I) Eighteen months ago, I embarked on a journey. I packed up my belongings and headed from Kansas to Northern California to begin a new life. I had been divorced for almost a year, and I had begun a relationship with a wonderful woman from San Diego, CA.
The little furniture that I had along with my pots and pans and plates and collection of mugs had all been packed in boxes and were shipped via a moving company. I even shipped my car as my fiancé, Ceci, didn’t want me driving by myself over the 1700 mile trip.
The most important thing that I took on this journey was something called hope. I was putting the past behind me. I was putting 15 years of life in Kansas and serving churches in Kansas behind me and I was looking forward to a new adventure.
I came here to Northern California with hope for a good life, hope for healing, and hope for a successful ministry with the church I was coming to serve as interim minister.
My hope wasn’t a result of crying out because of sorrow – my hope was a result of anticipating the new life that God had in store. Rather than be anxious about picking up roots and resettling in a whole new state – I was placing my trust and hope in the God who called me.
II) Last week – as we explored the connection between faith and emotions, I gave you a practical definition of “hope”.
Hope is what enables us to see a silver lining around the dark clouds. Hope makes us look for a rainbow during the rainstorm. Hope is what causes us to sing out loud, “The sun will come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow they’ll be sun.”
I would add that hope is seeing the possibilities beyond the circumstances and opportunities that God gives to you each and every day.
I love the word “journey” as a metaphor for life – especially for our spiritual life with God. You and I are on a journey – not a physical journey – but a journey called life. And the most important thing we can take with us is that thing called “hope”.
III) Psalm 77 is attributed to Asaph – one of the primary musicians and choir directors in David’s court. One of his responsibilities as a musician was to sound the cymbals during special services. He was also recognized as a prophet and spiritual leader of Israel.
Psalm 77, following the method of many other psalms, begins with sorrowful complaints yet ends with expressions of comfort, hope, and encouragement.
The complaints seem to be personal grievances, but the encouragements relate to the community at large.
David was facing opposition as a King. Other men, including one of his sons, believed that they could do a better job at being King than David. David was aware of other nations who wanted him dead and gone. Asaph, the choir director and writer of this Psalm would have known about David’s worries and fears about his enemies; he might have even had similar fears since he was so close to the King.
The psalmist complains here of the deep impressions which his troubles have made upon his spirit, and the temptation he had in falling in despair to the worries he had. He encourages himself to hold onto hope as he remembers all that God has done for him and for his nation. He has hope that he and his nation would find healing and wholeness, strength and protection.
VI) We face troubles and hardships like David and Asaph. Our obstacles may not be human enemies and armies but we, too, come up against situations, people, and circumstances that try and get us down. And like the Psalmist we can have hope for our journey. We can have hope that leads us to reach for the hand of God.
One other thing about this “hope” is that God is able to move us beyond our circumstances, hurts and our fears – and give us a reason to have hope. Hope enables us to fly above the dark clouds of life because God is with us through Jesus Christ when we’re crying out to God or just feeling anxious.
V) Ben was diagnosed with a brain tumor at the age of 16 years old. Hope is the one thing that kept his parents, Kevin and Laura moving forward. Hope is what kept them from giving up. His younger sister, Bethany, always kept her sights on the silver lining.
He went through a series of tests and a series of treatment. They discovered that the type of brain tumor he had was the same kind that took the life of his uncle a few years earlier. He underwent surgery that didn’t quite get all the tumor. Then he went through a variety of treatment that included chemo-therapy. Ben never lost his sense of humor or his compassion for other people through the ordeal.
Let me share with you again the quote about hope from Henri Nouwen …
Hope means to keep living amid desperation and to keep humming in the darkness. Hoping is knowing that there is love; it is trust in tomorrow; it is falling asleep and waking again when the sun rises.
In the midst of a gale at sea, it is to discover land. In the eyes of another, it is to see that he understands you. As long as there is still hope, there will also be prayer. And God will be holding you in his hands.
For six months Ben went through that treatment – and then they ran more tests. In the middle of it all they had celebrated his seventeenth birthday. Someone had given them tickets to a Kansas City Chiefs game. They lived their life together and kept hoping.
A month after his surgery – tests showed the tumor coming back. Ten months after he was diagnosed with the brain tumor, Ben died. Now for most of us that would have been the end of our hope, but not for Kevin and Laura. They have a different kind of hope today. They now hope for that day when they will be reunited with their son, Ben, in heaven.
And – they set up a special fund to raise money to give to research. They participate in candlelit walks around a high school track, raising money for cancer foundations. And they hope for the day when a better treatment for brain cancer and tumors will be a reality. They hold onto the hope that there will be a day when no other child or adult has to go through what Ben went through.
VI) Scriptures are filled with passages about hope.
2 Thess 2:16-17, NLT
16 May our Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father, who loved us and in his special favor gave us everlasting comfort and good hope, 17 comfort your hearts and give you strength in every good thing you do and say.
1 Peter 1:21, NLT
21 Through Christ you have come to trust in God. And because God raised Christ from the dead and gave him great glory, your faith and hope can be placed confidently in God.
Ps 94:18-19, NLT
18 I cried out, "I’m slipping!" and your unfailing love, O LORD, supported me. 19 When doubts filled my mind,your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.
Throughout Scriptures, hope is the anticipation of something good. For those who follow Jesus Christ as Lord, hope is connected to the resurrection of our Lord. Hope is what leads us to the comforting arms of God.
VII) Hope is the force that ignites a light in a darkened soul. Hope is not only makes the life of an individual better – but communities can rediscover hope as well.
I ran across an article about a journalist who traveled to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that appeared in Guideposts in the last few years –
"From a distance the city had looked desolate.
I discovered glimmers of dignity and generosity. Picking my way through the urine-soaked, trash-strewn streets in front of the convention center, I met Roynell Joshua, a 72-year-old man who sat with limbs askew in a folding chair on the blistering pavement. He was surrounded by thousands waiting for evacuation buses that had been promised but hadn’t arrived.
Roynell, who had climbed out a window of his flooded home into a rescue boat, needed dialysis. He had missed three treatments since the storm hit. He was weak almost to the point of incapacity. Each leg was the diameter of a baseball bat. When someone tried to move him, his face seized with pain and he cried out, “No! No! No!”
His situation seemed impossible. But then a woman sitting next to him spoke up, “He fell in the street trying to cross over here. I got some guys to help get him. We’ve been on this spot for two days. We sit and talk. It keeps me busy.”
The woman was Darleen Morgan. She had lost her house and her family. She had never met Roynell, but when she saw him slip in a puddle and fall she helped him up. Now she sat beside him, shielding him with an umbrella and holding a bottle of water to his lips.
“She’s doing a good job,” Roynell said.
And there was Brad Mercer, a special-education mediator from a Dallas suburb who drove 500 miles in a 50-foot-long amphibious tourist ferry called the Duck to pull the lost and the frail from drowned New Orleans homes. I rode with Brad on his boat through a flooded neighborhood near downtown and he told me how watching news images after the storm got him increasingly agitated, until he impulsively cleared out his work calendar for a week and drove the Duck with a friend to New Orleans.
For every scene of despair I witnessed in New Orleans, there was a Cornelius Victor. Or a Brad Mercer, who, in his haste to get to New Orleans, drove in shifts with his friend and slept in the metal hull of the Duck. Or a Darleen Morgan.
I had witnessed devastation here. But none of my fears were realized. Instead, I found courage and tears where I expected to find violence. I found ragged attempts to preserve dignity where I expected to find the breakdown of civilization. I found faith where bitterness could have taken hold. And I found that in a fallen world where people so often think only of themselves, the horror of disaster can prompt a selflessness we would otherwise never achieve.
And most important, I found a kind of answer to the question formed by disaster: “Where are you, God, in this?” He was everywhere. I could feel his presence with the suffering of his people. Perhaps it sounds perverse to say so, but in New Orleans, where all love seemed lost, I found a deeper love that holds the afflicted close enough to offer them redemption.
For God is never closer to us than when we are suffering, and hope is never nearer than when we need it most." – (the end)
VIII) How do we find that hope?
Underneath every rock we encounter on our journey is grace. Behind every obstacle is something from which to learn and grow. We grow in our faith and we grow closer to God. God doesn’t want us to feel hopeless – rather God wants us to use our sorrows and rough spots and rocks of our journey to reach out to Him – to really take His hand.
1st) We come across a rock on our journey and we cry out to God. “God, this rock is in my way. Get rid of it God. It’s too big for me to handle.” And God says – “Use my strength to look under the rock. Trust me to help you turn it over and handle it.”
Rom 5:3-5, NIV -- 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
Those rocks – especially in the beginning of our journey help us learn to rely on God more and more.
2nd) As we go further on our journey we get the strength and courage to turn the rocks over with God’s help. And as we cry out to God and turn those rocks over we begin to remember all the other times God helped us around or over the other rocks on the pathway.
3rd) Remembering of what God has done before begins to draw us closer to God – and that is where the hope kicks in even more.
IX) The God who comes to us in Jesus Christ is absolutely faithful – we can absolutely have hope in the God who raised Jesus from the grave.
Hope is what enables us to see that silver lining around the dark clouds. Hope makes us look for a rainbow during the rainstorm. Hope is seeing the possibilities beyond the circumstances and opportunities that God gives to you each and every day.