MISSING IN ACTION SERMON SERIES
A HOPE THAT NEVER HIDES
NOVEMBER 5, 1995
If we were to take a survey today and everyone was to be totally honest with themselves, I believe that we would discover many of us feel we are in hopeless situations. Some of you may feel hopeless about a marriage that is not getting any better. Others of you might feel hopeless because you are not married. Maybe a husband and wife feel hopeless because they don’t have a child yet. Or maybe you feel hopeless due to a difficulty at work or a financial setback or maybe an illness. There is a lot of hopelessness in the world today. The Bible, though, gives us the secret for being hopeful. The secret is revealed to us in a little book called Colossians. In chapter 1:27 it says, “This is the secret. (In other words it is getting ready to be revealed.) Christ in your heart is your only hope of glory.” Circle that phrase, in your heart. If we are in Christ, Jesus gives us the reason for hope. He gives us the reason to restore hope and this is precisely why, if you are a Christ follower, you should be the most confident and most hopeful person on the planet. Hope.
Today we are going to ask the question, how do I have a hope that never hides? The world says that hope is fate, it is crossing your fingers. It is good luck. It is knocking on wood. That is hope according to the world. The Bible on the other hand, says in Colossians 1:27 that hope is being confident of the things you expect to happen. It is being confident in the things you expect to happen. That is Biblical, honest to goodness, Holy Spirit inspired hope. Do you have hope? Every time I think about hope my mind rushes back to an occasion six years ago. Six years ago Lisa and I were planning to take a trip to the Orient, specifically Korea. This mission trip was really exciting to us. We were hesitant about leaving, though, because we had a three year old at the time, LeeBeth, and that was going to be a long period to be away from her. But we went anyway. We were kissing LeeBeth goodbye and hugging her. Lisa was a little teary. As we turned to walk to the car which was taking us to the airport, Lee Beth made the following typical three-year-old’s statement. “Mommy, Daddy, please bring me back a Korean outfit.” Now is that classic, or what? We promised that we would try our best to do that.
We go to the airport, hop on the plane and do the Korea thing. We had a great mission trip. We returned two weeks later experiencing the usual jet lag. We pulled the car in front of the house and walked up the walk. The door flies open, LeeBeth runs out, jumps into our arms, kisses us and says she is so glad that we are home. She then says, “Put me down. Put me down.” We did and she immediately began to take off all of her clothes. We were startled and asked what she was doing taking off her clothes outside, in front of the neighbors. She said, “Where is my new outfit?” We unbuckled our suitcases, took out the Korean outfit and gave it to her. She put it on. That is hope! Being confident in the things you expect to happen. Today in this series, Missing In Action, we are going to study the greatest chapter in the Bible, Romans 8. Romans 8 gives us several reasons for hope. In other words it gives us the benefits of believing in Jesus Christ. Most of us who are in Christ, most of us who call ourselves Christ followers, born again people, take for granted the great deal that we have. We don’t realize what we have in Jesus Christ. Romans 8 is going to tell us the deal we have.
Now I know we have many people in our four services who are investigating Christianity. You would be labeled as a seeker. And that is great, this is a place to seek. But I want to say right up front, this message primarily is for those of us who know Christ personally. But if you are seeking, if you are investigating the Christian life, it is great for you to know the great deal that is being offered to you. So listen very carefully, understand what we are talking about. Think about it. Contemplate it. Get into dialogue, maybe with someone who brought you or with one of the pastors on our staff, as you consider the Christian life. Christians should have a hope that never hides.
Here is the first reason we should be hopeful. I have been pardoned. The first reason I should have confidence and a hope is because I have been pardoned. The Bible says this in Romans 8:1, “There is now no condemnation awaiting those who belong to Christ Jesus.” Notice it did not say there is now no mistakes, there is now no failures, there is now no sin. The Bible does not say that. It says that there is no condemnation. All of us mess up. Abraham lied about his wife. David committed adultery with Bathsheba. Simon Peter did the Power Ranger thing and cut off the ear of the guy he was trying to kill. Moses struck the rock in anger. None of these guys experienced or suffered condemnation, however, they did experience the consequences of sin. We come face to face with the consequences but not the condemnation. And this is exciting news. The Bible says that there is no condemnation. This word condemnation means punishment. We are never, ever, ever, ever punished for our sins if we are in Christ. Did you hear that? I will say it one more time. We never, ever, ever, ever are punished for our sins if we are in Christ. Now is that good news, or what? You’re talking about a benefit. That is unbelievable. That is some awesome stuff.
In a real sense the world is on death row. I have been to prison, only visiting, and I have seen death row. It is a depressing place. These folks are condemned to die. The moment we sin, the moment we make one little mistake before a Holy God, we were on death row. And all the world finds itself on death row. The great news is that God loved the world so much, even while we were on death row, he sent Jesus Christ to take the death penalty for your sins and mine. If we have received that, we have been pardoned. We have been set free. Pardoned.
The Bible says this in Hebrews 7:19, “But now we have a far better hope, for Christ makes us acceptable to God…” Many of us have accepted Christ, but do you realize that God has accepted you because you have been pardoned? Now we may draw near to Him. The Christian life would be worth it even if there was no such thing as heaven, just to have a clear conscience. It really would. One of the number one causes of hopelessness is shame and guilt and the evil one likes to stuff our pockets full of shame and guilt. He whispers to us, “You are going to be punished for that. God will get you back for that one. He is going to hammer you. You had better look over your shoulder, because one night you will be walking down the street and God will come up behind you and wham you and punish you.” Those are lies, Christians. Satan is a liar, he is the father of lies, he is the greatest liar in the history of the world. He has been lying for thousands and thousands and thousands of years and he keeps most of us hemmed in and limited. He keeps most of us who are in Christ hopeless because he whispers lies to us day in and day out. “You can’t do that because of your past.” “God can’t use you any more because of what you did last week or last month or last year.” We have got to call him a liar and remember that we have been pardoned. We will suffer consequences but we are not condemned. Christ took the punishment once and for all, it is over, signed, sealed and delivered. Now we can go on and live our lives. We have been pardoned.
The second benefit of being a believer is that I have the power to change. I have simply got the power to change if I am plugged into Jesus Christ. A couple of years ago I took a stress test. The treadmill was plugged into an outlet. There was a technician on one side and a doctor on the other. I stepped up on the treadmill and they started it. It moved slowly at first, then faster and faster. The incline began to increase. I was worn out after about twenty-five minutes. I was sweating profusely, gasping for breath and my legs felt heavy. The doctor said, “Mr. Young, any time that you want to stop just give me the nod and I will push the stop button.” “I’m nodding, I’m nodding.” He stopped the treadmill and I got off. I felt so much relief. I felt freedom. In a real sense many of us are on the treadmill called sin and death. And here is the cycle, here is how the belts turn. We are tempted, we fall, we feel guilty. We are tempted, we fall, we feel guilty. We are tempted, we fall, we feel guilty. The incline increases in a relationship, it increases in a habit, it increases in a tendency and we say, “I can’t change. I am powerless to change. I don’t have anyone who can help me in the realm.” If you are in Christ, you do.
The Bible says in Romans 8:2, “For the power of the life-giving spirit, and this power is mine through Jesus Christ, has freed me from the vicious circle of sin and death.” So whatever has control over you, whatever you are dealing with, if you know Christ personally turn to Him and say that you are nodding and want to get off the treadmill. You are plugged into His power and you can ask Him to give you the strength to take care of whatever difficulty you may be experiencing. He will come in and do it. Jesus Christ has freed me from the vicious cycle of sin. That is the The third benefit of the Christian life is that I have a purpose for suffering. I have a purpose for suffering. I have been pardoned. I have the power to change. And I have a purpose for suffering. The Bible says we are going to suffer. I am going to say something profound, are you ready for this? Life is full of problems. Is that too fast for anyone here? And basically there are three stages we might find ourselves in. Some of us are either in the middle of a problem, coming out of a problem or preparing for the next problem. That is life. And the thing that really gets me down is when a problem occurs in my life and I don’t understand it’s meaning. I am like the guy in the back of the room, “Oh, God, choose me, I don’t understand, You are going too fast, God please choose to answer my questions.” On the other hand, if I see a purpose behind the problem, if I see a purpose to suffering, then I go, “Ah, ha, now I understand it.” The Bible says that if we are in Christ, we understand and know the purpose behind suffering. Romans 8:28 is a popular verse for Christians. I am going to take this verse right now and put it on the operating table, turn all the lights on high and dissect it. You need to understand every part of it. Here is Romans 8:28. “And we know that God causes all things…” Let me stop here. Circle all things. God causes all things, good things and bad things. Does that mean divorce? Yes. Does that mean death? Yes. Does that mean a financial setback? Yes. Does that mean a loss of a job? Yes. Does that mean a breakup? Yes. Does that mean a relocation? Yes. All things, good thing and bad things. A lot of people blame God for things that He shouldn’t be blamed for. We live in a fallen world. We have a freedom to choose right or wrong, to follow the Lord or not. We have chosen to do wrong. And a lot of experiences that we have in life are due to the fact that we have made incorrect choices. But we love to point the finger of blame at God. You did it God. You did it. God could erase sin at the snap of His fingers. In the blink of an eye, sin could be gone. And here is how He could do it. He could take away our freedom to choose. There were be no sin then and we would be like a bunch of robots. “God causes all things to work together …” You see these things, good and bad, work together. Work together is an interesting phrase. In the original language it had to do with weaving. Have you ever done needlepoint? I have tried my hand at it, I am sort of an arts and crafts kind of guy. My mother does great needlepoint. But if you look at the underside of her needlepoint, it is ugly. I mean it is as ugly as homemade sin. The yarn and string has knots hanging everywhere. And you would think that it is terrible looking. But if you turn it over, you see how great it looks. There is form to it, the colors come together, it works visually. Oftentimes in my life I look at problems from just my limited perspective. I look underneath the problem and tell God I just don’t understand, I only see disarray. But God tells me that I should lift my head up above the needlepoint, turn it around and see what see what He is doing. Then I begin to understand. I know that even though it might not look that way to me now, it is beautiful in God’s eyes. It is a matter of perspective.
Question. Can God take something evil and turn it into something good? You bet He can. Think of the crucifixion. Something evil. They took the sinless Son of God and tortured Him. He hung there on the cross for your sins and mine. God took something evil and made it great for the salvation of the world. I have been pardoned. God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him and to those who are called (remember this is just for Christians now) according to His purpose. Suffering loosens the grip the world has on our lives because it gives us a longing for heaven.
The fourth reason why I should be the most hopeful person in the world is simply this. I have freedom from my fears. Psychologists have identified over 645 different types of fear. The three greatest fears that we deal with are in this order. Number one, death. People are fearful of death. We all have the desire to live. God gives us this desire. But the statistics on death are overwhelming. Everyone will die eventually. We are all going to die. And if you are outside of Christ, it should be something that you fear. The Bible says one day we are going to face a holy and a loving God. And He is going to ask us this question. Have you received My pardon? Have you? We will either say yes or no. If it is yes, there will be eternity in heaven. If it is no, there will be eternal separation from God. Christians, we have nothing to fear regarding death.
The second greatest fear that we deal with is loneliness. I come in contact and have dialogue with so many lonely people. They have no real community at work, no real community in their neighborhood. They just don’t know anyone. We all long for relationships. Primarily we long for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and secondarily we long for relationship with other human beings. If you are in Christ your relational base must be the church. We have many ports of entry, many avenues where you can meet some life changing friends. In the church you will find people who will surround you, who will love you, who will teach you, who will accept you, who will forgive you no matter what is the personal circumstance or predicament in which you find yourself. That is community.
The third greatest fear is the fear of failure. We are fearful that if we step out, if we take a risk, if we try to challenge the unknown or conquer this or that, that we might fail. And a lot of us live our lives fearing failure. “I can’t try that, I might fall flat on my face.” That is why I love the Bible. The Bible gives me example after example of men and women who have fallen flat on their face. They have messed up, they have taken a risk and stumbled and fallen. And I can identify with that. If you are in Christ, Jesus knows before it happens that you are going to fumble and fail and stumble and fall. He knows that. But He says, get back up. I am going to forgive you, I’m going to change you, I’m going to work on you. If you are outside of Christ, it can be scary. The Bible puts it this way. In Romans 8:31, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” In II Corinthians 3:12, “Since we have such a hope, we are very bold.” Do you realize that the Bible says 365 times, fear not. Fear not, fear not, fear not. One fear not for every day of the year. It is like God wanted that point to be obvious. Fear not. If you are in Christ you have freedom and I have freedom from fears.
The fifth benefit of being a believer is that I have unlimited resources. I have got unlimited resources. I have got a spiritual bank that I can tap into that is phenomenal. Here is what the word of God says in Romans 8:32. “Since He did not spare even His own Son for us but gave Him up for us all….” The essence of Christianity is giving. God gave us Jesus Christ. Then it continues, “…won’t He also surely give us everything else?” If God took care of our eternity by sending His best, what do we have to worry about? He is going to take care of all of our needs, not greeds, needs. He is going to meet those needs. It is amazing to me. Many people have been Christians for a long, long time, yet they are scared to trust God with their abilities, talents and finances. “Yeah, God, I will trust You for eternity. I have got a ticket to heaven but about using a gift that I have in Your church? About getting involved? About building a relationship? About giving money, at least ten percent of what I make to you? No, God. I want to keep that for myself. You can have my eternity, but I will keep my ten percent here.” We are now in the midst of a campaign entitled Build The Vision. Our church has come together and we have bought 160 acres off of Route 129 and Bethel School Road, right in the middle of the Metroplex where five major freeways come together. In a couple of months we are going to break ground on this facility. The steel will go up and the bricks will be laid. It will be an awesome place. Some of us, though, in our minds think we already have a church. What is so great about a building? Is a building really that important to God? Is it that important? If you are asking that question, I can identify with you. I have asked that same question before. I wondered, a couple of years ago, why we would need a building. We are doing four services now, but it is in rented space, and takes enormous time and energy of a great many persons to move into and out of the Arts Center each Sunday. I started looking at the Bible and learned something recently that blew me away. It major rocked me. As you look at the Old Testament, the number one theme in the Old Testament, in fact fifty chapters, are dedicated to a building and the building is God’s house, specifically designing a building of excellence, not opulence, to glorify God and give a message of hope. And that is why we are emphasizing special giving to the Build The Vision during this time of Thanksgiving and the holidays when we remember the birth of Jesus Christ, the hope that God gave us. We can express our thanks financially so that we can build a building that will multiply what we are doing exponentially for hope. And if God has called you to this church, He is tapping you on the shoulder and saying it is time to do it. It is time to do it. It is a test financially. Do you really trust God? Every time the offering plate is passed it is a matter of trust. You either trust Him or you don’t. You trust Him with eternity, how about your finances?
I Timothy 6:17. “Command those who are rich in this present world….” All of us are rich. Every single person hearing my voice is rich. If you have more than one outfit to wear, you are rich compared to the world’s standards. And all of us here have at least one change of clothes. I believe we are rich. Varying degrees of wealth. “…not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain…” Wouldn’t you agree with that? Wealth is uncertain. Now if you don’t believe this, talk to some people who went through the early 80s when fortunes made in oil and real estate collapsed. They will tell you that wealth is uncertain. Worldly wealth. It continues, “…but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” God wants us to have a blast here on this earth, a life of adventure. We talked about faith last week. A good word for faith is adventure. Excitement. He wants that life for you. Trust Him with every aspect of your life. Don’t hold back in any area and you will be able to tap in to these unlimited resources.
The sixth benefit of being a believer has to do with eternity. I have security forever. The Bible says in Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future…..” I’ll stop here. All of us have a longing for eternity. The Bible says that the desire for eternity has been placed in our hearts. Have you ever wondered why most little children’s books end with, “and they lived happily ever after.” We have this desire. When we go see a movie and it has kind of a bad ending, we don’t like the movie, because we didn’t like the ending. Why? God has set eternity in our hearts.
Have you ever been reading a novel, this is kind of true confessions, and it gets so exciting that you must flip to the last chapter to see the ending in order to relieve the tension. I did that recently. I just couldn’t take the suspense. If you are in Christ, we have read the last chapter. We have read the final page. We win. We win. We spend eternity with Jesus and the moment we come to a point of decision in our lives and say, “Jesus Christ, I admit to you I am on death row, I deserve eternal separation but I have been pardoned and I accept this pardon.” The moment that happens, we are born again into the family of God, our eternity is secure. It is like when I hold the hand of my son, EJ, when we are going through a busy intersection. If he tries to let go, I won’t let him because I am his father. And I have a hold of his hand. Nothing could loosen my grip on my son’s hand. The moment you clasp your hand with God, the moment you do that through Jesus Christ, He is not going to let go. You might try. He is not going to let go. Forever and ever and ever. “…neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 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.” I think if the Bible told us more about heaven and how great it is, we would be on the freeways jumping in front of cars to get there. Heaven is a perfect place, and it is a place where we will use our gifts and abilities. Adventure will build and build and build. It will be awesome. We are going to spend more time in heaven or in eternity than we are in this life. And what we do down here influences what is going to happen there. Are you in Christ? Do you realize the benefits of a believer? Are you using those benefits? Are you?
Now. Let me ask a two word question. I have heard about the benefits, I see the reasons for hope. Now. So what? So what? So what? Let me give you a couple of things to do that will apply these principles.
Number one. Be prepared to share your hope with others. The book of
I Peter 3:15 put it like this, “In your heart set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope…” If you reflect these benefits of being a believer, people are going to ask you why are you that way? Why do you have joy? Why do you have confidence even though it is tough for you now, even if you have just lost a loved one or broken up with your boyfriend? Why do you have this peace in the midst of your tears? How do you do it? The world will give you a window to share what you believe. Have you ever shared sparks of Jesus Christ with others? Sadly, the world is more prepared to receive this message than many of us are to give it. Are you reflecting confidence and hope in every area of your life? People are watching. They are checking you out.
The second homework assignment is to take this scripture card home and put it in a very prominent place in your house, on the bathroom mirror, in your Bible, on the bedside table. And if you are like me you sometimes feel down and even whine and complain. Hey, we need to kind of wake up and put some High Karate on our faces and say, “Wait a minute.” That was a blast from the past, wasn’t it, High Karate? We can splash our face and say look who I am in Christ. Look who I am. Go through these benefits and memorize them and understand who you are in Christ. People will be able to see that reflected in your life.
It will be a little like our aquarium at home. We have an aquarium with a couple of fish in it and a little fresh water shrimp named Jason. We throw fish food into the aquarium and the minnows are quick to eat it. Now the little fresh water shrimp named Jason is kind of slow. He doesn’t have fins and he kind of kicks himself along the bottom. He waits for the food, red food, yellow food and green food to drift down. When it gets down on his level, the shrimp will grab it with his long shrimp-like fingers and eat it. And here is something that I could not believe when I first saw it. The shrimp is translucent. If he eats red food, he turns red. You can see it go through his stomach and everything. Jason is some kind of shrimp. He passed away last week, but that is a whole other story. We had a funeral for him and everything. We put him in a little box. It was sad, it really was.
If we feed on the word of God, if we feed on the benefits of being a believer, if we know who we are in Christ, guess what? The world will look and see all the food. They will see the joy, they will see the hope because we are translucent in a real sense. What are you feeding on, the world’s garbage or Christ? If you do those two things and accept the benefits of believing, you will have a hope and I will have a hope that never, ever hides.