Hope Above All

This past week we experienced the first anniversary of the most devastating attack this country has faced since the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Also experienced was a sense of hope that may not have been realized by many.  Even in the darkest of hours we need to realize that there is always hope.  This is especially true for those whose faith is in Almighty God!  Just the fact that we have had a one-year anniversary should tell us that there is hope.  What must have those immediately affected by those attacks have thought during and immediately following them.

In our morning lesson we looked at three separate, historical and biblically recorded events that were of in their own way dark and despairing days, yet when we investigate them, we see that even then hope was a part of God’s equation.

The first event we looked at was the great flood.  Imagine if you can everything under water, to include the highest mountaintops.  Because of the exceeding wickedness of men, all living things were destroyed!  Except for one who found favor in the eyes of the Lord!  The future of mankind was preserved because of Noah and his faith in God.  Man had hope even through the cataclysmic event of the flood! 

The second event we regarded was the destruction of the cities on the Plain of Shinar, or Sodom and Gomorrah as they are more widely known.  Once again, God looked down on His creation and saw wickedness abounding in these cities and He resolved to destroy them.  In preparing to carry out His plan we see the insertion of hope.  God shared His intention with Abraham and in the course of their exchange Abraham began to seek to help the righteous.  During this exchange God agreed not to destroy these cities if only as few as 10 righteous people were found.  We know the “rest of the story” and that these cities were indeed destroyed along with all their inhabitants.  That is, except for Lot, his wife and his daughters.  His wife, of course, perished during their escape.  God provides a way of escape, in other words, He gives us hope, even in the face of destruction.  We only need to turn to Him to receive it.

The last event in which hope can be found in the midst of hopelessness was the death of Jesus Christ.  If you’re interested in how you can have hope in Him, come see us and we’ll show you what the bible says about the great hope we can have, only in Jesus Christ! (Acts 4:12)

Copyright © 2002, Nolan P. Rutter

Encouragement Revisited

May God bless you and keep you!  What a wonderful sentiment!  Knowing that we have a God that blesses and watches over us can stimulate us on to greater things.  Encouragement may be the greatest method we have in staying the course in our Christian walk, yet it is often the thing we either neglect or minimize in our efforts. 

Both Sunday lessons looked at this aspect of our lives and how we are affected one way or the other.  The first thing we need to consider is what is meant by encouragement.  Simply stated, encourage means to build up stronger.  That would indicate that something is hindering our strength or not allowing us to grow in certain areas.  What could be doing that?  John clearly states in his first letter that the world has a tremendous attraction for us, and his instruction is that we are not to love the world or the things in the world (1 John 2).  In the Gospel of John, we read that Jesus understood the trials that this world offers when He said, “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

In Jesus’ statement we see the undeniable truth about the world, but we also receive encouragement from Him as well.  God has always been a tremendous source of encouragement to those seeking Him.  In 2 Kings 6, we see the seemingly desperate situation with Elisha and his servant surrounded by the Arameans.  When Elisha prayed to have the eyes of his servant opened that he might see the spiritual armies that outnumbered the Arameans, God answered his prayer and provided the encouragement he needed.  God also provides encouragement to us through His indwelling spirit we receive at our baptism and through His word that we have available to us.  Paul wrote to the church at Rome saying, “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans15:4) While Paul wrote that to them, I believe that we can apply that same sentiment to our own lives today with all the Scriptures.

While we are greatly encouraged by God, the most readily available source of encouragement should be our own brothers and sisters in faith.  There are a number of examples of encouragement provided by God’s children to God’s children as well as instructions to encourage each other.  For a few examples, look at these scriptures; Colossians 4:8, 1 Thessalonians 3:2, 5:11 and 5:14.

Copyright © 2002, Nolan P. Rutter

The Great Encourager

Have you ever had someone come to your side at a time of difficulty?  We all have an image that comes to mind of an individual who has provided encouragement, comfort, exhortation, or consolation during a difficult time in our lives.  That person is a blessing from God and when we consider the topic of encouragement, one would be negligent in not remembering a great New Testament example!

Joseph was called Barnabas by the apostles because his character was like that of an encourager.  In fact, the name Barnabas means son of encouragement.  We can find four examples of Barnabas providing encouragement in the book of Acts, that more than like had a profound impact on the establishment of the church.  In Acts chapter 4 we find the infant church growing tremendously and as result needy persons were identified with the church.  While all gave to support the churches needy, Barnabas was identified with his generosity.  One version says he sold his farm, a piece of property worth a great deal and gave that money to the church.

In Acts chapters 9 and 11 we find him providing encouragement to a new Christian who had a history of murder and imprisonment of Christians.  Saul found that being a Christian was not the easiest thing for him but Barnabas came to his aid and presented his case before the apostles.  And when the church began to grow greatly in the area of Antioch, Barnabas went and sought out Saul for his assistance for the work there. 

The last example we’ll look at is found in Acts chapter 15.  Paul desired to return to churches established on the first missionary journey.  Barnabas and Paul disagreed strongly on whether to take John Mark with them, with Paul not wanting to.  On the first journey Mark had deserted them less than halfway through the trip; he failed to meet his responsibilities.  To his rescue came Barnabas, in that rather than go with Paul, he and John Mark left together on a different journey. 

When we look at what Barnabas did in these examples, we can conclude that his encouragement was instrumental in Paul continuing in his work for the Lord, a work that includes nearly half of what we know as the New Testament.  Not to be left out would be John Mark, who later penned one of the four Gospels of Christ.  Let’s strive to be like Barnabas and seek ways to be an encourager for the Lord.

Copyright © 2002, Nolan P. Rutter

Poor in Spirit

In Luke chapter 16 we read of the story of the rich man and Lazarus.  Lazarus was a beggar who was placed outside the home of the rich man each day to beg.  All he desired was the crumbs that fell from the table of the rich man.  It would appear that those crumbs were what sustained his life and without them he would die, which eventually did happen.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus opened up His discourse on the character of Christians by telling us that “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.”  This is the basic attitude of those who would follow God, the way He desires.

First, we need to realize that we are made up of both spirit and flesh.  The physical body would of course be flesh, but that which was imparted to us at our new creation is spirit.  Scripture teaches that these battle against one another and we have input as to which will win out.  Jesus says in Mark 8:36 “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?”  The physical things of this world do nothing to prepare us for eternity, so we must focus on the spiritual things if we desire a home with God one day.

The idea of being poor in spirit means that we realize that our spiritual survival rests in a greater being than ourselves.  We must understand that we are sinners and that as a result of our sins we have been separated from God.  Being poor in spirit results in a desire to seek God, realizing He and only He can provide the spiritual food that will result in our spiritual survival.

We mustn’t forget the reward to the poor in spirit!  If we are poor in spirit God promises we will have a home in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Most of us will say that we desire to go to Heaven but if we don’t find ourselves as “poor in spirit” we will be sorely disappointed.  Won’t you do a self-evaluation on your spiritual condition?  It is a matter of “spiritual life or death!”

Copyright © 2002, Nolan P. Rutter

What Are You Hungry For?

“I’m so hungry I could eat a horse!”  How many times in your life have you heard that phrase?  I know I have probably said it a number of times.  At other times we ask one another what you are hungry for.  We may even respond that we “have a hankering for” something in particular.  This is all well and good, but Jesus has given us insight into a different hunger and a different thirst.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled.”  I’ll let it stand that you know what hunger and thirst are and move on to righteousness.  Simply stated it means that one is in a “right standing” with God.  We are able to be in His presence without guilt of our sins being charged against us.  The only way that can happen though is through the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ by following those things that lead us to it.  God is Holy and as such, cannot be in the company of sin or those whose sins are not atoned for, thanks be to God for His Son’s selfless and cleansing sacrifice! 

But if we investigate thoroughly what Jesus speaks of, we see that we will be filled with righteousness only if we “hunger and thirst” for it!  Friends, we cannot overlook this great truth!  Many today are “nibblers” or approach seeking righteousness in “moderation”.  We must be voracious in our appetite to seek the blessing of righteousness or we may not receive the blessing of finding a place in the company of God.  Remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:20 “…unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Look closely!  The blessed are those who are filled with righteousness.  Those who are filled are those who “hunger and thirst”!  Honestly ask yourself now, do you hunger and thirst for righteousness?

Copyright © 2002, Nolan P. Rutter