Christmas, Devotionals, Faith, The Bible, writings

Live Like You Hope

What does it look like to hope? Does it mean to be superstitious? We Ohioans probably all know someone who blames the loss of Ohio State to Michigan on them not wearing their buckeye necklace or favorite jersey. Is that hope, to depend on a talisman or trinket to get you your desired outcome? What about the person who recites a memorized prayer every time they drive across a bridge? Is that hope? Is hope merely some emotion that you bury inside yourself only to bring it to the forefront in times of need?

What if hope, real hope, causes us to act? One of my favorite movie lines of all time comes from the film Facing The Giants, when a Christian man is trying to encourage a down-and-out football coach. In describing faith, he said “Two farmers prayed for rain. One went out and prepared his fields to receive the rain.” And then he asks the question: who had demonstrated more faith? Whose prayer did God answer? Faith and hope, while not the same, are intricately connected. If we are truly hopeful for something, we begin to act differently.

Hope is the reason you plan an outdoor event in Ohio because you never know what the weather will do. It’s the reason a parent of a missing child leaves the porch light on each night. It’s why you don’t throw away your favorite team jersey after they blow the game. Hope is the reason you plant seeds in the garden. Hope makes a difference.

Paul, in writing to the Romans, talks about how our hope in Christ should cause us to order and live our lives differently than people who don’t trust in Christ. In Romans 13:11-14 he says, “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

When Paul says that our salvation is nearer to us now than previously, he’s not talking about almost being “saved” but rather the coming of the Lord. It’s a mathematical fact that we are one day closer to either our death or the return of Christ. What does that mean? It means we have things to do. We’re not called to just sit and wait the rest of our days, scrolling Facebook or watching TikTok. We have more to do than just get through the day. No, Christian, our hope awakens us to reality.

You see, the non-Christian lives as though human history was destined to continue forever or to colonize Mars. But we know that God is the unseen mover of history, causing nations to rise and fall, and bringing history to a determined end. And so we must “wake up to reality” as J.B. Philips translates this passage. The world may be asleep at the wheel, but we’ve got places to go and things to do.

The Christian hope in Jesus doesn’t mean we put our heads in the sand or keep our eyes fixed on the sky. Rather, it means that we live a life of faithfulness and fruitfulness. We love God and love others well. We engage with a world that needs the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It means that we don’t allow ourselves to get distracted by the glitter and glimmer of sinful pleasures that separate us from our heavenly Father and cause us to forget our hope. The fulfillment of our hope is at hand. What began way before Bethlehem is continuing today, the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. Today, live as if we have hope.

Christmas, Devotionals, Faith, Life, The Bible, writings

Hope in the Darkness

Growing up in Appalachian Ohio, I was always amazed at how either people wrote off our entire region as “hillbillies” or they thought that they could fix us. For example, people in our region often felt neglected by our elected representatives until it was election time. Then they became our champions. Or, outside groups, with good intentions, thought they could fix the problems of Appalachia with more money, new roads, and new assistance programs. Don’t get me wrong, those things helped in some respects, but many of the challenges of Appalachia (addiction, unemployment, poverty, lack of educational attainment) remain.

I think that’s because what Appalachia has really needed, for generations, is not found in funding, programs, or political power. It’s simple, really. We’ve been starved of hope. Take away a person’s hope and then they have no reason to get out of bed in the morning. No reason to get a job when they are convinced, they either will fail or that it means nothing. There’s no reason to educate the mind when the soul is parched. Addiction? Well, that is easily explained by a lack of purpose and a lack of hope. Life is miserable for someone just drifting. “Ok, Adam, nice bleak picture. What on earth does this have to do with Advent and Christmas?” Thanks for asking.

In Isaiah 9:2, the prophet foretells of a time when “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” Specifically, Isaiah is referring to gentiles, people who until Christ, had been explicitly separated from God’s promises unless they went through a cultural and personal conversion to become a Jewish proselyte. Even then, they would be viewed almost as second-class. Combine that with idol worship and ignorance, and you end up with the gentiles being in spiritual darkness.

Darkness isn’t fun whether you’re talking spiritual darkness or the physical kind that causes you to stub your pinky toe on the couch in the middle of the night. While we have flashlights and candles for the physical kind, spiritual darkness requires something much more illuminating. Spiritual darkness leads to darker places. A lack of hope. A lack of purpose. A lack of truth. A lack of meaning for everything. And when I think of a people in darkness, I think of folks who have no hope. Like the gentiles of old or the despondent person of today, they sit in darkness. Waiting. Not even knowing there is light.

But when Jesus came, he shined the light of God’s love and offer of forgiveness to people who didn’t look, act, or even believe, like He did. He brought meaning and purpose to His followers, something He still does today. Each of us has people in our circle who need hope today. Maybe it’s a grieving family. Perhaps it’s a person who seems completely unmotivated in life. It could even be you—just going through the motions of life and of the season… It’s our job to share the news of hope, of Jesus.

And in case you are the person who needs a hope boost today: Remember that Jesus defines you. Not your past, not your mistakes or your failures. He has a purpose for you, a divine assignment. A reason for being. And I’m praying today that you would walk in the light of Jesus, not stumbling around in the darkness anymore. Jesus is our hope!

Christmas, Devotionals, Faith, Life, The Bible, writings

A Look At Micah 7

As I’ve been preparing these Advent devotions in advance, I’ve tried to follow an outline. My original plan was to spend the first full week of my devotions on the idea of Hope. After all, hope is traditionally the theme for the first week of Advent. But as I’ve been studying and researching, it is hard to separate the Biblical concepts of hope and waiting.

In Micah Chapter 7, we see the prophet Micah lamenting the decay of society. It’s not just a decline of the nation he sees, but of the people. Ultimately, God’s judgment on the Jewish people wasn’t because of their nation-state (a relatively modern concept), but because of the moral decline of the people. Micah 7:2 says, “The godly has perished from the earth, and there is none upright among mankind;” and the next 4 verses go on to describe the immorality of the people. What he paints is a sad picture: people have disregard for their God and also each other. Because of this, they will face great difficulties from God as a punishment and a means to correct their course.

Even just a surface-level look at Micah 7 would remind us of our own time. Sadly, we’ve learned little in over 2,500 years. In 2 Timothy 3:2-5, Paul describes our days this way: “People will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.”

But despite the lament, despite the brokenness Micah feels and sees around him, he has hope. He has hope because he isn’t trusting in society to redeem itself. He isn’t looking for a major reform or political change. He knows that the only solution is God. Listen to his declaration in 7:7- “But as for me, I will look to the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.”

Although the word “hope” is found nowhere in that verse, you can see hope there in Micah’s statement, can’t you? In Hebrew, the words for “hope” and “wait” are closely related to words for “trust”, “believe” and the idea of putting faith in something or someone. The word Micah uses here for wait can also be translated as “hope”. The New Living Translation really does a good job of communicating this because it translates this verse as “I will wait confidently”. Confidently waiting… A pretty good definition of hope, don’t you think?

Micah is saying he is resolving to wait for His God, his Savior to act. After all, God is his salvation. And what is the Hebrew word for “salvation”? It’s transliterated as Yesha. Sound familiar? To many students of the Bible, it should. It’s the root word for the names Joshua and Jesus, which mean “The Lord Saves”. This is why in Matthew 1:21, the angel Gabriel said to Mary, “You will call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

And today, we sit in the middle of God’s redemptive plan. While Jesus has already provided a way for us to experience the Lord’s salvation, we await the final day, when He will make all things right and all things new. So let us, like Micah, wait in confidence, with expectation. The King who would be born in Bethlehem is still redeeming and saving.

Christmas, Devotionals, Faith, Life, The Bible, writings

Is There Any Hope?

In December of 1927, the USS S-4, a navy submarine, was accidentally rammed by a ship and quickly sank. The entire crew was trapped in what was quickly becoming their watery grave off the coast of Massachusetts. Severe weather hampered rescue efforts for several days until a diver reached the hull and could hear a tapping noise. 6 survivors were trapped in the forward torpedo room. They tried desperately to communicate with the outside world, tapping in Morse Code: “Is… there… any… hope?

Although a valiant effort was made, resulting in one diver being awarded the Medal of Honor, none of the crew of the S-4 survived. Without hope, they wouldn’t have made it as long as they did.

In a way, many people today seem to be crying out, “Is there any hope?” Oh sure, people may not be tapping it out in morse code or even sharing it on their social media. But people are asking that. You can tell by their actions and attitudes. It’s as if we are stuck in a sinking vessel, knowing that our oxygen supply is slowly diminishing. Only a rescue operation can save us from a desperate existence, slowly being deprived of hope and breath.

I was having a conversation the other day with a co-worker, and we were discussing why some people, especially young people, given all that we know about the risk factors, begin smoking. Sure, addicts to smoking have a need to continue, but why does anyone even pick it up? When you consider how expensive of a habit it is, it seems even more of an absurd choice. But my wise co-worker said, “Yes, Adam. But consider all the ways we try to medicate or soothe our stress. Some of us eat our emotions and that’s certainly not healthy or cheap.” She is right. We try all sorts of ways to deal with our stresses, all the while wondering “Is There Any Hope?”

It may be cliché to say, but it makes it no less true: There is hope in Jesus Christ. In his letter to the Romans, Paul says this in Romans 8:24-24: For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes in what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

We don’t see Jesus. We can’t visibly see all that He is doing. If we could, we wouldn’t need faith. Remembering God’s faithfulness in the past, we wait for His Advent, His showing up and working. We wait with patience, knowing that God is faithful and that He is coming to our rescue.

But before we finish for today, I want you to think about something: who in your circle, or maybe just outside your circle, needs to know that there is hope? Who, by the way, they speak and live, are tapping out in Morse Code that they are in desperate need of a rescue?

Oh, I know you and I don’t have all the answers. But we do have hope. We have Jesus. And maybe this year is a good time to invite them to wait on Jesus along with you. Perhaps now is the time to reach out to them and say, “I’m here for you. I’m listening. You’re not alone. And I can’t make this right, but I am going to wait with you until things turn around.”

Is there any hope? Yes. Hope has a name, and He is Jesus. Today, beloved friend, keep going and keep waiting. Jesus is our hope.

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Hope Deferred

I asked my daughter Libby what she hoped to get for Christmas this year. She’s banking on a computer, but sadly for her, mom and dad are not. So, unless Santa has a surprise up his sleeve, I’m afraid this is going to be one Christmas hopes that is dashed. Has that ever happened to you? You wanted a certain toy as a child or maybe you were hoping for a certain gift, and it didn’t happen? I’m still waiting for that remote-controlled airplane I wanted at age 10.

We hope for a lot of things, don’t we? Kids hope for a snow day. Parents hope for an easy day at work. Hunters this week in Ohio are hoping for a chance to get that massive buck deer. Others are right now hoping for more time, with a loved one, time to study, time to just slow down. I know a friend right now who is hoping for his wife’s cancer to go into remission. Another friend is hoping to stay sober.

Proverbs 13:12 tells us, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.” When something is deferred, it is withheld for a long period of time, postponed, or delayed. The word “heart” in this verse means a person’s whole being. So, we might paraphrase the verse this way: “Waiting too long on something you’ve hoped for leads to despair.”

I think sometimes non-Christians view Christ’s followers as people with their heads stuck in the clouds or the sand, and that we aren’t grounded in reality. That, and false teachers paint a false view of God and living for Him. They portray God as some divine genie, granting wishes if you just say the right words and have enough faith. But a deeply rooted walk with Christ is one where we grapple with reality and the promise of God for a universe of eternal perfection.

As we enter the first week of Advent, our overall theme is of hope. But our hope is not just rainbows and unicorns. Oh no, our hope is more than that. As we consider the story of God and His people in the Bible, we see a people who had received promises from God and trusted Him. Some of them saw God do amazing miracles, and some didn’t witness the fulfillment in their lifetime. But almost all of them had to endure waiting.

For example, God’s promise to Abraham to make him a great nation took not just a while. It took centuries. It took Abraham and Sarah having a child in old age. It meant Isaac being deceived by Jacob. It meant Jacob and his family dealt with near-constant conflict both from within their family and without. In fact, it took over 400 years of slavery in Egypt before God had formed a great nation, and then they still didn’t have a land to dwell in. But in Joshua 21:43, we see where they finally took possession of “all the land [God] swore to give to their fathers.”

Yet, even once God gave them the fulfillment of their hope, they were not satisfied. They were not faithful to God. Many times, they would turn their back on Him. But even then, there was still hope. In Jeremiah 14:8, the Lord is called the “Hope of Israel, its savior in time of trouble”. And we see that time and time again, God would rescue His people. His faithfulness would continually give them hope. As it should us today.

Yet what about the people of God today? Even though Jesus has come, died, and risen, do we not still need hope? As we look out at this world of brokenness, we long for God to put to a final end all distress and heartache. We hope and we wait. This is the message of Advent. And we long for the day when with all the people of God throughout all time, we can recite the words of Isaiah 25:9, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

Oh, come, Emmanuel, into our worlds today!