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Monday, November 14, 2016

Confirm Their Hope

            1 Corinthians 13:13 says, “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”  Faith, hope, and love are also the core components of the promise we—as a congregation—make to each other at Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church.  When someone becomes a member of our church, we promise to “ all in our power to increase their faith, confirm their hope, and perfect them in love.”  This is what we promise to do for one another.
            Last week, we considered how we can help increase faith in others by the the way we speak and act and by our very presence in people’s lives.  Today, I want to focus how we confirm hope.

Ephesians 4:1-4

1Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. 2Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. 3Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.

Hope and Fear
            Hope is the opposite of fear.  Fear is the expectation of evil.  Hope is the expectation of good. There’s a lot of fear in our country right now. Some are afraid because people are protesting and causing disturbances after this week’s election.  Others are afraid the new president is not fit for the job, that he doesn’t have the temperament or wisdom or experience to lead our nation.  Some are afraid of the policies Trump might implement.  Some are afraid individuals or groups might use Trump’s harsh rhetoric as an excuse to be violent to minorities or other disenfranchised groups.  A Muslim woman in Louisiana told police she was attacked and robbed by two male Trump supporters after the election.  Later she admitted to police she made up the entire story.[i]  One woman’s fear drove her to concoct a lie. Other people’s fear may cause them to generalize what that one woman did and say that’s what all Muslims will do.
            Fear is the opposite of hope. Fear is the expectation of evil. Fear makes people act irrationally. Fear often brings into reality the very thing it dreads.  
            Hope is the opposite of fear.  Hope is the expectation of good.  Hope gives people the benefit of the doubt. It believes the best about people, hoping they will fulfill our expectations.  Hope expects things will turn out alright in the end, that it won’t be as bad as you thought, that maybe it might even be better than you expected.  Hope leads people to treat others with love and patience and grace. Hope enables us to forgive, to reconcile, to rebuild broken relationships, to overlook faults and to escape the chains of worry and anxiety.
            Hope is the opposite of fear. Hope is the expectation of good. Hope often brings into reality the very good it anticipates.  “Hope and fear cannot occupy the same space.  Invite one to stay.”  (May Angelo).  At Pleasant Grove, we are called (and we promise) to confirm each other’s hope.

Confirm Their Hope
People hope there really is something to this Christian faith we preach.  How do we confirm that for one another?  We confirm one another’s hope by the way we act and treat one another.  Ephesians 4 names the behavior that is worthy of our faith.
            How can we confirm hope?  Ephesians 4:1-4 tells us.  We are to be humble and gentle.  We can show patience, making allowances for faults. People are not perfect. They make mistakes. Sometimes they just have annoying habits or don’t do thing the way you would.  We are all different and have different ways. Who is to say who’s right and who’s wrong? Does it really matter?  
            Thank God Jesus wasn’t so critical of people they had to be perfect to come near him. He accept all.  For his twelve Apostles, Jesus chose a few smelly fishermen, a tax collector, a zealot (who hated tax collectors), and a bunch of other riff raff that didn’t amount to much by society’s standards. Somehow they all had to get along. Thank God, Jesus was a very patient man. We should follow his example. 
            Ephesians 4 also says we confirm hope through unity and peace. We are to be united in the Spirit, bound together with peace. I want to tell you something the pastors of my community have been doing as a result of the recent OneCry Revival we had in September. We’ve been meeting together for lunch on Mondays every 2 weeks—Baptists, Methodists, Church of God, Whites, Blacks, Hispanics.  This week, a couple of the Hispanic pastors said that they had never felt such love and unity with the white pastors of our community. They said they are truly thankful to God for what He is doing to bring our communities together. There is great hope for what God is doing to break down racial barriers in our community. So while many in our country are fearful about the racial divide in America, we are hopeful that God will bring us together in peace and unity.  What will you choose? Fear or hope?

Jesus is the Good Shepherd
Some people don’t believe God exists; and if He does, they fear God is angry or uninterested in them.  However, the Christian hope is that Jesus really does know and love us.  In John 10:14 He said, “I am the good shepherd.  I know my own sheep, and they know me…”  What an incredible hope!  That God—in Jesus—not only knows us, but loves us and was willing to lay down his life for us so that we can have eternal life.  This is the greatest hope we have.
How do we confirm this great hope in each other? Again, it is by the way we treat others. Here are some practical things you can do: 
  • Share encouraging words with people. Tell them how much you appreciate them, the gifts you see in them, how you’ve noticed spiritual growth in their lives. 
  • Send someone a card, note, or letter.  In the digital age, it’s easier than ever to stay connected and encourage people! Send an email. Share messages on Facebook. Send a text message to someone to pray for them or share a verse of Scripture. 
  • Another thing you can do to confirm hope is to honor people before others. Tell their parents, friends, employers how much you appreciate them. 
            People hope there really is life after death. 1 Corinthians 15:19-20 “And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.”  How do you confirm eternal life—something you have never seen?
            Well, some have seen.  I've heard stories from people (some in my own congregation) about people dying asnd being brought back to life by a doctor.  SOmetimes, they tell amazing stories of things they witnessed on the other side.  If you have a witness about this, share it and help confirm someone's hope!
            Sometimes our hope, in and of itself, is enough to confirm eternal life for others. When we hope, we press on through the hopeless trials of this life knowing there is hope waiting beyond the grave.  As Romans 5:4 says “And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.”  How you endure hardships can help others find hope.
            Finally, you can confirm hope by sharing ways you have seen the resurrected Jesus. You may not have seen Jesus in bodily form, but you can share some powerful moments in your life when it was as if Jesus were there with you. You can tell others how Jesus has made a difference in your life. You can share how Christ has given you a reason for hope instead of fear. You can make a difference. Your hope can be contagious.  An epidemic of contagious hope is what our world desperately needs right now.

Jeremy’s Story (Watch Jeremy's Testimony Here)
            A met a young man abuot a year ago named Jeremy Ptak.  Jeremy called the church and left a message.  He was interested in the Methodist church and wondered if someone could call and talk to him about it.  I called.
            Jeremy had lots of questions about Methodism and the way we worshiped and believed.  I tried to answer his questions.  I also invited Jeremy to come to church and he enthusiastically accepted.  He said he needed a ride and I was glad to offer one.  All week, Jeremy was excited come to church, but the day of church, he canceled saying something had come up.  We tried again the following Sunday with the same result.  Each week, Jeremy would start out excited for church on Monday, but back out over the weekend.  Finally, I asked Jeremy why and he shared his struggle.
            Jeremy struggles with severe social anxiety.  He gets really nervous around crowds.  He worries that people are looking at him and talking about him and he gets really nervous and overwhelmed.  He takes medicine to help, but the medicine also makes him very tires; it's a difficult balance between anxiety and depression without enough medicine and having no energy with too much medicine.  (To watch Jeremy's testimony, click here.)
            Jeremy didn't give up and eventually was able to come to Bible Study on Thursday mornings, dinner on Wednesday night, and even Sunday school and worship on Sundays.  Jeremy gave his life to Christ when he was younger, but he wanted to recommit himself to Christ; so, we prayed for him to do that.  Jeremy wanted to do the official ceremony in church and become a member of Pleasant Grove.  So I gave him a challenge.  I said, if you come to church on Sunday four times, then we will have a ceremony in church where you recommit your life to Christ and join as a member.  Jeremy completed the challenge and joined the church in May.  Praise God!
            The people of Pleasant Grove UMC helped confirm Jeremy’s hope in Jesus Christ.  They confirmed his hope by giving him a ride to and from church.  They confirmed his hope by the way they welcome him, just the way he is.  
            Jeremy still has struggles.  Sometimes Jeremy has to miss church because he is having a bad day or because his medicine has made him too tired.  Jeremy dips chewing tobacco to help calm his nerves and sometimes he has to get up and walk out of the sanctuary to take a break.  The people of Jeremy's church accept him and his struggles.  They confirm Jeremy's hope in Christ by the way they make allowances for his faults, by the way you love him, encourage him, and help him through his struggle.
            In turn, Jeremy is helping confirm our hope as well. I am inspired by Jeremy’s story. I think if he can press on through his own struggles, maybe I can endure mine too. How about you? Doesn’t Jeremy’s story give you hope? Do you—like me—see Jesus, the Good Shepherd, the Risen Lord, the Savior of the world, at work in Jeremy’s life?

            Jesus is not dead! He is alive and He is moving in our world. Do not fear. Be filled with hope.  What can you do to increase faith and confirm hope in others? What practical thing does Jesus want you to do?  Why not get started today?


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