Defend Your Holy Week

In the haze of holy week there will be, without doubt, many reasons to lose focus on the Passion of Christ.

In recently memory, there have been scandals, political turmoil, theological disputes turned into public brouhahas in the days leading up to Resurrection Sunday.

Given the present political climate and the regular barrage of scandals, it is nearly unquestionable that there will be a scandal.

Often, news outlets choose to post articles arguing against the historicity of Jesus. Theologically liberal denominations publish posts on how, if Christ’s death was ordained by God for our redemption, it would be tantamount to cosmic child abuse. Others, like the book I discussed in a recent post, will argue that Christ’s death on the cross could not have paid for our sin because they think it has negative ethical outcomes. (Spoiler: The book does not do well at making this argument.)

In our constant battle for joy in holiness we are beset on all sides by the world, the flesh and the devil. There are few times this is as apparent as in the days leading up to Easter Sunday.

Watch this week. You’ll see a hundred attempts to derail your focus and distract from this holiest of weeks.

I’m neither a prophet, nor the son of a prophet, but I would bet a cookie that there is going to be a significant attack on Christianity this week.

That’s not superstition, it’s an acknowledgement that the last thing Satan wants is for Christians to revel in the wonder, mystery, and power of the resurrection. There is little that makes Christians more effective in living out the gospel than being enraptured by the miracle of Christ’s sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection in our place.

Perhaps the worst thing about the disruption to the possibility of our spiritual advancement in this week of particular focus is that we will allow it to happen. Or, at least, we will take few measures to present it.

Make Resurrection Sunday Bigger

Used by CC License:

Used by CC License:

Our culture has turned Christmas into a blowout holiday. Crass commercialism is creeping into everything, with stores pushing junk months ahead of previously little-celebrated holidays. But during Christmas we do a billion things to keep in mind that Jesus is the reason for the season.

Our culture loves Christmas because they have turned the incarnation into a chance to make money, eat rich foods, and hang out with family in tacky sweaters. Christians have gotten sucked into many of the bad aspects, even as we celebrate the goodness of Christ’s incarnation.

For most of us, however, the celebration of Christ’s atoning work on the cross gets a smaller budget, less build up, and a shorter celebration.

I would argue that Resurrection Sunday should be the pinnacle of the church calendar. That we should use the Lent season (with or without some of the trappings) to build to the glorious heights of the most important hours in the history of the universe: when Christ—the spotless lamb of God—took the penalty for our sin in our place. This is better accomplished at Easter since it lacks the commercial trappings of Christmas.

The atonement could not have taken place without the incarnation, which is why celebrating Christ’s birth is a good thing to do. But without the atonement the incarnation is incomplete. Christ’s work on the cross completed the work he did in this life. He lived a perfect life, showed people what the new heavens and new earth will look like, and pointed people toward the renewed creation that will be finally inaugurated when he comes again. Christ’s resurrection gives testimony that his work on the cross—his sacrifice for our sin—was accepted by God.

This is the capstone moment in Christianity and ought to bear the brunt of our interest and celebration.

Defend the Holy Week

However, when we begin to recognize the importance of the resurrection, the world, our flesh, and the devil will get in the way of being enraptured by its power.

If you don’t believe me, try meditating on the resurrection for a few minutes. The phone will ring, a kid will have a crisis, you’ll decide you desperately need to check social media.

Don’t be surprised that even if you set aside some time this holy week to focus on the cross, to participate in contemplation of the atonement, or to spend hours with your brothers and sisters in Christ that distractions will kick in.

There will be a scandal that directly pokes at the Christian faith. The media will release articles with conspiracy theories to convince the people you are sharing Christ with that the gospel is really fake news. Something will arise in the political sphere that seems designed to take your eyes of the cross. Your car will break down. Whatever.

It’s coming. Defend the Holy Week. Be prepared for battle.

Share the Good News

This is one of those weeks that it’s easier to have meaningful gospel conversations than others, because people are talking about Easter. Use the time wisely.

Skip over the political jabber and skip to the cross. Explain what Easter really means and why it has very little to do with bunnies, marshmallow chicks, or oodles of chocolate.

You would be surprised, I think, how few non-Christians actually understand the gospel. The Passion week is an excellent time to bridge those gaps, explain the real meaning of the cross, and point people to the life that can only come through Christ.

Don’t get distracted by the world, the flesh, and the devil. Preach Christ so that others might know him and celebrate new life even as we remember how the way was paved for us to share in that new life, too.

Reclaiming Hope - A Review

Michael Wear’s recent book Reclaiming Hope is a call for Christians to remain hopeful about the future, despite the misuse and abuse of religion in politics in recent years. Although similar messages have been promoted and led to failure, Wear’s message is a worthwhile one: authentic Christian hope should lead to Christians continuing to participate in politics as Christians. This means that we need to seek the good of the city in which God has placed us and remain critical of both political parties.

Wear is one of the many in the millennial generation who believe that greater government participation in redistribution of wealth is a good thing. The front half of the book recounts his alignment with the Obama White House on the good of passing the Affordable Care Act, which has made purchasing medical insurance legally required with financial penalties for those who choose not to participate in the market. Wear recounts Obama’s use of religious language in supporting things as way that faith can influence policy. For those that oppose the seemingly ever increasing growth of the government through programs like the Affordable Care Act, the front end of the book seems like a bit of tedious hero worship of President Obama. Those who find themselves so frustrated should continue on through the volume. Wear is recording the events as he saw them at the time, though he appears to more critically examine those events later in the volume.

Aside from Wear’s bias toward the government as a means for achieving economic justice, a portrait of the President Obama’s faith begins to emerge. Wear, a socially conservative evangelical Christian, participated in both of Obama’s campaigns and in the first term White House Staff as part of the faith outreach. Part of Wear’s job was to counter the attacks on Obama’s faith, which came from more conservative Christians based on Obama’s apparent support of the continued legalization of abortion and other causes supported by the platform of the Democratic National Convention.

The portrait of Obama’s faith that emerges is of an authentically faithful, liberal Christianity. In this sense, I am not using liberal as a dismissive insult, but to qualify the form of Christianity that Obama appears to hold and to have held. That is, a Christianity that truly holds to certain tenets of the orthodox faith, but sees fit to accept other elements that do not accord with biblical Christianity when historical orthodoxy appears to conflict with modern understandings of the world. This is the sort of Christianity that sees the gospel as primarily a call to social justice rather than personal conversion that leads people to pursue true justice in society in response to God’s justice. Wear, whose doctrine appears to be more consistently orthodox than Obama’s, paints a portrait of a President who sees the impetus toward apparent goods from within Christianity and finds motivation from that, but who may not have accepted the authority of Scripture over all areas of life and practice.

The first half of the book recounts the Obama political machine’s pursuit of doctrinally conservative Christians and efforts to enact a unifying vision for politics. The second half of the volume, however, outlines the ways that the Obama White House subverted those processes, discarded efforts to meaningfully work for a common vision of the good. This failure to seek common cause is highlighted by the Obama Administration's refusal to drop the contraceptive mandate despite the large number of Roman Catholic Bishops who would have otherwise have supported the measure. Wear documents his frustration that the White House staffers were unable or unwilling to understand that prohibition of contraception is a longstanding, significant tenet of Roman Catholic doctrine and to unnecessarily impose a violation of conscience on Roman Catholics in the marketplace would result in alienation of a large base. Additionally, Wear recounts the instant amnesia sexual revolutionaries developed in their efforts to excoriate and persecute those who held a vision of marriage that even Obama held until 2011. Wear reveals a political machine that, at least in part, did not (and likely still does not) understand the place and power of faith in the lives of the faithful of many religions.

Later chapters document the anti-religious influences in the White House overcoming the efforts of Wear and other faithful staffers. This was punctuated by the DNC’s overt pushing of social advocate, shock-value entertainer Lena Dunham’s video comparing voting for Obama in 2008 with her first sexual encounter. Also, the Obama campaign in 2012 used profanity laced e-mails to rally support. The shift into a post-religious White House (which is not to say a post-religious Obama) could be seen in the demonization of Louie Giglio prior to the 2013 inauguration, whose 20-year-old sermon expounding traditional sexual morality was sufficient to result in many public attacks and his ouster from praying at the inauguration. As Wear notes, “In 2009, our diversity demanded we accept that there will be voices we disagree with in public spaces. In 2013, diversity required us to expel all dissent.” (pg 190) This is the reality that many have experienced, which has alienated many of the faithful from the Democratic National Convention, and has helped to push some to vote against Hillary Clinton in the most recent election.

Wear closes the volume with a constructive appeal to a biblical concept of hope, which Christians alone can bring to politics. Whatever policy disagreements I have with Wear, these chapters are helpful. The loss of real hope is detrimental to politics, it leads to fragmentation, hatefulness, and eventually a politics that must win at all cost for fear or retribution. If nothing else, this last section is worth the price of the book, since it reveals the reality of socially conservative, faithfully living evangelicals who have participated in politics with the Democratic National Convention and don’t hate orthodox Christianity. Wear’s willingness to communicate his basis of support for some of the DNC’s policies while seeking to effect change from within. He should be honored for such efforts.

This is a helpful book in many respects. It undermines the notion that being a faithful, socially conservative Christian prevents engaging in politics with the DNC. It provides a glimpse to some of the machinations of the political machine, which should cause both the right and left to question exactly who wrote and how sincerely are meant statements that seem faithful from politicians. It may be that people like Wear are, in good faith, helping politicians craft statements that allow them to seem rather than be truly faithful. Finally, and perhaps the most important lesson in this bleary eyed post-election season, Wear’s volume reminds the reader that we cannot cease participating in politics even when both parties hold positions repugnant to faithful Christians. We must, necessarily, seek to gracefully engage in politics for the common good as we best understand it. We must also seek to be gracious with those with whom we disagree and seek to critique their policy, not their faith.

Note: I received a gratis copy of this volume as part of the launch team for this book. There was no expectation of a positive review.

Faith, Hope, and Love

The theological virtues are faith, hope, and love. This trio of attributes, drawn from the very pages of Scripture form the rubric of Augustine’s famous On Christian Doctrine. They are the backbone of a hermeneutical method, which is designed to help people read Scripture more faithfully.

In 1 Corinthians 13:13, Paul writes, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

What can he mean? If these three virtues describe the goal of the Christian life, then how can one really be greater than the others?

I believe the answer is that the love is the only one of the three virtues that we will still live out in the new heavens and the new earth.

The point could be made from other texts, but there are two places that limit faith and hope to the present life.


The author of Hebrews writes, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1)

There are a number of important conclusions that could be drawn from Hebrews 11, but one of them is that faith is something for this present life. It’s not that we won’t have conviction in the new heavens and the new earth, it’s that we will see the very object of our faith.

Once we see the glory of God in person in heaven, then we won’t have to rely on faith to sustain us. That which we know is real, but believe will no longer be believed, but known.

That isn’t to say that we don’t have confidence in God’s attributes now, but that the nagging doubts we experience and the obscurity of our understanding will be eliminated when we see Christ face to face. It’s a glorious picture of a wonderful day. But is a day when faith, as we know it now, will be no more.


In a famous passage discussing the renewal of creation that will come when Christ comes again, Paul writes, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Rom 8:24-25)

Following much the same logic, hope is an important virtue that Christians should work to develop. It isn’t an ultimate virtue, though, because it will pass away. We hope for what we do not see. We hope for Christ’s soon return. We eagerly and confidently expect it, but we do not see or have it. That is hope.

Once creation is renewed, we won’t need to have hope anymore. That is because the very thing we hope for will have happened. Sin will be eliminated. We will be glorified in Christ. God will be glorified in us. Everything will be right in the world.

At that point in the space-time continuum, we won’t need hope anymore. It will be an artifact of our earthly past.


The greatest of the theological virtues is love. Paul tells us that clearly, and the transience of faith and hope help explain the supremacy of love.

There is, however, another explanation. 1 John 4:8 tells us that “God is love.”

Certainly God is more than simply love. However, the identification of God with one of the theological virtues shows us that love is both permanent and supreme among the three theological virtues.


So what does this mean? Are we supposed to focus on love and neglect faith and hope?

That can’t be, since we see that grace comes through faith, which is a gift of God. (Eph 2:8). We are also called to be ready to give a reason for the hope that is within us (1 Peter 3:15).

No, we’re to pursue all three, but the permanence of love helps to remind us that this world isn’t all there is to life. Good theology is important, but someday there won’t be arguments about theology because we’ll get to meet God himself face to face. 

Pursue all three, but understand that God is the perfect embodiment of the one that matters most and will last forever. It’s not our works, it’s his gifting and glory that matters.

Our Focus on the Cross

For Christians, this is one of the most religiously significant weeks of the year. This Sunday we will celebrate the Messiah’s victory over sin, death, and hell. Along with that, we will celebrate our participation in that victory by the grace of God.

The truth and power of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection for the world is the most important reality that Christians have to communicate to the surrounding world. My hope for myself is that I will allow myself to live in this moment of remembrance and demonstrate the truthfulness of the most significant fact of available redemption for all of creation, including those who believe. The challenge is to keep the cares of the world from choking out this all important message at this very focused time.

The Superlative Reality

Doorway to Holy Week, used by CC license, Alves Family. 

Doorway to Holy Week, used by CC license, Alves Family. 

Many pastors begin their weekly sermon by commenting why this week’s passage is “the most important” or “my favorite” more than occasionally. No doubt after the pastor has labored over the text that week, there is a sense of familiarity and appreciation for it that makes a regular lapse into superlative language forgivable. Likely the label simply means that the pastor is excited by the content or that this is a truth that should press home to the congregation. This is a foible that can be quickly passed over.

However, when the apostle Paul, who was not prone to abuse the superlative, declares something to be of first importance it should cause us to sit up and listen.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. I Cor 15:3-8

Paul’s message that is of first importance is simply that the atonement has come and that due to Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection humans can be freed from the penalty of their sin.

The Trap of Complacency

For those of us that have been in church, the Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday (maybe), Good Friday, Easter Sunday pattern can seem mundane and repetitive. In fact, if a congregation is not careful, the celebration of these events can become mundane. Complacency is a real human danger, where we fail to recognize the importance of what we are doing.

In the years that I worked in nuclear power, complacency was a constant enemy and a visible concern. There were signs posted around the training building that declared, “Complacency will kill us.” Working in an industrial environment, and with powerful technology like nuclear power, made that truth especially valid. But everything becomes routine when we become familiar with it.

At times, we have to intentionally focus on the special nature of a particular truth so that its power comes home to us once again. That’s what the week leading to the celebration of Easter is supposed to do.

Making it Special

Leading up to this Easter season, our family has been focusing on the names of Jesus using a series of daily devotionals that my wife wrote. This has helped keep Christology at the heart of our discussions for the past weeks.

We will likely read and watch parts of the Jesus Storybook Bible in the coming days. We will read passages of Scripture from the passion accounts. All this to make the season memorable and worshipful, as much as we are able.

Even these things can become another flourish in an already-too-busy life, though. The challenge for all of us is to find a way to make the celebration significant and focus on the powerful reality of it without making it just another thing to do.

Avoiding Distraction

The world seems to seek ways to distract from the gravity. This week already, we’ve seen a terrorist attack. There is an ongoing political spectacle that has dragged on for eternity and seems like it will go on forever. If history repeats itself, there will be a well-timed controversy over religious revisionism—both through articles rejecting the historicity of Scripture and from voices seeking to protest traditional Christian morality on some hot-button topic.

The pattern of these events is all too regular for them not to be timed, if not by humans, then perhaps by some of the spiritual forces that we forget about sometimes.

Whether these are simply more notable distractions because they occur during a time of more intentional religious devotion or somehow orchestrated is irrelevant. What is significant is their power to pull our gaze away from the cross, its power, its meaning, and its historicity.

The reality of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection is of first importance according to Paul. Do not allow anything to tear your focus away from pondering that profound truth this week.