In the 1940s, Flagstaff, Maine, was an active logging town. The tiny town’s 300 residents enjoyed living in the picturesque valley. However, shortly after World War II, the state government notified the town of its plans to build a hydroelectric dam downriver from Flagstaff. Unfortunately, that meant the town was destined to be flooded, making it a ghost town under 50 feet of water.

     Dr. Halford Luccock, Professor of homiletics at Yale University, commented on the sense of futility Flagstaff’s residents experienced once they learned it was destined for extinction. He said the effect on that little town was demoralizing. Everything suddenly came to a standstill. All construction stopped, and all repairs and improvements ceased. What was the use of painting a house if, in a few years, it would be under water? Why bother to fill in potholes if the whole village was going to be wiped out anyway?


The town quickly decayed. Month by month, the whole village became run-down and ghostly. Ultimately, they could do nothing about it but prepare to move out. The river that was dammed up was appropriately named “Dead River” because hope had died in Flagstaff.

     Dr. Luccock made this memorable application. “Where there is no faith in the future, there is no power in the present.” Solomon put it more simply, “Where there is no vision, the people perish…” (Proverbs 29:18a KJV).

     Today we begin a new year. What are your hopes for 2024… and beyond? The Bible teaches that hope is one of three essential virtues. “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love…” (1 Corinthians 13:13a). Hope is confidence in the future. Hope is the expectation that something good is going to happen tomorrow. Hope gives us power in the present. Hope is so important that Romans 8:24 reminds us, “For we are saved by hope…” (KJV).

     We all need hope on three different levels: short-term, long-term, and eternal.

Short-term hopes energize us. I’m invigorated if I have something to look forward to in the immediate future. I’m going to play golf on Friday. I get to preach on Sunday. Our family is getting together for a Christmas celebration next week. Those anticipated events lift spirits and energize us.

Long-term hopes enhance endurance. Perhaps you’re looking forward to getting your doctorate someday, or you dream of that day when you can be debt-free or retire. Long-term hopes give us the incentives to persevere through difficulty.

Eternal hopes are essential because they provide an ultimate purpose regardless of what is happening at the moment.

     Simon Peter reminded us that through Christ, we have been reborn into “…a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3-4).

     An eternal hope enhances the satisfaction we get from short-term and long-term goals. It keeps other dreams in proper perspective and enriches all of life. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” (1 Timothy 6:17).

We enjoy material possessions and healthy pleasures more if they are not our primary hope. The Bible says, For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

     A well-known hymn begins, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness,” and ends with, “All other ground is sinking sand.” Sadly, there are many who have “sinking sand” hopes. They place their hope in financial success, academic or athletic achievements, or personal relationships. While these may provide temporary satisfaction, they are not eternal hopes. They are sinking sand hopes.

     We have all known people who worked hard to achieve prominence but then resisted retiring because all their hopes – their entire identities – were tied to their job. When they were eventually forced to retire, they shriveled up and died because they had nothing to live for. Truly, “All other ground is sinking sand.”

     The doomed town of Flagstaff, Maine, is an example of the sense of futility people experience when there is no hope in the future. Yet the more important lesson from the now-extinct town is not one of despair but of realistic hope. The people of Flagstaff knew they could not stop the destruction of their town, but they knew they could escape it. So, they quit focusing on their present circumstances, packed up, and prepared to move. Relocating them to nearby towns on higher ground, the government built new shops and schools and helped the townspeople finance new homes. And life went on for the people of Flagstaff. In fact, for most of them, their lives were improved in a better community. They now lived on the edge of a recreational lake, and their quality of life was enhanced.

     What a reminder for us! Face reality – your body is doomed. It’s going to soon be buried under six feet of dirt. The Bible says, “…outwardly we are wasting away” (2 Corinthians 4:16), and we are “…dead in trespasses and sins”(Ephesians 2:1). For “You lived in this world without God and without hope” (Ephesians 2:12bNLT).

     Yet there is hope. God has provided a means of escape. Jesus paid the price for our sins and is preparing a new home for us on higher ground that can never perish, spoil, or fade, and He is keeping it in heaven for you.

So do not fear 2023. Do not wallow in despair because your days are numbered. Instead, put your trust in Christ and rejoice that the best is yet to come! And take heart. For when there is faith in the future, there is power in the present.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).


Bob Russell is Retired Senior Minister of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY.