Keep Hope Alive
Light flickered from the lone candle sitting, wax-dripped, in the center of the rough-hewn table. It’s light glimmered streaks of yellow and gold off of the worn-out faces that sat silently worshiping quietly as one of them led a hymn. These were the outcasts; the green-card carriers of Bithynia. Driven from Rome by Claudius they had made their way to an unfamiliar and an unfriendly city. They could find no work. When people found out they were followers of “the way” (their name for Christians) they just weren’t interested. Public meetings were forbidden so here they were, huddled around the candle.
There used to be more of them, but as the persecution had grown, their numbers dwindled. Many who thought they believed were willing to cash in their faith for food and only the faithful remained. And those faithful were losing hope. Disappointment after disappointment, trouble by trouble, their strength had ebbed away. From the loss of their homes to their forced exile to their persecuted existence in this god-forsaken town, they were about ready to throw in the towel. Their hope was gone.
Suddenly through the silence, a knock came at the door. Everyone tensed together. Who was it? They had been forbidden to meet. Had someone heard their quiet singing and called the authorities. Their leader raised his finger to his lips to signal for silence, then called out, “Who is it?”
Expecting the rough answer of a Roman soldier, they were all surprised to hear a whisper. “It’s John. Quick! Let me in!” Sighing with relief the door was opened and a wide-eyed excited John burst into the make-shift church.
“I’ve just come from the docks. I didn’t tell anyone, because I didn’t want you to be disappointed anymore than you already were, but there was a courier sent from Rome.” Pulling a parchment out of his cloak, He said with great anticipation. “It’s a letter . . . from Peter.”
They all gathered around as John began to read:
I, Peter, am an apostle on assignment by Jesus, the Messiah, writing to exiles scattered to the four winds. Not one is missing, not one forgotten. God the Father has his eye on each of you, and has determined by the work of the Spirit to keep you obedient through the sacrifice of Jesus. May everything good from God be yours!
What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our
Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole.I know how great this makes you feel, even though you have to put up with every kind of aggravation in the meantime. Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it’s your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory.You never saw him, yet you love him. You still don’t see him, yet you trust him—with laughter and singing. Because you kept on believing, you’ll get what you’re looking forward to: total salvation.
The prophets who told us this was coming asked a lot of questions about this gift of life God was preparing. The Messiah’s Spirit let them in on some of it—that the Messiah would experience suffering, followed by glory. They clamored to know who and when. All they were told was that they were serving you, you who by orders from heaven have now heard for yourselves—through the Holy Spirit—the Message of those prophecies fulfilled. Do you realize how fortunate you are? Angels would have given anything to be in on this! So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives. Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing. You didn’t know any better then; you do now.
Can you imagine how that must have encouraged their hearts? Peter had actually sat down and written to them. That in itself would have been a great encouragement, but did you catch what he told them. Let me read it to you from the NKJV starting in v 10:
Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, 11 searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12 To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into.
Peter, here, talks about our great salvation. To a people who need hope, he gives it, and then some. He tells them in v 10 that even though they be the outcasts of society, they are blessed to be alive now. He says that the prophets carefully looked into the scriptures to see when this Messiah was coming. To them God revealed that it would not happen in their lifetime. O no! They were preparing for this day. Peter then says something amazing! He says, “Hey, stop feeling sorry for yourselves! Stop sitting there stepping on your lip. You’ve got nothing to be down in the mouth about! The day in which you are living in is so special that even the angels would have given anything to have been in on this!” And as they heard those words, the dead lifeless eyes that had glowed dully in the candle’s light begin to shine and that old feeling that they had lost began to return. Yes, hope was reborn in their hearts.
More than any American generation in a long time, I think that we can identify with these people. We have many obstacles. Though we haven’t yet experienced great persecution, if you’re like me, there’s this little voice inside your heart that keeps saying, “Get ready, its coming!” I used to make statements like that and feel a little bit of doubt that what I was saying was true. No more! I have no doubt in my mind that this country is going to become an increasingly hostile environment for believers. As a result of this sense, I also sense a lot of despair. Like those lowly candle gazers, many are worried and hopeless.
That hopelessness is encouraged by our enemy. Many grow hopeless because Satan deludes them. They are caused to doubt by his unchecked whispers into their mind. And because they doubt they are often defeated. They are too demoralized to witness; They are too frightened to take a stand because, now, it might really cost them. Many believers sit in the dark room of their fear absolutely intimidated. They are deluded by their enemy.
Many are hopeless because Satan deludes them and others are hopeless because circumstances have distracted them. They are all about the latest political gossip or the viral email that claims that the president is a Muslim or the Army about to confiscate church auditoriums. Hey, first of all, a lot of that stuff isn’t true, and even if it is, it doesn’t change anything. God is still on this throne and we need to get our eyes off of this world and put them on Him. It’s real easy to lose hope when I look at the world around me, and many have done just that. They’ve allowed circumstances to distract them and the enemy to delude them.
Then others have allowed their priorities to divert them. Listen, one of the greatest thieves of our hope is misdirection. We start chasing the wrong priorities and, because we are out of the will of God, we are unsuccessful and we lose our hope.
I don’t know if any of these fit you today, but here’s what I do know: The gospel was meant to bring you hope, but whether it does or not is really up to you. That’s right! Your hope is up to you! God has made provision for you to walk in His peace and His power, and even though things are bad around you, to have the quiet confidence of a servant who knows His master is in control. So if you’re struggling with your hope this morning, I want to give you some principles which can help you overcome your hopelessness and face the world with a smiling face and a ready hand. You say, “Alright, Rusty, go for it! I’m tired of being defeated! I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. How can the Bible really help me?” Glad you asked, because Peter gives us the answer in 1:13. There he says:
Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ;
You can have hope, first of all, if you will
DIV 1: PREP YOUR MIND
Verse 13 opens with a fairly stark command. Peter says, “Therefore,” that is because of all that I have just said about the great salvation you have, as a consequence of this unbelievable blessing, “Gird up the loins of your mind.” Now the first thing to note about this command is the constraint of its attitude. It’s the “drill sergeant” of commands. It’s like the DI walking into the barracks at Parris Island and shouting, “On your feet!” It is intense. It is expectant. It doesn’t call for argument. It calls for obedience.
And just what exactly does it call us to do? Well, the command is not only one of constraint, it is one of curiosity. What we are told to do is, well, to us at least, just weird. It says, “Gird up the loins of your mind.” In Israel, an ordinary person wore a long garment of wool or linen that reached to the knees or ankles. Over that was a mantle, something like a pancho. Whenever there was active service of fighting the poncho was tucked into the belt to free up the hands and arms. Tucking the poncho was called “girding up the loins.” One commentator describes it like this:
The Greek idiom used here (and lost in the rather bland NIV translation) is the ancient equivalent of “Roll up your sleeves and get down to hard work!” The language can in fact be traced back to Exodus 12:11 where the Israelites, about to leave Egypt, are told to eat the Passover, dressed and equipped to start out on the long and tough journey without delay. So too Peter’s readers are to set out on their journey to the “Promised Land” and must be ready for action. To go out as Christians on pilgrimage through the world demands vigor.
Peter is saying that in order for us to really have hope in a hopeless world, there has to be a fundamental difference in the way the church and His people THINK
Recognize this? That’s right, it’s a fire ant. These little buggers are potent! They can light you up. In fact, 12 Americans die of fire ant attacks each year. That’s because before they start to sting you there may be hundreds of them on you before you even know it. So much venom can cause an allergic reaction that can bring death in highly allergic people.
How do you get rid of them? Well they call it “ant bait” or “ant food.” It’s a small yellow pellet that the ants think is food, but which is really poison. They take it back to their queen, she eats, and the whole colony dies.
Why am I talking to you about ants? Because it provides a picture of how Satan uses our minds against us. He entices our thinking with things that look like fun. Pornographic images flash before us and we want to partake; angry thoughts about our parents flit across the screens of our mind and we want to play out the scenario suggested to us; suicidal thoughts enter our thinking during our down times and we hear the enemy enticing us to dwell on them. These are not “ant bait” they are “thought bait.” They are the preoccupations of undisciplined thinkers. Peter says to our minds, “On your feet! Roll up the sleeves of your mind! Take control of your thinking!”
“Ok,” you might be saying, “But how does that work, really? I mean how do I “roll up the sleeves of my mind?” Well, if you’re a believer, it means you take responsibility for your thoughts and, just in case you’re not sure what that means, let me give you a couple of suggestions.
First, if you want to control your thinking, take out the trash. That’s right! Get rid of the filthy thinking that is so easily allowed into your life. I remember my friend Morris Proctor telling about a guy at college whom he was trying to help grow in the Lord. One day, his friend was lamenting the fact that he seemed to have such trouble controlling his sexual thoughtlife. Morris said that when he went back with the guy to his room, he knew why. The guys had all kinds of suggestive posters hanging on his walls. I mean, Duh! What did he expect?
Now the sad fact is that many of us will shake our heads at that and wonder how that guy could be so foolish, but we’re really doing the very same thing! We watch “r” rated movies and wonder why we’re tempted? Well Duh! We are fans of “Desperate Housewives” and “Sex and the City” and we wonder why we have trouble disciplining our sexuality. Well Duh! Christians! Take out the trash! That’s how you grab control of your mind.
But then, once you take out the trash, fill the vacuum. Now a lot of people understand that first principle, but they lose it here. They empty their minds, but, in so doing, they simply create a vacuum. That is, they don’t fill it back up with anything. It’s not enough to say no to bad thoughts, you must say yes to good ones. You must fill the vacuum with Christian music, and sermons that you listen to, and Bible verses that you memorize. You prep your mind by taking out the trash, filling the vacuum, and then you can
Close the borders. What I mean there is you must build a system of protection around your thinking. Every single person under the sound of my voice must build a system of accountability for you and your family when it comes to the internet! You’ve got to! Look, there are just three kinds of people in this world when it comes to internet filth. Those who’ve protected themselves against it, those who are involved in it, and those who will fall to it. Did you get that? I know some of you right now are rebelling against what I just said because you feel like I’m judging you, but I don’t care. Its true. You either build a hedge of protection around you and your family or you will fall to the filth of the internet, if you haven’t already. Take out the trash, fill the vacuum, close the borders. Gird up the loins of your mind. You can have hope when you prep your mind. But you will also have hope if you
DIV 2 DUMP YOUR DISTRACTIONS
You heard about the alcoholic didn’t you? (By the way, when I was coming up, we called them drunks.) You heard about the drunk didn’t you? He’s married and he comes home late and sneaks upstairs being as quiet as he can be. He sneaks into the bathroom and looks at his face. His hair’s messed up and he’s covered with bumps and scratches he’d received in a fight. He knows if he goes to bed like that, in the morning, he’s going to be in trouble, so he staggers around the bathroom, finds the bandages and fixes himself up, smiling at the thought that he’d pulled one over on his wife. When the morning came, he opens his eyes to find his wife standing over him. “You were drunk last night weren’t you?”
“No honey. No way. I wasn’t”
“Well,” she replied, “If you weren’t, then who put band-aids all over the bathroom mirror.”
The same old guy gets pulled over for DUI. When he gets to court the arresting officer testifies that the defendant, when asked to produce his car registration, had fumbled around endlessly in the glove compartment. Well, he’d hired a good lawyer, and the lawyer, wanting to earn his money (go figure) thought he’d found an opening. So he began to question the officer.
“It was dark, in that car, was it not?” asked the lawyer.
“Yes,” said the policeman.
“And the glove compartment, it was cluttered, was it not?”
“Yes,” came the reply
“And approximately how long did he fumble around there?”
“Well, Maybe five minutes,” responded the officer.
“Well,” continued the attorney, “do you find it unusual that a man would take his time looking in a dark and cluttered glove compartment for a small piece of paper?”
“Well, actually, Yes, I do” replied the officer.
“Why is that?”Asked the attorney. “It was dark, the glove compartment was cluttered. Anyone would have taken a long time to find their registration.”
“Well, I’d agree with you except for one thing,” the officer said.
“And just what might that ‘one thing’ be, sir?” replied the lawyer with obvious sarcasm.
“Well, sir, he wasn’t sitting in his car, he was sitting in my patrol car at the time.”
Isn’t it interesting that in the second phrase of v13, Peter issues a second command. He says, “Therefore, gird up the loins of your minds and (watch!) Be sober! Now here’s the point I think Peter is trying to make! He wants them to focus and he knows something about drunks: They are easily distracted.
The reason many believers lose their hope is that they have been inebriated by the distraction and the misinformation of this world. Their attention was meant to be placed on God, but its anywhere but there. They walk around stupefied by the encroachment of this worldly detail and that subversive concern. They are like the weed-infested soil in Jesus parable choked by the cares of this world. Drowning in a sea of self-imposed impossibilities they are going down for the third time. No wonder they have no hope, and that hopelessness flows from their own distraction.
You’ve heard of DUI and DWI, but have you ever heard of DWD? That’s “driving while distracted” and it often happens because of these . . . Cell Phones. Distraction from cell phone use while driving (hand held or hands free) extends a driver's reaction as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08 percent. (University of Utah) The No.1 source of driver inattention is use of a wireless device. (Virginia Tech/NHTSA) Drivers that use cell phones are four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves. (NHTSA, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) 10 percent of drivers aged 16 to 24 years old are on their phone at any one time. Driving while distracted is a factor in 25 percent of police reported crashes. Driving while using a cell phone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent (Carnegie Mellon)
Jennifer Smith wants to be that leader. Just last fall her mother, Linda, was killed by a driver who was on his cell phone at the time. Smith says she looked for a grief counseling group to join, something like MADD. When she didn't find one, she realized that she was the right person to start it. Her brand-new group is called Focus Driven: Advocates for Cell-Free Driving.
"My mom's story was the perfect example," she says. "It was such a cut-and-dried case. [The driver] was on the phone for less than a minute. He was only driving for a quarter of a mile. He just didn't see the light
You see, when you are not sober, you’re in real danger, and it’s not just when you’re driving. In the Christian life, it’s when you’re living. In fact, many believers are LWD: They’re living while distracted and the end result of it all is that they end up very discouraged and wanting to quit. In fact, look around you: some already have.
What are some of these distractions that we need to dump. For one thing, we need to dump overcommitment. Some of us don’t even have time to breathe! We go from this ballgame to that recital to that church activity and we wonder why we’re in absolute despair. Now I have to tell you that it’s been my observation that when people are cutting back, often Church is the first thing to get the ax. I don’t think that’s what Peter is telling these people when he tells them to sober up. In fact, it’s just the opposite. He’s telling them not to become more worldly but to become more holy.
But be that as it may, there are many of us that need to take out our calendars or our PDA’s and start cutting things out. Overcommitment with your time distracts you from what’s really important. But so does something else.
In our Christian world today, I think that politics is becoming a distraction. Now I want you to listen carefully. I have been just as upset as you have been about some of the things that have been said and done in this country by Democrats and Republicans, blacks and whites. Yes, I do think that you and I have a civic and holy responsibility to let our voices be heard in the political debates of the day. But it is so easy to start letting our politics define our Christianity one way or the other. It’s so easy to start trusting in a political cause or some particular leader. Honestly, I think that can easily become a distraction. On the one hand conservatives in the name of morality can seek to restore ethical excellence through political legislation. It won’t work! Thousands of years of Jewish history has taught us that even if God Himself gives us our laws, we can’t keep them apart from Christ! On the other hand liberals, in the name of social justice, can seek to help the poor and the downtrodden. They may do some good, but they can’t fundamentally change the heart with oatmeal and chicken tenders. Look, we should show the love of Christ in tangible ways to the world around us, but substituting good works for the gospel is a distraction that leads to disillusionment!
It’s time the church sobered up! We have been inebriated by distractions for too long. The only hope we have is to focus again on Christ and on the hope He brings us.
How can you have real hope? Well you can prep your mind and dump your distractions, but also, you can
DIV 3 - SET YOUR PRIORITIES.
This really continues the previous point. In a negative sense I have to “dump distractions,” but in a positive sense, I have to embrace real priorities. What are those priorities? Paul says in v 13, again, “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, (notice!) and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” One commentator writes that
This phrase does not mean to compare qualities of hope (as in “Do I have total hope in Christ or partial hope in Christ) but objects of hope. They are to hope totally in their reward at the return of Christ instead of setting their hope on the transitory and corrupt (as 1:24–25 characterizes them in closing this section) people and rewards of this age.
It’s a matter of priorities. Yes we live in the world, but we don’t put any hope in this world. Our hope is totally placed on Christ. If I get disappointed in the here and now, it’s because I was trusting the here and now to begin with. If I trust in the next world there’s nothing in this one that can possibly disappoint me. My hope is safe and secure because of where I have placed my priority. I am willing to undergo persecution and difficulty here because I’m not trusting in what’s here to sustain me. I’m willing to help because I’m looking beyond you to the real one I am serving.
A student once asked Albert Einstein, "Dr. Einstein, how many feet are there in a mile?" The student was amazed when Einstein replied, "I don't know.”
Sure that he was only joking, the student pressed him for an answer. Surely Einstein would know a simple fact that every schoolchild is required to memorize. But Einstein wasn't joking. He really didn’t know. He explained this gap of knowledge like this: "I make it a rule not to clutter my mind with simple information that I can find in a book in five minutes."
Albert Einstein was not interested in trivial data. His passion was to explore the deep things of the universe.
Believers, we need to be more like Albert Einstein. Ok, they may be quite a stretch for most of us, but the truth is, he had the right philosophy. We get so encumbered with all the stuff that intrudes in our lives when only a few things are really important. And what happens is that we know deep inside that we’re really not even close to being focused on the right things in our lives. The Spirit is drawing us to witness, and drawing us to Bible Study, and drawing us to eternal priorities, but all the stuff in this world is also entangling us, so we go through life weighed down and feeling guilty. We want things to be different but they aren’t, and in the middle of it all, we begin to lose hope that we’ll ever be the men and women of God that we were called to be.
Well God has the answer, He says “Take your eyes off of this world. Start placing your complete hope on His word and His promises. Any other dependence will only let you down.”
He grew up in the 1700s around Boston. His father was a prominent and powerful clergyman. He was bright and, at 16, entered Brown University at age 16, graduating valedictorian of his class. He was a likeable guy and, while there, made friends with Jacob Eames. Jacob was a deist and, in practical terms, an atheist. Jacob loved to make fun of his faith, convincing him with the writings of Voltaire and the French philosophers. Due to Jacob’s influence, when he went home, he told his parents that he, too, had become an atheist. His mother cried. His father roared and threatened and pounded the furniture.
He held firm and, at twenty-one, migrated to New York City to establish himself as a playwright. But then, hearing tales from the American frontier, he saddled his horse and headed west. One evening, weary from traveling, he stopped at an inn. The proprietor said, “Forgive me, sir, but the only room left—well, it’ll be a bit noisy. There’s a young fellow next door awfully sick.” But he was too tired to care, so he took the key.
The night became a nightmare. The tramping of feet coming and going. Muffled voices. Painful groans. Chairs scraping against the floor. Adoniram was troubled by it all. He began to be troubled because he began to suspect that the person in the next room might be in the process of dying. Lying there awake, he wondered what his friend Jacob Eames would say about fear, illness, and death.
The next morning while checking out, he asked about the young man in the next room. The proprietor said, “I thought maybe you’d heard. He died, sir, toward morning. Very young. Not much older than you. In fact, he went to that Brown University out East.” Hearing that he stiffened. The innkeeper continued, “His name . . . was Jacob Eames.”
It was like he’d been punched in the gut. His mind was reeling as he mounted his horse. The hooves of his horse clip, clopped, clip, clopped, and it seemed as they began to speak softly at first, then ever more loudly. Death, hell, death, hell, death, hell, death, hell! The conviction of the Spirit fell on him and that young man in repentance turned his horse around and headed home. You see, when he began to think of eternity, everything changed.
And, by the way, it continued to change. That young man was not satisfied to just get right with God and make things right with his parents. That young man received an eternal perspective that forever altered his life, for that young man’s name was Adoniram Judson, the same Adoniram Judson that became the great missionary to Burma, and who was responsible, in part at least, for starting Baptist missions and what we know today as the Southern Baptist Convention.
Now, how was a guy like Judson able to change from an atheist to a missionary? It came because he got His eyes on God and on eternity