"Hoping in God, even if ..."
Good morning. It is a gift to be able to share with you this morning what God has placed on my heart. As I look out over this congregation I see more than friendly faces Ė I see my family. Thanks Don, for giving me the privilege of speaking this morning.
By the way, I promise not to touch the centerpiece on the altar. [Each Easter there is this beautiful centerpiece on the altar that has an Easter lily growing out of this giant boulder]. For those of you who were not here last week at the second service, Kathy LeBlanc (my oldest daughter) and I were moving the altar off the platform and I lost control of my end and the rock went sliding off. Everyone of course thought it was Kathy - but it was me. Don was both quick and gracious and turned the mess I made into an object lesson about how Jesus rolled the stone away. No wonder we love him so much. Any way, I promise to stay away from it this week.
If you have your Bibles, If you would turn with me to Dan 3:16-18. As you are turning there let me provide a little background to the passage. As most of you know, the Book of Daniel was written during a time of great trial for the people of Israel. In spite of repeated warnings and admonitions from God through His prophets, their disobedience caused God to destroy their beloved temple and to expel them from the Promised Land. He forced them to settle in a godless land and through the Prophet Jeremiah told them to settle down there. Our main characters in this passage, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednigo are three young men who did just that. God honored their faithfulness and gave them positions of honor and leadership. They are charged with treason for not bowing down to an image the King had made. Standing right before the King, we hear their reply:
††††††††††† Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego answered and said to the King: "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you set up."
Weíre going to come back to this passage at the very end, so place a bookmark here to come back to later. It will be a long time for you to keep your finger there ----- Well it wonít be that long. This morning, I would like to talk with you about Hope. Certainly, in this Easter season, we hear a lot about hope. The resurrection was the most hopeful event that has occurred in the history of man. Spring is always a season of hope - whether it is the earth coming back to life after the deadness of winter - or if you are a baseball fan, the hope that your team will do better next year. But do we really have a biblical understanding of what hope is? What does it mean?
Itís easy to use terms and phrases that we donít really understand. Last week, as we stood around the Easter table, I asked our younger grandchildren why we were celebrating Easter. They knew that Jesus rose from the dead but did not know what it meant for us. In the same way, we can be using words without really knowing what they mean. So we will be spending a little time looking at the meaning of the word hope.
We will also be looking at some other questions:
††††††††††† How do we appropriate the hope we have been given?
††††††††††† How do allow the Holy Spirit to cause Hope to abound in our life as Paul prayed in Romans 15?
Hopefully, the Lord will use my words today to not only help us understand hope, but to cause hope to abound among us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Letís ask the Father to do that this morning.
Lord, may my words be your words today. As you have given us the gift of hope through the power of your resurrection, use my words to help us unwrap this gift and to begin to use it in our lives this day. Amen
For me, it is always helpful to begin with definitions. Letís define the words we are using so we have common ground. On an every day basis we use the word hope in a number of ways:
††††††††††† I hope I get this new job
††††††††††† I hope my daughter gets home safely tonight
††††††††††† I hope I donít tip over the centerpiece on the altar today
Another thing about the way we use hope is that we only use hope concerning positive things in the future. The thing we are looking to with expectation is a positive thing. It is something we desire. We never hope for something we donít want to happen.
A second aspect of the traditional use of hope is that it carries with it a sense of expectation that the thing we desire is going to happen. Older Websterís dictionaries define the verb to hope as - "To desire with expectation of fulfillment". As our culture has continued to drift from its moorings of faith, this aspect of hope is fading. Hope is more and more often used as a replacement for "wishing." "I hope it doesnít rain this afternoon."
But there is still a difference between wishing for something and hoping. How would you feel if your son came home and said:
††††††††††† Iím wishing for good grades
††††††††††† I hoping for good grades
Even in our every day usage, hope still carries with it more certainty than wishing.
With the contemporary definition aside, letís take a few minutes and look at the biblical definition of hope.
As you know, the Old Testament was primarily written in Hebrew. And in the OT, there are four separate and distinct words used for hope. I am not going to try and pronounce them. I struggled with Nebuchanezzar. If you want to know them, you can talk to Brad, our resident Hebrew scholar. These four words however are so similar in meaning, that when the OT was translated into the Greek shortly before the time of Christ, the same Greek word that is used for hope in the New Testament (elpis) was used for all of them. The one thing that these words have in common is that they all carry with them a root meaning of waiting.
Now wait a minute - this is supposed to be a positive sermon about hope. I donít know about you but hope is a positive word and waiting is a negative word.
I donít like to wait in line, wait at the traffic light, wait for my family to get ready to go.
What does waiting have to do with hope?
To really get into the biblical understanding of hope we have to understand the active role that waiting plays in hope. Biblical hope is always in something for which there is no tangible evidence. Paul says in Romans 8:24 that hope that is seen is not hope.
Being from the Chicago area, it is not using hope biblically to say:
††††††††††† I hope the Chicago Bulls win the NBA this year
but in one sense, it is using hope biblically to say
††††††††††† I hope the Chicago Cubs win the NL pennant this year
The difference is that one is on the horizon and the other is not. Waiting for the Bulls to win the NBA is not the same as waiting for the Cubs to win the pennant.
But another thing that we see
in the scriptures about hope is that even though there is no tangible reason to
hope, there is a certainty in Biblical hope. This is where biblical hope
differs from the way we use it in every day life. Hebrewís 6:11 talks about the
believer exercising spiritual disciplines so as to attain to the "full
assurance of hope." Paul describes biblical hope as a hope that does not
disappoint. And the writer of the book of Hebrews says that faith is the
evidence of a certain hope. In fact, all of the objects of hope Ė i.e. what we
are to hope in - are things that the Christian can have full assurance that it
is going to happen:
††††††††††† Eternal life
††††††††††† To Be like Jesus
Essentially, the object of Hope in the New Testament is God and what God has clearly spoken of as the inheritance of the believers.
The words used for hope in the Hebrew Old Testament and other sources written in Greek at the time the New Testament was written, all carry with them a sense of waiting for both good things, a fearful anticipation of bad things or just plain waiting for something to happen. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the writers of the New Testament took this word and applied to the disciplined, confident and positive waiting for God to be God that we now call hope.
So, if we were provide a definition of biblical hope it would be:
††††††††††† the patient, disciplined, confident, waiting for and expectation of God to be God.
Ok, we have that behind us. We have a common understanding of what we are talking about when we use the word hope.
It is Godís desire for us to see hope abound in us - to become people of hope. Letís look at some things that help hope grow and some of the things that hinder hope from abounding in our lives.
One of the things that I have found crushes hope in my life is when I find myself believing certain lies that deny certain aspects of Godís truth. One of these lies goes like this:
††††††††††† As a child of God, as one who faithfully serves God, as one who lives a sacrificial life for Jesus, I should never have to suffer.
This, brothers and sisters is a pervasive and subtle lie right from the pit of hell. Although there is ample evidence in the scripture to support the fact of Godís care for us and his provision for us and for his will for good health for us, there is much evidence that suffering is also part of the life of the believer. As evidence about how dangerous and diabolical this lie is, remember the time in Matt 16, just after Peter confessed Jesus as the Anointed One - Godís chosen? Jesus began to tell the disciples about how He was going to suffer and be killed. Do you remember Peterís response? No not you Lord. And do you remember Jesus response? Get thee behind me Satan.
Even though I know that this is a lie, itís easier to believe when things are going well than when things are going bad. Satan, the whisperer will be right there -
††††††††††† You are suffering because youíre not really a Christian
††††††††††† If God is so loving, why is He letting this happen to you (or your family)?
We need to recognize these as straight from the pit and renounce them as such. If we entertain such lies, hope will be crushed.
As many of you know, our daughter Abby got mononucleosis about 3.5 years ago. And since that time, she has never completely recovered. She has had to miss an immense amount of school. She had to drop out of all of the activities she loved (drama and music) and had to severely limit her activities. It was only last year that someone finally diagnosed it. Once we knew what was wrong, I said to myself that I needed to seriously seek God for her healing and began coming over to the church every night for prayer. I felt that God had shown me that He would heal her. After many months and no major change in the situation, I was very discouraged. Then this fall, when it got so bad that Abby had to drop out of school (in her senior year), my hope was far from abounding.
Then one night, I felt that God showed me how I had begun to focus my hope on her healing rather than on what God was doing in the present moment. My focus was so on her future healing that I was missing what He was doing today. My hope was no longer on those certainties that are the object of Biblical hope. God showed me that He is only and always in the present. We can only experience God in the present moment. As my focus shifted to the day Abby would be healed, I was missing what He was doing today when she was not healed.
This proved to be a critical juncture for me. I began to ask the Lord to show me how He was working in my life, in Abbyís life, in our family TODAY. I was missing so much. And my misdirected hope was surely a disappointment.
So, what can we do to allow hope to abound in our lives. I want to mention two things that I have found to provide a nurturing environment that allows hope to grow.
The first and obvious antidote to lies is truth. And of course the greatest source of Truth is this book. This book is a great source of hope for us as believers. Let me share with you just three examples of hope from Godís word:
Of course, one of the greatest scriptures concerning hope is found in Romans 8:28†††††† I am sure most of you are very familiar with it (All things work together for goodÖ). What Christian has not found these words to break through in some of the most hopeless situations?
Let me share with you one a little less obvious. Leading up to Easter, our family has been watching an old videotape we have of the Jesus of Nazareth mini-series. As I watched it again this season, I was struck by the passion and the intensity of John the Baptist. Michael York captures the passion and the fire of that great man of God. As I watched John, my spirit would cry out to God for the passion and the fire of John.
Lord change me Ė give me that passion Ė uh, but Iíd rather not have the locusts although the wild honey would be okay. Also, You know, beheadings arenít done any more, so may my landing be a little gentler.
One morning after watching a particular moving segment concerning John the Baptist, I read from Matt 11:11 where Jesus says:
††††††††††† He who is least in the kingdom of Heaven is greater than John.
Brothers and sisters, that is a scripture full of future and certain hope. One day you and I will be so transformed that our passion will make Johnís passion here on earth pale in comparison. PRAISE GOD. That hope is certain. That hope is sure. WE SHALL ALL BE CHANGED. And changed so that the least in the kingdom of heaven are greater than John as he lived on this earth.
In my family, Barbara and I have this THING. You probably have these kinds of THINGS in your family too. Well, when I read a book, you start from the beginning and you work your way through until the end. NO FAIR PEEKING ahead. Barbara on the other hand, reads books in any which order! Appalling!!
Well, brothers and sisters, I have peeked at the ending and guess what.
And you know what else?
BECAUSE HE WINS, WE ALSO WIN!
Now that is true biblical hope!
Turn with me to Romans 5:1-5
††††††††††† We exult/rejoice/celebrate in hope of the Glory of God
††††††††††† We exult in our tribulations; knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance proven character and proven character, hope - and biblical hope does not disappoint
Here Paul lays out a progression. Tribulation leads to perseverance, which leads to proven character, which leads to hope
As I reflected on this, I could see how, if we allow God to have His way in trial and tribulations, they would build character and perseverance in me. But hope? How do these situations build hope?
What I felt that God showed me in my own life was that as I took time to reflect on how God had worked in situations in the past, hope would grow in me. One of the things I felt God direct me to do during my times of seeking Him, was to write down all the places I saw him at work in Abbyís life from the very beginning until now. Each night as God brought various memories back and I filled my notebook with these reflections, hope was being built for my present situations. Spiritual Reflection on past trials and tribulations can be fertile soil for growing hope in our lives. And that is how trials build hope as we take the time for spiritual reflection.
Now, I promised to get back to Daniel (That also means Iím at the end). This passage beautifully illustrates biblical hope in the midst of a very difficult circumstance. Shadrach, Meshach, & Abednego affirm their faith that God is able to deliver them from the furnace. They affirm their faith in the fact that God will deliver them out of the Kingís hand. These are strong words of faith. Some would not call it faith because of the next line
††††††††††† Even if He does not
Those words are heresy to those who hold the Word of Faith view of believing. I believe that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are exercising true Biblical Faith and Hope. Because, it is not a certainty that God was going to deliver them the way they wanted to be delivered. But He was going to deliver them!
Henri Nouwen says:
When we live with hope we do not get tangled up with concerns for how our wishes will be fulfilled. So, too, our prayers are not directed toward the gift, but toward the one who gives it. In the prayer of hope, there are no guarantees asked, no conditions posed, no proofs demanded. You expect everything from God without binding God in any way. Hope is based on the premise that God gives only what is good. Hope includes an openness by which you wait for the promise to come through - even though you never know when, where or how this might happen
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are exercising that kind of hope.
For us to become a people of hope we need to expect everything from God but trust Him to do as He will. Our call is then to faithfully serve Him.
My prayers of late have repeatedly contained two phrases:
††††††††††† Even if Ö
††††††††††† Come what may
Lord, even if I donít see Abbyís complete healing today, I will love you and serve you
Lord, come what may I will worship you. For you are my hope - my only hope
Lord, we are full of wishes, full of desires, full of expectations
Some of them may be realized, many may not - but in the midst of all our satisfactions and disappointments
††††††††††† We hope in you
Lord, may we grow in hope this day
Sunday April 19th, 1998 Ė First Week after Easter
EDITORIAL NOTE: Two weeks after this sermon was preached, Abby was healed after 3.5 years and has been well ever since!! Praise God!