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:


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.

Life’s Many Goodbyes

Recently, our family has to had to learn how to say “goodbye” to some people in our lives. My wife’s uncle died this month, at the way-too-young age of 66. And this week, we said goodbye to a nephew who had been living with us for the past six months.

Isn’t it interesting that we even use the word “goodbye” when someone leaves? What’s good about goodbye?

The answer, it seems, is in history, and the history of language. The use of the word “goodbye” goes back to the 16th century — and began as the phrase “God be with ye.” As the phrase was used, it got shortened, and over time “God be with ye” became “Goodbye.”

Which means: what is good about goodbye is not that we let someone go, but that we let them go with God. Goodbye is good in the sense that God is still God, and He is still with the person we love — even when we cannot be. So, when we say goodbye to someone until we see them next week or next year — we do so entrusting them to God’s care. And when we say a bigger goodbye — the biggest goodbye — that comes when death separates us from someone we love, we do so entrusting them to God’s eternal care.

This doesn’t mean we ever get good at saying goodbye. On an episode of the show “CSI: New York,” one of the cops befriends Ruben, a ten-year-old kid from his apartment building. They go do an activity together, and on the way home, the cop notices a thief escaping the scene of the crime. He tells Ruben to go straight home, and then he begins to chase the criminal. Tragically, Ruben gets caught up in the chaos, and is killed.

Two detectives who work with the cop wrestle with how to comfort their friend: “What do I say?” one of them asks. “I’m not good at this kind of thing.”

“Just tell him you’re not good at this kind of thing,” her friend tells her.

I don’t think we ever get good at saying goodbye. And the bigger the goodbye, the harder it is. But because of Jesus — because of Easter — because we have hope, goodbye is not the same as The End. For even in our goodbyes, even in our biggest goodbye, we have a promise — that God really is with us through all our goodbyes.

You see, because of Easter, we can say goodbye. We can say, “God be with ye,” because through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we come to experience God’s presence — the kind that no separation can end. Not even the separation of death.