Category Archives: culture

Easter is not about Jesus dying for you.

WARNING: This post is intended for a certain audience… Christian believers.  More specifically, Christian believers who consider themselves ‘Evangelical’ (whatever that now means).  If you do not fall within this category, please feel free to eavesdrop a bit, but please know that my thoughts are directed toward those folks (typically within the Western Church) who pride themselves in “Bible-believing” and “Gospel-preaching” — which is to insinuate absolutely nothing about those who do not consider themselves to be ‘Evangelical’.  Seriously.  Put plainly in another way, this is not directed toward ‘Mainline Protestant’ folks, ‘Roman Catholic’ folks, or ‘Eastern Orthodox’ folks… or, for that matter, any hybrids of these branches of our great Tree.  Furthermore, if you’re easily offended, please do not read what follows.  Seriously.  You probably will be offended… not because I’m aiming to be offensive or hoping to offend anyone but simply because I think this desperately needs to be said, and we often don’t like to hear things that need to be said.  Case in point, “Sir, I’m sorry to tell you this, but you’re dying.”  How many of us have the gall to say such a thing to a home-going loved-one?  How many of us want to one day be told this by a loved one?  Some things, though hard to both say and hear, need to be said.  And in light of the subject matter which follows, how many of us think that Ash Wednesday is silly ritualism?  “To dust you have come, and to dust you shall return.”  [But I digress, so without further hesitation, please consider yourself warned.]

Easter is not about Jesus’ death on the Cross.  That’s Good Friday.  That’s right: there is such a thing as Good Friday.  Most of us have all but forgotten about this remarkable Holy Day in the life of the Church, but nonetheless, it’s still there.  Yep, Good Friday.  It hasn’t gone away.  Though we’ve neglected it, profaned it, and nearly lost it in our culture, it’s still there.  It hasn’t left us, though we’ve treated it quite poorly, perhaps most poorly by simply ignoring it.  [Be honest, you HATE to be ignored.  Other sins you can bear within yourself, but to be plainly ignored…?  That hurts.]

It was on Friday that Jesus died upon the Cross.  It was on Sunday that He rose from the grave.  Aha!  Hopefully, now we’re starting to see the importance of Easter.  Friday: the death of Jesus.  Sunday: His resurrection.

Why does this ever-so-important distinction even matter?  Well, for a number of reasons…

For starters, truth matters.  Amen?  If I went to Kroger rather than Publix, I went to Kroger, not Publix.  There is a difference.  The simple fact that there is truth to the matter (and the potential for falsehood) should suggest –or scream– to us that the truth does indeed matter.  What happened?  When did it happen?  These are not mere “details” as if they were on the periphery of the greater subject at hand (i.e., that Jesus died for us); they are the reality of what God has done in Christ to redeem us.

At this point, you might be thinking, “Come on, man.  No one’s saying that the events of Friday actually happened on Sunday or that the events of Sunday actually happened on Friday.  Neither is anyone saying that Sunday didn’t come or that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead.”  I concede that this may well be the case.  However, I’m concerned that our sloppy approach to proclamation & theology unveils in us a lax approach to worship & love.  Could it be that we’ve betrayed ourselves?  If we’ll be candid & honest with one another for but a moment, I think most of us would confess a nagging doubt we’ve found within our hearts and minds from time to time: “What does it really matter?  Does it really matter?”

I know… I know… I’m losing you.  Hang with me.

Why does Christmas matter?  Isn’t that what the whole Gospel is about?  God is with us.  Why does Jesus’ death matter?  Isn’t that what the whole Gospel is about?  God has rescued us.  […not in some sick, depraved, the-Father-taking-His-frustration-with-us-out-on-His-innocent-Son-in-divinely-gleeful-rage sort of way, but perhaps that’ll be the subject of another post at some other time.]  With the acknowledgement that I may now be crossing a liturgical line, I’ll tread lightly…  Why does the Ascension matter?  Why does Pentecost matter?  Is this annual proclamation & celebration perhaps just vain repetition?  Are we any better than Celtic pagans?

The difference: The Good News of the Church is the story of what God has actually done in history, real time & space, to rescue humanity.  History, ergo time, necessitates sequence.  This happened; then, that happened.  What the Church for centuries, even [Now I’m stretching it.] millennia, has done is summarize the Gospel into an annual pattern of proclamation & celebration, which creates for Itself a rhythm of life & worship into which It invites It’s members & those who drop eaves to participate & dance.

The fact is that there is a lot to the Gospel.  While it might can be summarized in tracts [though I prefer creeds], It really demands more than just a few lines.  It demands a life.  It demands much more than we all-too-often regrettably offer it.

Okay, but what about the whole Friday-death-Sunday-ressurrection distinction?  Here’s the sum of it… We live our lives far too fast-paced for our own good.  We have instant oatmeal, instant Jello, instant pudding, and instant RICE for crying out loud!  IT ONLY TAKES 15 MINUTES TO MAKE PLAIN, OLD-SCHOOL RICE!!!  WHY DO WE NEED INSTANT RICE?!  We love our fast food options.  We expect things now, and even when we pray for patience [if we pray at all], we ask for God to give it without delay.  This is not good.  This is not healthy.  This does not build character.  This does not shape a virtuous life.

We like our Gospel like we like our preaching on Sunday mornings.  We like it hard and fast.  While we’ll take being preached to, we’d much more prefer being preached at.  We want sweat dripping & spit slinging.  We want to front row, “real-big” Christians to be nasty by the time it’s all over.  We want a huge black Bible being thumped, even pounded against the top of a big oak pulpit.  Composite leather, please.  Hopefully, you’ve noticed my use of pronouns here…  We.  The world, of course, doesn’t like this, but we do.  The “others” outside of ‘Evangelicalism’ might be turned off by this sort of Gospel, but it sends a chill up our legs.  This chill is sometimes vocalized with a shout of “Amen!”  Why?  “Because people need to hear this!  They need the Gospel!  This church ought to be packed on Sunday mornings, because someone’s missing out.”  Yep, betrayed again.  We like our ‘Evangelicalism’ like we like our termites.  Though they fascinate us, we’d rather them “abide” in someone else’s house.

The Gospel offers us good (in exchange for our bad).  It offers us health (in order to purge our dis-ease).  It seeks to build character within us (having given us a fresh start).  It seeks to shape our lives through virtue (as we follow our victorious Lord).  Yes, it saves, but salvation is full not partial.  It doesn’t offer a quick fix.  It doesn’t offer a free ticket for eternity.  It offers us redemption… real redemption… complete redemption.  It is the story of how the one true God has fully embraced our humanity, taken it into Himself, and rescued it through participation.  We, now, are called to embrace Him (the incarnate One), invite Him into ourselves (our lives, our families, our relationships), and participate in His plan for rescue.

In making Easter Sunday into just a bigger Good Friday, we risk making the Gospel only about the forgiveness of sins, neglecting that it is also about the resurrection of the body.  The Creed, anyone?  When we reduce the Gospel to a mere tag-phrase (e.g., Jesus died for you.), we suspiciously offer only a fresh start, not a new life.  Easter is about the shocking, other-wise impossible miracle of the Resurrection of Jesus.  Friday: the Crucifixion.  Sunday: the Resurrection.  Friday: the blood-stained Cross.  Sunday: the chillingly-empty Tomb.  The Man was dead.  His body was laid “to rest” in a tomb.  [By whom?  If I were a betting man, I’d be putting a heap of cash on you not having any clue.]  As the Apostle Paul would have us believe, though, while His death affords us forgiveness of sins, His resurrection raises us to new life [victorious life!] through faith.

It’s obvious… While we’ve perhaps made the Gospel too complicated for others, we’ve surely made it far too simple for ourselves.  Holy Week which has [Alas!] already passed us, invites us to walk carefully, slowly, intentionally, prayerfully.

Easter is not about Jesus dying for you.  What’s crazy: today is Easter Tuesday, the first Tuesday after Easter Sunday.  The season of Easter actually goes on for a few more weeks.  [Ha!  You’ve been snookered, haven’t you?  It’s only just begun, my friend.  Karen Carpenter?  Hmm.]

Indeed.

Indeed.

Most of us are far too busy to worry with Good Friday… and don’t even think about Maundy Thursday!  We’ll make time on Holy Saturday for our Easter egg hunts, and we’ll talk about nothing but Jesus’ death on the Cross for our sins on Easter Sunday morning, when we should be proclaiming, “He is risen!  He is risen indeed!!!”  Most of our churches are far too big to worry with the distinction.  After all, we need a Friday evening service, a few on Saturday, and a couple on Sunday, and we can just say that they’re each our “Easter” celebration, right?  Logistics, really.

This is no criticism against working on Good Friday.  This is no criticism against being busy.  This is no criticism against large congregations.  I swear it.  This is simply an anecdotal observation of what we’ve become in the Western world of ‘Evangelicalism’.  My suggestion is that we slow down and walk carefully and intentionally.  The liturgical calendar could help in this regard, but that might not be your sort of thing.

[I’ll probably need to clarify a few things in subsequent posts.  We’ll see…]

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The Word Best Heard?

Just as the worlds were not written into existence but rather were spoken into being, so also should we hear the Word and not merely see it.

-Me via Twitter

— — —

Lewis

Clive Staples Lewis, pen in hand

Over the course of the last few days, I’ve been reading C. S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet, Alister McGrath’s 2013 biography of the celebrated Oxford don and (obvious to those who know me remotely well) my own favorite writer. Though I’ve read much (if not most) of his work and not a few biographies of his life (even his own Surprised by Joy), I’m finding myself struck anew by Lewis’s emphasis on the voiced word–– his insistence that literature is most fittingly to be heard not simply read.

Since Trinity Sunday, our congregation has been walking through the Old Testament together, and for the last couple of weeks, we’ve been looking at the Psalms. (This coming Sunday, I plan to preach from perhaps my personal favorite: the 121st.) Back on task… This past Sunday, preaching on the 113th (a more obscure one [intentionally] than that of the previous Sunday: the 23rd), I encouraged our congregation to make use of the Psalms (i.e., the Bible’s prayerbook and “hymnal”) in a three-fold manner:

  1. Use the Psalms daily.
  2. Use the Psalms audibly.
  3. Use the Psalms prayerfully.

Having had my curiosity piqued by Lewis’s encouragement toward hearing the sound of a literary work, I’ve made a few theological/biblical observations of late…

  • Concerning the story of creation… God spoke. Further, He dialogued.
  • Concerning the prophets of Israel/Judah… They proclaimed the word of Yahweh primarily, recording it in writing generally only secondarily.
  • Concerning the ministry of Rabbis… They generally taught disciples rather than write books.
  • Concerning the life of Jesus… He was never known to have written anything but perhaps a few cryptic words in the dirt. (His disciples also considered Him a Rabbi.)
  • Concerning the Gospel of Christ… It was proclaimed long before it was written.  In fact, upon seeing the Resurrected Lord, Mary Magdalene was instructed to go and tell the disciples, not to go and record her findings and thoughts.

What does all of this mean? I have no idea at this point. Perhaps it all only points to odd and bygone phenomena of an ancient time and culture. Nonetheless, my attention has been grabbed.

— — —

How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written:

How beautiful are the feet of those

Who preach the gospel of peace,

Who bring glad tidings of good things!

-St. Paul to the Romans

(10:14-15; cf. Isaiah 52:7 and Nahum 1:15)


When Worlds Fail To Even Acknowledge One Another…

* Please note well that what follows in not –in even the very least– intended to be an explicitly political critique.  My concern is –rather than that of politics– strictly, here, of deeply held religious, even theological, interests.

ImageThis past Friday, my heart and mind raced from genuine surprise to appalling frustration as I listened to an exchange on a popular radio talk show hosted by a popular “conservative” political pundit who openly and boldly claims to be a Christian.  [I do not “often” listen to his program but occasionally do so for a few minutes here and there when in the car.]

He had taken a call from a lady whose both name and story he remembered from a previous call she had apparently made to his program –what seemed like– not long ago.  After talking her up for a moment, even sharing and explaining the significance of her Twitter handle, he went on to describe their recent conversation.  It seems that she had previously expressed to him an opportunity she was being given to work with ladies who have far less than stellar backgrounds.  In fact, she would be working with ladies who had been convicted of various crimes and were or had been serving time in prison.

In bringing her –finally– into the conversation, the host spoke of his previous warnings that she’d surely be yelled at, cursed, spit upon, etc.  He then loadedly [Please bear with my exercise of grammatical license, here.] asked for her to confirm that he had indeed told her that she was “too nice for a job like that” and that he had given her ample reason to not even consider stooping to such a lowly level of work.

She sheepishly obliged and acknowledged that, yes, she’d been burned –so to speak– by the opportunity.  Hopefully, they both seemed to agree, she had learned her lesson.

As the conversation soon came to a close, the host proudly assured her that he’d do all that he could henceforth to help her land any job opportunity so long as it’d be with a “conservative” organization.

Please let me repeat and clarify: I was sincerely befuddled by how disconnected the host’s practical advice was from his otherwise ardent claim of Christian faith.  Immediately, I thought that this brief yet bold exchange was clearly a poignant anecdote of how commonly we live in two separate worlds presuming that “never the twain shall meet” — the “real” world (as it is too often so profanely termed) and our “religious” (and, generally assumed, private) world.

While my aim, here, is not to address how these “two worlds” are to coinhere, it is, however, to desperately plead that they must indeed coinhere.  John Stonestreet and Eric Metaxas having repeatedly called their BreakPoint listeners to be good citizens of two Kingdoms, I instinctively suspected that this was at least a fair and fitting example of how one could ever-so-naturally fall woefully short in doing so.

We believe…

…[I]n one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-Begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by Whom all things were made: Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried…

It is to our benefit that He didn’t consider Himself “too nice for a job like that” but, rather, “emptied Himself of all but love and bled for Adam’s helpless race.”  He bids us, “Come and die.”


“A Case of the Mondays”

Ugh.  What an obnoxious phrase, though it certainly alludes to one of the funniest movies to have ever been produced [in my humble opinion].

This past Monday, I was delivering my regular Meals-on-Wheels route.  You probably already know that I also ended up on the Rush Limbaugh show during said route.  However, just prior to my stop which prompted my being on his show, I made another stop which proved to be a tough one.

For the last couple of years or so, I’ve been driving this route, making my rounds, and delivering to mostly the same folks each time.  During the first half of my route, I typically deliver to an elderly married couple.  This Monday, the delivery I made just prior to that which would bring me passing fame was to this couple.

What made this delivery tough was being greeted and welcomed at the door by the couple’s daughter.  She explained that her father died this past Friday and that she was in from out of town.  That was tough to hear.

She invited me in, talked with me for a brief while, expressed tremendous gratitude for my looking out for her folks seeing how she lives 3000 miles away, explained that I’ll need to use a different door from now on to deliver her mom’s food, allowed me to share a few memories with her, and asked if she could have a hug before I left.  She was a kind lady with wonderful parents, and I –of course– granted her request gladly.

As I drove alway, I choked back a tear or two and went about my day.

My call to Rush was on a whim.  While my story was indeed forthright and legit, I made the call with the passing thought, “Ugh. It’s been a rough day so far… I’m calling Rush.”  Never did I think that, on my first attempt to call [ever, though I’ve listened for years and have considering calling many times], my ear would immediately hear a ringing tone.  After what seemed like 40 rings, a voice –to my astonishment– actually answered…

“What would you like to say to Rush?”


The Transcript

RUSH: We go to the Smyrna, Georgia. This is Adam. Great to have you on the program, sir. Hello.

CALLER: Rush, hi. It’s great to talk with you. What a joy.

RUSH: Thank you, sir. By the way, you’re calling from the soon-to-be isolated South.

CALLER: Well, I was actually gonna say I’m deep within the isolated South. I think it’s already partially isolated.

RUSH: And the effort to isolate you is ongoing and intensifying.

CALLER: I can feel the eyes watching and the breath on the back of my neck.

RUSH: I’m not kidding. You have the ability to look at it with jocularity.

CALLER: Yes.

RUSH: But there’s an ongoing effort to marginalize conservatism, and the South is the greatest concentration of it, and therefore the words out — Lincoln didn’t finish the job. I mean that was in Salon.com last week. Lincoln didn’t finish the job.

CALLER: And what’s worse is that I’m actually a young pastor, and so I’m probably one of those right-wing kooks.

RUSH: And a target because you preach to others.

CALLER: Yes. Yes.

RUSH: Anyway, I welcome you to the program. I’m glad you’re here.

CALLER: I’m glad I’m here as well. In fact, just holding the line I felt a thrill run up my leg. But the purpose of my call is I’ve actually been on a Meals on Wheels delivery route this morning, and when I walked into the apartment of one of my customers, she’s an elderly minority lady living in poverty, and she had the tube turned on and was watching the press conference, and I said, “How you doing?” She said, “Well, I’m doing all right. I’m just watching my president on this press conference, and I’m trying to get my head around what’s going on.” And she went on to tell me that her Social Security went up $13 bucks, but that really doesn’t matter because she’s been told by her doctor that with everything that’s been transpiring she’s gonna owe $147 for every visit before Medicare even touches it, and she was asking me, “What in the world am I gonna do?” And she said that she feels like she’s kind of being left out in the cold.

RUSH: She said all this to you while she’s watching Obama and his press conference?

CALLER: Yes.

RUSH: Does she blame the Republicans for this or did she say.

CALLER: No, she seemed to be feeling a bit disenfranchised, if you will, from her president. She referred to him almost in jest as her president.

RUSH: Did you say this woman’s African-American?

CALLER: Well, I said she’s a minority. She is an African-American.

RUSH: Okay. I was gonna say you don’t sound like a Southerner. You’re helping her.

CALLER: Do what?

RUSH: I’m being facetious. I said you don’t sound like a Southerner, you’re helping her.

CALLER: That’s right. No, you know, it’s interesting because just in my previous interactions with her, I feel like she thought highly of the president. I image she probably voted for him, if she voted. You know, she’s gladly referred to him as her president before, but today —

RUSH: I’m sure. There’s gonna be a lot of confusion. I think there’s going to be a lot of confusion among Obama voters ’cause they believe him. Like the people who are now experiencing smaller paychecks because the payroll tax cut ended, and the full FICA deduction has been restored, so people’s paychecks are smaller. They see this, but they trust the media, they trust Obama. They were told that their taxes aren’t gonna go up. They were told that only the 1% or 2% would see a tax increase, that any taxation had to be fair and balanced and responsible, and that meant they weren’t going to be called on to pay the burden, and here right off the bat, their first paycheck is smaller somewhat or a lot smaller, depending. And they’re going to be, folks, really conflicted.

The media, for the past year, two years, has been spreading the word that the middle class isn’t gonna face a tax increase. Only the rich are. Obama’s been saying the same thing. These people are not going to want to think poorly of President Obama. They voted for him. They’re not gonna want to think poorly of him. So they’re gonna be really confused and conflicted. They believed him. They believed the media. And they still do. So they’re gonna start asking how did it happen. And it’s going to be somewhat easy for the media to somehow blame this on the Republicans, and I think the way they’ll do it is simply say the Republicans wouldn’t negotiate with the president. The Republicans just simply refused to move off of their desire for tax cuts for the rich. And the president tried, he tried very hard.

He worked very hard on this, did the best he could. But now the Republicans are trying to hurt the country and hurt the president again on the debt limit deal, is the way this is all going to play out. None of this, as far as the media’s concerned, none of it will be allowed, if they have anything to say about it, to attach itself to Obama in terms of blame. I’m just telling you this to try to make sure you don’t get as frustrated as you otherwise could, ’cause I know you all sit out there and you pray that at some point this country’s gonna wake up. You pray that at some point people are gonna finally realize that what they’ve been told isn’t true. And they’re not going to want to believe that for a long time. Obama’s a cult-like figure to some of these people. And it’s gonna take a number of these betrayals before they start to substantively question whether or not Obama and the media have been not telling them the truth. Adam, I appreciate the call. God bless you.

To read the transcript of the entire segment, click this link which will take you to the appropriate subpage of Rush’s website.


The Pastoral Office and Theodic Ramblings

One of the most painstaking responsibilities of a pastor is trying to calibrate one’s mind when tragedy hits a community.  I say this because the Church is in the midst of Advent, and our congregation will be lighting the Candle of Celebration in but two days.  On the third week of Advent, we light the pink candle, a joyous break from the sobering purple of repentance and royalty.

While I do not live in or near Connecticut, the larger “community” of our nation –especially aided by live news and social media– is certainly shaken, reminded suddenly and tragically of the deep darkness of evil.

The most pressing question [it seems] on people’s minds: “Why? How could someone do such a thing?”  While I recognize that this is perhaps far too simplistic, here’s at least a start: Sin is a vacuum.

As Peter Kreeft so ably put it, sin is insane — it makes no sense, is sick and twisted.  As one of my former pastors [I still call him such] and my predecessor at FMC put it, sin will will take you further than you ever wanted to go, will make you stay longer than you ever wanted to stay, and will make you pay a price greater than you ever wanted to pay.

Sin is a disease of the soul.  Diseases destroy.  They corrupt.  They sicken.  They maim.  They kill.

The season of Advent soberingly reminds us of the darkness.  It shockingly reminds us, also though, that Jesus, the Light of the world, has entered our darkness.  He has burdened Himself with our guilt.  He has embraced our disease.  He has invaded our world of suffering and death.

The Christ-child, who we worship at the Nativity, is the perfect Man.  His birth has renewed our humanity.  He is our hope, our peace, our joy.  He is the heart’s greatest longing.

As we await His imminent and glorious return, we live and dwell within a world of darkness needing light, a world of disease needing a cure, a world of pain needing comfort, a world of loss needing presence.  May the Church [we who celebrate His presence] be tangibly indeed the Body of Christ to those who hurt and sorrow.

Lord, surround these families with love and comfort.

Lord, have mercy.


Why celebrate Advent?

The Incarnation of the Word

1.  because the Church has lost Christmas.  Let’s face it, the “Christmas” MOST people celebrate –even Christians– is hardly “Christian” at all but is more or less of the same cloth as secular humanism.  Christmas is no longer a holy day (i.e., “holiday”) but has rather become a busy season wherein grouchy consumers purchase far too much for far too many people who will in the end care far too little for that which pushes along a far too greedy economy which reduces people made in God’s image to mere consumers of “goods”.

2.  because Christ has indeed come.  Advent marks the beginning of the liturgical Christian calendar and thereby sets the tenor for the worshipping life of the people of God.  Interestingly enough, the Church has seen fit to arrange its worshipping life in a telling way: remembering that Christ has come –in a sense, invaded– our world (N.B. the term adventus [Latin, coming]) and has become a man to redeem humankind.

3.  because Christ will indeed come again.  The Church likewise begins its year with the sobering reminder that though He came once in humility and to redeem, He will surely come a second time in might and to judge.  The Babe of Bethlehem is also the Ruler of the world.  The one who came quietly on a Silent Night will return with the sound of a trumpet and receive His own.

While undoubtedly countless other reasons for celebrating Advent could be enumerated and expanded, these seem to me to be the most elementary and –therefore– also a fair and reasonable starting point.