In the recent American League series funeral arrangements were being made for the N.Y. Yankees. And of course, the blame would land on the shoulders of Joe Giradi, the manager. Which meant that his days of managing the Yankees was coming to a close.

After all they were down 2-0 in a five game series. And they were playing the hot and heavily favored Cleveland Indians. Yes, the situation was bleak.

Which reminds me of David in the book of 1 Samuel. After killing the Giant and serving King Saul his career went south. Saul was on a giant ego trip and was not about to share the spotlight with someone else. It got so bad that Saul began to make plans for taking David’s life. We find David living in a cave. Not the best living conditions, but what is interesting is how bleak David’s situation was. Notice those with him. “Everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him; and he became captain to them” (1 Samuel 22:2 NASB). Clearly the odds were stacked against David. Yet we all remember him as the great king of Israel.

Back to the Yankees. They won game three. But the chance of them winning three in a row to win the series 3-2 was slim at best. While I am not personally a Yankee fan I became one. I love classic comebacks. And I love cheering for the underdog.

Just as David’s comeback has gone down in history so had the Yankees. General Manager, Brian Cashman, said after game 2, “We just have to keep batting. Nothing is over yet.”

One other thing to keep in mind. One of the Yankees’ top hitters struck out 16 times over the five games. In fact, he only got one hit! That in itself is a recipe for disaster. That’s where the team picked up the slack. It truly does take a team.

Four Quick Hits

  1. Keep swinging the bat.
  2. Maintain a positive attitude.
  3. Ask others to help carry the load.
  4. Help carry the load for someone else.

One of the better known verses in the Bible is Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
Occasionally we get to see it played out right on our own TV screens.
The opening night of the NFL season was at New England–last year’s winner of the Super Bowl.
Fans were greeted with a huge, over-the-top intro hyping how great the Patriots were.
Not sure who gets the credit for the idea, but let’s just say it seemed odd.  It certainly didn’t reflect the attitude of the coach or the quarterback. The intro was clearly out of character.
It was way too much pride in their Super Bowl win. They had already celebrated that back in February.
But then, why not just rub it in. Maybe it will intimidate the opponent, the Kansas City Chiefs.  After all, New England was favored to win, and some were already talking about a perfect record all the way to another Super Bowl win.
Let’s just say that the Chiefs didn’t get the memo.  They easily handled the Patriots that night.
For New England it was utter humiliation.  The celebratory intro made it worse.

To be fair, they could have done a pregame celebration with more dignity.
In fact, pride is not always negative. For instance, we appreciate people who take pride in their work. So pride can be positive.
The pregame celebration could have focused on the fans, the attitude of some of the players, the hard work put in at practice, and a host of other things. Yes, the team was down 28-3 late in the game, but why not take pride in the fact that the team never gave up?
At any rate, the whole thing seemed to promote more arrogance than gratitude.

At the end of the day, you have to wonder if all the pregame hype had not actually worked against the Patriots.  We’ll never know. After a few games they are still struggling.
But we do know that it’s good advice to let someone else toot your horn.

Pride in the form of conceit and arrogance is never appropriate.  To others it’s always out of place.
Now keep in mind that we are talking about one the greatest sports franchises ever to come along.  Even they seemed to be oblivious to their uncalled for boasting and pride.
Which is a reminder to us that pride is never far away and does indeed precede destruction.

Let’s wrap up our short discussion on H.O.P.E. To recap, stories are one of the most valuable ways to regain hope. That’s why we listen to them, read them, and why God put them in the Bible.

It’s History now, but stories still inspire. In my last post I introduced you to Hannah and her story. We left off with her feeling hopeless.

She had done all she could. She was out of answers. However, she could pray, believe, and wait. In short, if God didn’t show up and do something, then she would never have a child.

That’s what she did. Like the Psalmist she poured out her complaint to God and told Him all about her trouble (Psalm 142:2). Her prayer led to personal peace for we read, “And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad (1 Samuel 1:18, ESV). Soon after she experienced…

Omnipotence. That is, God stepped in. “They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the Lord remembered her” (1 Samuel 1:19, ESV).

Perhaps you are thinking, “I can only take so much.”  “Or how long will it take?” Or “What’s the purpose in all my mess?”

That’s when you need…

Promises. Not a promise that your pain will go away. Not that the sun will shine brightly on your life tomorrow. You need to know that God is always working, despite what you see and feel. In the present things don’t make sense.  “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28), ESV).

Or do we? We’re beginning to doubt. So right now maybe a lot of problems and predicaments are weaving their way throughout your life. Everywhere you look there are dark clouds.

There is another great story about Joseph. Note what he said about all that he had gone through:  “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20, ESV). The phrase you meant evil against me could be translated you weaved evil into my life. Which they did.

But what did God do? He re-weaved all the bad stuff and turned it into one spectacular finish. I realize happy endings are not automatic. But what I want you to see is the promise that God is working. That’s what we need to know.

That should lead you to our final letter…

Encouragement. Hope and encouragement. Those are found throughout the Old Testament. Even the apostle Paul was aware of the value to be found in the Scriptures, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4, ESV).

H.O.P.E. can be a reality in the midst of your own pain. Is it?

 

In my last post I talked about needing hope. Fortunately hope is available.

In the Bible. So let’s get started, using the acrostic H.O.P.E.

History.

Romans 15:4
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

Which means we need to go back to the Old Testament and read some Bible stories. And you thought Bible stories were for kids.

Hang with me. One of the great treasures in the Old Testament are the stories. Stories of hope. Many who lost hope experienced miraculous turning points. And chances are if you need hope, you need a miracle.

We will come back to that thought, but for now let’s go back some 3,000 years. 1 Samuel chapter 1 gives us the details. Hannah is married with no financial worries. Her husband attends church with her, and to top it off he loves her unquestionably.

Now you may be thinking, “Must be nice. So what could possibly be her problem?”

In spite of all this, she was deeply depressed.

In her culture it was not uncommon for a man to have two wives. The other wife had no problem getting pregnant and flaunted all of her kids.

Hannah could not get pregnant. She is not the first barren woman in the Bible, but you need to feel her deep emotions.

Get the picture. The husband loved Hannah, which no doubt did not sit well with the second wife, Penninah. So you can imagine how Penninah  loved to talk about all her kids. And how many times did Hannah have to hear “I’m pregnant again!” Or “Look at all the kids running around the house.”

Hannah felt hopeless.

She lived under a continual cloud of depression.

Now what? Things looked bleak. Can you identify?

Utterly helpless.

No answers.

No resources.

History is helpful especially when you think your situation is unique. Perhaps.

In my next post we’ll get to the last three letters O.P.E., because Hannah did find hope, and so will you.

 

It’s been well said that hope never goes out of style. Who doesn’t need hope? I’ll bet you wonder about that at times. Because all of us sure need it.

You even wonder what it would be like to not need hope.

While all may need hope, some are in desperate need of it.

What’s the difference?

You desperately need hope when you feel…

Helpless. You don’t have the answers or the resources to alleviate your current pain.

Overwhelmed. You feel like you are drowning in debt, emotional pain, or on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Paralyzed. How many times have you sat and thought for hours only to realize that you have not accomplished anything? Pain affects our productivity.

Exhausted. You are at the end of your rope and you know it.

You are not alone. In my next post I want to share a story from the Old Testament where we will meet a woman who was in need of hope. Her pain was about to do her in. She wondered if life would ever change.

It did.

spiritual growthLet’s face it. We all get busy. Too busy. It’s been a while since I wrote my last post. Life has been a little hectic as Carol and I are building our fourth house. And I have finally moved my study into the basement even though it is unfinished. The house is nowhere near complete. But I needed to use my extra time to get the house under roof.

At any rate, I have been busy just like you. Which means that just like you I would like to be able to find simpler ways to do things.

My guess is most believers could not readily identify their spiritual growth plan. While the 7 steps I am offering are not a complete list, this is like Personal Spiritual Growth 101.

But let’s move on to the 7 steps.

  1. Bible reading. With so many plans and ideas available, you should be able to find one you like. What I like may be vastly different from what you like. However, you could simply start by reading two chapters a day from the New Testament.
  2. Prayer. I suggest you start with just 15 minutes a day. Yes, that sounds like a lot. But a very helpful way to pray is use the acrostic, ACTS. A is for adoration, C is for confession, T is for thanksgiving, and S is for supplications or specific requests.
  3. Journal. You may not want to write down your thoughts or prayers every day, but you could journal once a week. Trust me, years later you will enjoy reading what you wrote.
  4. Exercise. Yes, this needs to be a part of your spiritual growth. Your physical fitness will impact your spiritual growth.
  5. Study. This goes beyond reading to observation, interpretation, and ultimately application because we want to DO what the Bible teaches. Perhaps you can study with someone else over a cup of coffee or in a small group. If that’s not possible right now you can also study alone with some good Bible study books. Some authors to check out may be John MacArthur, Charles Stanley, or Kay Arthur.
  6. Fast. Most have never tried fasting. I assure you it will make a difference in your life. You could simply make it a habit to fast at the beginning of every year. The point is you make this a part of your spiritual growth plan.
  7. Read good books. Start with shorter books as most never finish books that are longer than 250 pages. Plus you will feel a sense of accomplishment after you finish your first book. There are many to chose from. Start with a topic or book of the Bible that interests you.

That’s it. Not complicated. But you do have to start.

Why not start today?

FootballPlayerEatsLunchAutisticBoyRecently a compelling story and its photo went viral.  Apparently, an autistic boy just started middle school as a sixth grader. In case you have forgotten middle school, students can be downright cruel. So this boy found himself eating alone during lunch.

While the rest of the students were all wrapped up in themselves, eating with their friends, a Florida State University football player named Travis Rudolph entered the lunchroom and looked around.

When he noticed the boy eating alone he grabbed some lunch and went over and ate with the boy. We can all imagine what kind of impact this one compassionate act had on the boy, and his mother has posted publicly about the tremendous impact it had on her.  Being sensitive to the less fortunate is an undervalued value in our society.

Actually this should be more widespread among Christ-followers. Romans chapter 14 talks about being sensitive to those who are weaker (in the faith specifically, but the application goes far wider).  But for most of us, this is an overlooked aspect of worship.

The apostle Paul added that this is an excellent way to engage in an act of worship. “Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.” (verse 18 ESV). The word for serve is the word for worship in the New Testament.

In other words, you honor God and participate in worship when you care about the less fortunate. Perhaps because it reflects on the nature of God, Who is described as merciful and gracious.

You may find similar opportunities to worship at work. Recently my son, Gabe, who works in produce at Harris Teeter, had such an opportunity. A man came in wanting some fruit cut up a particular way. Come to find out his wife had cancer, and he needed the fruit to take back to her hospital room. Gabe spent a few minutes talking to this man, relating how cancer had also stricken his aunts.  Then he went into the back and brought out the fruit cut just the way the guy wanted.

My son did not think at the time that that was an act of worship, but it was.

You may have a similar opportunity at work. The question is, “Will you worship at work?”

clock-people-pixabay

There are two things about human nature that are universal. We want any pain to cease immediately. And if we do something right, we want to be rewarded immediately

After all, that’s how we train our animals. Do this and there is immediate gratification.

In our dogs’ case, that equals food, pleasure.

When it comes to our piety, our faith & devotion, we tend to feel as if we should get some kind of hall pass on pain. After all, doesn’t God want us to be happy? I want my pets to be happy. But then I’m not trying to build character into my dogs.

Can you imagine a world in which God rewarded piety immediately? Sports would be non-existent. Because you can’t have two winners at the end of a game. What if both teams held a Bible study and prayed before a game? God would be in a pickle.

Ultimately we would become selfish and slaves to all of our prurient interests.

But it’s still a hard concept to shake. When God sets out to be build character in us, He includes suffering.

To be clear there is nothing wrong with asking God to remove the pain in your life. And we should expect God to bless our spirituality. That is pretty much the theme of Proverbs.

Let’s just not put God on a timetable. Perhaps a better solution is to make Proverbs 3:5-6 a daily reality:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,

and do not lean on your own understanding.

In all your ways acknowledge him,

and he will make straight your paths (ESV).

  

Let’s trust God to decide when it’s time to reward our piety.