An Open Letter to Shane Claiborne Regarding Executing Grace


We’ve never met, but from what you said about yourself in Executing Grace, we come from a roughly similar background. You grew up in Tennessee, I grew up on the exurbs of Atlanta. We’re within a decade of the same age, and we were raised in similar conservative church backgrounds. We’ve both made something of ourselves that those in our hometowns may never have suspected us capable of back in those days.

I’m currently working on what I call a “2018TBR” project, where I set before myself a set list of books I wanted to read in 2018 – over 100 books in all, and I allowed for books to be added due to my Advance Reader Copy work with a few authors and publishers. Your book, Executing Grace: How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It Is Killing Us, was on that list and I finished reading it today after having just started it yesterday. (Such is the norm for many of the books, and why yours was the 30th book I have read this year.)

Just so we are upfront with one another, despite agreeing with the premise of Executing Grace wholeheartedly and finding the stories you presented moving, the overall execution of the book was simply lacking. I won’t rehash what I’ve already put openly on Goodreads and Amazon, my normal places for reviewing books. Instead, I want to try to appeal to you personally.

You see, you had some very key flaws in Executing Grace, and I know you are working on a new book about gun violence. You no doubt want it to be persuasive enough to draw people to your side of the issue. But based on your execution of Executing Grace, I fear your own beliefs will fatally flaw this new text as well. You yourself said numerous times in the latter sections of Executing Grace that you were moved not by the facts and logic of repealing the death penalty – a case that can be made just as effectively as the case you presented – but by the emotional appeal of hearing peoples’ stories. So I have little doubt that this is the approach that you will take in this new endeavor. And when you do so, you will find no new converts to your side. Because those who oppose you will be able to tell just as many stories of people who used guns effectively to save their lives in various ways.

But another of your flaws was that you often referred to “societal” violence, when capital punishment is explicitly *State* violence. Indeed, when you cited Ephesians 6:12, you explicitly chose to cite the KJV’s “principalities and powers” translation rather than the NIV’s “rulers and authorities” translation. When you cited the Early Church leaders, even when they were not just decrying Rome’s capital punishment but indeed Rome itself, even while acknowledging that these leaders were antagonists to the State, you specifically state that they were against “societal” violence. No, sir. Well, not completely. They abhorred *all* violence – not just “societal”, but also that of the State – which is a key feature that you either glossed over or intentionally misled your readers about.

This is in no doubt because with your new book, you are going to do one thing those in the Early Church never did, at least not to my own education on the subject. You are going to appeal to your readers to get government to enact legislation banning that which you oppose. You are going to condone State violence – and make no mistake, there *will* be State violence if gun bans are enacted in the US – in order to further your goal of somehow reducing violence via State violence. And in all likelihood since you ignored police executing people in the street in your condemnation of the State executing people, you will proceed in your book against gun violence to ignore the fact that the State’s police are the single group of gun owners most likely to use their guns for violence against another person. Indeed, even in Executing Grace, you appealed to a complete end to violence – without ever truly discussing just how violent not we as a society have been, but just how violent government has been. You even mention apartheid and the Rwandan genocide without ever even alluding to the fact that these horrendous acts were condoned and even encouraged by their governments.

So I want you to do better in your next book. Because while I will absolutely never agree that government should dictate anything, I *would* like to see you build a case as to why a Christian should never have a gun in his or her hand. I *would* like to see you build a case for Christian nonviolence and even submission to violence to the point of death in your book against gun violence. Because you have made a career of preaching about how Christians should be counter-cultural, and I believe these points can be made in just that fashion. I am not quite there in my own beliefs – I already own three guns and would like to buy at least that many more – but I do believe the case can be made, and I believe you are one that can make the case persuasively.

And I believe that if you can make such a case, if you can show Christians how to be truly counter-cultural when it comes to guns, maybe you might be able to show us how to be an example for the rest of the nation to voluntarily lay down their own guns – both the State and its citizens.

And if you can do that, you will ultimately achieve your goal of a gun-less society. And you will have done it not via the force of the State, but by the Power of God.

Your brother in Christ,


Jesus and the American Golden Calf

Many years ago, I heard the full story of exactly what was happening at a somewhat routine passage in John 7, and it blew my mind – and altered my life forever.

The passage in question is this:

37 On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. 38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” John 7:37-38, New King James Version

Like I said, a fairly routine passage in a chapter that is a bunch of “quick hit” scenes. Nothing at all remarkable about the text, on its face.

But here’s where things get interesting: You see, that first verse (until it says 38 above) is actually FULL of details that have direct impact into at least one controversy swirling America as I write this. Because the “feast” in question was one of the holiest moments of the Jewish calendar of that era, the Feast of Tabernacles.

On the very holiest of days of one of the holiest religious observances of their year, Jesus protested. He claimed they were dead wrong, that their celebrations meant nothing. That he and he alone was what they were looking for. In Modern American Christian parlance, this would be similar to some travelling pastor walking into CNN on Christmas morning and proclaiming himself the Second Coming of Christ. It was *that* big.

And here’s the pivot to the American Golden Calf. You see, the Jews of Christ’s era were familiar with the story of the Golden Calf – as are many American Christians. Long story short (and it can be found in Exodus 32), Moses was up on the Mount of Sinai for a LONG time getting the 10 Commandments. While he’s gone, his brother commissions a golden calf to be made that the people of Israel begin worshipping – and then one of the 10 Commandments Moses comes down with turns out to be “thou shalt have no other gods before me”. Oops.

Now, what is the American Golden Calf? The United States Government. And specifically, its symbols – its flag and anthem. American Christians are no different than those Israelites of long ago, so tired of waiting and so bored and so sure of their own significance that they will worship almost literally anything that seems to give them an iota of purpose. In our case, they have eschewed “thou shalt have no other gods before me” for placing their entire faith in the American Flag. Sure, they’ll say they don’t. And they will and do make a big stink about how much they don’t. But their big stink shows just how much they do. Because in their every action, they continually reiterate their absolute devotion to that flag. They think that that flag and the cross Jesus died on are the very same thing, when in fact the two are polar opposites.

That flag in modern times does not in any way stand for freedom. The cross never has. That flag in modern times stands for tyranny, oppression, and force – in every detail of life, all over the globe. The cross stands for absolute supplication to the Living God – by each man’s choice. That flag in modern times demands “you will worship me or else”. The cross has always been about personal sacrifice to show the path to God. That flag in modern times says “If my agents are even the least bit intimidated by you, they can kill you any time they want”. The cross says “I would rather die to show you the path to God than let you die without knowing it.”. That flag in modern times says “I will judge you according to my arbitrary rules.” The cross says “I don’t judge you at all.”. That flag in modern times says “I have the right to kill you.” The cross says “If a man strikes me, I will turn the other cheek and allow him to strike it too.” That flag in modern times says “I will scream in your face about anything I want, and you have to stand there and take it because I’m the most powerful force on the planet.” The cross says “I serve a God who created literally everything, and I humbly present my case for his glory.”

When Colin Kaepernick or the literally hundreds of other sports players protest that flag at the height of the modern American religious festival that is the National Football League, they are doing exactly what Christ did all those years ago. They are being, by the very definition of the word, Christian.

When you rabidly adhere to the American flag, you are by the very definition of the term worshipping a falce idol.

Choose this day whom you will serve, Christian. Will it be the God that gave the Ten Commandments and later proclaimed himself to be the living water to the desert population? Or will it be the golden calf and the religious leaders who thought they had killed some madman claiming to be God?

The Choice

Last night, I wrote a 3000 word piece about the intersection of Joshua, Samuel, and Jesus Christ. Today, I want to try to make the case a bit more succinctly.

Government is a choice, and in that choice we reject God.

If you read nothing else in this post, that last sentence is the entire point I am making.

Even in Joshua’s “choose this day” speech, he makes that very point – something most people miss when quoting that verse. He specifically says that the choice is between the God that his ancestors had chosen or the gods of those now around them in the land we now know as Israel. This truly is a dichotomous choice – God, or not. Many years later, the gods around them have transitioned into government, and kings have arisen throughout the land. So the elders of Israel go to Joshua’s (much later) successor, Samuel, and demand a king of their own. And at this point, God Himself says to the elders (through Samuel) explicitly that in making that choice, they have rejected Him (and His ability to provide for them). A millenia or two later, God would become incarnate in the form of the man we now call Jesus Christ. And Jesus would make the same point, in such a subtle fashion that it did not alarm the ruling government of his day. Jesus explicitly says in his most famous sermon “You cannot serve two masters. Either you will hate one and love the other, or you will serve one and despise the other.”

Thus, you can choose government. Or God. You cannot choose both. Because if you try, you will wind up despising one of them. Even God Himself – twice! – says exactly this.

That is the choice.

That is your choice.

What If Paul Had A Point?

The Apostle Paul’s admonitions against women in teaching and preaching positions in the church are rather infamous.

For those unaware, while much of 1 Timothy 2 would be concerning for modern society, in v12 Paul specifically states “I do not permit a woman to teach or to hold authority over a man; she must be quiet.”

Now, see my last post, regarding Frank Viola’s example of Marvin Snurdley, for a great illustration of why we should take this with likely a boulder of salt.

But what if Paul had a grain of truth for us there? Sure, he could have phrased it better for modern sensibilities, but the dude has been dead for nearly two millenia, so I’ll give him a pass there.

But let’s think about it. Shaunti Feldhahn has made a career over the last 15 yrs or so with the ground breaking research she did for her books For Women Only and For Men Only. I personally once allowed a coworker to borrow my copies of those two books when he spent a week on my couch while in a rough spot with his wife, and they saved his marriage – at least at that point. (It has been nearly a decade since I heard from him.)

Part of that research was finding out and explaining to women just how visual men are and just how much we think about sex. To say that most women who read that book are shocked would not be a minor understatement, to say the least.

I can even point to a couple of examples from my own early teenage years, 8th grade in particular.

In 8th grade, my English teacher was absolutely stunning. Sure, I had teachers before and since that were good looking, but this lady… let’s just say she put my 13yo hormones in overdrive, even though she rarely showed much skin at all. (Long skirts with sleeved tops of some form, usually, but even these were very flattering to her form, at times. One white cashmere sweater in particular, when she put the strap of her purse across her chest…. moving on now.)

My Social Studies teacher that year was one I had been around for years at that point, and would be in similar circles for years later. She was at my elementary school teaching 4th grade right next to the 4th grade class I was in, and I would have her as a teacher in both middle school and high school. In addition, her husband was at the time a preacher at whose church I would occasionally go to Vacation Bible School. The man is currently a sitting State Representative in my home State, representing at least part of my home town.

Anyway, this teacher and I never really got along, for reasons that are not relevant to this post. But one day when I was in 8th grade, I saw something. Apparently her top was a little too small that day, and as a result, the fabric opened slightly in the middle along the button line. I do not remember the circumstances, but I remember seeing between those buttons that day. I could describe exactly what I saw, but people in my hometown already know exactly who this woman is, and I’ll not embarass her any further here.

But tying these two instances to Shaunti’s research and Paul’s admonitions:

I don’t remember the lessons of those two teachers *at all*. I likely retain the information, but do not remember it was they that first presented it to me. But I remember those two particular images, nearly 20 years later. And those were just one day of middle school English and Social Studies lessons.

Now think of just how crucial and truly life altering good, solid Christian teaching can be – or, for the more pessimistic, how damaging bad, weak Christian teaching can be.

With pubescent boys and even grown men so distracted by sex, does Paul have a degree of a point in his admonishment that women not teach or hold authority over men?

I believe that yes, he does. Perhaps he could have been more nuanced in making his point, but I do believe that at least two a certain extent, his point was valid.

I point to Shanti’s research and my own experiences – which at least in that example I believe to be common – as my reasoning. Even when a woman dresses to appease even the most stringent of modesty culture purists, she can still be a stumbling block to men who will be distracted by her body and pay her words no heed. Let me be clear: I am in no way blaming the woman in question for this. I am simply pointing out that at least some men will have this difficulty.

Of course, this is also where a degree of nuance is needed: for gay or bisexual men, even a male teacher or preacher could be exactly the same stumbling block that a female teacher or preacher could be for straight men. Would Paul thus argue that men should not teach men?

Here, I’ll simply point back to
Marvin Snurdley and say that Paul’s teachings do not neccessarily apply for all people for all times in all situations.

Ultimately, Paul has a degree of a point. Does it apply to us today? To some degree, yes. But not neccessarily completely, and certainly not in as totalitarian a position as some groups have taken it over the years.

Frank Viola’s The Letters of Marvin Snurdley

Over the last month or so, I’ve been listening to Frank Viola‘s Pagan Christianity: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices via Audible on my 10k runs. The entire book has been utterly fascinating, particularly for someone like me who saw quite a bit of this over the years but could never quite give it voice.

The story of the Letters of Marvin Snurdley was a particularly fascinating example found in Chapter 11 (of 12), but the only place I could find it online was on a blog called “Common Sense Atheism“, and since they go on to attack Christianity in general, I thought I would copy it here with no commentary other than these notes and a strong recommendation to acquire and study this book for yourself. The story, in case it isn’t clear, is a direct examination of exactly what happened to form the largest single piece of the New Testament: The Pauline Epistles. Frank then does a great job throughout the rest of the chapter of examining and explaining why the issues presented in the story of the Letters of Marvin Snurdley unfortunately affect us all in the real world.

Marvin Snurdly is a world-renowned marital counselor. In his twenty-year career as a marriage therapist, Marvin has counseled thousands of troubled couples. He has an Internet presence. Each day hundreds of couples write letters to Marvin about their marital sob stories. The letters come from all over the globe. And Marvin answers them all.

A hundred years pass, and Marvin Snurdly is resting peacefully in his grave. He has a great-great-grandson named Fielding Melish. Fielding decides to recover the lost letters of his great great grandfather. But Fielding can find only thirteen of Marvin’s letters…

These letters were all written within a twenty-year time frame: from 1980 to 2000. Fielding Melish plans to compile these letters into a volume. But there is something interesting about the way Marvin wrote his letters that makes Fielding’s task somewhat difficult. First, Marvin had an annoying habit of never dating his letters. No days, months, or years appear on any of the thirteen letters. Second, the letters only portray half the conversation. The initial letters written to Marvin that provoked his responses no longer exist. Consequently, the only way to understand the backdrop of each of Marvin’s letters is by reconstructing the marital situation from Marvin’s response.

Each letter was written at a different time, to people in a different culture, about a different problem. For example, in 1985, Marvin wrote a letter to Paul and Sally from Virginia, who were experiencing sexual problems early in their marriage. In 1990, Marvin wrote a letter to Jethro and Matilda from Australia, who were having problems with their children. In 1995, Marvin wrote a letter to a wife from Mexico who was experiencing a midlife crisis. Unfortunately, Fielding has no way of knowing when the letters were written.

Take note: twenty years – thirteen letters – all written to different people at different times in different cultures – all experiencing different problems.

It is Fielding Melish’s desire to put these thirteen letters in chronological order. But without the dates, he cannot do this. So Fielding puts them in the order of descending length. That is, he takes the longest letter that Marvin wrote and puts it first. He puts Marvin’s second longest letter after that. He takes the third longest and puts it third. The compilation ends with the shortest letter that Marvin penned. The thirteen letters are arranged, not chronologically, but by their length.

The volume hits the presses and becomes an overnight best seller.
One hundred years pass, and The Collected Works of Marvin Snurdly compiled by Fielding Melish stands the test of time. The work is still very popular. Another one hundred years pass, and this volume is being used copiously throughout the Western world.

The book is translated into dozens of languages. Marriage counselors quote it left and right. Universities employ it in their sociology classes. It is so widely used that someone gets a bright idea on how to make the volume easier to quote and handle. What is that idea? It is to divide Marvin’s letters into chapters and numbered sentences (or verses). So chapters and verses are added to The Collected Works of Marvin Snurdly.

But by adding chapter and verse to these once living letters, something changes that goes unnoticed. The letters lose their personal touch. Instead, they take on the texture of a manual. Different sociologists begin writing books about marriage and the family. Their main source? The Collected Works of Marvin Snurdly. Pick up any book in the twenty-fourth century on the subject of marriage, and you will find the author quoting chapters and verses from Marvin’s letters.
It usually looks like this: In making a particular point, an author will quote a verse from Marvin’s letter written to Paul and Sally. The author will then lift another verse from the letter written to Jethro and Matilda. He will extract another verse from another letter. Then he will sew these three verses together and upon them he will build his particular marital philosophy.

Virtually every sociologist and marital therapist that authors a book on marriage does the same thing. Yet the irony is this: Each of these authors frequently contradicts the others, even though they are all using the same source!

But that is not all. Not only have Marvin’s letters been turned into cold prose when they were originally living, breathing epistles to real people in real places, they have become a weapon in the hands of agenda-driven men. Not a few authors on marriage begin employing isolated proof texts from Marvin’s work to hammer away at those who disagree with their marital philosophy.

The Cult of Christianity

Christianity was founded roughly 2,000 years ago on the shores of a big lake in the Near East that still exists today – the Sea of Galilee. It has its roots in a small town that still exists today in present-day Israel – Bethlehem. Its foundation was made permanent a city of much strife for thousands of years both before and after – Jerusalem.

It started out as a small sect of Judaism that most in its day found humorous at best, blasphemous at worst. A small group of fishermen, tax collectors, whores, and other assorted scum of the earth claimed to have met the Messiah, and that he taught that to live, you must die. He claimed he was God, a claim that makes him (paraphrasing CS Lewis here) either a liar, a lunatic, or LORD.

The Messiah had already drawn large crowds during during his life, but that was nothing new for the era. “Messiah”s of various forms had been rising up for hundreds of years before this one, gaining large crowds during their lives, only to die (usually by execution) and have their names be forgotten in the annals of history.

No, two things made this Messiah different: 1) After his extremely brutal -so brutal that he was no longer recognizable as human- and extremely public -so public that people from thousands of miles away saw it first hand- execution, he was seen by thousands living and breathing, with barely a scar on his body. 2) Because of this resurrection, this Messiah continued to draw large crowds after his death.

But 2,000 years later, his followers have devolved to where many of them – perhaps even most of them – have lost sight of the true Jesus Christ of Nazareth and what he did.

Christianity has become a cult.
Continue reading “The Cult of Christianity”

Free Will and Divine Omniscience

I had a Facebook friend overnight put up this statement:

You can’t have free will if God knows what you are going to do, before you do it.

The thing to remember here is that God exists outside of Time, which is a human construct. Therefore, Free Will vs Divine Omniscience becomes a frame of reference issue.

The classic frame of reference example is to look straight out of a train window. You see objects moving, which to you indicates that they are moving and that you are standing still. They, however, see a train moving and that they are standing still.

Which is correct?

It depends on your frame of reference. 😀

Similarly, the issue of Free will vs Divine Omniscience is also a frame of reference issue. Humans can accurately see, and thus know, only the present and past – much like a 180 degree camera on a train that is pointed towards the back of the train. It can see absolutely everything from its point on the train and backwards, but will never see towards the front of the train. Let us further assume that this camera is mounted on a horizontal rack and can move freely across the train side to side.

While the camera is free to move about horizontally all it wants, it will never see the front of the train, no matter how hard it tries. It will only get different views of its present and past, which may dictate the position it choose to be in next. But even in its next position, it will never see the front of the train.

God, however, exists independently of the train, and can see the entire train at once. Thus, He can see what the camera cannot. He can point things out behind the camera and beside the camera, and thus help to point the camera to the next best position, but He will always know exactly what the front of the train looks like, while the camera will not.

Thus, because of frames of reference in regards to Time, Free Will and Divine Omniscience can, indeed, co-exist.

It Wasn’t My Choice, OK????

Those are quite possibly the words that changed my life forever.

I’ve been railing against a group I see as legalists and Pharisees for a couple of days now, and I figured it is time I admit a dirty little secret:

I used to be one.

Much like Saul, I was trained in “church” by some of the best in my community. These men and women came from all walks of life, but all of them had a firm foundation in the Bible and what it said. I learned the Bible with my head long before I ever started applying its principles to my heart. I was one of the best in nearly any Bible drill you could think of. At one point, I could name every single book of the Bible in order without any hesitation at all. I could repeat any fact about it in an instant.

And that level of knowledge about the Bible without its core teachings being in your heart is a very dangerous thing indeed. I insisted everyone live according to its edicts. I was one of those “goody two shoes” kids that everyone makes fun of for carrying a Bible around – eerily similar to Grace Bowman in season 1 of Secret Life of the American Teenager.

I caused SOOOO much pain back then, pain that I didn’t really realize until I finally heard the words in the title.

It was my sophomore year of HS, and me and a then friend were walking the halls after school. I was being very judgmental about the revelation she had let slip that she wasn’t a virgin. Finally, she couldn’t take it any more. “It wasn’t my choice, OK?” She yelled at me as she ran away crying.

She had been raped, and my judgment had destroyed any progress she had made in overcoming it.

I said shortly after the incident that her words had cut me like a hot knife through butter, and they still do – more than a decade later.

I didn’t overcome my legalism in that instant. It would take more mistakes, more pain, more learning. But God finally allowed that head knowledge I had of His Word to become a heart knowledge. It became something so intrinsic to me that I don’t have to pray aloud – I know God hears my every thought. It is as natural to me as moving my arm.

I still screw up all the time. Probably have over the last couple of days with my brothers and sisters.

I get easily upset when I see legalism now, because I know all too well the destruction I caused under it and the destruction that it tried to cause me when those around me lived under it. But I’ve been attacking my brothers and sisters rather harshly – vestiges of my old ways. For that, I do apologize – though I most certainly do NOT apologize for fighting legalism in general, only the animosity I have displayed in that fight. Just because my brothers and sisters are misguided does not mean they are not still my brothers and sisters, and I should treat them as such.

I just wish they fully understood, as I do, how much destruction they are causing among those we are called to be reaching.

Still, that does not excuse my actions over the last couple of days. Just wanted y’all to have an idea where I’m coming from.

Christ Had A Choice – And So Do You

As I grow in my relationship with Christ, and as I grow towards what I know to be my destiny, I occassionally get these “lightning bursts” that to me feel more like electricity, but that Jeremiah once described as a fire burning in his bones that has to get out. They aer always unexpected, always amazing, and always something I have to either write about or talk about. I’m feeling the need to write this one though, so here goes:

Christ had to choose to live a sinless life. He had to choose the Cross. We have to choose to follow Him. NO ONE has the right to force us to decide one way or the other on that choice.

If you’re familiar with the Bible – or even if you’ve seen the movie The Passion – you may be familiar with the story of the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus of Nazareth literally begged his Father to remove the burden of Golgotha from him – but chose to submit to his Father’s will regardless. This was a son BEGGING his dad not to order him to die, and a dad knowing that there was no other way to save EVERYONE than for his own son to die. In the entire Bible, it is the saddest, most poignant scene – and one of the scenes where the fate of the entire human race – past, present, and future – literally hung in the balance.

But Isaiah knew all about this. Indeed, Isaiah was told that Immanuel – “God with us” – would face a choice every day of his life to choose good or evil. According to Isaiah 7:15, “Curds and honey He shall eat, that He may know evil and choose the good.” Christ had to experience evil so that he could truly experience the human condition, and he still had to make the choice to choose good.

We don’t know what Jesus of Nazareth experienced as a child or young adult. We can glean a few facts from history that he more than likely saw people he knew crucified by the Roman governtment occupying the land he lived in. Some of those may have been killed for doing things that were perfectly within their religious views, but outside Roman law. We know that he probably saw all manner of decadence and evil being supported by the Romans and maybe even some of his own people – after all, he grew up in what we would probably term as the “other side of the tracks” today. From the Bible, We know the story of his birth, but after that we are given only that his parents went to Jerusalem every year for passover, with one year – when he was 12 years old – having a bit of detail. That can be found in Luke 2:41-52. Essentially, while in Jerusalem that year, Jesus went and spoke to the adults in the local church who were absolutely astounded that such a young boy could know so much about the Torah. After that, we see in verse 52 that Jesus grew both in wisdom and in renown, and men began to trust him.

The next thing we know though, Jesus shows up at the river where his cousin, John the Baptist, is preaching and baptizing people in the name of the one who is to come. Jesus chooses to get baptized over the initial objections of the Baptist, and his Father rewards that choice by audibly calling out from Heaven “You are my beloved Son, in you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22)

Next, Jesus faced a period of ourtight testing. For 40 days in the desert, he was tempted to choose evil just a single time over and over and over – and chose good every single time. He didn’t grow weary of the trial and finally give in just to get it over with. Had he done so, we would all be doomed to Hell right now, as would every single human throughout history.

We don’t know that Jesus of Nazareth knew that the fate of the world hung in the balance of every decision he made in regards to good and evil. That is a theological question that I suspect we won’t find out until we can ask him ourselves.

But we do know that those choices were his and his alone. We know that he was separated from every outside influence for a time, and during that time was tested repeatedly yet never failed. We know that ultimately, he faced Gethsemane and had to choose for himself whether to live for himself or to die for us.

Not even his Father – God, the Father, who literally holds power over every single thing in existence – could make that choice for him. Not even his Father dictated to him which way he should choose.

The choice was entirely his own.

Flash forward roughly 2,000 years or so, to our lives. We face the same choices between good and evil every day. In many places around the world, even in the US to a lesser extent, people literally have to make the choice to live for themselves or die for Christ even as I type this. God the Father, who still literally holds power over every single thing in existence – does not make that choice for us, his most precious creation. God the Father still does not dictate to us which way we should choose.

Why then do we humans try to dictate to each other which way we should choose?

Joshua, one of the first leaders of Israel, once said “Choose this day whom you wil serve”. He said it something like 4,000 years ago, and it remains the choice each of us have every single day.

Choose. This day. Whom. You will serve.

Reflections on ‘Good’ Friday

As we enter into one of the most holy days of Christianity, I wanted to share my thoughts on the concept of ‘Good’ Friday.

You see, to me, most people get lost in either the genuine holiness that is Easter Sunday – which is a good thing, so far as it goes – or they get lost in the traditions and celebrations that are only marginally connected to the day itself, such as the Easter Bunny and all of its trappings.

But by and large, ‘Good’ Friday is largely ignored. Sure, there are cross walks in many towns across this country where local dignitaries carry a large cross from some point to another, with the typical destination being the town courthouse. But these are rituals, nothing more, and are largely ignored by the public at large. Indeed, I can’t even tell you whether or not such events are happening in either Albany or Leesburg, and I’ve lived here for nearly three years!

To me, ‘Good’ Friday being ignored is perhaps one of the single greatest tragedies to ever occur. YES, the celebration day is undoubtedly Easter Sunday. But without a deep reflection on the events of ‘Good’ Friday, there is no deep understanding of the true power of Easter Sunday. You cannot fully appreciate a perfectly sunny, cloudless day without also having experienced the darkest of dark nights, and the same holds true here.

You see, there was nothing ‘good’ about the original Good Friday. I may have my timeline slightly off, but I believe the Last Supper happened on Thursday night/evening. Towards the end of it, Christ calls out Judas Iscariot as his traitor, and basically tells him to go do what he is destined to do. He then retires to the Mount of Olives with the disciples to pray, and even at this point – even as Iscariot is leading the men who are about to arrest Jesus to him – Jesus of Nazareth begs his Father to find some other way to redeem mankind. This is a man who knows he is about to die but wants to live. He KNOWS his death is the only way to redeem mankind, but he is still BEGGING for another way. And he knows all of this even as he KNOWS that his human death only releases him back to his full glory as God the Son, one third of the Trinity yet fully God. Even knowing this, he still doesn’t want to face the full pain he knows is coming, but he readily accepts it anyway. Could you say you would do the same? Don’t answer that blindly. Deeply consider it. Knowing everything that would happen – and Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, for all of its brutality, probably STILL doesn’t come close to what actually happened – could you WILLINGLY endure that to save a single life? Christ did.

But I get ahead of myself. Once at the Mount of Olives, the disciples are tired. They’ve traveled a long way, and they’ve just had a very emotional meal with the man they deeply love and consider the Messiah, the man who will overthrow Rome – and he says he is about to die. So they get to the Mount of Olives, and they fall asleep. I dare any of you to say you would have actually done any differently, knowing only what they knew at the time. Jesus comes to wake them a couple of times, urging them to prayer and telling them that his time has nearly expired. Yet they still fall asleep, even while their Messiah begs for his life.

Finally, around midnight – against Jewish law, by the way – the Jewish leaders, led by Judas Iscariot, come to the Mount of Olives to arrest Jesus. Peter is so alarmed (and so belligerent by nature), that he draws his sword – but he is so tired that while aiming to cut a guy’s head off, only gets his ear. Jesus heals the ear and allows himself to be arrested. I can’t help but think of how Frank Peretti would probably describe the scene, with hoards of demons ready for all out war and relishing in their victory over the Son of God readily submitting to them, all the while as the entire Host of Heaven stands by, their weapons sheathed at the command of the Father. If an angel cries at the sins of one man, how much more sorrow must they have felt watching the Son of God submit himself to the full fury of Lucifer.

The next 18 hours or so fly by as the disciples are scared out of their minds. The Messiah has been illegally arrested on false charges, and yet he is being sentenced to die, and the Romans are playing along with the Jewish leaders. They’ve been seen as Jesus’ closest friends for the past 3 years, and they could be next! They are afraid for their lives, yet at least two of them hang back in the crowds as Jesus is tried, tortured, and executed.

One of them, Peter, denies three times knowing Jesus, even going so far as to curse and swear that he does not know the man – just as the rooster cries. You see, 12 hrs earlier Peter had said that such would NEVER happen, and Jesus told him it would. He hangs his head in shame and we don’t hear from him again until Sunday. My bet is that he went into hiding somewhere where much alcohol was available, but no one on this side of Heaven knows exactly what he was doing in this period.

The other, John, follows the crowd even to Golgotha. There, Jesus tells him to watch over Mary, Jesus’ mother. What love must he have had, and what strength, to watch someone he so deeply loved tortured and executed in such a brutal fashion. And the same goes for Mary, who we haven’t heard much from since the Christmas story 33 years earlier. She knew from the beginning that her first son was God’s Only Son, yet he was STILL her first born. And she was having to watch him be beaten beyond all recognition as human, only to then be crucified along side common thiefs.

Finally, we come back to the view from Christ himself. Up until he goes up on the cross, he has enjoyed constant communion with he real dad, God the Father. But once Jesus is on the cross, all of humanity’s sins from Adam until the very end of time are placed on Jesus. Everything the worst people in history have ever done, God considered Jesus to have done it. Every lie we tell today, every affair we have, and any other sin we to today in our every day lives, God considered Jesus to have done it. And he was so incredibly repulsed by it that even He had to turn his back on such vileness. When Jesus was on the cross, in his hour of most desparate need, he was so despicable to his own father that he could not look at him. No one else in all of history has been so despicable to God as to warrant such an action, and because of Easter Sunday no one ever will be.

The next days are again a blur, we know nothing about them. The disciples, presumably, are in hiding at best, drunk and/or suicidal at worst. The man they love most, who they genuinly believed would overthrow Rome, has been arrested by the Jewish leaders and executed by Rome, and they could be next.

Finally, the very darkest hour arrives. After all of the weekend’s prior events, some of the ladies go to where they laid Jesus’ body in a borrowed tomb, only to find the tomb unsealed and the body missing.

Not only has everything else happened, now someone has stolen the body! This is rock bottom, things can absolutely get no worse.

And they are right. For there in the garden with them is a lowly gardener. They probably saw him as they walked in. The ladies run to Peter and John with the news, and Peter and John come to investigate – because they don’t believe the ladies that such a terrible compounding of their situation has happened-, only to see exactly what the ladies saw.

Finally, Mary comes back. She encounters a couple of angels who tell her that was Christ had said would happen has happened. Puzzled and still in the deepest of sorrows, she walks back into the garden, where she encounters the gardener. He asks her what she is looking for, and she basically says that if he has taken the body, PLEASE tell her where she can find it, and she’ll put it back in the tomb. She is DESPARATE at this point, and she is begging just for the body. She knows the Christ is dead, but she still wants to at least give his body a proper burial.

But the gardener says one single word instead:


He calls her by her name, and she instantly recognizes him. HE’S ALIVE!!!!!!!!!! JESUS CHRIST OF NAZARETH IS ALIVE!!!!!!!! WE SAW HIM TORTURED AND EXECUTED, BUT HE IS ALIVE STANDING HERE WITH NOT A SCRATCH ON HIS BODY!!!!!!! HE’S ALIVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

That, my friends, is how you get the full impact of the story of Easter Sunday, and it is why the song ‘He’s Alive’ is one of my all time favorites. Growing up, I heard it sung by Mike Lemming live in concert several times, and it truly sums up Easter. I leave you with the lyrics:

The gates and doors were barred and all the windows fastened down;
I spent the night in sleeplessness and rose at every sound
Half in hopeless sorrow and half in fear the day
Would find the soldiers breakin’ thru to drag us all away

And just before the sunrise I heard something at the wall
The gate began to rattle and a voice began to call;
I hurried to the window and looked down into the street
Expecting swords and torches and the sounds of soldier’s feet

There was no one there but Mary so I went down to let her in;
John stood there beside me as she’d told us where she’d been.
She said “They moved Him in the night and none of us knows where;
The stone’s been rolled away and now His body isn’t there!”

We both ran t’ward the garden, then John ran on ahead;
We found the stone and empty tomb just the way that Mary said.
But the winding sheet they wrapped Him in was just an empty shell;
And who or where they’d taken Him was more than I could tell.

Well, something strange had happened there,
but just what I didn’t know;
John believed a miracle but I just turned to go.
Circumstance and speculation couldn’t lift me very high
‘Cause I’d seen them crucify Him, then I saw Him die.

Back inside the house again the guilt and anguish came;
Everything I’d promised Him just added to my shame.
When at last it came to choices, I denied I knew His name;
And even if He was alive, it wouldn’t be the same

But suddenly the air was filled with a strange and sweet perfume;
Light that came from everywhere drove shadows from the room.
Jesus stood before me with His arms held open wide;
And I fell down on my knees, and just clung to Him and cried.

He raised me to my feet and as I looked into His eyes,
Love was shining out from Him like sunlight in the skies
Guilt in my confusion disappeared in sweet release
And every fear I’d ever had just melted into peace

He’s alive! He’s alive, He’s alive and I’m forgiven!
Heaven’s gates are open wide:
He’s alive, He’s alive, oh He’s alive and I’m forgiven
Heaven’s gates are open wide
He’s alive, He’s alive, hallelujah He’s alive