Easter Is Not About You

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crosslambAs we finish out this Lenten season with the hope of Resurrection Sunday, I have been reflecting on some of the verbiage that I know will be used on Easter Sunday. Many evangelical churches gear up their services for this weekend (albeit, we do not do much remembering up until that weekend — in fact, many churches neglect the entire Lenten season and instead only focus on Easter Sunday, which I have written about before). They add extra “elements” to attract those who have not been at church in a while. They make sure that everything sounds and looks great. They will add extra services to make sure that people will attend.

We do all of this in hopes that the Gospel message of Easter is heard by many.

I am not here to discuss the effectiveness of these techniques, although I do have my opinions. What amazes me even more is the language that many pastors will use this coming weekend.

“God loves YOU so much…”
“On the cross, Christ thought about YOU…”
“He rose so YOU wouldn’t have to go through…”

Much of our language around Easter centers around individuals. Whereas this might be true, I believe it does a great disservice to the heart of the Gospel message. The Easter message has digressed into a selfish plea.

This shouldn’t come as too much of a shock considering that even when reading the Bible, many of us ask the question, “What does this mean for me?” We have taken God’s grand story and dwindled it down to a personal application. Our lens for reading Scripture is, “How can this help me in my life?” When this represents many in the evangelical church culture, of course our message on Easter Sunday will contain verbiage focusing on individuals.

As a kid, I remember someone telling me that if “I was the only person in the world, God would’ve still sent His Son for me.” It was a nice sentiment, but I think it does a great injustice to the nature of God. In trying to express God’s love, we have, instead, romanticized God’s love.

You are not the single affection of God.

Easter is about a reconciliation of ALL things. Easter is about ALL of creation being reconciled to God. Easter is about God.

It is true that Easter is hope for you. That because of what Christ did, we no longer have to fear death. That resurrection of all will occur. That death has no victory over you.

But it isn’t just about you.

If we continue to dilute the Gospel message, we will continue to perpetuate a selfish society. Instead, we need to take the complete Gospel message and penetrate a selfish society. It is like we are trying to preach Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John without preaching the entire Old Testament.

This is the difficulty of Easter. In order to understand the significance of what Christ did, we need to understand the story of Israel and the story of God…we need to understand the Old Testament.

The story of Easter is larger than you. It is larger than me. It needs to be. It has to be.

Let us move away from speaking the Gospel message to individuals and instead move toward inviting individuals to be a part of the Gospel message. This is one of the things I love about liturgical/high church services. I never walk away with a little fortune cookie saying of God’s love for me. I always walk away with a better understanding of God’s relationship with the world and what that means for creation.

May we not try to look at the Easter message in a new, fresh, or relevant (horrible word) way, but in the way it was meant to be viewed. This Easter, let us focus on what it means for everything…not just what it means for you.

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Heaven is Painful

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city-heaven-new-jerusalem-heaven-duplantisFor many of us, we think of heaven in a way that makes it about us. “Everything you love will be there…” “No more tears, no more pain…” “Whatever you love doing, it will be in heaven…” We have turned heaven into some ethereal place where it’s all about us receiving our reward. It is the end that justifies our means of living. This picture perfectly illustrates that.

But looking through the prophets, or the martyrs, or the early disciples, or even Christ, one cannot help but see the painful reality of heaven. The picture we have painted about heaven has led to many jokes (just take a look at The Invention of Lying). We have responded to the nature of evil with “one day, we will be free from it all.”

Heaven is a work in which many of us do not want to participate.

For instance, this past week at CIY:MOVE (a youth conference), we spoke about reconciliation. I hate reconciliation. And most of us do. Jesus talked about disagreements in Matthew 18 and then after talking about it, he told the parable of the unforgiving debtor. Coincidence? Most likely not. It may be easy for us to mutter the words, “I forgive you,” but it is a lot harder for us to live out forgiveness on a day-to-day basis. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4 not to let the sun go down on our anger because anger is a foothold for evil. But many of us have slept while we are angry at someone else.

Heaven is painful.

Some of us have a lot of religious head knowledge. We could talk for days on end about the nature of atonement or how transubstantiation is the correct view of communion. We know all the different church movements and can debate with the best of them. We can talk about “the gospel” all day long and walk away feeling like we solved all the problems in the world. But to live out Christ is a completely different task. We are like doctors who have studied but have never cut open a body. We have convinced ourselves that giving money to the church and/or a non-profit is our “spiritual act of worship.” This is us being Christ. But it isn’t.

Heaven is painful.

Mission trips are fun for us because we feel a sense of accomplishment. We built a house for someone, or we put on a fantastic week of VBS for a group of kids, or we fed the homeless. We met a need and it made us feel accomplished. Trips like that are fun and good for the soul. But it is much harder for us to be Christ in our everyday lives. Our friends will make fun of us. People will curse and spit at us. We will be rejected. It’s harder for us to live out mission every day because that requires a daily commitment rather than just a week or a couple of weeks.

Heaven is painful.

We grant grace and forgiveness to the sins around us that meet our criteria. You lied? Here’s grace. You stole? Here’s forgiveness. You slept with someone before marriage? Here’s grace. But it is harder for us to grant grace and forgiveness to the sins that make us uncomfortable. You hit a woman? You molested a child? You raped someone? You’re a terrorist who’s responsible for killing thousands of people?

Heaven is painful.

NT Wright talks about how praying “may your will be done on earth as it is being done in heaven” is one of the most important prayers we could pray. For in that prayer, we are reminding ourselves that we are to usher God’s Kingdom to earth. The evil nature of earth is colliding with good nature of God. It is in birthing pains — and that is painful and dirty and ugly, but something beautiful is coming if we only endure. Heaven might be painful for a little while, but new life will occur.

Unfortunately, the work of heaven will be painful. It is counter-cultural to what we live in today and it will be met with great resistance. But, giving up is never a choice. Refusing to fight is never an option. Accepting that the “world is full of evil” is never a proper worldview. God says that He is reconciling the entire world to Himself. And that has to be painful.

Sometimes I wonder how painful heaven actually will be for some of us. We will see the homeless guy we ignored every day. We will see that person who used to do those things. We will see people we spent our entire lives ignoring because of how they hurt us.

Here’s the point to this: if we truly live out what Christ told us to live out, we will experience pain. It happens. Making heaven (and not the ethereal place) a reality is full of pain. We have to reconcile with the murderer. We have to forgive the child molester. We have to take in those without shelter. We have to give our last piece of bread to the hungry. We have to stand up and get hit for those who can’t take another beating. We have to fight for justice.

I’m not great at this. But the more I think about God’s Kingdom, the more I realize how painful it will be for me because I’m not even doing it right now. I’m not being it right now.

The process of bringing heaven to earth is going to be painful. It’s time we all jump in and get a little bruised up.

Stop Going to Church

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church-at-night-iceland_00449588Whenever I hear the phrase, “I need to start going to church” or “I go to church,” a little piece inside of me dies. It’s not that I don’t want people to be a part of the church. On the contrary, I believe everyone should be a part of the church.

But instead of people being a part of church, most people just go to church.

One of my fears as a pastor is that many people in the western evangelical world have the tendency to view church as a service to attend. Because of this line of thought, we focus extraordinary amounts of energy on crafting a service that people will want to attend. I’m not arguing against excellence. I do believe that we should do things with as much excellence as possible. As a person who has been involved in theatre, being a part of something done well draws me closer to God. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong about pursuing excellence in preaching, singing, teaching, or any other aspect to the gathering.


 But instead of people being a part of church, most people just go to church.


But church cannot be confined just to people gathering to view a service. It has to be so much more.

I, like many of you, have been guilty of using the phrase, “The service wasn’t that good today,” or “The service was really great today.” Our view of church is primarily based upon the quality of the songs or the emotional weight of the sermon. Because of this, our involvement within the church is shallow, at best. What I mean by this is that when things change or when a particular church doesn’t meet our standards, we are quick to abandon.

We treat the church like numerous whores with whom we divide our time.

There are various reasons we do this:

  1. We don’t like turmoil. We have an unrealistic utopian view of what the church should look like.
  2. We like to be surrounded by people with similar beliefs and opinions. It makes us feel more comfortable.
  3. Church is more of a hobby than a defining characteristic in our lives.

Church isn’t something that we can attend. Church is something that we must be. In our own lives, we all have good and bad days. There are days we wish that we could go back and and redo. There are days we celebrate milestones. There are days we mourn over missed opportunities. There are days we curse God. And then there are days we praise God.


 We treat the church like numerous whores with whom we divide our time.


And just like in our own lives, the church often functions the same way. Which is why we cannot just attend church. This is why church is something we must be. When we are the church, then we work together to prepare the bride for her bridegroom.

Christ is calling us to be part of the bridal party…not just attendees of the wedding. He wants us to be active. He wants us to serve. He wants us to remain faithful. But many of us are just sitting in the crowd waiting for the wedding to start while the bride remains in the back waiting for her faithful bridal party to join her in preparation for her big day.

Perhaps I am a bit optimistic in my belief that people can still gather and disagree yet partake of the Eucharist together. But wouldn’t that represent the Kingdom a bit more than what we have today? Wouldn’t Christ’s prayer in John 17 be a bit sweeter if we did that?


Christ is calling us to be part of the bridal party…not just attendees of the wedding.


Here is what I propose: we stop going to church.

We stop attending and we start participating. We stop sitting in on a service and we start helping. We stop looking to the church as a place and we start looking to the church as a people. Just like we have our good days and our bad days, so the church has her good days and her bad days. We wouldn’t abandon our own lives, so why do we abandon the life of the church?

In an age of consumeristic driven churches where there is a brand for everyone, we spend too much time shopping around and not seeing the damage that is doing to the bride. I said it before and I’ll say it again: we treat the church like numerous whore with whom we divide our time. This is the problem with simply going to church. It makes it easier to leave. It makes it easier to separate oneself from the life of the church (and I’m not talking about potlucks and game nights). It makes it easier for one to abandon when things get rough or when things don’t go “the right way.”

I have “left” 2 churches in my lifetime. I was heavily involved in both churches. One, I was active in the youth group. The other, I was serving with the worship team. Whereas both circumstances may have seemed right on paper, I cannot help but think, “is this what Jesus had in mind when He established His bride?” I never left the Church but I have left local churches. And how we view/treat local churches determines what our view is of the Church.

Just like all throughout the Bible, the life of the church (both local and universal) is going to be messy. There will be disagreements, fights, uneasiness, and pain. But aren’t these the signs of the earth groaning in labor? Aren’t these the signs that the Kingdom is “now but not yet?”

If we all stopped going to church and started being the church, perhaps things might change. If we remembered that Christ called us to serve His bride, perhaps reconciliation before desertion would be our first thought. If we remembered that one day we will be united in the Kingdom with the Church, perhaps that would change how we treated one another. Heaven could be awkward for many of us (myself included).

Let us begin serving through disagreements, fights, arguments, uneasiness, complacency, apathy, and anything else that stands in the way of us preparing the Bride for her Bridegroom. Let us begin being the Church that Christ called us to be.

Nebraska & Reconciliation

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Image“Have a drink with your old man. Be somebody!” — Woody Grant (played by Bruce Dern)

I’m a huge fan of Alexander Payne. I could talk for hours on his ability to craft a humorous and yet painful look at serious subject matter. Nebraska wasn’t any different. Although it still isn’t my favorite Payne film (The Descendants definitely stands at number 1, still), it is still highly ranked.

[Some of you may view what follows as spoilers]

The film is shot in black and white and has this sort of faded grittiness to it. It centers around a son and his father going on a road trip from Montana to Nebraska so the father can claim his million dollars that a Publisher’s Clearing House type company told him he won. The father, who is either senile or suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia, has not had an ideal relationship with his family. Alcoholism has consumed him for a majority of his life. But family is family. And the sons still love and care for their father no matter how mean he can get. Even though they don’t know much about his life, they empathize with him and stick up for him as a good man who provided for his family. He was a man that was always willing to help out when someone needed help.

But I don’t want to focus on the details of the film. Instead, I want to focus on the beauty of seeing relationships reconciled.

Nebraska pulls on the heart because we all long to see relationships mended. Brokenness was never in God’s plan for humanity. And yet, it rears its ugly head in every single relationship. There are several things we can blame the brokenness on: alcohol, addictions, self-harm, disagreements, finances, etc. But here’s the point: it all comes back to us.

We’ve all been hurt by people. It’s inevitable. Unless you live your life as a hermit and don’t talk to anyone, you will undoubtedly walk around with scars from what someone has done to you. Likewise, someone is probably walking around with scars from what you’ve done to them. We all hurt each other. But how do we move toward reconciliation when the deepest cuts are ones that will never heal?

The easy (and extraordinarily difficult) answer is that we must learn how to forgive even if they will never ask for forgiveness. That’s a difficult process. It’s one that I still am trying to navigate how to do in my own life. As a person who wants justice, I feel like my grudges are forgiven because of how much the person wronged me. That’s not true. I know it isn’t. But most of us walk around our entire lives believing things we know aren’t true but refuse to admit it because of our self-righteous attitudes.

But Nebraska reminded me of the urgency to reconcile relationships. If you asked me right now of a name of a relationship I needed to reconcile, I could probably give you 10 names. If you asked me what I’m doing to reconcile those relationships, I would probably mumble something along the lines of, “but they are the ones who hurt me…” It’s almost like we forget what it is like for someone to come up to us and say, “I forgive you,” and we refuse to allow someone who has wronged us to experience that same grace.

I understand that there needs to be healing. I am not trying to diminish the pain that you are going through. Believe me, I wouldn’t do that. Work through the pain…but work toward reconciliation, as well. The problem with working through pain is that many times we work through something to find ourselves…when we really need to work through things to find Jesus. Christ will always point us toward reconciliation because Christ was all about reconciliation.

And He gave us the ministry of reconciliation.

Are we doing anything to work toward reconciliation? Are we asking ourselves questions each day about what we are doing to reconcile broken relationships? Has the sun gone down on our anger one too many nights?

I think too often we convince ourselves that we are in a healthy place because we only have a few broken relationships. And since we aren’t around those people anymore, we are fine. But do not be deceived: a shred of leftover bitterness is enough to destroy every single relationship you will ever have. We would be naive to think otherwise.

Nebraska looks at a broken relationship between a father and son. It’s humorous as much as it is heartbreaking. The truth is, is that the film will be true of many relationships in our lives. The truth is, is that God never intended it to be that way…nor does He want us to be content with things being that way.

Reconciliation will hurt. But so does most of life. What hurts even worse is seeing, at the end of your life, all of the relationships that you will never be able to reconcile because you waited too long or allowed your heart to become too hard. Let’s begin being the church and seeking reconciliation before we begin justifying our actions because of our scars. We all have scars. And we all cause scars. Let’s move beyond that and to something greater. Something that resembles the Kingdom.