Category Archives: Easter

Seven Stanzas at Easter (J. Updike)

“Make no mistake: if He rose at all

it was as His body;

if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules reknit,

the amino acids rekindle,

the church will fall….

Let us not mock God with metaphor, 

Analogy, sidestepping transcendence;

Making of the even a parable, a sign

painted in the faded credulity of earlier ages: 

Let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not paper-mache,

Not a stone in a story,

But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow

grinding of time will eclipse for each of us

The wide light of day….”

The Palms of His Hands

I tend to be a bit forgetful at times. I’ll walk upstairs to get something but forget what it was when I arrive. I’m only 37 but I swear my short-term memory is fading!  The obvious solution for this affliction is to write things down, make lists, or plug it into my iPhone calendar.

Before iCalendars, I went through the post-it note phase. A sea of yellow notes covered my work desk, laptop cover, car dash, kitchen counter and refrigerator. I even flirted briefly with the idea of using different colored notes to organize my life.

Yet, far pre-dating post-it notes is the equally “handy” method: jotting reminders on the inside of the palm of your hand! Ever done this? I know you have.

Don’t be embarrassed. Even God Himself isn’t above this timeless tactic. But what do you think could possibly be so important that even the Creator himself writes it on his hand as a constant reminder? Continue reading The Palms of His Hands

28-Day Spiritual Fitness Challenge

screen-shot-2017-03-01-at-9-14-20-pmInstead of giving up something for Lent this year, how about taking up a 28-Day Spiritual fitness challenge?

Two amazing MainStreet friends — Jaimie Hanly and Melissa Noreen — created a wonderful tool for growing in one’s prayer life and relationship with God. It’s a great idea for this Lenten season.

In invite you to check this out, and join the challenge!

Check it out HERE.

Thanks again Jaimie and Melissa for your labor of love!  May it bear fruit in many lives!

Why the A.D. Series is ‘Must See TV’

ad-bible-continuesAs a Bible geek, I’m also a Bible movie geek. Movies have the power to bring written story to life in living color. In a visual culture this is an especially important medium for introducing people to the story and claims of the Bible.

So, I’m definitely hoping Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s latest work A.D. The Bible Continues — the sequel to their 2013 success The Bible — will be widely viewed and well received by the masses if not the critics. Now, after two episodes I’ve already read some typical Hollywood pop-culture entertainment reviews. They are focused on the casting, acting, screenwriting, storytelling, and other typical measures of good art.

As one random example, take an Entertainment Weekly review by Jeff Jensen:

Interesting in theory. But A.D. is one more piece of Christian pop that’s poor in creative spirit and poorly served by true-believer passion. The production is chintzy, the acting is too broad or too earnest. The writing dotes on emotions and lacks sophistication. Superficial characterizations abound. The risen Jesus (Juan Pablo Di Pace) is so soft, so beatifically delicate, he might blow apart with a sneeze. “It’s time we shut this story down!” thunders Pilate at one point. A.D. is more proof that it’s time for Christians to tell their stories with more artistry.

Regardless of one’s evaluation of “creative spirit” and production value, I hope viewers and reviewers will also enjoy pondering the historical events and claims that stand behind it. Here’s some reasons I think this series is unique and important to take seriously — for believing Christians and your average unbelieving or skeptical TV viewer. Continue reading Why the A.D. Series is ‘Must See TV’

Lazarus: Move the Stone, Come Out & Be Unwrapped

lazarus-come-forth-aloneThis Easter I’ve been studying and preached my Easter message on the raising of Lazarus. Here are a few little insights I’ve gleaned. I love how a closer examination of a very familiar passage can reveal new spiritual truths.

First, this story is full of deep emotions and coated with tears, grief, loss and longing. Just think of the last funeral visitation you attended, the lump in your throat, the uncomfortable silence, the tears and not-knowing-what-to-say feeling as you walk around the funeral home looking at photos of the deceased and greeting the family. Let the raw, real emotions of this story in. As you read this paragraph, also notice how many times John mentions Jesus’ own emotions.

32 Now when Mary came to the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother [Lazarus] would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the people who had come with her weeping, he was intensely moved in spirit and greatly distressed. 34 He asked, “Where have you laid him?” They replied, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 Thus the people who had come to mourn said, “Look how much he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “This is the man who caused the blind man to see! Couldn’t he have done something to keep Lazarus from dying?” 38 Jesus, intensely moved again, came to the tomb. (Now it was a cave, and a stone was placed across it.) 

You begin to wonder if John is familiar with all the millions of souls down through history who would entertain the lie that God is far away in our suffering, that he doesn’t really care, that he’s a stoic deity unmoved by human emotions. Let’s remember that John’s gospel emphasizes Jesus’ divinity more than the others, and yet here we see that God-in-Jesus is weeping at the death of his friend (v. 35). The people looking on also whisper to one another, “Look how much he loved him” (v. 36). Next time we are crying out to God at the foot of a casket and wanting to shake our fist in in the air, let’s remember we are addressing the God who “was intensely moved in spirit and greatly distressed” (v. 33).

But soon the tragedy turns into a triumph, and new life comes out of this death. But it’s interesting to note just how this all plays out. I noticed today for the first time how Jesus involves others in this miracle. He requires others to be active participants in this new life moment. Might this be significant in how God goes about intervening in our own lives and how he goes about bringing us out of our own spiritual tombs and into a new spiritual life? Check this out:

Continue reading Lazarus: Move the Stone, Come Out & Be Unwrapped

Which Jesus do you choose?

“Now it was the custom at the Festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.”Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, knowing it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead” (Mark 15:16-9).

Pilate offers Jesus to the crowd but they prefer Barabbas
Pilate offers Jesus to the crowd but they prefer Barabbas

Remember Barabbas?  The crowd cried for his release and sent Jesus to be crucified.  Did you know that some of the Greek manuscripts reveal his full name: Yeshua bar Abba which translates roughly to “Jesus son of the Father”?  That’s right.  If these manuscripts can be  trusted then the crowd was choosing between two different sentenced men named “Jesus.”

Many have speculated on the significance of this name.  Tony Campolo, in his short book Which Jesus? highlights the key differences between the two men and their missions.  Jesus Barabbas was notorious criminal, most likely a political revolutionary or Zealot  — “a terrorist” (CEV) — who was fighting on behalf of the Jews to violently overthrow Roman imperialism.  He was condemned to be crucified for his revolt against the state.  Campolo calls Jesus Barabbas’ way to freedom “the way of power.”

On the other hand we have Yeshua bar Joseph which translates to “Jesus son of Joseph.”  Jesus is also arrested under suspicion of being an enemy of the state — not a violent revolutionary but a messianic figure claiming to be the “King of the Jews.”  This 360px-giveusbarabbas1Jesus’s mission is also to bring freedom to the Jews.  Yet, the freedom he is bringing and the kingdom he is restoring to Israel does not come through violent, national militarism.  Campolo calls Jesus bar Joseph’s way to freedom “the way of love.”

Two very different Jesuses.  Two very different paths to freedom.  As we reflect upon the Cross this Good Friday, we do well to ask again the question: Which Jesus do we trust today?  Which path do we trust to move the Kingdom of God forward in the world today?  Do we believe God is accomplishing his purposes in the world by power and militarism — the way of Jesus Barabbas?  Or do we believe God is still accomplishing his greatest works through acts of sacrificial, cross-shaped love — the way of Jesus bar Joseph?

Which Jesus do you follow?  Which Jesus do you trust?

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the POWER of God… For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength”(1 Cor 1:18).

Judas in the Mirror (Matt 26:20-28)

When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. And while they were eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.” They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely not I, Lord?” Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” Jesus answered, “Yes, it is you.” While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of thecovenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matt 26:20-28)

Nobody names their son Judas anymore.  Judas has become synonymous with gross betrayal and wretched sin.  As we walk closer to the events of Good Friday, I was reading this passage above and thinking about the Judas factor again.

There are many questions that swirl around in my mind whenever I think of ole Judas.  Was his betrayal predestined?  If so, is he really to blame?  Should he instead be given some credit for “faithfully” performing his unfortunate role in the redemption story in helping Jesus accomplish what he came to earth to do?  Did he “betray” Jesus or merely “hand him over” to the authorities to help Jesus fulfill his destiny?  (The Greek word can mean either “betray” or “hand over.”)  Did Judas repent?  Will he be in Heaven?  Unfortunately, the Biblical narrative isn’t interested in addressing these questions.

Instead of answering these questions today, I’m offering a couple simple reflections I had as I read the familiar story again this week. Continue reading Judas in the Mirror (Matt 26:20-28)

Parable of the Talking Fig Tree

This is a story I wrote and dramatically read on Palm Sunday 2014. You can listen to the sermon here.

God placed us on earth on the third day of creation. We were planted on earth to give ourselves away for others.  We give oxygen for all living things.  We give shade in the summer heat. We provide a backrest for the weary traveler. We give fruit for other’s nourishment. And many of us will give our very lives to be cut down and used for all kinds of human purposes — some more noble than others.

Most of our kind live very quiet, simple lives. We might stand alone on a prairie for 200 years, just dancing in the wind while birds and critters play in our branches. Others might live out our days decorating a family’s courtyard and providing some shade.

For reasons I may never know, the Creator chose our family to play a special role in the divine-human drama. We are not typically given the spotlight. We prefer to stand off to the side as stage props for the main actors — God’s image bearers, mankind.

Yet every now and then one of us finds ourselves witness to the most remarkable events in history. We find ourselves a central part of the plot. That’s my story. Continue reading Parable of the Talking Fig Tree