Tag Archives: resurrection

The end of Christian supremacy: New hope for resurrection

After our great sunrise meeting in the park on Easter I ate all sorts of delectable things I had missed for a long time. It seemed like a good time to exercise off a few pieces of candy, so Gwen and I took off for our nearby forest path. On the last leg, we went by Treetop Quest, the zipline and ropes course fun that opened not too long ago. I wondered what all the cars were doing parked along Chamonix Dr. on Easter Sunday. Treetop Quest was not closed for Easter.

I think you need to be a pretty old Christian to be surprised at what is open on Easter Sunday. My grandson kept looking at his father’s watch to see if the family brunch was going to end in time for him to make his soccer practice…on Easter Sunday.

The end of Christian supremacy

I had a job titled “youth director” for much of my twenties. Just for a reference point, Ronald Reagan ousted Jimmy Carter as president in 1981 when I was 27. Not long before then, I had an unforgettable conversation with a high school girl about the resurrection of Jesus. She had never heard of it. She literally did not know what the word “resurrection” meant, for sure. I remember going home to Gwen and talking about this experience, after I changed a couple of diapers. I told her this was the first rivulet of a flood of newness coming upon us who were used to our environment being saturated with Christianity. Jimmy Carter, the real Christian, who later went on to prove it, was replaced by Ronald Reagan, who’s soulmate, Nancy, consulted astrologers for auspicious times for Ronnie to do things. Reagan beget Bush who beget Trump.

I should not be surprised about Treetop Quest being open on Easter or that atheists and Muslims often protest when the government persists in putting up Christmas trees and, even worse, Nativity scenes in December. The big news in the social scientist sphere last month was that the regular census of religious adherents in the U.S. showed for the first time that over half the country are not church members.

Let’s be clear, Gallup has been measuring “church membership” for 80 years and plenty of megachurches do not even have a way to be a member, formally. One’s attendance is their membership; being on the mailing list or fundraising list is one’s membership. But plenty of long-lived churches have seen a decline in their membership; it is minus 25% in Philadelphia’s region in the last decade. Non-college graduates and unmarried individuals showed the greatest decline. Declines were proportionately smaller among political conservatives, Republicans, married adults and college graduates. Those groups have the highest rates of church membership, along with Southern residents and non-Hispanic Black adults.

All this data might be more about how people do not affiliate than about the prevalence of Christianity. It might be about how people are freeing themselves from heretical American theology and fraudulent church systems rather than deserting Jesus. But my anecdotal experiences of a rivulet of unbelief among high school students in the 80’s became a river among Gen Xers in Philadelphia in the 90’s. It feels like a sea change in the 2020’s. Christian supremacy is dying in the United States. It died a long time ago elsewhere.

Resurrection in post-Christian culture

My historical heroes are Desert Fathers and Mothers, Benedictines, Franciscans, Anabaptists, Wesleyans and others who always took the Jesus way between church factions fighting for or submitting to political power. Even when fighting for social justice I never thought winning the fight was anyone’s final solution. So I remember sitting in the front yard with my buddies back in my twenties, plotting what we should do now that Ronald Reagan was ushering in a new godless era – how’s that for prophecy! The part of the church that decided to defend Christian supremacy eventually helped elect Donald Trump! As Dr. King taught us, it is good to be on the “right side of history” – that is, to keep making history in collaboration with Jesus. I still find great joy in being on that quest.

I am happy the church is finally more like a minority group in the United States. For one reason, it is very clarifying. You can’t assume someone even knows it is Easter. “Christmas” is fully superseded by “holiday” and thinking Sunday is a day of rest, or special (besides being the weekend) makes one weird. I forgot about my cell meeting one time after it became another TV show last year — and I was in charge of it! Suddenly, being an actual Christian takes some effort when it is uncommon to be one. That effort is so good for us.

Parents now need to nurture faithful children rather than just send them to church. My parents were early adopters of post-Christianity. They probably would have been great modestly-believing church members if they had been able to get along with hypocrites. I could “go to church” as an act of differentiation. But no one would just send a kid to church these days; who knows what might happen to them? The children won’t hear about the resurrection in school, so they’ll need a parent. Our situation already sounds more like the Bible, doesn’t it?

The writers of the New Testament represent a tiny minority from a tiny part of the Roman Empire. They are not going along with what was going along. Jesus calls his way “narrow.” The broad way is leading to destruction, as in global warming and the cultural captivity of the church, among other things. Their message leads off with the incarnation of God and ends up with his resurrection. They never talk about going to church or taking over the government — they are the church and eventually undermine the government. Their message is so strong it keeps rising from the dead. American slaves get it, toss the faulty vessel in which it arrives and come up with their own improvement — they are still the most Christian element of the U.S. population! The liveliest parts of the 21st century church are in all the places European Christians brutally colonized the world in service to their idols. Jesus overcomes the world.

Being in the treetops on Sunday has a lot of merit and running around after a soccer ball could be a good thing. People have decided to follow Jesus under worse circumstances. Like I said, their master might not let them learn how to read or their colonizers might organize conflict between the people groups you just spent generations to reconcile. Jeff Bezos might spend his billions figuring out how to get more out of you. Another pandemic is not unlikely. In the face of all that, Jesus followers keep saying, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again,” echoing that first minority group writing the Bible:  

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. – 1 Peter 1:3-5

A passion: Deaths and wonders

At times last year, my spiritual director must have felt he was riding a bucking bronco when we met. We sold our family home of 25 years, totally rehabbed the new condo, which was probably the most disastrous rehab we ever experienced, then said good-bye to my hired role in Circle of Hope – mostly during a pandemic and an election circus! Maybe my director was fine, but I still feel like I may have hit the dirt a few too many times. Fortunately, I have some rodeo clown friends and a cowboy family to pick me up.

When I drag in, looking a bit dusty and dazed, my director will often respond to one of my stories with, “It’s a ‘passion.’” He does not have a ready definition for what he means by “a passion,” and I am not much for defining spiritual experiences anyway. But I think I might understand what he means more all the time as I experience the little deaths that lead to new life. As I endure the indignities that accompany the joys of transition, my life keeps teaching me. Like Paul says:

And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Cor. 15:30-32)

What Paul is doing is a “passion.” He writes with a passionate heart about risking it all on the hope of resurrection.

Facing death is normal Christian life. It is so wonderful we can face it in the distant future with confidence. Most most of us think we’ll be alive a lot longer, so that confidence is easier and no less comforting for being so. It is also wonderful we can face the “wild beasts” in the present with confidence. That’s usually more difficult and often feels comfort-challenged.

In Paul’s story above, the enigmatic reference to “wild beasts” probably refers to the riot started by the silversmiths in Ephesus who thought Paul’s gospel would wreck their lucrative trade in honor of the religious power, Artemis, who ruled the area. I wish I were more like Paul, but at least I know what it is like to face power struggles with blinded people who think Jesus is no more than an alternative fact, at best. You undoubtedly have such struggles, too, at whatever level you struggle.

In facing what seem to us like death-dealing forces, we are like Jesus being attacked in John 10. His opponents are ready to stone him, and he says, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” I think my director would call that moment “a passion.” In the face of the violent, judgment-wielding world, we speak the truth in love. If we die that day, just a little or for the last time, we do.

The Elements of Holy Communion — Jacques Iselin

The death and wonder in the communion meal

It does not seem accidental that bread and wine are central to how we understand the crucifixion and resurrection this week. They are symbols of transformation. The grapes are crushed and reduced. When they “die” their inner juice and flavor are released. Then in the darkness we wait for them to become new wine. Likewise, simple flour with a little water and salt becomes many variations of bread. Add yeast and the whole lump of dough expands and becomes new. In the transformation into the food that feeds us there is a death of the old and the wonder of the new.

When our own transformation passion is working in us it is a bit more traumatic, isn’t it? It is painful for us to feel crushed, even when we know the newness is being released. And we don’t like being expanded, or stretched, even though it is the process of welcoming that wonderful fullness for which we have been longing all along. And when it comes to being the bread of life with Jesus, that can seem like a bit much.

Last week, when I saw my director, I could not tell if I was stuffing my pain or dampening my wonder. Both actions would be good ways to try to avoid dying that day. Pain reminds us we are going to die – severe SMH. I want to shut pain out. And wonder reminds us of why we don’t want to die – severe FOMO. I want to keep wonder in. Yet I don’t want to wall off my heart. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings,  becoming like him in his death,  and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Paul actually said that in Philippians 3, but I say it too.

Our passion in the Holy Week

I don’t want to die. But I certainly want to live. So I always need a Lent to teach me about passion — the Lord’s and mine and ours. I keep learning that living is giving – whether Jesus is about to be stoned, or Paul is fighting wild beasts, or we are facing societal breakdown, or we face all those other breakdowns: mental, physical, and relational. I don’t mean we give because we are afraid to die, although that may be where we start. I mean we give because we know we are alive and will live forever. It isn’t, “If I give I will live.” It is, “I give because I live.” I like living. Giving is living.

This week is all about how dying leads to rising, how living is giving. As my Lenten guide, Alan Jones says:

We are made in the image of God who gives himself away. [We are made in the image of God who gives herself away]. The mystery of that self-giving is what Easter is all about. The closer we get to our destination the closer we are to the crucifixion. Holy Week and Easter are not the only times when we remember God’s Passion for us. They also invite us into our own passion. Lent is a long period of reality-testing that questions our view of ourselves and the world. (In Passion for Pilgrimage: Notes for the Journey Home)

That testing has surely been happening to me. Maybe we have all been experiencing a pandemic-long “lent” that is testing who we are and questioning the world in which we live. If so, maybe a big resurrection is about to dawn. I hope so. The Holy Week calls us to show up and endure the process, especially if we missed the rest of the season!

The situation in the country is giving us lots of opportunity for a reality test. But my experience seems more acute than an assessment of where society should be going. My daily dying won’t be something that works back on me from what is happening in the world.  I’m already happening. Resurrection is already loose in the world. My profound actions will not make it happen. To the contrary, my grapes are being crushed and the yeast of God’s Spirit is expanding me.

Some days I don’t think I can die any more or rise any more. Perhaps when I feel that way my wine is taking some time to ferment and my dough is resting. But by this time in my life, I often know that despair might signal Easter is coming. Ready or not, a resurrection is imminent, as surely as the daffodils are coming up to bloom and, as a church, we keep turning our faces into Spring.

Jesus is risen, now what?: Listen to Colossians 3

We are risen!

It was a wonderful day yesterday. Tons of people ascended to Lemon Hill at sunrise, many biking over in the frigid air – including Peter, who purportedly is the youngest ever to accomplish the feat. Crosses burst into bloom at several of our sites, people told resurrection stories, we worshiped with joy, we feasted together – it was a day to remember.

Now what?

It is so great to get to resurrection, why spoil it by asking what happens next? The main reason to move into what is next is: it spoils the Resurrection to turn it into a mere holiday! We celebrate the resurrection of Jesus because it is a beginning point for us, too, not just a memory. For the first disciples, what happened next after the Lord’s resurrection was totally transforming! Before long they were missionaries, martyrs and leaders of expanding networks of Jesus-followers.

Quite the opposite for for many of us, after Easter there is a glutted sigh of relief that another holiday season is over and we can get back to concentrating on work, baseball season, school, and the addictions we gave up for Lent. In other words, we get to resurrection but never get on with resurrection life. What’s worse for many of us, we’ve heard of this tendency many times before and are adept at ignoring the problem!

But today is another beginning. We are not our past. The promise of resurrection is we are our future. It can all start from right here: our lives, our church, even our society.

Paul teaches us this in Colossians 3 and collects one of the best lists in the Bible about what resurrection life means. It is so brief, and yet so profound! I was so moved by it, I can’t resist offering it to everyone as a great starting point for our response to the new life we have received, right now.

Here is how he starts:

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

Then he lists five big responses:

1. Meditate on God, not yourself

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

If you managed to exercise spiritual disciplines during Lent, great. Hopefully, they tipped you over into everyday habits for the rest of your life. But maybe you need to keep trying. If you just keep thinking about yourself: your ambitions, relationships, problems and failures, that will be deadly. I estimate that 60% of us don’t even pray in any deliberate fashion every day. That’s why our spiritual lives get anemic and why many people fell away from Christ last year.

 

2. Put to death your fallen self, not others

Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. 

“Put to death” sounds dramatic, doesn’t it? But Paul is talking about a response to the resurrection of Jesus which begins the recreation of the world! It deserves a large response, not a begrudging addition to our lifestyle! He is pointing out the common things that quench the new light that just got lit in our lives. Leaving the ways we used to follow before we were raised with Jesus takes lifelong devotion, especially these days. Even feeling a tinge of guilt about fornication or greed in the United States is practically illegal now! People express their anger as if it were liberating and can’t stop abusing people on Twitter, just like the president. We’re in a difficult environment for what Paul is talking about. It is hard to even hear what he thinks is an obvious response to new life. He’s not talking about mere morality, he’s talking about supernatural goodness flooding into our lives!

3. Clothe yourselves with resurrection life, not lies

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices  and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.  In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

It would be so sad if we woke up today into the promise of new life and put on the same old lies: I am alone. I have to make it on my own. Nobody will care for me. I have to be the best. If I don’t succeed I will die. I need to stay safe from others. Add you own — which lies torment you? There are so many self-destructive scripts from our pre-Jesus lives running in our brains that it is hard to shut down the liars – and now we have a massive media machine in our hands all day to reinforce them!

4. Clothe yourself with reconciliation, not judgment

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 

Life is too short to blame someone else or ourselves. Criticism is easy, forgiveness and reconciliation is revolutionary. During Lent our congregations were awash in new revelation and love. It was beautiful. But they were also attacked with divorce, division and the disease of scorn. The clothing Paul is talking about is like the armor Jesus wore to the cross to overcome the world in his upside-down way.

The Good Samaritan, after Delacroix, 1890 - Vincent van Gogh
The Good Samaritan, after Delacroix — Van Gogh, 1890

5. Clothe yourself with love, not division

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 

Paul’s new love released him from his roots in Tarsus and moved him all over the Roman Empire planting churches as he spread the news about the resurrection of Jesus and all it means. He’s not just talking about fulfilling our dreams of having a nice family and friendship circle. God wants us to live in harmony just like we want, but what God really wants is comrades who will bind things back together with Jesus. Paul closes up with a few things such rebinding means:

It means proactive peacemaking

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body.

It means being persistently thankful

And be thankful. 

It means speaking the truth from Jesus in love

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom;

It means a life of public worship

and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Jesus is risen, now what? You can see that I am afraid we will have a personal response to Jesus that is just personal and next Easter we will have to decide again if we even believe this stuff. If our faith doesn’t transform our everyday lives, is it really following Jesus? I don’t think Paul was telling us to spend all our time thinking about what we think about Christianity! Like he responded to the resurrection, I think he hopes we will feel life in a new way and find joy in letting resurrection make us new — and the world with us.

15 fact-based reasons to accept the resurrection of Jesus

 is a blogger for Lifeteen, which is kind of the Roman Catholic Young Life. He wrote the basis of today’s post, in hope of helping skeptical teenagers in a skeptical world consider what it means to follow Jesus. I vividly remember my own skepticism and my own journey into faith as a teenager, and lists like this were very helpful to me. They convinced me that I might not be crazy to have faith. I had faith, but I suspected it might be delusional. I still needed to meet the resurrected Christ, person to person in the Spirit, to convince me I was on the right path. But getting hold of the facts helped me too — reasoning has a part in how we come to believe, too.

Many people tell Jesus followers, young and old, that “based on human logic” the resurrection of Jesus makes no sense. They have a point. But, of course, they could make the same point about many of the things “human logic” comes up with — it is not known for making consistent sense, either. Nevertheless, it is true, that though God has used every means possible to make sense to us, the Lord still admits that “My ways are not your ways, nor are my thoughts your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). What is illogical is to think that humans are the center of the universe. But people still bet their lives on that premise. The resurrection re-centers logic where it belongs: on God’s thoughts, not ours. But there is a lot of human reasoning that can help us get to faith in that.

Any conversation about God is a lot more involved than mere logic. Any talk about Jesus and his resurrection will need to include an assumption that humans are also spiritual beings and having faith is what we do. Considering the resurrection won’t get too far If we are not humble enough to admit that we don’t already know everything we might need to know.  One will at least need to  assume that “it is possible that God exists” and that “we are not God.”

Resurrection icon
Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Icon) by Ryszard Sleczka ca 2014

When it comes to resurrection of Jesus, to say that there is no logical reason to believe it happened and it meant something is short on facts and somewhat absurd. Like I said, deciding whether the resurrection is logical or not will not be enough to move someone into faith — at least it was not enough for me. I had an entire spiritual territory that was unexplored and Jesus became my personal guide. But reasoning helped get me started. So maybe this post will reinforce some of the basic facts of faith in Jesus for you, too. To get started, here are 15 quick facts that validate the reality and meaning of the resurrection. These are not exhaustive or highly detailed; they are quick points that further strengthen what humble-hearted believers receive in faith:

1. There was an empty tomb

The founders of other “faiths” are buried in tombs or had their ashes sprinkled over foreign lands. Not Jesus. Modern scholars and CNN can claim what they want . . .  the truth is that the tomb was empty.

2. The tomb had a Roman seal

Clay was affixed to a rope (stretched across a rock) and to the tomb, itself. The Roman seal was pressed into the clay. Break the seal, you break the law; break the law –- you die.

3. The tomb had a Roman guard stationed there

The “guard” was at least four men, possibly more, of highly trained soldiers. These soldiers were experts in torture and in combat, not easily frightened off by a band of fishermen and tax collectors. Had they fallen asleep or left their post they would have violated the law, resulting in their own execution.

4. The tomb had a stone in front of it

Most scholars put the weight of the stone at about 2 tons (4000 pounds), probably at least seven or eight feet high. This was definitely a “team lift” or “team roll,” not movable by just one or two men.

5. There were post-resurrection appearances, to hundreds

Over a span of six weeks after he rose, Jesus appeared to a variety of groups of various sizes in different locations. He appeared to over 500 at one point –- a huge number to be an outright fabrication. Not to mention, the people to whom he appeared didn’t just see Him, but ate with Him, walked with Him, touched Him. Jesus even made breakfast (John 21:9) at one point.

6. The martyrdom of witnesses offers proof

Would people leave their businesses, careers, homes and families, go to the ends of the earth, die horribly gruesome and painful deaths and forsake their previous religious beliefs about salvation all to protect a lie? Not one of them, while being beheaded, fed to lions, boiled in oil, crucified upside down or burned alive changed their story. Instead, they sang hymns of trust and praise, knowing that the Lord who defeated death would raise them up, too. People do weird stuff for religious reasons, of course, but their faith is compelling.

7. There is still a Church

If the resurrection were a lie it would have died off centuries ago, wouldn’t it? The Christian Church is the largest movement of any kind in the history of humanity. It began with the apostles being commissioned by the risen Lord, then filled with resurrection life on Pentecost. That life keeps undermining empires, withstanding attacks (from inside and out) and growing in spite of the sinfulness of its members. It is a testimony to the presence of the risen Lord, guided and protected by the Holy Spirit, a living body both human and divine, like Jesus.

8. Jesus prophesied that it was going to happen

Jesus told people he would rise from the dead. It didn’t take Him by surprise. And He didn’t just say “I’m going to be killed” (which others might have seen coming) but also that “I’m going to rise on the third day.” Those details aren’t ironic, coincidental or fortune-telling — they’re prophecy and prophets speak from God. We are called to test whether what they claim is true.

9. It was prophesied in the Old Testament

The resurrection was foretold centuries before Jesus was born. Hundreds of prophecies about the Messiah: what He would say, do, how he would live and how He would die, were offered centuries by a variety of prophets over centuries. David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, Hosea, and Micah all pointed to the Christ’s death and resurrection hundreds of years before they occurred.

10. The day of worship changed

Following the resurrection, tens of thousands of Jews (almost overnight) abandoned the centuries-old tradition of celebrating the Sabbath on the last day of the week and began worshiping on the first day of the week, the day on which the Lord, the Christ, beat death sealing the new and final covenant with God. That was a huge thing for them and marks their belief in the event that changed everything.

11. The practices of sacrifice changed

Jews were always taught (and taught their children… Deuteronomy 6) that they needed to offer an animal sacrifice once a year, to atone for their sins. After the resurrection, the Jewish converts of the time, throngs of them, stopped offering animal sacrifices to God. Not only had the ultimate sacrifice been offered, the resurrection sealed their forgiveness and their own hope of resurrection.

12. It is unique among other world religions

Most of the religions of the world have elements of them that point toward Jesus; they represent the same deep desire we all have to be saved from death and freed from sin. But no other religious leader of any consequence ever actually claimed to be God, except Jesus. No other religious leader ever did the things Christ did. No other religious leader ever backed up their “religious voice” with resurrection. Confucius died. Lao-tse died. Buddha died. Mohammed died. Joseph Smith died. Christ rose from the dead. That “scandalous” thought continues to trip people up and continues to guide their steps into eternity.

13. The message is self-authenticating

This proof goes back to the original point, namely, that a humble heart is enlightened and illuminated by far more than logic or reason. A true believer doesn’t need all the facts to believe in the resurrection, because the Holy Spirit reveals Christ to us, intimately and powerfully. St. Paul talks about this in 2 Corinthians 4. Blind and hardened hearts will never see God, not until they acknowledge that they are not God. Obviously, people can use this argument to believe in anything about which they feel deeply. But without this experience of confirmation in relationship to God, mere logic is usually less than convincing.

14. The miraculous ending fits a miraculous life

You want logic? Christ healed the blind, the deaf and the dumb. He fed the masses, cured the lepers, and forgave the sinners. He made the lame walk and brought others back to life. He multiplied food, walked on water, and calmed storms with His mere voice. The miracle that happened during the crucifixion is that He did not preform a miracle. He died. The miracle followed: Jesus rose from the dead. it was a miraculous completion of a miraculous life, exactly what one would expect.

15. Maybe the only reason we need: Jesus is still rising

The world suffers and we all experience it and do something about it. We ignore it, lament it, debate it, bomb it, and medicate it . . .  but we can’t find the cure for it or the point of it as long as we are separated from Jesus Christ. In Christ, our suffering has a point and it has worth just as his did. Apart from Christ, suffering is relatively pointless and fruitless. There is no fountain of youth. There is no miracle drug. There is no cure for death except Jesus Christ. What is illogical is to think that the God of life would not want us to live eternally.

If you are convinced this life is your only one, then the resurrection will not fit into your logic. This little blog probably won’t convince you to change your mind, either. But hopefully, this quick reminder the day after Easter gives a few believers some encouragement that  the resurrection is not illogical. That being said, I hope it also encourages you to know that it is far from merely logical, as well.  It is the work of God, which is far more that we could imagine. But since we are the work of God, too, it resonates in places in us that are longing for life.

”How can some among you say there is no resurrection? If Christ has not been raised, then empty is our preaching; empty, too, your faith; if Christ has not been raised than your faith is in vain; you are still in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:12-18)

Brothers and sisters, because of what happened in that Upper Room, on that cross, and in that tomb nearly 2000 years ago, we know God the Father intimately, we walk with Christ daily, and we are guided by the Holy Spirit eternally. That’s the truth, and it is beautiful (John 8:32). When I was first becoming a Jesus follower, I just barely believed  it. But my mind led me to my feelings, and then both led me to my spiritual capacity which enlivened the heart of me so I could walk by faith. I am risen with Christ myself! That’s a beautiful truth, too.

There is always a little pain in the introduction

My sense of church planting begins with introducing myself and the Lord who is with me. Like God became incarnate in Jesus, the Holy Spirit dwells in me, a human. So church planting is personal — just like Jesus walking around Galilee; we’re walking around being one with God; God is walking with us and we are walking around with the Lord. When Jesus talks about planting the word about his work, planting the Word Himself, in the world he says it is like a seed going into the ground and “dying.” I find the process just that painful and just that joyfully regenerative all the time.

Paul talks about sharing the sufferings of Christ. “Filling them up,” being planted again and again. Very specifically, for me, part of that suffering is the need to keep introducing myself to new people and new situations and not hiding out in or merely enjoying the little group of people who already “get me” and love me. I am doing that again right now as I tell you about Jesus in me. This blog is one way to “get out there.”

eccehomo
Antonio Ciseri’s depiction of Ecce Homo, 1871.

During each era of my life in mission, I have discovered things about Jesus in me that have proven  valuable for church planting. As I tell you about a few of them, I hope you will consider how you might introduce yourself with what you’ve got.

College days

It all started with that college Bible study. I was called to be a church planter early on.  Jesus used the most inept evangelist ever to win many of my dorm mates to Christ. In my sophomore year, I started a Bible study to disciple them. It grew by my junior year to two apartments and 50-100 people coming every Monday. I have not forgotten what it was like to feel twenty – ready to invent the wheel.

What did I (and my friends) have?

  • gall
  • conviction that “if it is true for me it will be true for everyone”
  • trust in the presence of God, not our skill

That’s all great for church planting. We thought, “There is a great movement of goodness in the world and we have found it.”

Seminary

I went to seminary. I was called from planting a new youth group with the Assemblies of God back to the college church who had lost their beloved youth pastor a few months back and a lot of their kids. At the first meeting I led we had four people. When the church blew apart about seven years later they did not fire their boy (lucky me!) with everyone else. Plus, there were about 200 kids from jr. high through college. They were about a third of the church.

What did I (and a very beloved team) have?

  • I had added a wife who added incarnational evangelism as a concept to my sense of mission. When we discovered Anabaptists, we began calling the idea “invasive separatism.”
  • Love
  • Fun
  • Tons of energy
  • Empathy

That’s all great for church planting. We lived like, “Life in Christ is a big party and you are invited.”

The first church planting

We finally decided that the group of us who lived and worked together at the center of this youth ministry were not going to make it into the next act of this Baptist church. So we got them to send us to plant a new church. It was their first and maybe last multiplication. We had never heard of a church multiplication but we did not want to be responsible for a church “split.” We traveled together for another seven years or so and the new congregation is still going.

What did I (and this remarkable congregation)  have?

  • We discovered that we were a group who had the same odd flavor mix that the Brethren in Christ has. Mostly we were Anabaptists because of our simple, straightforward Bible reading – we were doers of the word. But we had the Baptist pietism flavor and I, especially took holiness flavor into Pentecostalism. That and some great practices we discovered (like the Love Feast) seemed perfectly suited for what we postmodern types were looking for.
  • We already had community.
  • We just wanted to do it; we did not have to do it. It was all new and exciting to us.
  • We liked being real.

That’s a great combo for church planting: a convicted core team doing their own thing based on a dream, not just an application of a program or a duty to some principle.

Circle of Hope

During our short stint in the BIC homeland we were called to explore urban church planting (when it was not so fashionable!). We thought God was calling us to one of the mega cities of the third world. But we finally ended up, to our surprise, in Philadelphia. We thought we could contemporize BIC thinking to meet urbanites where they lived. It was a mid-life leap for me: all my training and experience were put to the test. I liked that. I became a Christian by having my new beliefs put to the test and they survived. I still do not want to be part of an institution that is not constantly being tested to see whether it deserves to survive in its environment.

What did I (my family and the small core team)  have?

  • Inspiration
  • Willingness to risk it all
  • Supportive friends and family
  • A vision
1st PM at B&W 3
Hot, dusty, delighted when we took a new risk in 2005.

When I came to Philly I had a simple conviction. I was not a likely candidate to win a bunch of people to Christ from scratch and form a church. I thought I was sent to catalyze what the Holy Spirit was already doing. I would introduce some people to Jesus and include some ready-made partners, but who I would mostly find were people who had an idea that what I was talking about was what they were looking for. They would mostly be burned out evangelicals, dissatisfied Catholics, under-used twentysomethings who Baby Boomers would never let drive the car, and people who were spiritual but who had never met an authentic Christian before, people who wanted the church to be a good thing but just hated it.  I parachuted into Philadelphia and wandered the streets for a few months and, sure enough, I met a lot of these people. From September through March we gathered  a formation team, formed four cells and were ready to have a public meeting on Palm Sunday.

What did we have?

  • Encouragement from successful people that we could do it. I had an almost slavish humility in practicing what others had learned.
  • A good plan – and that we did our plan. We had good, practical goals; we considered the barriers to meeting them; we had actions steps for how to accomplish what we considered. It was a serious project — and still is.
  • I had a very supportive wife and family. My sons and their wives are stalwarts in the church and my youngest son is our newest pastor.
  • We listened to the call and were there when the Spirit was beginning to move. As a result, we have been copied relentlessly. And that is great.

What do you have? What do we have now? What is the Spirit doing and how are we moving alongside? Yes, we answered that call and those questions in the past. But Jesus is dying and rising all over the region and the world right now. How are you and I planting the church with him?

How will we introduce ourselves and the Lord who is with us? As God became incarnate in Jesus, we are his body, filled with His Spirit. Church planting is personal — just like Jesus walking around Galilee, Circle of Hope is Jesus walking around the Philly region. I find it painful.  But I also experience resurrection in myself and others through that suffering. My true self is put into action and grows in the process of getting out there with Jesus. For the joy of that re-creation, we endure the cross.

Further thoughts on church planting:
Who am I in the globalized world: migrant or tourist?
THINKING like we ought to belong together — even these days

2014 #1 — Jesus – and five basic assumptions that inform dialogue on sexuality

Thursdays, so far, have been TOP TEN of 2014 days. This is the #1 most read post of 2014. Last March I tried to collect some basic thinking that could help us focus where we needed to focus when it came to the tender topic of sexuality. There was plenty of dialogue about just what all this means — and that is a good thing.

The other day a distant acquaintance accused our church of not talking about sex enough  (in the neighborhood gossip column, at least). It was right after we enjoyed an open forum about our theology of sexuality attended by over 100 people! It never ceases to surprise me that the more one does something, the more excuse it gives a few people to criticize you for not doing it!

If anything, Circle of Hope has been a good place to work through the trauma of our over-sexualized society. As our forum uncovered, a lot of people have had painful sexual experiences, and not just because the powers that be limit their sexual expression (since they don’t really do that anymore). Sex is painful because they are confused. And it is painful because they get run over by the wave of immorality that is surging through the culture. (Maybe using the word immorality even made you uneasy, since who could say what that is?). It is painful because sex has become an incessant demand and a constant source of scientific study. And it is painful because a lot of people can’t figure out what Jesus says about it.

Listening to people lately has helped me collect a few of the assumptions I often share when people want some spiritual direction about what to do with what they feel and how they are acting. When you only have your own impulses and a lot of societal pressure to work with, things can get confusing – and painful. So here are five things about Jesus that I think should inform how we have a dialogue about sexual behavior (among other things, of course). These five things will not solve everyone’s problems, and I’m not speaking from a place that has been processed by the leaders of the church, but I hope to name some basic things that guide life in Jesus and that apply to how we continue the dialogue about sexuality.

Continue reading 2014 #1 — Jesus – and five basic assumptions that inform dialogue on sexuality

For those too broken to eat the bread and drink from the cup.

This Wednesday we begin the season of Lent. Some of us long for Ash Wednesday all year, this is for those who don’t.

Even though the discipline of imitating Christ’s 40-day fast is an old one, each year it is new, as well. Because each year we are called out into the wilderness as a year-different person than we were the previous year: a year wiser or a year weaker, a year more mature or a year more undone.

As a new person who is the “I am” we are right now,
we are called out to meet the “I am” who is God.

We go in search of our true selves as we meet the one who makes us new and whole in a whole new way.

 

Every year we gather around the communion table to share the Lord’s death so we can share in his resurrection. It is just as mysterious as Paul describes it to the Philippians in the letter to them:

“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11).

When Jesus, the great “I am,” welcomes us to the table, some of us will not want to go. This post is for you.  

The whole meal is about being broken by sin — being confronted with what we carry and being offered forgiveness, cleansing and freedom.

At the table we receive the body of Jesus taking on our sin and death. Some of us will not want to receive it.

The last thing some of us want to do is bring Jesus into our mess. We don’t want to sully Jesus with the defilement that poisons and taunts and drains the life out of us! As a result, some of us rarely join Him at the table — maybe never have. Maybe when the body and blood were passed to us and we were too embarrassed to refuse it, we took it feeling like imposters.

You will not defile the body of Christ with your defilement – the sins you have committed and those committed against you, your torments or your trials.

Where his wounds touch your wounds
you will be made clean again.

No one will push you to do it, but it will help to take your memories and face them at the table, to let your pain be touched, not protected, to die and rise again and again until you get there.

Lent might be a good time for the traumatized and despondent to confess the sin of mistrust and tell the stories of their past sin and present entrapments. Visit the therapist, tell the trusted friend, write it in the prayer journal, or tell the cell. Take it with you to the table.

As your miserable, sordid stories bleed out of you,
be wrapped in an immensity of cleansing, sheltering, ministering, healing love.

Look toward your resurrection as you eat and drink communion with Jesus at the table and wherever His people share his love.

God, in Jesus, is showing great love. I hope you already knew that. That love is vividly presented to be known and touched when we share the body and blood of Christ in the communion meal. It is not magic or a miracle we can dial up, but when we take into our bodies from the plate and the cup, we invite the presence of the Light and Life of all people right in to our very guts. No evil can co-exist with the presence of the living Christ.

If you eat the bread and drink from the cup, discerning the person of Christ, it will be life to you.

When you receive the elements of “I am”
let the whisper of your heart be “I am” as well.

The life in Christ is catching. It makes us. When it touches us, it spreads within us. It will purge all rottenness and decay. It will touch the sore places of our spirits. It will turn us toward life. Is this what you want? Is this what you ask of Jesus?

Then say it with Psalm 51: “Make me hear joy and gladness so that even my broken places join the song. Keep me in your presence when the sin in me and on me drags me away. Restore in me the joy of being saved. May your freedom to love be met by my freedom to be loved.”

Can you say it? “This is my sacrifice to you of a troubled spirit, Lord. I trust that you will not despise my hopeful but helpless heart.”

Jesus will lift away the sludge that has gradually covered over the lamp of Christ in our souls.

The “I am” who was given life by Jesus
will be restored by the great “I am.”

Pray it: “Dear Jesus, my brother, my leader, my friend, I have nothing to give you but my troubled spirit. I love you as I can. I have no where better to go than to you. I put my trust in you. Receive the offering of this broken heart. Unbreak me.”

Resurrection: latch on, let go

I saw a particularly sweet segment of CBS Sunday Morning while I recuperating from breakfast on Easter morning. It was about a man who lived across the street from the High School where Gwen used to teach back in the day in our old hometown of Riverside, California. A bartender named Donnie Edison had a stroke in that house when he was only donnie edison34. He was depressed and disabled and laying hopeless on the couch when he heard the ping of baseballs hitting metal bats as the high school baseball team practiced after school. His love of baseball got him off the couch. He made his wife load him into his wheelchair and take him to practice, even though he did not know a soul at the school. But just seeing the kids out there living gave him some purpose. Soon the coach made him an assistant. He learned to walk again. Before long he was volunteering in the high school’s special ed program and then he was going to college to become a special ed teacher. One of the things he did was get the regular team to play whiffle ball with the special ed kids. The segment ends with “There is nothing more beautiful than the sound of a found purpose.”

It is a small resurrection, isn’t it? — I was dead on the couch and now I can walk. Donnie was thankful for the stroke that saved him. His little death led to his unexpected life.

Continue reading Resurrection: latch on, let go

Jesus — and five basic assumptions that inform dialogue on sexuality

The other day a distant acquaintance accused our church of not talking about sex enough  (in the neighborhood gossip column, at least). It was right after we enjoyed an open forum about our theology of sexuality attended by over 100 people! It never ceases to surprise me that the more one does something, the more excuse it gives a few people to criticize you for not doing it!

If anything, Circle of Hope has been a good place to work through the trauma of our over-sexualized society. As our forum uncovered, a lot of people have had painful sexual experiences, and not just because the powers that be limit their sexual expression (since they don’t really do that anymore). Sex is painful because they are confused. And it is painful because they get run over by the wave of immorality that is surging through the culture. (Maybe using the word immorality even made you uneasy, since who could say what that is?). It is painful because sex has become an incessant demand and a constant source of scientific study. And it is painful because a lot of people can’t figure out what Jesus says about it.

He wept over it
Enrique Simonet, 1892

Listening to people lately has helped me collect a few of the assumptions I often share when people want some spiritual direction about what to do with what they feel and how they are acting. When you only have your own impulses and a lot of societal pressure to work with, things can get confusing – and painful. So here are five things about Jesus that I think should inform how we have a dialogue about sexual behavior (among other things, of course). These five things will not solve everyone’s problems, and I’m not speaking from a place that has been processed by the leaders of the church, but I hope to name some basic things that guide life in Jesus and that apply to how we continue the dialogue about sexuality.

Continue reading Jesus — and five basic assumptions that inform dialogue on sexuality