Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.
My family and I just returned to the states recently from a tiny island called Man O War Cay. It sits a little north in the Abaco Bahamian Islands. Quite literally, it is paradise. Very few tourists and less than 300 residents live there. We would go to the beach and basically have it all to ourselves. How it happened was, Gracie (my daughter) was asked to speak to the youth there by her uncle Mark (my brother). He and his wife have a ministry together where they travel around pretty extensively. Long story short, April and I ended up packing our bags and going with them. So, two sets of Willett families took the Bahamas by storm for 9 days. It was sweet family time together and we had a blast. We snorkeled, spear-fished and enjoyed the beach for hours on end. At one point I became a little (okay a lot) sea-sick while trolling for tuna, which was embarrassing. There’s nothing better for an ego-check than hanging your head over the side of the boat while everyone watches you hurl. Apparently, I don’t have very good sea legs, or stomach for that matter. And yes, no one else was sick but me.
Anyway, before it was all said and done, we made some new friends at New Life Church, ate ourselves into oblivion, and enjoyed the unique beauty of what God had made on that island. My brother, Mark, carried the lion share of the preaching for the week. However, almost all of us at some point was able to minister to those folks in some fashion or another. My sweet wife, April, even spoke to the women’s group (which was a first). She helped our sister-in-law teach a women’s group there and they had a time with those ladies. I ended up preaching one Sunday as well. So, here’s the thing, when you have worked in ministry for a number of year, there are times that you sense a need and hope for a breakthrough. This was one of those times. I want to be clear though. These Bahamian people are amazing and they gave my entire family a lesson on what a servants heart looks like. We were there to minister to them, but we were blessed in the process. That is so often how “ministry” works. I’ve lost count of the number of missions trips I’ve been on that my heart has brought home more than it left with. Man O War was exactly like that; treasure for my heart. However, we wanted a breakthrough. Those folks did, too. They made it known to my brother that they wanted to see God work through their kids, so we started praying toward that end.
The week went along pretty smoothly, much like you’d expect island life to be, but there were no real breakthroughs. We sang our songs and preached out sermons. Mid-week came, and still, no breakthroughs. Then one night, my brother told a story. It was the night before we had to leave. It was the story of his daughter, Laikyn. You see, Laikyn passed away around a year ago. She was only 17 years old. This event shook my entire family to its core, and I can’t talk much about it, even now, without getting choked up.
Her passing shook us, but it seemed to fundamentally change my brother. Not in the way you might imagine, though. Without getting into all the details, after his daughter passed, Mark quit his current job and set out to live life on ministry with his wife Christina. This is how we ended up in the Bahamas. Anyway, I think Laikyn’s story is where the breakthrough started; the first stress fractures in that spiritual dam, if you will. We had been praying all week long toward that breakthrough, but it wasn’t until Mark’s son, Logan, spoke that the dam began to noticeably crack. Logan spoke of Laikyn’s passing as well, but then he began to share about how his dad (Mark) stood on a stage and talked about the goodness of God while he preached his own daughter’s funeral. It was true period. I was there. I saw it with my own eyes. That day, my brother was operating in the power of the Holy Spirit and in a hope that seems impossible until you see it for yourself. I haven’t been able to finish my journal entry of that day. Maybe someday God will help my finish it. But this was the message that Logan was sharing with those kids. He was getting real with them, and they were hanging on every word! He explained how his dad’s courage to do this at his sister’s funeral displayed God’s realness to him and that he recognized that this act couldn’t be done naturally.
He’s right, you know. An act like that is higher than mere courage. It’s supernatural hope in action. Hope like that is not of this world and never will be. The breakthrough was coming y’all!
You see, singing a song about hope is one thing. But hope found where hope shouldn’t be is quite another. And a song on the lips of a believer who shouldn’t have one is more powerful than you could ever imagine. That was the message for Man O War. A specific kind of hope: hope that abounds.
The next evening, my brother’s lead guitar player and long-time friend, Holden, spoke to the youth. He offered those kids the gospel, and 4 of them, they took it! Four kids excepted Christ that night!
Now, if you’ll let me back track for just a minute. Gracie, my daughter had rededicated her life earlier that week. She told me and her about this in private and said that she wanted to re-up with God and love Him and choose Him even over her friends. Then she said she wanted to be baptized again right here in Man O War. Well, April and I were thrilled, but I told her that I wasn’t the pastor here and that with all the other events going on, it might just be her mom and I out there in that water with her to celebrate and seal this thing with baptism. I asked her if she was okay with that. She said, “Yes.”
Now, back to those 4 kids who received Christ. Holden had just finished his gospel message and we were still on stage at that point leading worship. Gracie suddenly leans over and says, “Hey dad, is it okay if I ask them if they want to be baptized with my tomorrow?” This is class Gracie, so it didn’t catch me off guard too much. I grinned and said, “Ask uncle Mark.” She did and Mark smiled and handed Gracie the microphone.
Well, the next morning was laid back. We were packing our bags because we had to catch the 1:00 pm ferry to leave the island. There was just enough time to go to the Narrows before we had to leave. The Narrows is a narrow stretch of island where the Atlantic and the Caribbean almost touch. The water there is calm and shallow. It’s the perfect place for a baptism. So, with our mind on home but already missing this place, we finished packing our stuff and put on our swimming trunks. We had no idea if any of the 4 boys would show or not, but we were happy either way. Gracie had rededicated her life and we were excited to celebrate and seal it in baptism with just our little family, if that’s all that came. Well… God apparently had other plans. Y’all, our little golf cart rounded the corner leading to the Narrows and the pavilion there was packed! There were golf carts lining the road. I think the whole church came out that morning and some folks that I didn’t even recognize came. One sweet couple boated a 20-minute trip out to Man O War Cay just to see the baptisms. And yes, I said baptism(s)! I got out of my gold cart and hear Ralph, the man who had invited my brother, say in his perfect Bahamian accent, “Who’s in charge? What we doin’?” Mark shrugs and looks at me. The next thing I know, I’m giving this crowd a brief explanation of baptism and why we are doing what we are about to do and before we know it, the moment finally arrives. Gracie and I walk out into the clear, Caribbean blue of the Narrows and I get the privilege of baptizing my own daughter. I’m pretty much a wreck at this point. While I gathered myself, Mark baptizes the boys next. Then, without a word, Logan (Mark’s son) begins walking out into the water with us. They embrace, and I watch my brother baptize his son. Y’all, talk about breakthroughs! If the spiritual dam was leaking before, abounding hope shattered it the rest of the way, right then and right there on that beach. As if on queue and without a word, more little feet began to walk out into the Narrows with us. Those sweet kids started walking out into the water one after the other and we dunked them all in the beautiful name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. What we thought was supposed to be 1, ended up being 10! That is a breakthrough!
I’ve come to the conclusion that abounding hope is like finding a secret melody. It can’t be sung until it is lived out, first. That is its secret.
But when the God of hope fills a believer’s mouth with its melody, watch out! It will break through! It will abound! And its contagious! That might be my favorite part of the whole thing.
Keilah, Mark’s youngest daughter, talked to me about this very thing. She had told me the night before what she saw in Gracie and in Logan and said that she wanted to be like “that.” By the way, she was baptized, too.
I think that is the message for the ink Forge today. The secret song of lived out, contagious, abounding hope! We each have a place of personal abounding to work in; a sphere of influence that can hear and catch our life-song. And we each have a Keilah and Logan that is watching and listening for that divine melody!
That is what I saw break through the dam of peer-pressure and years of stoicism on that island, and that is what I want to encourage you in this morning.
The truth is, aside from Christ, I don’t think I can come up with a more compelling gospel message in a believer’s life than an “abounding hope” message. It mirrors the Savior’s message to a lesser degree, of course, but we have in that moment a rare and purer likeness to Him; when our life of pain sings and somehow what comes out is the hope, and joy and peace of a heaven-song. That is hope that abounds! And that, my friends, is crazy contagious! Never underestimate the hope of glory inside of you!