Dear Hope Church Family!
As of today, the President has strongly encouraged and our Governor (Northam) has echoed the same as to reduce our meetings to 10 or less. While neither the President nor the Governor specifically mentioned churches, it is implied that we are included. The Governor has actually put a ban in place for no more than ten people in certain establishments (bars, restaurants, theatres and fitness centers). Again, while he did not state churches specifically it is most certainly implied. In light of this new information we want to do what the Bible instructs us to do in Romans 13:1-7.
"Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. 6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor." Romans 13:1-7
We want to comply with the request of our Governor and will in no way seek to defy our government. As long as they do not ask us to do something that is contrary to the Word of God, we have a Biblical obligation to obey the orders from those appointed over us. Having said that, we are going to go strictly online for the next two weeks. We will keep service times as normal on both Wednesday and Sunday. We will broadcast from the sanctuary so there will be some in attendance at Hope Church but only the necessary people, which (most know who they are already) I will personally contact to ensure we are all on the same page.
For those of you not involved in production we are asking that you stay home and worship with us online. I have suggested that those who desire can even meet up at another Hope Church partners home and still worship together (keeping it under 10 people of course). This is also a time where you could invite your neighbors over to your house to watch service and fellowship with you. This is a great time for personal evangelism realizing that the church is not now, has never been, nor will it ever be an actual building but “5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house[a] to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5.)
The church has survived for centuries and been through numerous infectious diseases, natural disasters, famines, persecutions and trials yet it still remains one of the strongest institutions on the face of the earth today. The church is not going anywhere. This is an opportunity for evangelism, church growth, Kingdom Expansion and for Jesus’ name to be made famous throughout the land. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9).”
We will get through this and come out even stronger than before. This is a time of great trial but with great trials comes stronger faith, deeper understanding, revelation from God, renewed strength and greater hope. God is still on the throne and will forever be.
Blessings to each and every one of you. I am blessed to labor in the harvest fields with you. You are an amazing group of believers and I believe we have only just begun at Hope Church. The enemy is moving quickly to destroy things, but know this, OUR GOD IS MUCH BIGGER AND FAR GREATER than anything the enemy does or will do.
We will see you online Sunday at 11am live from the sanctuary of Hope Church Newport News. We won’t air tonight in order to prepare everything for Sunday, but I encourage you to come together in your homes and invite your friends and neighbors. Be the light in this dark time, be the hope in these times of seemingly hopelessness, and be the rock for those who are fearful and having a hard time dealing with what’s happening.
Pastor Russ and Lady Saffi
Hope Church Newport News
There are times when we see things that we can not explain. There are times when words are not enough to explain what we see. Then there are times when what we see explains everything. Today was one of those times for me. As I was driving this afternoon, I pass a father who is pulling his child in a wagon down the street. By all accounts it was a beautiful picture of a father enjoying his children, spending quality time with
Here we are in day 15 of our 21 days fast. I continually pray that this fast has been beneficial for each of you and that God is pulling you in closer to His side and speaking to you and revealing to you things as never before. I pray that you now have clarity and vision that you did not have before. I pray that God is speaking to you about your life and your future. Finally, I pray that you are continually being encouraged with each passing day that this year will be different. This year will be like no other year before it and that you are excited about the future both on an individual level and for Hope Church.
Today is the 14th day of our 21 day fast. Only 7 more days to go. I pray that God is strengthening you, renewing you, restoring you and blessing you during this time of prayer and fasting. We all have taken this step to deny our flesh for a spiritual purpose and I cannot wait to hear the testimonies of 2018 that will come from this act of obedience to God and desire to be closer to Him.
I don’t know about you but each day of this fast has brought different challenges. The enemy has attacked me in different ways and some were stronger than others. I have been attacked in the body, mind and soul while on this journey of seeking God. Some days were really tough just to make it to the next. Through it all I can truly say God has been faithful and I have learned to trust Him more and more knowing that He has my future in His hands and my best interest in His heart.
I pray that today is going well for you on this chilly Monday morning. We have been in a season of fasting and prayer and I pray that God is speaking to you and you are drawing closer to Him. Today I want us to focus on the lasting joy of Jesus in our lives. Many times we can have joy for a moment or two but life quickly can sap that joy from our lives. There is however a lasting joy that only comes from a relationship of compete surrender to Jesus.
Today is the tenth day of our 21 day fast. For those of you who missed it we had an amazing time in the presence of God last night at our worship night. Let me encourage you to make every effort to come out next Friday night at 7pm. I promise you that you will be blessed. It is a time of prayer and worship together as we seek the Lord for 2018 individually and as the people of Hope Church. There was a sweet presence of God in the room last night. We had some powerful prayers and prophecies come forth last night and I am looking forward to next Friday. The time is from 7pm to 9pm but the time really flew by. When 9pm came no one wanted to leave. I wish we could have stayed all night and that is something that we will be looking into in the near future. God is good and I am so grateful for all of you who came to spend time in the presence of Almighty God.
I pray that each of you are doing well. We are moving right along on this 21 day fast and each day seems to bring with it victories and challenges for many of us. Let me encourage you to continue in this fast and do not give up or quit. God always has and always will honor anything we do that puts Him front and center of our lives. May God grant you peace, strength, willpower, endurance to continue and finish strong.
Today is day number 9 of our 21 days. Yesterday we focused on God’s love and Jesus as a loving Savior. Today I want you to focus on Jesus as the Life Giver. John 14:6 Jesus says “I am the way, the truth and the life.” He is the way to eternal life, He is the only truth and He is the one who gives life. In Him we have life. Jesus says in John10:10 “10 The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to
Welcome to week two, day eight of our 21 day fast. Prayerfully we are all making strides in our pursuit of God and His will for our lives for 2018. Prayerfully we have now come into a place where we are hearing God more clearly and beginning to experience His presence like never before. I myself am having dreams for the first time in a very long time and they are not “pizza dreams” but real vivid dreams. God is speaking to me and pursuing me even as I pursue Him. It is a wonderful place to be and one that I desire to be in at every place in my life, not just when I am fasting and praying.
Today I would like us to focus on purity and how we can make purity a part of our daily lives. We often hear this phrase when it comes to young people and marriage, but purity is far more than abstaining from sex until marriage. Purity is about the state of your heart before an almighty God. Today I want you to meditate on purity and the state of your heart before God.
The Psalmist states in Psalm 24:1-6 “The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, The world and those who dwell therein.2 For He has founded it upon the seas, And established it upon the waters.3 Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? 4 He who has clean handsand a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, Nor sworn deceitfully…
Those who may stand in God’s holy place or as the writer of Hebrews states those who will go boldly before the throne of grace are those who are children of God. Those who have clean hands and a pure heart. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 11 concerning taking the Lords Supper that we should examine ourselves because we should not take the Lord’s Supper with impurities in our lives. Jesus himself says in Matthew 5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” When we go before the Lord in prayer and in fasting it is important that we have a pure heart. It is important that our lives are free of all the junk that gets in the way of us and God.
We find other scriptures that speak of the importance of purity. 2 Timothy 2:19-21 19 Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ[a] depart from iniquity.”20 But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor.21 Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.
God knows who are His children by the state of their heart. Proverbs 21:2 “every way of man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.” God wants our hearts and he wants them pure. David in Psalm 51 asked God for a clean heart, other translation say pure heart, after his sin with Bathsheba. We are to keep ourselves from iniquity and therefore be a vessel of honor, useful for God and prepared for every good work. Keeping our hearts pure allows us to be used by God in big and powerful ways and it prepares us for what God wants to do in our lives. James 4:8 tells us that we are to draw near to God and he will draw near to us and immediately after that statement he says that we are to cleanse our hands (you sinners) and purify our hearts (you double-minded). We cannot draw near to God nor can He draw near to us with sin our hearts or if we are double-minded (unstable, wavering, indecisive). Sin separates us from God. That is why the bible talks so much about purity because it is the only way to keep the relationship between God and us open and vibrant. Purity is of utmost importance if we are to see Jesus revealed in our lives and see God’s purpose and plan revealed to us.
I want to be clear on this however and make the distinction that purity does not mean perfect. Usually we hear this word and say well God knows my heart and I can never be perfect etc. You are right that God knows our heart. Jeremiah says that the heart is “deceitfully wicked above all things, and desperately sick…” This is the state of our hearts. Meaning without Jesus in our lives the heart is full of sin and wickedness, that is the state of the flesh and we have to constantly kill the flesh because of its propensity towards wickedness.
So saying “God knows my heart” is often a copout for not wanting to change or it’s a copout because you see purity as being perfect and you can’t be perfect. Again, you are right no one can ever be perfect, but the beauty is that God is not asking us to. God is not saying we must be perfect or without sin. We are human, and we will make mistakes, fall, sin and get it wrong. God is saying however, that when we pray and when we fast and when we make decisions to draw closer to God, to seek first the kingdom of God, then we are to first purify our hearts. We are to cleanse our minds and our hearts from any known sin. God desires purity in our lives and it is Him who gives it to us through forgiveness, mercy and grace.
I want to encourage you on this 7th day of fasting and prayer to continually purify your hearts every day before the Lord. His mercy is renewed every morning. Each day He allows us to wake up is a day to cleanse our lives and purify our hearts through His forgiveness, mercy and grace. As you pray today, ask God to purify your heart and give you the strength to live a life that is pleasing to Him. Ask Holy Spirit to guide you and be sensitive to His leading as He will help you continually live a life of purity for Him.
Previously we have focused on God’s Presence, Power, Provision and Purpose. I will quickly share with you what yesterday was supposed to be. I wanted Monday to focus on God’s Plan for your life. You may say, isn’t purpose and plan somewhat the same thing? No. God’s purpose is His will for your life. His plan is how He will get you to fulfill your purpose. Think of it like this, purpose is the ultimate goal and plan is the strategy given to reach the ultimate goal. God has a purpose for you and He has a perfect plan that will lead you to achieve that purpose in your life.
This is our 4th day of the 21 day fast. Prayerfully by now, you have settled in to fasting and have been experiencing God in a new and powerful way. As the days progress, you will notice that you have more clarity. You will become more sensitive to the things of the Spirit. You will begin to hear God’s voice more clearly and even nature around you will become more vivid and you will be more in tune to your spiritual life. The Word of God will fill you like never before and the Holy Spirit will illuminate scripture to you as you read and study.
I want to encourage you to spend quality time each day before the Lord. To sit at Jesus’ feet and allow Him to minister to you, love on you and speak to you. Don’t let this time of prayer become routine or a time to just lay your petitions before Him and walk away. Allow time and room for God to speak with you. God always desires to speak to you each and every day. The truth is that, most of us are too busy to stop and listen. So, during this time of consecration, please take the time to be still before God and truly listen for Him to speak to you.
So far, we have concentrated on His presence, His power, and His provision. Today, I would like you to meditate on His purpose for you. Each and everyone of us has a purpose. We are not here at this day and this time in history by accident. God created us and placed us here for a purpose. There is something that needs to be done for the kingdom of God that God only wants you to do. He has created you and gave you the necessary skills, gifts, talents and resources to accomplish it. The struggle for most of us is finding out what that purpose exactly is. Do I serve a purpose? Can I be used for something greater than my current meager existence? YES!
I want you to concentrate on His purpose today during this time of fasting and prayer. If you do not know or are not sure of your purpose, this is a perfect time to allow God to speak to you. In times of prayer and fasting you can go before God and ask Him to show you who you are and what you are here for. It’s a perfect time because through fasting you are denying the flesh for a spiritual purpose. That is to become closer to God and know Him more intimately. Spend time at the feet of Jesus today and let Him show you who you really are and what He has called you to do.
The Bible has much to say about purpose. Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” Now we know that in context this scripture was not written for us, it was specifically stated to the children of Israel. However, this does not discount the truth stated in this scripture. The truth is that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The mission of God has not changed nor has the heart of God changed towards His creation. The truth in this scripture is that God loves us and thinks about us more than the sands of the seas, the Psalmist says (Psalm 139:18). He knitted us together for a purpose in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13-16). He created us for a purpose and had us in mind at creation. And Jesus had us on His mind at the cross. You are important and have a purpose. God still thinks of us and His desire is to give you and me an expected end as the KJV states. That is a great statement because you cannot have an expected end if you do not have a purpose. If you are not here for a reason, then there is no expected end…but God has an expected end for you and me. He has a plan for us and a purpose for us that will lead us to His expected end and our purpose.
John 15:16 Jesus says that we did not choose Him, but He chose us and appointed us to go and bear fruit and abide in Him. You cannot be chosen by someone if you have no purpose. The very fact that someone chooses you (spouse, boss, friends etc.) means that you have a purpose.
Spend time today meditating on your purpose. You have been called by God, chosen by Jesus and the Holy Spirit abides within you. WOW! No one would spend that much time on creating us, or send His Son to die for us, or send His Spirit to abide in us, if we did not have a purpose in this world. You have purpose today. Take time to thank God and worship Him because He has given you purpose and has a plan for your life. If you know your purpose reaffirm and solidify it with Christ today. If you do not truly know your purpose, then sit before the Lord and allow Him to show you.
Blessings to Each of You,
Today is the 3rd day of our fast. I pray that you are truly pressing in and seeking God during this time of consecration. I pray that by now you are getting adjusted to fasting. For me, it is always the first three or four days that are the most difficult. Getting rid of the things I love to eat and do are very difficult and my body craves them especially for the first three days. However, I am very excited to be on this fast because I look forward to the afterward. In Joel chapter 2, God tells the people of Israel to fast and get their hearts right with God. He then says afterwards I will pour out my spirit on all flesh. It was only after they had turned back to God, got their hearts right and fasted and prayed that God would do this. I am so looking forward to the afterward for me, you and Hope Church.
Each day, I want to give you something to focus on for that day. We have focused on the presence of God and the power of God. Today I would like you to focus on the provision of God. Psalm 34:10 “the young lions lack and suffer hunger; but those who seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing.” If we seek the Lord, we will lack nothing. God is our provider. Psalm 37:25 “I have been young, and now I am old; (I can relate) yet I have not see the righteous forsaken, nor his descendants begging bread.” The Psalmist is saying that those who are righteous (our hearts right with God) will not have to beg or worry because God is our provider.
“Matthew echo’s these verses in Psalms in Matthew 6:33 “but seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” “All these things” are what Jesus speaks about in chapter 6. What we eat, drink or wear i.e. our daily provisions will all be taken care of if we would just put God first and continually seek Him.
2 Corinthians 9:8 “and God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.” (bold and italics added) I love this verse because Paul is saying that through the grace of God given to us in Christ Jesus, as His children, we will be sufficient in all things and have what we need to live for Christ and do the work He has called us to do. That is encouraging to me and I pray it is to you. Paul echo’s this verse in Philippians 4:19 “and my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory.” He is our provider and need supplier. We do not have to worry about things we just need to live in posture of thanksgiving and praise seeking Him first and He will constantly provide. That does not mean we have everything we want or think we should have but we will always have what we need and have it in abundance.
Finally, I know that during this fast we can get weary and life itself has made many of us weary. Let me encourage you to continue in this fast and give God your best. I know it can be hard and I know it is a sacrifice (remember Romans 12:1) but God will honor it I promise. Some of you may experience answers to prayer immediately, or open doors a month after the fast still some may not get answers for a year. It’s God’s perfect timing not ours. I am just encouraging you to not get weary and to keep your eyes focused on Jesus during this fast and beyond. Galatians 6:9 “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” Do not lose heart, do not give up, do not stop living for Christ. Press into Him during this time of fasting and praying. As the Lord tells the people of Israel in 2 Chronicles 20:17 “You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, who is with you…”
The battles are not yours. You do not need to fight them. Just position yourself (through prayer and fasting) and stand still and see the salvation of the Lord who is with you and for you. Your victories are near!!!!!! Press in today.
Blessings to Each of You,
Hopefully your first day of fasting was successful. Even if it was not that's ok. Just try again today and let Jesus give you the strength to make fasting a successful and joyous process. I promise you that if you stick with it you will see prayers answered, chains broken, doors open and your life changed forever. God will reward you for your obedience to His Word that calls us to times of prayer and fasting.
Yesterday I asked you to focus on God's presence and spend time in His word and in personal worship as you get into His presence then just sit in His presence and take the time to speak to God and hear from God.
Today I am asking you to focus on God's power.
1 Chronicles 29:11 says:
Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.
God is powerful. He is sovereign and reigns over all things in heaven and on earth. Let that come as a relief to you today. You don't have to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. It is not yours to carry it belongs to God. Let Him have your worries and cares today and concentrate on His power to see you through this fast and even the situations you are currently dealing with.
There is even more good news today as we seek to press into God and sit at the feet of Jesus through fasting and prayer. God is powerful and that same power lives in you.
He sent us Jesus and Jesus says that He has given us the same power and authority that His Father gave Him (Matthew 28:18-20). Paul states in Romans 8:11 that the same Spirit that rose Jesus from the dead lives in us.
Jesus has given us His Holy Spirit to be within us and empower us, to help us and guide us. So today as we fast and pray and read His Word lets thank God and praise Him for His power. Meditate on the fact that He is all powerful and is sovereign over all things.Remind yourself today that you are victorious through Christ. You will be victorious through this time of fasting and prayer and your will be victorious in 2018.
Blessing to Each of You,
I am so excited for this 21 day journey together. As we begin our fast today I wanted to send you a little encouragement and guidance for each day. Today I want you to focus on God's Presence.
David in Psalm 51:10-11 said:
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from Your presence,
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
David yearned for the Presence of the Lord and he knew the importance of being in God's Presence. Though he was a King and could have anything he wanted, the thing that was most precious, the thing that David knew he could literally not live without, was the Presence of Almighty God in his life. Other passages in the Psalm make this longing of David's heart clear:
11 You will show me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
18 The Lord is near to all who call upon Him,
To all who call upon Him in truth.
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him...
As you are fasting today I want you to concentrate on Jesus. Find time to be still before the Lord and wait on Him. The enemy would have you concentrate on other things and issues may arise as you fast but keep your eyes on Jesus and seek His presence. Find time today to get alone with God, pray, read your word and wait on Him.
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Draw near to Him today. Cleanse your heart each day of this fast. God will give you mercy(its renewed every morning) and the grace to make it through the fast. As the days progress you will find it easier to fast, easier to get into the presence of God and much easier to hear God speak.
Finally, we all have needs and desires. We all have things we have been hoping for and praying for. During this time of fasting, as you draw closer to God, begin bringing those needs, desires, hopes and dreams to Him in prayer.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. 8Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.Make your request known to God everyday in the time you spend alone with Him and, as Paul says in Philippians 4:8, meditate on the good and pure things. Seek first the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33) and everything else will come into clear focus in your life.
Blessings and Grace to Each of You,
Everywhere I look today I see people consumed with the latest and the greatest. People concerned with themselves and their own interest, happiness and personal gain. Sadly this list includes many professing Christians. As the old adage goes, we “get all we can, can all we get, and sit on the can.” We are so far removed from the example set forth in Acts chapter two where everyone was willing to help everyone else. Jesus said in Luke 12:15, “Watch out! Be on guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Paul tells us in Philippians 2:3 to “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves”. Yet many of us are promoting ourselves, building our platform and seeking to enlarge our own kingdom instead of God’s.
Christianity has conformed to our culture so much so that there is no clear difference between the world and the church. Church’s are run like fast food establishments. We go in, get what we want and get out. I often don’t know if I should run to the altar or order a number 3 with an apple pie. The message being preached is self-centered and it is not clear whom we are even preaching about. Many leaders are seeking to enlarge their churches and harp on money, yet most of that money does not go to sharing the gospel but to pay the bills and large salaries of the church.
Our pursuit after material things and selfish ambitions has distorted our view of truth. We treat the gospel the same way we treat the new “thing” in our life. We receive this glorious hope found in Jesus Christ and sure we are happy for a while but it gets old and we move on to something new. We go to church seeking only things that will benefit us, and when we receive no benefit we throw it to the wayside. Can I tell you that the gospel is way more than “feeling good,” large numbers, fancy sermons, great videos or the latest technology. These things are good and can be helpful but if they are not being done to the glory of the Lord, if they are not being done to bring the lost to Jesus, then they are of no use to God.
The gospel is life changing and more powerful than anything else in this world. We have the power to change the world just by sharing Christ with those within our circle of influence. The gospel was never meant to be canned or bottled up inside us but to be spread through our actions, lifestyle and voice. The gospel is for whoever shall believe (John 3:16). You were once a whoever but now you are a child of God. Yet there are millions of whoevers still waiting to hear of the glorious hope you have kept bottled up inside you. Remember that Jesus did not die only so you could know Him. He died so that all may come to know Him. We have a mandate and a responsibility to tell everyone we come in contact with about Jesus (Matthew 28:19; 1 Peter 3:15).
I want to encourage you this Christmas season as we celebrate the birth of Christ to take some time and think about what is important to you. Is it sharing the gospel with everyone you know or getting the latest technology? Let us not be consumed by worldly things. Let us be consumed with the fact that many people will die and go to hell if you do not tell them about Jesus.
This Christmas let us be consumed with the desire to tell others about Him. Let us be consumed with sharing our gifts, talents and resources with those less fortunate than us. Let us be consumed with being the light of Christ to the world. Let us be consumed with others and not ourselves. Remember life is about what you give rather than what you get and we have within us the greatest gift: life and life more abundantly that can only be found in Jesus Christ.
A good friend of mine passed away last week after his brave fight against cancer. He was a good man who loved the Lord and lived his life in a way that honored God and those around him. He will be sorely missed. He was a very private person and while we all knew he was battling cancer again we did not know he was near death. It was shocking for all who knew him as we had just seen him a few weeks ago. My only wish is that I had one more day with him. One more day to say goodbye. One more day to tell him how he was a positive influence in my life. One more day to tell him I appreciated him. One more day to thank him for always encouraging me and lifting me up. Just one more day; but the reality is that I don’t have nor will I ever get another day with my friend here on earth. The good news is that I will see him again in glory.
His death has reminded me once again that life is truly fleeting. James 4:13-14 says 13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” We truly do not know what will happen to us tomorrow and tomorrow is never promised. Even if we do wake up tomorrow, the length of our lives in the breadth of human time is minuscule, a mist, a vapor.
His death has also reminded me of the trivialness of my life. I worry, get angry or upset and spend time doing things that in the end mean nothing. The things I am worried about will not be a concern a month from now or a year from now. The things I fight for or stand for or feel emotionally (looking back after the fact) are just not that big of a deal. Yet I spend valuable, precious time that I can never get back worrying or being angry about something that in the grand scheme of space and time means nothing. It does not affect me, my family, my life or the lives of those around me yet I spend my time that God has given me on things that don’t matter.
In war time, the two parties fighting against each other would fight for the high country (hill). It was the best vantage point in a battle because you could easily see all around you and identify the enemy as they approached. Many men and women have fought for these hills and many have given their lives for these hills. There efforts were noble, their sacrifice great and their fight courageous. There are battles that have been fought that have changed the course of human history, set oppressed people free, changed the way of life for the better and the list goes on and on. These battles were fought with others in mind and with the belief that my life is worth laying down if others can be free and the world can be a better place. In other words, these were hills worth dying on.
Today in America, I don’t see the same outward thinking. I don’t see us treating others better than ourselves. I don’t see us thinking of others before ourselves. What I see is a self-centered people who are in it for themselves. I see a people who are climbing, fighting and dying on the hill of ignorance and stupidity. I see a people who are fighting for the wrong things. Things that are trivial and will not even be an issue soon. We are concerned with our own well-being, opinions, beliefs, causes (that benefit us), and our fight is not a fight to change the world but make others think or believe the way we do.
I have never seen a people more divided, blinded and troubled than I do now as I look across the landscape of America. We have played into the enemy’s tactics. We have been lured up onto hills and fought and been willing to die on these hills. However, these hills are not to better mankind, or to help the oppressed etc. We have been lured up these hills to fight for things that do not unite but divide us. In the end these things that we have fought and are fighting for will destroy us because the enemy is cunning and desires to tear people apart and not bring them together. We have been blinded to believe that these things are important and will change the world or make a difference. The things we are now fighting for will do nothing but divide us and in the end, they mean nothing and they will not even be an issue for us within a few months or a year. Many have lost friends and family ties, churches have been torn apart over these issues. Battles have been fought and we have given the enemy just what he wanted, division. A house divided cannot stand and that is the state of one of the greatest country in the world, America…..we are divided. There are three hills we have put all of our chips into and have died on and continue to die on.
The first hill is the hill of politics. I have lived through Carter, Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton, Bush 2, Obama and now Trump. If the Lord tarries and my number is not called, I will make it through many more before my days are up. The reality is no one president has ever had a profound effect on my life to the point of me feeling scared or angry, or losing my job or going hungry etc. There are checks and balances that keep any president from becoming a tyrant or dictator. Yet this last election was one in which many people climbed that hill, fought and died on the hill of the President of the United States election. They were willing to lose friendships, family ties, church family relationships etc. They isolated themselves on this hill and put all their chips in a single man. Now for many there is no turning back, no making amends. They died on that hill and that is their legacy. Broken relationships and friendships, bridges burnt, and lives destroyed all because they believe that a single human being can change things.
The second hill is that of nationalism or patriotic extremism. There are many who have climbed this hill ever since Colin Kaepernick took a knee in a NFL football game and have fought and died on it. Whether they sit, kneel or stand really has no effect on anyone person’s life at all. This is another hill that people have climbed and been deceived and blinded into thinking that it matters to the point of isolating their friends and family.
Now I love the flag. I gave 13 years of my life defending this flag. My wife is a retired disabled veteran who defended this flag. I love America and the freedoms we have as a nation. However, it is a flag. I am proud of what it represents and stands for. I sing the anthem and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I am by many accounts patriotic, but it is still a flag and the truth is that I defended the freedoms the flag represents so that people could be free to not stand for the Anthem written about the flag. That is what freedom means. It means having the right to disagree without the fear of reciprocity or death which happens in many other countries, when you disagree with the establishment.
The point is that this hill is a hill that is not worth dying on. A year from now or maybe sooner this issue will be a non-issue and many will have destroyed friendships, relationships and even their possessions over someone’s right to protest (which the flag also stands for).
The final hill is the hill of racism. Now I believe we should fight against racism. This hill is the hill that people are climbing and fighting and dying for their race. It is ignorant to think that your race has all the answers or is superior in any way. It is hill of lies, stupidity and ignorance. Yet, people are again blinded by the enemy of their souls and are being fed lies that fill their hearts with hate. The media just fuels this racial fire all the while there are people being seriously damaged and lives destroyed because of this hill. The truth of this hill is that there is racism in every single culture in the world. It is human nature to fear what you do not know, to shun what does not look like you. It is wrong, but it is the human tendency. There are those in Muslim countries that fight against each other (same blood, same race, different title). India has a complete caste system in which people are judged and opportunity or lack of opportunity comes simply because of which caste you were born into. All of this is racism and yes, it still exists even in America. It needs to be dealt with, but fighting on these hills of white, black or any other color will never solve anything, and it keeps us from the truth that if divided, we will never succeed.
America is so caught up in the new this and that. Celebrities rule the speech of the day and the media fuels the non-issues of the day. We are constantly climbing hills and destroying each other over things that do not matter. They will not change the course of history or make anyone’s life better or worse. They will not help find a cure for cancer or give a homeless mother of four another shot at life. These hills are not worth dying on but there are many that are.
Americans have lost sight of what really matters. We see glimmers of hope when tragedy strikes but we too soon go back to our false causes and self-indulgences. We have forgotten just how important life is and how precious it is. We spend more time on a Presidents tweets or a celebrity’s lifestyle than we do on thousands of lives that are lost each day through murder, tragedies, cancer, etc. We fight on a hill of politics that changes every few years and is never life or death. But what about fighting for the 600,000 (some have it as high as 900,000) babies who were aborted last year? Let’s die on that hill. What about fighting for the social injustices that are happening all around the world and even here in America? Let’s die on that hill. What about fighting against the opioid epidemic that is destroying America from the inside out? Let’s die on that hill. What about fighting against the pornography industry that is literally destroying people’s lives, families and marriages and is proven to lead to rapes and even killings. Pornography has been scientifically proven to change the chemical makeup of the viewers brains. I have seen it destroy good people. Let’s die on that hill. What about fighting for the millions of girls that are being trafficked for sex destroying these girls lives before they ever really get started? Let’s die on that hill. What about children who go to bed without a father or food or the homeless mother of four that I mentioned earlier who needs another chance or lease on life, but no one is hearing them or helping them? Let’s fight and die on that hill. Let’s come down from these trivial hills that we are currently on and march up the hills of poverty, gang violence, fatherless children, orphans, child abuse victims, rape victims, abused women and the list goes on and on. Let’s fight and die on those hills because it is those hills that will affect a person for the better. These hills can change the course of human history. These hills can unite us in a fight that will make the world a better place to live.
There was always some type of sports to be played as a child. Whether it was dodge ball, backyard baseball, kickball, or touch football I tried them all. I can remember always waiting in the crowd of children for the two best players (we called them captains) to call my name and hoping that I was not picked last. I was waiting to be CHOSEN. I must admit because of my lack of sports skills I was often chosen last. Still that never deterred me from giving it my all.
Today I am so thankful that we serve a God that has chosen us and chosen us first. We don’t have to wait for other names to be called or picked before us because HE has chosen us from the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-6). Each one of us has a specific purpose on this earth that only we can accomplish. God has chosen every one of us and He has a plan and purpose for our lives. I no longer have that fear of not being chosen or especially being chosen last because I know God, the creator of the universe, the one who hung the stars and knows them by name, the one who’s very thoughts of me are more than the sands of the sea, has chosen and called me to Him.
Now back to the childhood memories of playing sports. Once the captain chose you it was your job to do whatever he said to do. After all he was the best player, and the captain, so it was of great importance to listen to him and do what he said if we wanted to win the game. Just like those pickup games we played years ago it is still my duty to listen to the Captain, Jesus Christ. He speaks to us constantly and if we want to win we must do what He says. Now we won’t always get it right as I often did not do what the captain of the team said or at least I did not do it the way he wanted it done or as good as he wanted it to be. I tried my best but messed up and all I was asking for was forgiveness and another chance to play. However, there was not much forgiveness on that ballfield. There was yelling and screaming, name calling and often fights over who said what and who was the best and I always seemed to be on the losing team and ultimately ended up holding the bag as the “reason” my team lost. I would replay the game over and over in my mind believing that if I had just done this or that we might have won and I could be a hero instead of a zero, but that chance never came.
Those childhood games we played are much like the life that many of us live. In this life we may miss the call, we may get it wrong, we may not do what God has told us to do. We live with regrets and replay the scenarios in our minds over and over hoping for a different outcome but it does not change our reality. We often go and do things our own way but the one thing that was not on that ballfield of child’s play is always in the heart of God; FORGIVENESS. I am so grateful for the forgiveness of God and His mercy to give us another chance even when we blow it big time. God is always right there to pick us up off the dirt, dust us off, and encourage us to give it another try. We don’t have to wish things different we just have to ask God for forgiveness and try again. (1 John 1:9) For that I am forever grateful. Praise God that He does not condemn or shame us or put us on the “no pick” list because of our past.
This “no pick” list was where I often found myself when attempting to join the boys in childhood sports. If being chosen last was not bad enough there were times when I would not get chosen at all. They would either have enough boys to play or would play without me simply because they felt they had a better chance to win without me, even if they were one man short. I just was not worth the risk to the captains of the teams because of my prior mess ups and failures as a ball player.
The boys simply gave up on me, but God did not. They were not willing to forgive and forget and restore me to another position on the team, but God is. God is willing to take that risk on you and me even when we mess up and blow it. Why? Because He has called us, chosen us (John 15:16) and has a plan for our lives (Ephesians 1:3-6 / Jeremiah 29:11).
Those days are long gone now and the fear of being left out is a thing of the past but I remember how I felt when I was rejected. I always thought that if I just had one more chance I could do it right and be accepted. Years later I have realized that the one who holds it all never rejected me but accepted me even with all my mess ups and faults. Not only has He accepted me but He has made me His child, and put me on His team as a starter. Praise God!!!!
Accept and believe that He has chosen you today, that you are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), you are His child and no matter where you find yourself in this ballgame we call life, whether you have blown it a little or blown it a lot, you can find joy in knowing that Jesus Christ has chosen you. He has called you, He loves you unconditionally, He forgives you and He stands ready to restore you because he has a plan for you that will change the world.
Pastor Russ Harper
Hope Church Newport News