Memorial Day

Today I tried the Murph challenge for the first time in my life. Nothing like diving into an intense workout after eight weeks of social-distancing induced laziness. I had heard of the challenge before but didnt pay much attention to the specifics.

1 mile run

100 pull-ups

200 push-ups

300 squats

and then ANOTHER 1 mile run.

The full version is done wearing a 20lbs vest. I did not do that. I did complete the challenge. Now everything hurts. Mad props to all the men and women who have served and sacrifice for their country. No words can express it, but the next few days of soreness will be a reminder.

Changing the World

I’m finding discussions around what life will look like when this COVID pandemic has passed very interesting. While the world “unprecedented” has been thrown around like pizza dough at Papa Johns, it’s hard to argue with the fact that nothing like this has happened on this scale in our lifetime.

I find myself wondering how many priorities will shift. How many people will remember what it was like to have “down time” and intentionally reduce the amount of things in their lives to build in more “sabbath”. Will this event be something that shocks us into re-evaluating how we are living and reorganizing/restructuring our lives? Or will we return to form in 4-6 months shaking it off like a weird blip on the radar of life?

It seems to me in situations like this we have an iron is hot moment. A short lived chance to make a change before we cool off and settle back into our old habits. I am hopeful, that as a community, as a society we take this moment of opportunity, this chance to change and we capitalize on it. That we stop idolizing busyness for the sake of busyness. That we stop filling out days with things just to feel important or because we think doing a bit of everything will somehow fill a hole that exists in our hearts. I am hoping that, for myself, and the world as a whole, we will take a long look at what really matters and we will start cutting the things that dont.

As a pastor, my thoughts here also drift to how the church may look different. I wonder how many small churches will be able to weather this storm? What will happen to the communities that couldnt? (I think we’d be fooling ourselves to think every local church will make it through this time). Will we see these new “orphaned churches” shifting to other churches that endured? Is this a pruning process where God cuts off some of the branches that dont produce fruit so the ones that do will thrive even more? I think it’s possible. Not to diminish the sadness or loss of any local church. I can’t help but wonder if, somehow, in some way, God will make this a defining moment for the good and growth of the church.

My biggest hope you ask? Community. We have long been a culture drifting from community and connection towards the island of isolation. My hope is that, this forced distance has shocked us into an awareness of how important relationships with others are and drive us to make them a larger part of our lives.

Just my musings. Feel free to share yours in the comments below, I’d love to get your take.

 

Returning to this

Well, it’s been awhile. The busyness of life and lots of changes caused me to take some time away. But, it feels like it’s time to return. I’ve been thinking about writing and platforms a lot lately. With my mind constantly flooding with stories to share, I’ve been doing a lot of writing. Writing followed by…waiting. With my efforts not finding outlets through traditional channels, I started feeling very discouraged. I stopped wanting to do the thing that brings me lots of joy, because for me, the real joy of a story…a message…an idea…is sharing it. I wanted to put things out there, but didnt have a good outlet to do so. Social media channels often feel like shouting into a tornado as a train passes by during an earthquake. Traditional publication takes more work than actually writing and editing an entire book. It’s demotivating to improve and hone a craft when you arent sure it will ever leave the privacy of your computer.

COVID-19 gave me a lot of time for introspection and I’ve decided I want to give this writing thing another go. Maybe it’s just self-publishing some stuff on amazon. Put out a few short stories…maybe a fiction book and just see what happens. Focus on getting more out there and all. Worth a shot. I think i’ll start there, give another push to this writing thing. Not ready to give up on it just yet. Who knows, maybe it’s just about finding the right timing.

Church Shooting-Charleston

I Just did an interview on the news about the Charleston shooting. One of the other pastors being interviewed kept talking about gun control. It seems a lot of people, pastors included, are trying to turn this into a gun control issue. It’s not.

I’m not saying I’m anti-gun control. I’m not saying I am pro-gun control. I’m saying gun control isn’t the issue here. Violent crimes are not about the weapons that were used to commit them. This isn’t a gun issue It’s a Jesus issue. People have been killing people long before their were guns. Take away their guns, we will still kill each other.

Gun control to stop gun violence is like putting a bandaid on a severed limb. The problem is not guns. The problem is living in a broken world where people believe that violence is an acceptable response to their problems. You can’t cure a disease by taking away some symptoms. The only real cure is the life transformation of Jesus.

The world is broken. Broken people will always find ways to hurt each other. Jesus fixes that which is broken, He heals the disease that plagues us all.

The Blame Game

It’s got to be someone’s fault. Whenever something happens that we don’t like we look for someone or something to blame. When things go wrong we must find fault. It’s naturally. Equally natural is our refusal to consider how our own actions may have led to the unfortunate situation. Not only is it natural for us to find fault it is natural for us to abandon reason in effort to ensure that fault lies at someone else’s doorstep. Someone or something has to blamed it just cant be me.

Why can’t it be me? I’m a good person, at least in my head. I didn’t mean harm. I wasn’t trying to do wrong. My good intentions should spare me any responsibility for errors in my actions or decisions. If I’m late for work, it’s not my fault. It was traffic. I hit every red light on the way in. It was the really slow guy in front of me who insisted on driving the speed limit the whole time. It’s their fault. Not mine. Things happen. That’s understandable. Sometimes there are things outside our control that get in our way.

Life is messy. Life happens. Failure to plan and prepare for the messiness of life is as much our fault as it is the fault of “life” for getting in our way. Rather than owning up to our part we often take the wrong and we project fault and blame on external sources rather than looking at our own internal responsibility. Maybe the real reason we were late is we tried to leave the house at the lost possible second and in so doing failed to a lot time for “life” to slow things down.

When it comes to justifying why you are a few minutes late to work or to a meeting such displacement of guilt is not so problematic. Rarely does our blame game stop with external, non-human factors. Blame is like a drug we feed off. It’s starts out small, with minor and relatively harmless justifications. If left unchecked that same refusal to take responsibly spirals out of control. It easily grows to the point where were incapable of seeing our fault because we slowly, strategically blinded ourselves to it one step at a time.

Blame creates division and offense. It doesn’t solve problems. It doesn’t heal wounds. It just makes us feel better because we deceive ourselves with it.

Blame comes from a failure to take responsibility for our own actions. Thus forcing us to find something else to be the cause of our problems. Our culture is obsessed with placing blame. It sees blame everywhere but rarely takes responsibility anywhere.

Blame solves nothing. Blame changes nothing. Look at Adam and Eve in the Garden after eating the forbidden fruit. God asks Adam what he has done. Adam blames Eve. Eve blames the serpent. No one took responsibility. Yet they were both held accountable.

It takes courage to admit fault. The reason we do it is not because it’s fun. We admit fault, we take the responsibility because that is what allows us to mature and grow. That is what starts the process of change. Responsibility changes us. Blame keeps us swirling the toilet of the same mistakes. Which would you rather do? Move on, or swirl around the bowl again and again?

Jesus goes Trick-or-Treating?

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It seems like every year October kicks of controversial. As Halloween rolls around the religious zealot war over costumes and candy begins. Secular people prepare for Halloween while churches wiggle around trying to figure out how to navigate these choppy waters without making someone mad. To some Halloween is a harmless night of fun and diabetic comas. Others view it as satanic ritual steeped in the wickedness of paganism. They preach candy festive abstinence because, even after being “Christianized” Halloween is built around demons, witchcraft, and death. Why do fundamentalists always take the fun out of everything? All kidding aside it’s important to understand how to be in the world without being of the world. The debate leads inevitably to this question: should Christians participate in Halloween?
Well-intentioned Christians run around telling everyone of how Halloween came into existence. Let’s be straight about it: Halloween is rooted in paganism. It’s origin and practices likely originate from the Celtic celebration of Samhain. Samhain is like April 20th for ghosts and fairies. It took place at the end of summer when farmers were preparing to bring in their harvest before winter. On Samhain the Celts celebrated “dead fest” where they honored their deceased ancestors. On the evening of October 31st they believed the spirits were like environmentalists after an oil spill. During this night they would often wear masks and costumes to ward off evil spirits. They carved turnips like we do pumpkins; they went door to door trick-or-treating. The parallels are striking.
Along comes the Catholic Church. They can’t really stop the celebration completely. So what do they do? They put a Christian spin on it. We’ll take your pagan celebration and turn it into a church celebration leading up to all saints day where the church honored the dead. The night became known as All Hallows Eve. The church knew they had to do something or people would just continue to practice their pagan festivals. Why not make the pagan festivals into Christian festivals? The fundamentalists who are anti-Halloween know the origin of the day. From that they have gathered that it is inappropriate for a Christian to participate in festivities that originated in paganism.
The really clever churches try to avoid the controversy completely. Instead they celebrate Trunk-or-Treat or Fall Festival or something else with a cute name as a Halloween alternative. Who are you trying to fool? A rose by any other name is still a rose. Avoiding issues doesn’t tend to make them go away. So the question remains: should Christians participate in Halloween?
After learning of its rich pagan heritage you might be inclined to say: “No way José.” But wait. Let me ask you this: what do you do for Christmas? Do you wear more reds and greens, decorate your house with lights, set up your evergreen tree, and do you tend to do it around December 25th? Pagans! That’s where those customs came from. Christmas is a mix of the Roman Saturnalia (which was a bit like the Purge in ancient Rome as it included murder, assault, and orgies), the German Yule, and the Church. Most of the ingredients in Christmas are rooted in paganism. Even the date is right in the middle of Saturnalia. Jesus was likely born in the spring. We don’t know exactly when so the church used His birth to turn a pagan holiday into a Christian one.
You know what else is pagan, the title “Christian”. The church was originally called followers of the way. Pagans called us Christians and now that’s what we call ourselves. So should we stop using it because pagans used it? The way we measure hours, days, and months is a pagan system developed by the Babylonians. Wedding rings are a pagan custom, nothing in the Bible about exchanging metal rings to get married. Wedding and funeral ceremonies are rooted in paganism. Symbols in worship are pagan. So if you are anti-Halloween be consistent: don’t celebrate Christmas, don’t call yourself a Christian, don’t wear jewelry with a cross on it or decorate your home with it, don’t wear wedding rings, and don’t have a funeral service.
Once you start shunning or boycotting things because of their origin you end up on a slippery slope. If Christians shouldn’t do it if it was in any way associated with paganism what about non-Christians? Where do we draw the line of association? The phone you use, probably wasn’t invented by a Christian, so should you stop using it? Non-Christians invented the fireworks that we use to celebrate our independence.
In 1 Corinthians 8:1 Paul is addressing a similar problem in the church. Can Christian eat meat sacrificed to idols? Here’s what he says:

1 Corinthians 8:1 Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. 2 If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. 4 Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5 For although there may be so- called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

Paul’s answer is yes. Meat is meat. It doesn’t matter that it was sacrificed to an idol. There is no God but God. Christians do not have to fear the false gods of the world. There is nothing but God. If we have God everything we do is an act of worship to Him.
Romans 14 talks about passing judgment on our brother, those who don’t participate should not be judged, neither should those who do. We don’t judge each other. We love each other. Whichever side you are on, if you look at those on the other side with hostility you are wrong. The truth is we have freedom in Christ. We don’t have to live in fear of associating with pagan influences because we are children of God who belong to Him. We are free to celebrate and enjoy the life He has given us. That doesn’t mean we are free to engage in sin. If your practice for Halloween is Ouji boards and séances then yes, there is a problem. If your practice is to dress up like a super hero and go around asking for candy there is nothing wrong with that. The ones who avoid the Holiday should not judge the ones who don’t. We should all be convinced in our own minds.
There are two reasons to bring this up. First, Halloween is an opportunity. In a world that is becoming increasingly impersonal and disconnected this is a day where the community actually connects. They do things together. They go door to door. Excusing yourself from this Holiday removes you from relationship with the people Jesus loves. The truth is taking a stance against participation in this will be interpreted as an alienation. We are to be IN the world. The world is our mission. What if we stopped being so afraid of how things started? What if we learned, like the church of old, to take something bad and make something good out of it? Isn’t redemption the point of the Gospel?
Second, we have to be careful with the ultra conservative focus on “not being of the world”. It’s true but it can be a dangerous stance. We have a mission. That mission is not to ward off evil and destroy anything with a pagan affiliation. Our mission is to reach those who are far from God with the love of God so they can become children of God. You can’t do that from an ivory tower. The Gospel is carried on the shoulders of relationships. The more we separate ourselves from the things in the world the less we are actually a part of it. Relationships are built in part around shared cultural experience. If you alienate yourself from everything even remotely “worldly” then while you are not “of the world” you are no longer in the world. Don’t use righteous fundamentalism to excuse radical irrelevance. When our culture gives us an opportunity to connect and share the Gospel, why do scoff at it?
How you feel if someone who knew twenty years ago treated you today like you had never changed? If an old buddy from high school talked to you and about you like you were still an awkward teenager would that bother you? It’s frustrating when people don’t let you change. It’s pretty clear that a lot of the Holidays, even the ones rooted in paganism, have changed over the years. Why do we insist on only seeing their origin and not what they are today? Things change. People change. Holiday celebrations change. If all you can see is where things started then maybe you need to spend more time looking at forgiveness. If you remember, we didn’t start off that well either.
Here’s what it comes down to: were you not born in sin? Were you not an enemy of God? Were you not broken, wicked, and corrupt in desperate need of a savior? Why can a person be redeemed and made right before God but not a cultural celebration? Is your view of God’s redemptive power so small that you don’t think He can make something good out of something bad on a communal scale? If God can save us, rebellious black hearted sinners, and turn us into righteous children why can’t He make a pagan Holiday into a Christian one? If you were to carve a pumpkin are you thinking: “oh great father Satan, be honored by my pumpkin carving?” Or can you just carve a pumpkin to be scary and fun for a cultural event? God is in the business of redemption. Restoring dead to life is kind of His thing. Why do you think God can do that for you, but not for cultural events?

Jesus-Jack-o-Lantern

Zombie Church

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The Condition

 

Imagine going to a new church for the first time. You walk in, receive a bulletin and proceed awkwardly to your seat. You can feel the glances of the strangers around you, assessing your appearance. The worship starts and people sing songs of joy with expressions of apathy. The preacher delivers his eloquent diatribe about everything that is wrong with the world today. The people show up and seem content to sit and spectate. The whole thing seems to lack an overarching sense of purpose. You ask yourself why this particular church exists and an answer doesn’t readily become available. You leave feeling just as lost and lonely as when you arrived; only now with a side of disappointment. You were looking for something, but you didn’t find it.

Something was missing. You may not be able to put your finger on what it was but you could tell it wasn’t there. I’m not trying to be unfair. There are plenty of churches that are wonderful. There are also many that are not. The church should be a life-giving, life-sustaining, life-changing community that transforms the world through the Gospel. Instead it is often reduced to little more than a spiritual social club filled with judgment, hypocrisy, and division. This hasn’t happened by accident.

I spoke to a lady once who came into church after an outreach event. We spoke for a few minutes and she told me this was the first time she had stepped foot in a church in over five years. The last time she went to church she had just moved to the area and was looking for a place to worship. She walked in the door and she was wearing a skirt that went down about four inches below her knees and a t-shirt. Before she even crossed the foyer into the sanctuary the pastor ran to her and said (in front of everyone): “If you are going to dress like a whore, get out of my church.”

Not exactly a quality display of the love of Jesus. This lady and her entire family walked away from church and Jesus. Stories like this are too familiar. Church members, leaders, and organizations have hurt too many people for us to believe that everything is honky-dory.

Around 3,000 churches die each year. Sadly, some should. Some churches have become lifeless, zombie churches. Many lost sight of their purpose. That loss of purpose is changing the church from being a life-giving entity to a lifeless group of zombies.

Zombies are creatures that appear to be living – at least at a distance. They aren’t really alive but they’re not really dead either. Zombies don’t produce, contribute or accomplish anything; they just wander around aimlessly consuming any life they find. They are a corrupt and destructive force that taints all with which they come into contact. Zombies act like they are alive, but they are dead. They just don’t know it.

Similarly, from the outside, some churches appear alive. The lawn is mowed, the music plays, meetings are scheduled. Things are moving, but that’s it. Healing is not administered, joy is not experienced, minds are not edified, and people are not changed. They don’t grow or reach out. They don’t exist to share the love and life of Jesus with the world. They don’t exist to impact their community with the gospel. They don’t exist to give hope to the hopeless or to care for the broken. They just exist to simply to exist.

Zombie churches are contagious. They have become infected with mindsets, traditions, rules, and rituals that are not Jesus. When man-made stuff starts taking precedent over the kingdom of God, problems ensue. God is life. When a church loses its focus on God it loses its connection to life. God is not a vending machine where you can go through the right motions, push all the right buttons and it will give you what you want.

The scariest part about zombie churches is that they look a lot like living churches. They have prayer. They have worship. They have sermons. They might even be friendly. But they are stuck in a deadly rut of routines and rituals. These churches are caught up in doing what they are “supposed to do” but are lacking the true essence of what they are supposed to provide: life. Zombie churches are places where Jesus is taught but He isn’t attending. How do you identify a zombie church?

 

The Symptoms

 

These are symptoms you might expect to see in a church that is not completely focused on Jesus.

1. A dying church will have idols. An idol is anything we treat as more important than God. Communion, baptism, service, prayer, worship…anything can be an idol. The most dangerous idols are good things that are treated as more important than God.

2. A dying church guards its rules and rituals. Traditions are not evil, but when tradition is simply for the sake of tradition, it is likely a result of the church’s attempt to compensate. When the relationship with God is gone, we often try to fill that void with religious practices to feel “connected to the divine.”

3. A dying church lacks intimacy among its members. People in Zombie churches are often friendly but not a true community which offers a safe place for us to grow, learn, fall down, repent, and support each other.

4. A dying church focuses inward. Of course it is important to take care of the community within the church family. The purpose of Godly community is to support and encourage each other. The danger comes not when this happens, but when this is all that happens. The purpose of our encouragement and support is not so we will feel better about ourselves, but so we will be better able to go back out into the world and show people the love of Jesus.

5. A dying church will have an unhealthy devotion to doctrine. Sound biblical teaching is one of the most important things a church can offer. When we say cruel or unkind things in the name of ‘preserving sound doctrine’ we may be defending Jesus but we are not acting like Him.

6. A dying church will focus more on human involvement than divine activity. They will be works or effort based rather than grace based. Our salvation is not about what we do, but what Jesus has done for us.

Bitterness, resentment, disunity, quarrelling, closed mindedness, and stagnation are major symptoms of a zombie church. These things indicate real danger to the community. The most compelling symptom can be seen with a question: “If this church closed its doors today, would anyone else notice?”

My purpose is not to bash the church. It is to identify the illness that affects it. I believe the church is worth fighting for. I believe she can and will be saved. In many places the church is sick but there is a cure. So how can they be healed?

 

The Cure

 

There are five practical steps to curing the undead church.

1. Love first. Love most. The best way to share life is through love. In John 13 Jesus tells us that we should be identified by our love. That’s the cure. When the church gets distracted by other issues or loses focus on Jesus, it begins to drift away from that connection to life – beginning the mortal transformation into a zombie church.

It’s easy to talk about love. Love needs to be more than just something we say. Love affects everything we do. It needs to be more important than customs, traditions, or personal preferences. Love changes the way we talk to and about people. It alters how we see them, what we think of them, and how we respond to them. Love changes everything.

2. Get out. Pride focuses inwardly. Humility focuses outwardly. Life in the church comes from living on mission for the Gospel. Jesus travelled. He got outside the synagogues and engaged culture. He met people where they were. His church should do the same.

3. Remove idols. Make the focus Jesus. Be all about Jesus. Be all for Jesus. Don’t worry about anything else.

4. Show don’t tell. People have heard of Jesus. Most haven’t seen Him. We should spend at least as much time showing the love of Jesus to people as we do telling them about it.

5. Abide. Life or death is a result of what we feed on. Zombies feed on rules and rituals. Christians feed on the life of Jesus.

Our greatest goal should not be to score the highest on the Bible trivia app, it should be to live like Jesus, to love like Jesus, and to look like Jesus in everything we do. The church is ever, only, always about Jesus.

God does not need us to be gatekeepers. He needs us to be extensions of His love to a lost and hurting world. When we fully grasp His love and grace is all we need, that love and grace will ooze from us. When you are surrendered to Jesus His love fills you and flows through you. That life cannot be contained. It is not given with limited supply. Our life comes from Jesus and is give to us so we can continue distributing the life of Jesus to others. Life is given so that life can be given.

If you want to read more, check out my book, Zombie Church: breathing life back into the body of Christ. It is available on in hard copy, as an e-book, or on the kindle. You can pick up your copy here: http://www.amazon.com/Zombie-Church-Breathing-Life-Christ/dp/0825424593

 

Brokenness

The world we live in is broken. This is not how life was meant to be. Somewhere deep down we all know it. We know the world is messed up. We know something isn’t right. We don’t always know what it is but we know something is missing. Even those of us who have lived a pretty charmed life have had enough heartache, disappointment, and pain to know something is wrong.

The worse part is we seem to be magnetically pulled towards brokenness. We have all been betrayed. We have all been disappointed. We have all had someone hurt us. We have all hoped for things that fell apart. But who betrays you more than you? Who disappoints you more than you? Who fails you more than you? The world is broken and so are we. We are often our own worst enemies. Brokenness isn’t a part of who we are. It’s at the core of what we are.

The brokenness of our world didn’t begin with God. It began with us. This is not how it was meant to be. When God created the world it was perfect. We lived in community and in harmony with our creator. There was no disappointment, not betrayal, no heartache, no unreasonable gas prices. Life was good. Man lived in the garden with his wife. They were naked and they knew no shame. Now you try to institute this in your home and you come across as a weirdo. Ladies can you imagine living in a world where you don’t have body image issues? Where you could be who you are and look how you look without ever feeling like you weren’t good enough or beautiful enough? Guys can you imagine never having your wife ask you if an outfit makes her look fat? Can you imagine having a wife who didn’t doubt her beauty. Can you imagine going to work and not feeling like it was draining the life from you?

We rebelled. We rejected His way, His authority.  We decided we would rather be God than live in submission to God. Our sin began the destruction of creation. We are broken. The people around us are broken. The world itself is broken. We can’t fix it. We can’t undo our mistake or do enough good to balance it out.

But if we are honest, our problem isn’t just that we rebelled. It’s that we rebel. . In our hearts we believe we are smarter than God. We think we know what is best for us better than Him. So we ignore Him and do what we like. We pursue our wants and our interests because deep down we believe on some level we would be a better God than God. All brokenness comes from this belief. We reject God and rebel against Him because we think we are smart. We think what we want for ourselves is better than what God will give us. So we do it our way instead of His.

We were broken from birth. That’s why you don’t have to teach your kids to be selfish. Selfish is our nature. Since our first breath we believed we were God and we have tried to live that way ever since. We have all sinned. We have all rebelled. We have all gone astray. Our own desires and natures lead us further down the rabbit hole of brokenness. We chase after what we know is broken in hopes that maybe that cookie that says “eat me” or the bottle that says “drink me” might fix our problem. It never does. The more we pursue our desires the more we experience the brokenness at work in our hearts.

If God had just sent a savior to forgive our sins, then life would long and hard. We would suffer a lot. We would struggle every day. Our lives would be like Sisyphus, who, in Greek mythology was cursed to roll an immense boulder up a hill every day only to watch it slid back down and he had to start over. God did not save us only to leave us with a futile and hopeless life. He Jesus to save us and to fix that which is broken within us.

That’s exactly what Jesus does. He doesn’t just save us. He heals us. He fixes us. He makes us new. He gives us what we need even if we don’t realize how much we need it.

Why religion?

Someone asked me today, why religion is our default mode? Why we always turn to it even when we know deep down we shouldn’t. I started thinking about it. My conclusion was that it comes down to control. Religion is something we DO. It doesn’t have to be your identity. It doesn’t require surrender. It requires adherence. Religion offers a list of things to do and a list of things to not do. If you don’t do the things you are not supposed to do and you do the things you are supposed to do, you are good. The idea is that our “goodness” can be affected or changed by what we do. If we can do enough good to counteract the bad then we can be good…or at least good enough.

Religion makes us feel better about ourselves by convincing us that our good intentions mean that we are by nature good people worthy of good things and ultimately the salvation of God. With religion one rarely considers the true condition of their heart. Religion isn’t really about the heart. It’s about behavior.

Now when I say “religion” I don’t mean faith. I don’t mean followers of Jesus. I mean “by the book” lifestyles that ignore what religion is supposed to be about. Religion is supposed to be about Jesus. It should draw us to Him, grow us in Him, strengthen our connection with Him. Instead it is often about us. How we live. What we do. How hard we try. Religion turns the American Dream into a plan of self-made salvation.

There is a reason the religious leaders were the ones opposed to Jesus. When you spend your life working to make yourself “good” it’s difficult to accept that you can’t. It’s hard to believe that God doesn’t want you to make yourself good. That’s His work. He doesn’t want us to be good enough, try hard enough, sacrifice enough of ourselves to out way our sin and tip the scales of justice in our favor. He wants to love us. He wants to give us life. He wants to save us from ourselves. The harder we try to be good on our own, the stronger we resist the grace He freely offers.

Grace isn’t a topping to go on the cheeseburger of our lives. It’s the whole meal. It’s the end all be all of cheeseburgers done up with the works and cooked to perfection….and now I’m hungry….this is why I should avoid food analogies….

Ultimately I think the reason we so readily turn to religion is that religion gives us things to do but does not demand our surrender. It’s just easier to follow rules and regulations than it is to give up control of our life.

My two cents.

When did Jesus die?

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The Gospel is the story of Jesus. It’s tells of the Son of God who took on flesh and became a man. Who lived a righteous life without sin and became the sacrifice for sin. Jesus laid down His life for us. God loved us so much that He sent His Son to die in our place so that through His death we might have life. Through Jesus’s death and resurrection we have life.

Some of noticed a strange timeline to the story. We believe that Jesus was crucified on Friday and rose on Sunday. However the Bible says Jesus rose on the third day. If Jesus was crucified on Friday and rose on Sunday how was He dead for three days?

Jesus was arrested Thursday night. He was crucified at 9am and died at 3pm on Friday. He was then buried and remained in the tomb all day Saturday. Sunday morning at dawn, which would be around 6am Jesus rose from the dead. So Jesus was in the tomb for between 36-40 hours. He couldn’t have been dead for three days and three nights. That’s true. It’s a problem. Jews and Romans counted time different. Romans count like we do. Midnight was the middle of the night and the point at which a day ended and the next began. Jews however counted there days from sunset to sunset. So if it’s Thursday and the sun goes down, as soon as the sun is down, it’s Friday. When they describe the hours of the day they start counting at sunrise, which was around 6am. They didn’t count the night as part of the day. So when they describe the third hour they are referring to three hours after sunrise which would be 9am. This is important to understand but it doesn’t solve the problem. How was Jesus dead for three days and three nights if we are only talking about a 36 hour period?

Matthew 12:40 is the only time Jesus is said to be in the tomb 3 days and 3 nights. This has led some to believe that the crucifixion was on Wednesday and that the “Sabbath” being referred to was a special annual Sabbath not the regular weekly Sabbath that occurs on Saturday.

Here is the problem. In the eyes of the Jews if Jesus was dead for three days and three nights He couldn’t have risen on the third day. Even with our count, if He was dead for 72 hours. He didn’t rise on the third day. He rose on the fourth day. Therein lies the rub. If Jesus was in the tomb for three nights He would have risen on the fourth day not the third day. While Matthew 12 says three days and three nights we have twenty passages where Jesus notes He will rise on the third day (Matthew 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; 26:61; 27:40, 64; Mark 9:31; 10:34; 14:58; 15:29; Luke 9:22; 13:32; 18:33; 24:7, 21, 46; John 2:19, 20; Acts 10:40; 1 Corinthians 15:4).

This is an apparent contradiction. You may notice that some of these “on the third day” statements are in Matthew. Which means Matthew would be contradicting himself. Unlikely. The statement is more idiomatic than it is scientifically exact. How could Jesus rise on the third day if He was only dead for 36 hours? Stop thinking scientifically for a second and just think. If I came to visit you on Friday and stayed through Monday when I left, how many days was I there? Four. If I arrived Friday evening and left Monday morning I still visited you for four days. When the Jews counted time they counted the number of days involved not the number of hours included divided by 24 to get a literal day count.

At this time if you had a child born on December 31st. On January 1st your little bundle of joy would be considered two years old. Not scientifically, but practically. Your child had been alive in two separate years.Jesus died on Friday, day one. He was dead Saturday, day two. He rose on Sunday, day three. Thus Jesus died on Friday and rose on Sunday the third day. The way Jews, you know the guys who wrote the Bible, counted was simple: any part of a day could be considered a day.

Some will not be satisfied with this. They demand Matthew 12 be explained literally. In so doing they create a huge problem with the rest of the gospel. Skeptics would see this and say: “AHA! I knew it! Your Bible is flawed and riddled with contradictions. It clearly must be false! J’accuse!” To which I would quote the great Ralph Waldo Emerson: “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Seriously, the contradiction is not in the meaning but in our interpretation.

Those who hold that Matthew 12 should be taken literally to mean 72 hours and only 72 hours and anything else is wrong so we have to move the crucifixion, change holy week, and ignore numerous other Scriptures make several significant mistakes. They assume that we can read our modern mindset into an ancient text. They ignore culture. They ignore history. They ignore interpretation and they assume that this passage can only mean what they, 21st century Americans, think that it should mean based on their culture paradigm. This is little more than intellectual arrogance.

What’s more, it’s not even consistent. If I told you I ate a burrito three days ago. Does that mean that exactly 72 hours ago I consumed a delicious tortilla filled with meat, cheese, rice, and jalapenos? Or is it possible that when I say three days ago I mean that at some point three days prior to today, I ate a burrito?

Consider this: the assumption that creates the problem is that when Jesus says: “in the heart of the earth” He means in the tomb. What if that isn’t what He means at all? If you look through Scripture you will find that “the earth” is rarely a description of ground and regularly a description of the people who live on it. If “the heart of the earth” means the more accurately “the hands of men” then the counter starts Thursday night when Jesus was arrested. Then you have Jesus suffering in the heart of the earth Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. Three nights. This fits with Scripture and solves the problem. Jesus suffering didn’t begin on the cross. It began in the garden. He was a captive “in the heart of the earth” i.e subject to the hearts of men, for three nights.

The issue was not contradiction. It was a flaw in our interpretation. We can take Matthew 12 literally if we interpret it correctly. With this interpretation Matthew 12 and the 20 some passages that say Jesus will rise on the third day are both be true.

The important thing to remember here is that while we might not fully understand how a group of people 2000 years ago used idioms and calendars with perfect accuracy, what we do know is the message around the timeline. Don’t let dates, times, and orders get in the way otherwise you are missing the fourth of july firework spectacle for a fizzled out sparkler. The important thing to remember is that Jesus died on the cross for our sins to give us a new life, to make us holy, to draw us back to God so that we could be His. Jesus redeemed. Jesus restored. That’s more important than what night of the week His restoration began.