A Not-So-Holy Week

It began on Palm Sunday, when 45 saints were martyred by ISIS while attending worship services at two Coptic churches in Egypt.

That same day, a 69-year-old doctor from Kentucky was forcibly removed from an airplane, for no other reason aside from the fact that the airline wanted to accommodate its own staff before a customer. He was left with a broken nose, busted lip, and concussion from this dehumanizing experience at the hands of an aviation police officer.

One of these events was committed by a sworn enemy; the other, by someone whose job is to protect us.

The next day, a 53-year-old woman and 8-year-old student lay dead in a special needs classroom at a California school. The shooter was the estranged husband of the woman.

Tuesday and Wednesday were a bit quiet, or perhaps I just didn’t pay close enough attention to the news.

When Maundy Thursday came, I was relieved to begin the journey of reflection leading up to Easter. These events—in particular the first two—had taken their toll, and I was ready to catch a glimpse of hope in a not-so-holy week.

I had just finished a lunch meeting and was headed back to my office. Already exhausted, I dropped into Starbucks in search of caffeine. As I stood in line, a breaking news alert came across my phone: US Drops ‘Mother of All Bombs.

I quickly scoured the Internet for more information, the words “largest non-nucleur bomb” and “target was ISIS caves” catching my eye. Disoriented, I stumbled out of line. This is not normal! I thought to myself. Last week we fired missiles at Syria, this week we’re dropping bombs on Afghanistan. Does this mean we’re at war? Or have we been at war this whole time without realizing it? Will they retaliate? I live 50 miles from Manhattan. Is this why I saw New Jersey National Guard was on the move today? If our President views firing missiles as something so casual as eating a delicious piece of chocolate cake, there is virtually no ceiling on the short-sighted decisions he will make—especially since his favorite Bible verse is “an eye for an eye” (which Jesus directly refuted). 

These were some of the thoughts that were running through my head. They may not all be grounded in “truth” but this was my experience at the time. And to be honest, I was scared.

But that night, I went to church. As my eyes were fixed to the cross, all of the fears and stress I had felt from this not-so-holy week began to quickly fade, which is why local churches that preach Jesus are the one consistent place I know I can find peace in a world of chaos.


Good Friday: How the Cross Saves the World

Good Friday is the divine indictment of the world as we know it. And this is good news! Because on Good Friday, we discover that the violent systems of this world are so evil, they are capable of murdering God!

As Mark 12 tells us, a man planted a vineyard and leased it to tenants. When the time came to collect the harvest that was rightfully his, he sent many messengers to the tenants in the vineyards. “Some were beat, some were killed.” So the man sent his beloved son, thinking the tenants would surely respect him. The man sent his son into the vineyard, and they killed him! In this sense Nietzsche was correct in saying, “God is dead, and we have killed him.”

God did not kill Jesus; He offered Him up as a sacrifice for our sins, our systemic sins of violence and murder masquerading as a thousand other things. No one took Jesus’ life from Him, He freely laid it down to expose and indict the powers that be; then, in an act of mercy so undeserved it does not even seem plausible, He forgave the very powers He indicted and revealed the love of the Father. Good Friday is truly an indictment that humanity is far worse than we think we are, yet far more forgiven and loved than we could ever dare hope. This is how the cross saves the world. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

The renters in Mark 12 did not steward the vineyard properly. Therefore, the man who planted it took the vineyard away from them. But not only that, this parable tells us he “killed them and gave the vineyard to others.” This is what we mean when we say, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out” (John 12:31). In the words of Jason Upton, “How much longer will these renters roam the earth?”

These “renters” are not literal people as much as they are the principalities and powers that Jesus triumphed on over the cross (Ephesians 6:2, Colossians 2:15). Our battle is not against people, though people can often channel the powers of evil and invite hell to earth through their decisions and actions.

It is interesting to me that the above reference from John 12 uses the key word “now”—not once, but twice. This is a very key word. Why? Because Jesus was referring to Good Friday—to His Crucifixion and death. This means, for us, this statement is past tense. The “ruler of this world” has already been cast out. Theologically, we know that the “ruler of this world” noted here is the satan, and a glance at the world in the past two thousand years would suggest that he seems to still be at work ruling this world. Why is this? Because, though our battle is not against flesh and blood, flesh and blood individuals can exercise their free will to partner with a defeated satan to rule the world contrary to the rule of God. When we say our battle is against “principalities and powers,” we are saying that our battle is against the violent systems of the world themselves, not the individuals who partake in those systems of sin.

It is important that we exercise our free will to partner not with the systemic violence, but instead to choose the way of love—the way of the Kingdom of God. Because the problem with violence is it never really has an endpoint. Personal violence does not occur in a vacuum; it gives way to systemic violence that can lead us up to murdering the very Son of God. But while we were murdering God, He was freely laying His life down, all the while praying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).

This piece includes excerpts from Brian Zahnd’s 2016 Blog and my own personal musings. For a solid theology of Good Friday, BZ’s post is an excellent read:

Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday

The in-between of all-in betweens
Nestled between the tears of Good Friday
The rejoicing of Easter Sunday
Christ is dead
Christ is buried
The cry that He is risen has not come
Stumbling in darkness
Hiding in shadows
We thought this was the One
Let us pause there
For that is how it ended this day
The joy of Sunday had been promised
Yet it seemed far off
A chasing after the wind
To believe in what has happened is one thing
To believe when you have not seen is another
So let us wrestle with the in-between
Let us not be afraid to face our fears and pain
And as we do let us reflect
On the day Christ was dead
May His death not be in vain

a poem by Jared Stump
Bozeman, Montana


The Way of Love

The Way of Love
A Palm Sunday Meditation

The same crowd that shouted “Hosanna!” when Jesus entered Jerusalem at the beginning of the week shouted “Crucify Him!” by the end of the week.

You cannot let the fickle crowd of humanity tell you who you are, because the crowd is easily swayed by what you have to offer them. But the love of God is extended without partiality to the weak and the strong, the rich and the poor, the clean and the dirty — all who will open up their hearts to receive it.

When you open your heart to God, when you allow Him to become to only voice that can define who you are, that is when you begin the journey to becoming your true self, the you that was made in the image of God, free from the power of sin and death. And there is another crowd, the Great Cloud of Witnesses, who have walked this road before you, who are cheering you on as you step into who you really are, who you have always been.

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has set you free from the voice of the crowd, so that you can listen to the voice of the Father and be introduced to your true self. All of creation is longing for the sons and daughters of God to discover and walk in who they already are, agents of love and life in a world bound by sin and death.

Though the crowd turned on Him, Jesus still made the journey to the cross for them. He died for each of us personally, those who would come and those who would let fear keep them away. At the root of all that keeps us from God we find fear, because to come to Him, to call Him Lord, requires us to give up our own lordship and control of our lives, so that we might walk in The Way of Love.

The Way of Love is the way that Jesus walked when He went to the cross for the crowd, for the serial killer, for the rapist, for the terrorist. It’s the way that we are invited to walk when we give up our rights and love those who will betray us. The Way of Love beckons us to extend grace and forgiveness to those who least deserve it, that we might become like our Father in Heaven. To walk in this way is to become your true self, to recapture the image of God that was lost at the fall of man but made available to us again through the resurrection and ascension of Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

All of creation is longing for you to discover The Way of Love, which has been hidden from the wise and the highly educated who trust in what they know and comprehend, and has instead been revealed to those who can become the most like children. The counter-intuitive ways of the Kingdom don’t make sense to those who rely on logic, but nothing is too good to be true to those who possess faith like a child.

Welcome to Holy Week. Welcome to the dawn of The Way of Love.

Photo Apr 12, 10 46 14 PM

Reflections After Easter

After waking up in a hotel on the outskirts of Houston this morning, I spontaneously decided to delay the start of my workday for a few hours and take a drive into the city. I drove past marshes, near-empty bayous, and through some of the rougher parts of town before ending up in The Heights, where I stopped in to a local coffeehouse in a fun urban district on 19th Street.

As I sat there, I began to reflect on how the events that happened yesterday affect today. While the resurrection did not literally happen yesterday, it was in our thoughts more yesterday than it is most days of the year. Now that Easter Sunday has come and gone, how does that affect my today? Do I return to my normal life and patterns of thoughts until 6 weeks out next year, when Lent 2015 begins? Certainly not!

The resurrection of Christ inaugurated the new way of the Kingdom, which Jesus proclaimed was “at hand”. The Kingdom of God is an alternative society for those who seek to live under the rule and reign of the government of God, where the reality of Heaven is becoming and someday will become fully true on earth. The Kingdom of God is a shelter from the storm of the current state of affairs, until the day when the kingdoms of this world will become the Kingdom of our God, and of the increase of His government and of peace there shall be no end (Isaiah 9:7).

In light of all of this, the extent to which we love one another today will show the world how much we believe in what happened yesterday, how much we believe that the Kingdom is truly at hand.

Since I grew up in a more modern stream of the Evangelical Church, I’m just now becoming familiar with Liturgy and the Church Calendar. I’ve recently learned that Easter is actually a 7-week celebration, not just a 1-day event. (By recently, I mean I just discovered this last night.) As Glenn Packiam pointed out, Lent is a 6-week fast and Easter is a 7-week celebration, which tells us that the feast always outlasts the fast.

The 7-week celebration of Easter leads us into Pentecost, which signifies the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This is significant to us today as a reminder that Christ has gone up and the Holy Spirit has come down to comfort and empower us as we seek to partner with the Father in redeeming and restoring creation, until the day when Jesus returns and new creation is fully established, as foretold in Revelation 21. And so, as you begin this season of celebrating the resurrection of our Savior, may your heart be ignited by the joy and life that resurrection brings.

Kingdom of Connection

The Kingdom of Connection

Last November, I was sitting in one of my favorite coffee houses when I overheard a conversation and afterwards introduced myself to a man who ended up being a pastor at a local church. I wrote about it here:

Yesterday, I was at the same coffee house, and ended up sitting next to Jerry—the pastor I met four months ago. We talked for over an hour, discussing topics ranging from adoption to salvation to grace. He also showed me a picture of the baby he and his wife recently adopted. And it’s cool, because the whole reason why we met last November is because I overheard a conversation about the adoption.

Tonight, I attended a special Maundy Thursday service at The Ridge Church, where Jerry serves as lead pastor. He saw me from across the parking lot as I was walking in and introduced me to his wife and their newborn adopted daughter, who in a way was responsible for me standing there in the church parking lot in Carrollton, simply because she was born. It’s remarkable how the trivial things can impact our lives in such profound ways.

Another pastor preached the service tonight, and he talked about how all Christians belong to one another in Christ, even if they attend different churches. He read from 1 Peter, and talked about how we are all “living stones” who are being built into a “spiritual house,” and he said that God is building a much bigger Church than what we see here, and that the house He is building is the only one that truly matters. And I liked that, to think that Jerry and I are both being built into the same house, and this was true even before we met randomly at the coffee house last fall.

This is exactly what I love about the Kingdom. Total strangers can have a conversation and feel like they’ve known each other their entire lives, because they have Christ in common. The Kingdom of God is a relational Kingdom—a Kingdom of connection.

“Now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 2:3-5, NIV