Monday, July 9, 2007
We always thank God... because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,
Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God. Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. Continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 'The LORD is my portion,' says my soul, 'therefore I will hope in him.'
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. And hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
Colossians 1:3,5; 1 Peter 1:3-4; 1 Peter 1:21; 1 Peter 1:13; Colossians 1:23; Lamentations 3:22-24; Romans 15:13; Romans 5:5; 1 John 3:2-3.
Victor Frankl was a young psychiatrist who had just begun his practice when the Germans took over his native Vienna and shipped him and his fellow-Jews off to a concentration camp. Then began the awesome task of survival. With his trained psychiatric eye he noted that many prisoners simply crumpled under the pressure and eventually died. But some did not, and Frankl made it his mission to get to know these special people and discover their secret. Without exception, those who survived had something to live for. One man had a retarded child back home he wanted to care for. Another was deeply in love with a girl he wanted to marry. Frankl himself aspired to be a writer, and was in the middle of his first manuscript when he was arrested: the drive to live and finish the book was very great. Frankl did survive, and has contributed greatly to our understanding of the human 'will to meaning'. He developed a process called 'logotherapy', which, expressed as a simple question is: 'If the presence of purpose or meaning gives one the strength to carry on, how do we human beings get it touch with it?'
The Bible's answer - for an individual or a church - is, in one word, HOPE. Humans are 'hopeful beings'. Where there's hope there's life. That's because our God is a 'God of hope' (Romans 15:13). 'My hope is in the Lord' was the Psalmists' confident affirmation.
The God who called Abraham and his family to leave the land of Ur and go to the unknown land of Canaan is the same God who is ahead of us, too, beckoning us to the land of 'not yet'. 'Hope' or its equivalents are mentioned 125 times in Scripture - often linked with faith and love (1 Corinthians 13:13, Colossians 1:4,5, 1 Thessalonians 1:3, Hebrews 10: 22-24). We can 'place our hope in the living God' (1 Timothy 4:10). Those who do not know Christ personally are 'without hope' (Ephesians 2:12, cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:13). On the other hand hope is so much an essential part of Christianity that Paul says without it the Christian is the most miserable of all persons (1 Corinthians 15:19).
In fact, the notion of hope is woven like a golden thread through the whole fabric of God's creation. An experiment by psychologists at the University of North Carolina found that rats soon drowned if they were put in a large bottle without an apparent escape. But put the rat in a jar with the lid half cut away, and it will swim for about 36 hours before drowning from exhaustion!
In 'South Pacific', Mary Martin sings 'I'm stuck like a dope with a thing called hope, and I can't get it out of my heart.' Nor can any healthy living organism.
The essayist Pope put it well: 'Hope springs eternal in the human breast'. It does, and it was put there by God. Hope sustains the farmer when he ploughs and sows, the student when she studies, the athlete when he trains - and, the first person in whose body an artificial heart was placed. He was chosen, the doctors said, because of his 'attitude to life'. Give up hope, and you may die - literally! I once pastored the downtown Central Baptist church in Sydney, Australia. Around that city-area, many men (and some women) slept in parks, in drains, in railway tunnels, or in abandoned buildings. They were called 'no-hopers'...
What oxygen is for the lungs, such is hope for the meaning - and existence - of human life.
A visitor to Chartwell, Winston Churchill's old home in Kent, asked the guide (who was an old friend of the family's), 'Did Winston Churchill ever lose hope?' 'No,' she replied, 'hope was built into him. He never expected anything but victory.' Nor can the Christian!
The absence of a living hope is the essence of despair. The person who's simply 'given up' believes there's no ray of hope anywhere. All the possibilities have been exhausted. That's a false assumption for a believer in the living God. He's 'the God who is there', who will never leave us or forsake us, in whose vocabulary the word 'hopeless' cannot exist! He's the 'God whose other name is surprise', and he's the God of the Easter-event...
So hope is more than optimism. The New Testament talks about the 'patience of hope'. Christian hope is deep; mere optimism may be shallow. Optimism may be a good natural trait - and have no religious connections at all. 'Hope', says John Macquarrie in his little book The Humility of God, 'is humble, trustful, vulnerable. Optimism is arrogant, brash, complacent... Our hope is not that in spite of everything we do, all will turn out for the best. Our hope is rather that God is with us and ahead of us, opening a way in which we can responsibly follow.'
Hope is not conditional upon trouble being removed. Hope means God is with us in trouble and in triumph. Resurrection hope means God is with us in life and death. Hope means the God who was with his people in the past will be with them always.
Once when Martin Luther was feeling depressed, his wife asked if he had heard God had died. Luther replied angrily that she was blaspheming. She retorted that if God had indeed not died what right had he to be despondent and without hope?
Hope, says Martin Buber, is 'imagining the real'. It is not fantasy or wishful thinking - like Mr. Micawber's 'hoping that something will turn up'. It's not 'she'll be right mate'! Hope deals with imagining possibilities, then having the faith to work hard to see those possibilities realized.
That is why, at funeral services, you hear the biblical affirmation of 'a sure and certain hope'. Even in death our hope rests on God, not on human philosophy, or luck, or fate. It is a dynamic, transforming quality, not only 'hoping to see my Pilot face to face, when I have crossed the bar' (Tennyson), but providing deep meaning to life's struggles before that time. Christian hope says 'History is His story'. God's divine purposes for the world and its inhabitants can't be thwarted by the evils humans perpetrate. The hope for our sick, tired world is the Kingdom of God, for which we wait, but which we also experience now. Hope assures us that there is a 'joy seeking us through pain'. It's not based on a kind of utopia-idea, but rather issues in active, productive obedience.
The Power that can raise the dead can also conquer evil. This sort of hope is the mainspring of our confidence in God, especially when the traumas and troubles of life come in upon us.
Have you ever heard the little poem by Victor Hugo?
Let us learn like a bird for a moment to take Sweet rest on a branch that is ready to break; She feels the branch tremble, yet gaily she sings. What is with her? She has wings, she has wings.
Hope provides the Christian with wings.
You see, life is difficult. Morning to evening, each day is a problem-solving period. No one's life is problem-free. No, life is problem-solving, and problem-solving is life. Someone has said that 'our human choice is never between pain and no pain, but rather between the pain of loving and the pain of not loving.' To be human is to have problems. But to be Christian is to have problems - and hope.
Life, wrote Baudelaire, is a hospital in which patients believe they will recover if they are moved to another bed.
That's not the Christian life. Hope, for the Christian, is not just 'the icing on the cake'. It is the cake! It helps him or her 'face forward'. (Have you heard about the poor man in Denver who was stricken with a strange mental illness that forced him to walk backwards all the time?' Predictably, his form of hysteria ended him up in hospital). We aren't going backwards, or living life looking over our shoulders. We can face the future - and the present - with confidence, with hope.
Can human beings really live in the reality of this sort of hope when the going's really tough?
'In February 1945,' says one observer, 'I was one of hundreds of British and American POWs thrust into Stalag 3A at Luckenwalde, just outside Berlin. Unlike us, who rated some protection under the Geneva Convention, the Russians were helpless. Underfed, denied medical attention and forced to do hard labour, their death rate was staggering. Although we had no communication with their compound, each morning we watched in fascinated horror while a truck collected its daily quota of corpses.
'The days of tribulation ended on April 22, 1945, when we were all liberated by the Ukrainian army. Within hours, the Russian barracks in Stalag 3A were emptied; hundreds went off to fight again, while those too sick to volunteer remained behind. We then entered the Russian compound. It was a scene of indescribable horror. But in the heart of a barracks block they had wrought a miracle - they had built a church.
'We stood breathless. A great golden crucifix flashed from the altar, its radiance reflected in prismed chandeliers hung the length of the nave. The windows were a splendour of stained glass, and along the walls were the Stations of the Cross, fashioned in coloured mosaic. It seemed incongruous. How could starving, dying men have created so magnificent a place of worship? Then we looked closer and all was explained. The golden crucifix was two pieces of slim timber, painstakingly sheathed in gold-foil paper salvaged from the refuse dump. The chandeliers were creations of thousands of tiny slips of cardboard, each covered with silver paper and suspended by almost invisible threads. The stations of the cross were crafted not from Florentine porcelain tile but from bits of coloured paper snipped from magazines rescued from rubbish bins.
In the constant presence of death, and from scraps gleaned from the dump, they had built a church. God had illumined it with a divine authenticity.'
In Calcutta, Mother Teresa cares for the dying in a building called 'The House of the Living'. On a visit to Australia she said, 'I picked up a man dying in an open drain. He said, "I have lived like an animal all my life but now I will die like an angel".' That's hope too.
Hope is not a kind of 'everything will be all right' wishful thinking - considering something to be so because we desire it to be so. It's not a holiday-maker's 'It should be fine tomorrow' nor the politician's 'the economy should pick up by the middle of next year'! Those sorts of statements may or may not be based on demonstrable grounds for hope, but merely on the desire that things should turn out that way.
Perhaps, however, wishful thinking is better than not thinking at all. A lonely refugee child, told that his parents were dead, still believed they were alive and went on searching for them. As it happened, he eventually found them. His 'wishful thinking' wasn't based on anything concrete, but it drove him on.
Christian hope is not an 'airy fairy' thing, building castles in the air. It's not merely 'such stuff as dreams are made of'.
No, our hope is certain because 'we can trust God to keep his promise' (Hebrews 10:23). It is based on the character - the trustworthiness - of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is rooted in our understanding of who God is, and how in history he has proved himself utterly reliable. It is based on fact, not fantasy.
F.W. Boreham in one of his essays tells of his boyhood expectation of finding a pot of gold at the foot of the rainbow. 'I never met another boy,' he wrote, who actually found a pot of gold, but what had that to do with it? Such an irrelevant circumstance could not keep me and my brothers from setting out in quest of that magic spot on which the many-tinted pillars rested... What castles in the air we erected as we made our way to the rainbow's foot.'
Many people have searched vainly for El Dorados, or Loch Ness monsters, or what-have-you, and their 'hope' has been baseless. Ours is grounded on the trustworthy promise of a trustworthy God.
Rowland Croucher, from an unpublished sermon on 'Hope' in 1 Peter.
This is why I say the word 'humility' is in order when it comes to our kind of creature projecting hopes onto the future. We simply do not know enough about 'the length and breadth and height and depth' of reality to be dogmatic about what must and must not be. What may seem light to me from where I sit could turn out to be darkness, and what seems dark may well turn out to be unimaginable good. Thus, not only because of what God is - mystery of mysteries - but also because of what we are - creatures who know in part and prophesy in part, who see through a glass darkly - the stance of balancing genuine confidence with radical openness and flexibility is alone the authentic stance of hope...
It is precisely in this dialectic of knowing and yet not knowing that I find the authentic image of hope, and how hard it is to maintain this delicate balance of confidence and flexibility and not tip over completely to one side or the other. Abraham was called on to believe that God would give him a larger future than either past or present while not being sure at all exactly how this would come to pass, and that remains to this day the challenge of authentic hoping: how to be confident without getting too specific in our expectation, and thus altogether miss or be dissatisfied with the gift of the future when it arrives.
John R Claypool, Learning to Hope, unpublished sermon preached at Northminster Baptist Church, July 23, 1978.
Therefore, it is time to move from Nazareth to Capernaum, from the place of despair to the place of hope. Stop setting limits on what can and cannot be. Behold our God! He can make the things that are out of the things that are not. He can make dead things come to life again. Neither empty wombs nor empty tombs are too much for him; which means neither are your problems, whatever they may be. Therefore, lift up your hearts. Be not afraid. He goes before us into Galilee and the future. What are we waiting for? Let us go out in hope.
John R Claypool, Easter and Despair, unpublished sermon, Broadway Baptist Church, Fort Worth, Texas, March 30, 1975.
Our hope lies not in the man we put on the moon, but in the Man we put on the Cross.
Don Basham, ACTS International Encounter, April, 1989, Vol 20, No 4, p.4.
God has not placed despair in our hearts - he has placed hope in us. Even though we see everything around us falling apart, our hope is not built upon what we see, but rather upon what God has hidden deep in our hearts - and that is hope. It is that hope that causes us to be excited and enthusiastic in a very despairing age. We are not linked to despair. We are linked to what the Scriptures call 'the God of all hope' (Romans 15:13)...
The Bible is a book of hope. Jesus Christ came to earth to be King. He went to the cross, not in defeat, but in victory. He will not go out of history defeated, nor will his people. He arose from the grave in triumph, and the hope of the Church must be more than that of being rescued to Heaven. God's people are called to victory...
God wants a people who will overflow in expectancy of what God is going to do, but that will only happen through the power of 'the Holy Spirit who was given to us' (Romans 5:5). We may have thought the power of the Holy Spirit was only for miracles and supernatural signs and wonders. But I believe that one of the greatest signs of the Holy Spirit in this despairing generation is the man or woman overflowing in hope.
We must not stop where we are and go no farther. We must not be contained. We must move from this place on into his declaration of who we are and what he wants us to be. My prayer for all of us is this: May the God of all hope grant us joy and peace as we fully trust in him, and may we overflow in hope through the power of the Holy Spirit until we see him - the hope of glory.
Bruce Longstreth, A hope that won't give up
There have been great and glorious days of the gospel in this land; but they have been small in comparison of what shall be.
James Renwick, martyred Feb 17, 1688. A Choice collection of Prefaces, Lectures and Sermons 1777, p. 279.
Without the event of the third day, hope would have no grounds for understanding Good Friday as `good' or Holy Saturday as `holy'. Jesus would have been one more good man, swallowed up in defeat and death. But because of what we have come to call `the resurrection', Christian hope understands the death of Jesus as the manifestation of God's transforming love touching our existence at its most hopeless point. Such hope understands his being dead as the power of that compassionate love to penetrate the depths of human defeat and isolation in order to engender a new creation.
Tony Kelly, Touching the Infinite, Blackburn: Collins Dove, 1991, p.105.
If we take at all seriously the vision of life given to us in the Bible, we have to look to the future not only in openness but in hopefulness as well. Why do I say this? Because the God disclosed in the Bible is both the Source and the Fulfiller of all creation. He did not begin this world carelessly or irresponsibly. He is not the kind of God to start something and then lose interest in it or to find he is incapable of completing it. NO, he is the one who is both willing and able to finish the good project he began back at the beginning. This is what the flow of history is all about - a movement from incompleteness toward fulfilment.
John Claypool, The Light Within You, Texas: Word, 1983, p.89.
I don't know Who - or what - put the question. I don't know when it was put. I don't remember answering. But, at some moment, I did say Yes to Someone - or Something - and from that hour I was certain that existence and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.
Dag Hammarskjold, Markings, Tr. W H Auden and Leif Sjoberg, London: Faber and Faber, 1964, p.169.
Help me in my unbelief, O God, and give me gifts of patience and hope. Make me more constant in my love for you and my trust in you. In loving let me believe and in believing let me love; and in loving and in believing let me hope for a more perfect love and a more unwavering faith, through Jesus Christ my Lord...
O God, I hope, each day, for the lessening of sin's hold upon my will; for my growth in grace and in true holiness; for a more perfect holiness, and when this earthly life is through, for an experience of knowing even as also I am known.
And until I experience a triumphant welcome on the other side, thank you for your comfort and protection in all the days of my life so far. Your blessings outnumber the leaves of autumn or the stars in the sky. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whose loving kindness we have been born anew; born to a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead; born to an inheritance which will never perish or fade away, kept for us in heaven. Amen.
A Benediction. May the eternal God, who has been the hope and joy of many generations, and who in all ages has invited men and women to seek him and in seeking to find him, grant you a clearer vision of his truth, a greater faith in his power, and a more confident assurance of his love.
May he who out of defeat brings new hope and new alternatives, continually bring you new life. For his greater glory. Amen.
Bible Study: Using 1 Peter 1:1-9 as your text, develop a sermon/study on the subject of hope. Here are some suggested headings: biblical hope is certain, living, a resurrection hope, and it's practical. Study the background of this epistle: to whom was the author writing about hope? What might have been their circumstances? How can we be encouraged to 'live in hope'?