Bernie Madoff has made off with 50 billion dollars of investor funds. He played what is called the Ponzi game. Charles Ponzi was a 1920’s style Bernie Madoff, who defrauded thousands of New Englanders with a postage stamp speculation scam. Now, the term Ponzi scheme is used to describe those efforts to swindle people out of their money by means of high risk and fraudulent system of scamming people out of their money.
Bernie Madoff took the Ponzi scheme to an art form by fleecing charities, 401ks, banks and even a US Senator. He was taking funds from one entity or person and would pay off old clients with the funds and then promise new investors with unbelievable returns. Some on Wall Street believed Madoff was legitimate right up until his arrest. Bernie Madoff and the Governor of Illinois seem to be cut from the same cloth. How many more of these types are out there in the world? You can only begin to imagine.
In the NY Times recently, the sad story of one retired couple was among many revealed in the wake of the Madoff money massacre. The husband said, “My whole life was wrapped up in that money. I thought I could pay the bills for the next ten years.” His hope for the future seemed to be totally robbed from him, and he is not alone in that feeling of despair.
As I read the accounts in the paper and heard the desperation in the voices of those interviewed on television, my mind had a sudden jolt. I remember a verse of scripture I often had read but just skipped over transitionally in reading the passage Romans 5:1-5. “This hope does not disappoint” is the phrase from verse five which echoed in my mind. Madoff made off with the hopes and dreams of so many people. He was a disappointment to scores and scores of trusting investors.
What makes the hope mentioned in Romans chapter five so different? How can there really be a “hope that does not disappoint?” I read and reread the passage and rediscovered the distinguishing difference between the Madoff Hope and the Master’s Hope!
I. This hope does not disappoint because it saves us.
For the first time ever, I read this passage and saw the beautiful and seamless way the Trinity is presented. Consider the phrase “peace with God.” These are familiar words for sure. Those of us who have grown up reading the Bible know that phrase, or do we?
Peace with God is a gift from God. That is where Jesus enters the picture. The Son of God came in flesh and lived among us, so that through Him, we could become right with God. Years ago, I was watching a made for television movie based on the John Grisham novel, The Painted House. As I recall, the story was about a poor Arkansas family struggling to make ends meet on a farm following World War II. The characters were predictable types, similar to the ones in To Kill a Mockingbird.
Yet there was line in the movie I will never forget. At first, I laughed at the words of a young teen aged girl, in her overalls, introducing herself and her mentally challenged brother to a friend. She and her brother were seated on the back of a flatbed truck and she offered her name to the other teenager, a handsome young man. She paused then and spoke the name of her brother and quietly said, “He ain’t right.”
When we come to God through Christ, we acknowledge to Him, to ourselves and the world that “We ain’t right and Jesus can make us right.” That’s what “being declared righteous by faith” means. We don’t come to God in good standing. No, Jesus brings us to Him and through Him, we are made right with God. That is the essence of “peace with God.”
In the last verse of our passage, the Holy Spirit is also described in relationship to this hope which does not disappoint. “This hope does not disappoint because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” When we are made right with God through Jesus Christ, His Holy Spirit takes residence in our lives. Paul, in Ephesians, calls the Holy Spirit, an earnest or down payment of what is to come. This means that the Hope within us is eternal and permanent, not temporary.
Every now and then Pam says to me, “I think I need a perm.” When I first heard that expression years ago, I responded to her slyly, “What is a perm?” “What do you mean, what is a perm? It is where I go to beauty shop and have a permanent done,” she replied. “But,” I said, “how could something related to your hair be permanent? Haven’t you had many perms or permanents in your life?” Well, you can imagine how well that was received. My point, of course, is that nothing in this life is permanent, except this hope which does not disappoint.
II. This hope does not disappoint because it sustains us.
In addition to the peace with God already described, the apostle amplifies further the benefits of being right with God. Through Christ we have access to God. The Obama family is in the international spotlight in unprecedented ways. President-Elect Obama, his wife Michelle and the two young girls are in the news to stay. I imagine a host of people are vying for the attention and access to Barack Obama, but Michelle and the daughters have special, very special, access to the president. That is the kind of relationship we have as children of God. Through Christ, The Way, we have a special access to God, the Father!
“Rejoicing in hope” is a glad expression. The investors who placed their hopes and trust in Bernie Madoff are not rejoicing but rather lamenting. Things are so bad for Bernie Madoff that he has body guards, and he wears a bullet proof vest, while he is out on bail, awaiting trial. That does not sound like a rejoicing in hope kind of lifestyle for him or his former clients.
When afflictions come, and come they will, followers of Christ have a hope that does not disappoint. This hope is producing something. It produces endurance to withstand the temporary suffering and character, which is the very character of Christ Himself. That is a transformational belief. If we believe, and most certainly do, that Christ, through the Holy Spirit, never leaves us or forsakes us, then everything becomes more manageable for us.
This hope that does not disappoint is one based on our right standing with God and allows access to Him through Christ. Further, this hope produces an endurance for the tough times of life and it develops the character of Christ within us. Can there be anything better than this kind of hope?
III. This is a hope which does not disappoint because it secures us.
I have shared with you before the outstanding testimony of German Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. During the Christmas season, I relived his last days in my mind. While viewing the motion picture Valkyrie, I remember that Bonhoeffer was one of the hundreds, if not thousands of people, who for various reasons, plotted to kill Hitler. Valkyrie is the daring account of the German army officer Claus von Stauffenberg’s efforts to free Germany and the world of this crazed man destroying millions of lives. Today, Stauffenberg has a street in Berlin named after him. That was not always the case. Many have felt he was a traitor in his day, but in our time, he is seen as a patriot.
Bonhoeffer was an even more courageous man. Despite all attempts to silence his preaching and teaching, he continue to train seminary students and lead others in worship. When placed in prison, Bonhoeffer ministered to his fellow prisoners, even to the day of his death, just a short time before the fall of Germany and Hitler’s suicide.
While in prison, Bonhoeffer wrote many letters, preserved to this day. In one, he said to a close friend that he was neither a pessimsist or an optimist. A pessimist would expect things to get worse and an optimist would see the situation as getting better. He chose to be neither one of these extremes. Instead, Bonhoeffer described himself as one living by hope. A hope that did not disappoint.
I led in the funeral services of a dear friend this week. Sam McGee is the kind of fellow the late Stephen Ambrose wrote about in his historical accounts of the fighting men in World War II. He is also the kind of guy depicted in Stephen Spielburg and Tom Hanks movies devoted to World War II. He was a member of the 82nd Airborne. Sam was a First Sergeant, which means he was a top enlisted man in his unit. He was the “go to” man for the enlisted men and the field officers.
He fought in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, Holland Belgium and Germany. If you have ever read about The Battle of The Bulge and the cold winter of ’44. Let me tell you, Sam was there. It was not a movie to him, it was madness. It was not a book to him, it was a battle to the death with enemy on one hand and the cold weather on the other.
When I became his pastor, I quickly realized that Sam was a unique guy. I loved his stories and his wisdom. I admired his patriotism and service. Sam was a friend to all kinds of people. At the funeral, his Sunday School teacher, a retired professor at UA said, “Sam was my tutor and mentor.” I thought to myself “Here is a man with a high school diploma mentoring a university professor for years and years.” What a man!!!
Sam and his wife Johnye, were always hospitable. In fact they had a ministry of hospitality. Their home was a holy of holies for such occasions. I have had many meals and celebrated numerous birthdays in their home. I recall one day, years ago, Sam saying to me, “Pastor, I have been disappointed in a lot of people. I have been disappointed in myself, my country and even Christian leaders, but I have never been disappointed in the Lord.” In war, in marriage, in the good times and bad times, Sam McGee believed in a “hope that does not disappoint.” He went to his grave with that hope and now he is realizing all the blessings which come from a hope-filled life, so well lived. May that be your testimony and mine as well.