Psalm – Week 39 Sermon Notes

By October 23, 2016Sermon Notes

Abandonment and Despair: The Loss of Hope

The Martian: Matt Damon, 2015.

*In 2035 a manned mission to Mars encounters a storm on the planet and so they leave behind what they believe to be is a dead Matt Damon.

*Spoiler alert…he doesn’t die (but how could you not know that even if you didn’t watch it?  Do you really think they are going to spend two hours trying to rescue Damon and then kill him?).

*Anyway, one scene after NASA learns Damon is alive they are speculating on what it must feel like to be left alone on Mars…”he must be psychologically devastated.”

*Right away the scene shifts to Damon on Mars, in good spirits, kind of enjoying himself…not devastated at all because he is full of hope.

*From where does this hope spring?

*He says “I’m going to have to science the “s-word” of this.”

*He is hope filled because he is a confident, trained scientist.

*And so he does, through Damon’s confidence and competence in science and the collective brilliance of the best science minds on earth…they bring him home.  (Of course he had a lot of help from the script writers who bailed him out in many convenient ways.)

*In the end, back on earth, he is now teaching budding young astronauts survival techniques.

*He tells them they will inevitable encounter life-threatening situations in space but if they remain faithful to science (my paraphrase)…they will solve each problem, one at a time, and then, they too will find themselves at home.

*I like the movie and I am no scientist but I love the fruits of science.

*I am fascinated by how it presents a single story life…not one where the upstairs (spiritual) and downstairs (physical) meet…but a basement life where there is no upstairs.

*You can say, “They have space.”

*But in that worldview space is just the ceiling of the basement…not really another realm of existence.

*It is a world where to quote Schaeffer “Natures eats up Grace.”

*At one point Damon’s character knows he might not survive  (and wouldn’t except for an omnipotent screen writer… who can perform script miracles)…but at any rate with survival in doubt, he talks about looking with wonder at the Martian sunset…but, there is no reflection on creation or creator.

*So it’s not like looking at something beautiful that someone made, it’s like looking at an accident that somehow turned out to look pleasant.

*Is Damon’s character a pure invention of Hollywood?  The confident, scientific conqueror.

*I don’t think so.

*There are many confident, hope-filled people in the world who do not know God.

*There are many insecure, struggling to find hope people in the world who do know God.

*Isn’t that incongruent with what we believe?

*No, its not.

*”Then what is the purpose of knowing God if this is true?

Col. 1:16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.

*The main purpose of knowing God is because he is God…and he has made himself knowable.

*Of any pursuit of knowledge possible by man, the pursuit of knowing him and loving is the greatest of all.

*Do we seek to know, love, serve God…primarily in order to have a better life now than those who don’t seek these things?

*If so, then what if others appear to have a better life now than we do?…why not reject God in favor of the things they are finding satisfaction in?

*In fact that is the story we often seen in the Scriptures.

*People rejecting the pursuit of God in order to pursue idols…any thing other than God to wrap their lives around.

*I do believe knowing and loving God leads to the best possible life now.

*But its the best possible life that God has called you to live…a life full of him, expressing him more fully.

*I had a friend in college named Brian, he came to know Christ maybe a year before he found out he had terminal cancer.

*He spent the year before he died in great pain and in great impact.

*I last saw him in the hospital just 24 hours before he died…I was 22, healthy, fresh back from a summer camp with a summer tan…he was pale, emaciated, dying…I spent my summer outdoors, he spent his indoors.

*He spent most of our time together that day, his last day…ministering to me, checking on me.

*Why did his faith not keep him from cancer or death?

*How could it?

*His faith was not in health or life, it was in Jesus.

*His faith kept him pointed toward Jesus.

*More accurately, Jesus kept him in his faith that kept him pointed towards Jesus.

*His faith maximized his life, and his impact and his joy.

*So when I say, knowing God leads to the best possible life now…I don’t mean health and prosperity…that may or may not happen along the way…but it doesn’t last for anyone.

*Since it doesn’t last for anyone, it cannot possible be a definition of the best life, at least not the best enduring life.

*Let’s circle back…

*There are hope-filled unbelievers…but their hope is built on sand…not a place to build a foundation for a life.

*There are believers desperately seeking to feel hope…their small and sometimes fleeting feelings of hope are built on solid ground.

*Strong faith in a weak bridge will land you in the river.

*Weak faith in a strong bridge will get you safely to across.

*This month in Psalms we are looking at emotions, desires.

*What they tell us about ourselves and how important it is to not allow them to steer or direct our lives.

*Today we look at despair.

*Despair is the passive cousin of jealousy and anger.

*Jealousy and anger fight against loss, despair turns and runs from it, or just resigns itself to it.

*It cannot bear to want or to desire or to fight…its too painful…to painful to hope again only to be disappointed again.

*Despair can devastate us or it can redirect us.

*Let’s look at parts of two Psalms: 88, 77

Ps 88:13 But I cry to you for help, O LORD; in the morning my prayer comes before you.  14 Why, O LORD, do you reject me and hide your face from me?  15 From my youth I have been afflicted and close to death; I have suffered your terrors and am in despair.  16 Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me.  17 All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me.  18 You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend.

Psa. 77:1   I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me.  2 When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted.  3 I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused, and my spirit grew faint. Selah 4 You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak.  5 I thought about the former days, the years of long ago;  6 I remembered my songs in the night. My heart mused and my spirit inquired:  7 “Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again?  8 Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time?  9 Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?” Selah 10 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.”  11 I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.

*Dan Allender writes about the progression of regret, sadness, depression…then despair

*The bottom floor is despair, the utter absence of any sense of hope, along with a feeling of powerlessness.

Despair leads to resignation and can lead to suicidal thoughts or actions.

*There are those who have believed that suicide is the only logical response to a meaningless world.

*If you cannot find meaning, or create meaning…then death is reasonable

*Despair looks at the world and sees the emptiness, the lack of relational intimacy…it thinks that those who feel joy, or hope, or happiness are naive, foolish.

*Jealousy may envy the happy, those in despair may just think they are deceived.

*I’m going to use despair to describe not just a person who is at their rock bottom, but those feelings that come when things feel hopeless, or meaningless.

Ps 88: Is a testimony of a man teetering on the edge of despair…maybe he has fallen in.

*From what you often hear touted as Christian thinking you might have trouble believing this Psalm is even in the Bible.

Ps 88:13 But I cry to you for help, O LORD; in the morning my prayer comes before you.  14 Why, O LORD, do you reject me and hide your face from me?  15 From my youth I have been afflicted and close to death; I have suffered your terrors and am in despair.  16 Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me.  17 All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me.  18 You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend.

*Of course it is describing what a man felt, not prescribing what we should feel.

*But the fact that it describes this so honestly, including the final statement…”Darkness is my closest friend” is instructive for us.

*But remember when we discussed this back in January?

*He says “darkness is his closest friend” but he is talking to God, not to the Darkness.

*He didn’t say “Darkness, you are my closest friend”

*He is telling God how he feels…he is feeling hopeless, yet he is crying out to God.

*He is in despair but he is none the less, turned toward God.

*How can this be? Is God pleased with despair?

*God loves us…he would be pleased to have us despair and feel our need for him rather than be content with anything other than him…listen to this story Jesus told.

Luke 18:10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector.  12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13   “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

*Two men are contrasted:

-One a respected religious leader full of confidence before God, thanking God for his own righteousness. No desperation of any kind…certainly none for God…he feels like he is good to go.

-The other a despised person, with no self-confidence, unable to even look up to heaven…what does he have in him that make him worthy to even turn his eyes towards God?

-He is a desperate man…desperate in his self-evaluation and that makes him desperate for God’s mercy.

*The contrast is a man full of self-hope and self-confidence who is living a life of impending disaster.

*And a man with no self-confidence who is living a life of impending blessing…its coming for him…because his desperation has directed him to God.

*There are those who are happy, hopeful, and content without God…but their happiness, hope, and contentment is illusion…it will disappoint them.

*There are those who are unhappy, barely holding on to hope…but in their despair God is holding on to them…God will not disappoint them.

*I am not advocating for despair…but for reality.

*The unreality of a non-biblical view of faith that never struggles and cannot despair is harmful to those inside and outside the church.

*If you have faith and don’t feel despair…be grateful…don’t be afraid that you will someday fall into darkness…you may never feel despair, or doubt.

*But if that is your story it won’t be because you are smarter, or better, or stronger than anyone else…it will be because of the grace of God and his plan in your life.

*What we do and believe and think…does matter…it does make a difference in life outcomes.

*But we can live faithful lives…and still struggle much more that we would prefer.

*The absence of despair is not always because of the presence of faith.

*The presence of despair is not always the absence of faith.

*Faith is ultimately were we have placed our confidence…the person feeling despair but none-the-less placing their confidence in God is in a secure place…though they may feel insecure.

*We are going to stop and reflect before moving on in the message.

*Some may not feel the “need” this time, but your brother, sister may…so you can pray for them during this time.

*Floodplain a song by Sara Groves.

*She was struggling with depression and was wondering about her own “bootstraps” theology…and the damage it had done to her own life and faith.

*We can pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps…try harder, pray better, know more.

*One day She was running along the shore of the Mississippi and saw a homeless man camped by the banks and looked up high on a bluff and there was a mansion, a symbol of security from the potential of flooding.

*She knew that immigrant communities had built their homes on the floodplain in the past not because they were fools but because it was all they could afford and they would lose everything they had to the yearly floods

*At the same time the floodplains are beautiful places.

*”We can see our reality as a burden and try to escape it, or we can drink our cup.  Whether it is depression or poverty or caring for an aging parent, or sick child…these challenges are realities of life. If I avoid the cup, I also miss joy and provision.  If I drink it down, I will ‘taste and see that the Lord is good.”

*The song and this time of reflection are for those who have depression, discouragement or feel despair.

*We are doing this here together because despair can make you feel alone, isolated…even in a room like this.

*You know what I mean if you are feeling that…it is an isolating feeling.

*So, our purpose now…is to reflect together…for you to remember here in community…both your struggle and that you are not alone.

*Those in the flood look at those safe on the bluffs and believe they are unable to understand or help.

*However, those in the flood need those on the bluffs to come with boats and blankets.

*This is not a song of the fruits of folly, bad choices to build near the water…it is a song of the reality that some people’s lives are like this…its there in the floods that God builds himself into their hearts.

*Life there on the floodplain makes them vulnerable to suffering and at the same time…vulnerable to God.

*So, if you feel the flood, or are thriving right now…we are together in all this as a church family.

*What do I hope to accomplish?

*2 things:

  1. To normalize what feels so abnormal. Struggle is not the exception, even for believers.
  2. Encouragement to not see yourself alone…not forsaken by God, or God’s people.

SONG/PRAYER

*Let’s shift gears just a bit, and go to Psalm 77

Psa. 77:1   I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me.  2 When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted.  3 I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused, and my spirit grew faint. Selah 4 You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak.  5 I thought about the former days, the years of long ago;  6 I remembered my songs in the night. My heart mused and my spirit inquired:  7 “Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again?  8 Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time?  9 Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”

*He is seeking the Lord throughout the night and instead of feeling better, things got worse…not too comforting a Psalm so far.

*Then he turned from his current experience to memories of God’s past actions…to his miracles of long ago.

*10 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.”  11 I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.

*He is grounding his hope in what God has done.

*His description of his current state would easily be described as despair…but he turns his thoughts from his current state to the actions of God in the past.

*He would have many things to reflect on regarding what God has done for his people in the past, but again the most common comforting collective memory of God’s people was the Exodus.

*God heard (after 400 years), God sent a rescuer (Moses), and God initiated a rescue (Exodus), then he completed the promise as he took them to the land he had for them.

*But this is not hope, this is remembering…hope if future centric, memory is centered in the past.

*How do you convert the memory of the past into hope in the future?

*By connecting the God who was, with the same God who is and will be.

*God does not change…he was and is and will be “redeemer, rescuer.”

*If God is fickle, changes…memory does not lead to hope.

-Just because he was one way back then, doesn’t mean he will continue to be that way.

*If God is weak…memory does not lead to hope.

-Just because he did something in the past, doesn’t mean he will be able to do that in the future

*But since God does not change and God is powerful…What I have seen of God in the past, I will see of God in the future.

*Does it mean he will remove your cancer or like my friend Brian, be your faithful God through death and into the life that follows death?  

*I don’t know…but either way, he is your hope…he is the redeemer.

*We translate memory (as recorded in Scripture) into hope…because our hope is in God…who was, is, and is to come.

*Gabriel Marcel called hope “A memory of the future”

*Advent season, Christmas is traditionally an equal celebration of past and future

*We celebrate a King who came in meekness and few saw his arrival, and we celebrate a King who will come again in power and every eye will see.

*This hope…grounded in the coming of Jesus, past and present…informs and shapes our hope now.

*Hope is a memory of the future…it is translating what we know of God from what he has done to what we know God will do.

*Hope is intangible, a concept or a feeling.  But practically speaking it is tangible in its impact.

*It impacts our lives in important ways…it drives us to action…keeps moving in a direction.

*But sometimes hope is naive.

*You often hear, I did very recently…”I believe things happen for a reason…things will work out.”

*What that means, often…”I am trusting that things will work out “magically” in ways I deem favorable.”

*If you asked “Why do you believe that?”

*Often the answer would be, if they could verbalize it “Because I need all this to mean something.”

*It would not be “Because I believe my redeemer was and is and is to come…he doesn’t change.”

*I think we can see how our hopes are often misplaced during this election cycle, where more people are in despair over our presidential choices than any recent time, maybe ever.

*This tells us more about where we place our hopes than the quality of our candidates.

*I’ve read articles of the amount of clinical depression that are the results of this primary season.

*”But don’t you care?”

*Of course I do…but the emotions evoked by this process are revealing something to us about where we have placed our hopes as a people.

*Misplaced hope always leads to disillusionment.

*We should passionately care about our nation, but if we experience depression or even despair over an election…something is amiss.

*Is despair good or is it bad?

*It always feels bad, but it doesn’t always have bad effects.

*Despair gone dark has given up on hope…despair in the light (faint though it may be) has given up all hope except one…God must come through or I will not survive…God is their final hope.

*That is always true, though seldom realized by us.

CONCLUSION:

Prob. 13:12 “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”

*When hope is continually deferred, denied, postponed…our hearts can become sick

*We can learn to distrust hope because it is only going to disappoint.

*So how are we to live?

*Is despair and discouragement ideal?

*If I am feeling hopeful and joyful, am I a fool?

*Feel what you feel, be instructed by it…but buckle it in the passenger seat, do not let it drive.

*We must not give up on hope; we must make sure our hope is well placed.

*I see hope as a spectrum, or a scale.

*I can hope my team wins, and be disappointed 30 minutes if they don’t…ok.

-If my team loses and it affects how I live my life, see the world, treat others…my hope is misplaced.

*I can hope my candidate wins, and struggle in ongoing ways if they lose…because I disagree with the winner’s policy…ok, hope on spectrum.

-If my candidate loses and it shapes and drives how I approach life, others, my disappointment takes over my life…my hope was misplaced.

*I can hope I get married, get a different job, find relief from a physical ailment.

*I can suffer if my hope is unfulfilled, I can struggle…Ok…understood.

*But in the end the question is what is the engine that drives my life…what hope has priority over all hope?

*Let’s look at an accurate though imperfect illustration:  Small hopes to the large hope scale

Small Hopes to larger hopes to largest hope:

-I hope the light turns green

-I hope my team wins

-I hope we have a child

-I hope my child gets well

-Phil. 1:20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.  

*When our hopes are blocked, denied, delayed…depending on where they are on the scale…certain emotions are normal.

*Feeling like my life is over because my team lost…not good, definitely a sign of disorientation.

*Feeling despair and deep sorry over a desperately sick child…normal, who wouldn’t?

*But our largest hope is the engine that drives our lives.

*The largest hope does not mean that other smaller hopes don’t or shouldn’t matter…or cause pain when they are unmet.

*It just means they must not be allowed to become the engines that drive our lives.

*This requires ongoing reorientation, life in community, and the grace of the Lord Jesus operational in our lives.

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