Church, it is so good to be with you this morning! With summer over and school back in session, I know things can be busy and little crazy, but we are glad that you decided to be right here today. Today, we are celebrating National Back to Church Sunday where church’s all over the country are putting a lot of focus on intentionally sharing the hope of God with others. Today, we welcome those who are visiting for the first time, those who are returning after an extended absence, and those who attend or watch online regularly! Everyone is welcome here.
This church is here to help support you and your family’s spiritual needs. We are here to help you discover what the Bible says about God and His plan for your life. But honestly, the church is not a building. Church doesn’t actually happen until we all get together. Church it is made up of people—people like you—people who are looking for purpose, authentic relationships, support, and hope.
The basis of the Christian faith is this bold, audacious hope that God is at work in our lives. A hope that things don’t have to remain the same tomorrow as they are today. A hope that broken things can be mended, and that we are loved by our Creator.
Maybe this morning you have come here in need of some hope. Perhaps the weight of the world is more than you can bear. Or maybe you have come here today because you feel there is nowhere else to turn. I want you to know that you are in the right place because hope happens here.
Many times, when we hear the word hope or even use it, it’s in ways such as:
“I hope this goes well. I hope I get the job. I hope I get an ‘A’ on the test. I hope I get a good medical report. I hope that doesn’t happen to me.”
The word hope is used in a wishful thinking kind of way. But what I want you to really see today, is that when the bible talks about hope, it’s not just a maybe or wish. It’s a promise. A promise that is unbroken and never forgotten. Hope in the bible is a sturdy foundation that never changes. It’s strong, powerful, and always true.
And when we feel like there’s no hope in sight, what’s really happened is that we lost sight of the promise.
I recently read a story of a young pastor who was preaching in Louisiana during the Great Depression in the 1930’s. At that time, electricity was just coming into that part of the country. He was out in a rural church that had just one little lightbulb hanging from the ceiling to light up the whole sanctuary. And one evening, he was preaching away when right in the middle of his sermon the electricity went out. The building went pitch black, and being a young preacher, he didn’t know what to say and just stood there until one of the elderly men sitting in the back of the church cried out, “Preach on, preacher! We can still see Jesus in the dark.” Isn’t it true that sometimes that’s the only time see Jesus—in the dark…when it seems that all hope is lost?
In the gospel of John, Jesus said this about himself,
“I am the light of the world.”
Think about what light is. In the day time, light is everywhere. You walk outside and it’s all around you, pouring on you and everything else. Thanks to the full moon the last few evenings, it’s even been pouring over the night too. Jesus said,
“If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”
That’s a promise. As the light, Jesus not only lights the way for us, but He also literally illuminates our lives. And while illuminating our lives, He exposes all that needs to be restored and then begins the healing process. This illuminating and healing hope of Jesus can literally be found all throughout scripture.
So today, I want to point out just three specific points that are found in scripture that show we can have hope for an illuminated and restored life.
POINT #1 – There is Hope In God’s Plan For Your Life
You were created by God. He made you with a purpose and an intention. He placed you uniquely in the family you have and equipped you with the gifts that you possess. He placed you in this time for a reason. And yet the greatest questions in human history have always been: Who am I, and why am I here? What’s my purpose?
In one of the most famous verses in all of scripture, found in the book of Jeremiah, God offers us those answers. The backdrop to this passage is that Israel had been conquered by Babylon, and many people were going to be taken into captivity. This time of captivity ended up becoming known as the Exile. It was a very dark time in Israel’s history. Many of God’s people had lost hope and believed that God had forgotten all about them.
I would suggest that many of us today may feel the same way. After years of a pandemic, so much divide in our nation, in our church, economy upset, and on top of all of that maybe you’ve faced a devastating diagnose or illness, death of a loved one, or relational conflicts or whatever may be weighing on you. And we may wonder if God has forgotten about us too and be tempted to lose hope. However, the writer of this passage makes a profound statement as he writes to God’s people in the midst of their exile.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
God placed hope in the hearts of His people. He told them that though they were now living in a land that was not their own and though Jerusalem had been destroyed, God was not done with them yet. He still had a plan to prosper them and not to harm them. God was working for a better future for Israel, and He had not forgotten about them.
A few verses later in chapter 32, God tells Jeremiah to purchase a piece of land. This instruction would hardly make sense since Israel was under siege. But God reminds Jeremiah that He is not done yet, and that there was hope for Israel’s return to its home because God had a plan.
It’s like planting fruit trees. We all know that trees don’t produce fruit overnight. In fact, it can take years of growth before you harvest any fruit. Many trees begin as tiny twigs that look like they have zero chance of survival. But you plant that twig in the ground anyways and faithfully water it year after year, hoping one day you’ll enjoy the fruit of your labors.
God was asking Jeremiah to be faithful and plant himself even though there seemed to be zero chance of survival. God was working an even greater plan for the good of His people. Wherever you find yourself today, I want to encourage you that God has a plan for your life, and He is still at work.
28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
When you continually do the next right thing and live in obedience to God, you can rest assured that you will live into God’s purpose for your life, and He will produce wonderful fruit in and through you. God has a plan for your life, and you can put your hope in Him because His love and care for His creation is unfailing and never ending.
POINT #2 – There is Hope In God’s Never-Ending Love
The truest thing about you is that you are loved by God. Love is the most powerful force on the face of the earth. The Apostle Paul appeals to the powerful love of God as he writes to the early Church in Rome. Similar to Israel living in the foreign land of Babylon, God’s people were in the midst of a sinful and foreign culture in Rome. It was a difficult place to be—complete with persecution and suffering—but Paul wanted to instill hope into the lives of the believers there.
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Paul tells them you are conquerors. You are not defeated. There’s an overwhelming victory that is ours through Christ. No matter how bad things may seem or how hopeless your situation may appear, you are overcomers because of Christ’s love, and nothing is going to stand in the way of it.
Paul was convinced that nothing can separate God’s people from God’s love. Death can’t do it. Demons can’t do it. The depths of despair can’t do it. How can he make such a claim? Because God’s love is so prevailing and so potent, so powerful that it is ever present, all the time, it is always here and never ending. And what’s even greater is that God loves us no matter what. He loves us when we love Him back, but He also loves us when we fail to love Him in return.
Roger Zerbe, who was succumbing to early onset Alzheimer’s disease, journaled this to his wife after a particularly troubling bout of forgetfulness.
Today fear is taking over. The day is coming when all my memories of this life we share will be gone. You and the boys will be gone from me. I will lose you even as I am surrounded by you and your love. I don’t want to leave you. I want to grow old in the warmth of memories. Forgive me for leaving so slowly and painfully.
Blinking back tears, his wife, Becky, wrote:
My sweet husband,
I will continue to go on loving you and caring for you, not because you know me or remember our life, but because I remember you. I will remember the man who proposed to me and told me he loved me, the look on his face when his children were born, the father he was, the way he loved our extended family. I’ll recall his love for riding, hiking, and reading; his tears at sentimental movies; the unexpected witty remarks; and how he held my hand while he prayed. I cherish the pleasure, obligation, commitment, and opportunity to care for you because I remember you.
That’s from a magazine called Today’s Christian Woman in an article that Becky Zerbe wrote called “Penning a Marriage,” as she talked about the power of interactive journaling.
This is the kind of sacrificial and pervasive love that Paul was referring to in Romans. The Greek word used in this passage for word love is the word agape. Agape literally means a selfless and sacrificial kind of love—the kind of love that gives without needing anything in return. God’s agape love for His people caused Him to offer His one and only Son on a cross as a sacrifice for our sin so that we might have new life. This sacrifice was once and for all and is available to everyone.
Our hope is found not only in His plan for us, but also in His love for us. There is nothing that can separate us from the love that God has for us through Jesus. And that truth empowers us to face any challenge life may serve up.
POINT #3 – There is Hope In God’s Strength
I will be honest, living the Christian life is no easy task. Living counter culturally, loving our enemies, giving generously, serving faithfully, and avoiding sin obediently are all costly endeavors. The way of Jesus is not something we can do on our own. I can tell you personally, if we try to do this all on our own, it will leave us exhausted and burned out. We must rely on God’s strength to do it.
Paul speaks to this hope we have when writing to the early church in Philippi. Again, the surrounding context of this passage is persecution, suffering, and imprisonment. In fact, as Paul wrote this letter, he was sitting in chains because of his faith in Jesus. You would think he’d feel hopeless. However, it was quite the opposite…he was overflowing with hope. And today this simple line has become a staple to our faith.
13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Not just strength, but His strength. When we become followers of Jesus, the spirit of God actually takes up residence inside of us. The spirit dwells in us, and it becomes the engine behind our faithful obedience.
So when we feel like we can’t forgive that person who hurt us, the spirit of God gives us strength to set them free. In doing so, we set ourselves free from bitterness and anger. When we want to defeat a sinful pattern in our lives, we don’t have to do it alone; we can rely on God’s strength. When we want to make a difference in the world by serving those around us, we can accomplish much not because of our own hard work, but because of the work God has done in and through us.
Hope happens when we come to realize that we don’t have the strength in and of ourselves to live the way of Jesus. Hope happens when we submit our lives to His leadership and allow Him to empower us for His glory.
When life does not go according to our plans, it is easy to become discouraged. When we feel out of control, we have the tendency to lose hope. However, whenever we find ourselves feeling this way, we must first remember that God has a plan for each and every one of our lives. His plan is to prosper us and not to harm us. His plan is to give us the strength to overcome. His plan is to hold us with His never-ending love. We have everything we need to overcome because we are loved by the God of the universe. Wow! That’s quite a promise.
Say this with me: “No matter how out of control my life may seem, I know God has a plan for me.”
And the Church is a real good place to discover this plan for our lives. I want to invite you today to commit to join a community of faith and discover God’s plan for your life by connecting with others, growing in your faith, and serving the body of Christ.
My prayer for each of us today is that we would be bursting with hope as we become more aware of God’s plan, love, and strength that is all ours through Christ.
Romans 3:23 – For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Romans 5:8 – But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
Why did he need to die for us, because…
Romans 6:23 – For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.
How do you get that free gift of eternal life? What do we actually do to be free from our sin and have eternal life?
Romans 10:9 – If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Romans 10:13 – For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
If you have never asked Jesus into your life by declaring Him as your Lord and Savior, or if you’ve been far from God and are ready to come back and want to recommit your life to Him, I invite you to pray this prayer with me. I’ll pray it line by line, and you can repeat it after me.
I admit I am a sinner,
I am in need of a Savior.
Please forgive me for my sins.
I invite you to be mine.
Please come into my life,
And live through me,
And I will live for you,
For the rest of my life,
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
If you said this prayer for the first time, please tell someone so that they can celebrate with you, so they can be praying for you, and so they can walk with you through this journey.
May the God fill you up with hope, and may you keep your eyes on the prize, on the promise of God’s plan, God’s love, and God’s strength.