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Step into Hope

One of my favorite leadership/management books is “The 4 Disciplines of Execution.” When in their research the authors asked corporate leaders around the world what they studied more in business school—strategy or execution—the immediate and overwhelming response was, “Strategy!” But when these same executives were asked which of the two they struggled with more, they answered with a resounding, “Execution!” The book, then, does a wonderful job addressing the crucial yet largely neglected topic of executing a plan in pursuit of a vision.

Biblical hope carries visionary overtones: it is not merely a wish, nor does it harbor doubt, rather it is the confident expectation of good, regardless of circumstance. Though based in what we cannot see, hope in Christ is nevertheless “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.”1 Alive in Him and by His grace, we eagerly and boldly live this life with spiritual eyes set on “the hope of salvation,”2 “the hope of the resurrection from the dead,”3 “the hope of eternal life,”4 and of the “hope of glory.”5 And we know that “hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”6

Faith, then, is “confidence in what we hope for and assurance of what we do not see.7 It has an action or “execution” connotation to it, for after defining faith, the writer of Hebrews walks us, his readers, through a “Hall of Faith”—men and women who acted on what they could not see yet knew to be true. We read of Abel, Noah, Abraham, Moses and others, who “saw [the things promised] and welcomed them from a distance.”8 Through faith, they “conquered kingdoms, administered justice . . .  became powerful in battle . . . received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection.”9 What did these and others in this Biblical “Who’s Who” of doers share in common? They stepped into their hope through actions of faith. Of these standard-bearers of belief, the writer of letter to the Hebrews said simply, “The world was not worthy of them.”10

Then like so many who have gone before us, may we also be “remembered for [our] work produced by faith, [our] labor prompted by love, and [our] endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.11

Father, You have poured out your love into our hearts through the sure and certain hope we find in Christ Jesus. Inspire us in Your love and strengthen us in this hope, that we would in faith carry out the good works You have planned for us today. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

1 Hebrews 6:19 ESV
2 1 Thessalonians 5:8
3 Acts 23:6
4 Titus 3:7
5 Colossians 1:17
6 Romans 5:5 NASB
7 Hebrews 11:1
8 Hebrews 11:13
9 Hebrews 11:33-35
10 Hebrews 11:38
11 1 Thessalonians 1:3

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Two or More, Plus One

My niece Meghan and her beau Kyle married a couple of weeks ago. They had asked my brother—her step-father— to officiate, but when Eric tested positive for COVID, they asked me to pinch-hit. I had officiated a marriage ceremony once before, so after several practice-runs alone at home, I thought I was ready. Yet as I sat quietly by myself during the final moments before the wedding, a young woman from the bridal party approached me and asked, “Has anyone prayed with you yet?” “No,” I responded, “I’ve been praying by myself.” “Would you like me to pray with you?” she asked in reply. “Yes, that would be great.” As we prayed, I received a peace and confidence higher than my own. “God’s Spirit is here,” I thought, “All will be well; enjoy this time.” I was ready. And the wedding was beautiful.

In his historical account, Luke noted that “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”1 One-on-one conversations with God—such as these between Jesus and His heavenly Father—deepen our relationship with Him who pursues relationship with us. Yet even Jesus solicited the prayer support of others on occasion, such as the time He “took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray.”2 In fact, He taught all of His disciples, “Truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”3

Have you ever noticed that agreeing in earnest prayer with others strengthens both our hope and the faith to go forward in it? It is evidence of our oneness in Christ—the unity that happens as the same Holy Spirit of God indwells each one of us and collectively all of us. When we pray together, we pray as one. Then instead of saying to people, “I will pray for you,” might we do better to stop and actually do it, even if to utter just one sentence of Spirit-led petition and thanksgiving? Jesus will join us there, and He will act. He promises.

“Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” —Ephesians 6:18

Father, thank You for uniting us in Christ, for putting Your one Holy Spirit in all who believe in Him. Lead us together in love and humility, that we would faithfully pray together as one, each of us supporting all of us. In Christ we pray. Amen.

1 Luke 5:16
2 Luke 9:28
3 Matthew 18:19-20

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Faith at Work

A pastor once shared this observation with me, “There is more to Christianity than simply being right.” His point was a good one: knowing and believing the Word of God is essential to eternal life, for “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord,”1 yet giving and serving in its truth and power is every bit as vital in the Kingdom of God. “As the body without the spirit is dead,” explained James, “so faith without deeds is dead.”2 Conversely, Paul warns against deeds without faith: “Everything that does not come from faith is sin,”3 he wrote. Faith and deeds—one does not live without the other; real faith lives in the company of obedience.4

Sometimes we are tempted to pursue good deeds in perpetual toil of gaining God’s favor. But works are not means of earning God’s approval; they are, instead, the gracious result of it. Paul reminds us, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”5 Then into all who trust in Him God breathes new life of eternal significance: “For we are God’s handiwork,” Paul continues, “created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”6 God saves us unto purposeful life.

Yet even our “yes!” to the Spirit’s daily call is the outcome of God’s grace in us: it is the overflow of our faith in His promises. “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,”7 Jesus promised, and indeed it does. For “we love because he first loved us,”8 and we “comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”9 Yes, Pastor, there is more to Christianity than simply being right—much more. For our acts of obedience flow from what we know to be true. So we go forward in faith today, for we have work to do.

“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”—2 Corinthians 9:8 ESV

Father, “fill [us] with the knowledge of [Your] will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that [we] may live a life worthy of [You] and please [You] in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God . . .”11 In Christ we pray. Amen.

1 Deuteronomy 8:3
2 James 2:26
3 Romans 14:3
4 James 2:17
5 Ephesians 2:8-9
6 Ephesians 2:10
7 John 8:32
8 1 John 4:19
9 2 Corinthians 1:4
10 Colossians 1:9-10