Easter: Hope For Everyday Life

cross-at-sunset-1441544-sAlthough just a few days ago I was celebrating Easter, somehow it already feels like years ago.  On one level, I guess that’s to be expected… after we leave church, family dinners and get togethers, life returns to normal.

But on another level, the fact that Easter seems so distant – so removed from everyday life – has been quietly gnawing at me all week.  We say things like ‘He is Risen’, ‘Happy Easter’ and mention that Easter is the ‘high point’ of the church year, but I’m not sure how much the truths those statements point to affected me all that much.  On Easter, let alone the days before or after.

I was at a bible study on one of our campuses this week when the Resurrection – what Easter is all about – came up.  More specifically, we were wrestling with what difference it should make in our lives.  The answers were slow in coming, partly, I think, because we haven’t really thought it through at street level to any real depth.

Even though I’m a pastor and ‘should know’ these things, it certainly got me thinking.

After reflecting for some time, I shared that one of the practical implications for us is that the Easter and the Resurrection should make us people who are filled with hope.  Not the kind of hope that it won’t rain tomorrow or that the next exam will go well or that we’ll get married, but biblical hope.

What is biblical hope?  I like John Piper’s definition:

A confident expectation and desire for something good in the future.

He gets this, among other places, from Romans 4:18: ‘In hope [Abraham] believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” ‘

It’s beyond the scope of this post to unpack this passage fully, but by ‘against hope’ Paul means that, from a normal human viewpoint, it was crazy for Abraham to think that he (at 100 years old) could, through his wife Sarah (at 90), become a father, let alone one to ‘many nations’.  But because God has promised it, Abraham ‘in hope’ believe that it would happen.  He had what Piper calls ‘a confident expectation and desire for something good in the future’.

So, if that is what biblical hope really is, what does that have to do with Easter? Why should Easter make us like this?

After Jesus’s Resurrection, he had literally returned from death to life.  And not just to any life, but one that is indestructible.  He will never die again (Romans 6:9). That cannot be said of anyone else.  Ever.

Not yet, anyway.

Romans 6:5 says that, ‘if we have been united with [Jesus] in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his’.  Jesus’s resurrection means that everyone who trusts in him will also, one day, be resurrected too.  The Resurrection is a sneak preview – a trailer – of the perfect world that is coming. A world without crime.  Without loved ones who die.  Without poverty.  Without loneliness.  Without divorce.  Without stress.

This, the bible says, is absolutely certain, not just wishful thinking.  That, in part, is what the Resurrection proves and is all about.

The problem, of course, is that we can say we believe this and live our lives like it’s irrelevant.  It’s not wrong to be honest or sad about things that are broken or out of place, of course.  We can’t relate to people like that because they’re denying the reality of the fallen world we find ourselves in.

But it’s equally wrong to act like there’s no hope for whatever situation we find ourselves in.  If Jesus has overcome death itself and promised that we will overcome it, too, then there’s hope – biblical hope – for anything I will face today. Easter is not meant to be an irrelevant cliche, but a living reality that shapes every moment of my life.

I wish I could tell you that I walked out of church on Easter and have been different ever since, but I haven’t.  I’ve acted like my kids will never change, that I’ll never have enough time to do everything I’m supposed to do, and… you get the idea. The Resurrection is real, but I’ve often forgotten it.

I’m encouraged, though, at my discouragement.  The very fact that this bothers me is a sign that God is work.  My doubts and momentary failures can’t negate God’s promises to work in my life and ultimately resurrect me!

Let’s make this more personal as we close.  If you’re a Christian, you undoubtedly believe that God brought Jesus back from death and will do the same for you.  But, where has discouragement gotten a foothold in your life?  Let me encourage you to take a moment, get honest about that with God, and ask him to make the hope of Easter an increasingly real part of your life.



Out Of The Rut: How Hope Can Help You Recapture Your Calling

photo by Gareth Weeks (garethweeks.com).

Ever find yourself in a rut?  You know, the kind of season where you’re in maintenance mode, just trying to get through the day.  No big plans, no real dreams, other than “just getting through.”  While it’s rarely black-and-white, I have to admit that it’s easy for me to see this tendency in my life.

Have you ever, though, asked yourself why that happens?

Our natural tendency is to blame our circumstances: “if life were not so hectic… if my professors were not so demanding… if my kids weren’t so consuming… if my job weren’t so expansive… if my rotation weren’t so demanding… if my patients weren’t so needy… if my [whatever]… I’d have more time and energy for dreaming, planning and moving forward.” We tend to think the problem lies outside of us.

Difficult circumstances definitely make it harder to summon up the energy and creativity to not just survive, but move forward with new plans, dreams and ideas.  But is that all there is to it?

Recently I listened to a phenomenal sermon by John Piper that’s really got me thinking, so I wanted to share an insight he offered with you about the connection between hope and our ability to dream and plan for God.

Here it is: when we believe that we serve a big God who’s at work in our lives, that inspires us to dream big, to make plans, to come up with strategies, for impacting our world.

The sermon is on Ruth chapter 3.  In chapter 1, Naomi had been deeply discouraged because of the death of her husband and two sons, as well as a famine, that had made life incredibly difficult for her.  But in chapter 2, hope had reappeared as Ruth (Naomi’s daughter-in-law) meets Boaz, who gives her kindness and food.  For the first time in a long time, Naomi has hope, as she speaks of “the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” (verse 20) Then, immediately afterwards in chapter 3, Naomi takes up the task of finding a husband for Ruth, no small task given the circumstances.  Her new-found hope leads her to dramatic action.

What about your life?  If you’re in healthcare, chances are you got into it because you were following God’s call to reach a hurting world.  The day-to-day grind of preparing for that calling, though, can really take its toll, leaving you with little or no hope on a real life level.

If you’re living in Ruth chapter 1, so to speak, how do you get to chapter 3 where you’re ready to move outward for God and others again?

There aren’t easy answers, but one clue can be found in chapter 2.  In a nutshell, Naomi starts looking around her and notices God’s “kindness”.  Although her husband and two children have died, leaving her with nothing, God has reconnected her with Boaz, a long-lost relative, when Ruth ‘coincidentally’ runs into him as she works.  God is not absent after all.

When you look around you, however challenging it may be, what are the signs that God is at work?  As you start to notice God’s kindness, hope is reborn and you’re on your way to recovering your calling and energy to ‘dream big’ again.

@MedTweet: A Simple, Powerful Question

From John Piper, a simple question that changes everything. “In whatever I’m doing, how can I do it in a way that shows Jesus is great?”

CMDA Northeast Winter Conference!

Can you remember the last time you unplugged and got away?  Really slowed down and reconnected with God and other Christians?  Come join others in healthcare from around the Mid-Atlantic region for a weekend of fellowship, good teaching and relaxation at our CMDA Northeast Winter Conference (January 13-15, 2012).

This year’s speakers are Drs. Paul (plastic surgery) & Susan Lim (pediatrics).  While helping CURE International begin a new mission hospital specializing in pediatric disabilities in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Paul and Susan had to return unexpectedly to the United States.  They are currently living in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, where they attend Bethlehem Baptist Church, pastored by Dr. John Piper.

Located at Sandy Cove Conference Center just an hour away from Philadelphia, this retreat is for students, residents, fellows and graduates in every field of healthcare.  Hope to see you there!