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Topical - Hope

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 If I were to look to the headlines of the newspaper or hear the opening lines of virtually any newscast …

If I were to look only at the scores of people I know who struggle daily with severe problems—diseases that have been diagnosed as terminal, marriages that are crumbling, children who are rebellious, communities that are being shattered by racism or eaten away by poverty, homes that are being destroyed by alcohol or chemical addictions …

If I were to focus only on the many civil war, intertribal, and religious conflicts that are raging around the world today …

If I were to listen only to people who are seeking to escape the horrors of present-day abuse or coping with the fear-evoking memories of past abuse …

If I were to keep my mind attuned only to the steady stream of programs on television that are filled with lewdness and violence …

It would be easy to lose hope.

But that is not where I look or focus my attention.

I have hope today. It is an unshakable hope. It is a hope based on something eternal and all-powerful. It is a hope founded on good evidence.

The primary reason I’m hopeful today is that I know that I have a personal relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ.

My relationship with Jesus Christ gives me an open door to everything that God has promised to His people in His Word. It puts me into direct access to all the resources I will ever need, for any and every circumstance.

I have had enough experiences in my life to know that God is always there when I need Him. He is reliably there. He is certain to be there at all times. I have absolute assurance that no matter what happens in my life, He is in control of my life—perfectly present, able, and at work—and since He is absolutely and completely sovereign, nothing can happen to me that is apart from His ultimate will for my life.

Because I know that God loves me perfectly and knows me intimately, I have hope in every situation. No matter what happens to me, I can’t lose!

Even in what have appeared to be the worst possible circumstances in my personal life, I have been, and continue to be, hopeful. I may appear to be suffering loss on the outside, but I am winning on the inside. Why? Because I am always looking to the Lord. He is a victorious Lord; failure and futility are totally alien to His nature. He imparts to me His victory, His righteousness, His perspective, His wisdom, His faith.

That does not mean that I am in denial about bad circumstances. I live in the real world and have real problems just like everybody else. But I refuse to be defeated by bad circumstances. They do not have a hold on me. They don’t fill me with fear or cause me to live in dread. Certainly, many days are filled with problems that are so large, if I looked only at them and at nothing else, I could easily give way to despair. But if I’m always looking to God from the midst of my circumstances, then I always have reason to hope. He is above, beyond, and greater than my problems. He is active in my problems. And He is at work resolving my problems for my ultimate good and eternal future.

With that perspective, how can I not be hopeful? I am linked to the sovereign and almighty King of the universe. He is my heavenly Father. He controls my life and desires a highly favorable outcome for me.

He is the anchor that always holds, no matter how severe the storm may be.

And He gives us very specific reasons on which each of us can base hope. If you are without hope today, or if you have a loved one who is without hope, these are reasons you need to know about and take into your life. This book is for you!

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness veils his lovely face,
I rest on his unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

His oath, his covenant, his blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

When he shall come with trumpet sound,
O may I then in him be found!
Dressed in his righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

—Edward Mote, 1797–1874

“The Solid Rock”

Have you ever wondered about your purpose in life? Have you ever wondered why God created you and what He has destined for you? Have you ever asked yourself, What is my reason for getting up in the morning?

At the core of the depression and despair that many people feel is a nagging question: Why am I here? The fact is, if you don’t know why you are here, then you don’t have a sense of purpose, direction, or meaning in your life. If you are without a basic mooring for your soul, spirit, and mind, then it is very easy to lose hope. If you don’t know why you are alive right now, then it is very difficult to see any reason for why you may continue to be alive in the future. The very nature of hope requires that you have some sense of meaning and purpose for your life.

The Word of God says that you have a purpose, one that is both noble and highly desirable in the mind and heart of virtually every person who has ever lived: You were created by God to love and be loved.

Yes, you.

This statement is certainly true for all of humankind, but it is also a truth that is meant for you to embrace personally. God loves you. He loves you unconditionally, without limit or qualification, and He loves you personally and individually.

Not only does He love you and desire to shower you with His love, but He longs to be loved by you.

Furthermore, He desires that you love and be loved by other human beings. God is generous—even extravagant—in His love. He delights when you express His brand of unconditional love to others and when you experience that kind of love in return.

If I could use only one word to describe God’s nature and His desire for you, it would be love.

The Unfathomable Depth of God’s Love

The very essence of God’s being—His personality, His nature—is love. The motivation for God’s sending Jesus into the world was love. The most famous verse in all the Bible tells us this: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16 nkjv).

The reason that Jesus came to this earth, lived a victorious life, and then died as the one definitive and lasting sacrifice to reunite God and human beings was love. God desires to have a relationship with you. He desires to reveal Himself to you, to shower His love and good gifts upon you, and to live with you forever.

The apostle John told us in one of his letters that the supreme attribute of God is love. John based that conclusion on his personal relationship with Jesus, having walked with Him for nearly three years of ministry before Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. He wrote this after having lived in relationship with the Lord Jesus for several decades after Jesus went to be with the Father:

We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. (1 John 4:14–16 nkjv)

Note this one little phrase in the passage: “known and believed the love that God has for us.” John believed that God loved him.

John tended to refer to himself in his writings not by his name but as “the one whom Jesus loved.” That was especially true in the gospel of John. He certainly didn’t mean that Jesus loved him in an exclusive way. John did not say that with pride; rather, he had great humility, in essence conveying that he, of all people, knew the love of God. John was acknowledging that he was nobody without the love of Christ. It was the hallmark of his identity, even more than his own name. Christ’s love meant everything to him.

Remember that John was called one of the “Sons of Thunder” in the Gospels. He no doubt was a sometimes boisterous, always passionate, periodically rambunctious, perhaps even an impetuous man—a fisherman who was truly a man’s man in every sense. John’s world was a world that was ruled by Rome, determined to a great extent by the forces of nature and the catch of the day, and spiritually dictated by the gloom-and-doom Pharisees and Sadducees who emphasized obedience to the law of God but had little to say about the love of God. John was bold enough to grab hold of his destiny with both hands and not let go. He was brave enough to follow Jesus and to trust Him explicitly.

Have you ever thought about what it took to be a disciple in the time of Jesus? To give up everything and follow Him on a daily basis, not knowing where you were going to spend the night, what you were going to eat, or what forces of evil you might encounter? The apostles were men of courage.

They were also men who knew what it meant to be loved thoroughly. There is little reason to give up everything you have acquired or have known as your identity and to follow another person unless you are compelled by that person’s vision for the future and by the depth of that person’s love for you. Following a vision for the future is not enough; such a vision eventually will pale or may even be seen as manipulative or evil unless that vision for the future is rooted in a highly personal and deep love relationship. John and the other disciples knew that kind of love from Jesus. As John said, “We have known … the love that God has for us.” John’s belief was based upon experience—not only while Jesus was alive, but his experience by faith in the years after Jesus’ return to heaven.

John believed he was a beloved one of Christ. He embraced that love wholeheartedly. He staked his life on the fact that God loved him.

The sad reality is that many people today have heard that God loves them, but they simply don’t believe it. They don’t know the full reality of God’s love in their lives. They haven’t experienced it, and therefore, they don’t know how to embrace it, nurture it, or grow in it.

Experiencing God’s Love in Your Life

A man once confessed to me, “I hear people talk about love, but I don’t know what love is. Oh, I can comprehend with my mind what they are saying. I can understand the words they use to describe how they feel. But I don’t know what love feels like.”

I knew exactly how that man felt. I once felt the same way. Most of my life I had an ache to feel loved.

I didn’t know a lot about love as a child. My father died of kidney disease when I was only nine months old. My mother immediately went to work to support us the best she could. For the first couple of years of my life, various women took care of me while my mother worked, but once I started school, I was pretty much on my own. At the age of five, I learned to comb my own hair, dress myself, cook my own breakfast, and get myself to school. My mother didn’t get back each day until well after I returned home from school.

Even during the brief periods through the years when we lived with my aunts and uncles, I suffered from loneliness. I knew my mother cared for me, but I didn’t feel an abiding sense of love. On more occasions than I can begin to count, the comforting arms, tender touches, and words of love that I needed as a child were missing. Nobody was present to provide them when I needed them.

When I was nine years old, my mother married a man who was full of anger, hostility, and bitterness. My stepfather was mean and abusive. I never heard him say a positive word about anything, much less a word of care or love. I don’t recall his ever giving me anything, including a compliment, a word of praise, or even an expression of concern.

During my twelfth year, I went to church one morning and went forward when Mrs. Wilson, who was preaching a revival at our church, gave the altar call. I fell on my knees, and I cried and prayed and asked the Lord to save me. I told Him that I believed in Jesus and His death and resurrection. When the pastor asked me to come up and tell the people what the Lord had done for me, I remember standing behind that pulpit and saying, “I don’t know everything He’s done for me, but I know He’s saved me.” I had absolutely no doubt that I had been forgiven and that I was destined for eternal life.

Knowing that I was saved, however, did not mean that I had felt the love of God in my heart. My basic concept of God was one of judgment, not love. In my view, He was a remote, hard, and harsh God. Oh, I may have been able to quote a Bible verse about God’s love, and if someone had point-blank asked me, “Does God love you?” I would have said yes. But that was information I had learned in my mind; it wasn’t something that I felt in my heart.

Much of my concept of God was formed, of course, by my early childhood experiences. That is true for every person. My mother was a Christian, but she didn’t talk much about God around me. When we prayed, we both used King James English. For years, I thought that praying with “Thees” and “Thous” was the only way a person could be heard in heaven! Both in language and in daily living, God seemed very distant.

Because God wasn’t very near, He wasn’t very accessible or dependable. I couldn’t count on Him being present when I needed Him. I never thought about Him as being God the Father. Father—which in my case was stepfather—was a concept that was too earthly, too human, too familiar and, in many ways, too painful. God was, to me, remote and yet always watching and listening—ready to put me down and drive me out if I erred too badly.

My mother’s constant admonition to me as a boy was, “Don’t do anything that you wouldn’t want to be caught doing if Jesus were to come.” That really put a crimp in my style since just about everything that a normal boy would consider to be fun, my mother and the church considered to be a sin. In those days, reading the funny paper was a sin. Wearing a tie clasp was a sin. Listening to any kind of music other than hymns was a sin. The God who saved me that Sunday morning was the same God who created the Ten Commandments, who kept points and checked your life’s scoreboard periodically, and who could and would send you to hell for your unrepented sins. I was saved, spared, but that had very little to do with love.

God Loves Us Unconditionally

From God’s standpoint, salvation has everything to do with love. Love was the motivation for His creating us, sustaining us, and sending His Son to die for our sins. But as a twelve-year-old, I didn’t know that.

And the equal fact is that I don’t need to feel God’s love to be saved. Salvation is based on answering one question and one question alone: Am I willing by faith to receive Jesus Christ as my personal Savior based on the fact that when Jesus died on Calvary, He paid my sin debt in full? If I say yes to that question, I receive Christ into my life. When I receive Him, I receive Him by faith. I believe in Him as my personal Savior. I accept a free gift offered to me with open arms. I don’t need to know anything about the motivation for God to extend that gift to me. I only need to receive it.

Repentance—which is our response to sin after we have accepted God’s forgiveness—is something that we do by the will. We choose to turn away from sin because something has happened in our hearts. We choose to walk in a way that is pleasing to God. Again, our motivation for repentance does not rely upon feelings of love. We can repent solely out of obedience and a desire to do what is right in God’s sight. We don’t need to feel a great outpouring of love for God, or feel His great outpouring of love for us, to convince us to obey His commandments and lead a godly life. Some do, of course. But many people don’t feel anything related to love in accepting Jesus as their Savior and making a decision to follow Him as their Lord.

On the one hand, of course, this is highly desirable. Our salvation is not dependent upon our emotions, which can be very capricious and unstable. Salvation is rooted in our acceptance of what Christ did, not in the way we feel.

On the other hand, when we accept Christ and don’t have a good concept of God’s love, we can continue to live a long time with a sense of fear, dread, and suspicion related to God. We can continue to strive to be worthy of our salvation and to do our utmost to “be good enough” for God’s rewards. I know that to be true; I did just that for decades.

I was an ambitious teenager, working hard to escape my impoverished childhood. When the opportunity arose for me to go to college, I threw myself into my studies. When I became a pastor, I threw myself 110 percent into doing everything I could for my congregation. I didn’t just try hard—I drove myself. I made serious lists of lofty goals and then threw myself into achieving them, even before my schedule called for their accomplishment and to a degree that was beyond the goals I had set! I had absolutely no tolerance for laziness or slothfulness, in myself or anybody else. I had a perfectionist’s attitude—do all you can do and then do a bit more.

My life was ruled by shoulds and oughts: “I should do this; I ought to do that.” I didn’t want God’s approval alone. I also wanted the approval of those who called me their pastor or colleague in ministry.

If a person has never known genuine unconditional love, then he knows the rules only for conditional love. And the foremost rule for conditional love is: “You must earn the right to be loved.” In my case, I felt I needed to earn the right to be loved by others, and I needed to earn the privilege of having been saved by an all-powerful, all-knowing, judgmental God. If I had any hope of receiving eternal rewards from God, I needed to earn them by my effort in ways that were measurable or definable.

The end result of that approach to life is one of constant striving and constant irritation or frustration.

No matter how much you push yourself, you never feel as if you are doing enough.

No matter how much you push others to be perfect, they never are.

The more you attempt to control, the less control you feel you have. The more you are critical, the more you find to criticize. The more you engage in fighting “for what is best,” the more you lose the relationships that hold the greatest potential for giving you the one thing you need—love.

I wanted God’s approval. I never even dreamed it might be possible to have God’s love.

That may sound strange to you coming from a pastor. The sad fact is that I used to be a preacher who said very little about God’s unconditional love. I didn’t have anything to say! I once asked my secretary to do a search of the files and pull for me any sermon I had ever preached on God’s love. She pulled one sermon—out of decades’ worth of hundreds of sermons—and when I read it, it wasn’t worth the paper it was typed on. I didn’t know anything at the heart level about God’s love. I therefore couldn’t preach anything from the heart about it. I knew about God’s love only at the head level.

What happens to a person who knows about God’s love only at the mind or intellectual level? Such a person has a theory, but not an experience. A love void continues to exist, and over time, that void grows larger and becomes more frustrating. I believe that is especially true if a person is continuing to seek God and to desire all that God has for him or her.

Now, I didn’t know that I was missing the love of God in my life. All I knew was that something was missing in my Christian experience. I would preach about the freedom that Christ gives, go home, look up to heaven, and say, “But what about me? Why don’t I feel free?” I had an ache within me that I could not define or eliminate and, eventually, could not escape.

My Personal Encounter with God’s Great Love

In intense inner pain and turmoil, I sought advice from four men whom I trusted explicitly. I called the men, who are people of the highest integrity, and I asked them to meet with me to hear me out with empathy and then to give me their wise counsel. I trusted God to help them to help me.

I met with the four men privately at a lodge in a wilderness area. I confessed to them that I was at the end of myself. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know where to go. I asked them if I could share with them my life and told them that after they had heard my story, I wanted them to give me their best advice. I assured them that I would do whatever they advised me to do. I had that much respect for them. I also conveyed to them how desperate I was and how extremely serious I was about receiving their help. They generously agreed to hear me out and to be God’s instruments in my life.

I talked all afternoon and evening. I woke up several times in the middle of the night and wrote a total of seventeen pages in longhand—legal-sized pages—of things I wanted to be sure to tell them the next morning. I told them everything I remembered about my early life and all the highlights—both painful and positive—of my adult life and ministry. When I was finished—and believe me, I was completely spent at that point—I said, “Now, whatever you tell me to do, I’ll do it.”

They asked me two or three questions, and then one of the men who was sitting directly across the table from me said, “Charles, put your head on the table and close your eyes.” I did. He said to me very kindly, “Charles, I want you to envision your father picking you up in his arms and holding you.” After a few moments, he said, “What do you feel?”

I burst out crying. And I cried and I cried and I cried. I could not stop crying. Finally, when I stopped, he asked me again, “What do you feel?” I said, “I feel warm, loved, secure. I feel good.” And I started weeping again.

For the first time in my life, I felt emotionally that God loved me. I had known as a fact from His Word that God loved me. I had believed by faith that God loved me. I had accepted the fact that love is God’s nature. But until that day, not very many years ago, I had never emotionally felt God loving me.

God used that encounter with those four men, and that one simple question, to unlock the love void in my life and to begin to pour into it a flood of His divine love.

The full release of God’s love didn’t happen in a day. It was a process, little by little. But the more I explored the love of God, the more God began to reveal my true identity in Christ—that I belonged to Him as I had never belonged to anybody, that I was worth something to Him, and that He loved me beyond measure. I discovered when I got to the end of myself and all of my efforts at striving for perfection, a kind and gracious heavenly Father who had been loving me unconditionally all my life. Let me assure you, nothing is more liberating than that discovery.

The more I experienced God’s love, the more I began to understand the importance of saying to others, “God loves you just the way you are.” I came to be able to love others as they were and to be far less critical of their failed efforts or lack of perfection. God’s love for me became the source of a great love for others. The outpouring of God’s love into my life positively affected my ministry and my relationships with others. I had been invaded by love, and I couldn’t keep it to myself.

From that day in the mountains, I had a sense of inner closeness with God that I had never experienced before. I knew I could trust Him regardless of what happened to me, regardless of any mistakes I might make, regardless of how I might respond or react in my humanity. I had a strong feeling of assurance that I had always been loved, was loved now, and would always be loved with a vast love that was beyond my comprehension, but that I could experience nonetheless on a daily basis.

Once intimacy with God has been established, it grows. There is no end to God’s love, and there ultimately will be no end to our ability to experience it. We need never have love-starved hearts again. His desire is to overflow us with His love and, all the while, to enlarge our capacity to experience His love and give it to others.

I came to the place where I could say with the apostle John, “I have known the love of God. I believe the love of God.” I stand in that place today. The great desire of my heart is that you might know and believe that God loves you.

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