In a beat-’em-up world, we are called to be ambassadors of the best news the world is ever going to hear! I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the preaching life of Jesus, and I have been convicted by the realization that the only people the Lord ever publicly condemned were those who beat up on the people—namely the Scribes and Pharisees.

In the second worst economic time in the history of our country, five days a week—sometimes six or seven—many of our people are being beaten not just by terrible business economies, but also by the ripple effect of salary cuts, layoffs, downsizing, increased tensions, including marital tensions that often accompany the lack of money and explaining to children why promised trips and gifts will not be provided.

It’s a tough time to be a part of an American family! So why do so many of us join the rabble of the rest of the week and beat up again on those who come to worship on Sunday? It seems to me that as we follow the preaching model of Jesus, we are called to provide an oasis in this desert of hopelessness.

I suspect most of us reading this column already know how tough things are. Some of us have had to deal with downsizing staffs and ministry plans in 2010. In a very unscientific survey of some of my pastor friends, seven out of seven bemoaned the effect of the tough economic climate on their 2010 budgets and programs. If your church financial picture was good and easily achieved in 2010, maybe you didn’t dream big enough when you did your mission budgeting. If you ended up the year with a surplus, send it my way!

This is a time when it is more vital than ever that we remember the Greek term for gospel literally translates to “good news!” In a world where the nightly news seems bereft of hope on many fronts, we have the best message of hope anyone can hear. Let’s use it to bring encouragement and comfort. I am starting out this New Year with a three-month sermon series I have called “Embracing His Hope!” My first 2011 sermon jump-off text is Jeremiah 29:11: “‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.'”

I confess that as part of this series I am breaking a cardinal rule of mine by preaching some messages I have preached before. I usually do not do that, but those messages are more needed now than when I first preached them. In my preparation work, here is what I have learned: Jeremiah’s hope for Israel was more than a Pollyanna, pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die-by-and-by. It is a Person, Israel’s Messiah, Jesus! Now, that will preach and preach and preach!

Our people need to hear again that God’s gracious providence extends even to the smallest things—to a sparrow and the hairs on your head. When we lack a few outward things, it is not because He has stopped caring. It is to teach us that He knows what is for our ultimate good. In His providence, He often allows His children to come to desperate straits, yet even in death’s jaws, He is there. Hezekiah, Jonah, Job, David, Daniel and his friends with him in the lions’ den learned this from personal experience.

What might be the message He would teach us and our people in these tough economic times? In many instances it will be individualized; but when all is over, it will be this for sure: “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). Yes, He knows, He cares, and He is our hope who went to the Calvary cross in our place.

So preach hope, my friends. In these tough economic times, give hope to those who hear you. When we give them hope, we have to give them “Christ Jesus who is our hope” (2 Thessalonians 1:1).

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