Lent: Tickets to Spring Training


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In the early church people preparing for baptism, called catechumens, would spend 40 days fasting, praying, and meeting daily to learn the Christian faith. Eventually, as a show of solidarity, the rest of the church began fasting with them. Lent, the old English word for “Springtime”, became, as bishop Nick Knisely calls it, “the Spring Training of the Christian life.” It is an apt analogy: Spring Training is where baseball players try to break bad habits in their swing from the previous season or try out a new pitch. In Spring Training players hone skills for the regular season. And Opening Day, Ash Wednesday, is this week.

How can you maximize the opportunity our spiritual Spring Training presents?

Ash Wednesday: The tradition is to begin Lent by fasting until you go to church for the imposition of ashes to “remember you are dust” and holy communion. We break our fast in Holy Eucharist. Attend an Ash Wednesday service!

Personal Devotion: During the forty days of Lent we adopt personal Lenten devotions: either giving up a bad habit or adopting a new spiritual discipline. One act of personal devotion you might engage in: Attend a Lenten Study. Ours is Anglican Faith – 5 Centuries of Prayer Practices.

Corporate Worship: If you count, you will notice there are more than 40 days from Ash Wednesday until Easter. That is because Sundays are not part of Lent. The celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord is always a holiday! Even though we do not maintain Lenten fasts on Sundays in Lent, we do mark our worship with reminders of our time of preparation to celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection. We eliminate the word “alleluia”, exchange flowers for greenery, and clergy wear cassock and surplice (which looks like the black robe worn by Keanu Reaves in the movie The Matrix), rather than an alb (white robe) and chasuble (the poncho the priest wears during communion).

Many Anglican churches add penitential beginnings to worship services and the Gospel readings in Lent are from the “four encounters with Jesus,” readings in the Gospel of John the early church taught the catechumens.

Why go to all this work? In order to remind our wandering hearts of our deep need for a savior. Lent reminds us that our need for redemption is not just theory, but an objective reality. Lent is 40 days of turning from – the bible calls that “repentance.” But Lent is also 40 days of looking toward – toward God’s deliverance. Thomas Merton said, “The source of all sorrow is the illusion that of ourselves we are anything but dust.” Staring at our inability is the ultimate act of hope when it drives us into the arms of the one who is able. It is only when we recognize our need…recognize, as the prayer book says, “that we do not come to this thy table O Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies” (BCP, 337) that we open our hearts and minds to experience the transforming power of God in our lives purchased at the Cross and proved by the Resurrection.

Spring Training is here. Batter up!

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The Great Tradition

The Fathers

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New folk are often struck by how much Anglicans talk about “the tradition.” People sometimes assume we mean, “That’s just how we’ve always done it.” But that is not what we are talking about at all. Refusal to change is not “the tradition,” just stasis. Jaroslav Pelikan, called that, “Traditionalism, the dead faith of the living.” The Great Tradition is the living faith of the dead. What we mean by “tradition” is robust and life-altering. The Apostle Paul commended the Corinthians because they, “maintain the traditions as I delivered them to you.” (1 Cor 11:2) and, “stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter (2 Thes. 2:15). So while Jesus criticized the traditions of the elders (Matt 15:3), the traditions of the Christian faith passed along both verbally and in scripture are applauded.

But what is “the tradition”? When Lancelot Andrewes, the bishop who oversaw the translation of the King James Bible, was asked what Anglican Christians believe, he described the tradition: “One canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries…determine the boundary of our faith.” “The Tradition” is the elemental seed of the faith found and taught in the Church’s first five centuries.

Why not just go with the Bible? Because heresy after heresy and schism after schism arose in those first five centuries. The early church dealt with them and told us how to deal with them. St. Vincent of Lerins referred to the tradition as, “That which has been taught always, everywhere, and by all.” In our era many claim God giving them new revelation. Yet these “new ideas” are always remarkably similar to ideas resoundingly rejected by the Church as novelty centuries ago. “The Tradition” is Mere Christianity, the core of the faith, that which has been passed from generation to generation.

The verb form of the Greek word for tradition, “paradosis” is “handed off” or “delivered.” When Paul said in 1 Cor 11:2, “maintain the traditions as I delivered them to you.” Paul literally said, “maintain the traditions as I traditioned you.” He used the same word when he said, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3). Jude called it, “the faith once for all delivered.” “The tradition” is nothing less than the core of the faith that is handed from generation to generation. It is the baton that must be passed, the irreducible minimum. It is much more than what I received in my flattened evangelical background that assumed nothing was needed beyond a personal experience of Jesus and a passing knowledge of the scriptures that could be interpreted as a promise towards myself. It is important to know “the tradition” because “the tradition” is not just that which must be received for our lives to be changed. It is “the tradition” that guards that we do not wander into the ditch of narcissism on one side or traditionalism on the other. It is the tradition we must pass on for the answer to Jesus’ question, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth” to be a resounding, “Yes!”


Photo credit: Kievan Rus’ miniature (11th-century) retrieved from: http://pravoslavie.ru/30762.html

The True Cross



You probably missed it. It doesn’t show up in most calendars, and it isn’t mentioned newsfeeds – Holy Cross Day was September 14.

Here’s the story: Constantine converted to Christianity and sent the one person he trusted to discover whether or not this “Christian stuff” was true: His mom, Helena.

Helena arrived in the Holy Land in 326 and found Christians worshipping in the places Jesus walked, just as they had since the resurrection. They showed the emperor’s mother the places of Jesus’ life, and she built churches atop them. One of the places Christians were worshipping was around a pagan temple to Jupiter in Jerusalem.

It turns out the temple had been built by Emperor Hadrian (as in Hadrian’s Wall across England) after a Jewish revolt against Rome in 133. As one might imagine, Roman emperors didn’t much like revolts, so Hadrian destroyed Jerusalem and rebuilt it as a Roman city. Hadrian sought to get Christians to abandon the site of Jesus’ resurrection by destroying the cave tomb and covering the site with a pagan temple…forever marking the spot for posterity. Think about it: In 133AD people who had been led to faith by the apostles were still alive to watch the tomb destroyed.  Two hundred years later Helena arrived and ordered the temple torn down and the enormous Church of the Holy Sepulcher built over Calvary and the empty tomb.  In the demolition, as the story goes, they discovered three wooden crucifixes. Church historian, Eusebius, records that Helena located a sick woman and had her touch the three crosses. Upon touching the third she was healed. Helena declared that cross “the true cross.”

According to very early tradition, they kept the cross in the church yard the day of the church’s dedication for all to see, and brought it inside to elaborate ceremony the next day, the day we call, “Holy Cross Day.”

It’s a neat story about an artifact that was later chopped up and distributed…so widely that John Calvin once quipped that if all the pieces of the “true cross” were gathered, the hold of a large cargo ship couldn’t contain them.

Holy Cross Day, though, is not really the celebration of a now historically unverifiable artifact. No, commemorating the instrument of Christ’s death is appropriate because the central focus of the Christian life is the work Jesus accomplished on that cross and the cruciform life Jesus’ followers are called to live in the world. The Cross is the unveiling of God’s true life in the world; and the Cross is the proper shape of human existence. The Cross of Christ is more than an event in history. It is the event of history.

Jesus said, “when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself.” The world’s need is the cross. The Good News is the news of the cross. God’s gift to you is the cross: God taking your sin and death upon his Son, forever transforming an emblem of shame reserved for the worst criminals into the icon of transformation and grace for all the world.

The cross points to the great truth that our lives are not our own, we were bought with a price. If you are in Christ, you were buried with Christ in baptism and raised to new life in him. If you are in Christ, you belong to the Crucified One – A Savior who calls His friends to himself, and then sends us out as heralds of His arms open wide on the hard wood of that cross.

Did you miss the Feast of the Cross this year? Did it slip past you unawares? Despair not. The true artifact God has left in the world is not a collection of rotting splinters. God has left behind something infinitely more powerful to point the way to the Father’s grace – living artifacts. Christian, God has left you as a testimony of His grace, as the picture that is worth a thousand words, as the implement of healing for a sick world. That’s right:

The True Cross…is YOU!


Believing Crazy Stuff


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Acts 1:1-11, Eph 1:15-23, Luke 24:44-53 (with a shoutout to Matthew 28:16-17)

St. Augustine of Hippo said, “If you believe what you like in the gospel and reject what you don’t like, it’s not the gospel you believe but yourself.”

When I hear Augustine’s words I can’t help but think of Jesus’ Ascension. The Ascension is the embarrassing event. The hard to believe event. The event most Christians would rather just avoid thinking about. Ask us about the incarnation and without blinking we say, “God did something amazing.” Ask of the resurrection and we think, “500 people at one time saw Jesus and people don’t have group hallucinations.” But bring up the Ascension…A group of guys standing around 40 days later watching Jesus’ feet disappear into heaven. Its’ …awkward, Ok.

A variety of scholars will tell you that the ancient world had numerous “ascensions.” Rome had Romulus and Augustus, The Greeks, Hercules. In the Bible, Genesis has Enoch whose story ends with “and God took him,” and in 2 Kings 2 Elijah disappears in a whirlwind. But, no matter how many reports may have been out there, the New Testament witnesses don’t seem any more comfortable with the Ascension than we are. They tell the story with as little elaboration as possible, and with more than a hint of confusion. In the description in Acts 1, two men in white appear and ask them, “why are you standing around looking into heaven in the middle of a workday?” It’s a wonder they didn’t respond, “Are you kidding? Our friend, who we watched them kill stone cold dead, has been hanging out with us for more than a month telling us he would ascend to the Father. And. He. Just. Did. So excuse us, if even though he told us what he was going to do, we just can’t stop looking.”

In the book of Acts we find out the disciples did what one would assume they would do when God does something beyond explanation: They worshipped. We Christians still worship on Ascension Day. The church in Jerusalem has gathered on this day on the Mount of Olives from at least the late 300s. A simple chapel with a hole in the roof sits over a rock tradition says is the place from which Jesus left. You can stand there and look up and see the sky.

Unlike many of the commemorative sites in the Holy Land, this one is thoroughly unimpressive. The impressive part is long gone…seated at the right hand of the Father. As Paul said in Ephesians: “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.”

“How” Jesus did it is a mystery. What it must have looked like to the witnesses is as well. In the East they taught the faith with icons rather than stained glass. In iconography there is an artistic technique called a mandorla, the Italian word for almond. A mandorla is an almond, or round or starburst looking shape around Jesus that generally gets darker as you get closer to Him. It indicates a mystery beyond mere seeing. You see mandorla’s in the transfiguration, the resurrection, and the ascension. A mandorla is sort of a visual parenthesis that says, “What is happening, we saw it, but we don’t understand it…it’s a mystery.” They may have been witnesses, but they couldn’t really describe it – and painters can’t really paint it.

In the West we have all sorts of representations of the Ascension from ceramic feet disappearing through church ceilings, to Dali’s painting of the ascension that has Jesus disappearing into what looks like the atomic structure of the universe. Is it any wonder in Matthew 28:16 and 17 we read, “Now the eleven disciples went…to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted.”  If eyewitness were enough, you might have the inability to capture the image, but there wouldn’t be doubt.

Instead, the scripture points us towards mystery in our relationship with the risen Christ. We know Him and perceive Him, not through a set of coherent intellectual propositions, or even trust in the reliability of eyewitnesses. A “faith” founded on propositions alone, no matter how sound the argument, still fails to change the one who accepts it. That sort of faith is just opinion.

True faith is union with God, participation in the life of the risen Christ. We are not baptized into observations or opinions, we are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the language of icons, our life is plunged into the mandorla that is the Kingdom of God. God calls his people into that parenthetical state where our lives constantly refer and point to a new reality, a reality which has filled us…a quality of life that transcending opinion, is nothing less than union with God, a union that itself witnesses to the coming Kingdom.

More than mere eyewitness observation…more than persuasive propositional truth…OUR walk with the resurrected and ascended Jesus Christ is what affirms the living truth of Christ. To quote St. Paul, you can be one with God because “God placed all things under His feet.” Because Jesus has ascended, “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened.”  Because Jesus has ascended, “you may know…the hope to which he has called you.” Because Jesus is ascended, available is “his incomparably great power for us who believe. Because he is ascended, to you, his body, are the riches of his glorious inheritance.

If you believe what you like in the gospel and reject what you don’t, it’s not the gospel you believe but yourself. But if you dare believe the Gospel, if you cling, even to the “crazy stuff”…if you have faith, not as spectator or as “opinion” holder, but faith as participation with Jesus, as union with God, then you find, not only a confidence unavailable for those who trust in themselves, but that your life becomes the irrefutable evidence of “the  fullness of Him who fills all in all.

What are you waiting for?


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No one likes to wait. Remember staring at presents under the Christmas tree? Or arriving famished at your favorite restaurant and the maître d’ tells you 90 minutes? Or standing in line forever at Disney’s Space Mountain to get to the sign that says, “Time from this point: 2 hours.”

The archetypal wait of my life was waiting for our daughter to be born. It took us a long time to conceive, so I was very excited about the pregnancy. I tummy talked from the very start. I could hardly wait for the arrival. But, as often happens with first children, our baby was late. Finally, the doctor said, “If nothing happens by day 10, we will induce.” We induced, and even then, Ellie still wouldn’t come. We walked the maternity floor’s hallways for hours. She took so long I actually got to deliver my daughter myself. Seriously.

With a onesy on my head I hovered over the doctor during the delivery like an umpire. I was so close he finally said, “Matt, two don’t fit down here. Either back up or get in here and deliver this baby yourself.” So I did.

After another push…our wait was over.

The season of Advent is all about waiting. Waiting and watching. We want to get to the end, but we have to wait, like waiting for a baby who refuses to come.

Perhaps you are doing some waiting in your life. Perhaps the waiting and watching are overcoming you. If that is you, consider the lyrics of a waiting pregnant woman’s song: In Luke 1:46-55 the virgin Mary sings a song known to history as, “The Magnificat.” Mary sang, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Mary too, in need of a savior, instructs us on waiting. From Mary we learn: How to wait, why to wait, and to whom should we look as we wait.

I. How to wait:  

In Mary’s wait, Magnifying the Lord and rejoicing in God made a difficult wait easier. Yes, an angel of the Lord had come to Mary and told a virgin she would bear a son, and yes, Mary acquiesced willingly. But doing things God’s way would have gotten complicated quickly: The glares from a distance, the clucking self-righteous with their rumors and innuendo, the shaming taunts, “An angel you say? We aren’t as naive as that fiancé of yours.”  No wonder Mary sought solace in another expectant mother, a relative conveniently located in another town. Yet, in her soul, Mary magnified the Lord. Mary teaches us to wait exercising the sacrifice of praise.

II. Why Wait? 

48 he has looked on the humble estate of his servant For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for he who is mighty has done great things for meand holy is his name. 50 And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. For Mary, God is thrice dependable: God sees Mary. God does “great things” for Mary. And the mercy of God is not just for Mary, but for all those who fear him.”

III. To whom should we look as we wait? 

Notice the completed tense verbs in v 51-53… 51 He has shown strength with his armscattered the proud, 52 …brought down the mighty…exalted those of humble estate; 53 …filled the hungrythe rich…sent away empty54 He has helped his servant Israel. Mary lists seven ways God is faithful. Seven, the number of God’s perfection. All are expressed as completed actions, even though they still have not come to pass. It is an airtight case laid out in song that God’s character is utterly dependable: “in remembrance of his mercy,55 as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

Waiting is hard. Waiting is lonely. And I have noticed, that when I look for my deliverance from the wrong sources, waiting is discouraging. It doesn’t take a NASA scientist to realize that our deliverance will not come through human progress, or politics, or the goodness of family and friends, not even through a great romance. Yet we continue to look for deliverance from sources that cannot deliver. The Lord is the only source who will not let us down. Magnify Him!

What are you waiting for? 

At a crosswalk when someone doesn’t know which way to go, they stop and clog traffic. Often, we wait because we don’t know which way is forward…in other words, we’re lost. Interestingly, the Bible says we are all lost. Some people think that the Bible says we are evil and need obliterating. But the Bible actually says we are lost and need to be found…that for most of us our problem isn’t badness, just lostness. What do lost people look like?

-Lost people pursue the world and what it offers.

-Lost people come to believe that the way to have a great life is to try to control it.

-Lost people think that somehow money or sex or power or pleasure can fill the deep ache inside.

-Lost people think there is another source of life besides the God who created us then joined us 2,000 years ago to redeem us when we wandered off and became lost.

Have you lost your way? In your relationships, your work, your calling, your parenting, your desires, your values – have you lost your way?

We all get lost. The ancient prophet Isaiah said it like this: “All we like sheep have gone astray.” Lost sheep need to be found. Only in “God our savior” can our spirit rejoice in a true and lasting way.

Mary tells us at the end of her song that God is great: The “mighty one.” But God is also good, “his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.”

How merciful is God? So merciful that Jesus went to a cross to rescue lost folk just like us. In fact, later in Luke’s gospel Jesus says it straight out, “I came to seek and save the lost.”

Could Jesus be talking to you?

Waiting is frustrating. Waiting in the dark can be terrifying. Being stopped in the middle of a crowded intersection, being bypassed by a world that appears to know where it is going feels like hell. But the Good News is that God seeks and saves the lost. And, as Mary shows us, we can wait on God, because God always follows through on his promises, so much so that we can behold them as already accomplished when we behold them with eyes of faith.

What are you waiting for? 

In the eternal realms the beginning of all things being set right is at hand. Wait on God. The ultimate finder of the lost is worth the wait. Wait on God. The time for our delivery is at hand. Let him bring you new birth. Wait on God. When you do, you will find in your waiting, that the Lord will make your heart sing too.

Killing it: How overwork leads to underperformance

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Have you ever been really tired? As in, barely drag yourself out of bed, wonder how you’ll make it through the day, dog-tired?

Have you ever been discouraged, depressed, or anxious?

Are you any of those right now?

Jesus lets us in on a spiritual practice that research says increases work performance, reduces anxiety & depression, increases energy levels and happiness, and will even help you live longer.

What is this great catalyst for human thriving?

It is Sabbath. That’s right – a simple practice taken for granted for 3500 years.

We don’t sabbath much these days. We go, go, go. 24/7. We brag about the number of hours we work. If we do “take” a day (Did you notice we use the language of theft?) it is to shop, do home projects, plan the week, or acquiesce to the tyranny of Sunday children’s sports. That isn’sabbath! The Hebrew word for sabbath means “cease.” Sabbath is about ceasing – about rest!

Easier said than done

I had breakfast with a friend last week. As we left he asked if I was on my way to the office. I told him, “No, it’s my day off.” He asked what my plans were. I replied, “Writing a talk on sabbath taking.” I am so bad at taking a day off that I used my day off to write a sermon on taking a day off!

If you were born before 1965 you have, in the recesses of your memory, Sunday go to meetin’ clothes, dinner with cousins, sitting on the porch, naps, ball in the yard, reading with your family…and being bored because all the stores were closed. The sabbath was a day to “cease.”

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In Mark 2:23-3:6 Mark records Jesus being followed and grilled by religious leaders for improper sabbathing. Jesus was well-acquainted with the sabbath. Keeping sabbath is the fourth of the 10 commandments. The exhortation to “remember the sabbath” is repeated 150 times, more than the other 9 commandments combined. One example illustrates the sabbath’s place in the biblical narrative: When Moses is about to leave the mountain from God’s presence, tablets in hand, to take the commandments to the people (Exodus 31:12-18), God’s parting words are, “Above all, remember the sabbath.

What’s the big deal?

Sabbath is God’s primary mode of spiritual formation. It is the marinade of the spiritual life – a secret sauce that, when it soaks into us, flavors our lives. Which means that getting rid of the sabbath is a great way to insure spiritual blandness. Joseph Stalin actually tried this. The Soviet Union went to a 5-day week in 1930. It was a trick to get rid of religion by eliminating the sabbath.

What happened when folk worked hard and didn’t balance work with rest, community, and worship? Productivity plummeted. When the Nazi’s invaded Russia in 1940, the Soviets immediately went back to the 7-day week. All work and no play doesn’t just make Jack a dull boy, it makes Jack an unproductive one.

How does overwork lower productivity?

When we go 24/7 it raises the stress hormone, cortisol, that our bodies make for short term fight or flight. According to Psychology Today, elevated cortisols are public health enemy number one. When cortisol levels remain high it interferes with learning and memory, lowers immune function and bone density, and causes increases in weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. High cortisol is also linked to depression, anxiety, diabetes, and heart disease. In other words, skipping the sabbath is bad for both your physical and emotional health.

In 2005 National Geographic did a cover story on the five places on the planet with an abundance of people living past 100 years of age. One is in the U.S. – Loma Linda, California. Loma Linda is unique for a high percentage of Seventh Day Adventists, a group whose defining characteristic is…wait for it…keeping the sabbath. Keeping the sabbath is associated with lengthened life expectancy.

Over our lifetime, a regular sabbath adds up to a decade with God. Imagine, where would you be if you took a decade away from your education? Working through the sabbath means we will end our lives a decade less wise than our forbearers.

Let’s summarize: Skipping the sabbath lowers work performance, is harmful to our physical and emotional health, shortens our life expectancy, and exacts a high price on the truest, deepest part of us – our spiritual life. Conclusion: We really ought to sabbath.

How does one sabbath?

Keeping the sabbath is as simple as trading 24/7 for 24/6. Whatever is “work” for you, “cease” it one day a week.

Sabbath suggestions

  • Stay off the phone. Email, text and Facebook can wait.
  • Do something fun.
  • Keep a gratitude journal.
  • Do less. Scratch activities from Sundays to create margin-like those kid’s sports leagues.
  • Be with family and friends.
  • Worship God.

In Mark 2:23 the religious leaders hassled Jesus about the disciples noshing on grain as they walked through a farm field. We think of that as petty theft. Snacking wasn’t stealing, though, it was expressly permitted by the law…unless they pocketed food (Deuteronomy 23:23-24). By Jesus’ day, however, the importance of the sabbath had led religious leaders to make a bunch of strange rules to prevent work. One such rule was against walking more than 2/3 of a mile on the sabbath. 2/3 a mile broke their arbitrary “work” threshold. To get around the rules folk would build tiny little 1’x1’ houses 2/3 a mile from home, then they could walk twice as far.

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The religious leaders were hassling Jesus because picking grain was “work.” Notice that they wanted the disciples to violate the 8th commandment against stealing in order to keep a made-up rule to avoid work. Jesus gently corrected their made-up rule with scripture, then irritated them by calling himself the “Lord of the sabbath.” Then Jesus walks right into a synagogue and demonstrates his lordship over that sabbath by healing a guy. Jesus wasn’t disrespecting the sabbath, he was placing it into perspective. “The sabbath is made for you!”

How is the sabbath for you? 

The sabbath isn’t just a mechanism of rest, it is a tool of identity. We were created in God’s image and given vocations. God shares his dazzling vision for the future in order to use you and me to bring it about. That vision soaks into us as we participate in the weekly rhythm of sabbath. So, take that day each week. Rest. Worship. Study. See if you don’t begin to view you, your work, and God’s world through new eyes.

The original American dream of the freedom to pursue happiness has been written down like a bad debt. Our culture’s new mantra is that we work to live: get as much money possible, as fast as possible, with the least effort possible, in order to get off work to go do something else.

Frankly, it’s a lame way to live.

We were, all of us, whether artist or barista, therapist or teacher, oil exec or equity guy, spiritual beings. We were made for God’s presence to seep into, to awaken us to the God-saturated world where you can work and rest and play as designed, both for your benefit and to the honor of the One who speaks his purpose over and into you.

That is why Jesus sabbathed, by the way; to keep his connection with his Father deep, strong, alive. Sabbath empowered Jesus’ work. “Sabbath was made for man,” not for you to be fresh for an 0500 Monday wake-up, but to connect us to the one true source of life, God himself. Our NEED for rest is a constant reminder of our NEED for a Savior. Without Christ, we will work without purpose, without wholeness, and without a break.

In Jesus, God welcomes us to rest, marinating us in the wise, joyful presence of our heavenly Father. God made us with spiritual ears to hear His still small voice whispering to our hearts. But we only hear that voice when we pause to listen…when we sabbath.

So go ahead, keep killing it at work. But kill it 24/6.

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Easter: The Story that Shapes all Stories



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Holy Week for Newbies

A few years back an international student from China named Peter spent his senior year of high school living with us. Growing up in an atheist country, Peter had no spiritual upbringing except to think that religion was something for silly people. After about six months of living with us (and attending church out of respect), we took a road trip to California. Peter was staring at the passing desert when he turned and blurted, “I think every hero movie is really just a metaphor for Jesus!”

I thought about Peter’s insight and realized that whether we are talking Lord of the Rings, Raiders, or Narnia; MIB, or the Matrix, an end of the world series streaming on Netflix or every Western ever, our epics are all variations on a theme. You can hear the deep voiced announcer on the trailer, “Dark forces hold the world in its’ grip. One man can deliver us. One solitary, misunderstood man.” And, just when all seems lost, a miraculous turn of events in the climactic showdown carries the day…and all is saved. And while this may have happened long, long ago, it was certainly not in a galaxy far, far away. The epics that captivate our imaginations all channel the same day: The day when God’s deliverer overcame the marshaled forces of evil, defeated the dark overlord, kicked down the gates of a prison called hell, and set a captive cosmos free.

Like a great movie, the timeline of the narrative can get complex …Time melds together: The victory may have been won, long, long ago, but it is a victory that transcends time, culture, and distance. It is a victory that is here. Now. Today.

But how does the resurrection of Jesus save us? Jesus making things right is called “atonement,” literally, “at-one-ment.” All Christians believe that Jesus’ death and resurrection saves humanity by making us “at one” with God. But how those actions save has been the subject of centuries of study and contemplation. It is a complicated thing for an infinite God to communicate an infinite rescue to finite humans. To do that takes analogy. And finite analogies, by definition, all fall short somewhere.

I live in Texas these days. Texans, as good Bible-belters, generally see the cross and empty tomb in terms of the substitution analogy. You know this analogy: God sends his son to take our punishment to satisfy the legal debt of sin to God. Please don’t misunderstand, I am not saying that’s wrong. I am simply saying that it is an analogy, and like all analogies, incomplete. The analogy of Jesus’ death satisfying a debt was first explored by Anselm in the 11th century, and developed in the Reformation. It is biblical, occurring most clearly in Paul, Hebrews, and places like 1 John 2:2, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” This analogy works for us; Jesus satisfying the law resonates with people under the rule of law. And with today’s student loan balances, I suspect the idea of debt forgiveness isn’t going away anytime soon either.

But a penalty paid for laws broken is not the only way to understand the atonement. The analogy with a profound place in the early church was the Passover (from Exodus 12). You hear echoes of this in the ancient Communion prayers when they quote 1 Corinthians 5:7, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” You see this in the Eucharistic prayer of St. Basil from the 4th century, “He is the true paschal lamb…” (“pascha” being Greek for Passover).

It is interesting that the Jewish calendar had a day dedicated to forgiving sins through sacrifice, the Day of Atonement. One might expect that Jesus would have chosen The Day of Atonement to lay down his life…but he didn’t. God set Jesus’ redeeming work in motion at the Passover.  The Passover.

Same lamb. Different purpose.

Both Jewish feasts involve sacrifice. On the Day of Atonement, the lamb’s death substituted for the sinner’s death. In Passover, a lamb also dies, but the lamb’s blood isn’t applied to the doorposts to cover sin, but rather to mark relationship. The blood notified the death angel to “pass over” as that family belonged to God. The Passover sacrifice had another ritual attached: The children of Israel ate the Passover lamb, a meal of belonging and communion. Then God used Moses to deliver His people from bondage and slavery through the Red Sea, from death to life.

The problem being solved at Passover was not of a lawless people, but a captive one. How Israel came to be in bondage was not addressed. God says to the captors, “Let my people go.” 

The New Testament describes Jesus as the New Moses who delivers God’s people. The people of God, are in bondage to sin and death, so Jesus intervenes. He forgives our sins and sets humanity free. At the last supper, Jesus becomes our New (wait for it) Passover meal, our meal of belonging and communion.

Unlike the Day of Atonement, the imagery in Passover is not legal. Sin is more than a legal infraction demanding God’s justice. Sin is primarily a heart condition: a life lived out of communion with God, the giver of life. We are not sinners because we do sinful stuff, we do sinful stuff because we seek life apart from God. Life apart from the source of life is death (Rom. 6:23 “the wages of sin”). Sin is deeper than a legal consequence (like getting a ticket for going too fast); sin is a natural consequence (like skidding off the road for going too fast).

In the Passover analogy…

God’s Son enters death, not to do our time, but to destroy our jail!

Jesus entered death itself to rescue us. In the resurrection, Christ defeats death, the last bondage. In the New Passover, God Himself becomes our sacrifice. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is not only called the lamb of God, but to make his point, John actually moves the date of the Last Supper so that Jesus is killed on Passover…literally becoming our Passover lamb, slain for God to proclaim, “Mine” over you and me.

So when Jesus burst from the tomb, leaving an angel to tell the women “go find the disciples and Peter,” (Mark 16:7) the message may have been mystifying, but it was unmistakable: Death is destroyed. The evil forces defeated.

Because of the resurrection, we can live in God’s presence as designed. We can assume the vocations we were created for in the garden; image bearers of the creator, Gospel proclaimers, kings and priests, representing God to the creation, and representing the creation to God. All of this makes Cecil B. DeMille’s “Ten Commandments,” a great movie for Easter, because the Passover helps us understand what all our hero movies point to: the amazing news of Easter.

Peter understood that our great stories are but variations on a theme – riffs on the one great story, the life-changing story of stories. And you and I are not only invited to the premier, we hold complementary tickets for our family, friends and colleagues.

Living as stewards of the story

How do we live as the freed captives God declares us to be? (And as those with pockets full of tickets?)


First, Love God. Love God by rediscovering worship. Real worship. In worship we represent the creation to God.

Second, Love people: Love them by serving them. In service we represent God to the creation.

Prisoner, the hero has done his part. You have been released. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is not just a proof of concept, or the trump card in the argument for God. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a proclamation: We are delivered from the evil forces. The gates are open. The chains released. That is why when we hear, “Alleluia, Christ is risen!” We cannot help but reply, “The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!”

Chrystostom’s Paschal Sermon

Gangsta Easter