What Is the Christian Hope for a Better Life?

What are God’s plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future?


Most people hope for a better life. Many people turn to Jesus because of hope for a better life, but what is the Christian hope for a better life? Sometimes I think even believers lose sight of it.

I was at church yesterday for a meeting I was leading, and I talked to someone who was there for another reason. We talked about the service there the day before for a 25-year old young man who lost his life in a car accident. It was hard.

I made the comment that we are all going to die. I didn’t say it just like that. I recognized with her that it’s hard for someone so young to die suddenly. It isn’t the natural order of things. We miss our loved ones terribly. The ache and the pain is real. A “life cut too short”, as we say, is a tragedy.

But, we should never lose sight of the bigger picture.

We are all going to die.

Sometimes … maybe most of the time … we don’t live like that reality is a fact.

I am not talking about the “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you die” kind of attitude. Yet, the people we know who live like that are living with the reality of death, perhaps, more than we might do. Without God, everything is meaningless under the sun!

That reality should point the Christian to Jesus, who rose from the dead, conquering sin and death, and who gives us a better hope. That hope, however, is not just that we will live a better life, but that we will be resurrected to a better life!

Yes, we will live a better life here with Jesus, but this life is not the end game. That’s what I am getting at today. Jesus does not guaranty that we will live a more prosperous life now, a pain-free life, or even a happier life on this earth (under the sun). To the contrary, he said, “In this world you will have trouble!”

Ecclesiastes tells us in no uncertain terms that everything under the sun is meaningless; if this is all there is, this life is vanity; we die like animals and turn back to dust; it doesn’t matter how good we are, how much we accumulate, or how many people like us, know us or honor us. We go down to the grave and live no more, the king and the pauper alike.

This line of thinking prompts me to question: Why do we put so much effort and energy into hope for this life?

The message at church when I began writing this piece was from Hebrews 11. If this topic resonates with you, take some time to read Hebrews 11.

Continue reading “What Is the Christian Hope for a Better Life?”

The Surprising Context of the Idea that God’s Ways Are Not Our Ways, and God’s Thoughts Are Not Our Thoughts

How many times have you heard someone say, “God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways”? Think about the context in which those words tend to be spoken….

The death of a loved one, a difficult time you are going through, plans that don’t work out, change you long for doesn’t happen, or unexpected change throws your life into chaos: these are the kinds of circumstances in which these words are often spoken.

Bad things are happening, or the good things we hope for seem never to come. That’s when someone says, “You know, God’s ways are not our ways.” The implication is that we should trust Him anyway, and that is good advice, but it’s often not very comforting in the moment.

Speaking those words in those kinds of circumstances also takes them completely out of the context in which they were spoken by the Prophet, Isaiah, whose words they are:


“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call to him while he is near. Let the wicked one abandon his way and the sinful one his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, so he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will freely forgive. 

“’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways.’ This is the Lord’s declaration. ‘For as heaven is higher than earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.'”

Isaiah 55:6-9 CSB


Until today I had not considered these verses in the context of the previous two verses. Or in the context of the whole chapter, for that matter. In fact, Isaiah 55 begins with the words, “Come, all you who are thirsty!”[i] I encourage you to read all of Isaiah 55, which I have provided at the end of this article.

But the focus of this article is the two verses spoken right before the enigmatic words of comfort that we often hear: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways.”

These verses are spoken in the context of encouragement to seek God and return to him so that God may have compassion on you, for God freely forgives. This is the context for the statement that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our our ways.

The implication here is that God forgives where we are not likely to forgive. God has compassion where we fail to have compassion. God freely forgives where we have much difficulty forgiving, and He has compassion when we would not have compassion.

That God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts is often mentioned in the context of things we do not understand about life, such as the death, tragedy, catastrophe, and hopelessness. We think of the negative things that happen to us and the good things for which we hope that never seem to come about.

While it’s true that God sees things we do not see, and He has purposes that He is working out in history, throughout the earth, and even in our own loves that we do not understand, Isaiah’s statement that God’s way are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts, was not spoken in that context at all.

God’s thoughts are not our thoughts because He has compassion that we do not have and do not understand! God’s ways are not our ways because God freely forgives those who turn to Him.

Thank about that: This means that God is much more compassionate and forgiving than we understand or give him credit for.

We sometimes fixate on God’s judgment. We struggle with God’s wrath and the problem of pain and suffering in the world. In these contexts is when we heard it said that God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and His ways are higher than our ways.

God is much more compassionate and forgiving than we understand or give him credit for

The real import of these versus, however, it’s not that God is mysterious in some dark and tragic way, but that God is mysterious in a compassionate and forgiving way!

We may actually have more difficulty understanding the compassion of God, than the wrath of God sometimes. We may have more difficulty understanding the forgiveness of God than the judgment of God. We may not like the idea of God’s wrath or judgment, but we somehow grasp it in a twisted kind of way, even if only to hold it against him.

Yet, we sometimes struggle to understand His great compassion and forgiveness.

Why would God empty himself of His glory, give up His divine privileges, make Himself nothing (Phil. 2:7), and enter into His creation in the most vulnerable way? Why would He humble Himself in that way and be obedient like a servant (Phil. 2:8) to submit himself to the worst that his own creation could do to Him? Humiliating and excruciating death on a Roman cross!

And then, after all of that, the words of Christ, who was God Incarnate, spoken as he died on a Roman cross are the most mysterious thing we could ever imagine:” Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

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Take a Risk to Prepare Room for God in Your Life

If you won’t leave what you’re guarding to see what God is doing, then what you are guarding is your god.

An angel of the Lord visited the shepherds and informed them of Jesus’ birth, Bethlehem, Church at the Shepherds’ Fields

My inspiration today comes from the sermon at church.[1] Very little of my material in this blog is original. If I am being perfectly candid, none of it is. After all, there is nothing new under the sun!

The sermon today was on the shepherds who left their fields in response to the message they received from an angel to seek out and visit the Christ child who was born near them in a manger used to feed animals.[2] If we are tempted to think that the purpose of this story in Luke’s Gospel is the miraculous appearance of an angel to these shepherds, I believe we would be wrong.

The story of the shepherds follows right on the heels of the story of Joseph and Mary traveling to Joseph’s ancestral home, Bethlehem, for a census that was being taken. While they were there, Mary gave birth to Jesus. Luke concludes that story with this seemingly insignificant statement:


“Then she gave birth to her firstborn son, and she wrapped him tightly in cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them”.

Luke 2:2:7


We have the wrong picture in our heads if we are imagining a guest room in an inn. Mary and Joseph went to Joseph’s ancestral community where his family was gathering from wherever they were scattered. They may not have known their extended family members well, but they likely stayed in one of their homes.

The guest room in the home would have been upstairs, and it was already taken by the time they arrived, so they were forced to stay on the ground floor of the home with the animals. The manger was a food trough. Their accommodations were not the least bit inviting.

The smell of animal dung, urine, and straw hung in the darkness of the cold, dank air. The animals slept or chewed their cud. There was no fanfare for God who was had just entered His own creation in the humblest of circumstances.  

Meanwhile, an angel suddenly stood before a watchful group of shepherds in the outlying hills of Bethlehem. The abrupt apparition broke the silence like lightning from the sky. They were alarmed, but the angel calmed them. “Do not be afraid”, the angel said.


“Look, I proclaim to you good news that will be for all the people: Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Luke 2:10-11


The angel added the instruction that they would find a sign: a baby wrapped tightly in cloth, laying in a manger. (Luke 2:13) Nothing seems special about this sign. A little unusual, maybe, that the child would have no other place to lay. Perhaps, though, the shepherds heard echoes of these words in the angel’s statement:


“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

Isaiah 7: 14


An inkling from the Prophet Isaiah may have just dawned on them when “a multitude of heavenly host” appeared with the angel praising God and saying:


“Glory to God in the highest heave, and peace on earth to people he favors.”

Luke 2:14


They were moved. The angel encouraged them to “look” for themselves, and they didn’t hesitate. They decided among themselves “to go see”. (Luke 2:15)

We might be tempted gloss over the scene and fail to consider their circumstances. They were shepherds, and their job was to watch over the sheep. Sheep are prone to wander off. Even if they don’t stray, they are sitting ducks for large predators like lions, wolves and bears. Guarding the sheep was their livelihood.

The shepherds risked losing the sheep to leave them. They risked the sheep wandering off or being attacked if they left them. They risked losing their jobs.

The shepherds were menial laborers, dispensable and easily replaceable, but when the angel encouraged them to go see, they didn’t hesitate. They responded and went.

The word, “see”, is emphasized in this passage. They responded and saw for themselves. They experienced God for themselves. They didn’t just listen and ponder; they went and saw for themselves.

As I reflect on this, I note that they might have missed the Messiah if they didn’t respond right away. It occurs to that, when God prompts us, perhaps not as dramatically, how we respond is critical. Whether we respond at all, and how promptly we respond, may be a matter of whether we encounter God… or not.

Continue reading “Take a Risk to Prepare Room for God in Your Life”

A Message in a Manger


I am going to revisit some of the Christmas articles I have written in previous years in the coming weeks, starting with this one. I may freshen them up a bit as I do so. This was one of the first articles I wrote on this blog, and I think the message still resonates today: A Message in a Manger.

The Word of God Is Living and Active

Unlike the other sacred texts I read, the Bible was hard-edged, and it confronted me with me! It penetrated my heart, and I wanted to look away!


I have made the statement in a previous article that the truth of God is not hidden from those who truly seek Him and desire to know Him. The truth is only hidden to those who don’t really desire to know God for who He is.

The following statement was made in the sermon I heard today: “Holiness and wholeness are hidden where only the humble can find them”.

I recognize that it’s easy for someone who believes in God to say these things. A person might even say these things in an arrogant and elitist sort of way, but that attitude would be 180 degrees wrong.

God is not an elitist. Elitism is antithetical to God and the fruit of the Spirit that should characterize those who believe and know Him.

Jesus, who claims to have been God in the flesh, came not to be served, but to serve and give his life. God “emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being made in human likeness….” (Philippians 2:7) These are not the actions of an elitist God.

The Gospel story of God descending from His place of privilege and power as creator of the world to enter His creation is not the story of an elitist God. He didn’t come as the greatest of all men with power and might. He came as a child, and He embraced the life of a servant, washing his disciples feet, healing lepers by touch, embracing prostitutes, and loving vulnerable people on the edges of society.

We also read that God created all humans in His image. Therefore, all human beings have intrinsic value. Since our value is given by God, it has nothing to do with our station in life. That value is not connected to how gifted or smart we are. It is not dependent on who our human ancestors were, or anything other than the image of God that we bear in ourselves by virtue of being born.

The flip side of that is the statement that God is “no respecter of persons” (He doesn’t show favoritism according to our standards). (Romans 2:11-16) If God is hidden to some people, His hiddenness is more a reflection of what people are looking for than who God is.

As a case in point, His own people, the nation to whom He spent hundreds of years revealing Himself, didn’t even recognize Him when He entered their world in real time and encountered them stripped down to human form:


He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God….”

John 1:10-12


Jesus confronted the elite, religious leaders. He called them blind guides. They, of all people, should have been able to recognize Him, but they didn’t.

We see in those interactions that they were looking for a savior that would overthrow the Roman Empire and ascent to the throne of Israel. They wanted an earthly savior. They were jealous of his popularity. They didn’t expect God to come to them humbly as He did. They didn’t remember their own Scriptures that say,


“though the Lord is exalted, yet he regards the lowly”.

Psalm 138:6


They didn’t remember or perhaps understand that the long-awaited Messiah would not fit a worldly model of power and strength. They should have known that he would have “no beauty or majesty to attract us to him” and “nothing in his appearance that we should desire him”. (Isaiah 53:2) They should have known that he would be “despised and rejected by mankind”, “a man of suffering, and familiar with pain” who would be “held in low esteem”. (Is. 53:3)

At the same time, we can understand why they missed these details or didn’t understand them. God is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords! Why would He stoop so low? The kings, lords and rulers of the world did not stoop.

God called the nation of Israel to separate from the nations around them and to be different, but they continually failed to do that. God’s revelation from the beginning was an exercise in demonstrating that He is different, and not like the other gods, but they like the familiarity of those gods.

God’s people demanded a king to be like all the other nations. In doing that, they were rejecting God as their King who was distinctly different. They embraced the other nations’ gods; and Israel became indistinguishable from the character of the other nations.

They were meant to be a city on hill, a light to show the uniquely different character of God to the nations around them. They were continually urged to welcome strangers, to care for widows and orphans, and to do justice. (See 25 passages, including 19 Old Testament passages, with these instructions.) God desired them to be different from the world around them, as He is different from the gods of the other nations, but they failed to be different.

It’s no wonder that the Jewish leaders in the days of Jesus failed to recognize him. The Pharisees were so focused on the minutia of of their religious observances they neglected the “weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness”. (Matthew 23:23) They failed in their religiosity to appreciate and embrace God’s character that is embedded in the concepts of righteousness and justice. (Psalm 89:14)

They didn’t recognize God in the flesh because they lost sight of His real character. They were religious, but they lacked a real understanding of God.

The prophets, like Jeremiah, warned the nation of Israel many years earlier that they were going astray. The human heart is deceitful. (Jeremiah 17:9) We fool ourselves too easily.

Our fears, insecurities, pride, desires to be like the Joneses (other nations) and many things that get in the way of knowing God for who He is take priority in our thoughts and attitudes. We buy into narratives of ourselves, others and God that are warped.

Religious people are not immune to self-deception, and Christians are no less susceptible to self-deception than others. This is the lesson of the Pharisees, the leaders of God’s people in the days that Jesus walked the earth. In fact, religious people may be even more susceptible to self-deception because we use religion to legitimatize and justify our deception!


“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”

(Matthew 6:22-23)


What is the cure for this human malady?

There is one thing that is specifically designed by God to reveal (expose) the hearts of people. It may not work exactly as we might want it to work. It isn’t a magic device, and it doesn’t work unless we submit to it. Rather, it’s the tool God uses to do His surgery in our hearts if we allow it in to our hearts to do its work. That tool is the inspired word of God.


“[T]he word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

Hebrews 4:12-13


Continue reading “The Word of God Is Living and Active”