Tag Archives: Resurrection

Ash Wednesday: When Darkness Reigns

“It is appointed once for a person to die. After this the judgment.” -Hebrews 9:27

“But this is the hour—when darkness reigns.” -Jesus

The Orvillecopter by Dutch artist Jansen flies in central Amsterdam as part as the KunstRAI art festivalIf you haven’t already seen this story from last year, then I’m sorry to do this to you. Because you can’t unknow this.

Last year, Bart Jansen woke up to find his long-time pet cat “Wilbur” was dead. And that was unacceptable for Mr. Jansen. So he did what anyone of us would do: He turned his dead pet into a helicopter.

He combined the fine art of taxidermy and small engine motors. And now Wilbur had been given wings…

As a preacher, I’ve done a lot of funerals and one of the things that I’ve noticed is how uncomfortable most people are during these times. I think it’s the same reason Bart put wings on his dead cat, or why the taxidermy industry exists at all. We don’t like to be reminded of death, and funerals are the reminder of the ultimate reality that we can’t escape.

And this is precisely why we need moments like Ash Wednesday.

Now I know for some of the readers of this blog, Ash Wednesday may sound like something just for Catholics. And I get that. Growing up, I was under the impression that all things Catholic were suspect.

But Ash Wednesday was going on long before Protestants and Catholics ever split. It’s an annual reminder that Christians have observed every year, for thousands of years It’s when we remember that from dust we came and to dust we will return.  It is profoundly ancient and biblical.

Think about Job for a second. Do you remember what Job does when he hears the news about his family tragically dying? He covers himself in ashes.

We are all Job

In his famous sermon on the book of Job, Jonathan Edwards pointed out that all of our stories will one day be like his. Sure Job lost everything in one day while most of us experience these losses more slowly. But rest assured one day each of us will be on the door of death, leaving everything behind.

James Stockdale was a war-hero and POW during the Vietnam war. He had lived through the underbelly of the human condition and wound up becoming an admiral, and eventually ran with Ross Perot for the Vice-President. When they asked him about the other POW’s who didn’t survive he always said the same thing:

“Oh, that’s easy, the optimists.  They were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’  And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go.  Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter’ And then Easter would come and Easter would go.  And then Thanksgiving and then it would be Christmas again.  One by one, they died of a broken heart.”

I understand why we want to ignore death, why we pretend it’s something that just happens to other people. But there is a reason that the church has practiced Ash Wednesday for so long. Because eventually optimism is really hard to keep someone’s faith going.Funny Tombstone

Eventually, even the most die-hard of optimist is going to realize that the world is too broken, and too evil to just be more positive. And the worst part, is that in our more honest moments we know that evil is in our own hearts as well.

Our biggest Temptation is to try and withdraw from the suffering of the world, and most of us are “fortunate” enough to  have enough money and resources to do it. We can get a botox here and a tuck there to make it look as if we aren’t really dying. But this goes against the grain of the Gospel.

There’s a time in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus has been arrested, he’s headed to die, and one of the only phrases he says is “Now is the hour When Darkness Reigns.” I like that sentence. Because Jesus could have stopped this whole thing, and skipped the pain.  He could have ignored the suffering of the world, but instead he acknowledged that there was darkness in the world, and there are days when it seems like the darkness is winning.

This is at the heart of Ash Wednesday. It’s when the Church willingly enters into and acknowledges that All is not right with the World.

The End of The Story

You know, we hear stories about guys so attached to their cat that they put wings on them and pretend they didn’t die, and we think they’re crazy. But I would argue we do the same thing everyday. Our country spends over $20 Billion dollars a year on cosmetic surgery. We pretend death is just a dream.

Which is a bit like putting wings on a stuffed cat, and pretending it can fly.

So back to James Stockdale, he said the optimist never made it in the POW camps, but then they would ask about him. How did you survive? And he said, “I never lost faith in the end of the story, I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into a defining event of my life, which, in retrospect I would not trade.”

There is a difference between moping and mourning. There is a difference between whining and bearing in the suffering of the world, and there is a difference between optimism and hope.

Hope is looking darkness squarely in the face and saying Now may be your hour, but you will not rule the day.

Hope is choosing to have faith that the end of the story is going to make all the loss make sense.

Optimism wants to avoid the funeral, Hope can’t wait for Easter.

It is from dust we came, and to dust we will return.

But if the Bible teaches us anything, it’s that God can do a lot with dust.

Something Is Missing #3: The End of The World

End of the World pictureSo tomorrow is the day that the world is supposed to end. For over a thousand years, the Mayans have scheduled every day on their calendar.

And today is the last one.

I remember the first time I heard about this passive-aggressive prediction. It was eerie and freaky, and I totally believed it. I had all these images from the movies I’ve seen about the end of the world flash through my mind. There were volcanoes and lava or earthquakes and asteroids (there’s always an asteroid isn’t there?), and then finally at the last minute Will Smith comes in and saves the world.

Those are the images we’ve been handed for how to think about the end of the world.

And I think they’re wrong.

So it’s Christmas time. And for a lot of us that means shopping and parties and eggnog. But if you’re afraid of the end of the world tomorrow, than I think Christmas can really bless you today. Another word for the Christmas season is Advent. And Advent is just the Latin word for “Coming” It’s the idea that Jesus came into the world, and that he will one day soon come into the world again.

Advent is about the longing that is in every human heart, a desire, an ache that we all share for things to be different, for there to be no more cancer, or school shootings. It’s a hope for the world to be made new.

At the heart of Advent is the recognition that something is missing.

And Christmas reminds us that this something is really a someone.

I’m preaching this Sunday on a text from 1st Peter that has really captured my imagination the past few weeks. I rarely blog about what I’m about to preach on, but since enough people think that the end of the world just might happen tomorrow, I wanted to share a word of hope that might bless you this Christmas.

When Jesus first met Peter, he was a rough-around-the-edges fisherman. He was impulsive. He was a racist, he was a self-promoting, fearful bigot. In other words, he was a human. And Jesus found Peter, trained him and taught him for years. Peter betrayed, annoyed, and refused Jesus. And Jesus just kept pushing into Peter’s life. Jesus forgives again and again, he piles grace upon grace for Peter.

But when Jesus’ life comes to it’s most critical moment, when Jesus is headed to the cross, and needs a friend the most, Peter doesn’t show up for Jesus. And so after Jesus dies, Peter goes back to fishing. Then Jesus is raised from the dead, he shows up to all the disciples, and Peter just keeps on fishing. Because Peter now knows that he is a total failure.

But at least he knows how to fish.

Now up until this point, the Prodigal Son was just a story that Jesus had told. But in John 21 it’s a story that Jesus acts out. Jesus runs to Peter. Jesus hasn’t given up on him. And it’s here that Peter learns that no failure is too big for Jesus to overcome. Continue reading Something Is Missing #3: The End of The World

What Plagues Us All

When I was in college, I got the chance to go to the Cairo Musuem in Egypt for a few days. In the back, of the museum, for a few extra dollars, I was able to go back and see the mummified remains of Pharaoh Ramsees II. The same Pharaoh who many scholars think was in charge in the days of Moses. He’s the guy who met Moses, and Moses met God. Another way of scything this is that I’m two handshakes away from God.

At the time of Ramses II, The Egyptian world was being told that Pharaoh was a god. He was said to maintain Ma’at, or balance. You can imagine how important balance would be if all of life was centered around the Nile river. If the river goes up people die, if it goes down people die. So what was needed was Ma’at, and Pharaoh was said to be able to give it to them. Now there is some more fascinating stuff here (like how Pharaoh was said to have 9 bows of power to keep Ma’at and God’s plagues on Pharaoh were a direct war on these 9 bows), but the point I want to make today is that when God sent the plagues to Egypt they had a very specific purpose:

God was undoing creation on Pharaoh.

Pharaoh is telling everyone that he is God, and so God is saying to Pharaoh, “If you’re me, than just try holding all this together.” And one by one, God systemically dismantles Creation on the guy who was telling people he was in charge of it.

Which brings us to the book of Revelation. Because eventually John sees God doing something on the earth that most of his readers would have thought sounded familiar. In Revelation 9, the Angels start blowing trumpets, and eventually God responds to the trumpets by sending plagues. Remember this book is written to a group of churches in the first century. These churches are filled with Christians being persecuted for their faith in God. They are asking God questions like Why? and How Long? Why won’t you do something, and it seems there were no answers they could understand. But plagues, now that’s something they get.

And not just any plagues either. The first one released was the plague of locusts. Remember Revelation is deeply symbolic. The plague of Locusts is what happens when one part of creation oversteps it’s bounds and destroys entire other parts of creation. That’s exactly what Caesar was doing and about to do to this little band of Christians. So the plagues were a mirror, on a cosmic level, of what was happening in their day to day lives. Now most of the time I hear this passage talked about, it’s by people who immediately try to talk about Apache helicopters in Iraq. But that is to try and domesticate this whole story. This is a story of subversive resistance (to the point of death) for this little band of Jesus followers. They are about to be required to bow a knee to Caesar and they are going to have say yes, or say goodbye to their heads. This isn’t about  21st century problems in the Middle East.

At least not in the way we think. Continue reading What Plagues Us All

Christians and Pleasure

So I love this picture. It’s from the prohibition era, and it’s pretty self-explanatory. It’s iconic for what I believe many people think of when they think of Jesus followers. We don’t cuss or chew, or go with girls who do.

In her book, “The Kindness of God” Janet Soskice writes about how when women have their first baby they tend to feel guilty about the amount of affection that they feel toward their child. They’ve never had an experience quite like this before and so sometimes they will struggle with guilt.

She wrote about how one woman found her devotional life in ruins after her first child. So she went to three different churches because she worried about her lack of time with God. One preacher told her to get up an hour earlier than the baby to pray with God, another preacher told her to have her husband watch the baby three times a week so she could make Mass, and another told her, “Don’t worry about that right now, the church is praying for you.”

All of that sounds like decent enough advice, but…

The problem is that none of it takes into account that perhaps the best way that this woman might experience life with God is through her baby.

Did you know that when a woman nurses, her body releases doses of oxycotin? So God wired mothers up, to where when they nurse their newborn it gives them neurochemicals that produce feelings of intimacy and deep affection. So much so, that in tests on rats, mother rats choose their newborns over cocaine.

Here’s the point…we have been taught to think of pleasure has something that we should feel guilty for, but God wired us up this way. Now there are ways that we can and have abused pleasure, it can, of course, make a great servant and a horrible master. But we must never forget pleasure was God’s idea.And if we let it, it doesn’t point away from Him, in fact, it does the opposite.

Here’s a question for you to chew on for a bit: Do you think that Jesus enjoyed life? I know that it was said the Messiah would be a man of sorrows, and certainly Jesus practiced heroic ways of withdrawing from the world as well. But the question remains: Did Jesus enjoy life? Because your answer to that question, as a follower of Jesus, will shape the way you approach your own. Continue reading Christians and Pleasure

The Finger Is a Gun

A few years ago, one of my good friends decided to take an improv class. It was in a comedy club in downtown Ft. Worth, and my friend was born for it. Everyone was cheering him on, we were wondering if he was going to pursue this professionally or not. He was really a natural comedian, he had great timing, stage presence…everything.

And when he got done with the class, the word he had to describe it was exhausting. He loved every second of it, but it was more than a class. It was something that from the moment you walked in the door you were immersed in.

Recently I read Tina Fey’s new book “BossyPants” I think she is one of the funnier people in the world, and wanted to hear about what life was like working for SNL. It’s a bit rougher around the edges than your average 30 Rock episode, but right in the middle of it is a chapter worth the price of the book. It’s all about Improv.

Fey points out that, for her, Improv is not a way of creating comedy, it is a worldview. And like every worldview it’s got rules. Here are a few of them:

1. Always agree. This is paramount. Because Improv depends on imagination, the worst thing you can do is not go along with the scene. If your partner enters the scene, points their finger at you, and says “This is a gun!” You can’t say, “That’s not a gun! That’s just your finger.” If you do than the scene is a non-starter. Now, Fey points out that in real life you obviously won’t agree with what everyone says. But that’s not the point. The Rule of Agreement means to “Respect what your partner has created.” In the words of Fey, “Start with a Yes and see where that takes you.” Continue reading The Finger Is a Gun

The Groans of Creation

Last week, I drove by a bunch of  protesting college students. They were on a main road, next to a particular Christian college, and they were holding up signs for Haiti. The signs were basically saying, “Remember Haiti’s not better just because they are no longer in the 24 hour news cycle.” My immediate response was to think, Haiti? That was 3 natural disasters ago.

But they are right. Haiti hasn’t just magically improved because our cameras stopped filming. A huge portion of the Haitian population still sleeps outside. Their infrastructure is still badly damaged, only now there aren’t major celebrities pleading their cause on national television.

Haiti is so 2009.

Because now we are seeing the pictures of the devastation that Japan is suffering from a massive earthquake and a subsequent Tsunami. And if we have any kind of heart, we find ourselves asking new questions…that feel awfully familiar to ones we’ve asked before.

I still remember what it feels like to find a pair of kids shoes buried in rubble from the Tsunami of 2004 (see above picture). I remember being angry with God  for allowing it to happen. It was 3 months after the Tsunami when it stopped being a abstract problem and started being one that I was holding in my hands, but the anger was fresh for me. It’s what happens when ideas become personal. Non-profit leaders have long known this, if you give someone a statistic about suffering there isn’t a compelling tug to do something, but if you show them a face…if that number is connected to a person, then there is a much greater chance that you might just engage the problem.

Bono, the lead singer of U2, once said, “15 thousand people are dying needlessly each day from AIDS, TB, and Malaria. Mothers, fathers, teachers, farmers, nurses, mechanics, children. This is Africa’s crisis. That it’s not on the nightly news, that we do not treat this like an emergency…that’s our crisis.” Continue reading The Groans of Creation

A New Beginning

So this is one of the holiest times of the Christian calendar. It’s the season of Lent. You know it’s gotta be big because even Taco Bueno’s menu has altered for it. It’s a time of year that Jesus followers remember and the Passion of Jesus, and ultimately the Easter story.

So sometimes people give up Ice Cream, or Facebook, or complaining. For Lent this year, I gave up telling people what I gave up for Lent.*

But the whole purpose behind it, is to remind Jesus’ followers of their story. Of a God who moves things from darkness to light. And that when things seem the darkest, don’t write God off because He just might be up to something that no sees coming. And in that spirit, I wanted to post something that I found on CNN’s website last week. It’s a blog written by the (now) infamous Rob Bell about how he came to be a Pastor.

I wanted to post it because Resurrection isn’t just a moment that happened it is something that happens. Hope you enjoy!


One Friday evening in the fall of my senior year of college I got a headache.

I took some aspirin, laid on the couch, and waited for it to go away. But it didn’t; it got worse. By midnight I was in agony, and by 3 a.m. I was wondering if I was going to die.

As the sun rose, my roommate drove me to the hospital where I learned that I had viral meningitis. A neurologist explained to me that the fluid around my brain had become infected and was essentially squeezing my brain against the walls of my skull.

So that’s what that was. Continue reading A New Beginning

Denying the Resurrection

I love this. Peter Rollins is quite the controversial figure. And while his introduction may leave some of your feeling a bit uncomfortable, I’d like to challenge you to listen past the surface of what he’s saying. It is after all a Parable.

What I love about this is they way it moves from Theology to something tangible. Ideas, after all, are empty if they just stay in our head. And to move from word to flesh is very central to the Gospel.

So here’s the question: How do you affirm the resurrection in your life? How have you denied it?  Continue reading Denying the Resurrection

Love Never Fails

So there is this one time in the book of Acts, where Paul is in the middle of this kind of sham trial. He’s in front of the Sanhedrein, the Jewish religious leaders of his day, and he’s facing the death penalty. It’s got to be a stressful situation to say the least. And to make the situation even worst, at one point, Paul gets unfairly slapped in the face. Continue reading Love Never Fails