"There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem."
The definition of hope is a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. As I think about the word hope I am reminded of the story in Luke about the prophetess Anna. The story of Anna and her faithfulness has always amazed me so much so that we named our second daughter Anna Ruth- after this amazing woman.
When we meet Anna in Luke 2:36, we learn that she is "advanced in years" as the gospel puts it. If you do the math, she is around 103 and she is still serving, worshiping and waiting to see the baby Jesus. She did not depart from the temple- but rather she was waiting in hope to see Jesus.
And as I sit here writing this, I wonder, how can I be more like Anna this Christmas season? How can I wait in hope to see Jesus? And wait with a heart that is constantly in prayer, worshiping, fasting- night and day. I challenge you this Christmas season, to see how you too can be like Anna, waiting in hope to see Jesus the Christ child.
Prayer: Father, thank you for examples in the Bible like Anna, who were devoted to you and waited well. She wasn't just passing time, but spending her time worshiping you and growing closer to you. Lord, I pray that during this Christmas season as I think about hope and the hope we have in you, that I will be spurred on by Anna's example to seek you and desire to walk closer to you daily. Amen.
Much like faith, hope requires something of us. Maybe something we might not want to give. Paul write about hope many times but here he makes it clear that we have our hope in the king of kings. That our hope does not fall on death ears but to the one that will hear us and be there. When I think of hope and how that plays out in my life I usually think of my children. Mostly, because as a parent I have lots of hopes and dreams for them. I hope they know God, I hope they grow to be great men and women. I hope they come and see me when they are no longer in my home, I hope they listen to their mother and don't destroy our home.
But what is my hope in without Christ? All the hopes I have would be on the shoulders of my wife and I, and being a parent is not easy so how can I have any assurances that we will be successful? The only way I know how is to place all my Hope in the future of my kids in Jesus and trust him, not because I'm not capable or have no idea how to raise kids, but because I trust in Gods plan far more than my own. I think I have good plans, most parents do, and we all want/Hope for the best for our children.
God has a plan too. And I would rather his plan be the one my kids follow. See, I'm a steward of what God has given me, and his given my wife and I 5 amazing children to look after. But my hope is not in my own skills, abilities, or wisdom. My hope for their future is in Jesus and as Paul writes that hope will not fall to the waste side.
You know what's the best part of placing my hope is Jesus? He never fails you, he's not like humans who are flawed and full of selfish desires. He wants the best for us and that's not always what we think is best. Many times it's the very opposite, but if we trust that he is a Great Father then our hope in he is the best we can hope for.
Every year my kids hope the presents under the tree are exacting what they put on their Christmas list, and every year they are disappoint in at least one gift and sometimes more. For any reason, it wasn't the right color or the exact toy they wanted, as hard as my wife and I try we will miss the mark. They still have a great Christmas and usually everyones happy but my point is, even when we try our best we still mess things up. God doesn't, and that is what I want to put my hope in and I encourage you to do the same.
Prayer: Father you are an amazing God. Your son is the gift that keeps on giving. Today, I put all my hope in you. I trust that you will be there for me in time of need, that your love will guide me through all of life's up's and down. Thank you for being the God that we can hope in and know we will not be let down. Amen.
"But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. This hope doesn't put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us."
The Advent season is the build-up to Christmas. For some, the season is bright and jolly, filled with images of snowmen and presents. But for others, the season may not be such a happy time. People could be having an unusually hard Christmas. For example, it may be the first Christmas without a loved one. A family could be facing homelessness during the holidays. For some of the people, this time of year is always difficult in one way or another. For example, the holiday season has the longest nights of the year, and these longer nights can lead to a psychological condition known as Seasonal Affect Disorder, which can cause people to seasonal depression. I was raised in a home where the holidays where affected by my dad's struggle with depression, and the stress of family expectations and the darkness increasing his feelings of melancholy.
As we face someone in any of these situations, we should be sensitive to their struggling. We don't want to forget or ignore them in our holiday cheer. It is important to remember among all of the holiday bustle to be a supportive beacon of Hope. People can see Jesus through our love. Sometimes all it can take is a smile. Remember to let the light of Christ shine through your actions and words.
Prayer: Lord, let us be a beacon of Hope in the world and bring comfort to those in need, especially as we prepare to welcome the gift of your son. Amen.
"This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God's inner sanctuary." -Hebrews 6:19 (NLT)
Driving around town a few weeks ago, I saw the words "Hope Is Real" written on a sign at a small church here in town. I thought about it and I'd say I have to agree with that statement, but then I realized that for some people, in fact many people, that's not the case. It isn't real for them. I believe that is one of the most important gifts we can give to another person, the gift of hope.
Someone who is hopeless and alone usually cannot help themselves out of their situations. They have a great sense of loss and helplessness, whether it is situational or generational. We, the church, yes, WE have to bring the good news to them. The great news of Jesus and all that He has done for us, through us, and in us.
One definition for hope is: "To look forward to with confidence or expectation". The church needs to bring the Word of God, with all its hope to someone who does not know it is real; when we bring them hope, we bring them life. It is more than just asking God for something we really want or need; we have to expect our miracle. Somewhere in the midst of asking, believing, and expecting God to answer, we will find what we are looking for.
What is your need today? Is it for a financial blessing? Is it healing in your body? Maybe a new job, a house, or a car? Whatever it is, take it to Jesus today.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)
Humans are uncomfortable creatures. Don’t believe me? Watch two complete strangers have a conversation and prepare for the awkward goodness to ensue. When we don’t know what to say or ask, mankind has a nasty habit of reverting to a standard (and incredibly boring) series of questions in an attempt to get to know one another. The question “What do you do for a living?” while one of the most commonly asked questions, is one of the worst ways to get to know someone. How many of us can honestly say that one of the best ways we define ourselves is also the way we earn a paycheck?
This type of conversation includes what I like to call the “sequence questions.” And, depending on what phase of life you’re in depends on which question in the sequence you’ll be asked. When you are a high school student, the question is “Where do you want to go to college?” Once you’re in college, it becomes, “So what’s your major?” Then it becomes, “When are you graduating?” And the sequence of uncomfortableness continues from there…
“Where do you want to get a job?”
“When will you get married?”
“Oh you’re married? When will you have children?”
“Oh you have a child? When will you have your next child?”
“Where will your children go to college?”
And the sequence goes on.
This verse in Jeremiah encourages us to have a faith that doesn’t demand our identity be defined by the answers to these surface level questions because, ultimately, the next step in the sequence of our life is not in our hands, but God’s.
So instead of asking these standard questions when you are trying to get to know someone, try to ask them about their passions, their concerns, and their actual life. Maybe then instead of learning from each other what we do for a living, we learn what we do to truly live.
Prayer: God, in the chaos of the Christmas season, remind me to not focus on the next step in the sequence of life but to instead be mindful of the living moments you provide for me today. Thank you for knowing the plans you have for me, and revealing them to me in your perfect timing. Amen.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." (John 1:1-5)
I love the book of John for many reasons, the way John writes, it speaks to me. It feels like he writes from the heart, not only the facts of his time with Jesus but of what those facts mean and how we should view them. I believe the start of this book is a great example of those writings. You see, John refers to Jesus as the word of God and then he goes on to say that Jesus was with God in the beginning, and through Jesus All things were made and that Jesus is the light which shines in the darkness and Jesus has overcome that darkness.
How does John know this? How does John connect these dots back to creation? John walked with Jesus, saw miracle after miracle, watched Jesus say and do things no one had ever done. Then he watched him be beaten and crucified. How could he believe that the son of God would die? Even if Jesus told him it would happen, how could he believe it would possibly happen? No way it would happen to this man, after all that he has done and said. But it did, and for 3 days Jesus was gone. Then he rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples and all the world got to hear about the resurrection because of the faith of John and the other disciples. And what does that do to John, and his faith?
It's clear to me in the first five verses of his book that John's Faith in Jesus is unwavering! He believes with every part of himself that Jesus is the Son of God and that Jesus is the light to All mankind!! Amen and Amen! Faith in God requires this type of belief in his son Jesus and in the power of the cross that he overcame. We must believe just as John does that our savior is life and that, that Life is the light which shines through in darkness.
I love how John uses things like light and darkness to show how the kingdom of God works. So, if you are in some kind of darkness and you don't know how to get out, place your faith in the one who has overcome the darkness, Jesus!
Prayer: Father, we believe in your son Jesus. We believe that he is the Word that was there in the beginning, we believe that he is the life that brings light which has overcome the darkness. Let my Faith shine bright today and use me for your glory. Amen.
"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you." Deuteronomy 31:6
Faith is trust, assurance and confidence in God. Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1). When I think about the word faith, I think about the "heroes" of the Bible. I think about Abraham and his faith to leave everything he had ever known, his home, his people, family, religion and follow after "I AM" after he encountered God in the burning bush.
I also think of Miriam, Moses' mother, who through her faith hid her son for 3 months and then floated him in the Nile river to safety, only then for the princess to find him and take Moses as her own child. I think of the faith of Mary, Jesus' mother. At 15 an angel of the Lord appeared to her and told her the great news. God has found favor on you and you will be with child- God's child. It was her faith that got her through. Her faith in the promises of God- the promises she had been learning her whole life. "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you."
Deuteronomy 31:6. It is these truths that we can cling to when things are tough. If you look at the "heroes" I mentioned, they didn't have a posh life, they didn't have everything going right for them, but in their hardship, in their trials, in their calling they rested in the one who made them and called them by name. They rested in their faith and that is where they found their peace. This Christmas season, may we too rest in our faith and find peace.
Prayer: Lord, thank you that You go before me. Thank you that you will never leave me or forsake me. You never said that things would be easy, but you did promise that you would be with me through it all. Help me see you when things are tough and help me remember your promises. Thank you for the hope we have in you. Amen.
"The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be."
One of my favorite Christmas songs is "Breath of Heaven" sung by Amy Grant. This song illustrates that, while things might look dark, trust in God will see you through. The song focuses on Mary and her journey throughout her pregnancy. I have always been captivated by Mary's story. Mary must have had her doubts through those months. Scripture says that even when the angel greeted her with "You, who are highly favored (by God)", Mary was frightened. However, she put her faith in the Lord and followed His plan.
God had set a momentous task set before Mary. In biblical times, it was dangerous to be unwed and pregnant. God had to send an angel to Joseph to ensure that Mary was not set aside, so that she would still be provided for throughout her life. But Mary didn't know that; she didn't know that God sent another angelic message. She had to have faith in God's plan. She had to have faith that God would provide for her. In my opinion, this young woman is one of the most courageous people in the Bible. Without Mary and the difficult choice she made in saying "yes" to God, there wouldn't be a story to tell at Christmas.
Prayer: Lord, Even if things may seem dark at times, I will place my faith in you. Breath of Heaven, hold me together though all times. Amen.
"And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith." -Matthew 6:30 (NLT)
Do you ever feel like your faith is small....way too small? Maybe you feel like you should know better and if anyone knew the truth, they would be appalled? Maybe when you look around you, it seems as if everyone else has this great big faith and all you have is this tiny pebble?
Why do you think that is? Is it because we've all been so conditioned to see others as better or "holier" or is it that we tend to look down on our own beliefs and relationship with God? The bible says that all you need is faith the size of a mustard seed. Faith can come through genuine prayer. Not the formalized, repetition "Our Fathers" on Sunday mornings, but genuine, on-your-knees, heartfelt prayer.
Some people might say, "I'm not very good at that. Are we going to do a bible study on genuine prayer?" Sure. You can do a bible study all you want.....in your own home. We dont need corporate worship to pray. We don't need the pastor to lead us or prompt us on what to say. I tell the youth constantly that prayer is just a conversation with God. Anyone can do it. I often start my prayers off like "Hey God, I just wanna talk for a little while. Do you think that would be ok?" The Holy Spirit is available 24/7. If you want to learn how to pray, then get on your knees, open your mouth, and ask God, "Teach me to pray."
Prayer has incredible power to build your faith. You might find yourself filled with anxiety, concerns, or stresses, and it is in those times that you MUST pray. Get by yourself, kneel in humility before God, and in the simplest language you know, talk to your Father about it. Through genuine, heartfelt prayer, you can exchange your anxiety for faith.
So, for all those who want their faith to keep growing, believe that your faith can increase, expose yourself to God's Word, and genuinely pray.