Looking for Hope on Google

Today, I was searching on Google News for hope. That sounds pretty desperate, doesn’t it?

Well, I wasn’t searching for hope on Google; I was searching for the way hope appears in the news. And I found these headlines:

What do all of these 3 uses of ‘hope’ have in common? They all express a desire, a wish, a heartfelt longing for something to happen. A war to end. A casino to fix what ails an economically-deprived community. A deep yearning that underneath the crush of snow, there’s still the possibility of life. All 3 point to a desire that, frankly and even tragically, may not be fulfilled.

So often, the hope we express is rooted in nothing more than our deepest desires. And reality, and tragedy, often keep hope from turning into something more.

In the midst of such desires for hope, we read in 1 Peter 1.3-5:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (RSV).

Through Jesus, we have a hope. Not simply a wish, or a desire. Not a dream, or an unfulfilled longing. Through the resurrection of Jesus, our hope is alive. It’s a living, breathing, count-on-it kind of hope. And if it’s living, then it not only lives IN us, it also lives THROUGH us.

This is not to say that life is easy. Hope isn’t some childish fantasy that pretends as if the world isn’t a difficult place. It is. But a living hope is alive not in spite of the brokenness, but in the middle of it.

I love how Craig Barnes describes this hope we have:

Hope arises out of the hard truth of how things are. Christians will always live carrying in one hand the promises of how it will be and in the other the hard reality of how it is. To deny either is to hold only half the truth of the gospel.

We who follow Jesus are hopeful people. No matter which way the winds of culture, or politics, or even religion may blow, the hope of Jesus is unchanging. No matter how difficult life gets, or how challenging it is to live for Jesus, the hope he gives is unchanging. And with this as our foundation, we don’t have to sit in our church buildings waiting for that hope to be revealed – we get to go live it, and give it. For if hope is alive, then shouldn’t WE be alive? Shouldn’t it overflow from our lives, to those who are hoping there’s more to life than the daily grind, or the grinding discouragement that fills the days and lives of so many people?

For we have a living hope. Is it living in 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.

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.