Seven Values of Planning

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Bill Walsh, the former head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, was thought eccentric because of how extensively he planned his plays before each game. Most coaches would wait to see how the game unfolded, then respond with plays that seemed appropriate. Walsh wanted the game to react to him.

Walsh won a lot of Super Bowls with his “eccentric” proactive approach. He was a coach that looked into the future in advance.

The wisest person of all instructed, “The wise man looks ahead” (Prov. 14:8 LB).

Planning is the process of creating your organizational future before it happens. Like Bill Walsh, it is creating your actions in advance so that your life will respond to you. It is attempting to write history in advance.

Planning gives direction.
It’s like using a highlighter on a roadmap that indicates where you are, where you are going, and how you are going to get there. The roadmap not only provides information for where you are going; it also suggests where you are not going. Planned abandonment—what you must not do—is just as important as planned adventure—what you will do. Churches, organizations, and ministries do not have the time, resources, and personnel to do everything. (God does not expect individuals or groups, including churches, to be all things to all people.) Planning helps one determine the few things that are worth doing, and worth doing well. One of the best benefits of creatively planning is that it allows you to simplify. It enables you to repack your bags, lighten your load, take the essentials for your journey.

Planning helps you to create rather than react.
Planning allows you the opportunity to create your actions in advance so that life will respond to you. At all times in your life, you are either creating or reacting. Each step along your journey you are faced with a choice either to create or to respond. Many people spend their entire days reacting. Like goalies in a hockey game, with pucks flying at you all day, you respond. You react to news, cars in traffic, people, events, challenges, and obstacles. But there’s a better way to live. It involves making choices and following plans. It consists of choosing to create. You create by planning, forecasting, and looking ahead.

Planning saves time.
A favorite quote of mine is: “One hour of planning saves three hours of execution.” Planning provides a time savings return. It provides me with a marvelous return on my investment. I only have twenty-four hours in a day and 365 days in a year. If I don’t use them wisely by looking ahead, I will forever forfeit those gifts.

Planning allows you to build on your strengths.
Effective leaders determine what the organization can do best and then does it. An expanded structure is built on strengths, not on weaknesses. The best resources—time, money, and personnel—is assigned to the opportunities that build on the strengths.

Planning reduces crisis.
Your life has two controlling influences: plans or pressures. When you choose to plan, you take charge and control of your days. If you fail to look ahead, you will spend your days in crisis mode. You will fall into the trap of “panic planning.”

Planning gives energy.
Failing to focus, you dissipate your energy on less important matters, improper agendas, and lost crusades. You become a dabbler, wasting your power on the trivial many. Much activity exists, but little productivity. On the other hand, when your look is focused, concentrated on the vital few, you are renewed, revitalized, and remade.

Planning is a spiritual experience.
Looking ahead cannot be done without the power of prayer. As your eyes engage the plan, allow your heart to join the Heavenly Father. Planning means praying together. It reminds me of the promise of God, “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst” (Matt. 18:20 NASB). Without Christ, you can do nothing. Without him, you begin at no beginning, and you work to no end. So join Christ. Find out what he is doing in the world, and go with him.

 

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Three Actions to Take with the Truth

Witness swearing on bible telling the truth

Picture a courtroom. Now envision a woman standing before judge and jury, placing one hand on the Bible and the other in the air, and making a pledge. For the next few minutes, with God as her helper, she will “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

She is a witness. Her job is not to expand upon nor dilute the truth. Her task is to tell the truth. Leave it to the attorneys to interpret, the jury to resolve, the judge to apply. The witness plainly speaks the truth—the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Throughout the Bible, we are called to the standard of truth-telling. Why? Because in telling the truth we reflect Jesus, for he said, “I am . . . the Truth” (John 14:6 NIV). Jesus was staunchly honest. Not once did Jesus stretch the truth. Not once did he shade the truth. Not once did he avoid the truth. He merely told the truth.

How do we tell the truth today?

Pursue the truth.
Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32 NIV). We must comprehend through diligent study and earnest prayer what God has graciously revealed in Scripture. Too many people are shallow, if not, ignorant of the biblical truth.

We must fill our minds with the truth of Scripture. We live in a culture that adheres to relativism, subjectivism, and pragmatism. We must make a concentrated effort to resist these influences by allowing our minds transformed by the truth of God’s Word. As we study and meditate on the riches of God’s revealed truth, we will know truth from error.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn was right when he observed, “Many of you have already found out, and others will find out in the course of their lives, that truth eludes us if we do not concentrate with total attention on its pursuit.”

Speak the truth.
The apostle Paul exhorted, “Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor” (Eph. 4:25 NIV). I would encourage you to make the following commitment, “From this day forward I purpose in my heart, with the help of God, to speak only the truth, always and in every situation, for the rest of my life.” Such a commitment will inevitably improve our relationship with God and with everyone else.

Examine your heart. Ask some tough questions. Am I completely honest with my spouse and children? Does candor mark my relationships? Am I honest in my dealings in my business, at school, with friends?

Practice the truth.
If we are to proclaim the truth, we must live truthfully; otherwise, we are merely hypocrites.

Let’s take a test. Does my walk match my talk? Do people know me as an honest and trustworthy person? Can I be counted on? Do people trust me? Do I tell the truth, always?

The poem, “The Question,” asks a single question. As you read it, answer that question.
Were the whole world good as you—not an atom better—
Were it just as pure and true,
Just as pure and true as you;
Just as strong in faith and works;
Just as free from crafty quirks;
All extortion, all deceit;
Schemes its neighbors to defeat;
Schemes its neighbors to defraud;
Schemes some culprit to applaud—
Would this world be better?

If the whole world followed you—followed to the letter—
Would it be a nobler world,
All deceit and falsehood hurled
From it all together;
Malice, selfishness, and lust,
Banished from beneath the crust,
Covering human hearts from view—
Tell me, if it followed you,
Would the world be better?

Ralph Waldo Emerson was correct: “The greatest homage we can pay to truth is to use it.” Let’s start today telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

 

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Is Your Faith Different?

Businessman looking at faith door

We exercise faith every day. For example, sending our children off to school; filling a prescription then taking medicine; eating in a restaurant, depositing money in an ATM, signing a contract, driving on the highway, to mention a few ways. Faith isn’t some religious experience for the elite; it’s the glue that helps hold people’s lives together.

If everyone uses faith, what makes Christian faith different?

Faith is seeing God in every situation.
Everett Alvarez Jr. was the first American pilot shot down over North Vietnam on August 5, 1964. He spent eight and a half years as a prisoner of war, the first one and a half in solitary confinement. He was beaten and tortured.

His darkest hour came after seven years in prison. On Christmas Day 1971, his captors let him read a letter from his mother that said his wife had left him.

Alvarez emerged from captivity with a new spirit. He remarried soon after his release in February 1973. He earned a law degree in night school. He held two senior political posts in the Reagan administration. In 1988 he started Conwal Inc., the executive management consulting firm that employs over 200 people and pulls in more than $15 million a year.

In an interview, he said, “The hardest part was being alone. I used to do a lot of talking. I talked to God, and I realized I wasn’t really alone.” He scratched a cross outside his hut. Christian faith does not deny the problems and challenges of life. It does not turn away from reality. But it understands that beyond the facts of this world there is a higher reality.

Faith is no stronger than its object.
Faith is more than having faith in faith. Many have been misled to believe that if one had enough faith, they could do anything, even the impossible. But faith in what? Faith is only as good as its object. If an astronaut put his faith in a single-prop Cessna to get him to the international space station, he’d be nuts. His faith, no matter how sincere, reliable, or determined would get him no farther than the Cessna’s built-in power.

William Newton Clarke was right when he wrote, “Faith is the daring of the soul to go farther than it can see.”

For the Christian, faith is in God. He is the object of the Christian’s faith. That is huge. By placing their faith in God, the Christian has all the power, guarantees, and resources at their disposal.

Faith grows out of a relationship with God.
Let’s suppose you’re shopping in a department store and a total stranger approaches you and says, “I think you should loan me $500 so I can buy a new washing machine.”

My guess is you’d either ignore him or say, “I’m sorry, but I don’t do business that way.”

Obviously offended, he would probably reply, “What’s the matter? Don’t you trust me?”

I can hear your answer: “Trust you? I don’t even know you!”

Trust is a relationship that can be built only over a period. To hand $500 to a total stranger and expect to get it back isn’t faith; it’s presumption.

But let’s suppose it is your spouse that asks for the $500 to buy the washing machine. You would give the money, not because of presumption, but because of the relationship.

The Christian faith is not based on presumption, but rather on a walk with God and a growing relationship with him.

Faith is not unique. It is as commonplace as the air we breathe. But how we demonstrate and practice that faith is unique. And that’s what makes the Christian’s faith distinct from the rest of the field of faith.

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7 Characteristics of a Winning Team

Italy players hold aloft the FIFA World Cup trophy.

In a speech to West Point cadets following the Persian Gulf War, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf said: “In the final analysis, you should never forget that the airplanes don’t fly, the tanks don’t run, the ships don’t sail, the missiles don’t fire, unless the sons and daughters of America make them do it. It’s just that simple.”

Leaders must realize that the critical need of selecting the right people is more important than ever and that the importance of people is more powerful than ever. As General Schwarzkopf also said, “If they fail, their leader fails.”

Putting the right people in the right place at the right time is a critical component of leadership. Select the right people and churches, business, and organizations thrive. Select the wrong people and the door swings open for problems that stifle growth and productivity and hurt credibility.

An active leader needs to employ a selection process that puts the right person in the right job at the right time. How do we select the right people?

People who are called.

Called people have a profound purpose about their lives that flow from a divine perspective. They are not trying to promote themselves, but instead, they support a higher cause. People who are called discover something bigger than themselves, a mission, a challenge, a goal, or a movement, that draws them into an arena. Called people have a sense that God’s hand is upon them whether they are engaged in a secular or a Christian vocation. They know that God has directed them to whatever type of service or work they provide. In other words, they do not feel a sense of choice in the matter. Consequently, they do not quit, and could not stop if they wanted to.

People who have character.

Character is a high standard of living based on a personal code of morality that doesn’t succumb to the whim of the moment or the dictates of the majority. Character is to personal integrity what health is to the body. Character is not reputation—what others think of us, nor is it success—what we have accomplished. Character embodies the total of our being and our actions. It originates with who we are, but it expresses itself in the way we live and behave.

Leaders can’t compromise the need for character in the selection process. No matter how gifted, trained, or seemingly mature a person is, the actual use of those attributes will be determined by character.

People who are committed.

That is people who display spiritual authenticity. People who have made a mature, consistent, commitment to Christ and his kingdom purposes. People who allow God’s Word to impact their lives daily. People who pray and seek the leadership of God’s Spirit. People who can honestly say to others “Follow me.” Do as I do.

People who are compatible.

The selection process requires that the leader enlist people who are a job fit, a relational fit, a skill fit, and a passion fit. Vince Lombardi once told this team, the Green Bay Packers, “In terms of skill and ability, every one of you is easily replaceable; there are plenty of players around with athletic talent to equal yours.” He went on to explain that the quality that distinguished Green Bay for the other teams was their “chemistry.” The power of chemistry that developed between members and the coach transcended, in Lombardi’s view, individual talent and prior professional experience. He saw it as enabling him to get significant effort from his players.

People who are coachable.

Coachable people are aware of their limitations and inadequacies and eager to learn and to improve. John Wooden, the former basketball coach of the UCLA Bruins, said, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

People who are competent.

Competent people are talented, gifted, and perform at a high level. They know their job and do their jobs well. They bring their “A” game every day.

People who are contributors.

They function well as a team player. They are self-aware both of themselves and of others. They thrive in a healthy team environment, wanting the best in themselves and others. Peter Drucker said, “All work is for a team. No individual has the temperament and the skills to do every job. The purpose of a team is to make strengths productive and weaknesses irrelevant.” Contributors work together and help their teammates perform better to accomplish the common goal.

When the leader selects the right people for the right job at the right time, then he can give them the responsibility and leave them alone to do the job.

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What to do when you’re spiritually empty

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Spiritually I occasionally run on empty. During those times I have no energy to engage in ministry. I find no enjoyment in reading the Bible. I have little peace and contentment. I have action without emotion, oratory without power, and doctrine without love.

My empty spiritual tank is an invitation to disaster, like a car out of gas, I cough and sputter and pull over to the shoulder, out of service, unable to go any farther. I am drained. Everything in my internal world is chaotic. The Bible seems lifeless. My devotional life becomes a tiresome habit. I have no desire to pray. Communion leaves me as dry as the bread I swallow. Worship is vain. Serving Christ becomes mundane.

Spiritual emptiness is one of the most severe threats to Christian health. What am I to do? I have learned that I am more prone to run on the spiritual red line when I don’t care for my soul and my body. Therefore, I can overcome spiritual emptiness by adhering to some fundamental soul and body maintenance practices.

Receive Spiritual Nourishment

Without regular tune-ups, repairs, maintenance, servicing, and filling of the gas tank the car will eventually sputter out. So will my walk with Christ. Someone has said that if the intake does not exceed the output, then the upkeep will be one’s downfall. It is a spiritual law that the one who gives out much must also take in much.

The antidote to spiritual undernourishment is a consistent time alone with God—a fixed time of personal nourishment with God through the Word and prayer.

Engage in Service

A boat will rust out quicker in dry dock than when put to the test on the open seas. A car will rust out faster sitting idly in the driveway than by being run every day. Likewise, believers in Christ have been endowed and equipped to serve. For me to idly sit when endowed with gifts for disbursement, I will “dry rot” and “rust out” quicker than when engaged in ministry and service.

The antidote to my idleness is to give myself away in service and to disburse my gifts in ministry. For every quiet time, I need a “try it” time. A “try it” time is putting my faith into action. It’s what I practice. It’s taking the truths and principles of God’s Word and trying them out in daily living.

Avoid Over Commitment

In the Christian life, it is easy to become overcommitted. It’s a condition of spiritual overstrain. At times too much of a good thing can be damaging, like too much oil for the car. This situation is often expressed through the poor theology, “The devil never takes a day off, so why should I?” Who said I was supposed to be the devil?

I hesitate to share the antidote for spiritual overstrain because others may take it the wrong way and use this cure merely as an excuse for their undisciplined nature and laziness, I am compelled to share this treatment with those who are at the point of spiritual exhaustion while doing all the right things. If one is spiritually empty due to spiritual overstrain, it will not make sense to prescribe for that person to pray more, study the Bible longer, and attend more meetings.  This prescription would be the same as advising a person with diabetes to eat more sweets and sugar. Or to think that if a small amount of fertilizer is right for the lawn, then a more massive amount could only be better.

When I am spiritually empty due to spiritual overstrain, it is helpful to engage in a time of restraint or monitoring of spiritual disciplines. In other words, I limit my devotional time to a minimum. I pray only shortly. I abstain from reading religious books. I step back from congregational activities for a while. I limit my spiritual disciplines until the appetite for spiritual things is aroused again. And you know what? It eventually returns.

Replenish Your Physical and Spiritual Resources

A disregard of my physical body will affect my psychological health and cause spiritual drought. If I don’t come apart, I will come apart. The bow that is always bent will eventually break. The car that is forever run will subsequently “rattle, rattle, clatter, clatter, boom, boom, boom.” Then sputter and die. Even the fine-tuned cars that race in the Indianapolis 500 need pit stops. I cannot separate body and soul. They are linked together. To ignore the body will reap severe consequences for the soul with an inevitable result of spiritual emptiness.

The antidote for physical overwork is Sabbath-rest or “still” times—the times of personal and spiritual replenishment. Still times renew my spirit and my soul and my body.

The Christian life is not like a drag race. It is more like a cross-country road race. And to survive for the long haul, I need to regularly and consistently engage in those activities that keep my body, my mind, and my soul running in top condition.

 

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5 Steps to Becoming Wise

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Can you see beneath the surface of issues? Do you have insight into questions? Most matters are rarely black and white; they are usually a shade of gray. What is needed is wisdom, true wisdom.

Sometimes wisdom goes by its nickname, sound judgment. It’s the ability to make the right calls. Someone has said that knowledge is the ability to take things apart, while wisdom is the ability to put things together. Other words that fit under the umbrella of the biblical concept of wisdom are discerning, judicious, prudent, and sensible. Not very glamorous words, perhaps, but words you can build a life on.

So how do we get it? How can you be a wise person?

Understand that wisdom comes from God.

If we want wisdom, we must seek it from its proper source, God himself. A relationship with God is the beginning of wisdom. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10 NIV). Wisdom is uncommon sense. It originates with God, resides in God, emanates from God, and is given as a gift from God.

The Bible says the opposite of wisdom is foolishness and the opposite of a wise person is a fool. Today the word fool often means someone with low intelligence, but in biblical usage, fools may have a high I.Q. and a reputation for success. What makes them a fool is that they ignore God, preferring to follow the dictates of the crowd or their own fallible opinions.

Pray for wisdom.

God has commanded us to ask for wisdom. James, for example, wrote, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5 NIV). God generously gives when we ask for wisdom.

Meditate on God’s Word.

Meditation brings wisdom—the ability to see the best course of action in the midst of a problem. Meditation brings insight. Teachers show us how things work. Insight is the ability to see inside, to know what makes people and things operate. Meditation brings understanding—to see life in perspective, put it all together, and make sense of it.

When I became a Christian, I heard Billy Graham say that he read a portion of the Psalms and one chapter from the book of Proverbs each day. If it were good enough for him, then I would do it. Daily reading from God’s Word has provided me with the insight and understanding to steer me clear of folly and toward wisdom.

Hear and heed the counsel of those you respect.

Why do we listen to others and seek guidance from others? Because they have been through experiences and endured trials, we have not yet encountered. They can look at our situations more objectively and with varied perspectives. Solomon said over and over again in his Proverbs, “A wise man listens to advice” (Prov. 12:15 NIV).

God gave us two ears and only one mouth, which might suggest the proper ratio of listening to speaking if we wish to become wise. When we talk, we hear just what we already know. When we listen, we have an opportunity to learn and grow wise.

Seek wisdom with all your heart.

Sometimes God gives wisdom only to those who press after it like a thirsty deer searching for water or like a greedy man wanting to make more money. You have to go for it, want it more than nearly anything else. Then you shall have it. God has promised the wisdom to those who seek it with their whole hearts.

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Hope for the future

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We speak of hope now and in the future, but never hope for yesterday. Hope always has a future focus. Saint Augustine said, “Hope deals with good things, and only those which lie in the future, and which pertain to the man who cherisheth the hope. When hope attains its object, hope ceases to be and becomes possession.”

Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord links the future and hope. He promises the exiles who wished to return from captivity to their homeland: “‘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’” (Jer. 29: 11 NIV). God always has our best in mind.

When we understand the future focus of hope, we are able to look at the events of life in a new light. We realize, for example, that out of suffering there is good. “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” (Rom. 8:28 NIV). Hope knows to look beyond the painful realities of this life. Through suffering God is either teaching us a lesson or preparing us for something grand. He can turn our “disappointments” into “His appointments,” which hints that the thwarting of my purposes may be God’s better plan for me.

We also come to understand that out of sorrow there is life. Christian hope is securely wrapped and guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The apostle of hope, Peter, reminds us that we can rejoice even in the midst of sorrow and death. “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3-4 NIV). Through the resurrection of Jesus, we mortals have a glimpse of immortality. Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, death has been translated from an ending into a beginning, from a period to a comma, from a conclusion to an introduction, from a final destination into a rest stop.

The Christian life is hope experienced. A hopeless Christian is a contradiction in terms. For our hope is based on God and his promises, is cared for in the community of believers known as the church, and is granted fulfillment in heaven through eternal life.

Yes, hope and life are intertwined.

Several years ago, a teacher assigned to visit children in a city hospital received a routine call requesting that she visit a particular child. She took the boy’s name and room number and was told by the teacher on the other end of the line, “We’re studying nouns and adverbs in his class now. I’d be grateful if you could help him with his homework so he doesn’t fall behind the others.” It wasn’t until the visiting teacher got outside the boy’s room that she realized it was located in the hospital’s burn unit. No one had prepared her to find a young boy horribly burned and in great pain. She felt that she couldn’t just turn and walk out, so she awkwardly stammered, “I’m the hospital teacher, and your teacher sent me to help you with nouns and adverbs.”

The next morning a nurse on the burn unit asked the hospital teacher as she came to help the boy again, “What did you do to that boy?” Before the teacher could finish a profusion of apologies, the nurse interrupted her: “You don’t understand. We’ve been very worried about him, but ever since you were here yesterday, his whole attitude has changed. He’s fighting back, responding to treatment. It’s as though he’s decided to live.”

The boy explained later that he had completely given up hope until he saw that teacher. It all changed when he came to a simple realization. With joyful tears he expressed it this way, “They wouldn’t send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, would they?”

Hope and life are inexplicability woven together. To know the certainty of God’s heaven is to have hope reign supreme.

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Hope Works Best in Community

Creating-Community[1]

Ever watched a campfire? The logs and timbers in the fire dance with magic as they burn together. But when an ember rolls away from the fire, it quickly burns out. It can’t sustain its warmth or its fire. People are a lot like that. Together in community we gather warmth from each other, the fire of optimism burns brightly. But separated and alone from the group we turn hollow and cold, dying on the inside.

Hope is encouraged in community; despair often comes in isolation.

Early believers who had been eyewitnesses of Jesus or were just one generation away from Jesus were under persecution. They were being attacked and assaulted. They were becoming discouraged, filled with despair. The fire was beginning to go out. A letter began to circulate offering words of strength and support. One of its instructions for keeping hope alive was to fellowship with hope-filled believers. Here’s what the letter said, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. . . . Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:23,25 NIV). In other words, if you want hope to burn brightly stay in the fire of community, around people who love you and support you and care for you. When you are cold you can draw heat and energy from them, and when they are in despair they can draw encouragement from you. This idea is not new; it’s as old as Solomon is. He wrote, “If two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?” (Eccl. 4:11 NIV).

The settlers of the North American western frontier learned this truth the hard way. When the challenge to “Go west, young man” came many staked their rights and built their houses in the middle of their homestead (often miles from the nearest family). They wanted to survey all of their land and say with pride, “As far as I can see that is mine.” But in time, isolation proved to be a far cry from ideal. When photographers returned from those lonely houses, they showed pictures of wild-eyed women, stooped, gaunt, prematurely old men, and haunted-looking children. Isolation proved difficult.

As time went on, settlers benefited by building their homes nearer each other, in the corner of their property rather than in the center. Four families could survive much easier if they loosened their grip on independence and came together.

Pulling closer together keeps hope alive; existing far apart is certain demise.

The Christian faith is a hope-filled faith because of the God of hope and the people of hope. God is the source of all hope. And his people are the purveyors of that hope. The church is the epitome of community, where people can come in from the cold brutality of life and get warm. Without the church we are like the ember separated from the fire. We grow cold, despair overtakes us, and we lose hope. Hope grows as we attach ourselves to a Christian fellowship group for caring and supportive help.

 

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Hope comes from God

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Outside the Bible, especially in our society, hope consists of a half-hearted optimism unsure of its basis. It has no anchor. It freely trusts in one ideology after another, from Marxism to capitalism, materialism to idealism, religiosity to secularism, legalism to license. Or society’s hopes are more clearly focused but are in objects that cannot satisfy hope: a career, business opportunities, marriage, children, money, security, a new home, and so on. The secular version of hope becomes like Sinbad the sailor who anchored his craft to what he thought was a sturdy atoll, only to discover that it was a big fish which dashed off with sailor, craft, and all.

Consider the indelible impact on the world made by Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud. Both men led a strong attack on the Christian faith, with Marx calling religion the “opiate of the people” and Freud defining God as the projection of a child’s wish for a protecting, powerful father. Believing that God was dead, both Marx and Freud died bitter and disillusioned men, virtually friendless, without inner peace and overwhelmed with despair and hopelessness.

Contrast Marx and Freud with C.S. Lewis, another intellectual, who embraced the Christian faith and used his talents to influence people in a noble direction. Lewis, if you recall, lost his wife to cancer. He grieved severely, but later emerged from his sorrow with renewed strength and unspeakable joy derived from God on whom his hope was grounded. Unlike Marx and Freud, Lewis had the resources of a living God to see him through.

Lewis’ life revealed, in contrast to a secular view, a hope that is not in us, not based on what we can do or achieve, but rather coming from beyond ourselves. The Christian’s hope is not subjective but objective. It is subjective in that it is a feeling. But it is objective in that clings to something real and powerful. For the Christian that something that is beyond ourselves and is objective is God—the living God. God is both the inspirer and the object of hope. Again and again, God is called “the God of hope” The apostle Paul referred to Jesus as “Christ Jesus our hope” (1 Tim. 1:1 NIV). On another occasion Paul says of Jesus “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27 NIV).

The Christian’s hope is not fleeting, but guaranteed and assured. It is based on the promises of God, guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and appropriated by faith. That’s why the Psalmist could sing, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, My Savior and my God” (Psa. 42:5 NIV). That’s why the apostle Paul could write, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:13 NIV).

Real hope is based on God. That’s why a believer can sing, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ, the Solid Rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.” As the writer of Hebrews stated, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Heb. 6:19 NIV).

At those moments when we are overwhelmed by disillusionment, discouragement, depression or even despair, we must never forget that God is the anchor for our hope.

 

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Hope is a good thing.

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Hope and life are linked together. Theologian Emil Brunner wrote, “What oxygen is for the lungs, such is hope for the meaning of human life. Take oxygen away and death occurs through suffocation; take hope away and humanity is constricted through lack of breath; despair supervenes, spelling the paralysis of intellectual and spiritual powers by a feeling of senselessness and purposelessness of existence. As the fate of the human organism is dependent on the supply of oxygen, so the fate of humanity is dependent on its supply of hope.”

Cicero gave us the well-known proverb, “While there’s life, there’s hope.” Was he right? A few years ago the psychology department of Duke University conducted an interesting experiment. They wanted to see how long rats could swim. In one container the experimenters placed a rat for which there was no possibility of escape. He swam a few minutes and then ducked his head to drown. In the other container, they made the hope of escape possible for that rat. The rat swam for several hours before finally drowning. The conclusion of the experiment was just the opposite of Cicero’s statement, “While there’s life, there’s hope.” The Duke experiment proved, “While there’s hope, there’s life.”

Hope is the Christian virtue that anticipates something good will happen or expects the best to come. Hope brings life. While faith belongs more to the intellectual and love to the emotions, hope concerns itself with the will. Hope is medicinal. Hope is that vivacious virtue that can transform despair, defeat, and death, knowing that there are no hopeless situations there are simply people who have grown hopeless about them. As Stephen King’s character in Shawshank Redemption, Andy McFrane, writes in a letter to his friend Red, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.”

Your situation may appear bad, hopeless in fact. Your job may be slipping away. You may be wondering where you are going to get the money for the Christmas presents this year. Your marriage may be unraveling. Your children may be causing you to pull your hair out. Or, any of a number of things that may be causing you to ask, “Why go on with life?” Let me remind you of the words of social critic, Richard John Neuhaus: “The times may be bad, but they are the only times we are given. Remember, hope is still a Christian virtue, and despair is a mortal sin.”

Hope, indeed, is a good thing.

 

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