Trusting the God of Hope When You Have None Left

Podcast Of This Message

WITH ALL OF THE DIFFICULTIES, struggles, pains, losses, frustrations and general unjust craziness there is in this life it doesn’t take much to lose ones hope. We try our best to continue trusting the God of hope but so much in this world and in our individual lives tells us to give up the fight and settle into the lands of defeat. There is no fairy tale ending, so get a cozy chair and get yourself a nice view of the pit of despair.

We see bad things happen, or watch family members struggle with health issues, we struggle with finances, prayers don’t get answered so we are tempted to just give up trying to be optimistic or to cling to any sort of faith that God can change what is going on in our lives. Along with all of that we take the fallout from one unanswered prayer and use it to justify not having faith for God to do something next time. Or we allow one loss to cancel out dozens of previous victories, everything that God did years ago no longer matters because we feel that He wasn’t with us today.

These are difficult issues and hard questions to deal with and they can’t just be answered by telling someone that they just have to believer harder or that they should just read their Bible more. I’m not against faith or prayer or anything like that, I’ve personally witnessed the blind see, the deaf hear,  and the crippled walking out of wheel chairs. However, I have also watched people die from cancer, others struggle with issues from accidents, I’ve lost two friends to depression and suicide and I’ve had my own problems as well.

I have seen the greatness of God’s power in action and I’ve experienced the absence of it.

Hope in action vs. hope in the rear-view mirror

I have seen the greatness of God’s power in action and I’ve seen and experienced the absence of it, even with myself. For the past four years I have struggled with an ear issue that has left me with unending ringing in my ears, has cost me one third of my hearing ability and has made me unable to even worship along with the rest of the church I attend. Flashback ten years ago now and I was once in a market in Mexico City on a mission trip and we were praying for people. One day a woman came to get prayer for her ear. Me and another prayed for what we thought was an ear
infection and she was miraculously healed. What we found out after we prayed was that she didn’t have in infection but had actually ruptured her ear drum the day before and was totally deaf in the one side. After she said she could hear she pulled out the cotton ball from her no longer deaf ear that was stained with blood.

It’s not just a matter of going down to the Jesus store and picking up some joy with a side of milk.

This is where things get difficult when you know that God can and is able to move in power and He doesn’t. It’s not easy to keep hope alive, especially as the years go by, especially when those years bring more and more pain, frustration and loss. God is the God of hope according to Paul in Romans 15:13 and not only that but He is also supposed to be our source of joy and peace. The problem is though it’s not just a matter of going down to the Jesus store and picking up some joy with a side of milk. These are real matters of faith, not just superficial ones where we just try to whitewash what is going on inside of us.

What is real faith?

You see real faith is not yelling at the top of your lungs that you have faith; real faith involves being honest with what is in front of us. Faith is never absent from realty, it recognizes what is really going on and looks towards God to change that reality to something else. Pretending that there are no problems is not faith it is delusion. Does that mean we can’t pray for a change? Of course not. What I am saying is that our faith and hope are not dependant on our circumstances they are dependant on the nature and character of God.

It takes infinitely more faith to declare that God is good and loving when your world is upside down than it does when you’re sitting in an air-conditioned church and everything is rainbows and sunshine. Real faith is when you are able to honestly praise God even when you don’t get your prayers answered, not just when you do.

“It takes infinitely more faith to declare that God is good and loving when your world is upside down than it does when you’re sitting in an air-conditioned church and everything is rainbows and sunshine.”

Just look at what Jeremiah said after the darkest day in Judah’s history at that time in Lamentations 3:25-26 “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; 26 it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (NKJV). Jeremiah didn’t write this after the people repented and had a great party, no he wrote this after the utter destruction of Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah. How could he speak of hope after so much death and destruction? He could do it because He understood who God is.

That is where we find out great weakness, far too often we take the supposed and actual failures, shortcomings, and losses of our lives and place the blame squarely on God and we lash out against him like overly emotional teenagers in response. Everything bad was God’s fault and everything good is the result of my own hard work – is the lie we tell ourselves. You see God is good but we are temporary travelers in a world that is not good.

We live in a fallen and broken world and there are times when we don’t get our way, a prayer doesn’t get answered, a person dies, a job is lost or a life loses its purpose. Then rather than praise God for who He is and what else he has done for us we abandon hope because we believe it is better not to hope than it is to hope and be disappointed. We respond that way because it is all part of the plan, not God’s plan but Satan’s.

Why Satan comes to steal our hope

In Satan’s eyes a mute, broken and depressed Christian is the best one there is because he knows they will never do anything to weaken his kingdom. It is a campaign of disarmament where he and his forces go out and convince Christians that it is better to have never hoped than to have hoped and lost. It is a strategy where he convinces us that the weapons of our belief and warfare are too heavy to carry and actually do more harm than good. So we should throw them away and settle for a life under spiritual house arrest.

It is a campaign of disarmament where Satan and his forces convince Christians that it’s better to have never hoped than to have hoped and lost.

In Rick Renner’s devotional Sparkling Gems From The Greek (USA Canada) he talks about John 10:10-11 and unpacks the meaning of what Jesus meant warning us that Satan comes to kill, steal and destroy. Renner speaks of how the word kill does not mean to murder but has the understanding of a religious sacrifice such as when a lamb was killed on the altar. If Satan can’t destroy our hopes, dreams, purpose, life or anything else he’ll convince us to do it ourselves out of devotion or another reason. The same applies to our hope if he can’t crush it from within he’ll convince us to lay it down either for moral, cultural, religious, or emotional reasons. Or it could be as simple as feeling as if God is calling us to lay something down when in reality God is trying to awaken that thing you are about to kill.

What do we have to look forward to?

Proverbs 13:12 tells us that “hope deferred makes the heart sick” this is both a spiritual and a medical truth as the loss of hope has a tangible impact on our spirit, mind and body. However the verse continues and says that a “longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”

We need both hope for today and for the future because we live in two worlds one of earth and one of Heaven.

In our opening verse Romans 15:13 the hope Paul was looking towards was the culmination of both Jews and Gentiles coming into the Kingdom of God together through the New Covenant (Titus 2:13). This is what drove him from nation to nation and from prison to prison preaching the gospel despite the problems he encountered because he saw a light at the end of the tunnel.

We also need that long ranging hope to carry us to the end of our lives, but we also need hope for today. We need both hope for today and for the future because we live in two worlds one of earth and one of Heaven. So our hope must reflect that we can’t have a hope that is based only in the future, but we must also have a hope that sees its results today, although to a smaller degree.

It is just like opening a present on Christmas eve and getting the rest in the morning.  Or taking a long-awaited road trip but also taking time to make stops along the way. You don’t wait until you arrive to enjoy yourself even though your ultimate enjoyment is at the end of the trip (serendipity). At other times you may discover that you only enjoyed the final destination because of what happened along the way, so it is with our hope in God.

Are there times when God will answer our prayers, yes, and are there times when He won’t (at least as far as we can perceive) of course. What is important though is not how God answers but how we respond to God afterwards. If we can turn to God with the same love and hope no matter the outcome then we have passed the test of faith and our hope is not in God’s ability to please us but it is based on our love for Him.

If we can turn to God with the same love and hope no matter the outcome then we have passed the test of faith.


Romans 5:1-5 “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (NKJV)



 

Creative Commons LicenseTrusting the God of Hope when You Have None Left by Cameron Conway is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

 

Outsourcing God: How Good Sheep Get Lost

outsourcing God by Cameron Conway

Podcast Of This Message

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GOD IS GOD AND I AM NOT, it’s an easy thing to say but it is entirely different to live out on a daily basis. We say that we pray and have faith in God but over and over again we seem to either grow impatient or deep down we believe that God won’t actually listen to our prayers. It feels as if our heart has outsourced God’s power, rulership, authority and holiness and replaced it with our own. This is especially true if you have had several prayers which have gone unanswered.

Have you ever wondered why some believers have a harder time trusting God for great things to happen? It’s not because of “backsliding” or sin, or unbelief but it is because they have over and over again faced this fork in the road and chosen the wrong path. The crossroads between what God wants and what we want. I’m not picking on certain believers, but this applies to all of us, myself included.

There are times when God moves mightily and then there are other times where it feels like He took a vacation in the Andromeda galaxy right when we needed Him the most. How we respond in each of those situations will determine how our heart reacts the next time there is a need for prayer.

Our Source of Strength

We can either look to our own strength or the strength of others to help and guide us or we can put our trust and obedience in God. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t ask for help in times of need but I am encouraging you to look inside yourself and see who your faith is in. Is it in a person, a group, a thing or even yourself instead of God? Jesus once told a parable about building a house either on sand or on the rock (Matthew 7:24-27) and the same principle applies to us here.

If your foundation is built on God and His rightful place in not just the universe as a whole but your own heart then you with withstand the storms of life. If however you have set yourself above God in your thoughts, actions, prayers or in any other way you will either find your house toppled over or you will slowly sink down in the sand until there is nothing left of you for anyone else to see.

We picture ourselves with rippling muscles moving whatever stands in our way but in reality from God’s perspective we are just silly sheep bashing our heads into a log.

A great test to see where your heart comes in this question: Do you even bother to pray in your daily lives when there isn’t even a crisis? This matter is critical, and not just because of some religious obligation but because of relationship. Without relationship we are just treating God like a genie or as a vending machine that is supposed to spit out whatever we ask for as long as we drop in a few quarters or our tithes. When we think and act like this God is no longer God in our hearts, but merely our servant.

Look at what it says in Psalm 100:2-3 “…Come before His presence with singing. Know that the Lord, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.” (NKJV) Notice here that it doesn’t say come to God with your shopping list, or a work order we are to come before Him in joy. Not the joy we experience when we get what we want on Christmas morning, but something deeper and more wonderful.

I can do baaaaatter

Throughout the scriptures we are faced with this truth of God being the high and mighty one while we are the equivalent of sheep (Psalm 95:7, Isaiah 40:10-11). We at face value might be a little offended by that, sheep are not known for being the smartest of animals. They get stuck in ruts, overgraze if left alone, go on mad stampedes, drink tainted water if not forced to good streams and so on. Being called a sheep would be considered an insult to many and even in our culture someone who is seen as being a blind follower is often referred to as a mindless sheep. (For an in-depth and life changing view on this subject check out “A Shepherd Looks at Psalms 23” by W. Philip Keller. Click here: US Canada)

What we need here is perspective, when we compare ourselves to a sheep we hold up our intelligence, creativity, technology and ability to express and go “ha take that sheep, now into the oven with you.” We see ourselves high and above those natural sheep because in our world there is nothing higher than mankind. But now let’s flip the perspective lets compare ourselves to God, if we hold ourselves up against Him it is not wonder why God’s favorite nickname for people is sheep.

We are no where near as intelligent, powerful, caring, wise or highly exalted as God is. Compared to Him we are nothing more than dumb and stubborn sheep, who need constant guidance and supervision, so we don’t drink poison, fall off a cliff, get turned upside down or die of starvation because we ate all the grass and are too lazy to move on. If a sheep ran into an obstacle on the path do you expect it to muster the other sheep together so they can all lift it out of the way?

No, that would be ridiculous to expect, so why is it we think the same way about ourselves. We see obstacles in our lives and have these thoughts that we can just go over there and pick up the log or rock and hurl it out of the way. We picture ourselves with rippling muscles moving whatever stands in our way but in reality from God’s perspective we are just silly sheep bashing our heads into the log.

Jesus the sheep herder

Our help and redemption though comes from Jesus who said in John 10:14-16 “14 I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. 15 As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.” (NKJV) Jesus is the one who can come and move those logs and obstacles from our lives, well as long as we are on His path and not some dark forest trail we ran off into.

Jesus is the one who can come and move those logs and obstacles from our lives.

Jesus through his love and compassion sees us as these loveable, stubborn, and helpless sheep and He offers us the opportunity to join His flock and to be under His protection (Mark 6:34). No longer than are we to act as if we are king of the sheep or can we convince a fellow sheep bring over a trench coat and stand on our shoulders so we appear to be like the shepherd. No, no matter how hard we try to live our lives as the one in charge, or how cleverly we pray, or how independent of God we consider ourselves to be it will never change what we are.

We are created in God’s image but we are not independent from Him, we are not gods, or not the rulers of the universe, but we are children of God adopted into the family because of the sacrifice of the good and great Shepherd. When we follow (2 Peter 2:25) and depend on Him everything changes, yes there are still bad days, loss, pain but we know that we are following Him on a path which leads to better things. We are no longer alone, and we are no longer trying to solve God problems with the methods of a sheep.


John 10:14-16 “14 I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. 15 As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.” (NKJV)


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Outsourcing God: How Good Sheep Get Lost by Cameron Conway is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

To go deeper in your journey with Christ check out my new book Understanding Who You Are: A Survey of 21st Century Christian beliefs which is now on sale. Available in paperback (Canada or USA) and eBook! Get your copy today and discover not just your purpose but how you can build the Kingdom of God here on the Earth

The Roots of our Identity as Christians

Roots of our identity as Christians - CCR dogwood forest 1

Podcast Of This Message

EACH ONE OF US IS LIKE A SAPLING IN THE GARDEN OF GOD, we bask in the light of the sun and strive to grow higher and closer to the source of our nourishment. We push through the dirt of this world and continually look up higher, all the while we are trying to understand our identity and what we are supposed to look like. A plant has no idea what it looks like, it just knows it’s a plant. It’s identity is based on what it does, so it digs into the soil, baths in the light of the sun and produces seeds so that the area around it will be filled with more plants like it.

There is no striving or confusion, the plant doesn’t try to be like a rabbit or a rock it is living out the purpose God created for it. It is the same with us, God desires for us to be like this plant for us to grow, develop, reproduce and enjoy the life God has created for us to partake in. We are to follow after the nature and purpose God has created us to be like, for those who have been redeemed by Christ and were brought into the New Covenant our spiritual DNA has been transformed from that of a rock to a living plant. No longer cold and hard but alive and drawn to the light of the sun.

Our identity then doesn’t begin with our name or our personality it begins with something deeper, it begins with the roots we are all connected to, Jesus. In John 15:1-8 Jesus speaks of those who follow Him as being like branches which are connected to a grape vine which is Himself. He goes on to speak of how we cannot produce fruit without His presence and support and without Him our branch simply dries out and is thrown away. We see then that Jesus is our source, He is our battery, He is our wi-fi, He is our water and so much else.

Understanding who Jesus is becomes our first step in understanding who we are

Understanding who Jesus is becomes our first step in understanding who we are, before we were disciples we saw our identity according to our own accomplishments, hobbies, desires, talents, jobs, education and so on. However, something changed when we entered into that covenant through faith in Jesus, our identity is no longer grounded in who we are but in who Jesus is. I am not saying through that we all have to wear the same clothes, listen to the same types of music, have the same hair cut or anything else like that. No, what I am saying is that Jesus becomes our common language which we speak. Jesus becomes the air which we all breath, and Jesus is the roof which covers us all, when we understand this then and only then can we live out the revelation of Galatians 3:28.

With plants there is an infinite variety of types shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors, even with these differences they are still all plants. They all still live in the ground, absorb water and soak in the sun, they are still part of the same “family” despite their differences. So it is with all of us who are united in Christ, we were each created with infinite creativity and uniqueness and we are not destined to simply be clones of one another. We are individuals with varying interests, hobbies, cultures, languages and tastes but there is something deeper which unites us into one family.

Looking to Jesus for our Identity

When I speak about rooting our identity in Christ I’m not talking about walking around in a tunic with shoulder length hair and a beard (which would be extra awkward for women) I am talking about being reflections of Jesus’ words, compassion, justice, mercy, power and love. Jesus is the supreme prototype for how we are to live. We can see Him as the great tree which all other plants not only emerge from but are dependant for nourishment.

It is through our compassion and actions that we imitate Jesus in this world.

When we look at how Jesus lived in this world we see that He demonstrated compassion, love, frustration, emotion, grief, and a whole host of other expressions. He was merciful when mercy was needed but he was also firm in times of conflict. He offered grace to the woman caught in adultery but held the Pharisees to a standard beyond what they were used to. He rejoiced when the people came to him and he lamented when towns rejected Him, with these towns Jesus did not call down fire on them but spoke with a broken heart because He knew the consequences of their actions.

Jesus then becomes the gatekeeper, or firewall which determines what comes out of our mouth, what dwells in our minds and what we do with our hands. This is what Paul eluded 1 Corinthians 11:1 when he declared, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (NKJV).  In John 13:12-17 Jesus commands the disciples to follow His example of washing each others’ feet as an act of servitude and humility. Notice He doesn’t say to wear their clothes in a certain way, or to wear a custom bracelet to show the world they are Jesus’s followers, no it is through their compassion and actions that they imitate Jesus in this world.

I am who I am says I am

With this abundance of uniqueness which God has blessed each of us with it is no wonder why we have such and expansive list of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 15, or it is why we have a five-fold ministry instead of just a singular priesthood. God made us all unique and so that we can fulfill the totality of the Great Commission, there are those of us created for compassion, some for teaching, some for artistry, some for business, others for evangelism.

There are those who are introverts others extroverts, some are exuberant while others are soft spoken and no one is better than the other. Each one was uniquely created to serve God and to have an impact in the place and time God created them to live in, because there are people both inside and outside of the church who can only be helped but someone just like you. For God crafted you to be unique, quirky, flawed, talented and so many other traits right from the beginning.


Psalm 139:15-17 “My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them. 17 How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them!” (NKJV)


 

What do we do next about our identity?

Going forward we have to first learn and understand who Jesus is and use that inspiration and foundation to build our own identity upon. We are to be holy, but not “holier than thou”, we are to be loving but not taken advantage of, we are to be firm in our biblical convictions but not judgmental, we are to live by faith but not by wishing, and we are to be ourselves but without the flaws of the flesh. At the end of the day you are to go out and live like a plant, be it a tree, flower, grain, bush, vine, grass it doesn’t matter what kind you are.

What is important is that you remain rooted deeply in the ground, your drink in the water of life, you bath in the light of the sun and your grow and grow so you can produce fruit and seeds so the great garden continues to spread throughout the earth.