A Living Hope

To download this sermon transcript, click: A Living Hope, July 20, 2014


 A Living Hope

July 20th, 2014


As the Holocaust began, the eminent neurologist & psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, was forced onto a train heading to the horrific Auschwitz concentration camp.

–      He was accompanied by his wife, Tilly, who would soon be shipped to another camp where she was killed…

–      As well as his mother & brother, who died at Auschwitz after Viktor was transferred to Dachau.


He shares his horrifying, yet inspiring story, in his 1959 book, Man’s Search for Meaning, which I read last year.

–      While in Auschwitz & Dachau, Frankl began to pay attention to how he and those around him were dealing with the intense grief and pain they were facing in the death camps each day.

–      And over time, he observed four different ways the prisoners where responding to it all.


He noticed that others began to rage, even against the other prisoners… even those who, earlier on, had shown themselves to be kind and respectable people.

–      But, over time, they became cold & cruel… doing whatever they could to survive no matter how brutal.

–      He also noticed a whole other group of people who simply gave up.

–      It would just happen… where even the most optimistic of their friends would simply refuse to get out of their bed…

–      where nothing bothered them any more because whatever little they had left to motivate them… was now gone.


Others, he said, held on to the hope that if they could somehow stay alive, they’d have their old lives back…

–      their freedom, their health, family, professional achievements, fortunes, and position in society.

–      And yet, after they camps were liberated, so many of these particular survivors realized that life was not what they left behind

–      And, that the life they had hoped to have back was no longer there.


In fact, over time, a number of concentration camp survivors became severely depressed and even took their lives.

–      It was clear to them that no earthly happiness could compensate them for all they had suffered.

–      The disillusionment was too much for them to bear.


Frankl then discovered a far smaller group of prisoners who were able to remain kind throughout their time in the concentration camps…

–      People who would walk through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread

–      Of course, they weren’t “happy”… but they were able to maintain what he called their “inner liberty”…

–      The ability to decide for themselves what kind of person they would be rather than allow their circumstances to mold them into someone very different than they were.


Frankl said that life in the concentration camps tore open the human soul exposing the depths and foundations.

–      And what were those foundations common to this fourth group of people who remained kind… who maintained their inner-liberty?

–      He said that it was a life-foundation rooted in hope. But, not a hope rooted in any finite object…

–      whether it’s good health, family, professional achievement, wealth, or position, for example.


He was speaking about a future hope that isn’t man made… a hope that can’t die simply because our circumstances have grown heavy;

–      That, unless there’s an imperishable, living hope, than you won’t ultimately be able to handle suffering…

–      and, if you can’t handle suffering, you wont be able to handle life.


For Frankl, life in the concentration camp is just a consolidation of what we all experience in life…

–      The “stripping away” of earthly hopes and dreams that are here today and gone tomorrow.

–      And so, we need a “living hope,” he says… one that doesn’t simply tell us how to live, but why to live.

–      that what your “future hope” is completely determines how you handle your present reality.


In 1 Thessalonians 4:13, Paul is wanting to encourage the believers in Thessalonica… that this kind of future hope really does exist.

–      He says, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have diedso you will not grieve like people who have no hope.”

–      I want you to be informed; I want you to think about this; because I don’t want you to grieve as those who have no hope.


I want you to know about this because I don’t want you to live under the weight of anxiety, distrust, and disillusionment, and despair as do those people that have no hope.

–      No matter how bleak & discouraging everything around you might get, the one who allows the reality of the Father’s love…the reality of the presence of the Kingdom of God…

–      To those who allow these truths from God’s Word to take up residence in their hearts,


To them, what will spring up from the parched ground all around them is hope. Not just wishful thinking… but HOPE!

–      And how important is this… how important is it to walk in hope?

–      It is, as I’ve said before, as important for the soul & spirit as food & water is for the body.


So, this morning I want to talk about hope… not the kind of “hope” that can be confused with wishful thinking

–      or the kind of optimism that simply “hopes” something will turn out the way we want it to.

–      Because, real hope is more than that. Ultimately, hope is the conviction that, because God has brought life into this world in the person of Jesus Christ, the best is yet to come.

–      In fact, the NT word for hope means “confident expectation”.


Hope is standing, as David did, in front of a 9’6” giant who just happens to want to kill you… whose sword is bigger and heavier than you…

–      and yet, still be able to say, “if God is for us, who can be against us?”

–      It’s this hope more than anything else that enables individuals, and marriages, and families, and churches to remain that “inner-liberty” even through the greatest of storms.


But when hope is lost… a person, a family, a church, a son or daughter… begins to die.

–      It’s as if some kind of spiritual fire goes out inside a person’s heart, and from that day on they’re just marking time.

–      It’s why the writer of Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision (hope), the people perish.”

–      We were created to be a people of hope… and without it, the meaning & purpose of life begin to slowly turn out of focus.


You see, hope connects us to the future the way memories connect with the past.

–      Imagine how disorienting it can be to loose your memories… to loose all sense of connection to your past.

–      Well… having no hope does the same except that you loose any kind of healthy anticipation regarding your future.


In Romans 15:13, Paul addressed the growing numbers of believers in Rome who were struggling to hold on to hope because of the increasing weight of persecution.

–      But Paul does more than simply talk to them; he prays for them!

–      In verse 13 he prays, “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.”

–      You see, Paul’s prayer for them is that, in spite of the storms that can so quickly intrude into their lives, that hope would continue to overflow in their lives.


And yet, as much as you may want that, you may struggle with the fact that your hopes haven’t always panned out.

–      Some of you had hopes for a relationship, a career, for kidshopes to have accomplished something.

–      And yet, things may not have worked out the way you wanted them to.

–      The word Paul uses to express this, in Romans 8, is groaning.

–      You see… groaning is what people do when their hopes are frustrated & they’re disappointed.


Like despair, that feeling of hopelessness, or groaning, comes when we recognize the huge gap between what is and what you want to be.

–      Paul writes in Romans 8:22, “For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”

–      Not just groaning… but groaning as in the pains of childbirth!?


I’ve told you before how Joyce and I went through Bradley childbirth classes together before we had Rebecca.

–      Now, with the Bradley method, my job was going to be more than just keep the cup of crushed ice full.

–      You see… I was going to be her coach, which, of course, sounded like a lot more fun than it actually turned out to be.


Well, as I shared with you before, one of the things they told me was that I should never use the word “pain”.

–      So, instead of asking Joyce if she was experiencing multiple waves of earth shattering pain, I should simply ask, “Are you experiencing any discomfort?”


Whenever I could see the winces of pain on her face; Or the sharp spikes showing up on her monitor; Or, the drops of sweat from her brow,

–      I knew that, as her “coach” I had an important job to do.

–      And so, I leaned over her a bit and, with nothing but a sincere and caring heart, I asked her… “Joyce, are you experiencing some discomfort?”

–      And with that, she opened her eyes and gave me a look that could have melted Alaska! The pains of childbirth!


And yet, as I read the Bible, I don’t think anyone experienced that groaning…

–      the aching of living life somewhere between where you are and where you want to be… more than the disciples had after Jesus was crucified.

–      For 3 years they watched in amazement & anticipation as Jesus worked miracles right in front of them and taught them with the kind of authority they had never seen before.


But now the unthinkable has taken place… and their joy has been replaced with despair,

–      as Jesus was brutally beaten and was now hanging on that cruel Roman cross.

–      And… when Jesus died, their hope died with Him.


With their hopes extinguished, several of Jesus’ followers left in despair for their village a few miles away from Jerusalem.

–      But then, in Luke 24, a stranger walks up to them (who was actually Jesus) and asks them why they were so sad.

–      They looked at him and said… you must be the only guy in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard what has happened.


They walked a little further… and eventually stopped to eat… and when Jesus asked God’s blessing on the meal, they realized who was sitting on the other side of the table!

–      And then, with that confident expectation that comes from renewed hope… do you remember what they did?

–      They turned right around and ran right back to Jerusalem!

–      Despair sent them home… but hope brought them back to Jerusalem!


It’s why Peter wrote so excitedly in 1 Peter 1:3, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

–      Suddenly the meaning & purpose of their lives came back into focus… and with that renewed hope…

–      joy and vision and anticipation was stirred up inside of them like never before!


And yet, in spite of your deep conviction that God loves you and that He’s present in your life…

–      what if you still find yourself in that place of hopelessness… or even just heading that way?


Truth is, as we live out our lives, we’ll all come to those crossroads where, because of all that’s going on in our lives and the world around us, we can begin drifting towards despair & hopelessness.

–      It’s easy to get there isn’t it? Maybe, through a series of difficult circumstances, you realize that your hope had been rooted in perishable things

–      Things such as good health, an issue-free family, professional achievement, financial stability, or position.


Maybe life is just so over-the-top… so busy, so complicated… and you’re beginning to loose hope that life will ever ease up for you.

–      Maybe you’ve made some bad choices and you’ve come to see yourself as damaged goods…

–      and that you’ve lost hope that you can ever be any more than that.


Maybe you’re beginning to loose hope that your job or relationship or your health or finances can improve…

–      What ever the issue is, I know for me, that when I begin to loose that confident expectation… that “future hope,”

–      There are a few things that always seem to help restore that hope…

–      things I can do to get my heart and mind back on Him:


1. We need to Lift Up Our Eyes to Him


We all know problems are just an inevitability of life! How many have at least one problem?

–      How many are sitting next to someone who looks like they have a problem?

–      How many of you are sitting next to your problem?

–      The truth is that, as we all know, life really can get so difficult. Paul experienced this a number of times…


In 2 Corinthians 1:8-9a, Paul wrote,I think you ought to know, dear brothers about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and completely overwhelmed, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die.”


Paul wasn’t just having a bad day here… he was in despair… completely overwhelmed… convinced that they were going to die!

–      And yet, in spite of all that was going on around him, he was reminded that his hope should never be anchored to his circumstances

–      But rather, the power of hope to undo despair in our lives comes NOT from forced optimism

–      BUT from our loving, powerful Heavenly Father, who is the object of our hope.


He goes on in verses 10 & 11“But as a result, we learned not to rely on ourselves, but on God who can raise the dead. And he did deliver us from mortal danger. And we are confident that he will continue to deliver us. He will rescue us because you are helping by praying for us.”


As hard as it can be in the middle of the storm, we can find renewed hope as we turn to God in prayer

–      as we re-connect with Him and find our place again in His presence.

–      We can also find renewed hope as we interact with the Father through His Word.


In Romans 15:4, Paul wrote, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”


What are the two things Paul says can grow hope in us? The first is “endurance”.

–      Earlier in the Book of Romans, 5:3-5, Paul writes this. He says, “We glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

–      You see… perseverance/endurance can restore hope in us…


BUT Paul also talks about the “Encouragement of God’s Word.”

–      It’s in His Word that we discover His essential character… His love, His nearness & His goodness.

–      And it’s these things that serve as our anchors as we face life’s storms.

–      It certainly was for David, who wrote, in Psalm 27:13, “I would have despaired if it hadn’t been for the goodness of the Lord.”


In Colossians 1:27, Paul describes the “hope of Glory” as being Christ in us.

–      In other words, our hope can’t be in our accomplishments, our works, our politicians, bank account, or our circumstances.

–      Instead… our hope is in Him… and His promises to us in Hebrews 13:5, for example, that He’ll “never leave us nor forsake us.”

–      Hope comes as we find our rest in the Father’s presence… as we give Him access to our lives… our hearts. The source of Hope is in Him!


2. We Need to Take an Honest Look at Ourselves


One of the enemies of hope that I’ve seen infiltrate the life of so many believers today is cynicism.

–      Cynicism, by definition, is a disposition to disbelieve in the sincerity or goodness of human motives and actions, with a tendency to express this by sneers and sarcasm.”

–      It’s an attitude or state of mind characterized by a general distrust of other’ apparent motives or ambitions.


When cynicism is getting the best of us, we’ll find that we’re looking for answers less and less & offering conclusions more and more…

–      conclusions about the world around us… how “The world isn’t fair.” “The future is bleak at best.” “People can’t be trusted.”

–      You see, cynics believe that unlike many of the gullible people around them, they’re able to see through people’s motives…

o  “She did this, but only so she could get that.”

o  “He doesn’t really want to help people. People like him are just in it for their own glory.”


Cynics will often see themselves as “street smart”. I get what you’re too gullible to get.

–      Well… that’s not “street smart!” You’ve simply become muddied by cynicism.

–      “Why give to this relief agency? They’re just in it for the money”.

–      “Why vote in the next election? They’re all thieves.”


Well, let me remind you of two important theological truths: The first is that there IS a God. The second is that you’re NOT Him!

–      You DON’T know the motives of every man’s heart.

–      In fact, unchecked cynicism is sheer idolatry… claiming to know what only God could ever know.


Let me just say that if you’ve landed in this place in your life, than know that cynicism is not your friend.

–      Know that there’s an inverse relationship between cynicism & hope… where the more cynical you become the less hope you’ll able to embrace.

–      Cynicism will rob you of every ounce of joy if gone unchecked.

o  It will rob you of the ability you once had to be “wowed” or “impressed”.

o  It will hinder your faith; sow roots of fear in your life; and destroy hope.


But, as God’s people we ought to be the last group of people on the earth that will never buy into “Life sucks, and then you die.”

–      So, if you find your hope waning in your life, take an honest look at yourself if you’ve bought into a cynical spirit.

–      And, if so… than lay it down and ask the Holy Spirit to fill you, instead, with trust & faith…

–      and the kind of hope that is rooted in Jesus being Lord and King in our lives and in the world.


3. We Need to Turn to Those Around Us


A few weeks ago, I took a day off and went up into the Catskill Mountains.

–      As I was hiking, I remembered walking that same trail in the middle of the winter a few years back.

–      There were actually a bunch of warning signs to stay off the trail, but I decided to take my chances.


It only took a minute or two before I understood what was behind the warning signs.

–      There had been an ice storm just a few days before that… and around every branch was nearly an inch of ice.

–      Hundreds of limbs and a large number of trees had snapped in half… littering the trails.


But one thing I noticed was that the denser the trees were in an area, the less damage there was.

–      Even though those trees were bent over, they were able to lean against the other trees, which kept them standing.

–      When we need to recover hope, if we want to keep standing, then we need to learn to reach out and lean on others.


But, another way to both recover hope & diminish the power of cynicism in our lives… is to engage!

–      To not only accept the help of others… but to be a source of help to others as well.

–      Engagement wages war against the “sit idle and criticize without hope” mentality that so many get caught into these days.


Getting involved reconnects us to “what’s possible” because of the presence of God’s Kingdom in the world.

–      1 Corinthians 13:13 speaks of Faith, Hope, and Love as being the core of what should identify us as His Kingdom people.

–      And so, to oppose cynicism & embrace hope, we need…

o  FAITH in the transforming message and ministry of Jesus.

o  HOPE in the Kingdom of God and His purposes and work in the world.

o  And, LOVE… which isn’t a “feeling word” but an “action word” that speaks of active engagement.


Where the chronic cynic “believes in nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing and remains alive b/c there is nothing for which he/she will die,”

–      The Christian… walking in hope… bears the mark of his or her hope by participating in Jesus’ work in the world.

–      **Truth is, “rampant cynicism and active Kingdom engagement cannot flourish in the same heart.”


So… Reach Out… engage!

–      Pray for the sick! “Well, wont they just get sick again from something else?” Yes… but it’s a hope-giving sign that one day they’ll never be sick and suffer again.

–      Teach Sunday School! “Well, these kids today, they don’t want to hear about God.” Says who?!

–      Invest in Community! Engage in a home group. It’s not too late to come to ours on Wednesday evenings.

–      Come & join us in a few weeks as we begin to simply bless people on the Morristown Green each Saturday morning.


4. We need to Surrender our Need to Control… to Him


A few years ago, we did something as a family that I haven’t done in years. Joyce and I took Becca & Sarah bowling.

–      I was pretty surprised at how different things looked from the last time I had bowled!

–      The room was lit with neon lights, everything was computerized… it was pretty cool.

–      Sadly, the horrible rental shoes and the bad pizza was exactly as I remembered them from years ago!


Ever watch what people do after they let go of the ball? They wave at it, they talk to it, they threaten it, they contort their bodies

–      lean to one side, hop on one foot, hunch their shoulders

–      as if they had some kind of magic control over an object that is no longer in their hands!

–      You see, once you get to that foul line and release that ball… there’s just nothing else you can do. You just need to let go!


The reality about life is that we’re in control of a lot less than we think we are. I realize that the illusion of control can be fairly intoxicating to some…

–      but you don’t even control your next breath… the next beat of your heart.

–      We end up carrying around these burdens & disappointments, trying to steer a bowling ball that, in reality, we often have no control over.

–      And what God is inviting us to do is to just lay it down… to just let Him take over from here.


Is there some area of your life you think God might be saying that to you this morning?

–      Maybe you’ve been trying to hold on to something or control something in your life:

–      kids, marriage, somebody you’re worried about, a boss, a co-worker or a relationship.

–      And God is saying would you just love them and let them go… and let Me?!


There are going to be times when, like Paul, you begin to react to your circumstances in a way that takes your attention away from God. But understand this…

–      Wherever you’re most tempted to worry, wherever your future looks most uncertain, whatever might be discouraging you

–      Remember what Paul says in Romans 5:5, that “There is a hope that does not disappoint.”

–      That Jesus in your life is the “hope of glory” who will never abandon you.


You see, guys… we will all go through difficult and even painful seasons.

–      But I don’t want anyone to grieve as those who have no hope.

Jesus is our hope! He is our hero! He is our anchor!

–      Victor Frankl wrote that “What is to give light must endure burning.”

–      And what allows us to endure the many trials and storms of life is Him. It’s why Paul prays as he does in Ephesians 1:18

–      “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the confident hope to which He has called you.”


And, so even though the storms may be great, anchored to Him, we can know REAL HOPE in our lives. –AMEN.


Ministry: David says in Psalm 62:5, “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone. My hope comes from Him.”



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