The Weekly Epistle 5/24/23

Hi Living Hope,
I was on face time with my daughter and her three little ones.  Being that silly papa that I am, I used the computer as a steering wheel and “drove around the room,” swerving to the left and to the right, making car sounds.  The two older ones laughed.  Then I stopped.  You know what happened next.  “Again, papa, do that again.”  So, I repeated what I did the first time.  Again, they laughed.  What happened next?  You know.  “Again, papa, again.”
John Ortberg writes, “Jesus came as the Joy-bringer.  The joy we see in the happiest child is but a fraction of the joy that resides in the heart of God.”
How often, though, what is present in God is absent in people?  My grandkids remind me of living in the moment and enjoying life.  That isn’t to say life isn’t to be taken seriously.  We aren’t to be frivolous and flippant about spiritual matters.  But kingdom work is to be found in the atmosphere of joy.  Or as C.S. Lewis so aptly puts it, “Joy is the serious business of heaven.” 
Kingdom work is to be taken seriously.  But that is not at odds with joy.  Do a word study on joy found in the Scriptures and you could only conclude that joy is non-optional for followers of God.  
Perhaps, look at some of those passages that speak on joy and take a few minutes to meditate on them (see Philippians 4:4-6; Nehemiah 8:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:16; John 15:11; John 17:13; Psalm 16:11; Romans 14:17- a small sampling).  
I know life is hard.  We all have our share of concerns we carry with us.  Parenting can wear us down.  Aches and pains that don’t go away.  Relational hurts, past wounds, financial struggles, smashed dreams, feelings of loneliness, regrets, failures, losses, are all real.  There is no denying that!  Even serving the Lord and ministering to others can take its toll on us at times.  But do we have to look like we just came from a funeral, and we are the next in line?
I read of a little girl who kept staring at this man behind her as they waited in line at the supermarket.  He was rather straight-faced, serious, and wouldn’t crack a smile even as this cute little girl stared at him.  She finally blurted out, “Hey mister, are you a minister?”  He replied, “No, but I have been sick for about three weeks.” Apparently, looking ill and being a minister have the same appearance.  
I don’t want to give the impression that ministry is a joyless, heavy undertaking.  Is that the impression that I give? Or how people see me? Is that how others perceive Christianity observing you? May we brighten others’ days by the joy that is written all over our face?  
Charles Spurgeon instructing a group of seminary students on sermon delivery said, “When you speak of heaven, let your face light up.  When you speak of hell, then your everyday face will do.”
I want my everyday face to show the joy of knowing Jesus.  As we walk with the Joy-bringer, what should spill out is joy!  It is one of the 9-flavored fruit that is evident in those who walk according to the Spirit.  And shouldn’t our face show it?  
Minister of Joy, Pastor Brian

The Weekly Epistle 5/17/23

Hi Church,
God does not remember me the same way I remember me.  God does not remember you the same way you remember you.  Recently these words in Psalm 25:6-7 touched my heart, “Remember, O LORD, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.  Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O LORD.”
It is so easy to remember our failures.  There are previous sins that can still weigh heavy on us.  Stuff we are ashamed of can come back to our memory.  But is that how God remembers us?  
Is God trudging up old sins?  Is God in agreement with your assessment of your past?  
The advantage we have over David here (the writer of Psalm 25), is that we know the rest of the story.  We know that Jesus died in our place and chooses not to remember our sins.  He will not hold those sins over us. “As far as the east is from the west,” another Psalm tells us, “So far as he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).  God has separated our sin from us.
It may be challenging for us to separate someone from their sin, but that is not difficult for God.  God can remember us, yet not see that sin that once defined us.  How is that possible?  Back to Psalm 25.  “According to your love remember me, for you are good, O Lord.”  
God is so good and so full of loyal love He can remember us differently than we remember ourselves.  Hebrews reminds us that “God will remember our sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12).  In other words, God will never call our sins to mind.  
Then is there any good reason to call our sins to mind?  Are we supposed to remember our sins from our past?  That depends.  If we remember them for a deeper appreciation of God’s grace, then it has a beneficial place in our life.  There are places in Scripture that speak to remembering what we were like before we were saved.  For example, Paul writes, “Remember that formerly you who were Gentiles by birth…remember that at that time you were separate from Christ…but now in Christ Jesus you once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ “(Ephesians 2:11-13).
If our remembering draws us closer to Christ and more grateful for what He has done for us, then that kind of remembering can be good.  But if our remembering drags us down or leads us to shame or leaves us paralyzed or stuck, then it is destructive.  For Paul writes elsewhere, “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead” (Philippians 3:13).  
Are there sins of your past that bring you shame?  Has your trust in Christ for salvation covered those sins?  Then you are forgiven.  You are set free.  God remembers you differently than you remember yourself.  
Has some failure in the past kept you from serving?  Are you paralyzed by indecision right now because you remember how something similar in the past turned out so horribly bad?  Is your memory of some incident in your past that shaped your identity holding your back right now from living out your identity in Christ?  God does not remember you that way!  
Child of God, reaffirm who you are in Christ!  You are free from condemnation in Christ.  You are who God says you are and not who you (or others) say you are!  
All because of His grace, Pastor Brian

The Weekly Epistle 5/10/23

Hi Living Hope Family,
I say, “Up” you say, “Down.”  I say, “Black,” you say, “White.”  I say, “Open,” you say, “Closed.”  I say, “God,” you say,…? What? What goes in there?  Is it Satan?  Is Satan the opposite of God?  Wouldn’t that suggest that God and Satan are equals?  Is it really what the cartoons taught us that the devil is sitting on one shoulder whispering bad advice and God sitting on the other shoulder whispering good?  
God is the Creator.  Satan is a creature.  God and Satan are not equal forces going against one another.  That just might be our enemy’s greatest deception.  We cannot give him that kind of credit.  
Let’s play the opposite game again.  I say, “Light,” you say, “Dark.”  I say, “God,” you say, “Nothing.”  The opposite of God is nothing.  God does not have an equal.  This truth is life changing.  When the Bible says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”  The answer is no one or nothing can ever be against us.  To have the unequaled God FOR US, means then that nothing has the power to outmaneuver God or get the upper hand or have His way in our lives.  
God is all-powerful.  Satan is not.  God is present everywhere.  Satan is not.  God knows everything at the same time.  Satan is limited.  We shouldn’t underestimate the power of evil, for the devil can wreak havoc.  Lots of it. 
The God we serve, and love is FOR US.  That really big issue standing against you right now- the God who is for you is bigger than that!  That nagging temptation that won’t quit- the God who is for you knows the way out that is best for you.  Those self-condemning thoughts, rehearsal of regrets, and failures that are on playback mode.  The God, who is for you, has the words of truth He knows you need to hear right now. 
Nothing has the power to stop what it is the unequaled God wants to give you.  Even when it may feel that things are against you, the God of the universe is forever for you.  No individual.  No government.  No circumstance.  No struggle.  Even your lapses of unbelief.  Nothing can be against you.  
How would each day be different if we really embraced the truth that God is for us?  How does it speak to our weariness?  How would it give us perspective when life gets us down or God seems silent or we experience a terrible, horrible, no good very bad day?  I love that book, but I digress.
Rest in the God who is like no other.  Enjoy the rest of your week!
Blessings, Pastor Brian

The Weekly Epistle 5/3/23

Hi Living Hope,

John Wooden, UCLA basketball coach, would tell his players who scored a basket to smile, nod, or give a thumbs up to the player who gave them a good pass. “What if he’s not looking?” asked one of the players. Wooden would reply, “I guarantee he’ll look.” 

Everyone values encouragement! Everyone looks for it. All of us could use some positive reinforcement. Actually, lots of it! Mark Twain said he could live for two months on a good compliment. Well, he is a better man than I am. 

There is a true story of David in 1 Samuel 23 when Saul was looking to get rid of him. Saul was relentless. David was exhausted. Saul was determined to take David’s life. David was afraid. 

What did David need? Some positive reinforcement and encouragement. We are told that Jonathan went to David at Horesh and “helped him find strength in the Lord” (1 Samuel 23:16). Helped him find strength in the Lord. How can I help someone else find strength in the Lord? Encouragement is more than just saying, “good job” (though that would go a long way). It provides strength to continue. 

Jonathan then says to David, “Don’t be afraid. My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel” (1 Samuel 23:17). This reminder of the truth put David back on his feet again. What is at stake if encouragement is missing? The absence of truth. A lack of strength to continue on our journey. 

David knew God. David knew God had anointed him as the next king, in due time. Yet fear was winning. When fear takes hold of us, truth isn’t always easy to see. Jonathan’s simple reminder of God’s concern and promise was exactly what David needed. It helped him find strength in the Lord. 

Interestingly, in a scene shortly after this one in David’s life, he again hit a low time. You can read about it in 1 Samuel chapter 30. David is approaching the city when he looked in the distance and saw that the place where he and his men had been living for the past year and a half, was burned to the ground. Even worse than the physical destruction was the fact that all the women and children had been taken away as captives. It says that David wept until he had no more strength. It then says, “But David found strength in the Lord his God” (1 Samuel 30:6). 

This time, no Jonathan. No one to help him find strength in the Lord. But David was able to draw upon God’s strength without the help of anyone else. I do wonder, “what if Jonathan wasn’t there to help him the first time?” Did the help of Jonathan carry him through the second time when he was down? Is encouragement that powerful that there is a lingering effect? 

Church, encourage others! Spread it around generously. Catch someone doing something positive and give reinforcement. 
Blessings, Pastor Brian 

The Weekly Epistle 4/26/23

Hi Living Hope Family,

Seen on a church sign: “We care about you. Sundays 10 AM only.” 

On another church sign it said, “Don’t let worries kill you, let the church help.” Or “We love hurting people.” 

Mixed messages. Other mixed messages might be- “come as you are,” but make sure you clean up your act first.” Or “For God so loved the world, but not members of the other political party.” 

What messages are we sending to the world? What does the world think about Christians. I then typed in, “Why are Christians so…?” The autocomplete provided me with words such as mean, arrogant, fake, hateful, judgmental, and why are Christians such hypocrites. My heart aches. Why couldn’t the autocomplete say things like, “Why are Christians so kind, so loving, so neighborly, so selfless, so honest.” Perhaps I am asking for too much here. 

My point is, what message are we sending to the world? What message am I sending to my community? When what we say we believe doesn’t actually match how we are living, that is a mixed message. When we say, “this has nothing to do with my Christianity,” we are sending the message that our faith only takes place on Sundays. Mixed message. 

I am not talking about perfection. People around us already know we aren’t perfect. This isn’t about acting like we have it all together. But others should see that we live the gospel. It should be evident that Jesus is transforming us. 

Paul says, “We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited” (2 Corinthians 6:3). In sending Timothy to the church in Corinth, Paul says, “He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church” (1 Corinthians 4:17). To the church in Philippi, he says, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me– put it into practice” (Philippians 4:9). 

If someone were to follow me around during the week (without my knowing it), would I be able to confidently say, “Whatever you have seen in me, put it into practice”? Would you dare say this? Again, this is not talking about perfection. My heart’s desire is to close the gap between my beliefs and the practice of my beliefs. That my life would point people to Jesus. 

I know it is cliché, but it has been said that the only Bible people may read is you. Church signs and other marketing strategies are tools of evangelism. But the best “marketing” is living out the true gospel before the watching world. 

Why is Living Hope so…? Why is (your name) so…? 

Blessings, Pastor Brian