Okay, today officially ties for first place as the most memorable Easter of my life.
The other most memorable and what is so far the most powerful Easter for me was in 2009.
I spoke at an outdoor Easter Sunrise Service in Iraq and two things happened to make it so memorable and powerful.
- First it was so memorable, because I was so miserable.
I was felt as empty emotionally as I ever have
- Second, it was the most powerful, also because I was so miserable.
It wasn’t my misery that made it powerful…it was my misery that made me aware of my powerlessness.
And it was that awareness of my powerlessness, that made it so powerful…when I saw God move in ways I had never seen before.
Today, I’m not miserable, or emotionally empty…but this is super weird…there are like 8 people in the building…the rest of you are out there.
Many of you are likely miserable or that may be too strong a word for some…but for all of us…this will be a very memorable Easter.
But I am expectant that it might just be a powerful Easter as well.
Because we are collectively, and individually…in so many ways…realizing our powerlessness.
Sure, we will eventually find medicines and other work arounds for our physical frailty in the face of this biological foe…but in the end…we cannot conquer death or our own sin…through our own efforts.
On Easter Sunday, 2009, I could only feel my own sense of despair…I had no feelings of hope that day.
In fact, I prayed in the dark before the dawn that Sunday morning…by myself, underneath the concrete bleachers of a soccer field…a prayer that went something like this…
“God what have you done to me? I am supposed to speak to people in just a few minutes…who are looking for hope…and I am empty.”
It was probably the most honest and important prayer of my life so far.
What happened next?
-I spoke to a group of military members, far from home…of the gospel hope.
I spoke of what I knew to be true…I wasn’t making anything up…I didn’t pretend to feel hopeful…
But I fully believed what I was saying…there was no dishonesty in any of it.
True words of hope…coming from a heart that felt emotionally empty.
I spoke of Resurrection reality…to people looking for truth to hold on to…
And I was one of them myself…I was desperate preacher and desperate hearer…at the same time.
What happened then?
God moved among us…I sensed it that day, saw evidence in the days to come…I could tell unusual things were happening.
But to be honest, I didn’t much care at the time…I was too miserable to even by happy by a movement of God…perhaps you have been there, perhaps you are there.
So, for me…hope as a feeling didn’t come that day…or the next, or the next.
But Hope as a fact…sustained me then…and that is what I remember now about that day.
Now, 11 years later…that miserable memorable day continues to shape me.
How many single days can we say…continue to shape us a decade later? Not many for me.
You don’t have to feel hopeful today…to be hopeful.
And in fact, you can feel hope…and be misguided in that feeling…your situation could in fact be hopeless.
There are people who feel hopeful…but are not going to survive their situation…hope as a feeling is not always accurate in its assessment.
Then you can feel hopeless…and your situation be actually full of hope.
There are people…who have lost all hope…but have not perished.
Hopelessness as a feeling is also not always accurate in its assessment.
But hope is foundational for every life.
And for some, that foundation is feeling, for others it is fact.
I propose that hope as merely a feeling is ultimately a foundation of sand.
Hope as fact is a foundation of stone.
It is not wise to build your life on sand.
Now I prefer to “feel” hopeful versus feeling “hopeless”…feeling hopeless is terrible.
But I need to base my life on hope as fact, not hope as feeling.
Bouncy not Breaky…is a way of communicating a resilient lifestyle to children.
The four pillars of human resiliency are: physical, mental, relational, and spiritual.
Like all simple models…it’s strength is in its simplicity.
-It is accurate: it both good theology and good science.
-It is simple: ball versus egg…bouncy versus breaky…four words to focus on.
But like all simple models…its weakness is the same as its strength…it is simple…so it isn’t the “whole story”
We are “bouncy”…this is true…and we can grow in resiliency, also true.
But in another way, as I told the children…we are not merely potentially “breaky”…we are actually broken.
We ARE sinful and therefore we sin.
Balls do what balls do…they bounce.
And broken people do what broken people do…they sin.
This year we are in Proverbs…and last week we looked at how the Bible very clearly presents Jesus as the wisdom of God.
Today, in the middle of a historic season of bad news…we celebrate the best of all news.
The gospel…the good news of Jesus.
He was broken for us…he rose from the dead, conquering death itself.
He bore our brokenness so that we could live resurrection lives…so that we can bounce.
Not merely in becoming more resilient people in time and space.
But resurrection people through life and death.
*Is that a lot of theological mumbo jumbo…or does it describe a real possibility for a different kind of life for humans to live?
We can be, through Christ…people who are alive in a whole new way right now…though we were once dead in our sins…we are alive now.
Eternal life is a different quality of life…that begins at salvation and doesn’t end with death.
Resurrection life, eternal life…is not all future tense.
We are experiencing this new life now, in part…and in fulness in the future
Christy and I watched a film about Jesus and Mary Magdellen…
In the film…after she had been transformed by Jesus…she was being questioned by a religious leader as to how she had changed so much.
She said “I know who I was before and I know who I am now and in between was him.”
Last week I spoke with a few different people who are working on our states response to the Virus and they were concerned about the potential for PTSD among soldiers and airmen.
I spoke with them about the fact that there is a much higher statistical probability of PTSG than PTSD.
Emily Smith, has wide expertise in this topic and has researched human response to trauma for a long time…in a recent New York Times article she described how people who experience PTG…
…don’t focus on pursuing happiness to feel better…but cultivate what Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl called “tragic optimism”
These PTSG people have the same levels of sadness and stress as less resilient people…they have intensely negative reactions to trauma (like everyone else),
…they experience despair and acknowledge the horror of what is happening…but they see glimmers of light in the darkest places….this allows them to grow.
She writes “For a long time, many psychologists have embraced a victim narrative about trauma…yet we now know that only a small percentage of people develop the full-blown disorder while others…experience newfound sense of purpose, deeper relationships and greater appreciation of life.”
The trauma didn’t cause the growth…the response to it did.
It is not the search for happiness that brings growth in difficulty…but the search for meaning that does.
Humans live on meaning…as much as air, water and food.
We search for it…thrive in it…fail to thrive without it.
On the whole…even though many are now suffering because of the virus and the events surrounding it…most people will grow from it.
You and your children…have real opportunity to grow.
This time will be over and in the history books…what growth will you take from this time?
The science behind PTSG is sound.
The theology is sound as well…listen to what James wrote…
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers(sisters), whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt…” James 1:2-6
Testing…difficult times…develops endurance (perseverance)…the ability to keep going.
This endurance is required in order to become mature and complete…to grow.
Now, James says, if you lack wisdom… ask God for it and he will give it.
This year we are asking God to give us wisdom…to make us wise as we work through Proverbs..
…here is a part of that wisdom…though not a part we are particularly happy about.
Part of what God tells us in his word…is that growth in wisdom/faith requires growth in endurance.
And that growth in endurance requires difficulty.
So, it is important to understand that in order to grow in faith/wisdom…we must respond to testing with faith and wisdom…seeing that God is doing things in this.
Miserable can often become memorable and powerful…and then transformational.
Faith grows like a muscle…add strain (extra weight)…and the muscle responds with increased strength.
Failure to push the muscle with extra testing…means the muscle cannot grow.
Part of what James is saying here is this:
If you want to grow then You need endurance.
If you want endurance then you need testing?
If you want wisdom regarding times of testing…then you need ask for it.
BUT…when you ask…don’t doubt the wisdom you get when don’t like the answer.
US: “Oh God, grow my faith”
God: “Ok, here you go…here’s some testing to help you grow.”
US: “God, help my understand why I’m going through this testing…give me wisdom”
God: “Ok, here it is…I’m using this difficulty to make you mature and complete.”
God uses difficulty to bring endurance to make us mature.
Suffering is more complex than this one aspect of it…and there are at least 7 biblical motifs for why suffering happens to us…but this is one them…growth.
Because there is no other way.
Vacations are great for recovery and recreation…but I’ve never read a biography where a great person’s life was changed in powerful ways while they were on vacation.
Try to remember Easter 3 years ago…what exactly was it like? Or last year for that matter.
*NOW…try to ever forget this Easter.
People don’t generally grow to new levels apart from challenge.
That means that this is a time of great opportunity for your faith…not just a time of threat to it.
So, let’s circle back around to “hope as fact” not “hope as feeling”
Again…I am deeply sorry for anyone who is experiencing feelings of hopelessness right now…I know how terrible this can be…it is awful.
And there are things that we can do to maximize our resiliency…our ability to bounce…I’ve mentioned them repeatedly.
But as a follower of Christ…I am convinced that what matters most is not how hopeful we feel or even how resilient we are…but whether or not we have trusted Christ alone for our ultimate hope.
Jesus said “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” Matt. 16:26
I could paraphrase like this… “What good will it be for a man or a woman to be super bouncy…very resilient and feel hopeful…if in the end, they lose their own soul?”
Do what you can do to maximize your bounce right now…there are things you can do and we should all be encouraging one another to do them…this is wisdom.
But what is of ultimate importance and wisdom now and always is the gospel…
The good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection as the actual, factual foundation for our hope in this life and beyond.
The first followers of Jesus were raised on hope but not hope as a feeling…but hope as a “practice”
Hope in our time is more like “optimism”…looking externally at stock markets and governments, a virus curve “flattening” in order to help us feel “hopeful” about the future.
For the Jews of Jesus’ time, including the followers of Jesus…hope was centered in God and his faithfulness to his promises.
So, they practiced hope by reading and believing his word…in spite of sometimes terrible external circumstances (like exile)
They practiced hope by worship in community…in spite of internal feelings.
For examples of this…read the Psalms and see how their practice of worship was often at odds with how they were “feeling” at the time on the inside…and at odds with their external circumstances…they were in very difficult times.
It is not faking to confess hope and practice hope through worship…when your situation internally and externally…feels hopeless.
Hope was practiced in spite of external and internal circumstances…because it was based on the unchanging nature and promises of God.
The problem turned out to be that they misunderstood the full nature of the Kingdom of God and the strategy of the Messiah, Jesus, to inaugurate it
Their hope was for a restored nation…to be rid of the despised Romans and their multi-century rule over them.
Jesus’, strategy for bringing about the Kingdom of God was confusing…to say the least.
He died on a cross…clearly a strange way to conquer your enemies…and to become a king.
Even after the resurrection they remained confused as to the Lord’s purposes.
“Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Acts 1:6
What they needed the most was not freedom from the Romans and other such tyrannies but freedom from the tyranny of sin and death…because sin kept them from God.
That old sin-wall I spoke to the children about.
Relationship with God is our greatest need…our sin, therefore is our greatest threat…not human tyrannies, not a virus.
The Kingdom was not going to be a restored Temple in Jerusalem…but rather the Spirit of God living in the hearts of people…Jew and Non-Jew alike…this was to be the Kingdom Come
Humans…becoming Temples of the Living God…personal, portable representations of God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
They eventually “got it”…and became people who changed the world…because they were changed.
But that first Easter weekend was for the first followers of Christ…as they watched Jesus die…and then saw him raised from the dead…
Both memorable and powerful…because they were so very miserable and so very powerless.
If you feel like insecure, like the world is shaky…out of your control…you are in fact seeing things much closer to the way they actually are than those who feel confident and in control of things.
So, let’s conclude with…
Three Important Hopes…but only one of them is a necessary hope.
- Hope as a feeling in our minds/bodies
As I said…this is very important to have.
And it is very distressing when it is absent…depression, anxiety, a loss of a sense of well-being, feelings of hopelessness…these are terrible things to suffer with
But there is no promise that we will have hope as a feeling.
If it is absent…your sense of powerlessness can open opportunity to experience God in ways that those who only “feel” hopeful never will.
Your feelings of need, desperation…can drive you to Christ in transformational ways.
If you feel hopeful…either because of some good choices or good genes or good digestion, whatever…be grateful…but don’t mistake those feelings of hope for “biblical hope”
They may or may not be tied together.
- Hope in God’s temporary blessings
God extends pleasures, blessings of all kinds to all people…the rain falls on the just and the unjust.
We hope for rest, for food, for a job, a relationship, a child, for a virus to be defeated, for the economy…many things we hope for…and this is good and normal.
When these hopes are realized…we are to be grateful…but we must understand that they are all temporary gifts from God.
They are good, important blessings…but they are unable to sustain us as the foundational hope for our lives.
Which brings us to the one necessary hope:
- Hope as the foundational fact for our lives
Hebrew 6:19 “We have this hope as an anchor for our souls, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain.”
An anchor holds the ship fast to the seabed so that it is not moved and tossed about by the shifting currents and waves…do you sense shifting currents and waves?
Jesus is this anchor for our souls…and how is this so?
When Jesus died…the curtain that separated the inner holy place where God’s presence dwelt in the Temple was torn top to bottom.
This curtain…was a real thing…that represented that old sin-wall.
The way was opened by Jesus death…for us to go directly to God.
The sin wall of separation was torn down…this is the foundation for our hopes.
Christ death on the cross and resurrection from the grave…is the anchor hope for our lives.
Pray for hope as a feeling…if you are anxious, hopeless.
Pray for and work for the things you hope for…your life, family, our community, nation and world…to have hopes for temporary good…is good.
But Paul said, rightly so… “If we have hope only for this life, we are to be pitied above all others.”
But this foundational hope, of the gospel…is for this life and beyond.
Build your life on the hope of the gospel…it is the one necessary and foundational hope…the hope that undergird all lesser hopes.
The hope that allows us to remain faithful when lesser hopes are fading, or gone.
This hope…Jesus death and life for us…is the anchor hope for our souls.
If you want more information about the Gospel hope…talk to a friend who is a Christ follower…or email us here at the church and we can get you more information.