In May of 2004, there was an outbreak of Ebola hemorrhagic fever in Sudan in north Africa. By way of background, Ebola is a virus with four known strains, and except for perhaps the Reston strain, the virus is highly fatal. Ebola often has a mortality rate of over 80 percent, with death usually occurring within 7 to 14 days of the onset of symptoms. It is a highly contagious disease, with an incubation period of 2 to 21 days. Ebola has been hyped considerably by Hollywood and writers of popular books, but it is nevertheless considered a Level 4 virus by the Centers for Disease Control. According to the World Health Organization, 1,287 people have died from Ebola since it was first seen in 1976 in Zaire.
As you might expect, an Ebola outbreak is something to be feared, especially for those living in Africa where nearly all of the outbreaks have occurred. In the 2004 outbreak in the Sudan, a total of 17 people were infected. The knowledgeable local medical staff and rapid international response were cited as the reasons for the lower number of infections and the reduced mortality rate. In fact, the mortality rate was only 41 percent – the lowest of any Ebola outbreak involving multiple victims of the disease. Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, a Nigerian epidemiologist, served with the international team that responded to the outbreak in an attempt to contain it, and shared an additional perspective with regards to the reduced mortality.
Two of the 17 people that were infected were a young boy, a senior in high school, and his mother. The boy’s mother succumbed to the disease, and died. However, the young man survived. When the boy recovered, he was quickly integrated into the physician teams who provided social support and health education, and Dr. Ihekweazu was a member of one of these teams. Since he had been infected, but was now recovered and well, he came with a powerful message, which he delivered through loudspeakers carried throughout villages, churches, schools and markets. Dr. Ihekweazu said that crowds came out to hear the young man who survived the deadly Ebola virus. Dr. Ihekweazu further stated that “His presence reinvigorated the team, strengthened our message, and contributed substantially to controlling the outbreak.” What was that message? Hope!
There are many definitions for hope that have been offered. One of my favorites is from Dr. Jerome Groopman, a Harvard Medical School professor. In his book, The Anatomy of Hope, Dr. Groopman defines hope as “an elevating, energizing feeling that comes from seeing, in the mind’s eye, a path to a better future.” He goes on to state that “We are just beginning to appreciate hope’s reach, and have not defined its limits. I see hope as the very heart of healing.” Health care providers sometimes have to walk a fine line between fully disclosing the nature of a patient’s condition, and providing so much information that hope is destroyed. There is a healing that can be found in hope.
Family, all of us have a deadly disease – all of us need healing. Romans 3:23 tells us that 100 percent of mankind has been infected with the disease of sin – “all have sinned.” Romans 6:23 and John 8:24 tell us that the mortality rate of this disease is 100 percent – we will die because of this disease. However, John 8 also tells us that there is hope for us through Jesus. 1 Peter 2:24 states that we are healed of the disease of sin by the sufferings of our Lord Jesus.
The hope that we enjoy as Christians is foundational to our faith: Hebrews 11:1 says that faith is being sure of what we hope for. If we do not have a strong hope, that elevating, energizing hope, how can we have a strong faith? As Christians, we cannot lose sight of our hope in Jesus, our hope in the resurrection from the dead, our hope of an eternal life in heaven.
Realizing the importance of hope in our lives, we need to ask the question, “How can I foster hope in my life, and in the lives of those around me?” Let’s briefly return to a more clinical view of hope. A couple of studies, one conducted in 1990 by Buckley Herth, and one conducted in 1996 by Janice Post-White, showed that there are several factors that foster the development of hope. This morning I would like for us to look at these factors from a Biblical perspective, so that we can each understand how to foster hope in our own lives, in the lives of our fellow Christians, and in the lives of our friends and workmates who are now outside of Christ.
Interpersonal Connectedness and Affirming Relationships
In order to foster hope, we must be connected to other people, people who are encouraging and affirming. Paul told the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 12 that though we may be individuals, we are part of a larger body, the church. We are connected to one another. Every part contributes to the well-being of the whole. We strengthen one another. Ephesians 4:2 says that we are to bear with one another. Verse 16 of that same chapter describes the church, the body of Christ, as being joined together by supporting ligaments and verse 32 says that we are to be kind and compassionate with one another. If ever there was a group where we should feel connected, affirmed, and encouraged, it would surely be the Lord’s church.
I have often heard visitors state that they were impressed by the friendliness of this church family, and the obvious caring attitude that we share. If you want to foster hope in yourself, be here with us every time we meet together, work with us, serve with us. If you want to foster hope in your friends who are outside of Christ, bring them with you. Give us an opportunity to care about them, to connect with them.
Spiritual Base and Using Inner Resources
For Christians, this has special meaning. Having a “spiritual base and using our inner resources” means so much more than simply feeling good about God and having a positive attitude. 1 Corinthians 3:16 and 6:19 state that God’s Spirit lives in us. Let’s turn to Ephesians 2:21-22 to look at another passage. I like this passage because it ties in our previous point about being connected to one another:
21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. 
God’s Spirit lives in each of us individually, and collectively in His church. The Bible tells us that God’s Spirit comforts us, leads us, intercedes with God on our behalf, and guarantees our heavenly inheritance. Inner resources? How can we have any more powerful inner resources than the Spirit of the living God of the universe! How can our struggles, our hopes and dreams, be any more fully known than by Him whose lives within us!
Personal Attributes (fighter, keep going no matter what)
The apostle Paul must surely be an example for us with regards to this factor for fostering hope. He suffered over and over for the kingdom of God. Let’s turn to 2 Corinthians 11:23-27. Here Paul writes:
I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.
In the last months of Paul’s life, he expressed to Timothy the hope that he had as a result of never giving up. He wrote in 2 Timothy 4:7:
7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
Paul clearly understood that the Christian life is not necessarily the most comfortable life. There may be conflict and pain along the way. But, in order for our hope to grow, we can never give up serving God. We can never say, “I’ve done enough, I think I’ll just coast for a while.”, or “All I want is a place where people don’t expect too much of me.” Hope is built on effort, determination, commitment, and a never-say-die attitude.
Light Heartedness and Finding Meaning and Worth
I have grouped these together, because so much of what makes a Christian’s heart light, is also that which gives meaning and worth to our lives. To start, David seems to have understood the key to have a light heart, a joyful heart. He wrote in Psalm 4:6-8:
6 Many are asking, “Who can show us any good?”
Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord.
7 You have filled my heart with greater joy
than when their grain and new wine abound.
8 I will lie down and sleep in peace,
for you alone, O Lord,
make me dwell in safety.
He also wrote in Psalm 19:8:
8 The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes. 
Serving God and following his teachings brings joy to our hearts. Our close and abiding relationship with God makes our heart light because we know that he cares about us. We don’t have to worry about what is coming down the road.
Certainly one of the other things that can make a Christian’s heart light and full of joy is seeing how they have helped others to develop their relationship with God. Paul worked hard to establish and strengthen the church in Thessalonica, and this was a real encouragement for him as he wrote them in 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20:
19 For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? 20 Indeed, you are our glory and joy.
And then in chapter 3 verse 9:
9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?
This is really where our sense of worth and meaning comes in. Jesus said he came to seek and save the lost, to reconcile us all back to His Father. Our purpose as Christians is the same as our Lord’s. Helping others find God is our purpose, and it is where we find our meaning.
Do you want to have that light and joyful heart that fosters hope? It comes from following God and his teachings. Do you want to experience some truly incredible and deep joy, and have that strong sense of worth and meaning? Help someone else develop their relationship with God, and watch them grow in his love and service in ways that you may never have thought possible.
This next factor that fosters hope is, in a way, the flip side of our previous factor. We should remember those who taught us in the faith, those who strengthened us and encouraged us in our walk through life. We just discussed how Paul found such terrific joy in seeing those in Thessalonica grow in God. We can also see that the church in Thessalonica had fond memories of Paul and all that he did for them. In 1 Thessalonians 3:6, Paul writes:
6 But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you.
Note also the qualifier: uplifting memories. We can choose to dwell on problems in the past, or ponder over long dissipated hurts that someone caused us years ago. But those memories will serve as bitter soil for the flower of hope.
Christians also enjoy the blessing of remembering our Lord in a special way each week. What more uplifting memory could we have than to think about Jesus and His willingness to suffer and surrender his life so that we could be with Him forever? What memory of love could be more compelling?
Living in the Present
At first, this factor for fostering hope may seem counter to the one we just discussed regarding memories. But putting things behind us is a critical factor for fostering hope. Paul was well known for his persecution of Christians. I have wondered if Paul had sleepless nights when he remembered those he dragged off to prison, or if he woke with a start from nightmares of his standing by while Stephen was stoned to death. Somewhere along the way, Paul was able to put the mistakes of his past behind him. He knew that his efforts in serving God would be crippled if he could not forgive himself. Paul expressed this to the Philippian church in Philippians 3:13:
13 But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Brothers and sisters, if there is a thought or negative feeling about ourselves that would hinder our service to God, we must put it behind us. When we get discouraged we should ask ourselves who it is that wants us to be discouraged. It will never be God. We need to focus on the opportunities that are before us now – what doors has God opened for us now?!
The final factor for fostering hope that we will study this morning is anticipating survival. In the Herth and Post-White studies, the focus was on surviving catastrophic medical conditions. For Christians, so much more awaits us than mere survival. Heaven awaits us, and our God and our Lord are waiting to greet us. Loved ones who have gone on before will be there, and their pain and suffering will be no more.
Perhaps you have not heard John’s description of the glimpse of heaven he was given, or perhaps you have not heard it in a while. Don’t worry about following along in your Bible now. Just close your eyes and let me read to you from Revelation 21 and 22:
“Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. 11 It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12 It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. 13 There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. 14 The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
15 The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls. 16 The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia a in length, and as wide and high as it is long. 17 He measured its wall and it was 144 cubits b thick, c by man’s measurement, which the angel was using. 18 The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. 19 The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. d 21 The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass.
22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.
Christians should feel a wonderful sense of anticipation for heaven. This world is not our home. Our home is with our God.
Family, we need to live out these factors in our lives. We need to foster not only our own hope, but we need to foster hope in those sitting beside us in these pews this morning. 1 Peter 3:15 tells us that we must “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” Our hope is in God. It is through our faithful obedience to Jesus that we can be healed from the diseases of sin.
In Psalm 33:16, David wrote:
16 No king is saved by the size of his army;
no warrior escapes by his great strength.
17 A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
despite all its great strength it cannot save.
18 But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,
on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
19 to deliver them from death
and keep them alive in famine.
20 We wait in hope for the Lord;
he is our help and our shield.
21 In him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in his holy name.
22 May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord,
even as we put our hope in you.
What is the source of your hope today? If it is anything other than God, it is a false hope. God’s promises never fail. He cares for you, and so do we. If there is any way that we can help strengthen you today, won’t you come as we stand and sing.
The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (Eph 2:21). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (2 Co 11:23). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (2 Ti 4:7). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (Ps 4:6). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (Ps 19:8). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (1 Th 2:19). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (1 Th 3:9). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (1 Th 3:6). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (Php 3:13). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
a That is, about 1,400 miles (about 2,200 kilometers)
b That is, about 200 feet (about 65 meters)
c Or high
d The precise identification of some of these precious stones is uncertain.
The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (Re 21:9). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (Re 22:1). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (Ps 33:16). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.