Just Because It’s Okay for Disney Characters…

… doesn’t mean it’s okay for you.


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One of the Most Fruitful Decisions I’ve Made in the Last 5 Years

Hello, my name is Michael, and I’m a Sunday School teacher.

And by God’s grace, I really like being a Sunday school teacher. But I haven’t always.

Once upon a time, I preached sermons with some regularity. I’ve never been a senior pastor, but there was a day when I had dreams and aspirations of being the “have Bible, will travel” guy. That’s the guy that pops in for a weekend, delivers a slam bang sermon, and then pops out. I did that quite a bit in those days, and more weekends than not I was away from home during the year. Sure, there are still some opportunities to do that kind of thing (and I’m grateful for those), but they are much fewer and further between than they once were. As I started preaching less and less, I more and more became a “regular” church member. And in my most honest moments, I resented that.

I missed the notoriety of being on the stage. I missed having a folder full of airplane tickets. I missed feeling important because people wanted to listen to me.

But then I got an opportunity that the Lord has used significantly in my life: I got to be a Sunday school teacher at a local church.

I got to walk through the Bible, week by week, with my friends, not as a professional Christian, but as a church member who had been entrusted with this particular responsibility for this given time. And slowly, I began to see that something significant was happening in my own heart through the process. I was discovering the truth, both for me and for others, that following Jesus is more about stringing a series of common, everyday choices to believe in particular situations than it is about some earth shattering moments of clarity.

This, I think, is one of the ways we tend to complicate following Jesus. We look for the great revelation, the further knowledge, the emotional engagement, all the while God is calling us, as Bonhoeffer said, to “make up your mind and come out into the tempest of living.” What I’ve found through teaching Sunday school is that opportunities like this are the guts of discipleship, both for the teacher and for those in the class itself, because I invariably end up learning more during our hour and a half together than the rest of the folks do.

There is such value, and dare I say, honor to regular and quiet commitments like these. It makes me think of those faithful saints who taught me as a snot-nosed 4th grader at the old Baptist church in Canyon, TX. It makes me think of those college Sunday school leaders who for years have invited students into their homes, out of the dorm rooms for a while, so they might know what real hospitality is like. It makes me think of the “lesser parts” of Christ’s body who, though they might be less visible, are no less important than the more visible. And in thinking about all those people, it makes me thankful that in a small way, I might be counted in their midst.

Don’t avoid the regular. Don’t look passed what’s right in front of you. Embrace it and watch what God can do in your own life as well as those you minister to.

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Jesus Didn’t Stumble from the Tomb

What does it look like to rise from the dead?

We’ve all seen the TV dramas in the operating room when the heart monitor suddenly goes flat with the ominous and unceasing tone. Then the shock paddles are brought in and the formerly and technically dead person is brought back to life. Maybe it’s like that – jolts running through the body.

Or maybe it’s like another scene where someone has taken in too much water and then dragged to shore. CPR and mouth to mouth are performed, and with a cough and a gurgle, breath eventually returns. Maybe it’s like that – sudden convulsions and gasping.

Or maybe it’s the way most of us feel on a particularly early morning when the alarm clock goes off. We jump out of sleep, but as we switch the light on it’s near blinding and it takes a few moments to rub the sleep out of your eyes. You have a sense of weakness in your hands and fingers as the blood starts to get going again until you can eventually stagger to the bathroom to turn on the shower. Maybe it’s like that, only greater – you need a couple of hours to regain control of your faculties and get some strength to just sit up.

But something tells me that Jesus didn’t stumble out of the tomb. Something tells me He didn’t cough and gurgle or need the blood flow to return to His extremities on Easter Sunday morning. Sure, His death was messy. Undignified. Bloody. Gruesome. Embarrassing even. But His resurrection? That was different.

I love the fact that John, right in the middle of His Easter morning account, drops a little detail into the narrative that not only describes the resurrection of Jesus, but helps us see it. Feel it. We see Mary coming to the tomb – hopeless and despondent, her faith dying with Jesus. We hear the night sounds starting to fade as the sun begins to rise. We sense the stillness – the emptiness – of the air. We see her tears and feel the crushing weight of her even greater grief, if that were possible, as she discovers in the darkness of the morning the stone rolled away. We hear her shrill cries as she sobs out her testimony to Simon Peter and John that grave robbers have come and stolen the body. Then comes the running.

We hear the panting. We feel the hot breath. We see the younger of the two outrun the older. Then, by the first rays of light, we see along with first John and then Peter, that the tomb is indeed empty. That’s when we get the detail:

“The wrapping that had been on His head was not lying with the linen cloths but was folded up in a separate place by itself” (John 20:7).

It’s a curious little detail to include, don’t you think? John was there; he saw the whole thing. It’s possible that the memory was so ingrained into him that he wanted to record every last detail. Or maybe the detail is included, as John Chrysostom thought, to give evidence that this was no grave robbery: “If anyone had removed the body, he would not have stripped it first, nor would he have taken the trouble to remove and roll up the napkin and put it in a place by itself.” No indeed.

But maybe too, buried in this little detail, is a commentary about the nature of the risen Lord. Jesus was raised to life, and when He was, He took on the dignity befitting Him. He simply got up in an unhurried manner. Like the Lord of All Creation that He is, He took a few moments to put things in order, even going so far as doing something like making His bed. Jesus didn’t stagger and stumble, bleary-eyed and numb from the coils of death; He rose as a conquering hero. And He strode out of the tomb at an unhurried pace into creation like He owned the place. Because He does.

This is not like the resurrection of Lazarus who Jesus reached into death after. Just a few chapters earlier in this gospel, he came out of the grave “bound hand and foot with linen strips and with his face wrapped in a cloth” (John 11:44). Jesus Himself gave the order to “loose him and let him go” because Lazarus couldn’t do it himself. He couldn’t fold his own head wrapping, but Jesus could. And He did.

He took a few moments to give us a little glimpse into the fact that centuries before the cross and the tomb, creation was broken by sin. It was set in a spiral of disorder where up was down and left was right. Everything was flipped on its head, but when He stepped out of the tomb, He announced to that broken creation that He was setting everything back the way it was always supposed to be. Out of disorder and into order. Out of death and into life. Out of brokenness and into wholeness. And maybe – just maybe – that reordering started with that simple act of taking what might have otherwise been a wrinkled, tattered mess, and folding it up neatly.

Then He walked out into the light…

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On the Cross…

From Trevin Wax…

On the cross, Christ slays the Dragon and wins our victory:

In the cross and resurrection, Christ the warrior king is the new and better Adam who delivers a head crushing blow to the serpent. He is the new and better Joshua who drives out all his enemies from the Promised Land. He is the new and better David who establishes the eternal kingdom of God.

On the cross, Christ drinks the cup of God’s wrath as a substitute sacrifice:

Because of this, when God looks at us, he no longer sees a sinner destined for wrath; he sees His Son nailed to the cross, shedding His own blood in our place. He died so that we may truly live, free from the shackles of sin and death.

On the cross, Christ redeems us from slavery to sin and death:

Can you see that this is what the redeeming love of God looks like—buying you back from the slave market? He wooed you to himself with gospel promises of mercy instead of punishment, belonging instead of estrangement. He loved you by redeeming you from your enslavement to all lesser lovers, and He is loving you even now as He cuts away from your character every lingering tether to your old way of life.

On the cross, Christ pays the ransom:

The ransom now paid, we have been delivered from the domain of sin and death into perfect union with the Son of God, in whom there is therefore now no condemnation.

On the cross, Christ is the Lamb who takes away our sin and shame:

Expiation is that angle on the atoning work of Christ that means we are clean. Clean. What we need is the good news that Jesus Christ died not only to forgive us, but to cleanse us.

On the cross, Christ is our liberator:

Redemption is not for our restriction, but for our joy. Christ did not die for our duty, but for our delight. I have been set free, but this freedom is not an unfettered pursuit of my desires, for that’s slavery all over again. It’s the joyful mission of bringing God pleasure because He has liberated and set me free.

On the cross, Christ shows how God is with us in our suffering:

There, in the midst of God’s own grief and sorrow, we see God with us and believe that he is able somehow to take up our burdens upon himself and deliver us from our despair. He is not distant from our pain. He understands our suffering because Jesus Christ – God in human flesh – suffered.

On the cross, Christ is the propitiation that makes us right with God:

Everybody needs a plan for getting on the right side of the gods. But if the true God has made his character known as it is found in the Bible, then there’s only one way of propitiation: the one that God himself put forward in the blood of Jesus, to be received by faith, the one who is his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

On the cross, Christ becomes our ultimate example:

Jesus Christ is the supreme model of Christian discipleship, the ethical exemplar of the Christian life. The compelling force of Christ’s sacrificial example is one answer to indifference and inaction in our broken world. Once we truly grasp what Christ did on our behalf, we will be compelled to live our lives in a way that reflects his self-sacrifice for all others.

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I am Barabbas

He’s barely mentioned in the Bible, and yet his story, maybe more than any other, serves to explain the gospel. He is Barrabas.

Or rather, I am Barabbas.

Here is what we know about this man:

1. He was a rebel. One of his crimes was insurrection; he led a rebellion against the rulers of the land, the Romans.

I, too, am a rebel. Despite the benevolent rule of my King, I have both willingly and by my very nature participated in heinous acts of rebellion against the rightful rule of the God of the Universe.

2. He was a murderer. Apparently during his rebellion against the ruling authorities, someone died, perhaps at his very hand.

I, too, am a murderer. Not just of my fellow man, having wished them harm, but of Jesus Christ whose life I have chanted for through my varied and sundry acts of despicable sin. I have chanted along with the crowd, “Crucify! Crucify!” for I saw Him as a threat to my commitment to my own desires.

3. He, though guilty, was released and an innocent was punished in his stead. Barabbas was shocked to find that somehow, some way, all charges against Him had been dropped. Someone other than him was to die that day, though surely he deserved the punishment.

I, too, have been released. The punishment that was rightfully due to me has been handed down to another. Someone – an innocent man – has been crucified in my place.

I am Barabbas.

You, too, are Barrabas.

And now we stand with this man. Suddenly freed from condemnation. Blinking our prison-darkened eyes in the light of the sun of liberty. Facing the penalty of death, we now surprisingly stand free. Free to work. Free to enjoy. Free to live.

What will I do with this freedom?

And what will you?

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The Stench of Death is Beaten Back With the Fragrance of Life

John 11 records the raising of Lazarus from the dead, one of the best-known miracles of Jesus. And yet when you read the story in its entirety, you see the great detail John recorded in order to put us in Bethany that day. Take, for example, the fact that Lazarus had been in the grave for four days. That’s pretty significant; a detail that John purposely included.

Jewish folklore said that the soul would hover above the body for up to four days after death, looking for signs of life and a chance to return. But after four days of death, there was no hope. Decomposition sets in, and the body begins to decay.
Easter: Jesus Defeats Death

Oh, the smell. Maybe that would have been the worst part. It would have been putrid. Abhorrent. Disgusting. The body would be sealed inside a tomb to keep the smell of the dead away from the living.

The smell of rottenness and lifelessness. It’s a sensory reminder that the situation was beyond repair.

But Jesus wasn’t afraid of that smell. He strode boldly to the tomb and commanded that the stone be rolled away. But there were protests. “Lord, he already stinks. It’s been four days,” said the grieving sister.

“Don’t roll the stone away. It’s going to stink. Let us leave him alone; what good is there in confronting that smell? The smell of death?”

But Jesus isn’t afraid of that smell. He inhales it deeply and then breaths it back out. He’s not afraid of it because He won’t abide it. He reaches into the smell of death and produces the fragrance of life. He did it with Lazarus; He did it with me; and He’s doing it countless times every day.

We recoil at the smell of death. Our stomachs turn. Bile comes up in our throats. But Jesus? Jesus beats back the stench of death with the fragrance of life.

And the dead come forth …

Where is your sting, death? That’s what Paul asked. He asked because the sting is nowhere to be found. Jesus confronted it and won. Because He did, He’s not repulsed by the seeming stench of death. In that smell, Jesus sees the potential for new life.

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Holy Week: Day by Day

Over at The Gospel Coalition blog, Justin Taylor is releasing a video for each day of Holy Week explaining the timeline of exactly what happened as Jesus went about in Jerusalem during His final days. These are fascinating and well done videos that will help you think deeply about the last week of Jesus’ life. Here are the videos for yesterday, Palm Sunday, and today:


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What Do You Get When You Cross Winnie the Pooh and Darth Vader?

This. Which is awesome:

Jim Cummings has voiced hundreds of characters, including Winnie the Pooh and Tigger. At last year’s ConnectiCon, Cummings and fellow voice actor Lauren Landa read a few lines from Star Wars using their characters’ voices.

There’s nothing quite like hearing Darth Vader end a dark line with, “Oh bother…”



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The Day No One Came to the Father Except Through Jesus

His disciples had seen Him angry before, but not like this. His fiery arguments with the religious leaders and naysayers had always been tenuous, but He always seemed to measure His words. But here, today, He had released Himself.

The day had been an emotional one. It started out on a high note with people singing the praises of Jesus as they laid their robes on the ground for the donkey to trod over. Then, as Jerusalem came into sight, He was overcome with emotion and began to cry. His disciples marveled at this, even more than the show of support, for they had all been to Jerusalem before. This time, though, seemed to be different. It was … heavy. Weighty. But then the mood changed as they went into the city.

It wasn’t that they saw something surprising. There, in the temple complex, in the court of the Gentiles, they saw the same thing they expected to see. Because they expected, they were neither shocked nor angry.

But Jesus was.

There were sacrificial animals being sold at ridiculous prices. Exchange booths necessary for foreigners to pay the tax in temple shekels (with a healthy markup, of course). But Jesus exploded into rage. He physically picked up the money-changers and threw them out. He turned over the tables and swept away the money falling to the ground. And when the dust cleared, He stood there. Resolutely. His arms crossed.

Jesus took up a place in that outer court, the court that served as a barrier to those who had come to worship. It was symbolic of the restrictive nature of the temple, a place that ensured only ethnic Jews could go further in, and only those willing to deal with the unjust financial burdens of doing so.

No doubt tomorrow, when Jesus was gone, the same tables would be set up. There would be the same exchange booths, the same animals being bought and sold. But for a few minutes, anyone who wanted to pass beyond the outer court into the inner recesses of the temple complex where God was said to dwell, had no choice but to pass by Jesus.

No one came to God except through Him.

Perhaps that image burned into the minds of His followers. The man, so powerful and emotional, equal parts compassionate, joyful, and angry, standing there as guard to the presence of God. Serving as the gateway to the inner court. And maybe they remembered that image as they prayed, years and decades later.

Once again, no one coming to the Father except through Him.

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Millennials and the False “Gospel” of Nice

Great article here from Dan Darling:

Perhaps you’ve heard that there is trouble brewing among evangelicals.

Younger Christians are weary of pitched cultural battles and are longing for the “real Jesus” – a Jesus who talks more about washing feet and feeding the poor than flashpoint issues like same-sex marriage and the sanctity of life.

If key evangelical influencers don’t listen, we are told, they are about to lose the entire millennial generation. Or, maybe that generation is already gone.

This story has been told with testimonials, chronicled in best-selling books and posted on popular blogs.

Here’s the short version: If only orthodox evangelical leaders would give up their antiquated beliefs, get more in step with the real Jesus, the church and the world would be better off.

Embedded in this narrative are two presuppositions:

• Young evangelicals are fleeing the church at a rapid pace.
• The real message of Jesus looks nothing like orthodox Christianity.

There’s only one thing wrong with these two ideas: They aren’t true.

Let me explain…

Read the rest here.

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