A Living Hope
By Rev. Heidi L. Barham | December 3, 2017
Read 1 Peter 1:3 – 9
Several years ago, I came across a saying that I have held on to, “Pain is inevitable, but misery is optional.” It appeared in a book of meditations called “Daily Splashes of Joy,” and the book, “Stick a Geranium in Your Hat and Be Happy” -- both of which were written by Barbara Johnson who is a writer and a motivational speaker and is also considered to be a Christian humorist.
In other words, she is someone who uses her faith in God and her sense of humor to get through life’s most difficult situations. And shares this gift with others to help them get through their difficult life situations as well.
Despite the trials we may be going through, the joy of the Lord should be our strength. Johnson’s gifting is to help people find that joy, a living hope if you will, and she uses humor interlaced with Scripture to do it.
Although she does not have a long list of professional credentials behind her name, Barbara Johnson is a woman who is well qualified to help others find the joy of Jesus and the promise of a living hope, even in the midst of troubling circumstances.
Johnson tells an account of her husband, Bill, receiving a miraculous healing from a horrible automobile accident, only to learn a very short time later that their son had been killed in Viet Nam.
But in spite of her sorrow at their son’s death, Johnson found a living hope in Jesus Christ. She knew that her son was at home with the Lord. His letters to her from Viet Nam had often expressed how close he had become in his walk with Christ. She writes, “After all when you are a Christian and your buddies are dropping all around you in battle, all you have is your faith in God.”
Five years after burying that son, she got the devastating news that her oldest son and his friend were killed by a drunk driver. And yet, in the midst of that tragedy, Barbara still held onto a living hope that can come only from trusting in Jesus.
Her son had called earlier that same day to share his excitement about his blossoming relationship with his Savior. She reflected later that she was able to find peace with the fact that she had “two deposits in heaven.” She was able to face each new day with the living hope that comes through the promise of the resurrection we will one day share with Christ.
Now as if that were not enough, Johnson shares how shortly after rejoicing over being reunited with their third son after an eleven-year estrangement, both she and her husband were diagnosed with cancer. She writes of their ability to find joy and strength in the Lord even as they underwent treatment and dealt with the devastation that is caused by cancer.
And after her husband passed away, she reflected back on the faith in God that sustained them both throughout the process. Despite all that she endured, she still held onto a living hope in Christ Jesus.
And how was she able to do that? Because of her faith, she understood something that we should all hopefully understand, and that is simply this – regardless of our circumstances, we can have an ENDLESS HOPE because we do not face a HOPELESS END.
Johnson explained that life is 10% about how you make it and 90% of how you take it. Her bold statement that “Pain is inevitable, but misery is optional!” comes from having a living hope in Christ Jesus.
Now, if we turn our attention to our text for the morning, we find the Apostle Peter encouraging us with these words, “By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
It is through God’s great mercy that we have been given a new birth into a living hope. Frequently we hear the words grace and mercy walking along, side by side.
It has been said that grace is getting what we don’t deserve. It is by God’s grace that we have been blessed with all that we have. We know we don’t deserve all that God has blessed us with, so we should always be grateful that through His grace, He keeps right on blessing us anyhow.
And while grace is getting what we DO NOT deserve, His mercy means that we have NOT gotten what we DO deserve.
The Word says that the wages of sin is death and the Word also says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
In other words, we all deserve eternal punishment for our sins. But because of God’s great mercy, we have been given a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead!
Now the text goes on to say that that this new birth is into a living hope and “an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
We have an inheritance that is for all eternity. It far surpasses any type of inheritance we can receive from our family, friends or loved ones. But sometimes, we can get caught up in the “stuff” that we want right here on earth.
We are not really worried about our eternal inheritance because we are too busy trying to get our treasures right here and right now.
We live in an impatient society that does not value the discipline of waiting. I often like to say that we live in a microwave society. We want what we want, when we want it and how we want it. And 99 times out of 100 we want it right now.
People can’t wait to have all the “finer things in life” so they can live in the manner to which they want to become accustomed. It makes no difference that they can’t afford it and are living in an economy where the average American has a “negative” savings -- meaning people spend more than they make and are going deeper into debt to keep on doing it.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not talking about anything I haven’t done myself. I have been at a point in my life (okay, more than one point in my life) where I had a stack of credit card bills with little to show for it.
I was guilty of living above my means but realized I couldn’t keep going on like that. Unfortunately, it was one of those lessons I had to learn more than once…
But I am reminded of a quote I once read that says, “When you take inventory of the things you treasure most, none of them will have been purchased with money.” (And might I add to that “or credit cards.”)
Most of you know that I work with Hospice of the Western Reserve which affords me the opportunity to be with people at a very sacred time in their lives. And whether we acknowledge it or not, we were all born with a terminal illness, it is called life. From the moment we are born, we are one step closer to dying.
But when we have a living hope, that is really not such a bad thing. When we have faith in God’s Word and His promise of eternal life, we can truly live in hope.
And one thing I will share with you is that none of the patients and families that I work with on a daily basis has ever said to me, “I wish I had shopped more.” Or “I wish I had gone ahead and bought that nicer house or that fancier car.” Or “I wish I had more things with me in this room.”
The truth is, at the end of life, all those earthly treasures cease to matter; it is our relationships with one another and with our God that become most important to us.
Think about what Jesus said in Matthew 6:19 – 20, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
That is why our text for the morning tells us that at the end of this life, there is an inheritance waiting for us that will last for an eternity. It will never perish, spoil or fade!
But before we can get to the inheritance, we are going to have to go through some “stuff” that I commonly refer to as LIFE. There are going to be some trials and tribulations that we must go through.
The Apostle Peter tells us; however, that we still need to greatly rejoice in our living hope, our eternal inheritance, although for a little while we may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
The fact is that in this life we will have trials. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. But if by chance you have been blessed thus far in life and not had any trials, just hold on a little while longer!
James tells us to count it all joy, whenever we face trials of many kinds, because we know that the testing of our faith develops perseverance. And Jesus said that “In this life you will have trials.” The Word doesn’t tell us IF we face trials or tribulations, but WHEN we face them because the truth is, we WILL face them and more than likely on more than one occasion.
But Peter tells us that there is a reason for our trials, so that “[our] faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
We go through the trials that we go through so that God can get the glory. If things were always peaches and cream, we would get to the point where we would become so smug in our “peachiness” that we would think it was all our own doing.
Without those periodic reminders from God that let us know just Who is in control, we might begin to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. But the fact of the matter is that we don’t really control anything, and certainly not the storms of life, but thankfully God is in control of each and every storm in our lives.
Throughout the past several months, we have witnessed the devastation caused by multiple storms and other natural as well as man-made disasters. But in spite of the horrific circumstances surrounding each event, there were also many opportunities for us to see the love of Jesus revealed in new ways.
Scripture tells us that the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves.” Our response during these multiple tragic situations has been an opportunity for us to demonstrate that “Jesus kind of love” for our neighbors, both here and abroad.
And in all of it, God receives the praise, the glory and the honor. Our trials only come to refine and to test our faith. Peter tells us that faith is more precious than even gold refined by fire. That means that faith is extremely precious.
When gold is originally mined, it doesn’t look anything like what we see on display behind the jewelry counter. It is full of impurities that make it much less valuable than it is when it has reached its full potential.
It is full of “stuff” that needs to be gotten rid of called dross and the best and most complete way for the gold to be refined is by placing it in the refiner’s fire.
We are a lot like that gold. When we first come out of the muck and mire of this world and accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, we are full of a lot of “stuff” that needs to be gotten rid of and the best and most complete way for us to be refined is for our faith to be tested by fire.
In other words, when we are tested by unemployment, tested by bankruptcy, tested by broken relationships, tested by sickness and death…
Even when our faith is tested by these and other types of fire, we are still called to give God the praise, the honor and the glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Even in the midst of our trials by fire, we need to praise God because we have a living hope in Christ Jesus!
Now, moving to the end of our text for the morning, the Apostle Peter tells us that “although we have not seen Jesus, we love him; and even though we do not see him now, we believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for we are receiving the goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls.”
None of us may have actually seen Jesus in the flesh but we can feel Him in our spirit and so we are able to love Him and believe in Him. In fact, He is closer than our very next breath and continues to fill us with an unspeakable joy.
We can rejoice when our faith is being tested by fire because we have the promise of eternal life. And because we are receiving the goal of our faith, which is the salvation of our souls.
We can rejoice even when we are going through trials and tribulations because we have a living hope in Christ Jesus.
And because of that hope we have an eternal inheritance that will never perish. That living hope is a gift that is offered freely to each of us today because it was bought and paid for with a price way back on Calvary. But I must tell you, does come with one string attached – that we open our hearts to Christ.
During this season of Advent, we are reminded of that living hope that came to earth as a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes that Jesus might live among us. That living hope that went to a cross at Calvary that Jesus might give His very life for us. And that living hope that holds the assurance that Jesus will come back again.
And it is that living hope that we celebrate as we stand now and prepare to sing our Hymn of Discipleship [My Hope Is Built #537].