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Category: 1 Corinthians

Do Christians think Easter is still a big deal?

As I strolled down the seasonal aisle during my weekly grocery run, I stopped at the chocolate Easter bunnies, debating within the solid versus hollow bunny controversy.

Then something caught my eye.

Right next to the Easter bunnies, displayed in full glory, stood a chocolate cross.

This gave me pause.

I wasn’t sure what to think.

On one hand, I wanted to appreciate the acknowledgment of the spiritual aspect of Easter. On the other, I was unsettled by the thought of going into a diabetic coma after eating a chocolate molding of an ancient means of slow execution.

I actually don’t fault secular companies for trying to tap into a particular market. They don’t know the meaning of that symbol. They just see it perched on the top of a building or hung around a person’s neck and think: maybe they’ll buy this.

I mention the chocolate cross because it made me think of something else regarding the Christ-follower’s relationship to Easter.

Or more accurately, to Resurrection Sunday.

It seems that a lot—perhaps too many—of us Christians in America have a “been-there, done-that, got the tee-shirt.” At some point in our lives, we went forward, understood Jesus saved them from our sins, prayed the prayer, and moved forward with our lives.

We identify as Christians, often boldly so. We go to church on Sundays, tithe regularly, read the Bible sometimes, pray regularly, and “do for the least of these.”

Please don’t get me wrong: those are extremely important spiritual disciplines.

But often I feel like our passion—our fire—is missing. Do we really get excited about the Gospel did for us?

In a couple of weeks, while the rest of the world is celebrating Spring by mythical bunnies hiding colored eggs (and atheists think Christianity doesn’t make sense?!) and eating large portions of ham and scalloped potatoes, followers of Jesus will recognize the cross and resurrection of the Savior.

We prepare for it:

Invite family—check. Prepare our dinner—check. Don our Easter best—check. Go to church to give Jesus a “Yay, Jesus” for raising from the dead—check. Eat dinner—check.

Go to work on Monday.

But do we really get excited about Easter? Do we truly celebrate it? Does the anticipation light a fire in us—now, not just on Easter Sunday? Do we truly understand what Jesus did for us on that rugged cross? Or the power behind the empty tomb?

Or is it like the chocolate cross, where we acknowledge it, consume it, and move on with our lives?

Think about what those words “it is finished” mean. For the universe, for all the earth, for you and me.

When we read of the death of Jesus, we blow right over an obscure, yet very relevant detail:

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. (Matthew 27:51-52)

Have you ever considered this? Upon the death of Jesus, the curtain in the temple, separating the whole world from God was torn in two.

The curtain mentioned separated the Most Holy Place from the rest on the world. Inside the Most Holy Place was the room that held the Ark of the Covenant. In this room was the presence of God in his holiness. Only one person—the high priest—was allowed into the Most Holy Place only once a year during Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, to sprinkle blood onto the altar.

The priest’s ritual was extremely rigid. A rope would be tied around the priest’s waist, because if he failed to follow the precise instructions, he would fall dead. If the rope slackened, others would have to pull out the body because no one else could go in to retrieve it.

Keep in mind, this rigidity wasn’t about God waiting for someone to screw up so he could zap them.

Instead, it had to do with unholiness (which humanity has become since Genesis 3) entering into holiness. The two cannot coexist, just like darkness is unable to coexist with light.

The latter will always overpower.

The pure holiness of God cannot coexist with a fallen humanity.

Thus, the separation.

This is the curtain that was torn in two. With the cross, God made a way to allow us into the presence of his holiness.

And to make sure humanity remembers that it is his, not our doing, Matthew noted that the curtain tore in two from the top down.

From heaven to earth.

Isn’t that a big deal? Isn’t that something worth celebrating and getting excited about?

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the very foundation of our faith. The entire Old Testament points to this moment. Forty days after the resurrection, the once-cowering disciples boldly preached Christ in the very city in which Jesus died. The same high priests and the same Roman guards were still present.

After hearing Peter preaching the resurrected Jesus, all they needed to do was go to the tomb and produce the body and Christianity is chopped off at the ankles. Even Paul himself writes: “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” (1 Corinthians 15:14)

Shouldn’t we celebrate that magnificent event? Not just with the obligatory Easter Sunday service but more like the recent Asbury University revival—twenty-four hours a day, non-stop.

Like Christmas, Easter should be celebrated leading into the day, on the day itself, and well into the rest of the year.

Be hungry.

Not just for a chocolate cross.

But for one who overcame death.

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When the world rejects your prayers, pray anyway

It didn’t take long after the tragedy in Las Vegas for the bloviating and hyperbole to begin. While many expressed shock and sadness for both the victims and for the city itself, sadly others took the massacre as a call to arms to press their political agendas. In the name of compassion, this latter group rejected the compassion of a country that was shocked into momentary paralysis as though they even had right to reject it in the first place.

Armed with the principle of never letting a crisis go to waste, they insist, “No! Only action is compassion.” And so, they shame, guilt, and demand action even before the blood is dry.

This has always bothered me. While the nation is still doubled-over in shock, using intense grief to promote an agenda—no matter how sincere—seems to amount to little more than emotional abuse. Any grief or pastoral counselor will tell you, decisions made in the heat of emotion almost never turn out well. In seminary, I had a professor tell his class, “Never resign on a Monday.”

Nevertheless, the demands for action ring out. In the past, that tactic hasn’t worked. So, inevitably, the outraged turned up their rhetoric to include blame, hate, and even prayer-shaming.

The cry of “prayer is not enough” became the new catchphrase. Following other mass-shootings before Las Vegas, U.S. Representative Elizabeth Etsy once said, “A moment of silence or prayer is insufficient to the task.” Senator Chris Murphy once tweeted, “Having lived through Sandy Hook, I know that thoughts and prayers are important, but they’re not enough.” Then-President Barak Obama said, “Thoughts and prayers are not enough. It’s not enough. It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel.”

Comments like these in the face of tragedy irritated me. They seemed condescending and elitist. However, in the days following the Las Vegas shooting, my perspective shifted a little. Why should I be irritated? It made complete sense that a non-believer or a worshiper of the secular culture would see prayer as nothing more than a platitude, a superstition, a symbolic ritual, or an empty gesture expressed by simpletons. They see no power behind prayer. Why would we expect them to believe anything different? They’re simply staying true to their belief system.

On the other hand, for the Christ-follower to say such a thing is more troubling. In her response to the tragedy, Christian writer Jen Hatmaker posted on her Facebook page that her “blood is boiling over and I want to run screaming into the streets. I feel like we are standing in the middle of a violent, endless nationwide crisis swirling all around us, and we keep ‘sending thoughts and prayers.’ I want to rip my hair out.”

To say prayer is not enough says a lot about that particular Christian’s view of prayer. Prayer is good, so long as it is not the holy-roller, chandelier-swinging variety, but it doesn’t truly have a power to make a difference in anything. It is something to say with children before tucking them in. It makes us feel good. It is merely an act of faith, something to hold onto. But in the face of evil, these prayer-shaming Christians seem to see little actual power in prayer.

It is not enough, they insist. Prayer is not enough. We must do something.

Because everyone knows that we humans are far better capable of solving the problem of evil than a God who created the universe and defeated death. Seek ye first the kingdom of government, and all these things shall be added unto you. Most certainly, the problem of evil can be fixed through congressional legislation, which is often brought about through manipulation, fear-mongering and compromise.

Rest easy, America.

And please ignore Paul’s words about the foolishness of God being wiser than the wisdom of humanity (1 Corinthians 1:25). Or that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12). He certainly didn’t mean it that way. We must invoke action. We must do something. And we must do it in the moment when the world is rocked back on its heels.

Sarcasm aside, it is imperative that we ask ourselves exactly what is prayer. What happened in Las Vegas was the face of evil.

The very thing prayer-shamers reject is the very thing that can help.

However, before we get defensive and counter, we followers of Jesus must come to terms with prayer as well. Do we believe it? Is prayer a platitude, an exercise to say before dinner, or a symbolic act of ritual? Do we believe that in prayer we are seeking the face of Jesus against whom no evil can stand? Do we truly believe that invoking the name of Christ is an act in which the demons flee and the captives go free?

Prayer acknowledges humanity’s helplessness in the face of evil. It forces us to see our own powerlessness. Only through prayer will we ever understand the true nature of the battle.

So if politicians and media trolls want to shame Christ-followers for “merely” praying, let them. I would expect nothing different. Let them think they are doing something productive. Let them think that prayer isn’t enough. This has never intimidated God before. I would place my trust in a holy God that I cannot see over politicians who claim they have the wisdom to curb the power of evil when they don’t even have the know-how to overcome the NRA.

Besides, prayer-shamers—both within and outside of the body of Christ—should not be our focus. God should. Legislative acts will do nothing to stem the face of evil other than make the legislators feel good about themselves. That is, until the next evil act occurs after which the whole cycle repeats.

Finally, I would like to comment about what I believe is a legitimate point that prayer-shamers make: Prayer should never be used as an excuse for apathy. There is enough truth here that should challenge us Christ-followers and even make us feel uneasy if we realize that it in fact applies to us. If we say that we are praying for Las Vegas and we do not actually pray, then we are using prayer as an excuse for inaction. That truly is apathy.

Posting a picture of the Vegas skyline with the words “praying for Vegas” is not praying. Actually praying for Las Vegas is.

If all we do is share a “praying for Vegas” post on social media without any follow-through, then we indeed have reduced prayer to simply another form of hashtag activism—a narcissistic attempt to show the world we care while accomplishing nothing. Saying we’ll pray without actually praying is nothing more of an empty exercise than that of jumping up and down with outrage, pulling our hair out, demanding “now is the time” that we do something to fix evil.

Rest assured, we will get our just rewards, if patting yourself on the back is all the reward you desire.

Meanwhile, evil prevails and the suffering continues.

I challenge us Christ-followers to pray. Really pray. Don’t pray for show. Don’t pray to make yourself feel good or uber-spiritual. Pray from the position of helplessness. But pray truly believing the power of prayer. Pray with the full knowledge that we are seeking the face of a holy God.

In the face of mockery, when others reject the power of prayer, I want to encourage you to pray anyway.

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