Jesus gives hope a good name

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in him, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 15:13

 

 

The word hope gets said a lot by Christians.  No wonder.  It’s one of the bigger bricks in the foundation of our faith in Christ.  Yet in today’s usage it can mean the exact opposite of what’s intended when we refer to Jesus.  To non-believers hope can be a weak word, an expression of wishful thinking.  For example, if your boss asked if a particular project assigned to you was getting done and you responded with “I hope so” you might get the boot.  Hope is a noun that has two distinct connotations.  One definition is “a feeling that what is wanted will happen.”  In that case hope is based wholly on a “feeling,” not on anything tangible.  The second definition is an archaic term meaning “trust and/or reliance.”  Obviously, since one trusts only something they’ve come to depend on as being reliable, the latter of the two is what we Christians infer when we speak of putting all of our hope in our sole higher power, Jesus Christ.  In other words, a dedicated follower of the Lord and Savior should never say, “I hope I go to heaven.”  While our sincerest wish is to be of productive service to our Heavenly Father in this world, our permanent residence in paradise is a sure thing, no hopes about it.  When we surrendered our lives to Christ our name was jotted down in the book of life and our seat at God’s banquet has a small “reserved.” placard sitting on our plate.   John C. Brogen wrote, “The hope that God has provided for you is not merely a wish.  Biblical hope is an application of your faith that supplies a confident expectation in God’s fulfillment of His promises.”  Christian hope isn’t a reference to the possibility of sanctification but to its certainty.

 

In the Celebrate Recovery ministry hope is the cornerstone of the second principle: “Earnestly believe that God exists, that I matter to Him, and that He has the power to help me recover.”  That statement is derived from the Beatitudes when Jesus taught “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  It’s reassuring to know that those of us who rue our past and shed tears over the turmoil we’ve caused in our lives will find comfort.  Not maybe, not perhaps, but will.  The Son of God has made a promise and His vows are never broken.  He’s telling us to put our hopes for finding a way out of our hurts, hang-ups and habits in His capable hands and not in our own.  Without that guarantee we’d have no shot at finding relief, no opportunity to rise above our sinful nature and no realistic hopes for a better future.  As Charles Spurgeon said, “Without Christ there is no hope.”  Christ is the key.  1 Peter 1:3-4 confirms it.  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  By his great mercy he gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, that is, into an inheritance imperishable, undefiled and unfading.”  Peter speaks of a hope that’s not only rock steady but alive and well in the Kingdom of God.  Broken people who come to a CR meeting are told of the hope that’s available to all who’ll reach out and take it.  George Iles wrote, “Hope is faith holding out its hand in the dark.”  The hope that Jesus offers is an irrevocable contract wherein He takes responsibility for all the steep fees your sins have incurred and signs His precious name at the bottom in His own blood.

 

But we mustn’t get ahead of ourselves.  It’s vital that we slow down and take a close look at the second step: “We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”  If we hold a vague belief that God exists and leave it at that a huge door is left wide open for speculation and personal preferences to waltz in.  As Christians who take the Bible to be God’s honest truth we have to put our faith where our mouth is and accept that the nature of the great I AM doesn’t fluctuate according to our whims or the opinions of others.  He’s the same now as He was a trillion zillion years ago.  It’s okay for tots to picture Him as an elderly version of Santa Claus seated on a golden throne decked out in a white satin robe because their little minds can only hold so much data.  But adult believers should’ve long since outgrown such cartoon-ish notions.  Who God is, what He is and how He expects us to behave is made crystal clear in the scriptures.  While we cannot possibly fathom even a fraction of his omniscience and majesty, everything we need to know about God is in there for us to study and absorb.  Other religions can describe Him as they see fit but we were told by our Lord in John 14:9 that He and the Father in heaven are one and the same.  When Philip asked Him to elaborate Jesus replied, “ The person who has seen me has seen the Father!”  Christ was God incarnate, living right alongside the disciples as a man.  What I’m saying is that if you’re unsure about God’s benevolent, merciful nature then it’ll be difficult to put all your hope for recovery in Him.  The best and only place to discover who created you and what He’s like is in the pages of the Bible.  If you don’t trust the scriptures enough to let them challenge and clarify your thinking about God, how can you ever expect to develop a close bond with Him?  As Timothy Keller wrote, “An authoritative Bible is not the enemy of a personal relationship with God.  It is the precondition for it.”

 

You may be saying, “Hope for tomorrow is all fine and dandy but I need hope that I can start changing my life today.”  That’s the incredible thing about Christ.  He’ll not only help us to trust Him regarding our future existence but to foster an unshakable faith that He can help us in the here and now to overcome our hurts, hang-ups and habits.  John Calvin said, “Hope is nothing else but the constancy of faith.”  God’s will is to energize you with the power to change but you must do your part by being open to all the alterations He wants to make.  Not just the ones you want.  And it’d be wrong to give the impression that it’s going to be easy.  Ephesians 4 says you must reprogram your mind.  That’s a tall order.  Changing your thought processes and the way your brain functions isn’t like changing your clothes.  That can be done in a jiffy.  Recalibrating your mind concerning everything can take the rest of the days you have left on this planet.  While it’s a daunting assignment the truth is we have no other option than to get on with the process.  St. Augustine said, “Hope has two beautiful daughters.  Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.”  It’ll take steadfastness and tenacity to lessen the impact inevitable periods of discouragement will bring.  Martin Luther King taught, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”  Your heartfelt desire to let Christ change you will unleash your soul’s potential to become the bold gospel-bearer that God intended you to be all along.

 

If you ponder the line in the 2nd principle where it says you matter to God you may wonder, “Why?”  Don’t feel bad if you do.  It’s a mind-boggling concept.  The omnipotent God who created the immense universe that surrounds us and has no end loves you personally.  You, one of billions of human beings walking around on this tiny orb spinning on the outskirts of the Milky Way galaxy, are treasured beyond measure by your Heavenly Father.  No one is cherished more.  That’s the message Jesus delivered in a nutshell.  You matter to Him.  You’re an important, irreplaceable part of His plan and what He’s asking you to do for Him is to completely transform your heart’s core motives so He can use you as designed.  The proof of His love is the blood-stained cross.  You, along with the rest of us, ran up a debt of sin we can’t pay.  Therefore Jesus’ tortured death is not just some noble display of spiritual affection.  Dying for no reason isn’t admirable in the least.   Keller wrote, “Christ’s death is only a good example if it was more than an example, if it was something absolutely necessary to rescue us.  And it was.”  Christ had to die in order to forgive us because the debt we couldn’t pay had to be paid.  And only God could pay it.  You see, forgiveness of a debt always involves a degree of pain.  As does the meting out of justice.  Justice is so important that each one of us demands it.  God’s only begotten Son’s death was necessary since He takes justice as seriously as we do.  And yet God continues to love us.  In Gethsemane Jesus asked His Father if there was another way to pay our debt.  There wasn’t.  On the cross He asked aloud why He was being forsaken.  But He knew the answer all too well.  The Bible makes it clear – it was for us.  Yes, you matter to God.  A great deal.

 

Our hope for healing must also reside in God’s limitless power to restore us.  In the first principle and step we admitted our powerlessness to do anything about our situation.  Now we must turn to the source of all power and ask Him to grant us the ability to defeat our addictions and afflictions.  That source is Jesus Christ.  We have to believe as did the apostle Paul, “I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me.”  (Philippians 4:13)  David said as much in Psalms 25:5, “Guide me into your truth and teach me.  For you are the God who delivers me; on you I rely all day long.”  Becoming a Christian is like getting a brand new Cadillac.  But if you don’t put gas in it you won’t go anywhere.  Recovery is like that, too.  God presents you with a fine vehicle to change your life but if you don’t fill your tank with the fuel He provides in His Holy Word you’ll soon be sitting on the side of the road.  God will not refuse you.  You must have faith in His promises.  Hebrews 11:6 says, “Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe He exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”  Realizing that my mask of denial had been torn away and that I was powerless to kill my insatiable obsession with porn was a defining moment in my life.  Yet I had no idea what to do next.  I’d prayed to God to come to my aid but the room was still quiet.  Something in my subconscious told me to get my tail back in church and, due to my Christian upbringing, I put up no resistance.  I had no clue what the body of Christ could do for me but I did know it was the only chance I had of saving my marriage.

 

That Sunday morning I got up and drove to the only church that I’d been inside of in my small town (it served as my polling place one year).  I met privately with the pastor the following night and, after I told him about the mess I’d stepped in, he led me upstairs where the weekly Celebrate Recovery meeting was about to get under way and left me there.  It’s the best thing anyone has ever done for me.  It was in CR that I discovered the power to defeat my habit.  Nothing else would’ve worked.  The leadership there not only accepted me without condition, they encouraged me in the weeks that followed to not simply hope for change to occur but to expect it.  And they didn’t just offer pithy slogans.  Every other week I heard a real-life testimony from people who suffered from hurts, hang-ups and habits that made my addiction look like child’s play.  Every single one of them had been redeemed, reborn and had seen all their sins wash away in the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ.  By witnessing their willingness to get up in front of a room of strangers and humbly air their dirty laundry I became convinced that my Father in heaven would give me a second chance at life, too.  That he wouldn’t give up on me no matter where I’d been.  Philippians 1:6 assures us all, “For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

 

Our advice at CR is “Don’t quit before the miracle happens.”  We say that often because we see a lot of folks give up.  They come in thinking we can somehow repair them but our ministry has never “fixed” anyone.  Only God can heal what ails us.  All we can do is pass on to them the hope we received.  We back that hope up with tried-and-true steps and principles that work and a united fellowship of believers to accompany them on their journey.  Godly men and women who’ll steer them to the Holy Word so they can get the power they need to be good again.  We tell them to read scriptures that encourage like Ephesians 4:22-24.  “You were taught with reference to your former way of life to lay aside the old man who is being corrupted in accordance with deceitful desires, to be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and to put on the new man who has been created in God’s image – in righteousness and holiness that comes from truth.”  That’s correct.  Righteousness and holiness.  My friend, you were made for so much more than this!

 

I know hope can be hard to find when you’re at rock bottom.  That’s why some don’t make it out of that hole alive.  Hope doesn’t even make sense to them.  But G. K. Chesterton said, “Exactly at the instant when hope ceases to be reasonable it begins to be useful.”  That’s why, even when hope looks like a flimsy strand of twine, you must latch onto it with both hands and not let go.  Dostoevsky wrote, “To live without hope is to cease to live.”  19th century minister James H. Aughey said, “Hope is the last lingering light of the human heart.  It shines when every other is put out.”  Yet hope isn’t just a patronizing word intoned at memorials and graduation ceremonies.  It is profound and, at times, very powerful in and of itself.  Vincent McNabb wrote, “Hope is some extraordinary spiritual grace that God gives us to control our fears, not to oust them.”  The implication is that our fear of falling back into our old hurts, hang-ups and habits can be a great deterrent to backsliding while the hope we find in Jesus can keep that anxiety from taking over.  Don’t abandon hope when it’s all you have left or you’ll be left with nothing.  Think of hope as a seed that’ll grow and expand in your soul.  Jeremiah 29:11 reads, “’For I know what I have planned for you,’ says the Lord.  ‘I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you.  I have plans to give you a future filled with hope.’”

 

You can say, “I hope I win the lottery.”  You may try every trick to beat the odds but there’s no guarantee you’ll win a penny.  You can say, “I hope I get a raise.”  You can put in overtime and brown-nose the owner daily but there’s no assurance that his lazy son-in-law won’t get a promotion over you.  You can say, “I hope I’m the next American Idol.”  You might sing like Aretha but that doesn’t insure you’ll even get in front of the celebrity judges.  But if you say, “My hope is that God forgives my sins and lets me come home again,” you have an iron-clad promise that He’ll not only do it but He’ll run full throttle down the road to embrace you.  All you have to do is ask.  He might tell you to go to a CR meeting.  Good.  We have a room full of hope and it’s there for the taking.

 

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