Scriptures and Thoughts on “Hope”

What is hope?

Hebrew:
qavah and achal – both terms mean to wait or to hope.

Greek:
Elpis – confident expectation and anticipation of a good outcome. Joyful optimism and confident trust for the fulfillment of the promises of God.

(Romans 15:13) 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.

How does hope differ from waiting?

Hope is distinguished from generic waiting by an expectation and an optimistic outlook.

(Romans 12:12) Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

(Hebrews 10:28) The hope of the righteous brings joy, but the expectation of the wicked will perish.

How does hope differ from faith?

Hope carries an especially strong connotation of eager anticipation, and is generally focused on a very specific and positive outcome.

(Hebrews 11:1) Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Which promises of God do you find yourself hoping for most strongly, or most often?

            (His appearance, our revelation as His children)
(1 John 3:1-3) See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

            (Our inheritance in heaven)
(1 Peter 1:3-5) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

            (Wisdom bestowed)
(James 1:5) If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

            (All things work for good)
(Romans 8:28) And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

            (Eternal glory)
(2 Corinthians 4:17-18) “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.”

(Romans 8:18) “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

            (No pain)
(Revelation 21:4) “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

How do we maintain hope during long and difficult times?

(It is a reasonable thing to have)
(1 Peter 3:15) But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,

            (God has not left us)
(Psalm 33:18) Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love

(Psalm 43:5) Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.

(Lamentations 3:21-23 ) “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

(Deuteronomy 31:6) Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”

            (Read scripture)
(Romans 15:4) For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

            (Grow in patience)
(Romans 5:2-5) Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

(Isaiah 40:31) But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

Is it possible to mistakenly hope for things that God has not promised?

(What about these passages?)
(John 14:13-14) “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.

(Malachi 3:10) “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the LORD of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.

(God does not promise Christians an easy life.)
(Matthew 10:22) You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

(James 1:12) Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

(Revelation 2:10) ‘Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.

(Hebrews 11:32-38) 32 And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; 36 and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated 38 (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.

(2 Corinthians 12:7-10) Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

What experiences in this life most arouse in you a hope for better things in heaven?

(Psalm 120)In my trouble I cried to the LORD, And He answered me. Deliver my soul, O LORD, from lying lips, From a deceitful tongue. What shall be given to you, and what more shall be done to you, You deceitful tongue? Sharp arrows of the warrior, With the burning coals of the broom tree. Woe is me, for I sojourn in Meshech, For I dwell among the tents of Kedar! Too long has my soul had its dwelling With those who hate peace. I am for peace, but when I speak,They are for war.”

What things do you have hope for in THIS life?

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Do Christians Have Blind Faith?

A Biblical definition of faith is given in Hebrews 1:11, “now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

It is certainly true that Christians feel sure of many things, even though they have not yet come to pass, and that we are convicted of many things that we cannot currently see. Take Christ’s resurrection from the dead for instance. We have not physically seen this event, but we are sure that it happened. For that matter, consider the very existence of God. John 1:18 says plainly enough of humanity, “no one has seen God at any time.” And yet we believe.

So does this mean that Christians have blind faith? After all, you would have to be pretty stupid to believe something without any evidence, right?

Not so fast. There is a big difference between not being able to see something, and not having any evidence for it at all. Did you see George Washington in person? Yet we believe he existed based on historical evidence. Can you see gravity? Yet we believe in gravity because we can see its effects all around us.

Very well, someone might say, but we can prove those things and you cannot prove that there is a God.

Do you believe that other minds exist outside of your own? There is actually no way to prove it. Do you believe that the past actually occurred? It is impossible to prove that the entire universe, including the memories in our brains, did not pop into existence one second ago.

Faith is the conviction of things not seen. But it is also a conviction that is based on reasonable evidence.

Romans 1:20 states, “since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” We may not be able to physically see God, but we can see all of the signs that are pointing in His direction. Signs pointing to God are all over our world, in nature, human history, science, philosophy, art, psychology, personal experiences, and the Bible.

Of course, if you do not want a God telling you what to do, there is always a way to convince yourself that He either does not exist, or does not care what you do. John 3:19-20 puts it this way, “this is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”

When you point out that the universe is fine-tuned for human life, atheists theorize that there are actually an infinite number of universes, so one of them was bound to be just like ours without a creator making it that way.

When you point out that life could not have arisen from non-life without a creator, they suggest that aliens may have put life on earth, but certainly not God.

When you point out that objective morality is evidence for God’s existence, many admit that they believe murder and rape are not actually objectively wrong, they are merely unpleasant and unhelpful.

When you point out that consciousness is not explainable by physical phenomena, they insist that consciousness is really just an illusion.

Yes, there is always a way to get out of believing in God if you want to. But you will have to be an Olympic level mental gymnast to jump through the necessary hoops. In the meantime, the God who is love patiently offers you His hand.

Life is Not Fair

My fifth grade teacher used to tell us all that time, “the only person who gets to decide your future is YOU,” and “YOU are the one who determines whether or not you are happy and successful in life.”

Even at that age, something just did not seem exactly right about what she was saying. I knew enough about my own life and the lives of those around me to know that life is not at all fair, and a lot of the things that can hurt us deeply may not be under our control.

The Bible acknowledges this, too. Was it fair, when in 2 Samuel 11, Uriah’s death was secretly orchestrated by King David, who had his eye on Uriah’s wife? What about in Genesis 37-40 when Joseph was thrown into a pit, or sold into slavery, or framed for rape, or forgotten about to waste away in prison? What about in Joshua 7 when thirty-six men lost there lives at Ai because of a sin that Achan had committed in the previous battle at Jericho?

Yet in the midst of all of the unfairness, the Bible offers hope, and not despair.

Romans 12:19 quotes Deuteronomy 32:35 in reminding us that God is aware of everything that goes on, and He will settle all accounts in the end, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

Exodus 22:21-23 reminds us that he sees and cares about mistreatment, “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry.”

Psalm 68:5-6 assures us that he cares for the downtrodden: “A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows, Is God in His holy habitation. God makes a home for the lonely; He leads out the prisoners into prosperity, Only the rebellious dwell in a parched land.”

Not only does the Bible assure us that God sees that which is unfair in our world; it also reminds us to stop using our misfortune as an excuse, but rather to get back up and take responsibility for those things that we are able to control.

In Joshua 7:7-9, Joshua was in great despair because all of Israel was suffering and he did not know why. “Alas, O Lord God, why did You ever bring this people over the Jordan, only to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? If only we had been willing to dwell beyond the Jordan! O Lord, what can I say since Israel has turned their back before their enemies? For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it, and they will surround us and cut off our name from the earth. And what will You do for Your great name?”

God’s response was powerful: “Rise up! Why is it that you have fallen on your face?” He then gave Joshua specific instructions on how to take charge and be proactive about the situation, rather than whining.

Maybe that was what my teacher was trying to tell us. No, life is not at all fair. No, we cannot control what other people do. Just as people mistreated Jesus, they will mistreat us. But we can still take responsibility for our own actions, and we can go out in the strength of the LORD to do good in His name.

 

Elijah’s Discouragement

The Bible introduces us to the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 17, and we are immediately left with the impression that he is a bold and powerful man of God. The story begins with Elijah declaring to the king of Israel, “surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.”

Elijah’s following actions include raising up a widow’s son from a terminal illness, mocking 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah as they stand by in embarrassment, calling down fire from heaven on an altar to the true God, and personally slaying the prophets of Baal who flee when public opinion turns against them.

There is not much that could be considered a sign of weakness in Elijah through these impressive events. He seems larger than life. But then things change suddenly.

“Now Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, ‘So may the gods do to me and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.’ And he was afraid and arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.’” (1 Kings 19:1-4)

It seems like Elijah had held it together as long as he could. He had tried to stand strong and turn the people to God in a country that had completely gone astray. But he saw no fruit from his efforts, and he saw no one to help him, and he saw no reason to go on. He just wanted to die.

Thus Elijah journeyed forty days into the wilderness to seek God’s answer to this situation. God’s answer must have been so reassuring. He tells Elijah to go and anoint Hazael and Jehu as new kings and Elisha as a new prophet to carry on his work when he is gone.

“…It shall come about, the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall put to death. Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him.” (1 Kings 19:15-18)

Elijah may have felt like all of his efforts had been for nothing, and that death was preferable to more of his worthless, lonely striving. But that was not the truth of the situation. He was doing an important work in a very difficult time for Israel, and there were others, who he had not considered or perhaps had never even met, who were ready to work alongside him and take over when his time really was finished. Though Elijah had said in verse 14, “I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away,” there were actually 7,000 others who were also faithful to God.

Do not be discouraged when your genuine efforts seem unfruitful. It could be that, like Elijah, you are doing an important work simply by carrying on the tradition that many others, who you may never have even met, will carry on.

Does God have Plans for Me?

“‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.'” (Jeremiah 29:11)

This verse came up recently in our weekly Bible study. Specifically, the question was considered, does God’s promise to Jeremiah apply to us as well?

It is extremely common for Christians to use this verse for comfort in their own difficult trials. It is also quite common to witness satirical or even mocking reminders that God was talking to the great prophet Jeremiah while in Babylonian captivity, and not to any of us.

So, does God’s promise to Jeremiah apply to us as well? God does have plans for us, and not plans that He dreamed up five minutes ago.

God has been planning since before creation to send His Son on our behalf.

“For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you, who through Him are believers in God.” (1 Peter 1:20-21)

God has been planning since before creation for us to know and follow this Christ.

“He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.” (Ephesians 1:4)

God’s plans for this salvation apply to all of us.

“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

His plans are not only for our salvation in an abstract sense, but truly for our ultimate welfare.

“God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Therefore, God does know the plans that He has for us, and they are plans for welfare and not calamity, to give us a hope and a future.

If we misunderstand these assertions to be promises about smooth relationships, financial prosperity, good physical health, or good luck, we will probably be disappointed sooner or later.

But if we understand God’s promises as those that are ultimate and eternal, we can rest in His promises. That which is known is central for us, while that which is unknown is peripheral.

Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?

In Mark 15, it is recorded that Jesus cried out from the cross “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This was the same thing that David cried in the 22nd psalm:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.”

The people around Jesus had no idea what He was talking about. They were ignorant of the Psalm and ignorant of Jesus’ true identity and the true depth and meaning of His suffering. “Behold, he is calling Elijah,” they concluded, “let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.”

At the moment of Jesus’ greatest loneliness, he was surrounded by clueless sinners who speculated about Elijah and wagged their heads as He gave Himself up on behalf of their eternal souls.

David continued in his psalm:
“I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!’”

And later,
“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;
my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.”

Then the Psalm takes an unexpected turn.

“You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.”

What happened in David’s heart that made him trust in God even when no one understood him and God Himself seemed far away? Did God speak to Him with an audible voice? Did God touch his heart in a reassuring way? Did David find somewhere deep in his heart the assurance that he could trust the LORD no matter what? Did David come back and write this part of the psalm after things got better?

I don’t know. But I pray that you and I can have a psalm like David’s.

I believe that Jesus was referencing all of Psalm 22 when He quoted that one line from the cross. At that moment, He may have felt only the first verse, but He testified to the truth of the whole. That is the hope that we cling to in our darkest and loneliest times.

 

Living Life to the Fullest

Henry David Thoreau, the American philosopher born 1817, spent two years living simply by himself in the woods. In a well know passage from his work, Walden, he explains why he decided to do this:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Thoreau voices a concern that many of us sometimes face: the feeling that we are not living life to the fullest. There seem to be many forces working against us in our desire for fulfilling lives.

Daily routines make life seem mundane.
Modern jobs are often so specialized that they involve repeated tedious tasks.
Countless responsibilities such as taxes, utility bills, and insurance policies drain our hard earned income.
Physical ailments may provide unrelenting discomfort.
Modern individualism eats away at a sense of community.
Mindless entertainment is constantly available in limitless quantity to absorb our free time.
But Jesus Christ says: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

He frees us from the fear of death. (Hebrews 2:15)
He frees us from guilt and shame. (Hebrews 9:13)
He gives us a Spirit which lives in us and encourages us. (Romans 8:14-17)

He invites us on a journey too rich and full to be described in a small bulletin article. It is a journey full of words like justification, sanctification, faith, hope, love, peace, fellowship, etc. It can be so easy for these words to become meaningless to us over time, but may we hear Jesus loud and clear as he invites us to live life to the fullest. That is a work that He is starting in us now, which will be completed when He comes again (Romans 8:18-25).

Life to the Fullest

God Acknowledges Our Suffering

To be human means to be capable of suffering.

Those who have experienced chronic pain, clinical depression, or serious illnesses of any sort are all too familiar with this fact. In many cases, the sufferer is surrounded by individuals who are not so familiar with suffering and whose best advice seems just about useless if not upsetting.

The scriptures don’t offer magical incantations or curt advice. The Bible does, however, acknowledge the situation. If you’re like me, you appreciate it when your sacrifices or difficulties are at least acknowledged rather than undermined or ignored.

God acknowledges that people suffer bitterly.

Elijah prayed earnestly to God that he might die right then and there. (1st Kings 19:3-5)

David drenched his pillow with tears as he cried at night. (Psalm 6:6-7)

Job spends the entire 26 verses of Job chapter 3 cursing the day he was born. He asks:

“Why did I not perish at birth,
and die as I came from the womb?
Why were there knees to receive me
and breasts that I might be nursed?
For now I would be lying down in peace;
I would be asleep and at rest.”

God could have left these accounts out of His word if He had wanted to ignore the reality of our pain.

God’s word also acknowledges that cheap advice is frustrating and doesn’t work. The book of Job contains almost 30 chapters of Job’s friends providing useless and accusatory suggestions instead of gently supporting him. At the end of the book, Job’s friends are asking him to pray for them because of their foolishness.

Paul, whose suffering included numerous severe beatings, lashings, shipwrecks, imprisonments, and physical ailments (2 Corinthians 11:23-29, Galatians 4:13) did not offer any cute little pieces of advice, but he did give us some hope to hold onto:

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10)

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Corinthians 8:18)

Crown of Thorns