Keep Hope Alive: True Hope

 

Keep Hope Alive: True Hope

Hope and faith

In our first teaching on hope, we shared that hope is included as one of the three theological virtues mentioned in Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth.  “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three.” (1 Cor. 13:13, KJV).  Our faith becomes a key ingredient with hope and love to offer us peace, guidance, and unwavering hope.  It provides us strength and solace in time of uncertainty.  This is true not because we are “optimistic”, but we believe that God is truly in control regardless of the circumstances we face.

Paul admonished the young Christian converts of Thessalonica (as he does for us today) to arm themselves with these key virtues that will withstand dangers, toils, and strife they might face in this fallen world.  Paul wanted to help believers look not only to their present situation but also to their secure future in eternity.

But let us who live in the light be clearheaded, protected by the armor of faith and love, and wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation.  (1 Thess. 5:8, NLT)

The Apostle Peter shared this same message to God’s elect that had been scattered because of persecution.  He encouraged them to persevere in a “lively hope” because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  (1 Peter 1:3).  He told them:  “Gird up the loins of your mind and rest your hope fully upon the GRACE that is revealed at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  (1 Pet. 1:13).  That “revelation” came and still comes through the Holy Spirit.

Hope and the Holy Spirit

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace In believing (as you trust in Him) that you may abound (overflow) in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 15:13)

This verse is a benedictory prayer.  A benedictory prayer is a short blessing given at the conclusion of public worship.  Paul begins by recognizing and acknowledging God as the true source of hope. He then adds that his readers will be filled with joy and peace.  Joy relates to the delight of anticipation and seeing one’s hopes fulfilled. Peace results from the assurance that God will fulfill those hopes. As a result, believers overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. The achievement of all God’s purposes for his children come from the power given by the Spirit of God.

The Holy Spirit instills hope in believers by:

    1. Reassurance of God’s Love: The Holy Spirit pours God’s love into the hearts of believers, providing a steadfast foundation for hope. This love is unconditional and everlasting, providing security and assurance even in the face of trials and tribulations. (Rom. 5:5)
    1. Guiding and Strengthening Faith: The Holy Spirit strengthens believers’ faith, enabling them to trust in God’s promises and plans. This faith is the source of hope, as it allows believers to anticipate God’s goodness and believe in the fulfillment of His promises. (Heb. 11:1)
    1. Empowering for Perseverance: The Holy Spirit empowers believers with resilience and perseverance, enabling them to endure challenges and maintain hope amid difficulties. This empowerment allows believers to overcome obstacles and keep moving forward towards God’s purpose. (Gal.5:22-23)
    1. Revealing God’s Plan: The Holy Spirit unveils God’s plan and purpose for believers’ lives, providing a clear direction and motivation for hope. This understanding of God’s plan instills hope for the future, as believers see how their present struggles fit into God’s overarching design. (Eph. 1:17-18)
    1. Interceding in prayer: The Holy Spirit intercedes for believers in prayer, expressing their deepest yearnings and hopes to God. This intercession ensures that believers hopes are aligned with God’s will and that their prayers are heard and answered. (Rom. 8: 26-27).

The Holy Spirit serves as a beacon of hope, illuminating the path forward and guiding believers toward the fulfillment of God’s promises. Hope, anchored in the Holy Spirit’s presence, becomes a source of strength, resilience, and unwavering faith, enabling believers to navigate the challenges of life with confidence and anticipation of God’s goodness.

Real Hope

For hope to be real in our life, it is important that we are intentional in claiming that which Christ has obtained for us through His sacrificial death and powerful resurrection.  We know that as believers in Christ we live continually in the presence of God who is the great I AM.  It is God who provides us with what we need for the challenges we face (Isa. 43:2).   Want to keep hope alive?  Believe in God!

Keep Hope Alive: The God of Hope

Keep Hope Alive: The God of Hope

How do we describe hope?

Do we use common metaphors for hope to encourage others to believe “there’s a path to good” even in bad times?   Here are a few we might have used.

  • “There’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
  • “Every cloud has a silver lining.”
  • “The sun is peeking through the clouds.”
  • “Hope is an eternal flame.”

But let’s be honest, when we’re at the “end of our rope” and the “bottom of our world has fallen out”, metaphors about hope will not help us “keep hope alive”. We are looking for something that will ease our troubled souls right now!  We need real hope.

What have we learned about hope?

In our study thus far, we have described hope as a combination of desire for something AND the expectation of receiving it.  And why is hope important?  Because it encourages us to persevere and continue moving forward.  We all agree that hope is what is needed as we navigate through the challenges of life in the 21st century.

But hope has ALWAYS been something we humans have needed whether in ancient times or modern days.  Man’s ability to survive and thrive has been dependent on hope.  The challenge, however, continues to be our ability to identify the BEST SOURCE of HOPE.

Man’s hope

Man’s hope comes from a variety of sources that, when combined and strengthened, provide a foundation for optimism, resilience, and the pursuit of a meaningful and fulfilling life.  These include the following which we most commonly use.

Relationships and connections: human connections and strong relationships provide a sense of belonging, support, and love, fostering hope and resilience in the face of adversity.

Personal strengths and abilities: recognizing and utilizing one’s strengths and abilities instills confidence and a sense of empowerment, nurturing hope for achieving goals and overcoming challenges.

Meaning and purpose: finding meaning and purpose in life, whether personal interest, family, community, or spiritual beliefs, provides a sense of direction and motivation, fueling hope for our fulfillment and meaningful existence.

Spiritual beliefs and faith: for many, spiritual beliefs and faith in a higher power offers a sense of peace, guidance, and unwavering hope, providing strength and solace in time of uncertainty.[1]

For we who are followers of Christ, that Higher Power is the Most High God (Psa. 7:17).

The God of Hope

The writer of Psalm 42 recounts their hopelessness and frustration as they, like us, handle times of distress and sorrow.   In verses 5, 11, and Psalm 43:5, they ask themselves this question.

Why art thou cast down O my soul?  And why art thou disquieted within me?  (NKJV)

Why am I discouraged?   Why is my heart so sad?   (NLT)

We are “cast down” because the things we have tried to do in our human strength is failing to impact our fears.  We are “discouraged and sad” because when we look around there is “no light at the end of the tunnel” nor is the “sun peeking through the clouds.”

The reality we must come to grips with is that we live in a fallen world, where sin will continue to manifest itself in the brokenness and pain we see today.  Injustice, wars, corruption, and much more.  BUT THERE IS HOPE.   True hope is not dependent on our circumstances nor on the world situation.  True hope results in “peace that passes all understanding: (Eph. 4:7), “unspeakable joy” (1 Pet. 1:8), and “salvation from all danger” (Psa. 18:2).

The Psalmist concludes that the answer to his state of distress and hopelessness can be found in God.

 HOPE thou in God…who is the health of my countenance.  (NKJV)

I will put my hope in God!  I will praise Him again.  My Savior and my God.  (NLT)

Our hope is built on the faithfulness and dependability of God.  We rely on the fidelity of God.  God is true, truthful, and trustworthy.  His Word and His promises provide the “blessed assurance” we need to not only survive but also thrive in this world.   He is our sufficiency (2 Cor. 3:5).

How can we cultivate our hope while living in this fallen world during the 21st century?  We must recognize and acknowledge that God alone is the true source of our hope and salvation (Psa. 62:5-12).  Next week, we’ll conclude our study on hope by sharing the role of the Holy Spirit in keeping hope alive.

[1]  Google search

Keep Hope Alive: The Anatomy of Hope

Keep Hope Alive: The Anatomy of Hope

 

The Anatomy of Hope

What does hope look like?  What is its structure, composition, or framework?  What is hope made of?

Hope is a combination of desire for something AND the expectation of receiving it.  I’m not talking about “Christmas wishful thinking” but hope that encourages us to embrace the belief that better days are possible.  Hope motivates us to preserve and continue moving forward.  

We chose to create this series on hope because hope is what the world needs most right now.  When we began the series in October, there was no war between Israel and Palestine.  With regards to mass shootings in America, as of October 31, a total of 621 people have been killed and 2,126 other people have been injured in 520 shootings.  Political divisiveness worsens polarizing communities, leaders, and even families. Can hope be kept alive?

What does hope look like?

Is it any wonder that the majority of U.S. adults agree the nations’ future looks bleak?

A majority of adults (62%) disagree with the statement, “our children are going to inherit a better world than we did,” and 63% disagree with the statement, “I feel our country is on the path to being stronger than ever.” More than 3/4 of adults (76%) said that the future of our nation is a significant source of stress in their lives, while 68% said this is the lowest point in our nation’s history that we can remember. 

 Two in three adults (66%) said the culture’s current political climate is a significant source of stress in their lives. Further, three in five adults quote (60%) said that the current social divisiveness in the nation causes them stress. Slightly more than three in five adults 62% reported that the racial climate in the US is a significant source of stress in their lives.[1]

Are these sources of stress going to go away?  Absolutely not!  And these stressors are larger than us and out of our control.  In this environment, we are expected to manage the challenge of daily living and providing for our families–feeding, clothing, and housing.  We search out ways to balance the stresses of life while maintaining healthy relationships, and personal “sanity”.   There enters the need to cultivate our hope because when we cease to hope, we jeopardize our future.

Faith or hope?

How does our faith work with hope?  Can both occupy the same space?  In my reading, I came across a statement that helped me better understand the relationship between the two.  “While faith is a function of the intellect, hope is an act of the will.” [2]  In other words, what we know about God—His goodness, His greatness, and His promises—should cause us to confidently believe God.   Hope moves us forward as we act on our faith in God (Heb. 11:1).

Hope allows us to look beyond what we can see.

Abraham, the Father of Nations, questioned when God would send him an heir, yet Abraham is known to “hope against hope” (Rom. 4:8).  In other words, Abraham did not walk by sight but by faith in what God had promised him.  His hope was built on the promises of God.  Therefore, Abraham persevered.

The Apostle Paul’s faith in Christ (relational) and hope in Christ (motivational) kept him moving forward despite “beatings, in perils, in weariness, and in pain” (2 Cor. 11:23-27).  Paul’s hope of glory moved Him through difficult times to eternity where he looked forward to the day when he would receive the crown of righteousness (2 Tim. 4:8).  Therefore, Paul endured.

Hopelessness and true hope

True hope comes from the One who created hope: God.  It comes by trusting God even when circumstances are difficult. I’ve heard many theologians and teachers disparage believers who struggle with hopelessness.  While their intentions may be good, such belief discounts the fact that we are mere humans.  We need hope, too.  It’s important to remember that we are not perfect, simply saved.  And that is more than enough.

Psalms captured this thought in several of its passages.

For He remembered that they were but flesh, A breath that passes away and does not come again. (Ps. 78:39, NKJV)

For He knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust. Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die. The wind blows, and we are gone as though we had never been here. (Ps. 104:14-16, NLT)

Unless we acknowledge the frailty and fragility of our flesh, we may fail to understand the need for God’s power and presence in our lives.  We must embrace our dependency on God which will solidify our hope.  Can hope be kept alive?  Absolutely!

Trust produces obedience, which produces hope, which results in joy and peace; and that is the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 15:13). When we walk by faith and trust in God, we can persevere and endure.  We have hope.

[1] Stress in America 2022, American Psychological Association.  

[2]Wikipedia, Hope

Keep Hope Alive: The Psychology of Hope

 

The Psychology of Hope

Why hope?

From the tenuous bonds that connect us with one another, to the ever-present vulnerability we share as humans in a chaotic world, our lives are forever saturated in the possibility of catastrophe. Bad things— often tragic things like accidents, illness, and untimely death—happen to people every single day. We know this, yet we are tasked with finding ways of moving forward in a world where nothing is guaranteed.[1]

How then do we move forward?  We look for hope—the expectation that things will get better.  Hope is important because it helps us to cope with stress and anxiety, manage adversity, and improve our well-being and happiness.  Hope is not always easy to find, but it is always worth seeking. It is the light that guides us through the darkness, and it gives us the strength to keep going even when things are tough.

The need for hope

In all sectors of our community, people are talking about hope.  They are acutely aware of the strain and impact that 21st century living has created.  I need not list them, however, those searching for hope are often the casualties of this tumultuous, demanding, “always on” society.  They result in depression, anxiety, and mental decline, in general.

These pressures not only exert stress on the mental wellness of our society, in general, but also upon our physical health.   Observe the increasing incidents of high blood pressure, cancer, and heart disease.  The mind and the body are fragile.   They were not built for the continual trauma and stress that have now become “business as usual” in our world today.

The U.S. population has experienced an intense range of stressors over the past few years, as the COVID-19 pandemic, racial injustice, and political divisiveness have dominated news cycles and social media. A new survey, conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of APA, tells a story of uncertainty and dissolution.  

The report shows a battered American psyche, facing a barrage of external stressors that are mostly out of personal control. The survey found a majority of adults are disheartened by government and political divisiveness, daunted by historic inflation levels, and dismayed by widespread violence.[2]

We can only hope!

Hope is both a feeling and a motivation. A powerful force for good in our lives. It can help us cope with difficult times and to persevere in the face of challenges.  It has been described as a shield, a path, and a powerful protector.  This is especially true when we face life-threatening illnesses or insurmountable challenges in our lives.

Hope is a complex emotion that is critical for the times in which we find ourselves.  As we embrace the belief that better days are possible, we are motivated to continue moving forward.  It is exactly what is needed to persevere during these difficult times.  With hope, we can find ways to oppose the dread of life’s dangers.  Hope is critical to our future, both individually and collectively, as a society.   Therein lies the reason we must continue to hope.

This week, we have focused on our human need for hope.  Next week, we will begin to explore hope as our faith response to the challenges of 21st century living.  As believers, our hope, is built on a sure foundation based on the fidelity and faithfulness of God.

[1]   “Hope: Why it matters”, Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, July 16, 2021 

[2]  “Stress in America 2022: Concerned for the Future, Beste by Inflation”, American Psychological Association

Keep Hope Alive: An Introduction

 

 

Keep Hope Alive: An Introduction

There is always hope for a better future.

Keep hope alive!  This phrase is most famously associated with Rev. Jesse Jackson, who used it repeatedly in his speeches and sermons during the Civil Rights Movement.

However, the phrase is much older. It has been traced back to at least the 16th century when it was used in religious and philosophical writings.  For example, William Tyndale[1] used the phrase   in his book, “The Pilgrimage of Grace”, where he encouraged his readers not to be overcome by despair.

Over the years, this phrase has been used by activists, artists, athletes, and everyday people to express their belief in the power of hope to overcome adversity. Today “keep hope alive” is still widely used. It is a reminder that even when things are tough, there is always hope for a better future.

Do we need to keep hope alive in the 21st century?  Absolutely!  With the ever-present vulnerability we share as humans in a chaotic world, our lives are forever saturated in the possibility of catastrophe.[2]  Therefore we need hope.  Welcome to our series, “Keep hope alive!”

Hope by any other name

Hope is defined as an optimistic state of mind that is based on an expectation of positive outcomes.  Its synonyms include optimism and anticipation.  The opposite of hope includes hopelessness and despair.

Hope is included as one of the three theological virtues mentioned in Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth.  “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three.” (1 Cor. 13:13, KJV).  To the church at Thessalonica, Paul acknowledges the saints for “their work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”  (1Thess. 1:3, RSV).

When we use the word hope in casual conversation, we often do so in a doubtful manner.  However biblical hope is never “doubt-filled”.  It is built upon a confident expectation of a future fulfillment based on God’s Word and God’s promises.

Threats to our hope.

As I watched the news this weekend, I was reminded of the challenges we face living in these perilous and tumultuous times.  Wars in Ukraine and Israel.  Gridlock in Congress.  Violence and evil perpetrated upon our communities.  Immorality and filthiness normalized.  What producers thought would be “interesting and important”, only increased my anxiety and threatened my hope.

The writer of Hebrews, however, reminded me that as believers we have a “sure hope” in God through Jesus Christ.  We have hope as “an anchor for our souls, both sure and steadfast.” (Heb. 6:19).

Hope as an anchor of the soul.

Hope will sustain us during difficult times.  The writer of Hebrews depicted hope as an anchor.  It was a familiar object that would illustrate God’s strong attachment to us.  This anchor was “sure and steadfast”.

Sure is interpreted to mean “something that can be relied upon”.  Steadfast continues this thought of God’s hope.  It adds the descriptors of “trustworthy, firm and secure”.   The anchor represents the Object of our faith who is Jesus Christ.  Jesus has secured our position for eternity—past, present, and future.

Hope in God continues to be the message that will sustain us today in these troubling times. Our hope is based on the immutability of His word (Heb. 6:17-18), the certainty of His promise (Rom. 4:16) and the assurance of His presence (Rom. 15:13).  It is this hope that gives us confidence and the ability to persevere.  It is our hope in God that will “keep hope alive.”

[1] (1994-1536) Leading figure in the Protestant Reformation and translator of the Bible into English.

[2] Hope: Why it matters, Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, July 16, 2021

Throwback Wednesday: Truth: The Divine Perspective

 

Throwback Wednesday: Truth:  The Divine Perspective

For the past few weeks WordBytes has focused on the process of  “returning”.  Return by definition means to come or go back to a place or person or thing.   As a part of speech, it is an action word that demands a personal response to accomplish a desired outcome.

In our series we suggested that to live victoriously, it is critical that we as believers not forget key spiritual virtues.  If we have “drifted”, it begins by returning to our first love, God.  Other areas include fellowship, faithfulness, joy, and repentance.  Returning is an indication and an admission, that we, at one time, have been in the “right place”.

With that in mind, for Throwback Wednesday we’d like to “return to basics”; and that basic involves truth.  More specifically, God’s Truth.  We offer for your consideration, “Truth:  The Divine Perspective.”

Truth: The Divine Perspective

Return to Fellowship

Return to Fellowship with God

We must draw near.

There are two (2) biblical truths that should motivate believers to live their lives “more fully and abundantly” (John 10:10).

The first truth is that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, presently lives within us.  Jesus promised this to those that “believeth on and in Him” (John 14:16-17).  The second is that we live continuously in the presence of God (Ps. 139:7).  There is never a time nor is there any circumstance in our life where we will find ourselves outside God’s love and purview.

Both truths are “spiritual blessings” gifted to us from our heavenly Father (Eph. 1:3).   But even with God’s commitment to be in and among us, we as believers have a responsibility to draw “near to God” (James 4:8) by entering into intentional fellowship with Him.  God will not force His presence upon us.  God is daily inviting us into the joy of fellowship.

What is Fellowship?

What does “fellowship with God” look like in the life of the believer?  Fellowship has been described as the sharing of experiences with likeminded people.  However, fellowship with God is much more, for “who has known the mind of God (Romans 11:34)?” Through Jesus Christ, believers are able to “know by experience” God’s heart and mind.  Such was the case with the Apostle John.  John and the disciples were uniquely privileged to witness, firsthand, the person and works of Christ.

    • “That which was heard” were truths that Christ declared concerning the kingdom of God and His offer of eternal life (Luke 4:43; 9:11).
    • “That which was seen” included the many miracles of Christ; miracles that would attest to the coming of the promised Messiah (Matt. 11:2-5).
    • “That which was looked upon and our hands handled” recounted the disciples’ examination of Christ’s glorified body after the resurrection (John 20:27).  All of the disciple’s senses were engaged as Christ manifested (revealed) Himself and the Father.  

Get up close and personal!

The disciple’s experience with Christ was not viewed from a distance but “up close and personal”.   Since Father and Son were one (John 17:11, 22), the disciples concurrently experienced fellowship with the Father (v. 3).  Fellowship is translated as “communion” and “participation in a common life.”

John’s personal witness was an invitation to the early church to participate through a common lifestyle that was centered on relationship—unending communion with God the Father and the Son.    Therein is the basis for John’s statement that their “joy may be full” (v.4).

Fellowship with God is a lifestyle.

Though John’s letter was written thousands of years ago, its message is still relevant for today.  Fellowship with God begins with a lifestyle that seeks to draw near with faith (Heb. 10:22) and learn of Him (Matt. 11:29).

It includes our living by “that which we have heard”—the truth found in God’s Word and the counsel of the Holy Spirit.  It involves our personal witness to “that which we’ve seen”—God’s unconditional love and salvation in exchange for our sin and brokenness (1 John 1:3-4).

Are we experiencing fellowship with God?   We must daily ask the Holy Spirit to show us those things that stand in the way of being in fellowship with God and how we can draw closer to Him.

Return to Joy

 

Returning to joy

What is Joy?

Joy is defined as gladness of heart.  It is listed among the top five things[1] people desperately want in life yet “never seem to be able to get”.  Joy’s allusiveness, in many cases, is the result of our tendency to define joy as external to ourselves.  We believe it is a person, place, or thing.  Once we have “it”, we’ll have joy.  Wrong!

Joy under Attack

As we survey the world we live it, gladness of heart is under attack.  Our attempts to navigate 21st century living seem more daunting and challenging with each new day.  Financial worries served as a significant source of stress ranking higher than three other causes of concern: work, family responsibilities, and health concerns.

Work, family, and health concerns have exploded.  So how can we find joy?   The Apostle Paul shares the secret of not only how to find joy but also how to return to it in spite of the pressures we might face.

Source of Joy

In Philippians 4:4, Paul exhorts the Church at Philippi to holy joy and delight in God.

Delight yourselves in the Lord, yes, find your joy in him at all times.  (Phillips Translation)

God has furnished us with joy even in the worst of circumstances.  Nehemiah in the midst of hostility and threats, said that “the joy of the Lord is my strength.” (Neh. 8:10).

David acknowledged that “in God’s presence is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11).  Jesus instructed His Disciples “to live in The Vine”—in Jesus’ holy presence (John 15:5-11).  By living in the Vine, Jesus’ joy would remain “in them and be full.”  These same offers of joy are extended to you and I who live in the 21st century.    Jesus is the source of our joy.

Returning to Joy

It is God’s desire that we return to joy regardless of life’s circumstances or difficulties.  Jesus describes these as “tribulations” (John 16:33).  Tribulations and trials are “natural outcomes” we suffer as a result of living in a fallen world.

We experience the effects of fallenness every day.  They include death, disease, and difficulties.  However, in Christ and as God’s children, we have been provided with God’s Presence (The Holy Spirit), God’s blessings (Eph. 1:3-17), and God’s inexhaustible grace to sustain us (Phil. 1:6).

Strengthen our Joy

Returning to joy strengthens our resolve and helps us to continue the purpose God has set before us. Such strength can only come from Eternal God Who helps us through the worst of circumstances.   When we come into the presence of the Lord, we connect with His great and eternal power.  God’s power exceeds anything we can do in our own strength (Phil.  4:13).

We are invited to return to the joy that comes from serving God who is sovereign and who has overcome the world (Ps. 119:89-91).

[1]  Top 5 include:   Happiness, Money, Freedom, Peace, Joy

Return to Faithfulness

 

 

The basics of backsliding.

As a child, I remember our worship services especially the ones with sermons that warned our congregation of the dangers of “backsliding”.  After the minister’s fiery discourse, a few members would approach the “welcoming” altar, many times weeping and repentant.

The word backslide, in a Christian context, implies movement away from Christ rather than toward Him. A backslider is someone who is going the wrong way, spiritually. He is regressing rather than progressing. The backslider had at one time demonstrated a commitment to Christ or maintained a certain standard of behavior, but he has since reverted to old ways.   Backsliding in Hebrew mean “turning away, turning back, or apostasy”.  It infers “defection”—turning away for the wisdom of God (Prov. 1:32) and away from Jehovah—the Covenant Keeping God (Jer. 3:6, 8, 11, 12).

Return to the wisdom of God.

We don’t hear much about backsliding these days.  Perhaps our focus has shifted to the “lost” versus those who “appear to be” in the ark of safety.  But backsliders are as important to God as the unsaved in that backsliding is an indication of the lack of one’s faithfulness to Him.  Faithfulness to God was an important part of the prophets’ proclamations and is central in appreciating Hosea 11.

The Old Testament prophet’s function was to not only herald the warnings of God but to also remind God’s people, Israel, to remain faithful to Him.  Through the prophets, God announced His intentions to enforce the covenant which was always in accordance with categories of blessings and curses already contained in the Law.  Even today, we need to take heed to the prophetic Word of God.  We must remain faithful to Him and if we have “backslidden”, repent, and return to faithfully follow God.

A Prophet’s view of backsliding

In Hosea 11, God speaks to the prophet as one would speak to a close friend and confidant.  God shares with Hosea His history of unbridled favor and goodness to Israel.  The opening verses (vv. 1-3) read like a doting parent, who has poured all their affection and attention upon their child only to receive, in return, opposition and defiance.  God’s “gentle cords and bands of love” (v. 3) only resulted in Israel’s ingratitude and unfaithfulness.

For Israel’s immorality and worship of idols, God’s punishment of Israel would be swift and severe.  Israel’s unfaithfulness would earn God’s judgment and doom.  God’s compassion toward Israel would be the only reason God’s mercy and grace would be extended (Hosea 12:6).  It would, however, call for their faithfulness to God.  

Why do we backslide?

God attributes Israel’s behavior to its “bentness to backsliding.”  This “bentness” is like Paul’s description of “the flesh”—that unredeemed part of man that still exists within believers (Rom. 7: 17-19).  Israel was deaf and disobedient to God’s voice, spoken by Moses and His other prophets. They rebelled and became more resolute in their disobedience; adding to Israel’s injurious behavior, was their failure to exalt God (Hos. 11:7).

The positive ending to what began as a tragic narrative is that despite Israel’s faithlessness, God was faithful. God honored His covenant and extended mercy to Israel with the promise to ultimately restore His covenant people to Himself (vv. 10-11).

Are we guilty of 21st century backsliding?

How similar is Israel’s behavior to that which we find in our nation, in our homes, and in our individual faith walk.  That same “bentness to sin” that tempted Israel still tempts us today to unfaithful behavior. Though delivered from the bondage of sin, we may find ourselves still pursuing those things that feed our fleshly desires and wants (1 John 2:15-17).  Backsliding may manifest itself in several ways, e.g., dropping out of church, losing fervor for the Lord, walking away from a ministry or a family, or falling back into old habits.

It is a great encouragement to our hope in God’s mercies to remember that “God is God”, and not man.  He is the Holy One.  He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and receives us even when we are guilty of backsliding.  God is faithful to His covenant people.  Even in our faithlessness, God remains faithful to us (2 Tim. 2:13).

Return to Our First Love

 

Return to Our First Love

Do you remember?

Who can forget their first love?  The excitement we felt when that special person entered the room.  The anticipation of seeing them and the connection that was made as eyes met.  The experience of first love, with all its innocence and purity, was never to be repeated—for that is the way of “first things”.

Remember the first time you professed your love for Jesus Christ?  With that experience came the same excitement and anticipation as our first earthly love.  Unlike most first things that eventually lose their luster, it is important for us to make every effort to nurture and cultivate our personal relationship with our First Love, Jesus Christ.

How’s love today?

Are we feeling distant and estranged from God?  Do our prayers appear routine and repetitive?  Is our praise predictable and puny?  If we answered yes to any of these questions, then it’s time for us to examine ourselves (2 Cor. 13:5) and see what is hindering our personal relationship with the Lord.  God never changes (Malachi 3:6) nor has God moved.  Maybe it’s time to return to our first love for Jesus.

The church at Ephesus had persevered and endured hardship for the Lord.  This was a critical part of the early church’s responsibility to insure a clear and true presentation of the gospel (Eph. 4:1-2).  In general, this church had continued in its faithful service to God for more than 40 years.   While all these “efforts” were important in the development of the early church (as it is now), there was something noticeably absent.  They had left their first love for Jesus.

Time to return.

Jesus lays a charge of carelessness in Ephesus’ relationship with Him in Revelations 2:4:  ” Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.”

In the literal translation of today’s text, the order of the words in Greek emphatically denote the strong rebuke directed to the church. “Your first love you have left!”  This second-generation of believers, had retained purity of doctrine but were lacking in deep devotion to Christ.

As believers, we must ask ourselves if we too are careless in cultivating our relationship with the Lord.     Remember the first time we professed our love for Jesus Christ?  With that experience came excitement and anticipation.  Are we now guilty of taking our eyes off the Lord?  Are we more concerned with our personal agendas than practicing the presence of the Holy Spirit?  Have we left our first love?

And what can we say about the Church, Christ’s bride (Rev. 19:7-9)?  The Church needs to heed the same warning given to the Ephesians.  Orthodoxy and service is not enough.  Christ wants hearts as well as our hands and heads (Matt. 22:37).

How can I return?

Last week, we agreed that repentance is the starting point to return to God.  Once this has taken place, we might consider the following strategies to return to His side (1 John 1:3).

Recommit ourselves to Him.   Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? (Rom.  6:16) Recommitment involves renewing your loyalty to Christ and His lordship over your life.  This includes directing your time, talents, and treasures to the service of the Lord.  We are so grateful that there is nothing that can ever separate us from God’s love (Rom. 8:39).

Renew our love for Him.  I will love You, O LORD, my strength (Ps. 18:1).  Tell the Lord how much you love Him.  Although He is all-knowing, He still wants to hear us tell Him how much we adore Him.    We must let Him know that we desire Him with all our heart and soul (Ps. 42:1-2).  Let us show our love for Him through our praise and worship.  We are never closer to Him than when we “love on Him” (Ps. 22:3).

Reprioritize our life around Him.   Christ set the standard for priority when He said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matt.  6: 33).  However, to make God the center of our life is counterculture.  When we place Christ first in our life, we are assured that we have chosen the “Good Part” (Luke 10:42).

It’s time to return to our first love!  He is waiting for us (Isa. 30:15, 18).