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Written By Bobby Schuller
This morning I want to take on a little bit of my grandfather's mantel and talk about hope, which is what he is really good at doing. I feel like I never have enough time in one message to do so. I remember sitting with my grandpa not long ago, and he said, "How long are your sermons at your church?" He was referring to my other church, The Tree of Life.
I said, "Oh, I don't know, 40 to 45 minutes."
He said, "Oh! Too long!" His tone sounded like just the idea of hearing a 45-minute sermon was gross. Then he said, ‘"You can't preach a 45-minute sermon and still be interesting."
I said, "No, grandpa, you can't preach a 45-minute sermon.' He's my grandpa, keep in mind.
It's always a bit weird for me, coming here and preaching because of the shorter time I have for my message. How do you talk about all of the suffering, the despair, the struggle that we as human beings have, and in 20 minutes, defend the idea that the love of God can give you infinite hope in all circumstances, in all suffering, in all manner of tribulation? How do you share that in 20 minutes? I don't know. I'm going to do my best. Okay. Let's begin.
I was walking with one of my closest and dearest friends around the Dana Point Harbor, recently, close to sunset. A warm breeze was coming off the ocean, boats were sailing in and out of the harbor, and we were on a path along the edge of the water. As we walked, we were talking about the kingdom of God and the love of God, and how being a believer in God brings you into this new reality of the kingdom life, which means that no matter what, you can be a happy, joy-filled person regardless of circumstance. That the unending full love of God puts deep within the heart of the human being a strength, an ability to experience the fruit of living no matter how hard life gets.
I remember my friend, who's been struggling for a long time, put his arm on my shoulder. He said, "You know, I've been struggling with this digestive problem for five or six years. There are so many foods I can't eat. I always feel sick, and my energy gets zapped, and sometimes that makes it hard for me. It's like a suffering. It makes it hard for me to feel like what you're saying and what we're talking about. It's hard to feel that this joy, this deep happiness, can be a real thing for me. I'm not sure it can be."
Much of my sermon today is in response to this struggle. This feeling of being alone, feeling like there's no future, or there's no hope. I don't know what I'm going to do, I just suffer. And it's not like a momentary suffering, but the idea of ongoing suffering. All of us will face this because all of us will age. Things will happen to us that will cause us in life to suffer, to struggle. Many of us, today, have lost our jobs, lost our homes, lost family members. Many of us want to know God but we don't feel Him. We want all these things that religious or spiritual people talk about, but we don't feel it. Or, many of us feel like we've been violated by this or that. There's this ongoing, pervasive feeling and so many people think there's just no hope. This reality that we've experienced the last few years, that's the new reality, that's the new normal.
You're the person I want to speak to because, my friend, the answer is that, even in the midst of sickness, suffering, tribulation, there's hope. It's hope that allows us to live in the kingdom of God.
I remember being seasick. I don't know if you've ever been seasick, but it is the most horrible, awful feeling. I actually went with the youth pastor of this church on a fishing trip. My dad took us. And at four in the morning, from this greasy-looking hairy cook on this big, smelly, giant fishing boat that was going to go out for several days, I ordered a double bacon cheeseburger and fries.
So at four in the morning I have this brick in my gut, and we go out to sea for two days. It was nothing but torrential waters, and I was curled up in a ball on my bed. It was one of the only times in life I really wanted to die. If someone had entered into this little room where I was sleeping on a bunk above two other bunks in a room filled with sick people, and someone said, "Here's a big-gulp-sized glass of hemlock; enjoy your freedom," I would have been seriously tempted to poison myself.
But I wouldn't have, obviously. Even though it was a horrible feeling and I was ready to check out, I wouldn't have done that. Why? Because I knew about land. I knew land was coming! I knew there was a harbor that someday, sometime this boat would pull into a harbor, the waves would stop, I would get off of the boat, and I would feel fine again. However, if there was no land, and I was stuck on this boat, and that was going to be my new reality, I don't know how I could have carried on. It's the hope that land is coming that keeps us, in the midst of suffering, from falling into utter despair, on quitting on life, or just giving up, or just checking out and saying, "I'm done with this; I quit." It's knowing that land is coming. That's what hope is!
Without hope, without the knowledge of land, without the knowledge that someday, something will change, or at least have that firm foundation that things can get better, then forget it. You'll fall into despair. That's how many of us feel - stuck on a boat, seasick - only it's been ten years. My hope is to give you hope.
Hope for a believer springs from knowledge and knowledge in a particular thing - the love and unmerited favor of God for His kids. The firm conviction, total belief, a sold-out, relenting knowledge that, yes, God loves me. That creates deep within every person, no matter how bad the suffering, hope. Hope.
Paul was a guy who lived on hope like a car lives on gasoline. The apostle Paul endured probably more suffering than anyone in this room or anybody watching has ever endured. The apostle Paul was a persecutor of the church. He attacked people. Jesus appears to him. He gets knocked off his horse and he says, "Why are you persecuting me?" Jesus causes him to be blind, and over this blindness, he regains a new vision - a vision of the love of Jesus Christ and the power of the gospel. So, he finds it his mission to go out and help people by sharing them the message of Christ, by healing people, by helping churches help one another.
And so Paul goes out, and you see one story after another of Paul getting beaten up, of Paul getting sick, of Paul getting bit by snakes. And Paul, of course, in the end even dies a martyr, an old man. And so he lives what seems like a very difficult existence. In Acts chapter 16, there's a story of Paul and his friend Silas being hung upside down. They're chained to a wall in a dungeon somewhere for helping a girl. They helped a girl by freeing her from an ailment and so they're thrown in prison. And that sense of not only being in this dungeon but also unjustified, just wanting to help somebody, and you get thrown in prison. This was Paul's existence - unjustly thrown into prison, beaten, hated, disliked, even by his friends.
In that story, how do Paul and his friend Silas start singing hymns at midnight with no windows, with rats crawling around, and with dripping dysentery water falling on their heads? They start to sing hymns and praise to God. They had incredible happiness, joy, and a flourishing life. How could somebody do something like that? Their life, their joy was so big, so amazing that it caused the gates of the prison to open. How could somebody like Paul or someone like Silas have real joy even in the midst of that kind of unjust suffering?
Paul tells us in Romans 5, and in the whole book of Romans, really, that we've been given a hope. The hope is the love of God that is shown through the cross. Paul says, you see, God sent His only Son Jesus Christ into the world, and gave Jesus to me, to me, Paul, and to you. That means God loves you as much as He loves Jesus. If God loved Jesus more than you, He wouldn't have sent Jesus to die for you. That means God loves Paul, God loves Jesus, God loves Mary, God loves everyone in this room, everyone watching television. He loves them as much as He loves Jesus. That means that God treasures you. God values you. God is thinking good things about you. God is probably very proud of you. God believes in you. God wants the best for you. You are a part of God's big meta narrative, His big story, His big picture. That means that God's love endures for you.
So Paul lives from a deep knowledge of the love of God. That even though I get beaten, even though I get thrown in prison unjustly as a Roman citizen, even though people hate me and dislike me, you know what? I have a hope that springs from this knowledge that comes from the cross that God gave me Jesus because He loves me as much as He loves Jesus. He calls me His beloved son in whom He is well pleased. He takes pleasure in me.
And God says that over you, too, my friends. He says that over you right now. And that knowledge of that love sprung out in Paul a hope that, no matter what happens, in the end, God has my best in mind. That God cares about my struggle. That God is sharing in my suffering. That even now, that means that there's hope! And even if I die, that I am treasured and valued by God.
But it's not limited to just that. God wants a full life for you. Would you say that Paul's life was worthless, miserable? No, Paul's one of the most important historical figures in history, whether you're a Christian or not, you can't deny the value of St. Paul and the ideas that led to western civilization that Paul spread around the world because of a hope that was rooted in the love of God.
Now, Paul would say no matter what, no matter how hard life gets, I have the love of God deep inside and no one can take that from me. I'm His beloved. Your life matters in God's plan. I know it may sound cliché; it's the fingerprint, the snowflake, the thing that everybody always says. But, it's really true that God values you, God treasures you, that your life matters, and that God has a plan for your life.
This plan doesn't involve just you; it involves other people, too. If you throw away tomorrow, if you give up, if you quit, if you check out, you will never know what that plan and that fullness for your life was. You must endure the suffering, the struggle, the loss, the loneliness, to know, what your life could have been had you not quit or given up or checked out. It would be maddening not to know.
There's a verse in the Talmud that says that whoever saves a life saves a whole world. That makes sense. Whoever saves a life saves the whole world because the way that you live your life is intimately connected to everyone else in the world. This is actually a form of scientific theory called chaos theory. The theory is that the way you lead your life, the things you say to people, the way you drive your car, the way you pay or don't pay your bills, the things you do or don't do, the way you either lock yourself away in a bedroom or go out and volunteer, the way your try to start a business or just quit on life - those decisions and non-decisions affect the whole world.
If you are a light in this world, the whole world is illuminated. If you are dark in this world, the whole world gets darker. Your life matters. It is a part of God's plan. It's hard to believe that in a world that has seven billion people, but it is true. The kind thing you may to say to someone today or the hurtful thing you may say to someone today could, a thousand years from now, change human history. We may think our lives don't matter, but they do. God is in you.
And you say, well, there's this mystery. Why do I have to go through the suffering now? Why am I facing all these trials? Some people have gone through the worst suffering. Your kid's died. Some of you had to face some of the worst, most unjust, awful things, and why does that happen? I have to tell you, I don't know. I don't know. But God's love still endures. No, it's not a good enough answer.
Listen to me. We all feel alone. Even Jesus felt alone on the cross. You remember what He said when He was dying on the cross? "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me," forgotten Me, left Me alone. Why have You forsaken Me? But in the end, when it was done, He says, "Into Your hands, oh Father, I commend my spirit." So even when He felt alone, when He had that feeling, the emotions of being alone, He knew deep down inside, in his heart and mind, He knew that God's love in the end would win.
There's this mystery, right? Why do these bad things happen? And I just don't have a good answer. There's a verse in Daniel chapter 10 where Daniel is praying for God to hear his prayer and nothing happens for weeks on end. Nothing happens. And then this angel appears and says I was trying to get here, Daniel, and give you an answer, but there was this big battle going on in the spiritual realm, and I couldn't get through until the archangel Michael came along and helped me break through this line, and now I'm here to give you your answer. And this very bizarre, very weird text, especially for the way we view the world, shows us there are things about life and about the world that we just won't understand.
Someday, when we've gone further, we may look back and be able to say, yes, I understand. But this is what Christian living means. It's like this. I'm stuck in a fog and there's fog everywhere. I'm in this forest, I've been lost, and I don't know where to go. Every direction I go, I'm still lost and there are just more trees, more fog, and more darkness. Then all you see is a hand reaching into this fog and it is the hand of the Father. Being a Christian is like this, taking that hand, and letting that hand guide you. You don't know where it goes, you don't know why it keeps dragging you through thorns and over rocks, and why these difficult things happen, but as it goes, you hold firmly on the divine hand of grace, and know that in the end this hand will lead you out of the woods. Being a believer is trusting in God's best and that His hand will be there.
The love of God leads us to a life of infinite hope and we ought to be hopeful people every day. Every moment, even when good things are happening. We ought to be hopeful, hope-filled, hope-encouraging people. Hopeful people even when they're suffering, have greater imagination. They are able to say, well, I hope that something's going to happen. So they start to see the world differently, see opportunities. Hopeful people are creative because they haven't just given up and given into despair or quit. They believe that there's got to be a creative way and new solution. Hopeful people are patient and enduring. They don't run over people or hurry, but they trust and know that things will work out. Hopeful people are moral people because they don't abuse, and they're not selfish, and they don't take advantage. Hopeful people are constant. They have a real inner constancy to take one step at a time. Hopeful people are the people that get out of the woods, whose hope comes from the Lord and from the cross.
The friend that I mentioned, who walked with me around the harbor the other day, he overcame his digestive problems a few weeks ago. He hoped every day, believed in God, and had faith that he would overcome. That led him to research his ailment, to think, to look, and to hope, and he got out. But imagine if he'd quit and given up. He'd still be stuck right where he was.
My wife's mother prayed for her mother to become a Christian for 40 years, since she was a teenager. Every day for 40 years she said, Lord, bring my mother to the knowledge of Your Son Jesus Christ. And only a few months before she spontaneously and tragically died, she became a Christian, devoted her life to Christ. So there is always hope.
And when you are a hopeful person, my friends, it's not just for you; it's for everybody else, too. When you are a hopeful person, not only are you more likely to get out of the woods and more likely to lead a happy life, but you will encourage those around you who also feel hopeless. You will be a hero, an example to those around you. That's what my grandfather did his whole life. You think my grandfather had an easy life? He had so many struggles in his life and he endured hope and his closest friends could see the awful things that he would go through, and still he had hope and gave hope to others. That's encouraging. Those sermons that he gives, he's speaking out of experience.
God wants you to be like that, too. He wants you to be the kind of person who, in the midst of hard tragedy, of struggle, of loss, to never give up, to never lose hope, to always trust that His love will work it out in the end. And it may not look the way you think it will look, but I think in the end you will say this is the best, that God's best was for me the whole time. There's no doubt in my mind that God treasured me, valued me, and by no means, because I followed Him and hoped in Him, did I miss out on the calling of my life. "Don't throw away tomorrow," in the words of my grandfather. Don't give up. Don't check out. Don't fall into despair, but trust that even now, in the hardest times, that the love of God endures for you, and that you may be much closer than you think. Don't quit and don't give up, but lean on Him and His love.
Let's pray: Father, we come to You in the name of Your Son Jesus. And, Lord, I pray for all of us, the sick, the weary, those who have lost, those who have been violated and hurt, give us hope. I think that for many people listening today in this church and on television, there is a new page, a new leaf that is about to be turned, in Jesus' name. Amen.