Sunday, November 27, 2022

How to Stay in Hope in a Dark World

Showing up at the first pastor’s job 3 years ago was pretty scary stuff. It was me, a cook, a caseworker, and a driver. That was it. New officer, scared, unprepared, hoping that somehow he can make a difference in this crazy world. Not knowing a single person in the city, driving in late at night, and you get to work thinking to yourself, how can I possibly do this? And you wonder, is anyone going to join me in this mission?

Early on hope was in short supply, and I was scared. But there was one person who came along side me in this mission and really said "yes, I’m in."  His name was Scott. He did every single thing he could to help build the church, pick people up, pick up donations from stores, hand out fliers, come to events, and he never missed.

You have no idea what a big deal that was to me. One time I had asked Scott to stand at a kettle, because someone didn’t show up, just from 10 to noon. But when I came at night to pick up the kettle, there he was still standing there, because no one had came to relieve him. He stayed all day. And I got choked up in the car. I kid you not. And I got out of that car, and gave that guy a big hug. And I said, "I love you Scott."

Because guess what, my hope early on was hanging by a thread, and when someone gives you just a little bit of hope in that moment when you’re about to give up, it’s life changing! And I’ll love that guy til the day I die because of that.

And that’s what we’re talking about today. Today we’re addressing the codeword hope in our Christmas series. What is hope and how can we have it?

Hope is one of the most powerful forces in the universe. Hope is something that inspires people to change the world. It all starts with hope. Hope that something can be better. Hope that something can be different. Hope that in the future we can see something different than what we see now.

In the cold, cold winter season, the sun gets dim, the stars are covered by clouds at night, and the snows cover the ground. Winter is often a hard time for me and many others. Many struggle with seasonal affective disorder, and battle depression over the winter months.

It’s a scenario of loss of hope. You can start to think that winter will never end. Growing up in Wisconsin sometimes it felt like winter was endless. It would be so frigidly cold day after day. And it was brutal.

But if we were wise we’d have hope growing up, that soon spring would come. And sure enough, eventually, spring would come, the weather would change, and it would get warm again.

Sometimes I would lose hope, and get depressed, and then as spring would come I would be honestly shocked, wow, is it really over? I didn’t think it would ever end.

One could say we all have a hope meter inside each of us, the amount of hope we have in any given moment. Maybe my hope meter is at 100% full up, I’m centered on hope, this is where jesus wants me to be, in my mind and heart.

But then I lose someone I love, a grandparent. Then my health is troubled, and I begin experiencing chronic health problems. I begin experiencing spiritual warfare, bad moods, whispering temptations, attacks through people, and such. Spiritual warfare. Then, I start having financial problems. I have problems at work. All these problems become not momentary, but increasingly long term problems that seem chronic and unending.

Often, our hope meter is affected. That hope that was at 100% drops down to about 30%, 20%, then 10% and we are near losing hope. Meaning, we start to surrender to our doubts, we start to surrender to our pain, we start to surrender to negative and cynical thoughts.

And eventually, this is a low place, but the hope meter can hit 0% and we believe in our hearts something very terrible, we believe through and through that this will never change and never can change, and it’s over, and I’m done.

That is a dark place. I’ve been there a few times. Sometimes we can drop down to 0% for a night or a few days and we bounce back up. Sometimes that happens. Theologians call that a “dark night of the soul.” But, when it sticks, and you stay at 0% that’s what you might call a rock bottom.

It takes a lot to get there I think. It’s devastating. And there may be times that the Spirit of God will allow us to get to that point, for some reason, maybe if we’re caught in a sin, the Spirit allows us to spin our tires in the mud until we finally realize, wait, I need to turn this over to God.

So be it. God will use the loss of hope in that scenario to bring us to faith and repentance.

But it is never God’s will that we dwell in a state of perpetual hopelessness. Because we have a rock solid hope. We have our hope stayed on the victory of the Lord Jesus Christ, who has paid our sin debt, and given us new life, granted us the Holy Spirit and now walks with us everyday in victory. That is hope. And that hope is solid.

But the scriptures often speak of hope I think because in this world hope is often affected by the evil and struggle of this life. It’s not always easy to stay hopeful. So the goal here for this message is to edify and build in you a sense of renewed hope for the present and the future. That’s the goal.

What’s the point of this message? Strengthen your hope. We see the battle. The solution is firm, steady hope. Do you have a firm steady hope in Christ Jesus?

When we talk about Christmas, the birth of Jesus 2000 years ago, we’re talking about the birth of hope. We’re talking about a whole new way of life. We’re talking about a different world. In the depths of winter, when all seemed lost, and our sins seemed endless, and hell seemed our only future destination, then Jesus was born.

I never knew what that meant. I didn’t quite understand. Most people don’t it seems. It’s easy to have the TV, the fridge full of food, the nice car, the house, the beautiful family, technology, medicine, science, education, and all of it, and it can seem like a enough. It can seem like, hey, I have all I need. I don’t even need God, is the thought.

But over the years ,the cracks start to appear. The angst begins to grow. The emptiness takes over. The shame grows. We try meditation to fix it. We try soothing music. We try “wellness” or going to the gym. We try yoga. We try reading self help books. We even indulge in new age spiritualism, maybe. We get into politics. We find some charities and non profits and causes to champion. But none of it quite fixes the problem. None of it quite satisfies. We feel empty.

For Israel the hope was obvious, in the birth of the messiah. For us in the wealthy nation of the United States, it’s often less obvious. It seems distant, far away, hard ot understand why Jesus being born was such a big deal. Even growing up, watching the peanuts Christmas special, and Lionis tells us the scripture about the coming of Jesus, I didn’t get it.

For Israel, they were under oppression, under the iron boot of Rome, beset by sin, and darkness, but us today, we seem surrounded by luxury, yet in all that, we find nothing that truly satisfies.

So in the end, we find ourselves, on that dark night in the depths of winter, December 24th, exhausted and stupefied from presents and gifts and money and food and desserts and videogames and toys, and romance, and we’re exhausted, and as we look out into the night, beryodn the Christmas lights, might we realize, that what we’ve always hungered for is really Jesus Christ, a real savior, who can really save us from sin, if we will give our lives totally over to Him?

Could that be the answer we’ve always been seeking? And perhaps you say, well I’ve already received Christ as my savior, but does he really own all of you, or are you keeping him to the side, maybe you need to see again this Christmas, all over again, that everything else pales in comparison to Jesus Christ and your relationship with Him. Nothing else matters. Set it all aside again. Lay it all aside again, and put Christ first in your heart again. Fall in love with Him again. Just like you did at the very beginning, when you first believed.

To realize everything this world has to offer is garbage, trash, nothing ,and only Christ is all, and His Holy Spirit we must submit to fully to lead us, and to see Jesus and love Him deeply, that is the meaning of it all. That is what hope is.

Maybe we lose hope because we lose focus on Him. Maybe we begin cynical because we’ve forgotten our first love. Let us then return to Him in honesty, like a little child, rushing toward Jesus, in total trust, and in total love. Total trust total commitment totally given over. All in for Him.

So this is hope, to believe the promises of God, that’s what we talked about. To believe God’s promises means, because we’re in them through faith, we cling to them. And that hope is belief that it’s really true. And it will really happen. And even, that Jesus is here right now. And loves us. Hope isn’t just in something future, but hope is present now in a living savior who is here now. And faith in His love for us.

We see a great statement about faith in Romans 5, “5 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we[c] also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

We find hope here and what it means. We have gained access to a place where we now stand, in the grace of God, under it, in it, awash in it, and we’re exciting celebrating and bragging on the hope of the glory of God, the hope of living in a new reality, a new place, a new future, a hope to live at the center of the glory of God, meaning, in perfect fellowship with God. Living with Him in the place where he is now. Forever.

Until then we know all of this planet growns in anticipation of that moment. We live in a fallen world. As it says in Romans 8:22-30…

It says, “22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[i] have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”

So secondly today hope is something we wait in. Hope is about waiting long periods of time, waiting for what God has promised to be ours. Hope is a marathon, it’s not a quick thing. I remember counting down the days to Christmas when I was young and it seemed to go by so slowly. But I kept hoping and waiting, knowing it was coming.

That’s how it is for me as well as a Christian, I’m waiting for the City of God. I know it’s coming. Plain as day. Plain as Christmas will come this year, the city of God is as real as that.

But the art and skill of hope is waiting patiently over extended periods of time, staying in hope.

It’s like resting in God’s grace. We’re in it right now. We could step out of it. But we choose to stay in God’s grace, by staying in faith.

Similarly, we want to stay “in Hope” we can leave hope too, and start to doubt, and get cycnical and depressed, and sorrowful. That’s when we start to abandon hope. We give it up, say no, theres no point anymore, I’m done. I’m giving up.

There are always nights and days when I struggle to not give up some level of hope, and allow just a little bit of cynicism in. So the battle of the heart and soul is to stay in hope even when life gets hard and crazy and long and painful and difficult.

But stay in hope. Remain in that place of hope. You can do that. It’s not easy. You can do that. Stay in hope.

Romans 15:8-13 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed 9 and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written:“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;

I will sing the praises of your name.”
10 Again, it says,
“Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”
11 And again,
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles;
let all the peoples extol him.”
12 And again, Isaiah says,
“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
one who will arise to rule over the nations;
in him the Gentiles will hope.”

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

I think in Romans 15 we see how God helps us to stay in hope.

Our hope meter starts to drop as we face difficulties. It’s at 100%. But then we get a bad flu. It drops to 90%. Then a family member dies. It drops to 70%, then we have work problems, disagreements with coworkers, 60%, then an argument on facebook, 55% then our bank account drops into the negative 45%, and on and on and pretty soon it’s down to like 10%.

And then God responds by rebuilding our hope. He rebuilds it with two things, joy and peace.

Joy is when we experience beautiful God-led moments. Family. Friends. Conversations. Worship. Excitement. Beauty.

Peace is when we experience a general comfort in life by living close to God in relationship.

Lastly, I want to point you to Hebrews 11:1-2 “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.”

Let’s break it down.

Faith is confidence.

In what? In what we hope for.

Faith is assurance of real hope.

Our faith is a commitment to hope.

But it’s hard because it’s in things we do not see.

Hope is confident faith in God’s promises. It’s all connected back to God’s promises and knowing they are true. Then we have hope, which is confident faith.