Guest Speaker Alex Costanzo reminds us that true hope is based on the certainty of God’s Word, and not on our wishes or circumstances.
Greetings, everybody. Welcome to the Costanza residence. It’s wonderful to be sharing with you today. I hope you’re safe and healthy wherever you are. I’ve lost track of how many weeks we’ve been sheltering-in-place. I know that for many of us it’s been a trying time, but the silver lining for me has been the unexpected gift of more family time.
Michael and I have three sons. They’re now 20, 17, and 12. Our oldest is home from college, so we’re all together. It feels like we’ve delayed that next season of the kids leaving home for just a little while longer, so I’ve really been savoring this time. But I’m pretty sure that my family does not share my enthusiasm.
There are five of us. We’re all on top of each other in a fairly small house. Every night at dinner, we have to compare our Zoom schedules for the next day and negotiate who gets the quietest rooms for their calls. Let’s just say that, I don’t usually get first pick. I’ve been known to take some calls in the garage or my bathroom from time to time. I’m sure many of you can relate.
We certainly look forward to the day that we can go back to worshiping in person with all of you. I miss my favorite coffee shop. My husband misses the gym. My kids are all dying for haircuts. I keep offering my services, but none of them seem interested for some crazy reason.
But all joking aside, the last several months have been an extraordinary time of turmoil. We’ve been experiencing the convergence of health, economic, and even social crises. We’ve all been affected to varying degrees. Many of us came into this strange time already carrying significant burdens and challenges. Life feels pretty heavy right now. Many of my conversations with friends have included these three little words, we need hope. We need hope, hope for a vaccine, hope for peace and unity, hope for equality, and hope for a very uncertain future.
What is hope? The dictionary definition is to want something to happen or to wish something to be true, to desire with anticipation. I hope it’s sunny tomorrow. I hope my kid goes to college. But I think it’s much more than that. There is something so integral to our human spirit about hope.
The Book of Proverbs says, “A hope deferred makes the heart sick, while a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” What a great image, a tree growing taller and stronger. When our hopes come to fruition, it’s life-giving. But when we experience disappointments and tragedies, it has the opposite effect. It’s as if we have this emotional reservoir of hope in our hearts that rises and falls with our experiences.
We start out with a lot of hope. We’re born with it. Right? Little kids are brimming with optimism. But then life happens and life is hard. It can take a toll on us. That reservoir of hope begins to drain. Some of us decide at some point, that it’s better not to hope for anything at all.
One of my sons recently learned that several of his high school classmates committed suicide. It’s just heartbreaking that these teenagers felt hopeless at a time when their lives were just beginning. We don’t know the details of their situations, but I wonder if they were victims of our culture that often places hope in the wrong things. Maybe the pressure to achieve was just too much. Maybe they put their hope in someone they respected or loved who ultimately let them down.
One thing I’ve learned over the years is that people fail people. Even when we love someone and don’t mean to harm them, we will let them down. We will even let ourselves down because we’re imperfect beings. We’re not perfect. This doesn’t mean we can’t open our hearts to people, but it does mean that we need to have the right expectations.
The psalmist reminds us that humans cannot save the way God can save. “Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground. On that very day, their plans come to nothing. Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God.” Amen.
Jesus told us that in this world, we would have many troubles like pandemics, recessions, and social unrest. He also told us to take heart, to be hopeful, because He has overcome the world. The Lord offers us a different kind of hope, true hope, for not just uncertain times like today, but for eternity.
Let’s look at a passage together in the Book of Hebrews to better understand the hope that God offers us. I’m going to first just read this through and then we’ll take a closer look. “So God has given both His promise and His oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to Him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary. Jesus has already gone in there for us. He has become our eternal high priest.”
What exactly is the hope that lies before us that this passage is talking about? It’s the saving hope of Jesus. Two million of us on this globe have been infected with the coronavirus so far, but all of us, every single one of us is infected with something called sin, which separates us from a Holy and perfect God. But because God is just as much loving as He is Holy and perfect, He sacrificed his son Jesus to pay for our sins on the cross. We can now have a relationship with the Lord that spans past our time on earth into eternity. The author of this passage tells us that we can hold to this hope that lies before us, this hope for eternal life, with great confidence, with great confidence.
In fact, the very nature of the word hope in this passage is quite different from the way we use the word hope today. The original Greek word is ‘Elpis,’ which means confident expectation. You see, God’s hope, it’s not like human hope. It’s not a finger-crossing, wishful thinking kind of hope. It’s not optimism or even positive thinking. It’s an absolute certainty. With human hope, there are no guarantees.
In fact, when we express hope, we’re actually expressing certainty. Right? We hope we find a vaccine for the virus. We hope there will be enough aid to save the economy. We hope that we will end racism. Yes, we desperately want all of these things, but no one knows for certain if these things will actually come to pass. But what we can be sure of is God’s promise of eternal life for those who accept Jesus. Verse 18 tells us why.
It says, “We have God’s promise and His oath. It is impossible,” impossible, “for God to lie.” The author is making a statement about God’s character, that He keeps His promises. He’s referring back to an example, a data point from the Book of Genesis when God did exactly that. The phrase promise and oath refers to God’s promise to give Abraham and Sarah a son despite their old age, which He absolutely did. His promises and oaths are reliable. The text says that these things are unchangeable. He won’t go back on His Word. He can’t go back on His Word because of His very nature.
He is so reliable and faithful that in verse 19, hope is described as, “a strong, trustworthy anchor for our souls,” an anchor for our souls. This is the type of hope that God wants us to build our life on, strong, trustworthy, and anchoring. In ancient times, an anchor was a symbol of hope, and especially for the early persecuted church. They fashioned an anchor as a disguised cross. I think they call it the mariner’s cross. They use it to mark the paths to their secret meeting rooms in the catacombs underneath Rome. What a rich metaphor to use to describe the hope we have in Jesus.
An anchor has two main purposes. The first is to prevent the ship from drifting. Even in calm waters, a ship can drift from its desired location into other ships or dangerous waters. It’s the same with our lives, whether we mean to or not, we can drift away from the good healthy things toward dangerous, unhealthy things, away from our loved ones, our goals, and our dreams. Our hope in Jesus can keep us centered and steadied.
The second purpose of an anchor is, it stabilizes the ship during a storm. It reduces the pitch and roll and prevents the boat from capsizing. Old anchors were made of rocks and baskets of stones. As their designs evolved, hooks were incorporated to give them even more stability. An anchor on a modern ship today can weigh over 50 tons. 50 tons, imagine that. I learned a lot about anchors in my research. Big ships in big storms need big anchors. What is our anchor? Is it money, our achievements, our intellects? The Lord wants to be our strong and trustworthy anchor.
Back to verse 19. “This hope, it leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.” Jesus has already gone in there for us. He has become our eternal high priest. The phrase “through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary,” refers to the innermost part of the Jewish temple, where the high priest would go into the presence of God, usually once a year, to make a sacrifice to atone for sins. This practice was no longer necessary once Jesus redeemed us, which is why He’s called the Eternal High Priest.
I think there is another way to think about these verses. Ancient ships had someone on board called an ‘anchorarious,’ who would act as a forerunner when the ship headed to the harbor. This forerunner was in charge of the ship’s main anchor and would go into the harbor first in a small boat and set the anchor there inside the harbor. This would ensure that the ship could not be washed out to sea before it reached the harbor. The forerunner would also give notice of the ship’s arrival and make preparations for it. In the same way, Jesus is our forerunner, our ‘anchorarious.’
Picture this in your mind, we are like ships on a stormy sea. We’re headed to heaven. But Jesus has taken our anchor and has gone before us into that harbor of heaven, God’s inner sanctuary if you will. He’s planted our anchor there. He’s gone beyond that curtain that separates earth from eternity and is making preparations for our arrival. Although we can’t see Him, our souls are securely tethered to Him. We can’t be diverted off course. We can’t be disconnected because our anchor has already been securely fixed in heaven. When we anchor our hope in this truth, our lives outside the harbor of heaven, no matter how tumultuous, will not defeat us, because we know with certainty our final destination.
Here is my first idea, true hope is based on the certainty of God’s Word and not on our wishes and circumstances. It looks away from man and to the promises of a reliable and faithful God. There are 7,000 promises in the Bible, 7,000. When we put our hope in these promises, we can navigate life through all circumstances until we finally enter that harbor of heaven. I learned in my research that there are different types of anchors for different types of boats and different types of sea bottoms for different purposes. I had no idea. I’m not a sailor. I got to thinking, God’s Word anchors us to Him through any situation, any situation.
For example, when we feel alone or abandoned, God says, “I’ll never leave you nor forsake you,” Joshua 1:5. When we’re grieving, “He promises to comfort us because, He is the God of comfort and compassion,” Second Corinthians 1:3. When we feel wronged, God declares that, “He is the final judge, and that justice will be done.” Our job is simply to forgive, Romans 12:19. When we feel defeated, He assures us that, “He has plans to prosper us and not to harm us, plans to give us a future and hope,” Jeremiah 29:11. This is just a tiny little taste of the hope we can find in God’s Word.
I once heard someone say, “Faith is a lens and not a lever. Faith is a lens and not a lever.” I don’t know why there is so much suffering in this world, friends. But I do know that God’s Word can give us a different perspective. It helps us remember that being discouraged, confused, or even feeling hopeless, it’s not an indicator that our anchor has come loose. We can soothe and even fight our feelings of hopelessness with the promises of God because hope is not just a feeling. It’s a choice that requires practice. We have to practice hope. Hope can certainly be characterized as a feeling, but because our feelings come and go, they can’t always be trusted to accurately reflect reality.
I remember this great family day we had downtown. It was a beautiful sunny day. We went shopping and had a great meal together. Then we got a $500 parking ticket and our car was towed. We went from happy and content to regret and defeat in a split second. Our human hearts are so vulnerable to our circumstances. We can’t deny that we’re emotional beings, but we do have some capacity to override our feelings with our thoughts. This is one of the things that differentiates us from all other living things on this earth. The Lord has given us the Holy Spirit to help and sustain us. We can choose hope and not give up. Jesus actually has something to say about how not to lose hope. He tells us in the Book of Luke, “Always pray and never give up.” “Always pray and never give up.” Some translations say, “Always pray, so you won’t lose heart. Always pray, so you won’t be discouraged.”
What is prayer? It’s simply talking to the Lord. It’s simply just telling Him how we feel. Why should we pray when He already knows how we feel? I mean, He’s all-knowing. Isn’t He? There is something transformative about prayer. It opens up a dialogue. We converse with the Lord. He speaks back to us through His Word. There is this dynamic back and forth living, breathing exchange. It changes us. It changes us. It gives us courage, peace, and joy.
Jesus modeled this for us when He prayed in the garden the night before he was crucified. He was so overcome with anxiety that the Bible says, “He was sweating drops of blood.” He prayed to His Father. He was strengthened and He didn’t give up. He completed His mission on the cross. I think that if we’re feeling hopeless, we don’t have to be stuck there. We don’t have to be stuck there. We can choose to find our way back to hope as Jesus did in the garden. We’re currently in a series where we’re exploring how to activate our faith. One way we can do this is to pray and go to God’s Word. If we’re drifting or in the middle of a storm, we need to deploy our anchor. By doing so, we are choosing and practicing hope.
When the shelter-in-place order went into effect, there were so many things that all of a sudden we couldn’t do anymore. I couldn’t go to work, to restaurants, or hang out with our friends. What really struck me was with regard to how we engage with the Lord, nothing had changed. We can still come before The Creator of the universe and talk to Him, which is amazing. We can still open our Bibles and soak up His Word. We can still worship him. I know it’s not the same way we used to, but nothing has really changed. We still have full access to our Almighty God. We don’t even need technology for it, no Zoom account or a password necessary. We still have the choice to choose hope. Instead of panicking, let’s pray. Instead of worrying, let’s worship.
I want to give you some suggestions on how to practice hope. Some of us might already be doing some of these things, but for others, they might be new. I asked some of my friends, “What do you do when you feel hopeless?” I got some really great responses. The first is to focus on God’s character and less on our circumstances. One of my friends said, “I try to remind myself of who He is in my prayers saying things like, ‘God, you are faithful. You are generous. Nothing is too difficult for you,’ and this puts the focus on God, takes it off of my situation, and grows hope within my heart and mind.” This is great advice.
One way to pray that puts the focus on God’s character is the ACTS method. This is how I tend to pray myself. A-C-T-S. It’s an acrostic. A stands for adoration. When you pray, start with stating God’s character and qualities. “Lord, I love you. You are a promise keeper. With you, all things are possible.” Then move on to C, which stands for confession. Confess to Him what’s in your heart. “I feel scared. Lord, I’m having trouble loving this person.” Then T is for thanksgiving. Thank Him for your blessings. Thank Him for answered prayer. Finally, we get to S. S is for supplication. It’s kind of an old-fashioned word, but it means request. This is now the time to bring your request to the Lord, what we typically think of when we say a prayer for our needs and our desires. The funny thing is, if we follow this process, often by the time we get to S for supplication, we’ll already feel stronger and more at peace.
Another way to practice hope is to remember how God has been faithful in the past. It’s funny how we can have spiritual amnesia. God gets us through some pretty big things. When we encounter the next storm, we forget. We forget what He’s done in the past. We forget what He’s capable of doing in our future.
One of my friends keeps a prayer journal. She simply writes out her prayers like a letter. She also writes about what the Lord is teaching her. She marks the entries from the times of significant personal growth. She’ll reread these entries when she feels discouraged. This gives her strength and hope for her current struggles. A prayer journal is a great way to remember what God has done for us in the past.
Number three, memorize scripture. Memorize scripture. Many of my friends memorize scripture. They’ll pick out a verse that’s especially meaningful to them. They’ll paste it on their bathroom mirror or near their kitchen sink. This might be a new thing for some of us, but with a little bit of effort, we can embed God’s truths in our hearts and minds by committing His Word to memory. A good place to start is the Lord’s prayer. “Our father, who art in heaven,” is how it starts. This is a prayer that Jesus actually prayed Himself, which by the way, has all the elements of the ACTS model in it. Another beautiful passage to memorize is the 23rd Psalm. That one starts, “The Lord is my shepherd.” You might be familiar with that one as well. There are so many hope-filled verses that you can choose. The great thing about memorizing scripture is that you have instant access. It’s right there on the tip of your tongue when you need it.
Number four, praying in community. I feel really strongly about this one. There will be times when we are so discouraged, we will need to lean on the hope of others. We’re going to need them to hope for us. Reach out to believing friends for prayer and encouragement. We need spiritual first responders. We all should be praying for others as well. Praying for others takes the focus off of our circumstances. We get to see how God is working in our friends’ lives and vice versa. It’s a real blessing to be praying in community. Technology makes sharing prayer requests a breeze. I have friends who use WhatsApp. I’m on a part of a really great Slack prayer channel myself.
The last thing I want to say about practicing hope is let’s be proactive rather than reactive. Proactive rather than reactive by developing a daily rhythm with the Lord. I was watching this YouTube video about this couple who’s sailing around the world. Their most crucial tool is a weather app that enables them to adjust their course to avoid storms. If they can’t avoid a storm, at least they have time to prepare for it. I wish we had an app that would warn us about life’s storms. That would be really handy.
Here’s the thing, we should expect storms. We might not know exactly when they’re going to hit or what they’ll be like, but they will hit. Rather than simply reacting to them, we can be proactive and prepare for them ahead of time. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to be reactive. God will meet us wherever we are, so if something has caught you by surprise, it’s okay. So, cry out to the Lord for help and He will answer you. If we can get ahead of it, if we can invest time and effort into immersing ourselves in Him, when the storms do hit, we won’t be quite as shaken. We will have a deep reservoir of hope to draw from.
The ideal way to immerse ourselves in Him is to do it every day. The Lord wants a daily relationship with us. He wants to spend time with us every day. Maybe you could try out some of these things we’ve just gone over. There are so many tools at our fingertips. Pastor Terry’s Rise and Shine vlog is a great resource if you haven’t checked it out yet. Maybe some of us have more time, more bandwidth, while we’re still sheltering-in-place to form new habits or to make a new commitment to grow closer to our beautiful Lord.
There is a verse in Romans about suffering that I want to share. It’s a verse that used to confound me. Recently, I’ve come to understand its truth. “We also glory in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope.” Notice the linear nature of the verse, “Suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope.” I always found this to be curious that the end product of suffering is hope. From a human perspective, it makes more sense than we need hope to get through the suffering. Right? But again, we learned that hope in the Bible doesn’t mean human optimism or wishful thinking. It means a confident expectation.
So I’m going to read this again. “Suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character and character, a confident expectation.” It may seem counterintuitive, but the more we suffer and the more we cling to the Lord, the more we experience Him. The more we experience Him, the more confident we become in who Jesus is, and the more certain we will become of our final destination.
When I was first diagnosed with cancer in 2010, I sat next to a woman named Marcia on a plane. She was a Christ-follower and a cancer survivor. When I told her that I was afraid, she patted my hand and said, “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid. Jesus is with you. When you get to a place where Jesus is all you have, you will realize that Jesus is all you need.” I have never forgotten that.
The truth is, I know what it feels like to be hopeless. Five years ago, I sat in a doctor’s office. He told me that my cancer was back. At this time, it was advanced and incurable. Even though I truly believed that heaven was waiting for me, I was overwhelmed with hopelessness and grief at the thought of leaving my family. But there is something powerful about confronting death.
In these last five years through treatment and all the uncertainty of my health, I have learned the truth firsthand of what that sweet woman on the airplane was trying to tell me. Jesus is truly all I need. I’m less afraid to die. I’m getting more excited about heaven. My anchor of hope has grown stronger and more secure.
So here is my next idea, hope will grow as we experience Jesus, especially through the storms, especially through the storms. We don’t have to be afraid. In fact, storms are course-correcting opportunities. I think there is an opportunity in the midst of this pandemic storm that we are collectively facing. People seem more open to having meaningful discussions about life and death and spiritual things. It brings to mind the story of Francis Collins.
Dr. Collins currently runs the National Institutes of Health, and he headed the Human Genome Project under President Obama. He wrote a great book called The Language of God, about how science is God’s mechanism for creation. He was an atheist for many years with no background in religion or in the church as a child. But when he was a medical student, he was exposed to terminally ill patients.
He observed that there was a direct correlation between how a patient faced death and the patient’s faith. Those who followed Jesus were most at peace with dying, while other patients were gripped with fear and despair. Dr. Collins found himself drawn to the hope of these Christians. One day, one of his patients shared the gospel with him, which was the beginning of his journey as a Christ-follower.
Hope is contagious. People are drawn to hope. It’s intriguing, even perplexing. The sky is falling, and yet this person seems to be fine, better than fine actually, peaceful, content, grateful. What is the source of that hope? Where does it come from? This kind of hope says, things aren’t so good, but I still believe. This kind of hope says, it’s probably going to get really bad, but I know that everything is going to be okay.
Given all the events of the last few months, we need this kind of hope, God’s hope, more than ever before. The Apostle Peter urges us to spread this hope. But in your hearts, honor Christ. The Lord is Holy. Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and respect.
If you’re a Christ-follower, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been following Him, then let’s look for opportunities to share our hope with others. Let’s not squander this time. Disruption can be a good thing. It provides an opening for interesting conversations. Maybe you know someone who needs a helping hand or a listening ear. Let’s show up for them. Let’s serve them. Maybe you’ll have a chance to share a little of your story of who Jesus is to you.
So here is my final idea, hope is contagious and is meant to be shared with others. It’s meant to be shared with others. I’m going to close with one more story. My friend Janice lives a couple of blocks away from me. When the shelter-in-place order began, she told me that she put a letter in every mailbox on her block. This letter introduced herself and her family. The letter asked if there was anything they could do to help, like getting groceries or prescriptions. She signed it with their names and their contact info. I was like, “Your real names and your real contact info?” I have to admit my first reaction was, “I don’t know if that was a good idea. These people now know where you live.”
Then I realized that Janice was letting her light shine during a dark time in a powerful way. She said she heard from many of her neighbors. One of them, in particular, was deeply moved, because no neighbor in the 20 years she had lived there had ever reached out to her before. The block is having a socially distanced block party as soon as it’s deemed safe to do so. Now that’s activating our faith and engaging those around us, inviting them to the confident hope that we have in Jesus.
In just a moment we’re going to hand it back to Pastor Terry. But first, let me leave you with a blessing. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope, this glorious, constant, unswerving living hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Just to be able to have this time together has been an extraordinary blessing for me. I hope for you too. It’s my desire that you would all be strengthened, encouraged. I just want to also remind everyone, and part of this is also to thank you for the exceptional faithfulness that so many of you have exhibited in relation to your giving. If you haven’t already been made aware of it, there are multiple ways that you can give in your tithes and offerings under the Lord. You can do it online. You can do it on the app. You can do it just the traditional way and send it in to the offices, whatever works. But you just remember, this flows really out of a heart that is aligned.
We are a people together with making a journey. If this is your home, your home church, if this is the place where you’re being fed in the Lord, then continue to honor the Lord. Be as faithful as you can possibly be. I know these are not easy times. Some of us are prospering and doing well, others of us are in a more challenging place. But either way, walk as much as you can in a place of trust and in hope. I’m going to pray. I’m going to pray the blessing of the Lord on all of us right now.
Lord, we just take this time and we bring it to a close. We do not do so as people who are hopeless. We do this as people who are anchored in your hope as we have learned today. My prayer is that we continue to live out our faith in you as beautifully as we possibly can. That we would sow hope because you are so good and you are so God. We want to sow good and we want to sow God. Help us to be creative in our ways to bless. Help us to be creative peacemakers in your name. Help us to keep our hearts in check and not be overwhelmed by our anger. We pray for your goodness to prevail over our own hearts, over the people we love in our relationship with, even now maybe some names are coming to our mind. We speak the blessing of Jesus over them and of course, over our nation. We just ask for this Lord in your name and Jesus’ name. Amen.
May the Lord bless you and keep you. May He be with you, spirit, soul, and body in every way this week. Praise to you.