Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Hope, an Anchor of the Soul (#3)

Good morning! This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it. I woke up this morning with an excitement in my soul, simply because I am alive and well. God has given me another day to enjoy His favor, my family, and so many other blessings that I take for granted. Before we go any further with this blog, why don't you just take a moment to try to count your blessings? We are good at counting our hardships, but why not today count as many blessings as you can? It just might surprise you at how blessed you really are! I believe that it will also get your HOPES up. We have been discussing hope for some time now, and I would like for us to continue today.

Last week we began to look at how HOPE is an anchor of our soul, based on Hebrews 6:19
(AMP) [Now] we have this [hope] as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul [it cannot slip and it cannot break down under whoever steps out upon it--a hope] that reaches farther and enters into [the very certainty of the Presence] within the veil, [Lev. 16:2.]

(NLT) This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God's inner sanctuary.

Anchor #1 is "God's presence is watching over me." Anchor #2 is "His purpose is working in me." Today, let's look at anchor #3…

III. The third anchor is… GOD'S PLACE IS WAITING FOR ME.
When things get unbearable in your life you remember that our ultimate hope is heaven. Paul says it like this, If all our hope is just on this earth, we should be pitied. But there's more to life than just here and now. We do have an ultimate destination. This is just the warm-up act. And God is preparing a place in heaven.

Notice what Jesus said. John 14:1-2
"Don't be troubled. You trust in God, now trust in Me. I am going to prepare a place for you."
Jesus Christ says that heaven is a place, not a state of mind. It's not some kind of fantasy, nothingness, where you just float around, bodiless, spiritless, whatever. It is a real place and God says "I am going to prepare a place for you."

There are so many things that I could say about heaven, but let me today just say that heaven is a place of relief and release. No fear. No pain. No sorrow. No conflict. No more problems. The Bible says this Revelation 21:4 "He will wipe away all tears from their eyes and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor pain. All of that has gone forever." That gives us a reason for hope. The litmus of your faith and your hope is how you handle the funerals in your life. Anybody can have great faith when things are going great. But how do you handle the funerals of life. I have been there, and looked in people's eyes who did not have hope and seen the despair in their eyes at the funeral. On the other hand, I have been in many, many funerals of believers where there were actually celebrations. When a Christian dies, we rejoice for that person because we know where they're going. We grieve. But we're not grieving for that person. We're grieving for ourselves because we're going to miss them. When a Christian dies, we don't grieve for them. They get to be in a place where we're all going eventually so we don't grieve for them. There's no more problems for them. We grieve for ourselves. And the Bible says, "Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted."

This morning I want you to hear an excellent example of this in Dee's story. I read many things this week about hope. The best example I came across was the following example shared from a lady who tragically and suddenly lost her husband to death. Let me share her story to you from her own words. It is basically a four point sermon. Please listen:

I'd like to share how I was able to find hope I needed in the gravest crisis of my life. I had always envisioned myself standing up here with my husband sharing how the Lord brought us through some great financial trial. I could imagine us standing behind this podium, holding hands, smiling, taking turns speaking, nudging each other, as we would share how the Lord brought us through. But that was not the story that God knew that I would eventually share. As you can see I'm standing here without my husband beside me. He died suddenly last summer in an underwater accident. In one brief moment my entire life, my family, my faith in the future, was completely turned upside down. All our dreams together, our goals and our plans were crushed. So today, I'm here today to share how God's love and comfort helped me and my five children find the hope to go on when life seemed hopeless.

Richard, my husband of sixteen years, was only 39 years old. A group of staff members came over to tell me what happened and to be with me. I was devastated. Actually my feelings were beyond devastation. I can't even describe the pain I felt at that moment. Richard had been diving many times before. I was usually a little anxious about his safety. For this particular trip, though, I had no fears. I was completely taken by surprise when I received the news. My first reaction was total shock.

In the hours and days that followed, God gave me four different gifts to help me make it.

A. First He gave me the gift of His people.

Honestly, I don't know how people survive a tragedy like this without a loving church family and Christian friends. It made the difference between hope and total despair for me. So many people showed up to help me, share God's comfort and just be with me. One close friend who had visited with me earlier that day drove back down two hours bringing other Christian friends who are like family to me. Food, money, offers of help and prayers poured in especially from members of my church. In fact, we were so overwhelmed with help from our church family I finally had to beg them not to bring any more food. My refrigerator couldn't hold any more. Many times in the Bible God promises to take care of us in situations that seem hopeless if we just trust Him. He also promises to open the windows of heaven and pour out so much blessing that I won't have room enough to receive it. During this time, I found those promises were true. He used His people to provide for all my needs. And there wasn't anything that my children or I lacked.

B. The second gift that God gave me was His presence.

This gave me great hope. Even in my deepest grief I knew that God was there with me. He had not left me. In my many tears I could feel His love for me. Some of the times I felt closest to God was in my deepest sorrow and when people prayed for me I felt I was being lifted up on a carpet of prayer. I felt the presence of the lord well up inside of me. His presence surrounded me like a warm blanket in those dark days. Even my children who were looking to me for direction could see the peace of God rise in me and I could see the peace of God settling on them too. And that gave me tremendous joy. God was with us all, comforting us like the father and husband we were now missing. Even though Richard was no longer with us, we were not alone.

C. A third gift that God gave me that gave me hope was the reassurance of His plan for my life.

Of course, I had many questions for God. I wanted desperately to know how a man who was so cautious about the details and dangers of free diving could die in this manner. How could God let this happen to such a responsible family man? We had five children to raise. How could God allow my husband to be taken? I needed to know. I got out my Bible and asked God to lead me to a scripture to explain to me what had happened. The Bible said, "Ask and it shall be given," and that night God led me to read Philippians 1 and in verse 12 Paul explains how God was able to use even the difficulties and trials that he went through to fulfill God's purpose and plan for Paul. As my Pastor has said many times God specializes in bringing good out of bad and turning tragedies into testimonies. As I read that chapter, God spoke to me personally through scripture. I realized that God was not finished with His plan for my life. He would never leave me nor forsake me.

D. Finally the fourth gift from God that gave me hope to keep going was the promise of heaven.

Losing Richard has been a terribly painful experience, but it has not been a hopeless one. I know I will get to see him again one day in heaven. My husband Richard had put his faith in Jesus and God has promised that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. Heaven is real and Richard is there right now. That truth has freed me from much pain. Hearing the account of what actually happened to Richard would have been far too much for me to bear without the insight God gave me through His word. God impressed on me that Richard was not alone in the water that day. God met him there and took him home to heaven. The hope of heaven has given me hope to go on living down here.

I would like to end this testimony with "And we all lived happily ever after with no problems." But my children would ask me why I lied to you. A hope filled life is not a problem free life or a grief free life. Intense grief still comes in waves for each one of our family members. Little things remind me of what I miss about Richard. Any bright sunny day reminds me of his love for our family and for me. It's not always fun to plan things alone or to experience life alone. But I do know this: Even in my lonely times I am not alone.

Since Richard's death I've struggled to find the balance between patient understanding and firm discipline where my kids are concerned. It's not easy raising kids alone with three of them being teenagers. But my hope is in the promise of Isaiah 54:5 which says, "For your maker is your husband. The Lord almighty is His name." And in Psalm 68:5 that God will be a Father to the fatherless. These two promises of God have kept me going.

A friend recently asked, "What's next for you?" I can honestly say I don't know. I just keep putting one foot in front of the other step by step trusting God to direct my life. I try to be open to His leading and obedient to whatever He asks me to do. I do know that God has a plan for my life and for my children's lives. And He's given us enough hope for tomorrow.

In closing, it's my sincere desire that my story gives you hope in the midst of your trials. I want to encourage you as I've been encouraged by God. The Bible says that to whom much is given, much is required. God has given me much peace, hope and grace and I pray that through my story you will acknowledge the grace of God in your life. With Jesus Christ in your life there's always a reason for hope.

There's no way you can get that kind of hope from some pop psychology group. No book, no tape, no therapy, no positive affirmation is going to make you competent to handle that kind of crisis. To lose your husband instantly and be left with five kids, that's not minor inconvenience is it? This is a major blow.
And yet you've just heard a great example of a woman with deep hope. Where does that come from? There's only one place you can get that. A personal relationship with Jesus Christ. When you get that kind of relationship, you know that God is watching over you, His purpose is working in you, His place is waiting for you and you have hope.

If you are feeling hopeless this morning about something in your life, you have forgotten how much God cares about you. The Bible says in Isaiah 46:3-5
"Listen. I have upheld you since you were conceived and I have taken care of you from your birth. Even when you are old, I will be the same. Even when your hair has turned gray, I will take care of you. I made you and I will take care of you. I will carry you and save you. Can you compare Me to anyone? No one is equal to Me or like Me." What a God we have!

Maybe you have felt trapped in a hopeless marriage. It's on the rocks and you've tried anything and everything and it's going nowhere fast. Or maybe you've felt trapped in a hopeless career and you've bounced from job to job to job and you just haven't found where you fit yet. Or maybe you're stuck in a hopeless health problem. You've been to all the doctors and you've tried all the cures but nothing has helped you. Or maybe you've got a hopeless situation with a child. Or maybe you've got a hopeless situation with your finances and you're not getting out of dept; you're getting deeper in debt – month after month. Maybe you're a single parent like Dee and there are those days when you feel powerless and hopeless to cope.

What do you do? You give it to Jesus Christ. When you do, you will have a rebirth of living hope in your heart.
I Peter 1:3
"In God's great mercy He has caused us to be born again into a living hope because Jesus Christ rose from the dead."
You will have a rebirth of hope in your life. You will go from no hope to new hope. Instantly.

Did you read several years ago in the news about the American pilot who was shot down over Kosovo? "As he crouched in a shallow culvert deep in Serb territory, one of the worst moments for the stealth fighter pilot downed over Yugoslavia came when the barking search dogs drew within thirty feet of his hiding place. The U.S. pilot reached for a folded American flag that he'd tucked inside his flight suit next to his skin and he prayed a silent prayer. 'That helped me to not let go of hope," he said in an interview released by the air force news. Hope gives you strength and hope gave me endurance.'"

If you've just been barely hanging on you need to do two or three things.

1. First you need to remember the presence of God.

That He has always with you. That you will never be without Him. You may not feel it but He is there. He is aware. He cares. He can help. Jehovah Shammah – "I am the God who is always there." You remember God's presence. You will never go through anything alone.

2. And two, you need to receive from God's people like Dee did.

She let other people support her. That's why you need a church family. That's why you need to be in a small group. That's why you need to be more than just a spectator. You need to be a participator. Dee says, When I was in the crisis, my church family stood with me. Who's going to stand with you? Do you know anybody? Do you have any relationships? Who do you stand with when they're going through tough times? That's why you need a church home. You need a family who will be there when the crisis comes on and the heat is there so you can receive from God's people and you can remember God's presence and then you can rely on God's promise.

There are a lot of things in life that are uncertain but these three things you can count on. They are certainties of life. No matter what happens, God's presence will always be watching over me, God's purpose will always be working in me and God's place is always waiting for me.

When I have hope what happens?

Isaiah 40:31 "Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." No situation is hopeless.

God brought some of you to this blog today so He could say this to you: Don't give up. Don't do it. Don't give in to discouragement or despair. Don't give up, look up. Don't despair, turn to prayer. Don't give up. Don't give out. Give over. Give over to God.

I love you guys, and pray that you have a HOPE-FILLED day! Blessings!

Pastor Rusty