Where is Hope?

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S (Scripture): Psalm 27

Lord, listen to my voice when I cry out—

    have mercy on me and answer me!

Come, my heart says, seek God’s face.

    Lord, I do seek your face!

Please don’t hide it from me!

    Don’t push your servant aside angrily—

        you have been my help!

    God who saves me,

        don’t neglect me!

12 

Don’t give me over to the desires of my enemies,

    because false witnesses and violent accusers

    have taken their stand against me.

13 

But I have sure faith

    that I will experience the Lord’s goodness

    in the land of the living!

14 

Hope in the Lord!

    Be strong! Let your heart take courage!

        Hope in the Lord!

O (Observation): The hope that comes into play at the end of this Psalm is almost like from a friend speaking to another friend who has lost hope. The psalmist seeks out God in the pit of despair. The friendly voice in v. 14 is a reminder that God – the Lord – is still there beside the person.

Hope is possible, not because the individual can get back on track “without help.” Rather, because the psalmist cannot help himself/herself, hope exists. Because the psalmist lacks comfort, the LACK allows space for him / her to hope.

A (Application): We like to think hope is something that we can grasp in this life, as if hope is something to be reached through hard work and effort. Yet the nature of hope is that it is precisely something we cannot reach. For if it is something we can grasp on our own, then we don’t hope for it…we just create a plan to reach it.

If we can reach the thing(s) we hope for…then it’s not hope. We hope for money, a new car, control, power, and more. These things we “hope” for – if attained – is quite the opposite of good news. It means we think we can satisfy our drive or appetite and pushes us to acquire more of the same (if not material things, than power or control).

Let us, instead, focus on the idea that God never leaves us and can be our hope. In. Our brokenness, God enters in and helps us to be okay with our brokenness. For God does not need us to prove anything. Rather, God focuses our hearts and minds on being with others who are also broken…and together we lean on one another for consolation and hope. Hope in the Lord.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us filled with hope in You. Amen.

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Non-Violent Direct Action

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S (Scripture): Acts 23:12 The next morning some Jewish leaders formulated a plot and solemnly promised that they wouldn’t eat or drink until they had killed Paul. 13 More than forty people were involved in the conspiracy. 14 They went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have solemnly promised to eat nothing until we have killed Paul. 15 You and the council must explain to the commander that you need Paul brought down to you. Pretend that you want to examine his case more closely. We’re prepared to kill him before he arrives.”

O (Observation): Paul was nearing the end of his time. He sort of sensed it, but never gave up. He was smart and faithful.

Probably a bit scared, too, no? He was well connected, but the scary part of the story is the lengths to which these church leaders would go to silence Paul, and thereby crush his influence on others.

People of God thinking that killing the opposition is the right thing to do. We, unfortunately, have examples of this in the Old Testament. Oppose God? Die!

Well…

A (Application): I don’t pretend that suffering as a Christian in America is anywhere near suffering as a Christian in 1st century Israel or Rome, nor as a Christian today in certain countries run by dictators.

But American Christians can be rather hurtful and downright evil in their expression of the “defense” of their faith. These angry Christians believe that Christianity is in danger of being compromised. Like they have to come to God’s defense. Can’t God take care of Godself?

Not that we back down from our beliefs. We simply don’t need to defend God, other than in a non-violent direct action kind of way. We can stand up for causes and for equal rights, but not in a violent or vindictive way.

We seek God and others to discern our responses to evil in this world. If they include violence to make our point…we must return to prayer.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us wise and discerning hearts and minds. We go to the cross, not to weapons. Amen.

I Am My Own Harshest Critic

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S (Scripture): Psalm 25

Make your ways known to me, Lord;

    teach me your paths.

Lead me in your truth—teach it to me—

    because you are the God who saves me.

        I put my hope in you all day long.

Lord, remember your compassion and faithful love—

    they are forever!

But don’t remember the sins of my youth or my wrongdoing.

    Remember me only according to your faithful love

        for the sake of your goodness, Lord.

O (Observation): What path to take? How will God see me? These are the questions the psalmist asks this morning.

How will God aide me in my daily walk?

How will God remember me?

May grace lead me home.

A (Application): How will I be remembered? How will I know if I’ve taken the right path?

I definitely resonate with this Psalm. I try to take stock of where I am and where I’ve been. I ponder my future as an individual and as a husband and as a father.

When I make decisions, I try to imagine my future self looking back at my present self and ask: is this act or decision praiseworthy?

And so I critique myself. And I’m pretty harsh.

So the Psalm reminds me of the way I hope God sees me and all of us:

But don’t remember the sins of my youth or my wrongdoing.

Remember me only according to your faithful love

Amen!

P (Prayer): Lord, give me strength to pursue the right path and the grace to forgive myself. Amen.

Trust Me…I Got This

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S (Scripture): 2 Chronicles 20:2 Jehoshaphat was told, “A large army from beyond the sea, from Edom, is coming to attack you. They are already at Hazazon-tamar!” (that is, En-gedi). 3 Frightened, Jehoshaphat decided to seek the Lord’s help and proclaimed a fast for all Judah…

13 All Judah was standing before the Lord, even their little ones, wives, and children. 14 Then the Lord’s spirit came upon Jahaziel son of Zechariah son of Benaiah son of Jeiel son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the line of Asaph, as he stood in the middle of the assembly.

15 “Pay attention, all of Judah, every inhabitant of Jerusalem, and King Jehoshaphat,” Jahaziel said. “This is what the Lord says to you: Don’t be afraid or discouraged by this great army because the battle isn’t yours. It belongs to God! 16 March out against them tomorrow. Since they will be coming through the Ziz pass, meet them at the end of the valley that opens into the Jeruel wilderness. 17 You don’t need to fight this battle. Just take your places, stand ready, and watch how the Lord, who is with you, will deliver you, Judah and Jerusalem. Don’t be afraid or discouraged! Go out tomorrow and face them. The Lord will be with you.”

O (Observation): Battles are a regular thing in the Old Testament. This text points out a foreign country coming into the southern kingdom of Judah. The people are faithful to God. They fast and pray and stand before God’s temple. A prophet shares God’s word:

This is God’s battle. You will go out and watch, but you will not fight. God will win this victory!

Even without knowing the end of this scenario, God’s people believe this strategy will work. It must work. For God is to be trusted.

A (Application): I trust God, but I don’t know how well I trust myself. My hope is that as my days continue, I will continue to seek God to fight my battles for me. If a foreign kingdom was coming to conquer me, I don’t know how I’d handle that.

But in more practical terms, I will wrestle with finances, local politics, being a parent, and much more. In all of these, I ask God to help me.

But will I let go? Will I listen to the prophetic voices in my life? How can I trust those voices?

This all takes time and prayerful consideration. We discern to the best of our abilities. After that, we go on faith.

May you hear God’s word speaking to your struggles today! Amen.

P (Prayer): Lord, hear my cry! Amen.

Battle of the Wills

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S (Scripture): 2 Chronicles 18:5 Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, four hundred of them, and said to them, “Shall we go to battle against Ramoth-gilead, or shall I refrain?” They said, “Go up; for God will give it into the hand of the king.” 6 But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there no other prophet of the Lord here of whom we may inquire?” 7 The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is still one other by whom we may inquire of the Lord, Micaiah son of Imlah; but I hate him, for he never prophesies anything favorable about me, but only disaster.” Jehoshaphat said, “Let the king not say such a thing.”…

12 The messenger who had gone to summon Micaiah said to him, “Look, the words of the prophets with one accord are favorable to the king; let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably.” 13 But Micaiah said, “As the Lord lives, whatever my God says, that I will speak.”

O (Observation): Micaiah is the lone prophet able to speak the truth to the kings of Judah and Israel. Seeking a prophet’s wisdom is always a good choice. King Jehoshaphat (of Judah) hears the 400 or so prophets saying, “Yes! Ride into battle!” But he wants a dissenting voice from the Lord. He wants to make sure that he has unanimity amongst the prophets.

This proves a wise move, because later on Micaiah reveals that God allowed an evil spirit to enter the ears of the 400 prophets. The Lord did not want a battle to take place. If they truly listened to the Lord – through Micaiah – they would have heard God’s true message: stand down, no battle today.

The pressure to want God’s word to match King Ahab’s word was tremendous. Micaiah allowed the pressure to sway his words, at first…but perhaps he did this simply to let God’s people fall on their faces. Or perhaps he did this because he was too intimidated.

The truth comes out, though. God does not desire battle. God’s will is laid bare. And still, God’s people choose their own will over God’s.

They have chosen poorly.

A (Application): But how much better are we? We know the things we shouldn’t do, yet we do them anyway. We know the things we should do, but do we do them? Not likely.

This battle of the wills (ours vs God’s) is an eternal struggle. The hope I see in this scenario is that Jesus Christ is our salvation, and that is not something we choose, but is something God has already done for us.

God choosing to redeem us is salvation. We still discern God’s will for us, and we gather in community to make decisions about our direction as faith communities. Our direction is something we prayerfully discern. We can fast and pray and talk.

We do this discernment not out of obligation to our God, but as a joyful response to the grace God has shown each and every one of us.

What is God’s will for you? Do you sense it is restrictive? Is it a release?

How about for your faith community? Where is God leading you?

P (Prayer): Lord, give us discerning hearts and minds. Amen.

God Goes With You

S (Scripture): Acts 21:10 While we were staying [at Philip’s house] for several days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 He came to us and took Paul’s belt, bound his own feet and hands with it, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is the way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’” 12 When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 Since he would not be persuaded, we remained silent except to say, “The Lord’s will be done.”

O (Observation): The prophet, Agabus, points to the likely result of Paul’s teaching and preaching. Paul will end up bound, imprisoned, and likely even put to death. The anger and frustration on behalf of God’s people is at a boiling point.

Paul’s response to this prophecy is that he is ready to be bound…even to die, if necessary. He will not let his call be interrupted by the threat of danger or death.

A (Application): Ever stood at a rally to support a cause you believe in? Ever spoken at such a rally? I have.

When you step into the public square, you feel different. You may not be risking much, but you feel a little out of place at first.

You ask yourself: “What do I believe in? Am I willing to risk being identified with ‘these people’?” Hopefully, you soon realize that you are one of those people. And then you are just “people.” You are one.

Perhaps Paul thought of all believers as one. Previously being Jew or Gentile matters not. Following God, in the person of Jesus Christ, is all anyone needs. Through our experiences – life, harm, death – God goes with us through it all.

P (Prayer): Lord, guide us through our days and nights. Amen.

The One Thing ☝🏼

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S (Scripture): Acts 20:21 You know I have testified to both Jews and Greeks that they must change their hearts and lives as they turn to God and have faith in our Lord Jesus. 22 Now, compelled by the Spirit, I’m going to Jerusalem. I don’t know what will happen to me there. 23 What I do know is that the Holy Spirit testifies to me from city to city that prisons and troubles await me. 24 But nothing, not even my life, is more important than my completing my mission. This is nothing other than the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus: to testify about the good news of God’s grace.

O (Observation): Paul knows the one thing that is most important, above all else:

To testify about the good news of God’s grace.

He knows that dangers lie ahead, and he testifies anyway. He testifies to both Jews and Greeks. And he does all of this based on his call to serve God.

Regardless of the danger that might befall him, Paul carries on.

A (Application): Ever seen City Slickers? You know, the movie with Billy Crystal and Jack Palance. Palance plays a rough and tough cowboy named Curly.

Curly keeps telling the city slickers that the most important thing was this: then he would hold up his hand in a fist and point his index finger skyward. He would say: “the one thing.” The one thing was the most important thing. The problem is, he doesn’t tell anyone what that ONE thing is.

The idea was that we all have “one thing” that is the most important thing in the world for each of us. And no one can tell you what your one thing is. Curly didn’t tell the city slickers what that one thing is for them, because they each had to discern that for themselves.

How about you? What is your one thing? We know what Paul’s was.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to clarify our “one thing” that you have called us to. Amen.

Bonus: YouTube clip of the “one thing” conversation. (Disclaimer: foul language).