Girl running

And Runnin' Runnin' and Runnin' Runnin'

Have you noticed that young kids run everywhere? Maybe it was just our kids, but when they were younger, they ran everywhere. It didn’t matter where we went. We would drive them to a friend’s house, and they’d get out of the car and run to the door. We’d go to church, and they would run into the building. We’d drop them off at practice and they would run to their team. It didn’t matter where we were at, who we were with or what we were doing, they ran everywhere at all times! They were so filled with joy that they couldn’t help it! Morgan, to this day, at 17 years of age still runs places. It’s awesome.

As we read Scripture, we get another picture of a person running. It’s not a young child. It’s an older man and it’s found in a story that Jesus told in earshot of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you know the really “religious” people. You see, Jesus was teaching and eating with tax collectors and other notorious sinners. Pause. Stop. I love those two words… “notorious sinners” and the fact that Jesus took time to reach even “those people.” Well, this made the really “religious” people angry. So, Jesus, knowing that the Pharisees and other religious teachers were actively complaining, told two quick stories and one longer story. Maybe you’ve heard of them… The parable (story) of the Lost Sheep, the parable of the Lost Coin and the parable of the Lost Son. In one story, a shepherd has a 100 sheep and loses one at which point he leaves the 99 to find the one. In another story, a woman has 10 coins, loses one, and goes about the entire house until she finds the one. In both stories, there is rejoicing in the finding of the lost sheep and the lost coin.

This now, brings us to the story of the Lost Son. This one is a bit more complicated. It’s familial, it’s relational and it’s conditional. You see, in this story, a father has two sons. The younger son gets fed up with his life and his circumstances, and he demands that his father gives him his share of the estate now before he dies. What a brat, right! Isn’t that what we’re all thinking? Pause. Stop. The request, this demand of the son to the father to give him his share of his inheritance, would likely have been interpreted in that culture as a wish for his father’s death. It would have created a large rift between the son and his family, and most likely the whole town. Talk about a family beef! But, his father, upon hearing his younger son’s demands, decides to divide up his wealth and give it to his son’s before he dies anyway. The younger son gets his cash and says, “Bet,” and dips out to parrrrrtayyyyy. (Insert a Miami Vibes Spotify playlist and Will Smith here)…  “Party in the city where the heat is on. All night, on the beach till the break of dawn… Bienvenidos a Miami." (Todd Stop). Okay. You get the point. He turnt up in the place. (Really Todd, stop).

So, the younger son wastes all, and I mean, ALL of his money. He had nothing left. After trying to make it on his own, starving on the streets feeling hopeless and stressed out, he decided to go back home. Pause. Stop. Maybe you’ve been there… Maybe not starving or left on the streets… But feeling hopeless and/or stressed out… Decisions you’ve made that have had horrible consequences… Maybe you’re there now… Or worse yet, maybe it’s the result of someone else’s decisions… Keep reading… The story gets better.

As the story goes, the younger son decides to go back home and throw himself at the mercy of his father. As he’s still “a long way off,” his father sees him. Check out what happens next…

“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.”Luke 15:20

You see, when it comes to grace and forgiveness, it’s not necessarily us running to the Father, it’s that the Father has run to us.

This. Is. Massive. The fact that the father ran to his son is crazy. As Americans in our American culture, we miss this cultural note. In our culture we see running as simply as an expression of joy. But, in the Middle East, especially in rural areas, a man of this age would be expected to always walk slowly, with dignity. This father didn’t do that… He ran to his son… And he did so most likely to protect his son from the children of the town who might have decided to meet the son by throwing stones at him. The father humbles himself as he reconciles with his youngest son and becomes a powerful picture of the God of grace. Can you imagine the tax collectors and other notorious sinners hearing this message? Those were the most hated people within that culture. And hearing that story, maybe for the first time, now have hope.

Can you imagine the Pharisees and other teachers hearing that story? There’s one other son in this story… The older son. He too accepted his father’s inheritance early. He knows the beef his younger son created and accepts his own share of the inheritance and actually shares in the sin of his younger brother. The drama in this family would have made the drama of the Kardashians seem small! So, when the younger brother comes back, you might think the older brother would be happy and want to share in the celebration that his father is asking for. But he doesn’t. He becomes angry and throws a baby fit.

“The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends.’”Luke 15:28-29

And his father, who humbled himself to reconcile his little brother back to the family, replies to the older brother with just as much grace. Check this out…

“His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”Luke 15:31-32

And in this moment, the Pharisees and other teachers would have likely known that Jesus was comparing them with the older brother’s attitude. And here’s the thing, whether you see yourself as the younger son, without hope and stressed out… Maybe you’ve strayed away from your relationship with God… Like the father in this story, He has humbled Himself enough to be born in the flesh, live among His creation, die at the hands of humanity, and rise again in victory.

Jesus is the humble grace that God has offered to us.

Maybe you’re the older son or the Pharisees in this story. You’ve stood in anger at people. You’ve sinned in your own way or maybe have stood in judgment over others. While we don’t know how they responded, this same grace is offered to you. Jesus has come to change lives and reconcile each one of us to God.

One more serious question… If you’re a follower of Jesus, is this the type of grace you’re offering to others? Are you willing to humble yourself… To look like a fool and extend the grace we see in this story to others?

No matter who you relate to in this story, God the Father has brought the possibility of reconciliation between all of His children.

“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”Ephesians 2:8-9


The Weight of It

As I stand typing this, I turned 48 just eleven days ago. (Now’s your chance to wish me a belated birthday if you missed it on May 11!) And at age 48, I feel as if I’m at a fork in the road… a turning point if you will. I’m at the point age wise where it’s getting harder and harder to get into shape. If I’m honest (which I will be by the way), I’m not ok with where I’m at physically. There are things I need to begin to do to get back into shape sooner rather than later… thus, the fork in the road. What you’re looking at is a dismantled weight bench. It’s waiting to be put together. If I choose to remain on the road I’m currently on and not put together this weight bench, I’ll continue to get the results I don’t want and put on weight in places I don’t want it which changes me into the person I don’t want to be. Or I can choose to put the weight bench together and begin my new exercise routine.

Here's what I know from previous experience and by watching others, the weight I allow myself to carry will either produce positive results or negative results physically. That bowl of ice cream at midnight carries weight. That bag of chips I eat right after dinner has weight. Yo, that popcorn with butter, salt and parmesan cheese (don’t hate – it’s realllllllllllly good) carries weight with each amazing bite I take. And it changes me… for the worse. Likewise, when I allow myself to lift the weight off of the bench, after time, it changes me for the better. The weight molds me into the person I want to become. You see…

What we allow to carry weight in our life has the power to change us.

Check this out:

The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”Genesis 3:1

In just two short chapters Adam and Eve give in to the serpent’s lies… “Sssssssooooooooooo Eve… did God say?” (Cause that’s how snakes talk…) And in one moment, Adam and Eve allowed someone else’s words to carry weight. Quick back story here, the first two chapters of Genesis paint a picture of earth as a paradise. It’s everything as God intended it to be. God made Adam and Eve, male and female in the image of Himself. God saw everything He had created, and it was good. Humanity living in perfect unity with God and creation. As God placed Adam in the garden, there was one thing God wanted Adam and Eve to keep in mind...

But the LORD God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden — except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.”Genesis 2:16-17

God Himself knew with Adam as He knows with us…

What we allow to carry weight in our life has the power to change us.

It’s what happened to Adam and Eve. The weight of satan’s words changed them forever. “Ssssssooooooo Eve… Did God really say…” “You won’t really die!” Satan knew he was lying. It’s what he does. He’s the author of lies. His goal is to trick people into not trusting the Truth of God’s Word. It was his goal for Adam and Eve, and it’s his goal for us too. Satan knows that…

What we allow to carry weight in our life has the power to change us.

Maybe you’ve been there… maybe you’re there right now. You’ve been walking around… Doing your thing… Everything seems to be going great… Great house… Great job… Great life… You’re looking at things and you’re thinking things are good. And out of seemingly nowhere it happens… Little lies start to capture your attention. For some of us, maybe it’s the following lies:
• It’s not hurting anyone…
• Nobody will find out…
• It’s just one time…
• It’s fun…
• Surely God didn’t mean what He said
• The Bible isn’t really true

And satan starts to place little lies into your thoughts to question God’s Truth. Or maybe it’s little lies that someone says to you that makes you question your worth. Maybe it’s the comment of a boss who tells you they wanted someone else in your position. Maybe it’s the comment from a person you thought was a friend. Maybe it’s your own thoughts of hopelessness and depression because of a situation you’re simply trying to endure.

This is what satan does… he comes to us in ways we aren’t expecting and whispers lies into our ears… ”It doesn’t really matter…” “You’re not good enough…” “It’s just one time…” “You’re not smart enough…” “What does it matter if nobody finds out…” “God’s Word isn’t true…” “It’s just one time…” “God can’t comfort you…”

Satan is subtle like that. He’s not going to come stand in front of us dressed in red with a pitchfork yelling. He’s going to be dressed as something that looks good on the surface as he whispers lies into your ears to make you question everything. It’s what he does. He did it with Eve. And he’ll do it with us. Satan wants to get us to the place where we say to God, “You might be the author of my life, but You’re not the authority in my life.” Because satan knows…

What we allow to carry weight in our life has the power to change us.

Maybe you’re at your own crossroads right now… A fork in the road. Adam and Eve allowed satan’s words to carry weight, and they not only changed their whole life for the worse… They changed the whole creation for the worse so much so that we’re still feeling and operating in a world that was changed because Adam and Eve allowed someone else’s words other than God’s to carry weight.
There is great news though. If you’ve allowed satan’s lies to carry weight in your life and you feel stuck, there’s hope. If you’re reading this right now, you still have the chance to be changed by the weight and power of Jesus and the Word of God. There’s only one person who can cause you to overcome the lies, it’s Jesus. There’s only one book that can change us from the inside out, it’s the Bible. If you find yourself in the same place as Adam and Eve, there’s hope for you today. If we give weight to God’s Word, they’ll change us for the better AND we’ll find hope and peace and life… we’ll be transformed by the power of Jesus.

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.Romans 15:13


A Christmas Message for my Dear Friends

A Christmas Message for my Friends

What is your favorite Christmas song?

Asking that question will lead to all sorts of answers such as a Mariah Carey song, to a Michael Bublé hit, to the classic Randy Brooks track… Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. Those are all great. And I love all of Bublé’s songs, most of Carey’s Christmas music, and I still sing the lyrics when Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer when it comes on the radio.

But one of my all-time favorite songs is O Holy Night. I heard it again, this time produced by Tomme Profitt and performed by Tauren Wells and SVRCINA. It was AMAZING. Actually, the whole The Birth of a King production was crazy amazing. (You can find it on YouTube or Spotify.) In any case, there are a few lyrics within this song that hit me as I look at, not only my life, but the world in general…

“A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices.”

As I sit and think about this verse, it was written about a time and people when Jesus was born… When God Himself came to earth… I wonder if today is any different. We look out from our little window at a world that seems weary. And as we reflect on the year, weariness might be the word that describes and depicts the status of our lives and maybe even our own soul. We feel it deep inside our being.

And in the middle of the world’s weariness… In the middle of the weariness that we are surrounded by, that we might be experiencing ourselves… Here is the message to receive…

“‘Don’t be afraid!’ he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior— yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!” [Luke 2:10-11]

The song goes on to tell us exactly why we can experience joy in the middle of the weariness…

“The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger

In all our trials born to be our friend

He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger”

God Himself, Jesus, came to this world not to rule over us as a worldly king would. Jesus was born to rescue us from ourselves. To be a divine friend in the middle of our trials. He knows all our needs and experienced all our weaknesses. In other words, the King… The Savior understands. And in that and in Him we can find joy.

In the middle of our weariness we can rejoice because our joy is found in Jesus, the One who also experienced weariness and overcame. God wants each one of us to experience and know the real joy, the lasting joy that won’t grow dim even in the middle of weariness and what’s going on around or to us. This joy isn’t found in things, it’s found in Jesus and knowing Him, it’s the gospel of joy.

This time of year, I pray you come to know the One who truly knows you, who’s experienced all our weaknesses and trials and still overcame… It's Jesus.


Are We There Yet

I love New Years. I love the start of things. With it can bring new vision. New beginnings. New focus.

There have been years when I’ve made New Years resolutions. There have been years where I’ve kept resolutions all year long. And then, there have been years where I’ve broken my New Years resolution within the first couple of weeks. And then there have been years where I haven’t made any resolutions. My resolution was to not make any resolutions.

Whatever the case may be for you this year, one thing is true about resolutions… They typically are all about ourselves. And while that’s not a terrible thing, we as a Granger Students and Young Adults staff want to challenge you to possibly think a bit differently this year… What if we, instead of only making or asking ourselves what our own New Years resolutions are, what if we asked God to give us His resolutions… What if we made…

God resolutions

One of the many things that is clear when we look at the life of Jesus, is that Jesus was all about listening to and obeying God. Jesus, with His whole life, His whole being, wanted to do what His Father wanted Him to do. The Son of God, wanted to do His Father’s will. And over the next four weeks, we’re going to take a look at a few God resolutions… Looking at what God had for the life of Jesus to see what might God have for our lives as well.

God is up to something.

I love wondering about things. Wonder is a gift that God has given me. It’s not on the list of spiritual gifts, but it’s definitely a gift from God in my life. I wonder about all kinds of things. When we were in Charleston, SC, I walked around that city and wondered what it was like when George Washington walked those streets. As a kid, when we went to the Baseball Hall of Fame, I wondered what it was like when Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and the rest of the greats walked those streets.

I’ve wondered what it was like to be Walt Disney just before he built Disney World. I’ve wondered what it must be like to be the president of the United States. I wonder about all sorts of things. If you see me walking around this place, it’s almost certain that I am in wonder mode. It comes natural to me. It’s how ONE came to life. And when I read Scripture, I often wonder what it was like to be in the situation i’m reading about.

As I thought about this message tonight, it hit me. As much as I wonder, I’ve never really wondered about the start of Jesus’ ministry. If I’m honest, I’ve never given it much thought. Maybe you’re like me. I kinda skip right past it. Not because I want to. But because it’s easy to. It’s easy to jump to the miracles He performs.

Turning water into wine is more exciting. Walking on water is more eye catching. Raising the dead is more breathtaking. It’s so easy to gloss over the beginning. But the beginning of anything is too important to miss. Because…

God is up to something

So, in this new year… in all of our new beginnings, let’s look at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry on earth…

Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. But John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?” But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.” So John agreed to baptize him. After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” – Matthew 3:13-17

You see, the start to Jesus’ ministry on earth is quite different than how I would start. I’d walk up like, “I’m here! Holla at ya boy! Let’s get this party started!” But Jesus’ first act of His public ministry wasn’t an announcement of His presence… it was an act of obedience to God.

Because God was up to something.

When Jesus came to John to be baptized, John was like, “What? Why you coming to me?” Look at Jesus’ response:

“…it should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires…”

Jesus’ primary concern was being obedient to God’s will. At the beginning the heart of Jesus was obedience to God because Jesus knew that...

God was up to something.

Jesus didn’t pull up to a party and turn water into wine. He didn’t show up healing people. He knew and understood the God resolution for humanity and He simply obeyed His Father.

And God’s response? “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” We need to see this statement. We need to remember this statement because of what comes next. We might think that after Jesus is baptized and God makes this statement about Jesus that Jesus would then start ministering to people, right? I mean, isn’t that why He came… to heal people spiritually? To restore humanity back to right relationship with God?

The answer is yes to each of those questions. But Jesus didn’t jump straight into ministry from this mountain-top experience. There was one more thing Jesus had to go through before He started his public ministry. Check this out…

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, satan! For it is written: ‘worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. – Matthew 4:1-11

In Mark’s Gospel, it says...

The Spirit then compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness, where he was tempted by satan for forty days. He was out among the wild animals, and angels took care of him. – Mark 1:12-13

For some of us, we might see this as a detour. I mean, we’ve got work to do. We’ve got things to do. Why go through something this hard!?

As our kids were growing up, we’d take roadtrips to different locations. Shoot, just a couple of years ago when we flew to Phoenix and then drove to the Grand Canyon, our kids would ask multiple times, “Are we there yet?” I did it as a kid. Our kids, and even I at times, just want to get to our destination so bad that we miss what we could see on the way. We miss out on the relationships we could be building during the ride.

And as I read and look at these passages of Scripture, I wonder how many of us look at this and think, why? Why did He have to go through something so hard? And then we look at what we’re currently going through, or what we’ve gone through, and we say to God, “Ok! Enough! Are we there yet?” And we want to rush through the hard things we’re facing or have faced and we miss what God is trying to teach us… We miss out on the relationships that God wants us to build.

And so, when we look at these passages, we might be tempted to think the same thing… but Jesus is on mission and knows that what He’s going through has purpose because He knows...

God was up to something.

And as we look at these passages, there are things we can learn because in our lives, the temptations we face from satan, can a lot of times be masked by what we think are hard times.

First, our hard time or temptation we face, will come after what might be viewed as a mountain-top experience. Check this out:

The Spirit then compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness, where he was tempted by satan for forty days. Mark 1:12-13

You see, Jesus had just come from what could be viewed as a mountain-top experience. He was fulfilling scripture when John baptized Him and His Father announce who Jesus was and how He loved Jesus and the joy Jesus brought Him.

I cannot begin to tell you how many times I’ve experienced a hardship or a temptation after experiencing a mountain-top experience. When I was offered this job and accepted this position, a huge mountain-top experience, the next few months was filled with what I would consider satan, the enemy, whispering lies to cause me to question my calling.

Many times, I wanted to just get past what was going on. I just wanted to rush through it. But in rushing through it, I would have missed what God wanted to teach me… That ultimately, the only thing that matters is that I’m listening and obeying Him. And that, as I stay in the Scripture, to trust in the vision He’s giving me.

Secondly, our temptation we face oftentimes comes when we are exhausted or hungry... When we are worn down. We see it in these passages with Jesus…

Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. Jesus ate nothing all that time and became very hungry. - Luke 4:1-2

It’s in the times when we are the most tired that the devil knows we are at the most susceptible in the temptations and hardships he throws at us.

As I look back over the times when I’ve been most susceptible to hardships and/or temptations, it’s when I’ve been tired… When I haven’t gotten enough sleep or when I’ve just had a long run of busyness. It’s when the devil came at Jesus at the start of His ministry. And it’s when the devil came at Jesus towards the end of His ministry.

I believe this is one of the biggest reasons why it’s so important to rest. It’s one of the biggest reasons why God designed a rhythm of work six days and rest one. It’s one of the biggest reasons why God designed a sabbath. So we could rest and… and this is a big and… and focus our attention on Him.

So your hardships or temptations will come one, after a mountain-top experience. Two, when you’re exhausted and run down. And three, our hardship or temptation oftentimes come within our greatest desire.

Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. “i will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.” - Matthew 4:8-9

Many times, our temptations we face come at the point of our greatest desire at the time. But here’s the thing, the enemy doesn’t have the power or authority to give the thing that will fill that desire. Sure, there are temporary things that we can chase. But ultimately, the enemy, the devil doesn’t have what we need to fill that desire. Only God himself is able to fill that need. Jesus knew that. And Jesus was able to overcome His hardship… His temptation.

Jesus stayed on mission. Jesus knew what the God resolutions were. And He was able to stay on mission and not rush past His hardship or fall to the temptations of the devil because Jesus combatted the battle of His mind with Scripture.

Time after time we see Jesus respond to the devil…

When the devil tempted Jesus to turn a stone into a loaf of bread, Jesus’ response was: ... But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone.’” - Matthew 4:4

When the devil told Jesus that he would give Him all the kingdoms of the world, Jesus responded: “The Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’” - Matthew 4:10

And when the devil took Jesus up to the highest point of the temple to throw Himself off to see if God would send angels to catch Him, Jesus replied back: “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’” - Matthew 4:7

And after all of that, after 40 days and 40 nights of temptation and hardship, the Bible says that...

When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came. - Matthew 4:11

You see, when Jesus faced this hardship… When Jesus was tempted… The greatest weapon to get Him through was God’s Word…

And it’s the same for us. As we face our hardships… The temptations we face… Our greatest weapon to get us through is the Bible… God’s Word. The point of the hardship isn’t that we rush through to get to the other side… To ask, “Are we there yet God!?” The point of the hardship is that we lean on Scripture to learn what God wants to teach us. For me, when I’ve gone through a hardship or temptation, especially in this last year, it’s to learn that I can depend on and trust God more with my life.

It’s to learn that, as i read God’s Word, He’s there to comfort me and lead me even more. But that only comes as I read His Word. That’s my challenge for you all as you’re in your hardship or your temptation… Or maybe before you’re in next hardship or temptation, dive into god’s Word so that as you’re in it, God can use it to battle the enemy’s attack on your mind… And so you can say… I wonder what God is up to.


Hope has a name

Hope Has A Name

Christmas is a special time for me and my family. I. Love. Christmas. For those of you who know me, you know that i put up our Christmas lights right after halloween… and i turn them on! Come on now. Why put them up if you ain’t gonna turn them on!?

Does anyone else love Christmas and have Christmas traditions!?

We’ve got a few Christmas traditions. One tradition is our yearly Ruth Family Christmas Card. Here’s a couple we’ve done over the years…

Family Christmas Photo

Family Christmas Photo

Family Christmas Photo

One of the other traditions is our Ruth Family Christmas Tree Hunt. That’s right, we cut down a real tree. It's the only time a year i use a saw because I love my fingers more! In fact, this is a tradition that was started all the way back to when I was a kid. We’d look forward to this day every year. Each year as a kid, we’d travel about 40 minutes away to go to this very specific Christmas tree farm. We loved it. It was a special day. And each year, we’d go and cut down our tree… except for one year.

You see, I have two younger brothers. We all three grew up playing baseball. Which means… we loved throwing things. If we were out and saw something we could throw, we’d throw it. Does anyone know what Christmas trees have on them? Pine cones. And since we all three played baseball, we couldn’t resist taking the pine cones and throwing them to see who could throw the farthest. I mean, we’re out in the middle of a Christmas tree farm. What could go wrong?

Well, while we were out in the middle of a field looking for a tree, there were also a dozen or so other families doing the same thing. And as we were throwing pine cone after pine cone to see who could throw them the farthest, we heard a "thud" and then… we heard crying. And then… we hid. Unfortunately for us, we were the only family in our area. So when the dad came over to see who was throwing the pine cones, it was clear who it was.

My parents were mortified. We were embarrassed. We apologized to their family. And then we promptly left without cutting down a Christmas tree. It was one of the worst starts in memory to the traditional Christmas season.

You see, growing up, that’s what Christmas was for me… a tradition. I mean, don’t get me wrong… I’d heard about Jesus being born. I’d sung the Christmas songs the one of two days a year we went to church…

“Away in a manger, no crib for a bed. The little lord jesus laid down his sweet head.” [In a singing voice]

But that’s all Jesus was… a traditional song I’d sing once a year. To tell the truth, it was all about the presents. Each Christmas would be about another gift me and my brothers would hope we’d get. We’d get out our toy store Christmas time magazine because you know… we didn’t have the internet back then… we couldn’t go online and make an Amazon wish list. We had to get out a thick magazine… grab a pen or highlighter… and then circle the gifts we hoped we’d get.

One year, i hoped beyond hope that I’d get a bb gun. I got it… and yes, I really did almost shoot my eye out from the bb ricocheting back just above my eye. Another year I hoped beyond hope that I would get a Sega Genesis video game system. My hope was placed on getting the present I wanted. During this time of year growing up, the source of my hope was whether or not I’d get the gift I wanted. But how many of you know that those gifts didn’t really give me what hope is supposed to give me? They weren't the true source. Check this out:

"I pray that god, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the holy spirit." Romans 15:13

I want you to notice a word we take for granted at times… it’s a four letter word… “will.”

The Scripture says… “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely…” “…then you will overflow…”

“Will”

It’s a simple word… but in this context… it’s a powerful word. You see, what’s being said here isn’t a possibility. It’s not even a probability. It’s a promise fulfilled. It’s going to happen… because you trust in God… you will overflow with confident hope… it’s not a question.

But how many of you know, that when I hoped for the gift I wanted, it wasn’t a sure thing that I’d get the gift. There was questioning going on. I was nervous that I wouldn’t get the gift. Essentially, I had given hope a name.

You see, hope has a name!

And that name was mom and dad when I was growing up.

And that’s a problem because mom and dad can disappoint me. Mom and dad aren’t perfect. Mom and dad can let me down. Mom and dad can argue and fight which can cause me to lose… hope.

Hope has a name.

There’s a time when we all give hope a name. For some of us, it’s mom or dad. For others of us it’s the name of a boyfriend or a girlfriend. For others, hope’s name is popularity. Hope’s name is the college you want to get into. For others, hope is the name of the friend or friends you want to be accepted or included by.

Hope has a name!

And the problem… the problem when we give hope these names… it’s that all these things can let us down. These names can make us question what’s going on. These names can make us nervous and uneasy. They can take away peace instead of filling us with peace.

Because none of those names or things were ever designed to give us what we’re truly looking for. None of those names or things were ever designed to fill us with what we really desire to be filled with.

Hope has a name.

I don’t know what name you’ve given hope.

Some of us, we’ve given hope a different name at different times and moments of our lives. For some of us, we’re holding out for hope… we’re waiting for hope.

It’s almost like the Israelites back just before the birth of Jesus. You see, they had been waiting on God to speak for four hundred years. For four hundred years God was silent. And then…

God spoke through the angel Gabriel to Zechariah…

"But the angel said, “don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him john." Luke 1:13

Notice that four letter word again… “will."

You see, Elizabeth was barren. She couldn't have children. But then God intervened and made a promise. "Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son..."

And then God spoke again through the angel Gabriel, this time to Mary…

"You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus." Luke 1:31

And then…

God spoke… He actually spoke. God himself. God in the flesh. God spoke… not in actual words… but in a cry from the baby named Jesus… the Son of God… God Himself.

God’s first words after being silent for four hundred years wasn’t actual words… it was a cry… a cry for humanity… a cry for you and I.

"And because Joseph was a descendant of king David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them." Luke 2:4-7

A promise fulfilled. God the Son, the promise of Romans 15:13… Jesus is the promise fulfilled from all the way back to the Old Testament… in the book of Micah… in the exact town that was promised.

"But you, o Bethlehem, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf. The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies until the woman in labor gives birth. Then at last his fellow countrymen will return from exile to their own land. And he will stand to lead his flock with the Lord’s strength, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. Then his people will live there undisturbed, for he will be highly honored around the world. And He will be the source of peace." Micah 5:2-5a

The wait was over. Their holding out for hope had been delivered… had been born… and the name was given to him on the eighth day… Jesus.

You see… hope has a name! And that name is Jesus! The One who will never disappoint. The One who will hold us up. The One who will give us strength. The One who will fill us with joy and peace.

"You faithfully answer our prayers with awesome deeds, o god our savior.
You are the hope of everyone on earth,  even those who sail on distant seas." Psalm 65:5

Hope has a name! And his name is Jesus!

May you put your trust in the name of Jesus.