J. Gordon Duncan

Culture, Business, Fitness, Etc.

Thoughts on Finding Hope when Hope Left Long Ago

hopeexitYour mindset may be, “Well, I’m going to assume the worst, and that way I won’t ever be disappointed again.  Because if I hope for things and I don’t get them, I just get more disillusioned.  I am a realist.”

There are a lot of folks living this way.  A lot of you.  But here is something I want us all to wrestle with.  The bible gives us every reason to have hope, so much so, that we are actually commanded to have hope.

The excerpt above is from this past week’s sermon at Evident Grace Fellowship where we explored how hope in Christ is so secure, God’s commands, and we can count on it.  The devotional pdf’s, kindle, and audio are up.

 

You can download the pdf’s for free at:

Philippians 1:1-8

Philippians 1:8-11

Philippians 1:12-14

Philippians 1:15-18

Philippians 1:19-21

And audio for Philippians 1:15-18 is here.

Audio for Philippians 1:19-21 is here.

Also, we are making all of our devotional pdf’s available on Kindle as well.  Because these are available at places other than Amazon, we have to charge $.99 for these, but all proceeds go back to Evident Grace.  You can find our Kindle devotionals at:

Philippians 1:1-8

Philippians 1:8-11

Philippians 1:12-14

Philippians 1:15-18

Philippians 1:19-21

Thanks for taking the time to look over these with us.  Join the conversation either by worshiping with us on Sunday, getting together with us throughout the week, or discussing these online or at Facebook.

Thanks.

If you are interested in worshiping with Evident Grace, we meet each Sunday at 1030am at the comedy club above Liberty Lanes off of I-95 exit 126 in Spotsylvania, VA.

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May 20, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hope for the Hopeless – 1 Samuel 1:-18

In my brief seven years as a pastor, I’ve already been involved with or visited what would seem to be like a myriad hopeless situations.  As police chaplain, I’ve had to inform a 10 year boy that his mother had passed away.  I’ve held the hand of an 80 year old man as his wife of 50 plus years died.  I’ve prayed with folks as they watched their marriage come to an end.  I’ve visited Holly Hill Mental hospital to help folks who are struggling with addiction and suicide.  I’ve preached funerals and prayed with people whose parents have passed away.  I’ve attempted to encourage people who have lost jobs and seen dreams dashed.

Knowing the willingness of Sovereign King Church to be involved in the lives of others at the most difficult levels of pain and hurt, many of you have encountered similar and perhaps even more hurtful and discouraging situations.  In the moments of our grief, it can feel incredibly hopeless.  Our hearts cry out, “What now? Or What else?” Sometimes, we cry out,  “Why God, why?”

Often we meet our grief with a variety of things to soothe our hearts and minds.  We’ll lose ourselves in mindless television.  We’ll eat our troubles away.  We’ll skip eating all together.  We’ll drink until we don’t have to think about what bothers us.  Every now and then we handle these situations healthfully.  We’ll go running or exercise to burn off the stress.  We’ll spend time in prayer or study of the scriptures or find comfort in the community of the church.

You know, if in some way, we don’t meet the every changing difficulties of life with the never changing truths of scripture, hopelessness is the appropriate response.  Vague ideas of who God is just don’t get it done.  Expressions like, “God never closes a door without opening a window” are shallow and ineffective aside from being confusing.  I don’t even know what that one means.  If you are struggling with hope or the lack thereof, the firm foundational truths of who God is, what He has done, and what He promises to do are what the heart needs more than anything else.

In light of those truths, we are embarking on a brand new series today on the book of 1 Samuel entitled “Transitions” – in it, we are going to see folks going through some of the most difficult challenges any human beings have ever gone through.  There we will discover that their need for hope is the same as our need for hope.  With that in mind, let’s answer this Big Picture Question:

Big Picture Question:  How is God hope for the hopeless?

1 Samuel 1:1 There was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephrathite. 2 He had two wives. The name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other, Peninnah. And Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.

In this amazing complex couple of sentences, we meet a man named Elkanah.  He lived in the hill country of Ephraim with a known genealogy and family history.  Many assume he had a decent amount of wealth.  More than likely, Elkanah was financially doing okay.  We have no idea whether he was rich or not, but he was doing well enough to afford two wives.  So we immediately know something Elkanah:  he was smart enough to make a decent amount of money, but not smart enough to know that its hard enough to keep one wife happy, much less two.

Nevertheless, this was a period of time, where many men would take multiple wives. Elkanah’s first wife was named Hannah and she was barren meaning she had no children.  His other wife was Peninnah had lots of children.  Now, I can imagine this family dynamic was just a flat out disaster.  In a culture where having children, leaving a legacy to live beyond your years, and basically finding your value in your family, you can imagine Hannah had a tough go of it.

First of all, bareness hurts.  Wrestling with the fact that you may never have or not have any more children can be crushing.  If the desire of your heart is to have children, and you can’t, your heart feels deflated.  Amy and I went through that for over two years, and I know many of you have and are struggling with the hopeless feelings that come from wanting children and not being able to have them.

Children are a good desire.  Not being able to have them is confusing and painful.  Sometimes spouses aren’t on the same page with one wanting kids and another not.  Lots of issues like faith, finances, and feasibility come into play, but lying in bed at night, none of these things matter when you want a child.  For Hannah, she lived with a daily reminder of her struggles as her husband had children but with another woman.  She had to look at those kids, that woman, and her husband playing with someone else’s children every day, and I imagine her heart hurt in ways that are hard to understand unless you have experienced bareness.

Fortunately, bareness is a life circumstance used by God to display and demonstrate His power and grace.  Think about all the examples of God displaying His power and grace through women by overcoming their inability to have children.

  • Abraham’s wife, Sarah, was barren and advanced in age when God made the promise to make a people for Himself from her children.   Gen 11:30
  • Rebekah had to wait 20 years before she could have children.  Gen 25
  • Rachel was barren in Gen 29 but God opened her womb in Gen 30
  • Samson’s mother Manoah was barren for years until God moved in her life so that she might have a son Judges 13.
  • Elizabeth was old and childless when God blessed her with the birth of John the Baptist Luke 1.

“Barren women seem to be God’s instruments in raising up key figures in the history of redemption, whether the promised seed (Isaac), the father of Israel (Jacob), saviors or preservers of Israel (Joseph, Samson, Samuel), or the forerunner of the King (John the Baptist).”  Dale Davis

Bareness, and really, any other helplessness that we feel is only met and assuaged as we experience the hope and presence of God.  Our hopelessness, our inabilities, appear at the moment to be the thing that makes life for us impossible or intolerable whether that hopelessness comes from being barren, divorced, unemployed, etc.  If you have ever or are presently struggling with hopelessness, then you share a fellowship with Hannah.  One author calls that the Fellowship of Bareness.

“And it is frequently in this fellowship that new chapters in Yahweh’s history with His people begin – begin with nothing.  God’s tendency is to make our total inability His starting point.  Our hopelessness and our helplessness are no barrier to His work.  Indeed our utter incapacity is often the prop He delights to use for His next act.  This matter goes beyond the particular situations of biblical barren women.  We are facing one of the principles of Yahweh’s modus operandi.  When His people are without strength, without resources, without hope, without human gimmicks – then He loves to stretch forth His hand from heaven.  Once we see where God often begins we will understand how we may be encouraged.”  Dale Davis

This is where we often go wrong don’t we?  We are hopeless and helpless.  We either run towards the wonderfully gracious care of our Father in heaven or we run away from Him because we feel that He has not heard our cries.  Some of you, very much so, right now, are in that situation.  You feel that you are centrally lacking something that you need or so desperately want.  You will either trust God in this moment and find hope, or you will trust yourself and continually find yourself hopeless.  Let’s see what happens with Hannah.

3 Now this man used to go up year by year from his city to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord.

It was Elkanah’s practice to go worship and sacrifice to the Lord of Hosts at Shiloh once every year.  This is our first interaction with the title “Lord of Hosts” in scripture.  The title implies the Lord over many as in the Lord over a host of angels or a large military.  It is a title to display the unfathomable and limitless power and riches of Yahweh.  This is the God to whom Elkanah would worship and sacrifice each year.  Despite being a wealthy man with two wives, he was a man who was without children by the wife he so dearly loved.

Working at the sanctuary in Shiloh are two central characters for us in the beginning of the book of I Samuel:  the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests of the Lord.  We will learn a great deal about them, but let’s allow the scriptures to tell that story as we get there.  Our story progresses in verse 4.

4 On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters. 5 But to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb.

The sacrifice that Elkanah would offer each year was more than likely a peace offering as sacrifices for the atonement of sin would happen in more central places for the people of God and not in more remote areas like Shiloh.  All sacrifices in some way were an offering for the forgiveness of sin but a peace offering was really more of an offering of thanks and asking for the blessing and favor of God to fall on a particular person.  So after the sacrifice was made, the remaining parts of the animal would be divided up to be eaten by the priests and the family who offered the sacrifice.  So Elkanah would give the prerequisite portions to Hophni and Phinehas and then give a portion to Peninnah and his children through her for them to eat.  This was a meal of blessing that celebrated the peace of God and His provision and protection resting up on all that ate it.

Then we see something incredibly heartwarming.  In the culture of that day, when Elkanah discovered that his wife Hannah was barren, he could have cast her aside as useless.   It wouldn’t have been biblical but it wouldn’t haven’t been shocking or out of place.  But instead of looking at Hannah with disdain because she could not provide him an heir, Elkanah looked at his wife with compassion.  He gives her twice the portion of the sacrificial meal that he gives Peninnah because he loves her and has compassion on her as the Lord has closed her womb.

Now as you can imagine, Peninnah has feelings as well.  It appears that Elkanah loves Hannah more than he loves Peninnah, so she decides to start treating Hannah terribly because she is tired of losing the best of her husband to another woman.

6 And her rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb.  7 So it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat.

Now, no one enjoys being teased.  More than likely, at some point in time in your life though, someone has picked on you.  When I was in 6th and 7th grade, it was the worst.  I was the tiny, short kid with curly hair, bad teeth, and more mouth than brains.  Getting picked on was a day to day reality for me.  In some ways, that time of life toughened me up and it other ways it scarred me.  I went home early the last day of 6th grade because some kids run up behind me bulldogged my head into the ground.  When I woke from being knocked unconscious,   I stumbled to the office and just went home.  It was like that.

Some of you have gone through similar situations.  You have been picked on for being overweight or for having acne or being tall or short.  Some of you have been picked on for just having emotions being told to suck it up or quit being so sensitive.  Sometimes, these pains have come from loved ones, even parents, and those wounds cut deeper and last longer than most.  Whether you call it being teased or being bullied or whatever, some of out most lingering pains come from when people have made fun of us.  Hannah is going through that.  She is in incredible pain.  She wants to have a child with her husband, but she can’t.  When she couldn’t, he married another woman and had a gang of kids.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the new wife now provokes her and irritates her.  In her moment of greatest pain, she is being mocked and taunted by an uncaring woman who seems to have it all.  According the passage, this went on for years.  It’s one thing to be teased in a moment.  It is another thing to be mocked repeatedly year after year.  Hearts grow dim and hearts grow cold in times like that.

Like many people who have suffered as Hannah has, she got so upset, she quit eating.  Her depression was so great, the only thing she could do was weep.  Food was the furthest thing from her mind.  She was probably withering away and perhaps that explains why her husband brought her a double portion of the sacrifice.

Now before we go any further, let me say some things about Elkanah, her husband.  Elkanah is a paradox. On the one hand, he has shown himself to be a pretty caring dude in a culture that didn’t seem to have too many caring men.  But on the other hand, he is big dumb male as well.  So we gotta give him a little bit of the benefit of the doubt, but let’s just see what happens.

8 And Elkanah, her husband, said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”

Okay, let’s not forget everything what came before this passage.  Elkanah is his culture could have just discarded Hannah for being barren and unable to give him an heir.  It wouldn’t have been biblical, but it wouldn’t have been socially shocking either.  He loved Hannah and wanted her to be blessed.  He didn’t need an heir any more.  He had plenty from Peninnah.  What he wanted was for his grieving wife to be comforted and for that day and age, I say, “Good man, Elkanah.  You are far from perfect but a bit more upstanding than a lot of other dudes.

Having said that, however, the words that come out of Elkanah in verse 8 are pretty naïve and belie the fact that this guy just doesn’t understand the pain of his wife.  He asks her, “Hey, why the sad face?  Why are you crying?  Aren’t I just such an outstanding husband?  I mean I’m such a good husband, aren’t I better than ten sons?”

This comes from the man who married another woman when his wife was barren.  Elkanah, for all his good qualities, is clueless.  Yes, I’m sure that Hannah is very thankful that Elkanah didn’t cast her away when he discovered she was barren.  She is probably thankful that he doesn’t mock her like Peninnah does.  She is probably thankful that he cares and wants to comfort her when she cries.  But when the heart hurts, the heart hurts, and Hannah’s clearly hurt.   In many ways, the very thing that defined her as a woman in that day was just beyond her grasp.  The Lord had closed her womb.  She could not have children.  She was in love with her husband but more than likely felt incredibly inadequate because she couldn’t provide a child for him.  She had the pain of watching her husband woo another woman who apparently was as a fertile myrtle.  This woman was not compassionate but actually antagonistic towards her.  She would openly mock Hannah for her inability to have kids.  Hannah’s pain is an emotional pain that is so bad, she is at the point she doesn’t even eat any more.

Now, I have no desire for anyone among us to dredge up these kinds of feelings but there are some here that can relate to Hannah.  Perhaps, you can relate to the inability to have a child or the inability to have another child, and your body and soul just ache.  Perhaps, you can relate to feeling as if the whole world looks at you with the eyes of Peninnah, mocking you and insulting you.  Sometimes we just wonder if we have missed out on what we thought would make our lives fulfilling or enjoyable.  These things make us so discouraged and depressed that we can’t even eat.

Now, what we are going to see next week is that Hannah has not abandoned God in all of this pain though many people would have long ago.  She is going to get desperate enough to try to cut a deal with God, but she hasn’t abandoned him.  But we don’t want to get to that point just yet.  If we are going to see God move in amazing ways in this woman’s life, then we need to feel her depths of pain.  To truly understand what it means to have your needs met, then you must wrestle with helplessness.  We see that with Hannah.  She has no option or hope for a child outside of herself.  There are no options outside of God’s work and intervention.

We, however, have a hard time getting to that point.  It is hard in this day and age, as smart and accomplished, and prideful as we are all, to flat out, lay it out before God and say, “I can’t change this.  Without your help, with your intervention God, I am helpless and hopeless.”  But let me assure you of something that is going to be a continual theme for the next few sermons:

  • Faith in God begins where your ability ends.
  • Faith in God begins where your self-sufficiency ends.
  • Faith in God begins where your options end.

Contrary to popular belief, faith is not measured by how great of an act you perform.  Faith is measured by your understanding of how big a God you have.  Great acts of faith are the result of the great acts of God.  As our children’s bulletins will state, for us to have hope, just as Hannah had to have hope, we need two things:

  • The love to care that there is a problem.
  • The power to fix the problem.

The only place that is found is the person of Jesus Christ.  Hear these comforting words of hope from Hebrews 4

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.

Verse 14 reminds, us that Jesus is our great High Priest.  In the OT system, the High Priest would intercede between sinful men and women and the holy God.  Interceding means that the High Priest would act as a go between.  He would offer sacrifices for sin and he would plead to God for mercy.  Verse 14 tells us that our confession, our statement of faith and that which we hold to, is that God has sent His son, Jesus to be our High Priest.   God interceding for sinful and hopeless men and women to God.  The one who pleads your case before God the Father is the gracious, merciful, beautiful Jesus Christ.  Why is this hopeful?

15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Jesus is sympathetic.  If you come to Him with pain, misery, and the need for mercy and hope, He offers it to you.  Jesus suffered in every way while here among us.  He was beaten, rejected, lied to, and spat upon.  He was homeless and at times penniless.   His best friends left Him, betrayed Him, and deserted Him.  He knows what it feels like to be alone.

And Jesus was tempted to sin in every way that you are tempted to sin.  But here is how He is different.  He lived obediently and triumphantly and that is your hope.  He was perfect and righteous, and He is still sympathetic to your needs.  Jesus does not disdain you in your sin and fear and hopelessness.  Jesus sympathizes with you and intercedes on your behalf to God.

16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Right now, each and every one of you in your hopeless, confused, desperate state of mind, draw near to the throne of God with your cries of praise and cries for help.  Don’t approach God in fear if you approach through Jesus Christ.  Approach confidently as loved sons and daughters to the throne of grace.  There you will receive all the mercy and grace that you need in your time of help and your time of hopelessness.

You have no other hope in this world except the man Jesus.  Rest in that hope today either for the first time or yet again.

July 12, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

A Hope That Is Real

This is the time of year when people are waiting to get their tax refunds in the mail.  As you can imagine, there are certain businesses that really benefit from the refunds.   friend of mine in Garner who works at Lowe’s said that this is the time of year where people choose to do home improvements so they buy appliances and start projects like painting a room or putting in hardwood floors.  That makes sense.  Believe it or not, this is also the time of year according to one friend of mine in the area where people choose to trick out their cars and buy things like 28 inch spinner rims for the ’78 Buick Regal.

Whether or not you have home or hooptie improvements on your agenda, most people really look forward to receiving their tax check in their mail.  Oh, there is a little bit of grumbling about the government keeping your money, but I’ve never heard anyone complain so loudly that they returned the check in protest.

Right or wrong, the tax refund for some folks is a real source of hope.  Maybe the Christmas bills got out of hand, and the tax check is how you plan on paying off the credit card.  Maybe this month, you just don’t have the money to pay the bills at all, and you are desperately waiting for the check to arrive in the mail.  Maybe your microwave always burns the popcorn, I don’t know, but for lots of folks, the tax check is a source of hope.  Now, waiting on a check from the government is always going to be a temporary solution and a quickly fleeting hope.

But then again, most of the things that we put our hope in are temporary and fleeting.  Dr. John Townsend in his great book “Where is God?” defines hope this way:  the anticipation of a future good that we do not now experience.  He goes on to say, “With hope, we endure the now in anticipation of a better future.”  Essentially, hope enables us to press on.  But I know this is true, whatever it is that you are hoping for or hoping in, it better deliver because having hope in something that doesn’t deliver leads people to disillusionment, anger, and bitterness.

So, the question, right now is, what is it you are either hoping for or hoping in?  If it’s the lotto, you don’t have a lot to hope for.  If it is a better job, I’m still not quite sure have a lot of hope for.  If it is better health or more money or whatever, you are not actually hoping…you might just be dreaming.  Wouldn’t it be nice to hope for something that didn’t disappoint?  Well, that’s a great place to start with our sermon this week, so why don’t we ask Big Picture Question:

Big Picture Question:  Aren’t you tired of looking for hope in places that disappoint you?

8 For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.

Last week, we briefly mentioned how Jesus’ becoming a servant enables you to serve others and accept them just as Jesus accepted them.  This is because of two truths.

  • Christ sympathizes with you in your weaknesses.  Hebrews 2:14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things.
  • Jesus didn’t despise His children in their weakness but loved them, died for them, and rose again even while they were God’s enemies.  Romans 5:6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us

But Christ’s becoming a servant has a much broader application than just your salvation.  We have a tendency to forget that sometimes.  We take a promise of God and minimalize it to such a point that we think that the only purpose of that promise is to satisfy us.  The promises of God are for you but Christ saved a church plural not just a person individual.  Whenever we focus solely on the personal blessings of Jesus’ work on our lives several things happen.

  • We lose compassion for those in need.
  • We judge those who have less than we do.
  • We are envious of those who have more.

Since Paul has spent the last chapter or so speaking about how you as a believer are to interact with other individual believers, it would make since then that he would draw our view back to give us a larger picture of Jesus’ redemptive work.  Yes, Jesus took on the form of a servant for your individual salvation, but he also did it in order to save a people.  Jesus’ service was specific to make a church out of two peoples.

Jesus became a servant to the Jewish people here described as the circumcised.  This was a common way of speaking of Israelites as circumcision was the entry point into the physical people of Israel underneath the Abrahamic covenant.  Jesus did this because God had promised to bring a Savior the descendants of Abraham and those who exercised faith in Jesus were evidence of God’s truthfulness and faithfulness to His promises.

How did Jesus become a servant to the circumcised?   His most obvious work was by being circumcised and placing Himself under the weight and expectation of the law.  By doing this, Jesus most assuredly obey the commands of God in place of His rebellious obstinate people.  Jesus served the Jewish people in taking on the form of a servant in the weakness of human flesh, overcoming the temptations of the flesh, living obedient, and of course dying on the cross.  Yet, Jesus also became a servant to the Gentiles.  He did this so the non-Jewish Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy.

This is something that deserves extra attention from us as we don’t live in the tension filled era of Jew vs. Gentile.  Imagine for a moment living in a culture where one group of people feel as if they and only they were the only race who will be heard from by God.  Imagine living in a culture where one group of people constantly made you feel like that you were less than human, calling you a dog.  Imagine living in a culture where the idea of mercy from God was not only alien but there was also a constant sense that God was actively hostile to you just because you weren’t born Jewish.

Why are these things important?  Well, studying things like this is really what we need to avoid a myopic faith:  a larger perspective of what is doing.  Remember last week when we talked about how we sometimes ask God “why” questions like”

  • Why does the microwave break the same week the car insurance is due?
  • Why is my husband sick on the night that we want to get out on a date?

Sometime those questions become more directed to God’s motive, like

  • Are you punishing me for my impure thought life?
  • Are you punishing my children because of all the problems that my spouse and I are having?
  • Are you not answering my prayer because of some sin that I haven’t confessed or some sin that I am unwilling to stop doing?

Again, all of these are good questions as we process our lives before God as long as we process them in light of God’s grace and our repentance.  But sometimes the circumstances of our lives are brought about by the hand of God as part of His larger plan of the kingdom because God grants each and every believer the privilege of playing a part in the advancing of His Kingdom and His will.  Basically, God does as He wills because He wills because of His will for one main purpose:  His glory.  Yes He loves you and promises to be gracious to you, but God has one commitment higher that supersedes but is also consistent with His promises to love and be gracious to you and this is the pursuit of His own glory.

So there will be circumstances that seem not to make sense that we quite often arbitrarily apply meaning to that very well may be brought about because God wants to bring glory to Himself.  Typically our thinking goes like this:  Oh something good happened.  I must have been really good so God gave me good things.  Or Oh something bad happened.  I wonder what I did to make God angry?  This type of thinking reduces God to dog trainer who gives treats for good behavior and returns a newspaper to the nose for bad behavior.  But look at this passages’ emphasis.  God took the proclamation of the gospel beyond the Jewish people and extended it to the Gentiles.

We know this caused immense confusion when Jesus did it.  In John 10, He tells the Jewish people that He has sheep outside the fold of Israel and that His job is to take His ministry to them by laying down His life for them.  Jesus says the Father loves Him for this as He and the Father are one.  What did the Jewish people want to do?  Stone him.

Look what happened to Stephen when he preached in Acts 7.  He said that God had dwelled with the congregation in the wilderness.  Only a small amount of effort will show you that the word for congregation there is ecclesia which is church.  Stephen called the children of Israel wandering in the desert the church thus making them and the incoming Gentiles together one family.  So the people stoned Stephen.

The people wanted to stone Jesus and did stone Stephen because they could not see that God worked in ways beyond just their own vision and experience.  If you always view the circumstances of your world through the lens of God’s singular interaction with you, you will be helpless.  It is necessary to see that God is doing more things in this world than attending to you and your needs.  God is gracious to hear and meet your needs but Jesus became a servant to Jew and Gentile demonstrating to us that God works mightily in ways that we quite often cannot imagine.  If you live with this big picture view of God always working through you, in you, yet also through and among others, then you will gradually see your life transformed from despair to hope.  Now what we are going to see as we roll into these next few verses are 4 similarly themed quotations from some interesting places in the OT.  That results in the second half of verse 9

As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.”

Now this quotation comes from 2 Samuel and Psalm 18.  Do you know what is going on 2 Samuel?  2 Samuel is about the people of God making the transition from being led by God in a theocracy to being led by a king in a monarchy.  David sings this .  So much of that time was about the people focusing on what it meant to be the people of God in the promised land yet God was making promises at that point and time to bring in the Gentiles, to bring in the nations.

Now again, place yourself in David’s shoes.  He has just been coronated the King of God’s People.  He has survived multiple death attempts from King Saul, and in a human sense, he has everything that any person would ever want.  Israel has everything it could ever want.  It would seem that they are enjoying the fulfillment of every thing God ever promised the Israelites,  They are in the land, they are secure, they have a Godly king.

So what does David do?  He thanks God.  He celebrates.  He worships.  And then David starts prophesying about God’s name being proclaimed not only in Israel but to the pagan gentiles.  It seems that Israel is not going to keep everything to themselves.  It seems that there is more going on than just things for them.  God is showing them that their hope has got to be beyond just their own interests.

God begins by telling us to do the same thing in verse 10.

10 And again it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.”

This is a quote from Deuteronomy 32 and it was proclaimed around the time of the people’s succession from Moses to Joshua.  Again, the people have everything they have ever wanted.  They have been wandering around the wilderness for a generation because of their idolatry and Moses has led them up to the Promised Land.  Moses is proclaiming the glory of God to them as they enter into the promises of God.  And then Moses drops “Hey all you pagans.  Rejoice with the people of Israel.”

I’m sure there were a few folks that were scratching their heads.  I’m sure they were wondering what in the world the Gentiles had to do with the Promised Land.  The answer?  Don’t put your hope in the things of this earth.  Place your hope in God who has a much larger plan for your life than your singular blessings.  There are singular blessings no doubt, but God is always at work for higher and more grander purposes than we can ever conceive.

11 And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.”

This comes from Psalm 117:1.  This verse constitutes half of the entire chapter of 2 verses.  It was a Psalm written to the Jewish people but it highlighted the taking of the glory of God to the nations.  Again, God is saying, “There is more going on than just God’s work with the Jewish people.  And finally, verse 12…

12 And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.”

This is one of the more famous verses pertaining to the birth of Jesus.  Isaiah prophesizes that the Savior will be a descendant of Jesse and when He arrives, He will not only be a Savior to the Jewish but also to the Gentiles.  In fact, the Gentiles will have the same hope in Him that the Israelites have.  Take that in for a moment.  Every Jewish person was raised with the hope that one day a Savior would come.    He would bring in every hope and promise given to Abraham.  Restoration of the Kingdom  The overcoming of sin and death.  In addition, many Israelites felt that the coming Savior would mean the overturning of the enemies of God .  In the mind of most, that meant that God would cast out the Gentiles and forevermore protect the Israelites from the pagans.

Yet, the promise of Isaiah was that the Savior would come just as God promised way back at the onset of sin in the Garden of Eden.  Jesus was going to restore the Kingdom of God – partially here on earth and ultimately in Heaven.  Jesus was going to overcome sin and death and He did by His birth, life, death, and resurrection.  Jesus was going to overturn the enemies of God.  Jesus did that overcoming the twin enemies of Satan and death.  But destroying other races was not part of the Savior’s plan.  In fact, the Savior’s plan was much bigger than any one could have conceived when Isaiah made this prophecy, and God’s plan was much bigger than any one could have expected when Jesus began His ministry.

And I cannot emphasize this enough to you:  God’s plan is much bigger than what you can and I can conceive at any moment and time.  We may not understand it.  We may not even like it.  But God promises to be at work in the lives of His children.

Right now, each and every one of you has a circumstance in your life that puzzles you, confuses you, or you just flat out wish would go away:  your health, your job, your marriage, your friendships, your kids.  Within each and every one of those and among a host of other issues I didn’t mention, there are things going on that don’t make sense to you or are flat out unbearable.

In addition, each and every one of you has a circumstance, hopefully more than one, that brings you great joy.  It could be the same list.  You might take great joy in:  your health, your job, your marriage, your friendships, your kids.  Here is the thing.  Our sovereign God has place both good and bad, joyful and challenging circumstances in your life for various reasons but there is one higher over-arching reason that we often forget.  God has placed both good and bad circumstances in your life so that He might receive glory.  God may have other purposes but none higher than the purpose of bringing glory to Himself.  The challenge for you in your circumstances, whether they be perceived as good or bad, is to do several things.

  • First, give thanks during all types of circumstances because God will ultimately receive glory in what you are going through.  You may not see it, and you may think it will never come about, but God will receive glory for your circumstance and our proper response is to give God thanks for being used as an instrument of His glory.
  • Then, pray and ask God how your particular circumstance can be used for greater purposes than just your own comfort and ease.  Ask God to use whatever it is, found money, new job, loss of job, good marriage, bad marriage, successful kids, struggling kids, whatever, ask God what kingdom purposes those things might have and then sit back in faith and watch God do amazing things.

Then, if that is your goal, purpose and aim, you will find real joy and hope the likes of which you have never experienced before.  It will not be necessary for life to be all cheery and roses for you be happy.  Taking that in, understanding that God is at work in larger purposes than we often are aware of, Paul prays verse 13 for the Romans and for you.

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

The God of hope fills those who believe, those who have saving faith in Jesus Christ, with all joy and peace so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you can live and about in hope.  You see, each and ever blessing here, joy, peace, belief, power, and hope come from God Himself.  He does ordain difficult, challenging, and even hurtful circumstances in your life.  They are always for your good despite the fact that you can’t always see that.  But God is not cruel and torturous.  He also ordains joy, peace, faith, power and hope for you in the midst of each and everyone of your circumstances.  Keep that in mind today and this week as you enjoy both the sun and the rain, the pleasant and the sad, the healthy and the sick.  Keep in mind that God always has higher purposes than we can see.  Keep in mind that as you have faith in Jesus Christ, you are being used as an instrument of the Kingdom of God and any thing you might need to live in joy or sadness, God has provided for you.



March 23, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 2 Comments

Hope Floats

hopeFor in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.  Romans 8:24-25

You know some of us, really struggle with hope.  It is easy to do in these economic times.  One of the causes for this struggle with hope is the frustration that comes about when we don’t get the thing for which we hope.  So, I guess hope for most folks has its limitations.

Why is that?  I would offer that our hope has its limitations because of our narcissistic nature.  We will hope in something as long as we know that we are going to get it which begs the question, “Is that really hope at all?”

For example, when your children ask for something and you say that it is way too expensive, somewhere deep down inside, they still think they are going to get it.  Why?  Because most folks pretty much get their children whatever it is that they want.

Whenever we want something, we might say we are hoping to get it, but deep down inside we know we can charge it or we expect someone to get it for us.  And if we don’t get what we want?  We become disillusioned and disappointed and depressed.  You might make them wait, but aside from asking for a plane or something outrageous, most kids get what they want.

In all honesty, we don’t know what hope is because we either aren’t patient enough to wait and we just go get what we want for ourselves or we just get angry and write off anybody or anything that doesn’t serve us immediately.  We are in essence spoiled brats.

But Paul says here, hope is the essence of salvation.  It is only hope if it is unseen which means it is beyond our grasp or beyond our ability to get it for ourselves.  If we only hope for things that we know we can get for ourselves or for things that we know people will get for us, it is not hope.  It is impossible for us to take part in the grand redemption story that Jesus is undertaking or to properly serve our role as God’s children though unless we have a true, honest, earnest, hope and patient waiting for God.

Unfortunately, what gets in our way of having hope is our low view of God.  We think He is constantly ready to destroy His children when He is actually about redeeming them.  We see every difficulty in the day to day as God’s curse and forget that God desires to redeem and not destroy His children.

Spurgeon put it this way, “My Lord is more ready to pardon than you are ready to sin.  He is more able to forgive than you are to transgress. My Master is more willing to supply your wants than you are to confess them. Never tolerate low thoughts of my Lord Jesus.”

Since we are so impatient and don’t want to live in hope but instead want everything we want right now, we as a consequence live without hope or without great faith in God.  You can’t very well point people to the hope they should have unless you have hope.  You can’t tell people that God can save a marriage unless you are willing to wait and trust that He is going to save yours.  You can’t tell people about hope unless it is the thing by which you yourself live.  That is why the witness of the church is often so weak…it lacks hope.

The question is, “What are you hoping for?  Who or what are you trusting to bring about the thing for which you hope?  Do you have stories of patience in waiting and hoping?  What have you learned from those times?”

I invite your feedback and look forward to being encouraged by your response.

August 31, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment