Tag Archives: Easter

No Outsiders

I ran into this song last week and it’s a great reminder that no one is excluded from coming to God.

That is especially important to remember as we just celebrated Easter. We say, “Jesus died for everyone.” But sometimes we say it but we forget what that means. Jesus died for the homeless man, Jesus died for the terrorist, Jesus died for sex worker, Jesus died for the elite, Jesus died for the forgotten, Jesus died for the educated, Jesus died for the oppressed, Jesus died for you and Jesus died for me.

In Jesus, there are no outsiders.

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Falling Off the Precipice: A Brave Easter

Unknown-1I’ve been reading David Brooks’ book The Road to Character. The book seeks the develop what Brooks calls the Adam II part of us. The Adam II part of us is “the internal Adam,” the part of us that wants “to embody certain moral qualities” (xii). Brooks believes that, as a society, we have failed to make the development of the Adam II part of us a priory. He challenges us to make it a priority by examining the biographical narrative and inner character of people throughout history. People like Dwight D. Eisenhower, Dorothy Day, George Eliot and Augustine.

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In his chapter on Augustine, brooks crafts a sentence that, if you are follower of Jesus, immediately forces you to take an account of your own life. In telling the story of Augustine’s conversion journey from a life of worldly but unfulfilling success to one of Christian faith and service, Brooks says Augustine “hung on an emotional precipice between a religious life he was afraid to sacrifice for and a secular life he detested but would not renounce.” 201

The picture Brooks’ thought creates is vivid. And I believe most of us stand exactly where Augustine stood. We stand on the precipice, the edge, having come too far to go back but unable to fully let go and jump.

So we stand, afraid to let go. Afraid to commit. Afraid of what it’ll look like to others. Afraid of the reality that when both feet leave the edge there’s no going back.

But that’s exactly what God calls those that want to follow him to do: jump. Commit. Let go. Surrender.

This isn’t Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith,” rather it is the decision to choose the things of God wholly, fully and completely and let go of (renounce) the things that appear to give security but are ultimately unfulfilling.

But just like Augustine, we are afraid to wholly, fully and completely choose the things of God because of the sacrifice that choice requires. We find that we are much more like the “rich young ruler” than Zaccheus- we just can’t bring ourselves to the sacrifice required.

What is it that God requires from us? What are the sacrifices we are afraid to make? There are different things for each individual. But there are sacrifices God calls all his followers to: love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and sacrificial love of neighbor.

If we desire to wholly, fully and completely choose the things of God, how can we do it? How can we be sure that the sacrifice will be worth it? In one sense we have to take it on faith. In another, however, we have the ultimate confidence that we are able to completely choose the things of God and do so confidently because of the resurrection of Jesus. In the Resurrection, we behold the ultimate proof that God’s word is true and that God’s word is powerful. It is the Resurrection that allows us to wholly, fully, completely and bravely choose the things of God and let go of the old life. In the Resurrection, God, through Jesus, defeated all enemies and gave all power, authority and dominion to Jesus.

If Jesus has everything, where is our hesitation to commit wholly, fully and completely to Jesus? One answers is that we continually choose lesser loves over the one great love that we find in Jesus. Holy Week invites us to fix our attention on the great love of God, the love that gave Jesus over to death on a cross. It invites us to re-commit ourselves wholly, fully and completely to the things of God and renounce the old life that we detest but somehow always entices us.

The challenge is for you and I to enter into God’s invitation and to choose that whatever sacrifice is asked of us, we have the bravery to embrace it because of the Resurrection.

 

-Bibliography

Brooks, David. The Road to Character. Random House. 2015.

Reclaiming Easter

"Resurrection of Christ" by Marco Basaiti, 1520

“Resurrection of Christ” by Marco Basaiti, 1520

I concluded my last post with the statement, “Easter shouldn’t sneak up on us and it shouldn’t be merely another day. It should be the highlight of our calendar year and the celebration of our whole lives.”

That is a statement that I truly believe and I truly believe it to be true. I find it telling that last week’s post got dramatically fewer hits than post in the previous weeks. It appears as if Easter really doesn’t mean much to us. How can we change that? How can we reclaim Easter?  I’ll suggest a few ideas.

1. We need the ability to explain what the Easter holiday means. I would guess that a majority of the people we are around everyday do not know what Easter means or why some public schools don’t have classes the Friday before Easter. I would also guess that a majority of Christians wouldn’t feel comfortable in trying to explain what Easter means. We need the ability to explain what Easter means and what it means to us.

2. We need a better theological understanding of what Easter means. The reason, I believe, that a majority of Christians wouldn’t feel comfortable explaining the meaning of Easter is because words and concepts like “resurrection” and “atonement” don’t come up in ordinary, daily conversation. And, as a whole, our churches have done a poor job of equipping Christians with a theological understanding vital concepts like “redemption,” “justification,” “atonement,” and “resurrection.”

3. We need theologians who will explore new ways in which the Resurrection impact and influences the life and the world in which we live. What does the Resurrection mean for the new racial tension in our country? How does the Resurrection influence social causes? What does it means for our finances, our families, our vocations? We need to explore these afresh.

4. Make every Sunday about the Resurrection. The reason the Christian Church meets together on Sunday (the first day of the week) is because that is the day Jesus rose from the dead. Every Sunday should be a reminder and a celebration of the Resurrection.

5. Finally, each of us should engage in some personal reflection on the events, the power and the personal meaning of Easter. Our culture has lost the ability to spend time in quiet meditation. Our lives are filled with noise and distractions- I’m writing this while getting the oil changed in my car and in a space under 500 square feet, there are five TVs playing a least three different programs. During this Holy Week, find some time to quietly reflect upon Easter.

The goal of reclaiming the meaning of Easter should not result in another mythical proclamation like a  “War on Christmas.” I don’t believe that there is some group trying to destroy the meaning of Easter through pastel colors, bunnies, chicks and marshmallow peeps. I believe that the world would truly want to hear the message of the Resurrection if they believed that it meant something and if they saw that our God really is alive. God tells the prophet Zechariah that when God comes to live with his people, “ten men from all the nations will grasp the garment of a Jew [a believer], saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.””

Easter tells us that God did and has come to live with us- in fact, God lives inside of every believer. The Resurrection also tells us that we now live with God (Ephesians 2). If those around us knew that God was with us, perhaps then the words of Zechariah would become true in our day.

Doubt of the Month: Easter

Easter has become about this.

Easter has become about this…

It seems like Easter sneaks up on me every year. Maybe it’s because the date of Easter jumps so haphazardly around the calendar like it’s a cricket trapped in a shoebox. Perhaps it sneaks up on me because I’m too busy eating the chocolate eggs that appear in the store on February 15th.

But I think the actual reason Easter sneaks up on me is because I don’t prepare for Easter. Not only that, many of our churches fail to prepare for Easter- at least not like they prepare for Christmas. In my church we start singing Christmas hymns on December 1st. We hang the green. We decorate the sanctuary with ten feet tall (at least) Christmas trees. We have a church-wide Christmas dinner. We give gifts to families. We construct a living nativity scene complete with live sheep, goats and a donkey. We even have a life-size wooden nativity set that sits in a window over the main entrance to the church and which probably cost $25,000- or something equally ridiculous.

What do we do for Easter? Nothing.

We don’t begin singing Easter hymns weeks before Easter. We don’t decorate the church for Easter. We don’t give anything to the community. We definitely don’t have a $25,000 life-sized wooden Easter scene.


It seems like Easter sneaks up on me every year.


It seems like we don’t really care about Easter like we care about Christmas, VBS, Halloween alternative events, Thanksgiving or summer camp.

In light of all this, I’m doubting Easter. I doubt that Easter means anything to the modern Christian church.

instead of about this. "Resurrection of Christ" by Marco Basaiti, 1520

instead of about this. “Resurrection of Christ” by Marco Basaiti, 1520

Obviously, I’m being a little tongue-in-cheek here, although not as much as I would like. Hopefully your church prepares for Easter and thankfully there are churches and denominations that truly prepare for Easter thought the observance of Ash Wednesday, Lent, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.


I doubt that Easter means anything to the modern Christian church.


What does it mean to those inside our churches and outside our churches when we seemingly emphasize every other holiday and every other event over Easter?

Theologically, it shows that we don’t understand God’s plan and our own salvation. God’s plan and our salvation culminate in the Resurrection of Easter morning and nothing else. God’s plan wasn’t only the incarnation that we celebrate at Christmas. By our attention and money, however, to those inside and outside the church the culmination and of God’s plan for our salvation ranks low on the list of priorities.

Socially, it shows that we are just as consumer driven as the culture around us. We love Christmas because of the gifts. We love Halloween for the candy. We love Thanksgiving for the food. In many ways we are just as consumer driven as the culture around us. Easter isn’t one of the sexy holidays- unless you’re into Peeps and pastel colors and because it’s not one of the sexy holidays it get forgotten.

Evangelistically, it shows that the message of Jesus isn’t important for those around us. If the Resurrection and Easter are the central and culminating work of God for our salvation, what does it show those around us when it barely makes a blip on our radar? It shows that the message of Jesus isn’t very important to us and it isn’t very important for those around us.

Easter shouldn’t sneak up on us and it shouldn’t merely be another day. It should be the highlight of our calendar year and the celebration of our whole lives.

Lent: New Perspectives on Old Scriptures, Part 1

images-1During the Lenten season this year, I have been rereading the story of Jesus as told in the four biblical gospel narratives- beginning with the Gospel of Matthew.

If we think about Matthew constructing a picture frame around the person of Jesus, one of arms of that frame would have to be Jesus’ words on the Sermon on the Mount (the other three, in my opinion, would be the birth narrative, the combined parable, and the Passion narrative).

imagesAs I read the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, it amazes me that no matter how many times I read them or hear them something new stands out each time. This time I was struck by Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25-33.

In these verses Jesus speaks about the worry and anxiety that come when we set the need for material things ahead of the things of God. Jesus says if God the Father provides food the birds and clothing for the flowers then how much more will God provide for you and me. Our job is the continue seeking the kingdom of God and righteousness.

On one hand, these verses are great words of comfort, love and compassion and help show the scope of love that God has for us. People struggling with unemployment or financial insecurities obviously find Jesus’ words reassuring. But also people who worry about work, illness, relationships- or anything for that matter- can find relief in these words.

On the other hand, when we actually think about how to apply these verses, especially within a Western culture, it become much more difficult. But I think that as we try to apply these verses, there are several things to remember.

1. God is not a genie who magically causes the fulfillment of our needs to appear at our doorsteps, in our refrigerators or in our closets.

If God is not a genie, how does God provide?

2. God provides by and through the help and intervention of people. For most of us in a Western culture, we live lives of independence and self-sufficiency and the idea of relying on others probably causes us more worry than going hungry or naked would. But throughout history, God has chosen to work in the midst of community and Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25-33 only seem applicable through the lens of community where members of that community take care of the needs of each other.

3. One of the calls of the church is to be that community where members take care of the needs of each other. Again, for those of us in Western culture, admitting need to anyone (sometimes even to God) that we are in need fills us with discouragement and self-doubt but if we cannot come to the community of the church and express those needs- who else on earth can we express those needs.

If God provides by and through the help of others, what is up with this seeking bit?

4. Jesus calls us to seek the kingdom of God and righteousness. What is the kingdom of God? There are whole books that help us to understand what Jesus meant by that phrase but at least part of it includes the rest of the Sermon of the Mount, as well as, Jesus’ words to John the Baptist in Matthew 11:4-6.

5. As we seek the kingdom and seek righteousness both individually, which is one aspect of the ethical message of the Sermon on the Mount, and as a community, as we see in Matthew 11, it is then that all the other things are added. I’m not sure how that works but Jesus is clear on the mathematics.

As we prepare for Easter Sunday during this Lent season, I pray that we will gain a fresh perspective on Scripture that we have read over and over. And I pray that we gain a better understanding of the community of the church.

Come back next week as we continue looking at new perspectives to old Scriptures.

© Ryan Vanderland 2013

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