Reclaiming the Resurrection

I am certainly not the first person to remark that evangelicals often struggle to know what to do with Easter. Oh, we’re all for the resurrection. We insist that it happened, and write all sorts of books defending its historicity. However, once the proofs have been trotted out and the usual alternative theories debunked, we often struggle for the application, the ‘so what’ of the empty tomb. At best, we say something like “and this really proves that Jesus was God, so you should believe it.”

Belief is certainly a good response to Christ’s resurrection, and I’m all for apologetics, but this approach deeply impoverishes us if it is the whole story. We often talk about the significance of the cross, plumbing the depths of Good Friday. Unfortunately the resurrection often ends up as an addendum in our theology. This is tragic, especially since the Scriptures actually have a lot to say about Jesus’ resurrection. It is a central event, as pivotal as the crucifixion, in the story of God’s work in Jesus. Of course we ought not pit the two against each other, but Easter provides an opportunity for us to reflect on all the things the resurrection of Jesus Christ means.

To that end, I thought I’d post some ways (by no means all of them) the resurrection is viewed as significant in Scripture. I’m breaking with my usual form and offering proof texts in parenthesis without specific comments for the sake of space. I hope their connection to the given idea will be evident. If not, I’m happy to expand any of them in the comments. In addition, I’ve tried to give the list some progression. The first few applications are the ones I hear most often, the later ones are less emphasized, at least in my experience. Continue reading

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Good Friday Meditation

Note: This is the meditation I’m giving tonight at our Good Friday service.

Text: Luke 22:66-71

It was the dawn of the last day for the Son of Man. The morning sun was stretching into a courtroom already buzzing with action. Luke’s account is terse and to the point, but Matthew and Mark help us paint in around the edges. This “trial” was no careful, judicious affair. It was pure chaos. Men were being brought in from all over the city, the rabble-rousers and usual suspects, to accuse the Son of Man. Money was switching hands under the table to convince false witnesses to make up accusations, but none of the charges would stick. Nobody could agree; they were simply yelling contradictions.

In the midst of it all was Jesus, humiliated, chains on his wrists, facing the men said to be the holy leaders ofIsrael. He wasn’t pleading for his life. He wasn’t giving some rousing defense. No, the gospels tell us that he stood silent, unwavering, not speaking a word as every attempt to fabricate his guilt fell to pieces. How uncomfortable it must have been for those seeking to accuse him. He didn’t speak, didn’t give them the chance to argue or twist his words. He didn’t even have the dignity to treat them like the judges they believed themselves to be.

Finally, exasperated, the council silences the crowds and addresses Jesus directly. They ask the question that has stood in the shadows behind every false accusation: “Is this your claim? Are you the Christ, the Messiah? Tell us.” Continue reading

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Learning to Dance

When I was an awkward teenager I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out ways to get girls to like me – hardly a surprise, I know. Unfortunately, I was a wannabe-punk rocker and part time Dungeon Master living in rural Nebraska, so my basic lack of appeal to the opposite sex was hardly surprising. Rather than connecting the dots and trading in my Hot Topic spikes and polyhedral dice, however, I ended up acquiring a bunch of “skills” that I was sure would do the trick. I learned to play guitar, memorized poetry, and got good at card tricks. I also, in a particularly ill-conceived move, decided to learn how to dance.

Now by dancing I don’t mean that I figured out how to slow dance at prom. I mean ballroom dancing, big band swing and tango. I started by watching videos on the then-infant internet; when it became apparent this wasn’t working, I took lessons at a ballroom in a nearby town where the classes were made up half by people in their 60s and half by others as socially clueless as me.

While I eventually got decent at dancing, at least enough that in college it was a skill I used to help woo my now-wife, as a gangly 17-year-old I was something of a trainwreck. Being the sort of person for whom “learning” meant “reading a book,” I endeavored to master the right moves. With great focus, I nailed the footwork and how to lead a partner. I thought I had it down. But when the music started, while I executed the moves with technical precision, the magic wasn’t there. Instead of grooving to the beat, I looked a lot like a skinny teen stiffly executing a series of memorized movements. I knew the steps, but I hadn’t begun to learn how to dance.

While stories of my high school ineptitude are good for a laugh, I want to propose that learning to dance is a lot like embracing the Christian faith. Continue reading

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Lies, Damn Lies, and… Well, You Know

Evangelicals love statistics, especially negative ones. The way the church talks, one often thinks the sky is falling. According to “studies”, young people are leaving in droves, Christians are morally indistinguishable from non-Christians, and in all likelihood this will be the last Christian generation in America.

The problem with these oft-cited “studies” is that they simply aren’t true. It has often been remarked that we as evangelicals love poorly-conceived statistics – some articles here, here and here might be helpful places to start if you’ve never heard this critique. Recently, I spent some time fact-checking one of these claims – that “only four percent of the coming generation will be Christian.” While this immediately raised my eyebrows because I have some background in the area, a quick google search confirmed that this stat was everywhere. The problem is, it simply doesn’t reflect the facts. Coming out of this work, I thought I’d post an overview of some reputable statistics on where evangelicalism, and Christianity as a whole, actually stands on the American stage. Continue reading

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Mario and Morning Mercies

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23)

I often view my life the same way I remember playing Super Mario Brothers as a kid. To explain for those who didn’t come of age with video games, I spent hours of my youth jumping on turtles and eating mushrooms and strange plants (disturbing habits, if you think about it), trying to save a princess. Inevitably I would die, an ill-timed jump or flying goomba doing my little red plumber in. However, there was a sort of “grace mechanic” built into the game. As long as I had an extra life I could try again, hopefully learning from my mistakes. These extra lives were utterly essential, but they were also a finite resource. A player only had so many. Sure, I could buy more by collecting coins or finding rare green ‘shrooms (again, disturbing), but this almost never kept up with the attrition. Eventually I’d screw up for the last time and it would be all over.

We tend, in our hearts, to disbelieve the inexhaustible nature of God’s grace. Like the disciples, we count the number of times we must forgive our neighbor, hoping that one day we might bring down the hammer, and we assume God does the same with us. We are creatures of finite patience and limited mercy, and we view our Creator as being just like us. We keep glancing up, expecting to see a counter telling us how many chances we have left before God, like my Nintendo, tells us we’ve screwed up one time too many and it’s “Game Over”. Continue reading

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Material Possessions and Bad Dating Relationships

I recently watched a two-hour discussion between a couple of Christian preachers from a big conference. I’ll leave everyone nameless because I’m less interested in who they were than what they discussed. In particular, at one point they entered into a debate about the way we as Christians need to think about material things. The first pastor (we’ll call him John) argued that the central issue for Americans is that they need to give up their attachment to material things (houses, cars, food, money, etc.). The second pastor (who we’ll call Doug) said this might be true, but that we also had to teach them how to truly enjoy and think about the material things they have, since most of them aren’t called to simply get rid of them. John agreed in principle, but pointed out that this wasn’t nearly as common a problem as over-attachment. Doug argued it’s still an issue because otherwise people are just left feeling guilty about the things they have, after which the conversation moved on to other things.

I have to confess that my sympathies are actually with Doug, but if you’re on John’s side, hear me out. It’s the last comment, that of feeling guilty about what you have, that I think highlights the weaknesses of the simplistic self-denial approach. But first, an anecdote. Continue reading

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What Is (and Isn’t) Legalism

Note: It’s been six months; I’m now a Master of Divinity, a title decidedly more underwhelming in fact than in pretense. Since I now possess some of that mythical resource called “free time”, and since my one-year-old daughter hasn’t proven the most stimulating conversation partner, I’ve decided to take up blogging once more. However, I continue to have my guilt-free policy; I feel no more compelled to post than you are to read. Enjoy (or don’t).

I often hear Christians accusing others of being legalistic. It seems to be the go-to slur of evangelicalism, much like “socialist” is for Republicans or “Yankee” for my friends from the South. Now, I have no love for real legalism. However, the word is often thrown around with little care or precision. This is problematic both because it can be used as an unfair pejorative and because it leaves us without a stronger label to apply to those who really are legalistic. With this in mind, let’s ask how we might legitimately apply the label and then look at a few examples of what it isn’t. Continue reading

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He Loves Me Not… (Review: Love Wins)

Rob Bell’s book Love Wins has generated a great deal of controversy in many Christian circles. While I have no desire to jump on the bandwagon of reviews just because everyone else is (I think some of the people freaking out are owed part of Bell’s royalties for the hand they had in making the book as popular as it is), the book is up for discussion in a class I’m taking this summer, and since I wrote up some thoughts on it anyway, I thought I’d put it into a blog post. For your perusal are three things I appreciated about the book followed by three areas of concern; I’ll let the length of the respective sections speak for themselves. Continue reading

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A Reason to Sing

Here is the sermon on Psalm 147 I preached at Grace Chapel on 5/29, if anyone is interested.

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When Judgment Day Didn’t Come…

I’ve been as snarky as anyone these last few weeks since I heard that, according to some Christian radio guy, the rapture was supposed to happen today,  starting some hours ago in New Zealand (awfully convenient how the omnipresent Lord of the universe is bound by time zones). However, I do think it might be fitting to offer a few semi-serious comments on the whole affair, since it seems to have everyone talking and is a great excuse for people to ridicule the religion I’m a part of. Here, in no particular order, are some things worth chewing on: Continue reading

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