Certainty ( A sermon on Hope.)

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A few weeks ago we had the privilege of having College Gameday here in Tallahassee. I had heard word from a friend that some promos for the game were going to be filmed right up the street from me at the Chi Phi house and that it was open to the public. So of course I made the brief uphill trek to go be on tv. I got there and there were several hundred people decked out in their Garnet and Gold and we all watched as the big orange Home Depot bus pulled up with all the sports anchors on it and the camera crew setting everyone in place. The marching chiefs came marching up the hill and played the fight song and the crowd cheered the Warchant and it was just an exciting experience for all who attended. And they had already been filming a few things when the chiefs showed up and there was no room for the chiefs to fit into frame. So the Director yells through his megaphone to all the people taking up space “If you want to be on TV I need you to come over here.” And he said this several times when things needed to be done. And people would sprint to the space that he directed to and this would happen over and over clearly just being used as a way to move people out of the way. But people kept moving all out of the hope of being on tv. Hope is a powerful thing. Hope get’s things done. Hope moves people.

Every year I travel down to West Palm Beach to see my favorite musicians the Dave Matthews Band. And every year I will stand out near the busses in the hopes of meeting the man. I have come so close time and time again. I will spend hours in the hot tropical sunshine waiting, and waiting, and waiting just to see one dude who plays a guitar. Hope makes us do crazy things. Hope keeps us holding out for the big moment.

Hello everyone. Thank you for coming and worshiping with us this Sunday. If you are a guest or visitor we are so excited that you are here. A while back Brian asked me if I would like to teach this fall. And while my impulse was to first say YES! YES! YES! I asked first well what would you like me to talk about. I asked this because often when you get up to speak about Christ sometimes you find yourself saying something because you have to, instead of having something to say. So I told him I just want to make sure that I have something to say about whatever it may be. Because believe it or not I don’t have all the answers and I don’t know everything. So he then asked me if I would like to speak about “Hope.” Instantly my brain started just booming with stuff I wanted to say so hopefully tonight I will forget about what I want to say and truly focus on what God wants me to say. Now of course I am saying this with many pages of notes in front of me but I trust that the Holy Spirit likes it when you give him the opportunity to speak long in advance before the last minute. So….we got notes!

Tonight I’m going to share a few things. Firstly I want us to all hear from God through his Word. So we will look to what the scriptures have to say on the matter of hope. And your mind is going “I HOPE he isn’t going to cover all of it cause my stomach is already rumbling.” And then I’m going got share a bit of my story and I do think the reason for it will be clear by the end.

So some things you need know about me. Firstly, I love to write, I will be sitting around some nights and something will just come to me and I will be up till two a.m. just typing away. Secondly I love to read. Not so much fiction but things on theology, yes, that C.S. Lewis guy, because what’s a good sermon without a good C.S. Lewis quote? Thirdly, I love ministry, I along with several others here tonight give our lives to a mission called Young Life. The mission we have been called to takes us to a place few people wander. A road less traveled. We go and reach middle school and high school students (name where attending leaders lead.) I am on what is called a Wyldlife team. What we do is we go to kids and we build relationships with them. 1 Thessalonians 2:8 says Because you have become so dear to us we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our lives as well. We as young life leaders really take that to heart. We go and live life with kids, and we aren’t just their leaders who they trust but we are their friends as well. One of the ways we share lives with these kids is by giving what we call a “talk” at the end of this weekly event we have called “club.” A brief ten minute lesson from the Gospel about just who this Jesus guy is. And more importantly why it matters to them. One of the things that I learned early on and I think other leaders have learned is that kids while they like the stories of Jesus. The story alone doesn’t always matter to them. In other words the Bible isn’t something they really care about. One of the challenges as a leader is how do we get a kid to actually turn to the Bible, to trust, the Bible, to relate to the Bible, to be in the Bible. When kids trust you, they also care about you. As leaders we often share a personal story about us. Sometimes that story can be very private, maybe a wound we have had or a bad life experience, or sometimes it can be just a really funny story, but it is always a story that represents something in the Bible. We relate something from our life to the Gospels to show that the story in the Bible is not just stories about miracles that happened to people 2,000 years ago. But that it is our story as well. That it is their story. So forgive me when I talk about myself a lot. I promise it will eventually go somewhere. Many people get up and only speak scriptures and history and neat insights. It’s just not how I do it. Now I want you to understand that I am not here to preach myself. I am here to give an account of the hope that I have.

So, Hope.

Most of the time we reach out to hope when we find ourselves in a jam. When we feel pinned against a wall. When we suffer. We hope we can get out of it. We hope God will help us. We hope things will get better.

I am one of those people who is highlighter happy. Meaning my bible looks like a rainbow. Sometimes I’ll highlight every word on the page which really just doesn’t make any sense. BUT, my Bible has one page that is highlighted. I highlighted the outside rim of the page so that I could always open to it. Because it is my favorite passage from the Bible. One of the big questions people ask is how can God allow people to suffer?

Romans 5 says “Not only so but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance character, and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. “

Hope does not put us to shame.

We live in a dark world that needs hope. People are becoming more and more hostile to the message of Christ and this is not some opinion of mine it is a reality. In a world of instant answers at our fingertips Christians are being asked more and more frequently WHY? Why do you believe this fairytale? Why do you believe in that book? How can you believe in a God in a world of scientific reasoning? You are a FOOL to believe these things.

The Bible tells us we have to be ready for this.

In 1 Peter 3:15 it says (and I will read the chunk of it)

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

Often when we find ourselves speaking to someone who is against the message of our hope we are called closed minded. I cannot name the number of times I have been in these conversations and heard the words closed-minded. People may cringe at this and ignore everything else I have to say for the evening but one of my favorite authors is a guy named Rob Bell. And in his first book he wrote a very profound obvious truth.

He writes “Think about some of the words that are used in these kinds of discussions, one of the most common being the phrase “open-minded”. Often the person with spiritual convictions is seen as close-minded and others are seen as open-minded. What is fascinating to me is that at the center of the Christian faith is the assumption that this life isn’t all there is. That there is more to life than the material. That existence is not limited to what we can see, touch, measure, taste, hear, and observe. One of the central assertions of the Christian world-view is that there is MORE. Those who oppose this insist that this is all there is, that only what we can measure and observe and see with our eyes is real. There is nothing else. Which perspective is more “closed-minded”? Which perspective is more “open”?

I’ll give you all a second to write that down and keep in your back pocket.

Our gift as Christians to the world is hope. But to give something away, we must have it first.

What are your hopes?

Maybe you hope you do well on your finals?

Maybe you hope you get that date with that guy or girl?

Maybe you hope your family can make it through the holidays?

Maybe you hope God is real.

What is it that you hope for?

This could be one of the most important questions you ask yourself. And you NEED to know the answer to it.

It’s important because in Hebrews 11:1 it says that FAITH is the confidence in what we hope for. Faith is the certainty of what we hope for.

Does this describe your belief in God? Are you confident about that hope? Because if you are not it will be very difficult to share that hope with others. And they will ask.

When we share our hope others feel it. It gives them a chance to hope.

You are a walking Gospel. A gift of hope. Go everywhere and share this news with everyone.

Always be prepared to give an account because when God calls you to share it you will know.

Tonight, I want to share with you the reason for my hope. And I want to do this by sharing a situation I found myself in that profoundly changed my life. It was the most terrifying experience I had ever put myself in. And also the most amazing situation to ever come out of.

Every once in a while at Florida State there is a supreme ruckus at the Student Union. Hundreds of students will pass by or hang around as Evangelist who travel all over the country stop and grill and lecture students about God and the ways of Salvation through Jesus Christ. I have always stopped to listen to them twist scriptures or condemn others. Some of them are good hearted and just choose to bring the heat. Others almost look like they want you to go to hell. That it would bring them satisfaction. This was not one of these times. The Evangelist speaking while he would give absurd analogies worked well with the crowd. Using logic to try and help bring people to more clarity. When I walked up this time there were around 40 people in the crowd that would continue to grow and grow as classes let out. This day I sat around for over an hour as this man and students would go back and forth. There was one student named Rob who clearly had crossed paths with this evangelist time and time again. He would stand there take a puff of his cigarette bringing up every flaw of Religion and immoral trait of God. He would yell his clever reasons for not believing. And many of them were common doubts. Reasonable questions. After a while of the back and forth this student Rob’s patience was growing thin.

I watched him speak up and in a red face he yelled at the evangelist. At this point around 50-60 people had gathered. This is all crazy! It’s crazy delusions from crazy people looking for somewhere to throw their pain. It’s all made up! And I know what you are going to say that “there are people who claim to have seen Jesus, who claim to have heard the voice of God but those are crazy people too. Some of them would even die for this delusion. That is what is so wrong with Religion. And people began to clap.

And my hand began to shake.

There was a great silence. And the Evangelist turned away from him. And said in a very loud voice. I’ll be honest, ya know, I don’t know, nor have ever met anyone who claims to have heard the voice of God.

And I felt a pull.

When God calls you to speak. You will know. I stepped out into the crowd. And yelled MAY I SAY SOMETHING. I was angry, and I was terrified. And I walked up to Rob and I looked him in the face. And I asked him with a shaking hand. DO I LOOK CRAZY? (Which at this point I probably did.) But Rob replied no?

I then stepped back and told these people and Rob my story. My hope. I told them this story:

About 22 years ago my Mom was having a great crisis of faith. She had suffered miscarriage after miscarriage and her trust in God was slimming. She found it hard to believe that God loved her and that God cared about her. Why would this happen if He did? Out of desperation she said a prayer.

“God if you really care about me I need you to come down here and show it.”

After this prayer my mother began to have these vivid dreams of these bare feet climbing up a mountain of rocks. And it was a recurring dream that just really stuck with her. She knew that it meant something

Around this time one of my mother’s employees had returned from a Trip to a place called Medjugorje. And she approached my Mother and told her she needed to talk to her and that it was important.

So later they met and this woman opened up about a story from her trip. She said “I don’t know what your faith is or even if you have any but I have to tell you this. She told of how this small town was famous for the Virgin Mary appearing to people and giving them messages. That it was a place where miracles happened. She said that one night she was there and a friend of hers had a strong conviction to be in a certain room at the church. The feeling overwhelmed her. So they literally ran to the church and they got there and these nuns had just locked the door. And this woman crying begs and begs that they let her in. And the nuns said it was already locked but if they wanted they could go to the side of the building and look into the room through the window. They went to the side of the building and looked in.

And a cloud filled the room. And before my mothers friend appeared The Virgin Mary. And she gave a message to this friend. She said I have 7 names for you, I want you to bring them all back on this specific date.

This woman in my moms office looked at my mother not knowing the prayer my mom had said and told her “Judy, she called your name.”

How’s that for an answer from God?

My mother shocked decided then and there she would go. The date was close to my parents one year anniversary so my mother went home and had to try and convince my Dad to cancel their plans to go to Bermuda and instead go to this Catholic Pilgrimage Jesus town. Now if you knew my Dad this wasn’t exactly something he would ever jump on board of. He like maybe many of you thought this miracle stuff was a load of bull. He didn’t want to be anywhere near it. But my mom was so worked up about this that he eventually agreed to go.

While they were there they witnessed many, many things. The saw the sun bounce across the sky. They saw a Giant cement cross spin on its head. They saw an army of angels. My mom saw a mountain, where people climbed up it barefoot.

They were given visions. Some nuns spoke to my dad about a vision they had of a great river with the water thrashing back and forth and on one side of the water stood my dad, and on the other Jesus. My dad viewed this vision as Jesus’ way of saying he didn’t want my Father. That Jesus was putting distance between him. And this angered and hurt him greatly.

Later in the trip towards the end my parents went to visit a local priest who on occasion would speak of the history of the village. They listened to him tell the stories of what Mary was doing and speaking about the first appearance. At the end of his service he asked if he could pray for each person in the church individually at the front. The tour guide who was with my parents said that this NEVER happens. And people began to line up at the front. And the priest would walk across and place his hand in front of their face and people would fall to the ground. My mother wanted to go up and my dad said absolutely no way. After much arguing she convinced him to go. And they walked down and the priest went down the row praying for the people. He came to my father said a prayer and then moved to my mother said a prayer and then, he looked back and my father. And he placed his hand on my fathers head. And my dad fell to the ground. My dad looked up from the ground, and before him stood Jesus. And Jesus told my father that the vision was not about him who with distancing himself from my father, but my father distancing himself from Jesus. That the waves represented my fathers faith. Going back and forth. And while much was said at this time there was one thing said that would change my families life. Jesus told my father that everyone he came with would go home with a gift. And that my mother’s gift would be a son.

I was born less than a year later.

You see my whole life I had heard this story. Bits and pieces of it. But maybe like some of you here that’s still all it was. It was just a story. And believe it or not there would come a time when I would ask the same questions my mother asked.

All through middle school I struggled with “fitting in.” When my freshman year of high school came I was finally able to get out of that. I made way too many friends. My group of friends became kind of the central hub for every group of friends at Chiles. I cared about my friends more than anything in life and they were the thing I loved the most. Many of my friends got involved with a program that was new to Tallahassee called Young Life but I never went. I had a tv show commitment that was way more important. Around this time though I met a guy named Trevor Muir. He would show up on campus and in essence try to become my friend. Halfway through my freshman year my parents told me that we would be moving to south florida. No news had ever devastated me like this in my entire life. I had just made all these friends and now I was being told I would have to leave them. And for whatever reason, I blamed God.

God doesn’t love me. If he loved me he wouldn’t be taking me from the thing I cared about most. If God loved me I would be able to stay with my friends. One day at school this guy Trevor told me about Young Life summer camp. I found out many of my friends were going and decided that I had to do this. Trevor and a man named Chad met with my parents and we all decided that this would be the last thing I did with my friends before we moved. A sort of send off.

At camp I had more fun than I could ever think to have in my life. And every night I would hear about the stories of Jesus. Stories I had heard a million times. But the last night of camp I vividly remember the discussion. The speaker talked about how much God loves us and cares about us. And I remember rolling my eyes. I remember thinking then why is this happening to me? A question deep in suffering.

That night they did something different at camp. After the talk we were given fifteen minutes of quiet to go out anywhere in the camp on the side of this mountain and talk to God. And so I went out found a spot on the hill and I looked up at the stars. And I prayed, not knowing it I prayed that same prayer that my mother prayed.

“God, if you love me, I need to know.”

And a force pinned me to the ground. And I felt a great rush go through me. And then I heard a voice.

“I love you.”

“I love you.”

“I love you.”

Three times I heard it. And it terrified me. Which by the way the reason we Fear God is because he is in fact TERRIFYING. I had never felt so much power and love in my life. But it was also a feeling of great peace and more comfort than I have ever felt. I was shaking and I was crying. And I looked up through my tears to the sky. And there was a perfect constellation of a heart.

That day I looked Rob in the eyes and I told him I believe in God because I KNOW he exist. And this is not just some story this is truth, and while you may think I’m crazy I would die for this. Because there is nothing more important in this life than this.

I told him that even though you don’t believe in him I believe God’s message for you is the same. He loves you Rob.

And so my message for all of you is the same that it was to Rob. If you don’t think God is at work today, HE IS.

If you don’t think God cares about you HE DOES.

If you don’t think miracles happen today, THEY DO.

If you don’t think God has a plan for your life he does.

And whether or not you believe he is real, HE IS.

I say this not because I believe it but because I AM CONFIDENT OF IT. I AM CERTAIN OF IT.

When I ended my story that day. I had never heard such silence. And while I try to remain humble about it people began to clap. People who were screaming at this man about how wrong he was. Had nothing to say. And they were clapping. And they shook my hand. And they thanked me. I will never forget that day. I will never forget it because it was one of the first days in my life where I was certain I did what God was calling me to do.

People often tell me that they wish these stories happened to them. That they have been waiting for it. Often that they need it. That they need proof of God.

I met a woman who traveled to all of these Marian sights. Places where The Virgin Mary had spoken or appeared to people. Places riddled in Miracles much like the place my parents traveled to. And this woman always seemed to be one of the people who came home from the trip without seeing anything. She was Catholic and once she asked me what I believed about transubstantiation. And when I told her I hadn’t accepted it being the actual body and blood of Christ she became very defensive about it being a miracle before her. No, it changes. I just don’t how you can’t believe this. She said. Now, I don’t know this woman well or have much basis to make this claim. But to me, she NEEDED that to be a miracle. She needed it to be proof. Just like she needed these trips to find proof. She NEEDED to see to believe.

I’m sorry, but that’s not faith. The Bible says blessed are those who see and believe, but even MORE blessed are those who do not see, and yet still believe.

I don’t know why me and my family have been blessed the way we have. When people tell me they need proof. I think, but that’s not what God is asking from you. The reason I think this woman never saw any miracles while others did is that she NEEDED it to believe. I don’t think God is going to give you something that goes against what he wants from you. God wants your faith. Faith that he is who he says he is. That Jesus is doing what he said he would do. Faith is the certainty of what we hope for and what we DO NOT SEE. GOD ASKS FOR YOUR FAITH.

Faith that he is who he says he is. The Jesus did what he said he did and that he will do what he says he will do. And this is our hope.

A few years after this event my family was having a large argument. I don’t remember what it was about but it was very heated and eventually I just left to get away from both of my parents. I decided I would go to the amc movie theater and see what was about to start. Angels and Demons had just come out and it was starting in about ten minutes. Halfway through the trailers my Dad comes walking into the theater. My dad who had no idea where I was going somehow had the same idea as I.

I remember this night very well. Like very well. Afterwards we went and got food at Boston Market and we just had a very serious conversation some of it was led by the topic of the movie. Up until this point the only people who had ever heard the story of what happened to me at camp were the guys in my cabin. I never told my friends. I never told my parents. This night my dad sat me down and reminded me of their story for the first time in years. And he said there is a part of it that I never shared with you, because you weren’t old enough for it. He looked at me and he said almost with fear of the words “What Jesus said to me was that you will have a son, and he will be important to the church.”

I look at the choices I’ve made and I think that can’t be me. I am not worthy of a claim like that. I haven’t lived a life good enough. I give in to my temptations, I don’t always live out my love.

But then I look at opportunities that were given to me. The things I didn’t go after. The road I have somehow wandered on to. The ripple effects that brought me here. Four years ago I would have never believed I would be doing ministry. I would have never believed I would speak to middle school students. I would have never believed I would be speaking in a church about God. But yet, I have wandered on a road that was hardly a choice at all.

My hope. Is that those words come true. It has become a bit of cliché Bible verse but Jeremiah 29:11 says I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and. A. HOPE.

I love this so much in relation to my life. It continues with “Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and fine me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord and will bring you back from captivity.

Psalm 94:19 and I’m using a different translation it says “When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.

The only reason I can think of being blessed with such an experience is because God knew I would be put in places where I could share it. Because I have never for a second believed those words were just for me. It is my hope that we all play our part in the church. That we do that by sharing our hope. That people see the ridiculous, absurd, FOOLISH, CRAZY hope that we have and that it fights at their doubts.

Because GOD IS WORKING TODAY.

GOD CARES ABOUT YOU.

GOD DOES MIRACLES. TODAY.

AND GOD HAS A PLAN FOR YOUR LIFE.

Are you certain of it.

Are you certain of it?

If you do, declare it. Be always prepared to give account. Because there is a doubtful world out there. There is a world of people who don’t believe, who don’t know. But we know.

You are a walking Gospel. A gift of hope.

Will you close your eyes with me? Because I want everyone to hear these words.

I love you.

I love you.

I love you.

Romans 15:13

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

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