Faith, Doubt, & the Choice of Easter

Recently, I read a book I really enjoyed. The Skeptical Believer, by Daniel Taylor, wrestles with faith, doubt, and what it means to live what we believe. It’s not a book for everyone, but if you’re the kind of person who likes questions, you’ll like this book. If you’re a person who simply has questions — whether you like them or not — well, then, you need to read this book.

Taylor doesn’t shy away from reasons skeptics have not to believe. In fact, he includes a chapter where he lists all kinds of reasons folks have to be skeptical, agnostic, or just straight-out atheist. There are intellectual objections (like the supposed inconsistency between faith and science). There are emotional objections (like the presence of pain and the absence of God). Some choose not to believe because of how the Church has acted throughout history (and there are plenty of ugly examples), and some can’t commit to belief when they find doctrines that they consider unpalatable. In total, Taylor lists 40 reasons people give for lack of belief in God, or the Bible, or the story of Easter that is at the center of both.

A part of what makes Taylor’s book unique is his willingness to address these concerns. He doesn’t dismiss them, or treat them casually. Instead, he challenges those who don’t believe to be honest in the search. Questions are ok, he says. But face them; don’t let the fact that you have questions keep you from honestly and fully pursuing truth. Taylor writes: Why would anyone stop looking? Why would you decide at 18 or 28 that there is no God, and not at least stay open to the idea that God might exist? If a person is really open to truth, why not stay open to truth?

In fact, why would anyone stop seeking Truth. Even for someone who doubts whether Truth (capital-T) exists, just the fact that you’re thinking about it means that it’s worth pursuing. By the sheer fact that we are able to ask big questions, why would anyone not?

Even so, when it comes to metaphysical matters, Taylor makes it clear: There is no such thing as certainty. When it comes to the Big Questions of God, purpose, and eternity, there can’t be certainty. That’s why we call it faith. And anyone, no matter what their decision is about the Big Questions, is making a faith decision — whether that faith is rooted ultimately in Science, or a Holy Book, or a life experience, or even just What-I-Feel-Inside-of-Me-Is-True. Ultimately, life is all about faith — in whatever form that takes.

Perhaps because of that, Taylor doesn’t point his reader to 3 convincing ideas that will turn a skeptic into a sure-minded believer. What he does point us to is the Story that is given to us in Scripture. It’s a story of hope, of grace, of meaning and purpose. And while we can argue with those who disagree with us, Taylor suggests a better apologetic, when he writes: “Having a plot for your life is better than having a proof.” For, as elaborates: “One can only answer some important questions, not with an argument, but with a life.”

In the end, I believe that the ultimate plot that tells me who I am is found in the Bible. And I believe that the ultimate guide for what Life is meant to be — and will one day fully be — is found in an itinerant preacher who made such an impact that the religious and political powers conspired to kill him. And they succeeded. For a time. Until Easter Sunday, when Jesus walked out of the tomb, alive.

I believe that’s exactly what happened on that first Easter, though I can’t prove it happened. No one can. But if it’s true, then everything changes, and life — my life, ALL of life — has new meaning, purpose, and direction.

So, this Easter Sunday, where I serve, I’ll be talking about the Choice that Easter lays before every person — the choice that Easter is either an End (death, Jesus defeated), or a Beginning (Jesus alive, Death defeated). You decide which is true, because only one can be true. But know this: either choice is ultimately a decision of faith. And, since it’s Easter, let’s just say: I know which basket I’m putting all my eggs in. How about you?

Don’t Rush to Easter

For many people, March is a really important month. For teachers and students, it’s the promise of Spring Break — and the opportunity to take a breather before the final push to finish the school year. For sports fans, it’s the “on-the-edge-of-your=seat” frenzy of March Madness. And every four years March is full of presidential politics. (Lucky us; this year is the year!)
And once every 3 or 4 years, Easter comes in the middle of the Madness that March can be. Maybe that’s fitting, for Easter is God’s response to the madness — the madness of humanity trying to find meaning in vacations, sports, politics, or wherever else we try to find joy. And in the midst of our lives, Easter is the story of One Life that changes ALL of life — and all lives.
It begins on Palm Sunday, when Jesus enters Jerusalem to cries of acclamation. It reaches its lowest point just five days later when Jesus heads to the cross to cries of “Crucify him!” There is simply no doubt that this is the most pivotal week in all of history. Even skeptical historians acknowledge that Jesus died this week — and go on to recognize that something happened at the tomb to change the hearts and actions of Jesus’ uncertain followers.
But before we get to the victory of Easter Sunday, we should take a few moments and reflect on the pain and the suffering and the harsh reality of Easter week, leading up to Easter. For it is during this week that the wheels of politics and religion and sin combine in an unholy trinity that will take Jesus to the cross. And before we get to the victory of Easter, we come to the harsh, cold, deathly reality of the cross.
Like the next person, I love Easter Sunday. I absolutely revel in its victory. But before we get to Resurrection Day, we should walk — slowly, thoughtfully, deliberately — each step of the way to Sunday. It takes us through the graveyard. It takes us through the harsh reality of death. And it forces us to face the raw nakedness of our sin.
It’s difficult, but don’t let it pass you by. Don’t rush to Easter. Dwell in the reality of this most painful week. For only when we truly understand the week leading up to Easter, can we truly understand — and live — the victory of Easter Sunday.

Your Labor Is Not in Vain

Sunday, I was able to share the reminder that Paul gives us in 1 Corinthians 15: because of the hope of the resurrection, our labor is not in vain. And with that, I shared a number of stories of families in our church who took up the challenge to bless someone during the Easter season. But I forgot one that I really wanted to share….

I remembered to share the one of the girl from our church who knew that another girl on her school bus was in a foster family, and so she reached out to her. And it was a great fit; for the girl from our church had also been in a foster family.

And I told about the college student in our church who is student-teaching at a local elementary school. She has two refugee families in her class – and one of them is in a family of nine kids. So she and her family blessed those families.

And one of the stories is ongoing. A nine-year-old took the $40 I gave him, and took seriously the challenge to bless someone else with it. He promptly added $10 of his own money to it, and then challenged his family to each give $5. With that, he quickly tripled the $40. He is making plans to ask Walmart and Target for a discount on school supplies, so he can take them back to his school for kids who can’t afford them.

So, that was Sunday, and some of the stories I shared. But I was going through my email on Monday, and I noticed I had forgot to share one of the stories. It needs to be shared, and even though I forgot on Sunday, I have a blog. So here it is:

wikmans

The Wikman family heard the challenge to bless someone, and decided to buy toys for St. Joseph Children’s Home. To maximize their efforts, they invited some friends from church to join them. Then another friend pitched in. And then three other families from their life group. The end result was that a number of families got to join together and bought all kinds of stuff for kids at St. Joseph’s: bubbles, sidewalk chalk, frisbees, kites, gloves, scooters, all kinds of balls, and a rocket!

wikmans 2

And it all started with a simple challenge, and a reminder: that our labor is not in vain. Everything done in the name of Jesus, and because of his love, matters. It counts. And is a part of what it means to be people who don’t simply believe in Easter, but LIVE Easter.

The Curious Verse We Didn’t Talk About

The last few weeks, I have been preaching through 1 Corinthians 15. But there’s a section I skipped — because I simply don’t know how to preach it. In fact, it’s not really a whole section, it’s one verse: 1 Cor. 15.29. And, specifically, one phrase in that verse: baptism for the dead.

What in the world? How does someone preach that? For that matter, how does one even make sense of that? What the heck is baptism for the dead? And why in the world is the Corinthian church doing it?

No shortage of ink has been spilled on this one phrase. By one count, there are over 40 different explanations regarding what was happening in Corinth. By my limited reading, two of the explanations seem to rise to the surface:

  1. The first interpretation is the easiest to swallow. Perhaps, it is suggested, Paul is referring to a practice where folks chose baptism so they could be reunited with those they loved who had already died. This wouldn’t be so unique; it still happens today. I had a guy tell me recently, while standing at the graveside of his loved one: “I want to be baptized so I can see him again.”
  2. The second theory is that believers are being baptized on behalf of those who died before they were baptized. If so, this might be one of the strangest practices of the early Church. But, hey, when we read 1 Corinthians, we shouldn’t be surprised at the odd things that happened there. This was the church, after all, that was okay with a guy sleeping with his step-mom. This was a church that was almost certainly less than 200 in size, and yet this small congregation couldn’t resolve their disputes — and fellow members of Corinthian Christian Church went to court against each other. This was the only church mentioned in the New Testament that had to have instructions regarding speaking in tongues during worship. And this was the church that prompted Paul to give an extended explanation on behalf of resurrection — because there were some who were saying that resurrection doesn’t happen.

And that’s the point. The heart of the message of 1 Corinthians 15 is: Jesus has been raised, and so will we. And ever after you sift through all the theories regarding “baptism for the dead” — the truth is, we simply don’t know what it means. But the bigger point — Paul’s bigger point — is that it makes no sense if there is no resurrection. Even if the Corinthians were having a mass “baptism for the dead” service, where members lined up to be baptized on behalf of deceased Uncle Charlie and my sweet Grandma who is no longer with us — even if they were doing this, and it was not something that Paul taught them to do or advocated himself — he was focused on his larger point. And so he asked: Why the heck would you go through the practice of going under the waters of baptism for the dead, if the dead are simply six feet under?

So, it’s safe to say that this Sunday — Easter Sunday — I won’t be preaching on the baptism of the dead. Or practicing it. But we will be focusing on Paul’s main point in 1 Corinthians 15 — that Resurrection is Real, and that it changes how we live, everyday. Because, the point of 1 Corinthians 15 — the point of the Bible; the point of life — is that if Easter is real; if Jesus is alive; then everything changes. Everything.

So, when you worship this weekend, make sure it is a celebration of the truth, and the power, and the game-changer that is: the Resurrection of Jesus. Because this really does change everything.