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By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.

In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.

The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But those who fail to develop in this way are shortsighted or blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their old sins.

– 2 Peter 1:3-9 [NLT]

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Elephant Encounter II | Serengeti National Park | February 2020

What’s your favorite movie? That was the question we were to discuss during dinner one night at our neighborhood group. I had several answers: Shawshank Redemption; Men in Black; Hunt for Red October; Star Trek. I didn’t buckle at the issue of choosing one favorite. I am a rule-bender afterall. But another person at the table made a big deal of choosing her favorite…or rather, not choosing a favorite. We had quite a fun discussion about it. And to this day, I’ll ask her, “What’s your favorite _______?” And she’ll smile knowingly.

Having said that, what’s your favorite of the list offered here? We are to add these to our faith:

  • moral excellence
  • knowledge
  • self-control
  • patient endurance
  • godliness
  • brotherly affection
  • love

Which of these would be your favorite? And why is that so? The obvious answer (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:13) is love. Love is one of the big three, along with faith and hope. Without love there is no real good benefit to anything we might do for God or our neighbor.

I notice, however, it is the last on Peter’s list here. That might be because love is the most important and final Christian virtue. Whether or not that is the case, these Christian virtues are to be added to one another – stacked upon one another if you will be active and productive and useful in your knowledge of Jesus Christ.

During these days of tumult, terror, dread, and disease, we may easily forget that God has given us all we need for our eternal salvation and wellbeing. It is now our time to leverage the gifts he has given in such a way that we serve others and become a source of blessing to them. So, what’s your favorite? Don’t stop there, keep growing and adding these jewels to your life of faith in God and love toward him and your neighbor.

Let us pray…

Heavenly Father, we turn, not panic, in response to this pandemic. We praise You as our Almighty Creator and sustainer. You are the Author of our days, our refuge and strength.

For those who are making decisions about closures and cancellations, we ask that You guide them to consider what is best for people not for profit. Lord that we may trust You and make the safest decisions for the populations they serve, teach, entertain and employ. Continue to pour out your creativity on us in the methods of staying connected and  productive through technology.

Deliver us from this disease, we pray, and let your glory fill the earth as you respond to our prayers. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

– From the National Day of Prayer Committee

God’s divine power has given us everything we need to live a godly life through our knowledge of the one who called us to share in his own glory and goodness. In this way he has given us the very great and precious gifts he promised, so that by means of these gifts you may escape from the destructive lust that is in the world, and may come to share the divine nature. For this very reason do your best to add goodness to your faith; to your goodness add knowledge; to your knowledge add self-control; to your self-control add endurance; to your endurance add godliness; to your godliness add Christian affection; and to your Christian affection add love. These are the qualities you need, and if you have them in abundance, they will make you active and effective in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if you do not have them, you are so shortsighted that you cannot see and have forgotten that you have been purified from your past sins. – 2 Peter 1:3-9

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Elephant Encounter | Serengeti National Park | February 2020

I had the job. It was even more than a minimum wage job. But I sure had a long way to go those first days. I was paired up with a 62-year-old journeyman. He worked me under the table. He would finish his ½ of the job, clean out, fill, and light his pipe. He’d take a couple of puffs while I finally finished my part of the job. Then the next car of bricks would pull up and we’d start over again.

I had the job but I certainly was not efficient or productive. I needed some skills, strength, on the job training, and experience. In retrospective I’m thankful that they didn’t fire me after the first week. But over time I gained skill, strength, and efficiency. I became the second-most-productive worker in the brick factory. Only one guy could out-work me. (Yes…you might sense a little bit of pride in that claim.)

We have the gift of salvation. We have everything we need to live as God’s people. God has called us to faith in Jesus. We have precious gifts of life and salvation. We have the forgiveness of sins. We have the hope of eternal life. Certainly that is enough. 

But God calls us toward a productive life. We are not called simply to be consumers and receivers. Jesus himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). God has given us precious gifts. We are most blessed when we give what we have received. 

So we add to our faith. Over these next days we’ll look at the elements of productivity God urges upon us. During these challenging times it is easy to retreat into a laid low life of lethargy. But there are opportunities for us to bless others.

Far from denying the challenges before us, God’s calling is so that we escape the destructive forces aligned against us. This is God’s calling and our true hope.

Let us Pray…

Heavenly Father, we turn, not panic, in response to this pandemic. We praise You as our Almighty Creator and sustainer. You are the Author of our days, our refuge and strength.

Lord, help us always to respond with love to our neighbors.  Prompt us to check on those near and dear to us as well as neighbors we might not have met yet who might need our help. Help us remember those around us who are most vulnerable to this virus and to help them by bringing them groceries or other things that will help keep them from exposure.

Deliver us from this disease, we pray, and let your glory fill the earth as you respond to our prayers.
In Jesus’ Name, amen.

– From the National Day of Prayer Committee

But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
    he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
    Cush and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my eyes,
    and honored, and I love you,
I give men in return for you,
    peoples in exchange for your life.

– Isaiah 43:1-4

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He sets the Boundaries for the Water and Waves | Cabo San Lucas | August 2019

The force of water is a force to be reckoned with. It can capsize cruise ships. It can devastate towns. It can destroy homes. It can push a person down so far that they cannot get up. The image used here by Isaiah is strong and evocative. The sea and waves occupy a special place of anxiety in the times of Isaiah.

You may recall the dramatic scene in the movie Titanic, when as the ship was sinking, the priest remained onboard and was reading from Revelation 21:1, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” The impact of “the sea was no more” became so very clear to me in that movie scene. The sea is a raging force not easily tamed.

But God tames the sea. He reminds Job, “Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb?” (Job 38:8). The implied answer: God. The Psalm says, “You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them” (Psalm 89:9). Jesus walked on water and stilled the storm at sea. God tames the sea. He rules the waters. He sets their boundaries.

Whether fighting the onslaught of a flash flood, the relentless rising water of a 56″ downpour, or the mighty waves at the break of the ocean shore, we stand no chance of stopping the waves and waters.

It seems the same is true of our tiny foe these days: the COVID-19 virus. Small, but powerful. Incipient and relentless. This little thing has a hold on us we cannot seem to escape. But God is over the waters and the viruses. He will have the final word.

His word to us in the meantime is, “Fear not.” As we wait we do so knowing he is with us. We do so believing that he loves us. We wait, hope and trust in him because he his shown himself faithful, trustworthy, good, and true. What’s more, he loves us. That’s an honor and status I do not want to live without!

So we pray…

Heavenly Father, we turn, not panic, in response to this pandemic. We praise You as our Almighty Creator and sustainer. You are the Author of our days, our refuge and strength.

Please incline our ears to truth and give us steadfast hearts as our confidence is in You. Give us discernment to divide rumor from reality, and help us to make wise decisions and listen to good information.

For all hospital and nursing home staff, doctors, nurses lab technicians, first responders, military personnel, and everyone who is at risk to exposure as they serve and care for those who are or may have been infected. Please protect them and give them and their families peace as they serve. Help them keep patients calm as they work and walk in faith in You.

Deliver us from this disease, we pray, and let your glory fill the earth as you respond to our prayers. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

– From the National Day of Prayer Committee

Here are the Bible passages we will consider today in our online Bible study. You are welcome to join us for this live Zoom video conference call at 9:15 AM today (March 29, 2020)  https://us04web.zoom.us/j/784014271

Click here for a PDF version of this Bible Study

Hope is one of the “Big Three”

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

– 1 Corinthians 13:13

Questions to ponder:
Am I living in faith, hope, and love during these difficult times?
Which is most important to me? 

Hope is closely related to “waiting” and trust.

Have you never heard?
    Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
    No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
29 He gives power to the weak
    and strength to the powerless.
30 Even youths will become weak and tired,
    and young men will fall in exhaustion.
31 But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
    They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
    They will walk and not faint.

– Isaiah 40:28-31

Questions to ponder:
Am I willing to wait for God during these difficult times?
How does trusting God help me to face these challenges?
What am I hoping for?

Christian Hope is secured by Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.

You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The outcome of your faith is the salvation of your souls.

– 1 Peter 1:3-9

Questions to ponder:
Is Jesus’ resurrection front and center in my Christian faith and life, or simply a nice sentiment?
Is Easter more about Jesus’ resurrection or about bunnies, Easter eggs, and chocolate rabbits?

Survivors hold onto hope even as they face the brutal facts: The Stockdale Paradox

Examples

 

The Lord has made me chew on gravel.
    He has rolled me in the dust.
17 Peace has been stripped away,
    and I have forgotten what prosperity is.
18 I cry out, “My splendor is gone!
    Everything I had hoped for from the Lord is lost!”

19 The thought of my suffering and homelessness
    is bitter beyond words.
20 I will never forget this awful time,
    as I grieve over my loss.
21 Yet I still dare to hope
    when I remember this:

22 The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
    His mercies never cease.
23 Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
    therefore, I will hope in him!”

25 The Lord is good to those who depend on him,
    to those who search for him.
26 So it is good to wait quietly
    for salvation from the Lord.
27 And it is good for people to submit at an early age
    to the yoke of his discipline:

28 Let them sit alone in silence
    beneath the Lord’s demands.
29 Let them lie face down in the dust,
    for there may be hope at last.
30 Let them turn the other cheek to those who strike them
    and accept the insults of their enemies.
31 For no one is abandoned
    by the Lord forever.
32 Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion
    because of the greatness of his unfailing love.
33 For he does not willingly bring affliction
    or grief to anyone.

– Lamentations 3:16-33

Questions to ponder:
Which is more challenging for me: holding onto hope, or facing the brutal facts?
How am I balancing these two tensions?

Hope is a forward-looking, fear-assuaging, Spirit-inspired outlook on life now and into eternity.

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” 16 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. 17 And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.

18 Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. 19 For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. 20 Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, 21 the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. 22 For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. 24 We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. 25 But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.)

– Romans 8:15-25

A question to ponder:
How patiently and confidently am I waiting for the Great Last Day?

Habits of Hopefulness

  • Hold
  • On
  • Pray
  • Expectantly

Habits of Hopefulness

  • Healthy Habits
  • Observe what you observe
  • Patience toward yourself and others
  • Exercise appropriate rhythms

Psalm 29:1-2, 10-11

Honor the Lord, you heavenly beings;
    honor the Lord for his glory and strength.
Honor the Lord for the glory of his name.
    Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.
10 The Lord rules over the floodwaters.
    The Lord reigns as king forever.
11 The Lord gives his people strength.
    The Lord blesses them with peace

Psalm 59:16-17

 I will sing about your power.
    Each morning I will sing with joy about your unfailing love.
For you have been my refuge,
    a place of safety when I am in distress.
17 O my Strength, to you I sing praises,
    for you, O God, are my refuge,
    the God who shows me unfailing love.

Psalm 89:1-2

I will sing of the Lord’s unfailing love forever!
    Young and old will hear of your faithfulness.
Your unfailing love will last forever.
    Your faithfulness is as enduring as the heavens.

Psalm 119:105

Your word is a lamp to guide my feet
    and a light for my path.

Psalm 149

Praise the Lord!

Sing to the Lord a new song.
    Sing his praises in the assembly of the faithful.

O Israel, rejoice in your Maker.
    O people of Jerusalem, exult in your King.
Praise his name with dancing,
    accompanied by tambourine and harp.
For the Lord delights in his people;
    he crowns the humble with victory.
Let the faithful rejoice that he honors them.
    Let them sing for joy as they lie on their beds.

Let the praises of God be in their mouths,
    and a sharp sword in their hands—
to execute vengeance on the nations
    and punishment on the peoples,
to bind their kings with shackles
    and their leaders with iron chains,
to execute the judgment written against them.
    This is the glorious privilege of his faithful ones.

Praise the Lord!

 

 

 

God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. 19 This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.  – Hebrews 9:18-19

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Leopard | Serengeti National Park | February 2020

I was a fixture at the Lutheran Chapel of Hope at Southeast Missouri State University some 45 years ago. In fact, at this time 45 years ago Diane and I were making final plans and arrangements for our wedding there. Hope is a special treasure for us all. In fact, it is key to survival.

Admiral James Stockdale was the highest-ranking prisoner of war in the Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam conflict. He was an astute observer and clear thinker, and noticed that as people came into the prison camp there were two groups who didn’t survive. One group refused to hope for anything good whatsoever. They saw only the brutal facts before them. There was no chance of getting out, they thought. And they lived down to their expectations.

The other group that didn’t make it were those who had a pie-eyed optimism about getting out of the POW camp. “We’ll be out by Easter,” they said. “We’ll be home by the 4th of July. We’ll get released in time for Thanksgiving…Christmas…New Year…and on and one. But the 4th of July came and went, and they were still there. Same for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year. Their optimistic thinking did them no good.

The group that survived were those who faced the brutal facts and yet held on to hope. During these difficult days, we must face the brutal facts and hold onto hope. That means we look to God and his promise and his word. Hope founded in God is not just a faint wish for a better tomorrow. Hope laid on God’s word and promise is sure and steadfast. It anchors our souls.

Hope also anchors itself on the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus rose from the dead. He is living proof of the faithfulness of God, and the blessed future we have in him. Jesus is alive and we who hope in him have a living hope. It will not be taken from us.

That doesn’t mean that we’ll always be happy, or never face difficult disappointments. Jesus experienced great physical agony, emotional and spiritual distress. He also said, “In this world you will have troubles.” But he also said, “Rejoice! I have overcome the world” (cf. John 16:33).

On the other hand when life is going well, we must remember that sometimes troubles do come. “Why do you have a rainy-day fund? Because it rains!” This is the philosophy of Dave Ramsey. And it’s solid. Face the brutal facts. Rain will come. But houses prepared for rains will withstand the rain. A life built on believing the promises of God and living in obedience to his commands and alignment with his word will stand the storms that come.

Need an anchor for your soul? Hope in God. Wait for him. Trust in him. He will keep you safe in the storms. And pray. Hope: Hold on. Pray Expectantly.

Heavenly Father, we turn, not panic, in response to this pandemic. We praise You as our Almighty Creator and sustainer. You are the Author of our days, our refuge and strength.

Please incline our ears to truth and give us steadfast hearts as our confidence is in You.
Give us discernment to divide rumor from reality, and help us to make wise decisions and listen to good information.

Deliver us from this disease, we pray, and let your glory fill the earth as you respond to our prayers. In Jesus’ Name, amen. 

From the National Day of Prayer Committee

Lord, my heart is not proud;
    my eyes are not haughty.
I don’t concern myself with matters too great
    or too awesome for me to grasp.
Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself,
    like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother’s milk.
    Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, put your hope in the Lordnow and always.

– Psalm 131

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Lioness Resting | Serengeti National Park | February 2020 [NOTE: We were less than 25 feet from this lion – in the safety of our safari vehicle!]

Some call it irresponsibility. Some call it a cop out. I call it discernment. There simpy exist things too great for me to grasp. I have no trouble admitting that. Perhaps, in fact, I may be a bit too prone to let things go – too laissez-faire. But there are also those times when I take on the weight of the world. I worry about things I cannot control. I agonize over things I cannot understand. I fret over things I cannot influence. It’s called useless worry. Borrowing trouble. 

I heard of a new serenity prayer:

“Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot plan,
The courage to plan the things I can, and
The wisdom to know the difference.”

I do not think of such an attitude as irresponsible or even laissez-faire. For I do not simply let things go, I pray. I ask God for help. I live the serenity prayer: Praying for God’s help with things I have no business trying to control, and his Holy Spirit to give me courage to deal with the things I must, and wisdom to discern which is which. 

 

Dr. Cameron Wiggins Bellm, pastor of Woodhaven Baptist Church in Seattle, Wash., offered this prayer – shared recently by Jerry Kieschnick, President Emeritus of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.

May we who are merely inconvenienced remember those whose lives are at stake.
May we who have no risk factors remember those most vulnerable.
May we who have the luxury of working from home remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent.
May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close remember those who have no options.
May we who have had to cancel our trips remember those who have no safe place to go.
May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market remember those who have no margin at all.
May we who settle in for a quarantine at home remember those who have no home.
During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other, let us yet find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbors. Amen.