Category Archives: Praise and Thanksgiving

30 Days of Hopeful: Day 24

Let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet (1 Thessalonians 5:8). 

Helmet JPG

The most fitting description of the Christian life can be summed up in one word: war.  Throughout the Old and New Testaments, we see the theme of the “fight of faith.”  Did you know that hope can help us fight our battles?  The Bible tells us that hope is part of our armor.  Ephesians 6:11-17  describes each piece of our spiritual armor in detail, with hope being the helmet that protects our minds.

The most vulnerable part of any soldier in battle was his head.  Archaeologists have learned  that helmets were “purpose-built” to protect the wearer against the specific weapons he faced.  Ancient helmets were pointed at the top, to deflect the downward force of a club. But as time went on and the ax became popular as a weapon, the shape of the helmet was modified to counter the cutting edge of a downward-falling blade. Continue reading

30 Days of Hopeful: Day 18

Sometimes it’s hard to hold onto hope in the middle of life’s storms. We may have to lean on the help of a few good friends. It was one of those times for the paralytic in Luke 5. We don’t know the man’s ailment; what we do know is that he was helpless. So his friends carried the man on a mat to see the Master.  Their way was blocked by the crowd, but they were persistent and clever. They climbed on the roof, hauled up their sick buddy, and lowered him through a hole they made in the roof—right in front of Jesus. Pretty daring!

But instead of rebuking them, Jesus (maybe with a hint of a smile) applauded their faith.  Right then and there, he healed their friend!

Let’s reflect further on this miracle:  Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus.  When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus. When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven”  (Luke 5:17-20 NIV).

Jesus saw the faith of the sick man’s friends and forgave the man of his sins. Then he healed him. As everyone watched, the man “jumped up, picked up his mat, and went home praising God” (Luke 5:25, 26). The onlookers were “gripped with awe and wonder” and praised God, too. Could the faith of a few friends have ignited such miracle? Was it their persistence? Their willingness to take a risk? Maybe all of those.

But I like to think it was also their love for their friend that opened the door to the miracle. They had suffered with this man. Prayed for him. Refused to give up on him.  Did whatever it took to get him to Jesus. Most important of all, they believed in the power of Jesus, Son of the Living God, to set their friend free.

These friends were true intercessors. They knew what it meant to stand in the gap. They remind me of some friends who stood in the gap for a woman I know. She was caught in the grip of addiction. She’d lost hope—even the will to live. Together, her friends waged a battle for her on their knees.

How they did pray! That little team of friends demonstrated the power of persistent prayer and loving action. They “made a hole in the roof” to place their friend at the feet of Jesus.  Maybe this is our calling as believers.  To be vessels of the same mercy we’ve received from the Lord. Agents of hope.  It was Jesus himself who reminds us that there is no greater love than to “lay down our life for our friends.”

I‘ll leave you with my favorite definition of mercy:  “Mercy is the willingness to enter the chaos of another person’s life.” 

Lord, make us willing to be Your vessels of mercy and agents of hope to a hurting and broken world. –Amen

30 Days of Hopeful: day 17

Our God-given hopes and dreams can impact the entire direction of our life.  The Bible reminds us of the importance of dreams:  “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18 KJV).  Some of the most courageous women I know are mothers raising their children in fragile neighborhoods.  These moms know that dreams can divert their children from drugs, gangs, and prison.  Dreams mean survival.

My young friend Dominique was just ten when some gang members befriended him.  “I was kind of a mascot,” as he puts it.  But gang mascots eventually become gang members, and he was headed for trouble.  One day, Dominique discovered an online chess game.  He got the hang of it and became good—really good.  Before too long, he was “busy” when gang members called.  Dominique was way too busy finding his purpose to run with gangs.

By the time he was in high school, Dominique had become the top scholastic chess player in the state of North Carolina.  In his college application, Dominique wrote: “By getting closer to the One who allowed me this chance, and continuing with the plan that we dreamed up together when I was a young child, I feel that I will be able to help someone else and make a lasting impact.”

Dominique didn’t attend church growing up.  But as a small child he had a sense of God’s destiny and a mysterious awareness of His calling through his childhood dreams of playing chess.  And when he heard a clear presentation of the Gospel his first semester in college, the vibrant young man accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and savior.

Dominique recently graduated from college–the first to do so in his family.  He plans to pursue a master’s degree.  And he continues to play chess.   He’s made his way into the realm of international competition.  This week, he’s playing against some of the best in the world at a match in London.

One thing is clear. Dominique’s earthly dreams had eternal implications that went far beyond the mastery of chess.  A reminder to take seriously the hopes and dreams of those children entrusted to our care.  Mother Teresa put it this way: Tread gently around the dreams of a child.  You might be treading on the dreams of God.

30 Days of Hopeful: Day 16

The woman suddenly turned and faced me as we waited for the hospital elevator together.  She looked me square in the eye, and said proudly, “Today marks five years for me as a cancer survivor!”  Both of us were there visiting family members.  “I’m thankful everyday I live that I was blessed with cancer, she added.”  I looked at her quizzically, so she went on to explain,  “I’m 72 years old, and cancer taught me how to live.   I never miss an opportunity to reach out to someone with God’s love.”  And with that comment, she smiled and hurried off the elevator.

Then it hit me.  The person she had just “reached out to with God’s love” that morning was me.  I’m the one whose path she crossed–and she didn’t miss the opportunity to let her joy spill over to me.

I’ve thought about that woman several times since our brief encounter yesterday.  I don’t know her name.  Can’t tell you what she looked like, except that she had blondish hair, a big smile, a Christmas-y sweater, and sturdy looking shoes.  But what I can tell you is that she literally radiated with life.  It sounds a little cliche, but I can’t think of a better way to describe her.  She’s like the person described in Isaiah 50:4 who was always ready with “a word to sustain the weary.”

I found myself calculating her age when she got cancer…67.  And how at a time in life when most folks are winding down, this woman seemed to be winding back up.  She would say that cancer was the “blessing” that caused her to pause.  Reevaluate life.  Rejoice at a second chance. But mostly, it inspired her to be on the lookout for people in need of God’s touch everywhere she went.  So glad I got to be one of them.

30 Days of Hopeful: Day 14

The local atheist club was sitting at the table behind me the other night while I was doing some writing in my favorite coffee shop.  I couldn’t help overhearing their conversation. I had to chuckle. For one thing, they were planning a Christmas Eve “service,” minus Jesus or God or anything religious, of course. But also,  I was a little amused because I used to be one of them—an atheist, that is. That was many years ago. Back then, I didn’t consider myself a political atheist or an activist, like so many atheists these days. I simply didn’t believe in God. Funny how things turn out.

I found myself thinking about why I am no longer an atheist…but rather a sold-out follower of Jesus. And why the hope that now fills my heart has become for me, as the writer of Hebrews puts it, an “anchor for my soul” (Hebrews 6:19). A fitting topic for 30 Days of Hopeful, don’t you think?

I reflected on the ways I draw joy and purpose from the practical, day-to-day hope threaded throughout the Bible. This hope “does not put us to shame,” because God’s amazing love has been “poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”  Over the years, it has proven to be a sturdy hope.  I’ve learned that it’s real, tangible, and stands up under the fires of suffering (Romans 5:3-5).

But there is another type of hope I’ve discovered. This kind is a stark reminder for me that this world is not my home. It’s a far-reaching, transcendent brand of hope. Something I can’t quite get my arms around—not yet, anyway. This is the eternal hope God promises to the followers of His Son. It’s the same hope Colossians 1:5 tells me is “stored up for me in heaven.” The word translated as “stored up” can also mean “destined.”

I’m destined for this eternal hope. That means it’s my destiny. And my destination. I think it’s the “destination” aspect of hope that came to mind the other night as I listened to the atheists. There was lots of laughter in their conversation. Lightheartedness. Even camraderie. But I couldn’t pick up a trace of certainty about their purpose—other than just “not being religious.” I’m not sure any of them had a grasp of their destiny. Or of their destination.

I found myself thanking God, filled with fresh gratitude that years ago, a friend put a book in my hands, and simply said: “One day, when you have questions, read this.” The book was by a former atheist. And I gotta tell you. C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity nailed me. In the time it took to read chapter 8, God snatched me from the “dominion of darkness” (Colossians 1:13) and “brought me into the kingdom of the Son He loves.” It’s in Him that I have “redemption and the forgiveness of my sins” (verse 14).

No wonder I have hope. Hope in the daily stuff. Hope for my future and the future of those I love. And hope for heaven. It’s stored up waiting for me there. And as my shelf-life gets shorter, that’s better and better news.  But until then, I walk in confident expectation, knowing I am destined. I have a destiny. And I am traveling toward my destination.