, it eludes your searching eyes. I remember searching throughout an entire house; I tore the place apart- still nothing. At fourteen, losing an object is frustrating enough, but when you cannot find a child- triple the terror and quadruple the horror. I was babysitting for two sweet little girls: a seven-year-old named Tehya and a three-year-old named Trisha. The girls had been playing- racing around the living room. Trisha shouted, “Chase me, Sissy.” I was in the process of telling the girls to stop and play a quiet game with me, when it happened. The glass candy dish on the side table was knocked to the floor. Both girls froze, and I picked Trisha up and moved her away from the shards of glass. Then, I turned my attention to cleaning up the mess; Tehya showed me where the vacuum was. After I was finished, I called to Trisha to reassure her once again that it was an accident, and all was well. But, no Trisha. I called again- still, no little girl with her favorite corner of her blanket grasped in her hand. I went from room to room with Tehya following me; we took apart closets, under the beds, couches, chairs, anywhere a child could squeeze into was searched- still nothing. With the panic beginning to rise, I ran outside calling her name over and over; I called the girls’ mother and explained the situation to her. As we waited for their mom, I searched the house again. My head hurt; my eyes stung with tears, and my heart cried out, “Oh, God, where can she be? Please say she is safe!”
That is when I heard a faint rustle from the next room- the living room. Quietly, I crept into the room and looked behind the couch- yes, the same couch with the same side table that started this whole mess. Sure enough, curled into a ball with her ‘corner’ was Trisha. I picked her up and hugged her, calling to Tehya. Her sister whooped with joy. What was Trisha’s response? “I sorry, Rachel…see, I sorry. I hungry, Rachel, I hungry.” Their mom came home to find Trisha in her high chair eating a late dinner. Mom got on eye level with Trisha and said, “Trisha, you scared Rachel and Sissy.” Trisha responded with: “I have two feet.” Mom tried again, and, this time, Trisha looked her straight in the eye and said, “They not scared, Mommy; see, they not scared.” I can look back at this experience now and smile, but a lot of time has passed. I can still feel the terror and panic, but, more importantly, I feel the intense joy and love that spread through me as I saw that dear, sweet little girl behind that couch.
God feels the same about us. However, unlike people, He sees us every step of the way. We can hide and move from place to place, but we are never out of God’s sight. Finally, we have enough running and turn to Jesus, our Good Shepherd. What great rejoicing occurs when we come home to our Father! The angels in heaven throw a party for the ages for every single found sheep. The Shepherd hugs each one close to Him, as the love and joy flows from Him. Rejoice for you have been found; you are not alone. Come and join the party; it is going on just for you.
“And now, O Lord, for what do I wait?
My hope is in you.” Psalm 39:7
Difficult situations come and go. Sometimes, we breeze through those troubling times for they are insignificant. Lost keys, poor internet connections, a delayed meeting can be frustrating, but each are easily repairable. A serious illness or death, the loss of a job, and financial reverses are far more serious, and impact our lives to a much greater degree. Where do we turn?
We all go through dark times in our lives. Unfortunately, some people never recover from their difficult situations for they have lost hope. When he wrote Psalm 39, King David was having more than a “bad awful day.” David was ill. As Israel’s king, people hung on his every word waiting for words of strength and leadership, but, at this time, David knew that there were others around him who were looking for signs of weakness; therefore, he stayed silent. Imagine having no one in whom you can confide. Imagine being all alone in the midst of a crowd. Imagine having what you say misinterpreted, and not having the strength to defend yourself. If any of these things has happened to you, then you know how David felt. Who do you turn to for comfort and aid? To whom did David turn? He turned to God, for David knew that God was his only Hope. Like David, we may have enough money, good counselors, and a wonderful family who loves us, but unless our hope is grounded in God, and His great love for us, we have nothing.
Hope sees through the veil of darkness
“Ah! It is finished”
Genesis 9:8-17 (NIV)
8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: 9 “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”
17 So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”
15” Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him;
I will surely[a] defend my ways to His face.” Job 13:15 (NIV)
Where do we end this Lenten season? If you have never come face to face with God, the important place to begin and end is the Bible. God spoke through about forty people. These folks were from varied backgrounds; each lived in varied time frames, and each was permitted to reveal God through their writings. Why would God do such a thing? God wanted you to have hope. He did it for you and for me. Let us be honest, if we simply listened to the news broadcasts, watched television, or visited social media, our lives would be a wreck because very little good is broadcast for our consumption. God knew that our lives need hope.
God gives us His love through the sunrise’s magnificent surge of power. He continues through the day by sending us little love notes. A tiny vignette of little children playing with bubbles or a field full of beautiful flowers can lighten even the darkest day. At the end of the day, God sends a closing prayer to each of His children through His painting in the sky- the sunset. Each minute of each day, God sends us hope.
End this Lenten season by sending God your love in return. Speak to Him. Talk to Him. He is waiting for you to pour out your heart to Him. He can and will help you. Next, continue to read the Bible. Many people start by reading the Gospel of John. Others start reading the more familiar Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke. Get to know Him. No matter where you are in your life travels, God loves you. Where you are in your life, and what you have done with your life become infinitesimal when compared to how much God loves you. God’s forgiveness is so overwhelming that you will be able to say as Job once did, “Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him;”
Luke 4:16-22 (NIV)
16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[a]
20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.
Even if I thought there was still hope for me- Ruth 1:12 (NIV)
The Empty Tomb
“Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” 3 So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. 4 Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus'[a] head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes.”
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
11 “But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to Him in Aramaic,[b] “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that He had said these things to her.” John 20:1-18