During Hub Sunday last month, I was ill because of something I had eaten the previous day. Many watched me via video that day as I shared some of the current financial challenges our world faces. Frankly, in the last month, most of those challenges have become worse, and that is likely to continue in the months and years ahead. We are headed for a major financial reckoning – and the U.S. has the furthest to fall.
Certainly, money and finances are important pieces of our lives today. Some commonly recognized system of money is important to allow us to purchase food, and clothing, and shelter. These items are necessities for any person, and the hope of having more (or better) food, more comfortable (and for some, more expensive clothing), and more stable and better (or sometimes bigger) shelter keep people focused on trying to improve themselves, and even trying to improve society.
In other words, these items (and many others) are a means of seeking hope and sometimes providing hope for others. But the area of finance is only one aspect of life.
And hope is scarce today.
We could spend all day talking about different aspects of life where people have lost or are losing hope.
COVID has been a constant news item for 18 months. Just when people thought the worst is over, the Delta variant has caused many challenges, and more variants will likely follow. In April of 2020, I suggested that Labor Day was my reasonable guess for moving forward from the virus. I meant last year. As we approach Labor Day this year, many churches are still not meeting, many businesses have closed. And many people have lost hope or are looking for hope where it cannot be found. For instance, one report shows that alcohol consumption in the U.S. rose by 39% during the pandemic. But for mothers with young children, that number was 323%. (1)
Beyond finances and health, we have weather. Haiti was just devastated by another earthquake. Flooding hit Tennessee, Tropical Storm Henri unleashed record rainfalls in parts of the Northeast U.S. last week. Fires have devastated the western part of the country, and the Colorado River is so low it has people worried about water in the west for years to come. And that is only one little sector of this earth.
And what about Afghanistan? The situation there has changed drastically, within just a matter of weeks. Please realize, my goal in any of this is not political; I am just stating facts. The financial situation of millions, if not billions, of people around the world is worse now than it was as we entered 2020 and people were calling for a new round of the Roaring 20s. COVID has dominated the news. The weather has played havoc. And the situation is Afghanistan is horrible to watch as it unfolds regardless of the politics.
Perhaps the goal in Afghanistan was to end a war, but as George Santayana once wrote, “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” (2)
Furthermore, if you are an American, if you want more bad news about Afghanistan, one economist has noted that Afghanistan is known by some as “graveyard of empires.” (Bill Bonner) Bonner noted that:
- The British left Afghanistan in 1919, after 80 years of frustrating warfare. Less than 20 years later, the British empire was, essentially, finished.
- The Soviet Union gave up trying to pacify Afghanistan in 1988; two years later, the Soviet Union collapsed.
Is our downfall near?
How hopeful are you after just reading those few items? But the more important question is, Are you a follower of Christ?
If you are, then, in this moment, if you feel a bit beaten down, and have lost just a little of the hope you may have had before you started reading, imagine how others who don’t know Christ must feel.
If you are not a Christ follower, then I simply have to wonder where you can find any hope.
My goal in these next few minutes is to remind us where hope is found. But to do so, I need to make sure you understand these words are not mine, they are God’s, as written by the Apostle Paul nearly 2000 years ago.
Read Romans 5.1-11.
I covered this text more fully in two sermons from last November, so I am not going to exposit it as usual. But we cannot overlook the progression that begins in verse 1. True hope comes from our place in Christ – having been justified by our faith in Him. Because of that we can rejoice in the hope of God’s glory (that is seeing and being a part of it), which allows us to rejoice when we suffer, knowing that God can help us endure, which helps us to grow (produces character), and that character ultimately produces hope. It is a beautiful progression even if it Is not always fun in the process.
But today, I want to focus briefly on three places where hope can be found.
Hope is found in the heart.
At the beginning of the message, I shared several facts about the financial challenges of our day, about COVID, about natural disasters, about war, etc. Facts are processed by the brain. Facts are for the head. It is our heart that controls our emotions. And our heart that can be betrayed by those emotions as well. But the facts that made your head question the reality of this world, cannot shake your heart unless you allow it to do so.
In Romans 5.1, we learn that by faith, we can be justified. Paul has unpacked that in the previous chapter using Abraham has an example. A person named Abraham lived; that is a fact. Justification by faith is a fact. Understanding that our justification is in Jesus and cannot be undone by the world brings assurance, which is based upon fact, but leads to emotion (rejoicing) and that happens within, and from, the heart. So, individually, even though hope is more than a wish, it is found in the heart.
Hope is found within the Church.
This statement is true for multiple reasons, but let me just touch on three ideas very quickly. First, notice the usage of the words “we” (14x), “us” (4x), and “our” (3x). That is nearly two uses per verse. Or because these 11 verses are only 8 sentences, Paul uses a first-person plural pronoun more than 2.5 times per sentence. The Christian life is not about me, it is about we!
Secondly, consider that progression I noted earlier. When we are suffering, it is better to go through it with someone else. That is part of the we, us, and our. God did mean for us to go through life alone (Genesis 2.18), which means He certainly did not want us to be alone in times of trouble. So, we, the Church, can come alongside one another to be an encouragement, and to provide hope.
And thirdly, let’s be honest, the church must be a place where hope is found. Why? If the church cannot provide hope, then who can? For it is only those who are a part of the true church of God that know Jesus. And that leads us to the most important point.
True hope is found in Jesus.
Again, let me ask, did the opening of this message cause you a little discomfort? Sure. Why? Because we seek peace. Most people want their lives to be peaceful above most anything else. But Jesus said we cannot find the peace we want in this world (John 16.33; cf. Matthew 10.34). The peace we desire only comes from knowing Jesus. As Romans 5.1 said, we have peace with God when we have been justified because of our faith in Jesus.
The last few verses of this passage today go into greater detail. It is Jesus who provided a way for us even when we didn’t want it. Jesus made salvation possible for us when we didn’t care or think we needed it. He died for us, which not only brings us peace with God, but gives us hope for tomorrow, and every tomorrow’s tomorrow, until we stand face to face with God.
That is our true hope. As Paul wrote to Titus, our blessed hope is eagerly awaiting the return of Jesus. So not only is our hope in what Jesus has done, but we can have hope in what Jesus will do.
So, what are we to do? Well, from Romans 5, we are told hope comes from character, which comes from endurance, which comes from suffering. So, we need to be prepared to suffer. We do not need to look for opportunities to suffer; they will find us. But we need to be prepared so what by the hope we have, we still find ourselves rejoicing in God and the hope we have. That will help us endure, and grow in character, and provide further hope.
But from Titus, we are to be zealous for good works. As I have often said, those works are not so we can have salvation, but because of the hope we have due to the salvation we already have in Jesus.
And a part of our zeal, and good works, is to provide hope. People watching the news day in, and day out, are not likely to have much hope. People who think about the long-term consequences of today’s news are even less likely to have hope. Again, alcohol consumption in the US is up 39% since the pandemic (and in 2019, before COVID, estimates are that sales of alcohol were more than $250 billion). (3)
I realize that many who are part of God’s Church have lost hope because of the news that permeates our days and weeks. But if the Church is a conduit for hope in this world. We are not the originator of hope, but we are Jesus’ representatives for hope in a lost and hopeless world.
So, despite my opening, I do have hope. I don’t have hope that this world will get better per se. But I have hope that I, and that we, can make it a little better for someone, or for some people. I cannot change the world, but I can help one person, and so can you. And as each of us do that, the world can be changed.
So, if you have hope, who will you help? Today?
If you need hope, who will you call? Today?
What’s Next?: Engage in the discussion with us as we continue to ask, “What If…?” during our Sunday evening study tonight.
(1) TheWeek, August 27, 2021, p. 6.
(2) George Santayana’s 1922 book Soliloquies in England, and Later Soliloquies. (The quote has been attributed to Plato, but no evidence has been found to support that claim.)