I don’t know if you are familiar with Craig Ferguson or not. He was born in the United Kingdom and in 2008 he became an American Citizen. Currently he is the host of the Late Late Show that airs on CBS every night at 11:30. So some of you may not have a clue who he is, and that’s not really important.
The reason that I bring him up, is because every night on his show, he starts his monologue with with statement, “It’s a great day for America”, and the crowd cheers. And regardless of what is happening in the world he always says “It’s a great day for America.”
I got to thinking about it being a “great day for America” the other night as I sat on the couch not able to sleep. You see we started our current series of 3 on 3 in the wake of the 10 year anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. You know 10 years ago we were pretty oblivious, I mean terrorism was something that the Israelis had to deal with. But now everything has changed, and we no longer expect our government to protect us, and to be honest we really doubt that it can.
But it’s not just terrorism, this year alone we have witnessed the devastation from the tornado’s in Alabama and Missouri. How in a matter of seconds you can loose everything, including the people that you hold most dear. In our own state we have suffered from wild fires that at the last estimate have destroyed 3.7 million acres, 1,915 homes, and so far the cost is estimated to be over $5 billion dollars of damage.
And these large scale, news worthy losses were accompanied by millions of small, unpublicized, but very personal devastations. A doctor writes "Cancer," on a lab report.
A judge signs her name to a divorce document.
A family business closes and locks its doors for the last time.
A medium-sized company down sizes to small.
A single mother hesitates before opening her mail box, certain that there will be more bills in the box than money in her account.
A troubled 15 year old writes a letter telling his family he can’t go any farther.
A husband and father thinks about praying, but doesn't.
There is an old Arabic parable that says: All sunshine and no rain makes a desert." If you never have any down times, dark times, gloomy times in your life you'll be dried up. You'll have no depth to yourself, no maturity. It takes good times and bad times to make a mature person. Life is a mixture of pain and pleasure, of victory and defeat, of success and failure, of mountain tops and valleys.
In a world so apparently defined by tragedy, loss and failure do the words faith, hope and love ring true, realistic or possible? Or do they sound like so much religious denial in the face of overwhelming evidence that there is nothing to believe in, nothing to look forward to, and nothing that can be done?
The greatest devastation for any culture is not that it will be forgotten, but that it will become forgetful. We are wandering aimlessly in a deep state of amnesia. We have become so self focused that we have forgotten what God says about the valley’s of life and that others have been here before and survived.
There are five facts about valleys that you need to remember whenever you go through a tough time:
Valleys are inevitable
They are going to happen so you might as well count on them. You have either just come out of a valley, you're in one right now, or you're probably headed toward one. Valleys happen throughout life, one right after another. After every mountain top there is a valley.
Jesus was very realistic about it. In John 16, He says "In the world you will have trouble." It's not a matter of if, it's when. It's going to happen. You're going to have difficulty, disappointment, and discouragement in life. There will be times of suffering, sorrow, and sickness. There will be times of frustration, failure and fatigue. They are going to happen. They are a normal part of life. Don't be surprised by it.
Valleys are unpredictable
You can't plan them, time them, or schedule them. Valleys are always unexpected. They usually come at the worst time, when you don't have time, when you're unprepared. Have you ever had a flat tire at a good time?
Valleys come suddenly. They are unpredictable. Have you noticed how easily a good day can become a bad day? A phone call, a letter, a routine doctor's check-up, a freak accident. Valleys just happen. And usually when you least need them and it's most inconvenient. It would be very great if we could schedule our down times in life. You can't plan life like that.
Valleys are impartial
No one is immune to them. No one is insulated from pain and sorrow. No one gets to skate through life problem-free. Everybody has problems, good people and bad people. Problems, trials, difficulties, disturbances, downtimes, depression doesn't mean you're a bad person. It means you're a person. It doesn't mean you're an evil human being; it means you're a human being. The Bible is very clear that good things happen to bad people and sometimes bad things happen to good people. Valleys are impartial. They don't care how good or bad you are.
Valleys are temporary
They have an end to them. They don't last. They are not a permanent location. David says, "Even though I walk through the valley..." The valley is not something you stay in your entire life. It's something you go through, a circumstance, a situation that has a season to it. When you're in a valley you often think it's a dead end, but it's not. They don't come into your life to stay. They come to pass.
1 Peter 1:6 "In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. Peter admits that sometimes you're going to go through tough times. It's going to be rough. Life is tough. But it's only for a while. There is wonderful joy ahead in Heaven. There are no problems in heaven, no valleys, no dark days. While you may be harassed down here, in heaven you'll have no problems. If you know the Lord Jesus Christ, that's where you're going.
Valleys have a purpose
God has a reason for taking you through the valleys. Whether it's doubt, depression, despair, discouragement, defeat, He's got a reason behind it. There are financial valleys, relational valleys, emotional valleys, and all kinds of different trials. This is no accident, it happens to prove your faith.
The valleys are not just a freak of nature. God wants to build your faith in the valleys of life. We love to enjoy the mountain tops, but you don't build faith on the mountain tops, actually quite often that’s where we loose our faith. When everything is going fine and great you don't really need God. But when you come face to face with a dark valley, you get on your knees. Faith is strengthened in the valleys. When you don't feel like serving and trusting God, praising God... that's where your faith is tested. Not in the good times of life, but in the valleys.
Every problem has a purpose. Even the little tiny ones, the inconsequential ones, the things that seem like mere irritations. They have a purpose. God can teach you character. He wants to change you, mature you.
This morning __________ read to us from the book is Lamentations 3:18–20. You can tell from the text that Jeremiah is going through a valley. As a matter of fact if the book of Lamentations ended at 3:20, all we could say is that at least someone, somewhere knew what it was like to live in a world unhinged. But the raw honesty of verses 18-20 is followed by these words of hope in verses 21-26 "Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, 'The Lord is my portion; therefore I will hope in him.' The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord."
How can someone who so eloquently describes his struggle, pen words so equally full of confidence? The difference between unrecoverable despair and un-intimidated confidence in the future is hope.
We need to realize that Hope, the kind the Bible talks about, is not optimism.
Don't get me wrong. I love optimists. They tend to live longer than pessimists, accomplish more, handle frustration and failure better, and are just a lot more fun to be around. A pessimist can hardly wait for the future so he can look back with regret. Optimists can hardly wait for the future because they just know it's going to be better than today.
A student was seen pedaling a bicycle around his college campus. He was wearing a tee-shirt that read, "Studying to be a doctor." On the back of his bicycle was a tag that read, "Studying to be a Mercedes."
For all their similarities, though, hope and optimism are entirely different animals. Optimists think they can. Or that others will. Those with hope, know God will. Optimists survey the circumstances and find the positive. They see the glass half full. They see a flat tire and say, "Yeah, but it's only flat on the bottom."
Hope, on the other hand, doesn't take its cue from circumstances. In fact, there is this odd calculus involved with hope. The greater the pain, the more desperate the circumstance, the stronger, more confident hope becomes. Paul talks about that in Romans 5:3-5: "Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us."
Did you notice the reason hope does not disappoint? "Because God." Which is exactly why Jeremiah was able to find hope in his dismal circumstance back in Lamentations 3:21. "Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope." What did he call to mind? "Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed."
Jeremiah's confidence in the future had nothing to do with optimism. If you were to rank the characters of the Bible in order of their positive spirit and optimistic outlook, Jeremiah would be dead last. He was, by far, the most pessimistic prophet to ever bend Israel's ear. In fact, he's called the weeping prophet. The lights dimmed when Jeremiah walked into a room. He could cloud up a sunny day. But when he talks about the future he sounds like he’s selling on commission.
Why? His hope was in God. When your hope is in what God can do, you aren't just wishing.
Secondly Hope for the future is based on the experience of the past.
When your hope is in God, you are basing your confident expectation for the future on the faithfulness of God's action in the past. Which is why memory is so important to hope. By reaching into the past we find assurances that the future will not be destroyed by the present. That's how the Jews did it. No people have ever been through so much for so long at the hateful hands of so many, as the Jews. Yet few people are so hopeful.
Look at Psalm 136. This is a text book example, literally, of how hope for the future is maintained by remembering the past. This is an antiphonal Psalm. The leader would say the first part and the congregation would respond. Try it with me, I’ll say the first part and you respond.
Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His loving kindness is everlasting.
Give thanks to the God of gods, For His loving kindness is everlasting.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords, For His loving kindness is everlasting.
To Him who alone does great wonders, For His loving kindness is everlasting;
To Him who made the heavens with skill, For His loving kindness is everlasting;
To Him who spread out the earth above the waters, For His loving kindness is everlasting;
To Him who made the great lights, For His loving kindness is everlasting:
The sun to rule by day, For His loving kindness is everlasting,
The moon and stars to rule by night, For His loving kindness is everlasting.
Give thanks to the God of heaven, For His loving kindness is everlasting.
That's how they kindled hope. That's how they overcame despair. They remember what God had done in the past. They were honest about the tragedy of the present. But they were hopeful about the promise of the future, because their hope was in God. Hope grows out of memory.
In the catacombs of ancient Rome, archeologists have discovered a number of early Christian symbols. One of them is the Icthus or a fish. One is the shepherd. And there is one more common symbol. The anchor. Now why do you suppose they would have an anchor as a common symbol? Maybe it's because of Hebrews 6:19; "But we have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure."
The catacombs were where Christians hid from Roman persecution and where they buried their dead. Odd, isn't it, that a symbol of firm and secure hope would exist in a place of hiding, in a place of death. Not when you remember that their hope in the face of persecution and death rested on the memory of an empty tomb, a risen savior, and a coming King. Ours can rest there,too.
Questions To Consider
Our text this morning was from the book of Lamentations. Give a summary of verses 1-18.
Have you ever felt like this?
Jeremiah was not afraid to fuss and gripe to God. How did you deal with your feelings of hopelessness?
Look again at verses 21-26. How has the prophet’s mood changed?
Where does Jeremiah look top find hope?
In light of what he has just said, does this hope seem hollow? insane? courageous? noble?
How does his memory invoke hope?
What seems to be the connection between hope and faith?
How can hope be more that optimism?