Sabbatical Summary and Reflections

When we set our plans for my pastoral sabbatical, Holly and I wrote out three key themes, each becoming a banner under which we could design travel, activities, and rhythms. These themes were rest, recreation, and renewal. We mapped out the six-week sabbatical in three successive phases. Of course, since we have four children under the age of 12, these lines blurred a little, and we needed to include more recreation into each day in order to keep them occupied and us sane. But to keep the theme of rest—true soul rest—going throughout the sabbatical, I deleted all the social media apps from my phone and iPad, deleted my work email from my phone and iPad…and used a completely different not-so-smart phone for much of sabbatical The freedom and lightness of being that I experienced was remarkable.

Here are some of the highlights of our time…

Phase 1: Rest
We cashed in some airline miles, left our kids with my parents, and headed for the beach! It was the perfect way to kick off sabbatical, and to commemorate our 15th wedding anniversary year. Holly and I spent nearly every minute together, eating, talking, reading, and even running on the beach. We both brought a big novel—she read All the Light We Cannot See, and I read, or at least began reading, The Count of Monte Cristo.

But the book that became the highlight of our few days was a marriage book called, How We Love. The authors draw from attachment theory (how we experienced comfort and bonding with our parents) to explore how each spouse brings a pattern of relating and of building attachment and intimacy (or not building it) into the marriage. It sparked some amazing, soul-baring conversations for us. Though we have known each other for nearly 20 years, and have had deep conversations consistently during that time, this helped us go even further in understanding what lies behind our own patterns of relating to each other, particularly in those all-too-familiar patterns that married couples can sometimes get ‘stuck’ in. We highly recommend the book—special thanks to our dear friends who know the authors well and who recommended the book to us.

Phase 2: RecreationIMG_0035While we may have liked the ‘rest’ phase to go on, we had to get back to our kids, and we were excited to make some memories together as a family. After a few days at home, we loaded up the car and headed on a two-week road trip. We drove up to Rapid City, South Dakota, to spend a few days seeing Mt. Rushmore and few other notable attractions in the area. That was a blast—and quite a spectacle to behold. From there, we drove through the Badlands to South Dakota (including a stop to the Wall Drug store) to the northwest corner of Iowa, where Holly is from, and spent just under a week at the farm. The kids loved playing outside all day long, holding kittens, and practicing their driving skills on the riding lawn mower. Holly and I went for a walk everyday, and found time in the afternoons to journal.

On the road trip, we listened to an audiobook recommended by a good friend of ours, called Essentialism. It is mostly a business/leadership book, but has some significant applications for every area of life. (You can find reviews/summaries here and here and a reflection from Michael Hyatt on it here.) The book was catalytic for Holly and I to clarify what is truly essential to each of us in terms of both life purpose and daily focus. We spent time talking and journaling about what to whittle away from our activities, what matrix to use for saying yes and no when deciding on a variety of things, and what things/relationships we need to spend more time investing in. I think the Holy Spirit used this to bring clarity of focus for church, and for our work and home life in the season ahead. It was a way of helping us act on a few things spoken over us in a few prophetic words before we left on sabbatical.

After the farm, we drove down to Kansas to meet Holly’s sister and their family for a couple days. Lots of fun and play. Then, the long, monotonous drive home on I-70!

Phase 3: Renewal
After unpacking, doing laundry, and repacking at our home, we headed up to the mountains, courtesy of some generous friends who allowed us use their vacation home. Our time was shaped by a daily rhythm that usually included morning devotions, a family activity (a hike or bike ride), and afternoon quiet hours to read. We also met a few friends for a camping trip, which was renewing in a special way—though not at all restful!

Midway through week 4, I picked up a theology book for the first time all sabbatical. I read the classic work on sacramental theology from Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World. The book as a whole is tremendous, but the first two chapters alone are stunning. Next, I moved on to John Barclay’s excellent new book, Paul and the Gift (a 3-part summary is coming on my blog next week).

After coming home from the mountains, I left the next day on a silent retreat at a Jesuit retreat house in Sedalia, Colorado. It is an amazing place, set in a beautiful area. Silence was difficult—I made it 8 hours before caving and calling Holly from my car!—but I persevered, spent the night and came away the next day at noon with 12 pages of journaling prayers and reflections! I heard the Lord speak on some crucial things in my life. Though I was asking for a few specific answers, the Lord only gave Himself as the answer, calling me more to Himself than to any particular task. Like Peter after the resurrection, I sense that the Lord wants me to follow Him not a particular task or assignment. I read some written prophetic words that had been given to us, prayed over them, and over our family.

During the final week of sabbatical, I felt ready to create. Not toil, but create. To bring to order the work the Spirit had been brooding over in my heart and soul over the summer. Words have the power to bring order and meaning; this is the essence of the logos. So, for me, it was time to write. I began by writing a summary of Barclay’s book. Then, I began working on a project which I hope to share more about soon. Unexpectedly, I also wrote new worship song, capturing—I hope—bits of what I had read and what the Lord had highlighted to me. I’ll share that at some point too.

Reflections and resolutions
Much of the work the Lord did in me personally, in our marriage, and in our children is too sacred to share publicly. One of our children had a key moment in their journey of faith, inviting Jesus into their heart to make them new and to reign. It was a beautiful and powerful moment. There are choices we are making and rhythms that we are building into our lives for the Fall that we hope will reinforce the ‘target’ the Lord has set before us.

If I were to pick a word or two to sum up the work of the Spirit in me, it would be focus and intimacy. Focus, because of the need to clarify, to unite my heart, to simplify my pursuits; intimacy as in, with Jesus as my first love, with my wife as her covering and husband, and with my children as their shepherd and father.

But in order to nurture these things, other things must be removed or thinned out. As I mentioned, I was completely off all social media. Other than a few glances in at the beginning of week 1 (detox is real!), and in week 6, I did not check Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram at all. And I learned some things. I learned how little time I give myself to think and create without the noise of other voices. I learned how quick I am to offer opinions and commentary. I realize that I had been turned into a press secretary and not a priest, feeling the need to comment on social issues rather than to be present and to listen. I want to return to these social spaces differently. But I am nervous to even re-enter. I know how easily obsessed I can become. I may leave the apps off my phone. I may limit the times of day to check. I want my mornings and evenings to be different. No big public declarations or manifestos; I’m just going to quietly make some changes and trust the Lord to help them take root.

I want my life to bear fruit. That means nourishing the roots—intimacy. It means taking time to prune, not investing time and energy in things that will not be fruitful—the grid of ‘essentialism’, and a necessary nervousness about social media engagement. I want personal attentiveness and deep engagement in reading and writing to mark this next season.

A Pastoral Sabbatical: Why and What It Means

I’m taking a pastoral sabbatical, beginning June 13th til July 29th. It comes every seven years for full-time employees at New Life Church. This will be my second, as I’ve been on staff for almost 16 years.

But, what is a sabbatical, particularly from a pastoral perspective? Here’s the blog I wrote for our congregation…

New Life Downtown // blog

I have been given the gift of a pastoral sabbatical this summer. This is a gift that comes round every seven years for full-time employees at New Life Church. Since I have been on staff for 16 years, this will actually be my second sabbatical, for which I am extremely grateful. The last one came as I was making the transition from worship/pastotal ministry to preaching/teaching/pastoral ministry.  My sabbatical will last a little over six weeks.

What is a sabbatical? It’s a good question, not least because ‘sabbath’ is a lost practice in our day. We all get vacations, and ‘time off’, but a sabbath is something altogether different. Sabbath is a time to stop, to rest, to delight, to play, and to be renewed by the Creator and Sustainer of all things.

A sabbatical is meant to be an extended sabbath. Some have asked if I am…

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Why Christians Shouldn’t Speak of the ‘Supernatural’

Christians believe in a Triune God who created the cosmos, and who stands in some way outside of it, or beyond it. To call God ‘holy’ is to acknowledge that God is completely ‘other’ than anything else. He is not simply separated from created things by degree but in kind. The Creator is not on the same spectrum as the creation; He is on His own spectrum. This is all summed up in the Hebrew and Christian confession that God is ‘holy‘.

But to confess this ‘otherness‘ of God is not to speak of God as ‘supernatural‘. {TWEET THIS} Webster’s defines the supernatural in two ways: ‘of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe; especially of or relating to God or a god, demigod, spirit, or devil’; or, ‘as departing from what is usual or normal especially so as to appear to transcend the laws of nature, or attributed to an invisible agent (as a ghost or spirit).’ So, yes, in one sense God is supernatural; His existence is ‘beyond the visible order of the observable universe’. But the language of ‘natural‘ and ‘supernatural‘ leans on a framework which divides the ‘natural‘ world from the ‘supernatural‘ world, a view which emerged during the Enlightenment, particularly when Sir Isaac Newton, outlined his mathematical principles of natural philosophy out of the conviction that there is a deep created order to the world, and to name these laws was to glorify God.

Ironically, these principles were used to effectively relegate God ‘upstairs’ and humans ‘downstairs’. Deism, the formal name for this view, accepted that the order in creation owed its origins to a creator, but that like any good invention, it did not require its inventor to keep running. Deism eventually led to post-Enlightenment rationalism, which rejected miracles both in Scripture and in contemporary life. After all, why would a God make rules only to suspend them whenever He liked? Why set the world up like a great clock only to move the hands at a whim? And if interventions were needed to correct the mechanism, how good was its design to begin with? (Voltaire, Spinoza and Hume are examples of a few philosophers whose skepticism led to a ‘de-miraclizing’ of the New Testament.) In one sense, it was Newton’s faith-driven science that led to the rejection of faith in the West.

What we are left with now are the remnants of warring worldviews– one which claims the belief in a supernatural, and one which argues against it on the basis of scientific discovery. It seems we are at an impasse. But I suggest it’s time to re-examine the very framework which divides reality in ‘natural’ and a ‘supernatural’ one.

Listen to how the Hebrew poets and prophets talked about the relationship between God and His world:

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers. (Psalm 24:1-2)

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth! (Psalm 57:5)

And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3)

God is holy AND His glory fills the earth! The Enlightenment taught us to see the world (and the phenomena in it) as either natural or supernatural. The Hebrews saw God as above and beyond His creation, and yet somehow also within it.

As it turns out, not only is this view of the world better theologically, it actually coheres with science, but a more a more up-to-date science. My supervisor, David Wilkinson, is a brilliant and Godly man who earned a double PhD in Astrophysics and Systematic Theology. A recent article captures his thoughts on miracles and science from his book on prayer:

Quantum theory tells us that the small-scale structure of the world is, in the words of Christian physicist John Polkinghorne, “radically random”: “By that he means it is unpredictable and nothing like a mechanical clock,” says Wilkinson. “It is a world that is unpicturable, uncertain, and in which the cause of events cannot be fully specified.”

So, suggests Wilkinson, there’s plenty of room for God to act, because the system isn’t closed at all. He can “push” electrons here and there and alter the course of events in the world without breaking any of the laws of nature. The problem is that too many theologians simply don’t know enough about physics and are stuck with out-of-date science. Quantum theory doesn’t answer all our questions, Wilkinson says cautiously, but it “may be one dimension of how God works in the world”.

Miracles are not God over-riding the laws of the universe, but rather God working within His world. {TWEET THIS}

Such a framework also challenges us to take a closer look at how the Holy Spirit works. If we view the Spirit’s work as over-riding the ‘natural’, then we will bristle at ‘natural’ explanations of ‘spiritual encounters’. This is where the subject comes closer to home for me and my research on how hope is experienced in congregational worship.

For example, the discovery that oxytocin—the chemical associated with the feeling of well-being—is released in the brain in group singing can be used as a ‘natural’ explanation for why we feel better after a time of ‘congregational worship’. An atheist may say there’s nothing ‘supernatural’ going on; it’s just chemicals in the brain. Christians who would argue it’s the ‘presence of God’ and therefore can’t have anything to do with chemicals in the brain are left to either deny the science or ignore it. And, worse, folks who can’t ignore the science are left to believe that faith is inherently contradictory to science.

But a brief bit of theological reflection on how the Spirit works can help. The hermeneutical key to understanding the Spirit’s operation in the New Testament is the Day of Pentecost. On this day, the Spirit enabled speech in various cultural languages so that people heard Christ being proclaimed in their own tongue. The Holy Spirit does not over-ride cultural norms; He inhabits them. {TWEET THIS}

In the above example of worship and oxytocin, why would the discovery that the brain gets a buzz from group singing automatically disprove the belief that the Spirit is at work in congregational worship? The two things would be mutually exclusive in Newton’s universe, but not in Polkinghorne’s. If there were a God who created us, desires relationship with us, and instructed us to gather to sing to Him, why wouldn’t He also have made our brains to respond to this with a chemical that reinforces this behavior and aids in our obedience? In other words, why can’t the Spirit work within the way we are made?

One more example connected to my research…

Congregational worship is, in a very real sense, a communal ritual. There are defined ways of acting and responding, whether the ‘script‘ is formal or informal. This serves not only to help everyone know how to participate, but also to reinforce the particular identity of that congregation. When sociologists/social anthropologists use the lens of ritual to study congregational worship, they discover things such as the realization that the qualities of an ‘emotionally expressive‘ service (like those in many Pentecostal or Charismatic churches) have features that are just as defined as those in ‘non-emotionally expressive‘ services (like those in many liturgical churches). Pentecostals and Charismatics have been, in my limited experience, uneasy with the suggestion that there is a script or pattern or ritual in their worship. If it’s the ‘anointing‘, it must be spontaneous or unique. But I suggest this is because we think the two things are antithetical: either the Spirit is working through the ‘anointing’, or we are responding to cultural norms and communal scripts. But just as miracles are instances of God working within His world, why can’t these experiences in worship be examples of the Spirit inhabiting our cultural and communal selves?

As long as we insist on seeing the world as split between the ‘natural’ and the ‘supernatural’, we will see the Holy Spirit as opposed to the ‘laws of science’ or ‘patterns of human behavior’.

I think instead of speaking of the ‘supernatural’, it’s time we recover the ancient confession that the holy God is filling His world with His glory. We are the people who believe in the incarnation– a God who became flesh. We affirm a story of the Holy Spirit filling people by inhabiting their ‘language’ and culture not by over-riding it.

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord almighty. May the whole earth be filled with His glory.

What Does the Ascension of Jesus Mean?

Today is Ascension Day, or, if you’d like The Feast of the Ascension.

Of all the moments in the life of Christ that we commemorate during the Church Calendar, the Feast of the Ascension may be the most puzzling. Where did Jesus go? What exactly are we marking by saying that He ascended?

The meaning of the ascension and its bearing on our lives may be clouded in part because of art that depicts Jesus returning to heaven like a cosmic superhero. But perhaps the reason we struggle to find meaning in the event is a bit closer to the heart. The ascension triggers what the disciples themselves felt when Jesus started talking his departure—a sense of abandonment.

Awhile back, when I was preaching on the ascension during a series on the Nicene Creed, a congregant emailed me to share how up until that week, she had struggled with the ascension because it always felt like Jesus was leaving us. Despite the very blatant statement from Jesus that He would not leave us like orphans, the event of His ascension seems like a painful reminder that He is not present, or at least not in the same way, and that is somehow a loss. The ascension of Jesus can feel like Jesus is escaping earth and abandoning us.

How can we celebrate that?

Let’s take a closer look at the stories of Jesus ascension. Unlike the resurrection accounts, the stories seem less concerned with marking the event in history, and more concerned with convey its meaning. The imagery is significant. First, consider the image of Jesus ascending on the clouds (Acts 1:9). The Gospels record Jesus talking about the ‘Son of Man’ being ‘seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven’ (Mark 14:62; Mathew 26:64; cf. Matthew 24:30 and Mark 13:26). These statements have often been read as references to the return of Christ, and they do contain overtones of a future appearing. But the phrase is a clear echo of Daniel 7, where the Son of Man comes up the cloud up to God and take the seat of authority over the affairs of the world. The cloud imagery is meant to make us think of Jesus going to a seat of power. Being ‘seated at the right hand’ is not an absence but a more powerful presence.

Paul makes this point explicit, claiming that by ascending Jesus now fills all things: 

“(In saying, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)” Ephesians 4:9-10 (ESV)

This is the first meaning we are to make of the ascension: The ascension of Jesus is about His enthronement.

N. T. Wright explains these implications for the first Christians:

Kyrios Iesous, Jesus is Lord, was the earliest confession of Christian Faith, the thing you had to say before you got baptized. Confessing that Jesus was Lord—meaning, among other things, that Caesar wasn’t—was basic, bottomline Christianity right from the start. Ascension Day Christianity, if you like. It wasn’t something you had to wait for until the end of time. Being a Christian was always about living by faith in Jesus’ sovereign lordship in a world which didn’t much look like he was in charge.”

As we compare the surrounding details of the story, something else rises to view. There is an uncanny parallel between the story of Jesus being ‘taken’ and the Old Testament story of Elijah being taken.

2 Kings 2:9-10 (ESV)
When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.’ And Elisha said, ‘Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.’ 10 And he said, ‘You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you, but if you do not see me, it shall not be so.’ ”

Acts 1:8-9 (ESV)
“ ‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’ And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” 

In the Elijah story, there is an anointed prophet (Elijah) and an apprentice (Elisha). The sign that the empowerment which the prophet had would be passed on in greater measure to the apprentice was that the apprentice would see the prophet being taken up into heaven. In the Jesus story, the anointed Prophet promises an empowerment—which would be better than His physical presence—and then is seen being taken up out of their sight. Luke (the writer of Acts) very clearly seems to be referencing the Elijah story in the way he describes Jesus’ ascension. And he’s doing it to make a statement: The ascension of Jesus is about our empowerment.

When we put those two things together we begin to grasp what the Ascension of all about: The ascension of Jesus is about His enthronement over all and our empowerment by the Spirit.

That is something to have a feast about.

Genocide Against Christians (And How the Church Can Help)

Christians across the Middle East are suffering and dying for their faith, and the United States government has called it a genocide. Here are four ways you, your family, and your church can help.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a guest post from a brilliant friend and leader in our congregation, Ian Speir. Ian is an attorney in Colorado Springs who represents nonprofits and religious organizations. He was a co-author of the comprehensive report on Christian genocide ( that was submitted to Secretary of State John Kerry in advance of the genocide declaration.]

When we read about Christian persecution in the New Testament and Church tradition — the stoning of Stephen, the imprisonment of Paul, and the crucifixion of Peter, to name a few — it’s easy to think that this kind of thing is history. For those of us in the West, particularly the United States, it’s hard to think of Christians being jailed, tortured, and even killed for their faith.

The reality is, they are. Every day across the world, Christians are victims of mistreatment and violence. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, Christians are the world’s most persecuted religious group.

Nowhere is this more true than in the Middle East, where failed governments create power vacuums in which extremists thrive. It’s a toxic environment for Christians, who are often seen as stand-ins for “the West.” In this region — in the very birthplace of their faith — Christian communities are disappearing at an alarming rate, leading even the New York Times to wonder, “Is This the End of Christianity in the Middle East?

What’s happening to Christians is no less than a genocide, and Iraq and Syria are ground zero. Since the summer of 2014, the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) has waged a systematic campaign of religious and ethnic cleansing in these countries. Christians, and Christianity itself, are being wiped off the map.

The numbers are staggering. Thousands of Christians have been slaughtered, kidnapped, raped, and enslaved. Over 200,000 Iraqi Christians are currently displaced in Iraqi Kurdistan, many living in squalid conditions in temporary shelters and camps, in dire need of food and medical assistance. In Syria, thousands of Christians have been killed and over 700,000 have fled the country since the civil war began in 2011, reducing Syria’s Christian population by more than 60 percent. In both countries, hundreds of churches and other holy sites have been reduced to rubble.

If the trend continues, there will be no trace of Christian civilization left in this part of the world.

Last month, Secretary of State John Kerry used the word genocide to describe what’s happening to Christians and other religious minorities at the hands of ISIS. It was a watershed moment, not just because it was historic (marking only the second time the U.S. government has invoked that term term in an ongoing conflict), but also because it puts a name to the crimes. Officially calling it genocide rouses the public conscience, and says to the victims that we, the American people, will not be a silent witness to atrocities aimed at wiping out these ancient communities.

As much as words matter, though, they’re only the beginning. Will the United States and other countries now take concrete steps to stop the genocide, protect victims, and punish the perpetrators? NGOs and human rights activists are working tirelessly — on the front lines and behind the scenes — to make that happen. But sadly, if history is any guide, the odds are not good. The United States is notoriously reluctant to intervene, even to prevent horrendous atrocities, when its broader geopolitical interests aren’t at stake.

But the American church can and must step up.

Here are four ways for you, your family, and your church to get involved right now in helping persecuted Christians in the Middle East and around the world.

  1. PRAY: Pray for Christians in the Middle East, particularly those in Iraq and Syria (and the hundreds of thousands who have fled those countries). Pray for their protection, peace, and perseverance; for an end to the violence; for restoration to their homes and communities; and for reconciliation with their neighbors. Pray, too, for other minorities affected by this genocide, particularly the Yezidi people and Shia Muslims.
  2. GIVE: Several U.S. nonprofits and NGOs work directly with persecuted Christians and other minorities in the Middle East. By generously giving to groups like Open Doors USA, International Christian Concern, and the Knights of Columbus Christian Refugee Relief Fund, you and your church can have an immediate impact on the plight of persecuted Christians.
  3. SEND FAMILY MED PACKS: The Family Med Pack program through Voice of the Martyrs is a great way for you and your family — especially your kids — to help persecuted Christians fleeing ISIS. Order pre-printed bags from VOM, make a trip to Walmart or Target to fill your bags with things like blankets, toiletries, and bandages, and ship the bags back to VOM, who will send them on to Christians in need.
  4. RAISE AWARENESS: Get involved and raise awareness in your church on the plight of persecuted Christians in the Middle East and around the world. Open Doors USA, International Christian Concern, and Voice of the Martyrs all provide excellent resources to get you started.

The Bible tells us to “[r]emember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:3). Christians in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere are our brothers and sisters, and when they suffer, we suffer with them. By praying, giving generously, and getting our churches involved, we let persecuted Christians know they’re not forgotten.

Easter in Belgium (Guest Post)


Taken last September: a few of the lads after a long day of lectures and presenting papers. Filip is on the left in the brown jacket.

My friend and colleague at Durham (also pursuing his doctorate in theology, and my same ‘year’), Filip De Cavel, is a key leader in a large Evangelical denomination in Belgium. I reached out to Filip last week when the tragic events in Brussels occurred. I asked if he would consider writing a short reflection so that we could see the situation through his eyes, and so that we would know how to pray for the Church in Belgium.

He sent me this on Easter Sunday:

Monday evening, March 21 // Clare, my wife, goes to England.

Along with many other travelers, she took of a couple of vacation days during Easter week, and boarded an airplane in Brussels to visit her parents in England.

In front of me was the oft-dreaded blank page– the beginnings of a sermon. At the end of the week, on Easter Sunday, it would hopefully be filled with meaningful words for a congregation. I shouldn’t complain; there is certainly enough Biblical text to draw from.

Mark 16:1-8 caught my eye. If we disregard the so-called “second ending” of Mark, this is the gospel in which the last words of Jesus do not foster a great deal of joy: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Really? Don’t let Mark come near my Easter sermon!

Likewise, the visit to the grave (Mark 16) could hardly be qualified as euphoric. The main characters here, three women, are walking to and from the empty grave. I can almost hear them think, “Jesus’ dead body, Jesus’ dead body! Why has thou forsaken us?” The text paints a picture in less hopeful words: Alarmed; went out quickly; fled; trembled; amazed; said nothing; afraid. Really? Don’t let these women come near my Easter!

Where are the last words of Jesus as reported by Matthew, Luke and John?

Tuesday morning, March 22 // Belgium wakes up with a hang over.

Terror and meaningless violence on our soil..

Some moments later, the scope of this drama becomes clear.

The mourning begins.

A Canadian man, a fellow christian, got stranded at the airport, but was not harmed. He called me since we had mutual friends. Suddenly, the world seems a lot smaller. Some days later, we learned that a young christian man got killed by one of the explosions. He was getting ready to visit his American girlfriend. I didn’t know him personally, but a lot of my friends did.

And in the back of my head, one sentence: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken this young man, and so many other victims?”

Sunday morning, March 27// Easter Sunday unlike any other Easter Sundays.

Lucky for me, Mark’s gospel is near me.

Really? Really.

It is, after all, the gospel which recounts the story of a loving father who presented himself and his sick child to Jesus– a father who knew the impact of suffering on one’s life. Jesus dared him to believe. The man replied. “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

The women in Mark 16 are silent. Maybe it is their way of embodying the same sentiment as this father: belief and unbelief.

The young man in the empty tomb, dressed in white, didn’t allow these women to spend too much time in the tomb. “Go to Galilee,” he directs them. Jesus would meet His disciples there (cf. Mk 14:28).

Galilee, the place where it all started for Jesus.

Galilee, where it all started for the disciples.

Galilee, through the eyes of the resurrected Jesus has become a different place. Not because Galilee has changed but because our Lord has showed who He really is: the Messiah!

He has not forsaken us.

In fact, He is in our ‘Galilee’.

He is there.

He is.

Sunday afternoon, March 27

Belgium and many other places in this world have fallen victim to these hideous acts of terrorism. Most notably today in Lahore, Pakistan.

But we are not forsaken. We are not at all forsaken.

Please stand by my fellow country men and women, and pray that many may become convinced of the God who is there.

Augustine on Atonement 

Earlier this year, my friend and pastor of Bloom Denver, Andrew Arndt, sent this to me. I thought it’d be appropriate to share it today. Sometimes people emphasize the substitutionary aspect of atonement so strongly that it makes it seem like the Father killed the Son to appease Himself. Others, reacting against this, emphasize that the cross is what Jesus endured to forgive us, running the risk of making the cross all demonstration and no substitution. Both make the mistake of not thinking though the atonement in a Trinitarian way. St. Augustine helps us be rid of these errors.

And what is meant by “being reconciled by the death of his Son?” Was it indeed so that when God the Father was wroth [“angry” or “full of wrath”] with us, He saw the death of His Son for us, and was appeased towards us? Was then His Son already so far appeased towards us, that he even deigned to die for us; while the Father was still so far wroth, that except His Son died for us, He would not be appeased?…Pray [basically, “please understand”] that unless the Father had already been appeased, would He have delivered up His own Son, not sparing him for us?But I see that the Father loved us also before, not only before the Son died for us, but before he created the world…Therefore together both the Father and the Son, and the Spirit of both, work all things equally and harmoniously; yet we are justified in the blood of Christ, and we are reconciled to God by the death of his Son.”

St. Augustine in On the Trinity, Book 13, Ch 11.