BCC Breakfast, The Power of Hope, April 19, 2019

Well, good morning. I want to start by just saying that my opening remarks this morning may come across a little morbid. There’s a reason for it. It has to do with, and it really kind of serves as an introduction of what I want to share this morning. And I’m really excited about this message because I think it has such application to our lives as men. I don’t know if you saw this past Saturday, on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, it was kind of surprising that it was there, but this was the title of this article. It says “One Teenager Kills Himself, Then Six More Follow.” I don’t know if you saw that, but it described this cluster of suicides in Herriman, Utah local high school.

And then it went on and talked about the dramatic rise in the suicide rate in our country and it called them, I thought it was something interesting, they called them deaths of despair. Deaths of despair. A couple of years ago, there was a very similar situation in Silicon Valley. It was an article in The Atlantic. And it was about the two high schools there in Palo Alto. And the perplexing problem that the suicide rate at these two, and these are high performing high schools, wealthy families, children from wealthy families, and yet, the suicide rate was like four or five times the national average at these two high schools.

And then you may remember the article that I wrote, it was really a blog that I wrote, it was called “Harvard: Our Culture in Microcosm”. And, if you remember, I got this from the student newspaper there at Harvard and it discussed the rampant rise in depression among the students. And these are supposedly some of our best and our brightest. But, in this article, it said 47%, almost half of the student body, acknowledged they struggled with depression to the point they had a hard time functioning. And then 10%, say 650 of the 6,700 students at Harvard, admitted that they had strongly considered suicide at one time. It makes you wonder what, what’s going on with our young people. But you know, it’s more than just a problem with young people. It’s an adult problem, as well. You probably remember the celebrity suicides, took place in one week, Anthony Bourdain and, I can’t remember, her last name was Spade. And then there was an article in 2016 in The New York Times, talked about the incredible rise in suicides. It had risen 25% in seven years. And maybe, just maybe, the reason for all of this is because of depression, because according to the World Health Organization, depression now is the most widespread illness in the world.

Now, you’ve probably heard about all that you want to hear on this, but it leads really into what I want to talk about in this Easter message. In that New York Times article in April 2016 that spoke of the rising suicide rate, Robert Putnam, who was a professor of public policy at Harvard, I think put his finger on what appears to be the heart of the problem, and it’s one word, and that one word is hopelessness. A sense of hopelessness in people’s lives, which really leads to the topic that I want to talk about this morning, and that is the power of hope. The power of hope. You know, I’m not sure we realize how significant this is.

Tim Keller says this, “Hope is the engine that drives your life. And the reason is because how you live your life today is so influenced by how you perceive your future.”

And so, before we proceed, I think is important to define it, if you’re going to properly understand it, because it really requires some clarification. Because in our vocabulary today, the word is generally spoken of as a synonym with wishing for something. I wish this would happen. I hope this would happen. And wishing is a vague longing for something we desire, but find unlikely to happen. And yet, the hope that I’m speaking of is a noun and it’s a life-shaping certainty of something that has not happened yet, but you know will happen. It’s used 85 times. That word “hope” is used 85 times in the New Testament. Which lead you to realize it’s a significant word, and what you’ll see is that its stressed repeatedly that our relationship with God is the ultimate ground of hope in this life, and that’s what I want to show you this morning, how that is truly the case, but what we need to all understand as we sit here this morning, we’re all hope-based creatures. We can’t live without hope, and this is why people who see the future as being utterly hopeless, very sadly pull the plug on their lives. Because if you think about it, when you look ahead at the future and you don’t like what you see and you see no change is coming, you find yourself feeling this sense of hopelessness. And it naturally leads to despair in your life. It leads to despair in your present-day life. And so, the way you see the future has such an impact on the way you see your life and the way you live your life today.

I read a great illustration that I think makes this point and I’m just going to read it to you.

“Imagine you have two women of the same age, the same socioeconomic status, the same educational level, and even the same temperament. You hire them both and you tell them, you’re a part of an assembly line and I want you to put part A into slot B and then hand it to the next person. I want you to do it over and over and over, eight hours a day. And you put them in identical rooms with identical lighting, temperature, and ventilation. You give them the same number of breaks each day. As you can probably tell, it’s very boring work. Their conditions are the same in every way except there’s one difference. You tell the first woman that at the end of the year, you’re going to pay her $30,000 for her work and you tell the second woman at the end of the year that you’re going to pay her $30 million for her work. After a couple of weeks, the first woman’s going to be saying, isn’t this tedious? This is driving me insane. Are you thinking about quitting like I am? The second woman says, no, this is perfectly acceptable. In fact, I whistle while I work.”

So what’s going on here? You have two human beings who were experiencing identical circumstances in radically different ways. What makes the difference in their expectation of the future? That’s the key. Now, this illustration is not intended to say that all we need is a good income. It does, however, show that what we believe about our future completely controls how we’re experiencing our present. We are irreducibly hope-based creatures.

Consider another example. True life example. It’s the true life experience of the Major Harold Kushner. He was an Army medical officer who was captured in Vietnam and was in prison for five and a half years. And Kushner tells how he got to know one of the POWs, a young Marine, really tough, full of energy. He had survived two years of prison and he was a model POW. He kept himself in great health and he led what was called the camp’s thought reform group. He cooperated with the enemy as best he could. And the main reason he did it was because the camp commander had promised to release those who fully cooperated. But as time passed, the Marine gradually discerned that his captors had lied to him. And when the full realization of these facts sunk in, he became a zombie. He refused all work. He rejected all food and encouragement, and he simply laid down on his cot, sucking his thumb, and in a matter of weeks, he was dead.

Now, what happened here? Well, the great eminent psychologist Martin Seligman, who I’m going to quote a couple of times, in observing what happened, said, “A strictly medical explanation of this man’s decline is not adequate. Hope of release is what sustained him. But when he gave up hope, when he believed that all his efforts had failed and would continue to fail, he just laid down and died, because he lost all hope.”

Guys, we’re not talking about being optimistic in life. We’re not talking about having a sunny disposition because that doesn’t produce a better life. I hope you see that we are truly talking about something that is so much deeper and significant in a person’s life. But, I think you’ll all agree based on what I, how I introduced, and what I introduced to you, that something is amiss in our land. People don’t have a real sense of hope and I think there’s a great deal of despair and maybe you experience some of this in your own life.

Not long ago in The New York Times’ book review section, they selected two authors and ask them this question, what subjects are under-represented in contemporary fiction? Interesting question. Their response, what’s lacking in contemporary fiction. Joyfulness. Joyfulness. They said, instead, modern writers of fiction seem to have decided that despair, alienation, and bleakness are the most meaningful and interesting descriptions of the current human condition.

Well guys, I personally think of all, in all my research, and all of my study on this that Andrew Delbanco has probably put his finger best on our problem. This guy is very bright. He’s a historian. He teaches at Columbia University and he wrote a book titled The Real American Dream: A Meditation on Hope. Listen to this. This is very profound, what he said. He says,

“In order for your life to flourish, human beings need to feel like their lives are a story that is leading them somewhere significant. When our life stories lead somewhere, it gives us hope.” (Andrew Delbanco)

And then he says this, “We cannot bear life by merely living in the present, facing one disconnected event after another, pursuing only instant gratification and instant desire. We are future-oriented beings and we must see ourselves as being in a story that leads somewhere, that I have a future, that I have a hope.” And then he divides our cultural history here in the United States into three parts. And these are the three parts: God, nation and self. And he says, “For the first phase in our nation’s history, hope was chiefly expressed through a Christian narrative. This gave meaning to both pleasure and suffering of life and gave hope when facing death.”

And then he says, “Under the influence of enlightenment thinkers, belief in God began to weaken among our cultural elite, and instead of finding hope in the Kingdom of God, we began to believe our sacred calling was of being the greatest nation on earth, and that we would show the rest of the world a better future for the human race.” So there was a shift, he says, “And then we moved from nation to self, to self-centeredness to self-fulfillment. To self-actualization.” And yet, this approach, clearly, as I’ve started this morning, has failed us miserably, as so many people are finding life to be full of despair and without any hope. Because we have nothing to look to except ourselves.

Now, one of the great books written in the last century was written by a guy by the name of Ernest Becker. He was an anthropologist. He wrote it in 1973 and won a Pulitzer Prize and it was called The Denial of Death. And he made some unbelievable statements about us and our culture here in the United States. He says this, “There has never been a society in the history of the world before that was so secular as ours.” Now, that word secular refers to ‘that which has no religious or spiritual basis’. He says, “We are purely a secular culture. There’s never been a society which so many people,” listen to this, “believed our ultimate future doesn’t exist.”

So, you have to ask yourself, what happens when we, as a culture, get to the point where we don’t have a future as we look ahead? He says, “We believe there’s no ultimate future because when we die, we rot. That our personal consciousness we have right now is utterly temporary. There’s never been a whole society of people with such a widespread belief that there was no ultimate future at all. Therefore, we live in a society that puts more emphasis,” this explained something about how we live today, he says, “Because of this, we put so much more emphasis on sex and romance and money and power than any culture ever, because we’re trying to deal with this sense of cosmic insignificance. This cosmic insignificance keeps breaking in on us because of our belief that there is no ultimate future.” And I believe this is at the heart of our country’s problems, particularly our problems with depression and suicide. We have no future. And so, as Becker says, if we don’t believe we have an ultimate future, where does that leave us? Hopelessness. Hopelessness.

I want to go back and quote one person that I mentioned, Martin Seligman. I’m reading an interesting book he’s written called Flourish. This guy, he’s not a Christian, but he’s considered probably the preeminent psychologist in our country today. He teaches at the University of Pennsylvania and he wrote an article in Psychology Today. It was title “Boomer Blues”. And he’s talking about the baby boom generation, which I’m a part of. He’s apparently done a great deal of research, because he’s a boomer. He’s done a great deal of research on our generation.

Now, I can’t tell you all the generations that are coming behind us. I can’t keep up with all the names that they use, but he said this, and this was written back in 1988, so, a lot’s happened, a lot’s changed since 1988, but the title of this article was “Boomer Blues,” and he says that, “The rate of depression in our generation is 10 times higher than our parents.” And then he made, and this is an incredible statement, and I’d be curious to hear what he would say today, but he said in 1988, “We are the most depressed generation in the history of the world.”

Wow. I mean, how he could make that statement, I have no idea. How he could come to that conclusion, I have no idea, but it does make me wonder, what about these younger generations that are behind us that many of you are a part of. But there’s something important he said, and this is why I wanted to share this with you. He says, “This is the problem. We’ve lost the art of learning how to relate our daily lives to a bigger cause for which we are living.” In other words, he’s saying, we have forgotten God, and therefore, we have lost hope. So the question this morning is, really the heart of the message is, where do we find hope? Where do we look for it? Who do we look for it in? I shared with you earlier that the Bible stresses repeatedly that our relationship with God is the ultimate ground for hope. And I believe that with all my heart. And I’d like to read to you two different verses from Scripture, one from the old, one from the new, that addresses the issue of hope.

Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans that I have for you declares the Lord. Plans for welfare, your welfare, not calamity. I want to give you a future and a hope.”

That’s what God desires for each of our lives. He wants to give, He has a plan. He wants to, basically, He wants to give us a future and a hope. Remember what Delbanco said earlier? We are future-oriented beings and we must see ourselves as being in a story that leads somewhere. And then, the verse that I just read you, God says, I have a plan. I have a story that leads somewhere for your life, and it will give you a future and a hope so that your life will have a purpose.

You know, Steve mentioned that little book, The Reason for Life. That’s what it’s about, really. Why are we here? What is our purpose? I hope you’ll take it and you’ll read it because it answers that question. Now, the second verse, I think, is very powerful. It comes from the New Testament, the book of Hebrews, it’s speaking of Christ. In Hebrews 6:19, it says, “We have this hope as an anchor of the soul, firm and secure.” I love that phrase, “anchor of the soul”.

Question: what is the anchor of your soul? There’s something there that you’re looking to as the anchor of your soul. What is it you put your hope in? Because if you put your ultimate hope in anything in this world, whether it’s success or wealth or prestige, what you’re going to find, over time, maybe not initially, but over time, you’ll find there’ll be a ground note of insecurity and fear in your life because you realize it doesn’t give you the real hope that you need to live. And the reason, what ends up happening is, you have no ultimate future because your story does not really lead anywhere significant.

You know, every year on Good Friday, when I give a message, I always seek to tie it into Easter, that’s why we have them on Good Friday, and this probably, in my opinion, is a perfect message for that, because the ultimate hope for the Christian is Christ’s Resurrection. This is the most significant event in the history of the world. If it happened, it means everything. Think about it. If it happened, it means everything. It’s our anchor as we face the future. Now, think about what we’ve said thus far. How we view the future impacts how we live today.

Because you remember the definition. Hope is a life-changing certainty of something that has not happened yet, but we know will, and I focused on that phrase, it’s life-changing, a life-changing certainty. And, as we think about our future guys, I think you know that death is in your future. In fact, I heard someone say this recently, there’s a lot of death in our future, because the people that surround us are all going to die, as well. It’s just a matter of who dies first, because every single one of us knows this. Life, as we know it today, is going to come to an end, and no one likes that. But that’s the truth. But think about it. If I know what the final outcome is at death, and it’s good, then it will enable me to live the rest of my life really well. And a person who really got this was the famous Greek philosopher Epicurus. You know that name? He lived several thousand years ago, but Epicurus recognized this. He didn’t believe in God. But listen to what he said. He said, “I could die happy if I was absolutely sure that death was the end. I could die happy if I was totally sure, totally sure, that death is just a peaceful oblivion.” He says, “But since nobody can be sure that death is the end, unfortunately, nobody dies happy.” Nobody dies happy because nobody really knows what’s out there.

I read recently where a minister he’s retired now, who had sat at the bedside of many people as they die. He said, you can see the fear in their faces. You see that fear when they do not know where they’re going. They don’t know what the ultimate outcome of their life is after death. But guys, this is the good news of the Gospel because Jesus has told us the final outcome. And He says, “If you belong to Me, I promise you this, that I am the Resurrection and the Life. And he who believes in Me shall live even when he dies here on this earth.” And then He says, “I go and I prepare a place for you and where I am, you will be there also.” And then I love the words from the book of I John (I John 2:25). It says, “And this is the promise which He Himself made to us, eternal life.” It’s a promise, eternal life. And guys, this is the future he has for us. This is the final outcome. This is the anchor of our souls. This is our hope and it’s life changing, if you integrate it into your life.

One of my favorite illustrations of hope comes from Philip Yancey. It’s a true story. It’s a story of some American POWs in a German POW camp in World War II. And he says, “They lived with great despair.” He said they had no idea what the future held for him. No idea. They were clueless because they got nothing from the outside world. They all wondered would we ever see our families again. Is Germany winning the war? They had no idea and there was a lot of despair and there was a lot of hopelessness. But unbeknownst to the German guards, a couple of American engineers were able to put together a make-shift radio and they were able to start getting news, and they heard that the allies had moved across Europe. Then they heard that they were coming into Germany and then they got word that the German high command had surrendered and the war was over. Now, the problem is, because of communication breakdowns, the German guards didn’t yet know that the war was over. So they kept guarding them there in the prison camp, but as the word spread among all the prisoners, a loud celebration broke out. Yancey says, “For three days, the prisoners were hardly recognizable. They sang, they waved at the guards, they laughed at the German shepherd dogs. They shared jokes over meals. On the fourth day, they awoke to find, they were now free men.” But the point is this, for three days, their circumstances hadn’t changed. They were still in prison. They ate the same food, they slept in the same beds, they regarded by the same German guards, but now, they knew the final outcome, and it changed everything.

And you see guys, this is how God intends for His people to live their lives, with great joy as we anticipate the future, because He’s told us what the final outcome is and what the ultimate destiny for us is going to be. And it should change everything as you live your life today, particularly for us as we get older. It should have a huge impact on the last years of your life and the quality of those years.

Now, as I wrap this up this morning, I want to just say this, I was thinking about this yesterday, that incredibly, this is probably, I didn’t go count them up, but this is probably, we’ve had between 60 and 70 breakfasts here at the BCC. And I just reflected back over the years and I’ve seen, over these years, I’ve seen a number of men, many of you in the audience, who’ve put their faith in Christ, and I’ve watched God do great things in your life. And yet, on the other hand, I’ve seen many hear the message and say thanks, but no thanks.

I had one man tell me, he says, you know, I believe what you’ve told me is true, but I’m gonna stay on the same path that I’m on. You know what he was really saying is, I believe what you’ve told me is true, but I reject the truth because I want to keep doing what I’m doing. I want to keep living the way I’m living. And so, what I’ve concluded is what’s really caused men to reject this wonderful, unbelievable hope that God offers is, the basic core reason is this: most men want to run their lives. Because, to be a Christian, to truly be a Christian, you have to make the decision that I want to be a follower of Christ. It’s more than something that you believe in your head. It’s your desire, the desire of your heart. I am going to follow Him and that’s where our problem lies, guys, we ultimately, we don’t trust Christ because we think, this is unbelievable, It’s almost unbelievably arrogant, we think we can do a better job of running our lives than He can.

And this reminds me of a very powerful illustration that I heard. It resonates with me every time I hear it because it speaks to the human condition. It speaks to how we respond to the offer that God gives us. And it comes from Dr. Scott Peck, who wrote the bestselling book, The Road Less Traveled, back in the 80s, one of the best selling books in the 80s. And he’s a psychiatrist, and he was meeting with a patient, and her name was Charlene, and she felt like, basically, she struggled with depression because life was so meaningless and hopeless for her.

And as he probed and talked to her, he discovered that she apparently had grown up in the church, and as Peck put it, she he had a very well-developed religious worldview. And so, one day he decided to step out and ask the question, Charlene, why do your beliefs not make a difference in this sense of hopelessness that you have? Why does it make a difference? He says, “There was this silence, and with this incredible admission, she exploded,” and listen to what she said, “I cannot do it because there’s no room in that for me.” She says, “That would be my death. I don’t want to live for God. I will not live for Him because I want to live for me, for my own sake.”

Guys, that’s an unbelievable admission. But you know what? She was incredibly honest. I think this was a picture of a human heart that doesn’t want to follow Christ. That refuses to surrender my will to His. And the reason is very simply, I want to live for me, and this was the heart of our sin nature. And this is why Peck says something incredibly insightful. He says, “There are just two states of being a person can find himself in. Two states.” So I’d ask you as I share this, where do you stand? The first state is you’re either in submission to God and His will or you refuse to submit to anything except your own selfish will. Jesus put it another way? Either you are completely with Me or you’re against Me. There is no neutrality. There is no middle ground. And for some of you, you may be like I was, that’s kind of where I was; I was looking for the middle somewhere. But He says, there is no middle. You’re either with Me or against Me. And Charlene was spot on when she said this, “To follow Christ, that would be my death.” And she’s right, because Jesus says, if you’re going to follow Me, you have to die to yourself. But you know what else He says? It’s when you die to yourself, when you lose your life to Me, He says, that’s when you will find it. And when He says you will find it, He says, you will find what you’ve been looking for in this life.

And so, I want to close with the final two sentences of C.S. Lewis’ wonderful book, Mere Christianity, the great classic. He ends with these two final sentences. He says, “If you live for yourself, you will find, in the long run, only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But if you look to Christ, you will find Him and with Him, everything else thrown in.” Now, what does he mean by “everything else thrown in”? He is saying, this is how you will find everything you’ve been searching for in this life; meaning, purpose, peace, joy, security. And ultimately, hope, hope that is an anchor of your soul.

Guys, this is the hope of the Gospel, and this is the hope that He offers to each of us.

Let me pray as we leave. Father, we are so humbled that You would give us this incredible hope, but You recognize how we struggle in this life, and that we are hope-based creatures. We need hope to live; it’s the engine that drives our lives. And yet, we realize that so many of the things that we look to for as hope, they let us down. I pray that as we leave this day, as we go out into this Good Friday day, that we would give serious thought to this and answer the question, am I with You? Or am I against You? I pray that we would all consider to be followers of Jesus. We thank You for Your love for us. We thank You for Your willingness to go to the cross, to be pierced through for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities; that our sins fell on You so that they wouldn’t have to fall on us. We thank You and praise You for Your glorious Resurrection, which is our ultimate hope, which truly is the anchor of our souls, and we pray all of this in Christ’s name. Amen. You all have been a great audience. Thank you for being here.


Add grace and understanding to your day with words from Richard E. Simmons III in your inbox. Sign-up for weekly email with the latest blog post, podcast, and quote.

Fill out the form to receive wisdom in your inbox from Richard E. Simmons III.