Reflecting on Easter 2015

Been thinking about our Easter celebration last week and throughout the week, I have tried to meditate on the hope the resurrection of Jesus brings. Here are a few of my highlights and follow-up thoughts:

– I loved that our new series series unBELIEVEable is about faith and doubt. I loved being part of a church, that creates space for skeptics, seekers, and invites life-long believers to perhaps re-examine hidden corners of their faith.

To be clear, I’m not trying to get people to doubt more as a final destination. The hope is for us to believe and deepen our faith more and more. But I, along with others, believe one of the ways we grown in our faith is by embracing our lingering doubts, exploring new questions and possibilities, confronting our ignorance, our fears our naïveté, our presuppositions and our weak beliefs. In short, exploring our doubts can lead to greater belief. Sometimes a particular doubt may be answered, sometimes it’s tempered, sometimes we find it to be no longer relevant and sometimes it becomes part of the journey.

Doubt is not weakness as some may have implied somewhere along you spiritual journey. Nor is it as I heard in a sermon, the “weak muscles of belief” that simply must be exercised. To remain in [Read more…]

No Mercy on Good Friday and Somehow that is Good

“He did not die for the sake of a good world, he died for the sake of an evil world, not for the pious, but for the godless, not for the just, but for the unjust, for the deliverance, the victory and the joy of all, that they might have life.”   Karl Barth, Good Friday, 1957

I hope you had a beautiful Holy Week. Mine began slow and contemplative then took off quickly.

Among my highlights was spending a bit of time at our church’s Sacred Spaces. It’s a self-guided tour of various stations set up throughout our building for prayer and reflection. It’s hard to get to, even if you do work a few hundred yards away, but it’s so worthwhile. Grateful to the wonderful and talented people that make that happen every year.

Sitting there on Friday, I remembered  one of our planning meetings, when we revisited the question of why Good Friday is called “good?” The Googled answer always points us back to the medieval German [Read more…]

What If Judas Decided to Not Betray Jesus?

Holy Week brings a number of thoughts to the mind. Among them are the various what if scenarios. This past Sunday, Pastor Bryan gave an amazing and forever-memorable monologue from Judas’ perspective. Instantly we find Judas back at the table at the Upper Room, shortly after Jesus is beaten and sentenced to be crucified. We see a bewildered Judas, guilt-ridden, and reteling the accounts from his mind. You can watch/listen to it here.

It’s in these moments that we are reminded the Scriptures can come to life if we would let them. Personally, I love how the same story can bring various angles to a brilliant, deep truth. I love how the Holy Spirit illuminates, I love how the Word invites me to imagine, to consider, to press, and hopefully grows and stretches me as I live my faith and follow Jesus.

And so I find myself wondering, “What if Judas decided to not betray Jesus? I consider a few “what if” scenarios:

The first speculation is the exact opposite of what happened, “What if Judas was heroic?” What if he sensed the nearing danger and acted to protect Jesus? What if Judas intentionally misled the high priests and told them that Jesus would be at a different location? Having led them far away from the Upper Room, Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane is answered, the cup has passed over him, his time had not come – there are more hours. [Read more…]

Reflecting on Franklin Graham’s “Listen Up” Comments, Sojourner’s Open Letter, and the Reaction

I’m trying to think through this Franklin Graham situation that’s been filling my news feed and has been on mind for about a week now. In response to his comments was this Open Letter to Graham and now there’s reaction. I too, have a reaction.  And I hope it’s Christian, charitable and best-case, adds perspective and is on the side of peace-making.

In short, I feel that Graham missed an opportunity to contribute positively and for many, he worsened an already troubled situation. He is such a recognized figure in evangelical Christianity and I feel the need to begin at the obvious but still needs to be said, his Facebook statement is not a sufficient representation of all evangelicals, like me and many I know.

At the same time, I am not trying to throw Franklin Graham under the bus. What he said was not scandalous; it was short on mercy. When considering the scope of his platform and our cultural tension, it’s fair to say this lacked the necessary discernment and consideration. In addition to what Franklin said is the social media reaction of supporting Graham. Among them are those I regard as friends and/or have respect for. Again, I’m not looking for Graham to be punished or vilified, nor am I [Read more…]

Those Who Live By the Sword Will Die by the Sword – Confrontation, Mercy, Enemies – Lent 2015 Reflections

Summarizing previously we cannot say we are people of mercy and allow our enemies/oppressors to persecute the defenseless. Can one really use force and mercy simultaneously? Is there really a such thing as “merciful force?” What would that really be? A punch that doesn’t hurt too much? Sounds ineffective. More on that in a little bit. But first, I want to continue processing this idea of mercy for our enemies and mercy for our friends.

Most of my thinking has centered on the Farewell Discourse (Jn. 13-17) and shortly after is this really amazing (and somewhat comical) scene in Matthew’s Gospel when Peter pulls out his sword and swings wildly and ends up slicing off an ear of one of the high priest’s servants. Just before Jesus heals the ear of the servant, he tells Peter, to put the sword away, “As those who live by the sword, die by the sword” (Slightly different response in John’s Gospel).

Though I am not a pacifist, I respect and admire many of them. I really do. In the big picture, they are a welcomed conscience. While I do believe there is a place for force, I do not believe that force will ultimately give the victory. But this verse is often cited tritely as a Jesus slam dunk stating that force is never to be used. After all, those who live by the sword, die by the sword.

Like with any position, there are various degrees and nuances to be found; pacifism would be an obvious example. “My frustration with “live by the sword, die by the sword” is the claim if we don’t use force, we’ll have peace. It’s just not true.” Even in this case, Peter puts down his sword. Later he will still be executed by “the sword” (church history tells us he was crucified).

Is Jesus wrong? It seems that those who live by the sword, die by the sword and those that do not live by the sword, still die by the sword.

A few things here. Though Jesus is likely implying that this is a macro-truth, he is speaking into a very specific situation. Further, it is very likely that he is saving Peter’s life that night. Thus Peter is saved in different ways that weekend. And lastly, Jesus knows he must be arrested that night. As John describes it, this is the cup he must drink from. 

But Jesus is not promising Peter any type of safety. Nor is this any basis for any foreign policy, or a Jedi-mind trick (“They let you live if you put that away”). If anything it’s a confirmation of the coming persecution and the tradition of martyrdom. But what Jesus is also telling Peter (and to all those that believe in the power of might/force) is that there is a power greater than the sword. Jesus conquering the grave and being raised to life again will demonstrate that. It’s almost like you can hear him saying “You have heard it said, that he who has the most swords has the control but I tell you, in me, there is a power greater than any sword.”

And here’s where I think some of my pacifist friends and I can agree. The themes of this power include peace, love, mercy, restraint, and forgiveness. Where we might differ is that I still believe there is a place for force, or at least the demonstration of the potential of it. And in the next post, I’d like to make the case that Jesus thinks so too.

Mercy For Our Neighbors, Mercy For Our Enemies – Lenten 2015 Reflections

My word this Lent is mercy (context is in previous post) and I’ve been trying to process what that means.

In doing so, the logical place to begin is to consider how mercy has been shown to me (and you). But I don’t feel like starting there. Perhaps the second worthy thought would be to consider who around us needs to be shown mercy. I’m drawn to that, confident I’ll get there soon but I’d really like to cut straight to the chase and ask, how do we show mercy to those, to say it politely, we’d rather not? To remove the etiquette – How do we show mercy to those that hate us, despise us, work towards our pain and destruction? Or as it’s often put, how do we show mercy to our enemies?

The problem of Isis and Boko Haram and the countless others who mean harm to you, me, countless others needs [Read more…]

My Word is Mercy – Lenten 2015 Reflections

Many of us at Grace Chapel have been connecting with different aspects of our Lenten series “At the Table” which is a look at the Farewell Discourse of Jesus from John 13-17. As part of this year’s Lent, we’ve encouraged everyone to gather and process this together for 5 consecutive weeks. As in give up isolation and schedule and add community and friendship. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s hard to gather for 5 consecutive weeks but it’s often at or during the third one, you start experiencing the fruit of such an effort.

We’ve created some short in-house videos to take a look at aspects of respective chapters and serve as a conversation starter. Last week’s teacher was Dana Baker, who is our East Lexington Campus Pastor. She took us through what Jesus was saying about abiding and how Jesus prepares a place for you. Then towards the conclusion, she encouraged us to discern what one word was coming to mind in all this. Dana mentioned that one of our former pastors, Cynthia Fantasia, would keep a word and mediate on it for the year. And so, Dana’s word this year is “trust.” A very good one. I nodded my head.

The next thought I had after nodding my head was “Only one word for a year??” Are you kidding? I’d be content [Read more…]

The 21 Copts, Evil, & Forgiveness – Lenten 2015 Reflections

I still have not found the words to post on the brutal deaths of the 21 Coptic Christians (I literally have 4 lengthy drafts that have been emotionally cathartic, way too angry, and hardly appropriate for sharing).

I find myself angry that people are killed, profiled, or treated unfairly based on ideology, ethnicity, or some other arbitrary reason. The persecutor may use justifications from religion, some type of national/tribal history, or draw from a certain set of their own felt persecutions that they believe allows them to act in vengeance. I’m over-symplyfing but the main reason for their evil action is to either create or maintain power.

Last year, my Lent was informed by the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. To me, that incident represents the tragic nature of life that we cannot control. Despite our advancements, humanity will always be limited and vulnerable to death. Processing that last year also included the nature of disease, the victims of the evil-doers who traffic, manipulate, attack, conceal and murder and all who grieve the loss of life, love or freedom. I believe Jesus came to end all this and give us something better. 

This Lent, I am processing these 21 Copts, the nature of persecution and the different types of martyrs in [Read more…]

Review of Christ Plays in a Thousand Places by Eugene Peterson

I recently finished reading Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places by Eugene Peterson and I find myself with the same feeling after watching one of the Lord of the Rings films, “That was bigger than I thought it could be.” I’ll get to why in a moment but a bit about the author. Eugene Peterson is regarded as one of our modern day church fathers (I’d add N.T. Wright, Dallas Willard and Richard Rohr to that conversation but that’s for another day).

A quick overview from the publisher:

Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places reunites spirituality and theology in a cultural context where these two vital facets of Christian faith have been rent asunder. Lamenting the vacuous, often pagan nature of contemporary American spirituality, Eugene Peterson here firmly grounds spirituality once more in Trinitarian theology and offers a clear, practical statement of what it means to actually live out the Christian life. Writing in the conversational style that he is well known for, Peterson boldly sweeps out the misunderstandings that clutter conversations on spiritual theology and refurnishes the subject only with what is essential. As Peterson shows, spiritual theology, in order to be at once biblical and meaningful, must remain sensitive to ordinary life, present the Christian gospel, follow the narrative of Scripture, and be rooted in the fear of the Lord – in short, spiritual theology must be about God and not about us. The foundational book in a five-volume series on spiritual theology emerging from Petersons pen, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places provides the conceptual and directional help we all need to live the Christian gospel well and maturely in the conditions that prevail in the church and world today.

What makes Peterson special? Great writers have a way of making difficult concepts relatable. Peterson, who gave us “The Message” translation, may be among the best at this. I would not say that Peterson makes things simple, but instead relatable. He brings you in, invites you to sit down, encourages you to take a bite, asks you “What do you think?” You probably haven’t thought of it in this way before.  [Read more…]

Why Did Judas Take the Bread?

I gave the message this past Sunday on the rich passage of John 13. It was entitled “Loyalty Tests and Dirty Feet” (you can listen/watch it here) and it’s the familiar scene of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples during their meal on the week of Passover. This is the night where he gives the “Farewell Discourse” (John 13-17) and shortly after will be praying in the garden where he will be arrested. This is the night that Peter will deny Jesus three times, the other disciples will also disappear and this is the night that Judas will forever be known as the betrayer of Jesus.

As you read the Gospels, Jesus keeps trying to prepare the disciples that this is coming. But it’s unimaginable to them. They know Jesus is a “spiritual guy” but they cannot get past the idea that this Kingdom he keeps talking about is not an earthy kingdom. I mean, who wants a spiritual kingdom?

One of the moments that has gripped me is after Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, he tells them that one [Read more…]