Future Hope

“Though a mighty army surrounds me, my heart will not be afraid. Even if I am attacked, I will remain confident. – Psalm 27:3. 

How many of you would like to know the future?  Who wouldn’t want to know what the future holds for us, our families, our church, our nation, the world? If you have failing health, you want to know if and when it will improve. If we have a difficult child, we want to know when he or she will be less difficult. If we lose a job we want to know how long it will take to find a new one. Will there be another pandemic? What about another hurricane? We worry about what could happen and what we will do if and when it does. 

Psalm 27 is a prayer/poem attributed to King David.  It is a cry for help in a time of great distress, a renewed vow of faithfulness to God and ultimately a statement of belief in His power and complete trust in the protection that only God can provide. In verse 1 God is described as our light, salvation and our fortress: “The Lord is my light and my salvation—so why should I be afraid? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble? – Psalm 27:1. 

Psalm 27:14 adds, “Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.” When facing difficult circumstances and an unknown future, it is hard to wait. When the future seems cloudy, fear begins to surround us and we are tempted to become bitter, impatient, or to take matters into our own hands in desperation. Verse 14 encourages us to have courage and believe God in times of uncertainty.  God is with us and His promises are unwavering.   

The future can be much like a tilt a whirl ride where everything is changing directions. We as followers of Jesus are looking for something solid, something to be our anchor.  Scripture reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:7, “For we live by believing and not by seeing.”  So many times we cannot see the big picture and we are called to trust in His plan. Our part is to believe that God is here for each of us.  God is greater than all circumstances and situations.

Fortunately, we as followers of Jesus Christ, know that our hope is in an unchanging and eternal Christ. That hope is rooted in the cross and the resurrection. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we know that God has won the battle. Sin and death have been defeated. 1 Peter 1:3 says, “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation,” Our hope is alive because Jesus is alive.

Can we know the future? No, we can’t. But we can face the future with confidence when we know God is in control and is working for our good.

No matter what circumstances come our way, we know He’s there for us. Listening to the media today does not help one feel opportunistic about the future. But when we put our trust in God, knowing He is in complete control, we have hope for tomorrow and strength for living each and every day.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Are you confident in the future? Why or why not? 
  2. How might we focus more on the future in our spiritual lives? 

Act In Faith

“On the third day of the fast, Esther put on her royal robes and entered the inner court of the palace, just across from the king’s hall. The king was sitting on his royal throne, facing the entrance. When he saw Queen Esther standing there in the inner court, he welcomed her and held out the gold scepter to her. So Esther approached and touched the end of the scepter.” – Esther 5:1-2. 

Esther had a dilemma. She faced a potentially perilous situation. She knew the Persian laws. One of those laws was an automatic sentence of death for “any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned by the king.” The only chance of reprieve is if the king extended his gold scepter.

Esther urgently needed the king’s help to spare her people. The risks were great; the stakes were high. Yet she bravely entered the king’s throne room. Aware of the risks, and the need for God’s favor, she called on her cousin, Mordecai, to call all Jews in the region to three days of concentrated prayer and fasting. Having done everything she could to prepare, she took action. She put on her royal robes and approached the king, who held out the scepter.

Esther provides a model that applies to us. As you face challenges, remember the pattern set by Esther. Remember that you, too, need God. Seek Him for wisdom and protection, for power and need. And be ready to step out in faith.  

We will all have those moments in our lives when we are asked to step out in faith. And we all have concerns about that first step because getting out of our comfort zone can produce stress and worry.  Our initial inclination is to question whether we are ready to put ourselves out there. On the other hand, you are excited about what God wants to do through you and and you can’t wait to see what that is, but…you don’t have it all worked, figured or factored out. That is where faith comes in. God responds to our action, not our concerns. 

Hebrews 11.6 famously says, ”And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” Faith is believing when we cannot see everything, when we don’t understand it all, but stepping over those questions and trusting God even though we have questions.

We need to live with active faith in God, His Word, and His ways.  Where we put our faith is demonstrated by our behavior and the choices that we make.  To place our faith in God means we need to spend time getting to know Him through the Bible and through prayer and through community.  

What happens when we believe despite our questions? Our faith grows. It’s so amazing. When you choose to walk by the faith you have, use the faith you have, it begins to grow stronger.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the barriers to doing something every day that requires faith?
  2. What can we do this week to overcome those barriers?

A Mighty Hero

“The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!” – Judges 6:12. 

In this Bible verse, Gideon was going through a season of his life when his faith was weak. He wasn’t feeling it and probably would have rather given up than continued on. At this moment, an angel appears to Gideon and tells him that the Lord is with Him. The story of Gideon, in the book of Judges, is about God, and how He operates in the lives of his children. God’s interactions with Gideon are gentle, loving, forbearing, and intimately personal.

When God calls Gideon to be Israel’s next judge and deliverer, God greets Gideon as a “Mighty hero” (Judges 6:12). But what we continually see with Gideon is the complete opposite of a hero. Gideon first questions God’s active presence among Israel: he doubts God’s plans and believes God has forsaken them. Yet God responds in Judges 6:14, “Go with the strength you have and rescue Israel from the Midianites. I am sending you!”  

Gideon then lists some excuses: “…how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!” (Judges 6:15) And even though God answers, “I will be with you,” Gideon then asks for a sign: “If you are truly going to help me, show me a sign to prove that it is really the Lord speaking to me.” (Judges 6:17). Gideon finally believes, but then responds in fear.

Gideon is far from being a mighty hero. But God never directly speaks to Gideon about his failures. Instead, He walks beside Gideon and shapes him into the mighty hero He has declared him to be. God didn’t call Gideon a mighty hero because He saw that character trait in him from the beginning. Gideon was called a mighty hero because of who God is. God called Gideon to deliver His people, but more importantly, He called Gideon to be different from what he was at the moment of his calling. In the mighty hands of God, Gideon would become a hero.

In 2021, we can take courage in the fact that God is always with us. God doesn’t leave us without help. He said that He would never leave us or forsake us. He has the answer you need for whatever it is that you’re going through.

Like Gideon, He won’t leave you. He sees you in your discouragement and tells you again and again in the Bible that you can make it. So choose to shift your thinking onto what God’s word says. You’re not alone. God is for you and He’s with you each step of the way.

Discussion Questions

  1. This encounter is much like the one with Moses where Moses offers many doubts and reasons not to do it as well as asking for a sign. Agree or disagree and why?
  2. Several times Gideon asks for signs, expresses doubts, or offers excuses, yet finally, he is a mighty hero. God seems to look at us not how we are, but how He wants us to be or how we will be. What does that mean going forward for each of us?  

New Beginnings

“Now the Lord said to Samuel, “You have mourned long enough for Saul. I have rejected him as king of Israel, so fill your flask with olive oil and go to Bethlehem. Find a man named Jesse who lives there, for I have selected one of his sons to be my king.” — 1 Samuel 16:1. 

January has always been the month of fresh starts and new beginnings. People start diets and pack gyms. People are energized. They want to make changes, make improvements. They have great expectations. 

Then comes February, March, April, May, June, and the realization that we are not making the progress we intended. We get bogged down. We come to the conclusion we have failed and will do better next year. But here is the thing: there is nothing magical about January 1st for a fresh start and no matter what you’ve done or not done, great things are ahead with God. God is making all things new. That’s His character. The overall story of the Bible is a message of new beginnings. Take the example of Samuel. 

The first reign of the history of the people of Israel that began with great expectations was entering a stage of decline. The prophet Samuel had been there the whole time in this story, ever since God sent Saul to his home to anoint him as king However, at the beginning of 1 Samuel 16, we find Samuel lamenting because King Saul had been rejected by God himself as a result of having turned away from Him and making many wrong decisions. Most of us can probably relate. There was probably a stage in your life that you longed to arrive, an exciting start to a new “season” and suddenly an unexpected event or a wrong decision has us lamenting.  

The good news is God has a plan for you and a restoration strategy for your life. One day the story and the mourning for Saul ended in verse one of chapter 15. Notice the words “mourned long enough.” God understood Samuel’s pain, but it was time to get up and get going again. Samuel was sent to Bethlehem to look for a man named Jesse because one of his sons would be anointed as the new king of Israel.  

God has been working through history to enable new beginnings. The Apostle Paul called himself the worst sinner to ever live and yet found grace that changed his life forever and gave him a new start. God wants you to have a new beginning. He wrote, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

In the heat of the summer, we need to be reminded that new beginnings are not relegated to January and that roadblocks may not be roadblocks at all, but rather new beginnings in disguise. Perhaps your missteps are actually opportunities for growth, greater closeness with God, or a nudge to take a leap of faith. Fortunately, our God is a God of new beginnings. All of us need new beginnings. We stumble and fumble and wish we could do it over again so God created us with the need for new beginnings.  “And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:5).

But as we think about a fresh start, or a new beginning, we need to remember a key point: we are that new beginning. As we continue to learn who God is and who God is in us, we are shifting toward becoming a new creation. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can a person keep a new beginning with God from fizzling out? What sustains it over the long haul?

Fear And Wisdom

“These are the proverbs of Solomon, David’s son, king of Israel. Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise. Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives, to help them do what is right, just, and fair.These proverbs will give insight to the simple, knowledge and discernment to the young. Let the wise listen to these proverbs and become even wiser. Let those with understanding receive guidance.” – Proverbs 1:1-5. 

Wisdom has played an important part in human history. Our ancestors spent years adapting to their ever-changing environment. They experienced hardships and learned to survive. Their knowledge and experiences were passed down to their descendants to give them a greater advantage and increased likelihood of survival. Without wisdom acquired and passed down over the years and centuries, life would be different. 

Even today, we have learned a lot of lessons over our seasons of life. We are wiser than we were decades ago. And that can lead us to choose what we know, can see, and can predict without honestly going for broke and trusting God wholeheartedly. The more successful we become—the more money we have, the more we want to conserve, and the less we want to risk. In most cases, fear is the cause of that. Fear often hides behind wisdom. We don’t want to lose what you’ve already gained so we have allowed the wisdom we have gained over the years to become a substitute for trust. We stop trusting God because “risk” looks unwise.

It is one thing to believe in God, but another thing to trust Him fully. When was the last time you had to trust God for the outcome of something? I mean really trust God? To trust is to believe in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of something. So, when it comes to trusting God, that means believing in His reliability, His Word, His ability, and His strength. The Bible says that God cannot lie. That He always keeps His promises. That He loves you and has good in store for you. Trusting in Him means believing what He says about Himself, about the world, and about you is true.

Trusting God is more than a feeling; it’s a choice to have faith in what He says even when your wisdom, feelings, or circumstances would have you believe something different. Your wisdom, feelings, and circumstances matter and are very much worth paying attention to. But those things alone are not reliable enough to base your life on. They can and often do change. God, on the other hand, does not change. He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow and therefore is worthy of your trust.

Trusting God is not about ignoring your wisdom or reality. It is not pretending that everything is OK when it isn’t. Trusting God is living a life of belief in and obedience to God even when conventional wisdom would suggest otherwise. 

My prayer is that we learn to trust God with the future. He has a plan for each of our lives and He will bring good from our choice to trust Him.

Discussion Questions:

  1. If you were able to know one thing about the future, what would it be?  
  2. What can we do this week to trust and accept God’s plan for the future?

I Have God-Given Abilities

“God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.”  – 1 Peter 4:10.

 Every Christian has at least one spiritual gift, many are given more than one gift. Wayne Gruden in Systematic Theology describes a spiritual gift as “any ability that is empowered by the Holy Spirit and used in any ministry of the church.” In 2 Timothy 1: 6-7 we read these words that Paul wrote to Timothy. “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”

That passage suggests that we should not spend all of our time finding out what are gifts are and no time actually using them. If you are not sure what your spiritual gifts are, you may want to take a page from business and go with your strengths. 

Chariots of Fire is a great movie. It is the story of Eric Liddell, a missionary to China, who was considered to be the fastest runner in the world coming into the 1924 Olympics in Paris. His sister berated him for leaving God’s work in China to train and run races all over the world. Liddell replied to his sister, I believe God made me fast and that it gives Him pleasure when I run. He won a gold medal at the 1924 Olympics and in Paris gave public testimony to his Christian faith that was reported in media around the world. 

Romans 12:6 says “In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you.”  We’re all different, each one of us is unique, and we all need each other. Each one of us is a unique blend of background, personality, natural abilities and spiritual gifts. The problem often starts when we listen to others or we compare ourselves unfavorably with others.  We are not as smart or athletic or handy or talented as others. I can’t sing like Kathy, or organize like Rick, or fix things like Samuel, or administrate like Tyler.  All those people have more ability than I do so what do I do?  

There are things that each of us do well and there are things that each of us do not do well. If we focus on what we can’t do, we won’t get much done. We need to recognize and accept our unique gifts and abilities and put them to work.  In other words, stop worrying about what you don’t have, and start using what you do have. 

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:23–24 ESV)

What could you do that is uniquely you?  You can do things for Him that no one else can ever do. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why is it important not to underestimate our own God-given abilities or focus on what others are doing? How do these attitudes undermine the truth that God has a good future for you?
  2. What can we do this week to put our God-given abilities to work?

Dealing With The Negative

“Keep vigilant watch over your heart; that’s where life starts. Don’t talk out of both sides of your mouth; avoid careless banter, white lies, and gossip. Keep your eyes straight ahead; ignore all sideshow distractions. Watch your step, and the road will stretch out smooth before you. Look neither right nor left; leave evil in the dust.” – Proverbs 4:23-25 MSG)

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to discern that we live in difficult times. Certainly “peace” would not be a word that we would use to describe the world we live in. The more likely words we would use would be pandemic, racial division and strife, and political division: The list goes on. And if the external difficulties aren’t enough, many of us face internal difficulties. It is easy to be discouraged and let negative thoughts run rampant in our lives.   

Those negative thoughts can weigh down your emotions and your outlook on life. Soloman gives some valuable fatherly advice to his sons on this subject in Proverbs 4:23-27. Notice that Solomon, king of Israel, didn’t focus on advising about royal matters like how to handle money, job responsibilities, or the best tips for leading the country. Instead, he spoke of more important things such as the value of keeping watch over their hearts and minds.  

Whatever our minds focus on is what will play out in our lives and eventually shape who we are. Our thoughts turn into feelings that have the power to control our lives, gradually steering us — and possibly our faith — in a direction we do not want to go. King Solomon knew this to be true and counsels us to be careful about what we think and feel. He knew it’s often our thoughts, not our circumstances, which cause us to be discouraged and negative. it’s easy to get caught in the rip current of negative thoughts. And when we think negative thoughts, we feel negative feelings, leading us to believe life is negative overall.

The solution is to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. When you catch yourself thinking a negative thought, try halting yourself and think of something positive. There are many Bible verses pertaining to our “minds” and “thoughts. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.” Isaiah 26:3 adds, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” And finally Ephesians 4:23: “Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.”

Let’s ask God this week to help us “renew” our minds daily…and ask Him to help us conquer our negative thoughts as well.

Discussion Questions

  1. What happens to us inside when we overemphasize negative things? How does our negativity influence others? 
  2. What can you do this week to minimize the negative in our lives?  

The 10 Spies and Fear

“But my servant Caleb has a different attitude than the others have. He has remained loyal to me, so I will bring him into the land he explored. His descendants will possess their full share of that land.” – Numbers 14:24. 

Fear does not advance the kingdom of God, but faith does. We see that illustrated in Numbers 13 and 14. If you’re not familiar with the story here is a quick summary.  

The Israelites are standing on the edge of the land that God had promised to give them. These people had experienced firsthand the delivering power of God when He set them free from slavery in Egypt, the sustaining power of God as He provided for them during their journey through the desert, and the power of God’s presence as He led them through the desert via a cloud of smoke during the day and a pillar of fire at night. God’s faithfulness to the Israelites was proven time and time again, even when it didn’t seem possible. 

In Numbers 13, they finally stood at the end of their long journey. God commanded Moses to send some men out ahead of them to spy out the land (13:1-2). Moses sends out twelve spies (13:3-20). The spies were gone for forty days and while there they observed two things. First, the land was beautiful and fruitful. Second, the people who inhabited the land were huge and powerful (13:21-24).

When they came back with their report to give to Moses and the people, ten of the spies, in fear, said that the Israelites would be foolish to try and go up against the strong armies that inhabited the land. However, two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, in faith, said they’d be foolish not to go up and take what God had promised to give them (13:25-33). Fear won the day.  As a result, that generation of Israelites didn’t inherit what God had promised. They spent the next forty years wandering in the desert instead of experiencing the power and faithfulness of God in the promised land.

Discouragement always focuses on circumstances, while faith focuses on the promises of God, assured that His nature and character will back up the promise. It was the same attitude that Abraham had when God promised him a son at the time when most men are thinking of anything but converting a spare room into a nursery.

Caleb at age 85 asked to lead the assault in taking one of the most difficult areas in all of Canaan. He went for the toughest task to demonstrate that giants were not invincible, that the bigger they are the harder they fall, and regardless of how strong you may or may not be when God chooses to give you power over your enemies, even the Goliaths come tumbling down. Before you decide that the promises of God may apply to others but not you, read about Caleb and ask yourself if the God who gave Caleb his heart’s desire is indifferent to what He has promised you.

Remember, faith always sees the promises of God as certain–as though they had already taken place. It sees what others cannot grasp, because faith sees God, not the circumstances.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Are you looking toward the future with fear or faith? 
  2. What happens to us inside when we overemphasize negative things? How does our negativity influence others? Give an example from your experience.

Faith Versus Fear

“For I hold you by your right hand—I, the Lord your God. And I say to you, ‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.“– Isaiah 41:13.   

Fear, panic, uncertainty… it’s understandable that people are concerned. Sometimes fears are irrational, while other times our fears are warranted. However, as people of faith, Jesus’ followers are not to let fear overwhelm us. We are called to walk by faith, not fear. This is much easier said than done, so how can we keep fear from consuming our lives – especially when facing very legitimate fear and uncertainties?

The benefits of a life without fear hardly have to be stated. Most people would agree that the benefits of living in peace would be incalculable. But fear is a constant obstacle to living in peace. But rather than looking for suggestions and solutions to overcoming your fear and anxiety, what if you replaced your fear with faith.  

We can’t eliminate all of life’s uncertainties, but we can change our response. We can move from living stuck in fear to stepping out in courage and faith. What’s the key?  A personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Jesus knew that we would be afraid. That is why we read “fear not” over and over again in the Bible. God knows that we alone cannot overcome our fears. Fortunately His love and grace enable us to conquer our fears. The good news is God does not want us living in fear. Remember His power, love, presence, and trustworthiness. Remember His faithfulness.  The reality is that Christ is with us and He is at work in and through us. He is on our side, protecting us always.

Jesus asks us to turn our fear over to Him.  Replace that fear with the love, power, and sound mind that He did give us. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7) His presence is the answer to our fear.  Fight fear with a faithful, indescribable God. The only way to deal with fear is to face it head-on before it takes over your life. Trust that God is for us and if God is for us what do we have to fear?  “I  prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears.” (Psalm 34:4)

Fear is always going to be a part of this thing called faith. But when faith and fear collide, faith wins the day.  John Wesley said, “I have never known more than fifteen minutes of anxiety or fear. Whenever I feel fearful emotions overtaking me, I just close my eyes and thank God that He is still on the throne reigning over everything, and I take comfort in His control over all the affairs of my life.” 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What fears do you have in your life today? 
  2. What can we do this week to give those fears to God? 

Walking With God

“Hebron still belongs to the descendants of Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite because he wholeheartedly followed the Lord, the God of Israel.” Joshua 14:14

Caleb isn’t the most well-known name in the Bible. His story is one of disappointment and dreams deferred, yet Caleb is a powerful example of perseverance, faith, and finishing strong. We read about Caleb and Joshua in the Old Testament book of Numbers. 

God commanded Moses to send out 12 spies (one from each of the tribes of Israel) to the land of Canaan, the land God had promised the Israelites when He led them out of slavery from Egypt. After 40 days, the 12 spies returned and brought back a report of the land that they had just scouted out. All 12 agreed that the land was good, really good. However, the agreement stopped there. The spies other than Caleb and Joshua focused on the size of the enemy they found there, rather than on the promise that God had given them that the land would be theirs. The 10 spies’ negative report shook up the people to the point where they decided it might be better to go back to Egypt.

Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb were angry and frustrated. In spite of that, Joshua and Caleb tried to encourage the discouraged Israelites. “They said to the whole community of Israel, “The land we explored is very good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us. This is a land flowing with milk and honey! Don’t rebel against the Lord, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land. We will devour them like bread. They have no protection, and the Lord is with us. So don’t be afraid of them.” (Number 14:7-9)

Caleb and Joshua were so confident in the promise God had given to them, that the large stature of the enemy seemed insignificant to them. They knew God had promised this land to them and they knew that God was with them which would have led to their victory.

Forty years later and at 85 years old, Joshua led the people into the promised land. Caleb had every right to let the years of waiting and disappointment make him bitter and cynical. After all, Caleb had the faith to move ahead when the majority did not. As a result, Caleb also suffered in the wilderness for forty years – waiting. But Caleb demonstrated an eagerness and confidence as he prepared to step into the promised land. Caleb kept his eyes on God rather than on the challenges in front of him. Even when life didn’t go as planned, Caleb held onto his faith. So when Joshua offered him an opportunity to overcome the toughest enemy in the promised land, he said, “…if the Lord is with me, I will drive them out of the land, just as the Lord said.” (Numbers 14:12) 

There’s no better time than right now to begin walking with God. Because a strong finish begins with a strong faith. So, why don’t you make that faith decision and start today? Who knows? You may be conquering huge challenges at 85, just like Caleb.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Are you putting God first in your life like Caleb? In what areas has God tested you in this?
  2. What do we need to do differently to follow God wholeheartedly?