Where We Came From
Living Hope began as a church made up of three different congregations in 1987. Yes, we have a history of blended families, and as with all blended families, we have had our challenges.
It is easy and natural for a church to become a religious institution or organization. From our beginning, we sought to blend our three organizations together into one group. We sought to be family but we were, in all honesty, more organization than family.
Once a group has become an organization, it is nearly impossible to turn the group back into a family—it requires nearly a miracle.
The church Jesus envisioned was designed to grow around spiritual parents and elders; organizations men envision are designed to thrive on the success produced by leaders.
The difference between these two styles could not be more distinct. Parents by nature nurture their children to grow and then thrive so they can be all they were created to be. Spiritual parents, even elders, nurture spiritual children to develop relational character as they treasure God, His Word, and relationships above all else.
Leadership is an entirely different kind of discipline. Leaders focus on productivity. In church language, the productivity of “souls being saved” and the church ever growing in size and finances is the ultimate achievement of the organization.
The leader of a church is looking for “evangelical” success; a spiritual parent is looking for the development of relational character. We will explain relational character later, but in short relational character happens when a person is born anew, with Christ’s becoming the ultimate center of his or her life, and then she or he learns to live in relational love with others. To spiritual parents and a spiritual family, success is the result of living out this new birth in a genuine and daily relationship with others.
For leaders, success is the driving force, even though family-like metaphors and even practices may be employed. The “saving of souls” code for the growing of the church becomes the proof of the right character. Once an organization has been “led,” it is difficult for the same group to then be turned into a family where the believers are relationally “discipled” to follow Christ. The family model of the church takes too long to see the desired success.
Leaders have vision. This means they imagine an organization to be as big as possible. In church as an organization, you begin to manage people like a corporation. Decisions are made on the basis of profit and growth. Those who manage the church organization ask the questions, “Do the present ‘leaders’ have what it takes to get me to the next level, and if not, then are they expendable for the profit?” So leaders begin to think of church members as expendable for the greater purpose of growth and success.
Church led by spiritual parents and elders is a totally different group. Their main cause is not success, profitability, the “saving of souls,” the “re-charactering” of a people, and the attraction of as many as possible to the spiritual commodity the church is selling. If I were a father of six and I had a child who was less gifted than my other children and who was consuming my and the family’s time to help, I still would not consider getting rid of that child so I could have more.
I talk to many pastors about their vision and the decisions they make. Very seldom do any of them relate back what they are doing to a specific word or direction from God. It is just assumed that the will of God is more and more success and growth. Sometimes I press the question, “Did God ever personally call you to do what you are doing or was it just a success decision?” The answers I get are often disturbing because I wonder if the pastor has lost the ability to genuinely listen. Imagine if, for the sake of growing a family, someone decided greater success could be gained through polygamy!
From our vantage point, this was exactly what got Jesus executed—leaders who had a vision of religious success different from God’s.
Relationship Means Change:
In How We THINK - Repentance
Those who have a relationship with God end up having the way they think completely changed. To enter into God's world is to enter into a whole new way of thinking. If Jesus, in our western way, would have preached a message on “How Father Changes a Life,” His first point would have been “repent.”
“From that time, Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matthew 4:17 ESV).
Repentance doesn't mean to feel bad about something you have done. It doesn’t mean to say “I’m sorry” or even to confess sin, nor to profess one’s faith in Jesus. This word repentance is gravely misunderstood. Even in the New Living Translation, watch what they do with the verse I have quoted above: “Repent of your sins and turn to God …” In the Greek text, there is no word for “sin,” nor can you find the phrase “turn to God.” The translators add the words to the text in an attempt to interpret the word “repent.” There is no doubt that repentance will ultimately lead to those actions, but it does not in any way refer to one of those actions. Repentance comes first and is the beginning step to any life change in Christ.
The word repentance in Scripture means to change the way you think. Before Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, God was at the center of their lives and thinking. He was in the middle of every thought. One day, Adam and Eve decided to have a conversation without God at the center of their thinking. They entertained thoughts which led to having a conversation which led to doing a certain action. All of this living outside of God led to the first sin.
Repentance is to change the way you think. Instead of self being at the center of our thoughts and God left or pushed to the outside, repentance means one brings God back into the center of one’s thinking.
Repentance would work something like this: we hold every thought up to the light of His presence. We hide nothing from Him nor do we leave Him out. His presence, His Holy Spirit, and His Word become consciously and intentionally the core of all our thinking. Our day is full of, “What do You think, Jesus?” and, “Lord, what is Your mind on this matter?” and, “What does Your Word say?” It is like taking a satellite dish and constantly aiming it at God to hear His thoughts and mostly His questions as He seeks to walk with us.
To have God at the center of our thinking does not mean we think about sin or right behavior the same way God does. It means we think our thoughts before God and in His presence so all our thinking becomes bathed in His loving goodness.
I like the way Eugene Peterson puts it when He paraphrases 2 Corinthians 10:5: “We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ.”
Whenever you’re reading along in the Bible and you come to the word “obey,” you are reading far more than just doing what you are told. The word “obey” means to “listen under authority.” Repentance and obedience are cousin words getting at the same thing from different directions. To experience God’s life, we must stop listening to and bowing down and giving honor to our own voice. Voice is the metaphor God often uses for thoughts. Repentance and obedience are literally bowing under the authority of God’s voice and allowing His voice, thoughts, or words to change the way you think.
Adam and Eve took a day off and rebelled against God’s thoughts ruling in their minds. Repentance is to change the way one thinks and to return to how we were originally created, to once again choose God’s thoughts, God’s Word, as that which governs how we think.
Repentance is such a great gift. It is not something earned; it is something God graciously gives.
"God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel ... " (Acts 5:31 ESV).
He gives this repentance by creating in our hearts a “godly grief” or sorrow. This means we look at our sin and behavior much differently. Instead of having worldly sorrow—being sad we got caught—we have “godly sorrow”—being grieved by how sin has wounded relationship with God and destroyed the love of others. Anyone can reject “godly sorrow” and turn it into worldly sorrow, but it is God Who produces “godly sorrow” within, and that “godly sorrow” leads people to change the way they think. Once the way we think is changed, salvation is experienced.
"For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death" (2 Corinthians 7:10 ESV).
Finally, God “grants” or gives a change of thinking so our thoughts become capable of having an intimate relationship with the truth. Many use facts to hurt, wound, and destroy. God gives those who think rightly a relationship with the truth so they can express the wonder and the grace of God in amazing ways.
"God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by Him to do His will" (2 Timothy 2:25-26 ESV).
In How We ACT - Baptism
Relationship means a change in how we think, which is repentance, but it also brings a change in how we act. As we learn more about Jesus and we learn more about his life and resurrection, our desire should be to change the way we act to be more like him. When we go through the waters of baptism, we are renouncing our old lifestyle and saying: “Jesus, I am resurrected with you, the old life is gone, the old chains are gone, I am a new creation in you. The old way of thinking is gone, the old life is passed away, everything is made new in you. Help me keep my allegiance and eyes on you.”
In How We Spend Our TIME - Devotions
Those who repent—change the way they think—will find it necessary to spend time listening to Jesus’ voice. It is much like being on a journey, on a road with Jesus. Together and only together can He get you and, more importantly all of us, to our destination. No one can ever change a habit or a life without first changing the way he or she thinks.
Taking some part of our day and separating it to Jesus is essential. There is something about taking even just twenty-four minutes and using that time to listen to Jesus that will change the way you think for the rest of the day.
Time with Jesus doesn’t just happen. Those who begin need some kind of structure. Certainly the structure and habit of daily time with Jesus will adapt to your own relationship with Christ, but we have found this method to be a great place to begin your journey:
How We Do R.O.A.D.
Find a quiet place to read and write. Hopefully it can be the same place, a comfortable place, a place free from reminders of stuff you need or want to do. We live in a culture without impulse control, so just twenty-four minutes, for those without impulse control, can seem like a lifetime. Ask for Jesus’ help, hang in there, resist the devil by submitting to God, and you will get God’s help to do this.
Begin by reading a passage of Scripture. Where you read is not as important as reading some passage every day.
Here is what we know about choosing a Bible reading plan. First, those who follow a plan have the best chance of being consistent over a long period of time. Second, we have discovered being on a plan with others is as encouraging as it is inspiring, and those who do so are even more consistent over the long term. If you read the same passages with others, you can share insights from a common passage, share Jesus in a common way, and grow deeper.
Living Hope has a plan. It usually averages somewhere between 20-35 verses a day. The plan is accompanied with a review of each chapter, called Bible Helps, to aid everyone more fully to understand what he or she is reading.
To find the plan, download the Living Hope app or pick up a paper copy of the plan in the church lobby.
As you read, you will usually observe some portion of the passage with special interest. Usually this happens as something stands out or grabs your attention. When you find something in a passage that interests you on any level, mark it, highlight it, and begin to ask God questions about what has captured your interest. He may not answer the question immediately, but I have discovered that all my questions, as I keep thinking my thoughts before Him, get answered. Interest in something the Bible is saying is one way that God communicates with us and starts stirring us into thought-transformation.
Interest is created many different ways, as you might see something that speaks to something you are going through, or it might simply create a “What could that mean?” question—however interest is created, God will use it.
Here are some ways God creates interest:
You feel unsettled about something you have read and feel a need to understand it.
You feel convicted by something you’re reading because it is introducing a thought contrary to yours.
You are reading something that confirms something else you recently heard.
You sense an unusual peace and rest coming to your heart as you read a specific passage.
You realize what you are reading is addressing a similar tragedy or trial you have had or are going through.
You realize what you are reading is a similar experience to what you are experiencing.
You are flooded with joy and a rush of praise as you consider a certain passage.
You are given a sense of hope for your future as you ponder a passage.
You sense the verse is being directed personally right at you from God for this very moment.
At this point, you are reading to answer the passage or portion of Scripture which has gotten your attention. This would be the portion you have highlighted. As you listen to God’s answer, it will transform the way you think, little by little, day by day.
What we mean by answering is to let God answer the deepest question of your heart and the most important answer to your every question. This is where thought-transformation begins and grows.
God is love; He loves us so much that He gave us His Son. He loves us so deeply that He has adopted us as His children and has determined that we will be treated exactly like His Son, Jesus (1 John 4:16; John 3:16; Ephesians 1:4,5; Romans 8:15-17).
We have a brand new identity; it is based on being a loved part of His family. His love for us will never change, no matter what. Here is what we can know for sure: whatever God is saying comes from a heart of unchanging love. This love is not based on our performance nor our worth. His love for us is based on His unchanging character. Whatever question the passage of Scripture you are reading is answering, it is answering it in love. We do not do something to get God’s love; we do something because we have been undone by His love. Once the Good News of God’s unearned love transforms the way you think, you will have experienced repentance, and your whole life will radically change.
We have written a list of statements below. Look and ponder your highlighted verse. Next, ask the Holy Spirit to guide your thoughts. Finally, complete one of the statements below with thoughts coming into your mind.
Jesus, You love me so much that You …
Jesus, You love (name of person or persons) so much that You …
Jesus, You love me so much that I sense You are leading me to …
Jesus, You love me so much that You are revealing to me …
Jesus, You love me so much that You are leading me to confess to You that I have …
It is important for you to know what you are writing is not a word for word or thought for thought dictation of God’s voice. People who trend down such a road usually fall prey to deception.
What you have there is how the Holy Spirit is touching your thoughts to think about God. These are your thoughts, the very thoughts you honestly think about God and certain subjects into which God is seeking to speak.
Some may be right on, but some might be a degree or two off. What happens over time as you continue to read God’s Word is He will fine-tune your mind to capture what Christ is thinking. Eventually, you will read what you have written, then read it to others and discern what God is communicating to you concerning His love, will, and direction to you.
By the way, as you grow in devotions, you may do totally different things when it comes to what you journal, but this is a great place to start. If you are not saturated in how much God loves you based on Jesus and not your performance, it is impossible to change the way you think.
Lastly, the reason we call this part of the R.O.A.D. “Answering” is because you will find as you walk out your life with Jesus that He often, if not most of the time, will speak to you in question form. God is not so much about controlling your life as coaching your heart. The lawless need control, but those following Jesus need to be transformed to be like Jesus. Not all the time, but a lot of your time with Christ will be spent answering His questions.
After you have taken some time to journal, Father has given us a daily way to devote our lives to Him afresh. He has given us a prayer. The prayer Jesus gave us with the charge, “Pray like this,” is a sort of outline prayer under which anything we would ever need to pray can be prayed. This prayer is not so much a prayer that should be recited, but it serves as an outline.
We encourage you to consider the Lord’s Prayer as your daily prayer of devotion to God.
Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be Your name.
Your Kingdom come,
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one;
for Yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory, forever.
Amen. (Matthew 6:9-13 ESV)
Notice the Lord’s Prayer begins by devoting your entire being to God.
Declare Yahweh as the ultimate center of your life.
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be Your name.”
Call for the known will of God to be done, especially based on what you wrote in your journal for that day.
“Your Kingdom come,
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.”
Request and depend upon the Lord for every provision.
“Give us this day our daily bread …”
Confess and Reconcile
Confess your sin to God and then restore every relationship and forgive every offense committed against you.
“… and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
Ask the Lord to keep you from every circumstance that would stir up lust.
“And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.”
Give to God the full right to be King, the complete power to rule and all the accolades for your every accomplishment.
“For Yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.”
This is not a prayer to be recited; this is a prayer providing an outline for us to pray from. As Jesus leads you daily in prayer, may He use this prayer to powerfully shape your life and future as God responds to your invitations.
Practicing Hope One
Father, by Your grace make me an allegiant follower who spends the first and best part of my day with You, reading Scripture, listening to You, and obeying Your voice. No matter how much or little time I have, empower me to begin it with You. In Jesus’ name, amen.
How We Express FAITH - Allegiance
For most, faith implies a really strong belief or believing of something with great conviction. However. at the heart of the Greek word for faith is the thought of allegiance or devotion. Just to believe Jesus did or said or will do something is not necessarily faith as Jesus meant faith.
To devote yourself to Jesus as the King of your life is the act which will radically change everything about you. Certainly, to be devoted to Jesus includes believing, but devotion to Jesus is the giving of your complete life to Him. To give your allegiance to Jesus unleashes God's grace in your life and allows you to walk in Kingdom-saved life.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV).
Matthew Bates wrote a book titled, “Salvation by Allegiance Alone.” In his book, while defining the Greek word for faith (pistis), He makes the point that faith means allegiance, and more specifically, allegiance to Jesus as King. The word “faith” has more to do with our loyalty than our believing of certain doctrines.
"The gospel and Paul’s mission are aimed at bringing about embodied allegiance to Jesus the king among the nations.” [and] "Declaration of allegiance results in a forgiving release from the power of sin, so that it is possible to maintain allegiance by the Holy Spirit."
Faith, allegiance to Christ, comes as we give our loyalty and allegiance to His Word. This means we do not merely read some sacred or historical text. We do not merely listen casually to some sermon explaining the text. Allegiance or faith comes as we listen to Jesus’ speaking to our hearts from the text. Walking by faith is to walk in full allegiance to the Word of our King no matter what our eyes are telling us (2 Corinthians 5:7). The more you read, meditate on, and pay attention to God's Word, the more you will notice that He keeps His Word, His Word never fails, and His Word is timeless, and the more you will hear Jesus’ speaking to your heart.
By meditate, we do not mean the same as what other religions mean, where mediation involves some kind of “de-thinking” process and a listening to the life-energy or force around you.
Jesus teaches something radically different. He is not an impersonal force. He is not asking you to tap into your internal voice and empty your mind of thoughts and discover your inner voice. Jesus is calling on you to put your full allegiance in His Word, consider His Word, and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you from His Word. Allegiant listening or faith is God’s answer to religious meditation. Those who give moments of their day to allegiant listening faith will discover a deep and meaningful relationship with God. When you walk in relationship, you will find a grace to live God's life in God's way, experiencing the power of His Kingdom.
Practicing Hope Two
Father, by Your grace I ask You to make me one who faithfully attends the Sunday worship service to become an integral part of Your Body. Keep me from being one who neglects to gather with Your people. In Jesus’ name, amen.