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It’s Holy Week. That time of the year when we zoom in on Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and all the happenings surrounding the historical event that literally split time in two (hello BC + AD).

You should know that I’ve always been drawn to the behind-the-scenes of leaders, athletes, inventors, celebrities, authors, and people in general. And it’s no different with the lives of those recorded in Scripture. I like to soak in the facts but also envision what was going on behind closed doors and beneath the surface.

What’s the story behind the story?

We know quite a bit about the main characters in this epic narrative. We know that Jesus, after living a servant-hearted life and topping it off with a three-year wave of wise teaching and jaw-dropping miracles, surrendered His body as the final sacrifice and payment for humanity’s sin. But not without the excruciating tension of awaiting the death penalty, causing Him to sweat blood—a real condition called hematidrosis, which is caused by severe mental anguish.

We know that Jesus’ disciples scattered from the Garden of Gethsemane at the thought of their own lives being threatened, leaving Jesus to fend for Himself. We know that the religious leaders were hungry for power and control, willing to protect their superiority at the cost of their own integrity. We know that Barabbas was a murderer who was completely let off the hook in exchange for Jesus’ life. We know that many women, including Christ’s own mother and Mary Magdalene, stood at a distance as he was whipped and ripped to an unrecognizable point while dangling on a cross between two rebels.

Another character who’s always struck my curiosity is Pontius Pilate.

Pilate was the Roman prefect (basically a governor, military officer, and judge wrapped into one) over the province of Judea who sentenced Jesus to death. He’s not only mentioned in the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), but also by secular writers of that time such as Tacitus, Philo, and Josephus. And just in case anyone still questioned his existence, in 1961 archeologists uncovered what’s now referred to as the Pilate Stone—a block of limestone containing an authentic first-century Roman inscription of Pontius Pilate.

No doubt Pilate was a thinking man. He was a leader, influencer, decision-maker, and ultimately charged under Emperor Tiberius’ rule with keeping the peace—no matter the cost.

Pride stirred within the religious leader’s hearts as they bound Jesus and brought Him before Pilate. After investigating, Pilate declared that Jesus was not guilty.

“You brought this man to me, accusing him of leading a revolt. I have examined him thoroughly on this point in your presence and find him innocent.” (Luke 23:14)

But the brazen leaders and frenzied crowd insisted, “Crucify Him!” Pilate’s wife pleaded the opposite. “Leave that innocent man alone,” she begged. “I suffered through a terrible nightmare about him last night.” (Matthew 27:19) The scales bounced back and forth until, finally, Pilate washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I’m innocent of this man’s blood. The responsibility is yours!” (Matthew 27:24) Though Pilate seemed to believe Jesus was innocent, he caved to the pressures of a hysterical crowd and ordered Him to the cross.

The last we hear of Pilate is when he granted Joseph of Arimathea permission to take the body away for burial and commanded guards to secure the tomb. But I wish we knew more. Like…

What was his response to the big news?

I picture Pilate and his wife at the breakfast table on Sunday morning—buttering toast, peeling oranges, and sipping fresh milk—when one of his highest-ranking officers bolted into the dining room. Frantically, he tells Pilate what they know: “The tomb is open, the guards aren’t exactly sure what happened, and Jesus’ body? IT’S GONE.” I imagine his wife’s eyes growing big and round as she covered her mouth in shock. I envision Pilate staring at the messenger for an extra long moment before wiping his mouth, taking a hard look at his wife, and briskly exiting the room.

Surely he was already on edge, right? I mean, during the crucifixion the sky went dark, the earth quaked, the temple curtain was torn in two. Even the centurion remarked, “This man truly was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54) When Pilate pushed for more information, the soldiers reported an odd thing. While dying, Jesus had called out, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” Surely a chill went down his spine when—days later—the rumors started spreading that Jesus was alive, had appeared to a group of women, his disciples, and 500 others—all who were giving eye-witness reports.

Could it be true? No—He was dead. My officers confirmed that blood and water came flowing out of His side when He was pierced. It’s impossible. Maybe His men stole the body. But why would they? And how would they get past our Roman guards? Could He be the Messiah the Jewish Scriptures speak of? Surely not. But what if He is? The prophecies and miracles, his wisdom and forgiveness, the darkness and earthquake, the reports of resurrection. Did I ask, “What is truth?” to the one who is Truth? Did I kill the King of kings?

In many ways, Pilate was faced with the same thoughts and questions we’re up against today.

However, I realize it’s conjecture to imagine how these scenarios played out when we don’t know the full story. I don’t know if Pilate’s heart stayed hard and stubborn, or if he got on his knees and cried out to God after witnessing such miraculous events. I don’t know if he persecuted Christians or became one. I don’t know what happened to his authority or his marriage after this major disruption in the normal flow of life. But chances are, he had to come face to face with himself in the mirror.

Like Pilate, we all have to ask ourselves: What will I do with the resurrection?

C.S. Lewis once said, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” And Christianity hinges on one thing (and that one thing is not our preferred volume of worship music or the extent in which we do or do not “follow the rules”). Christianity hinges on the life, death, RESURRECTION, and redemptive grace of Jesus Christ. And without the resurrection, none of it counts or matters.

On that horrible, beautiful, terrible Good Friday, Jesus was led to the cross. Selfish men put Him there, all of OUR sins held Him there, but it was Jesus Himself—empowered by a scandalous, unstopping, redemptive kind of love—who had the courage and wisdom to stay there UNTIL IT WAS FINISHED.

Earlier that day, Pilate had spouted, “Don’t you realize I have the power to release you?” But Jesus responded, “You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above.” (John 19:10-11)

Don’t you see? Jesus willingly faced the sting of death so that resurrection could follow. Not just for Himself, but for us too.

What will YOU do with the resurrection?

 

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Have you ever acted like a total maniac while searching for “lost” sunglasses on your own head? Or a missing phone already pressed against your ear? Or misplaced keys that were camouflaged in your very hand? Well I have. Couch cushions were frisked and mysterious purse contents dumped out. But those seemingly invisible valuables were RIGHT THERE the whole time—hidden in plain sight.

Look around.

We’re frantically searching for meaning. Overwhelmed by the world around us. Silently screaming for answers. Wondering if there’s some kind of point. “Where are you, God?” we ask. Are you hiding? Are you even real? Can anybody hear me?

When Job lost everything—his family, his health, his home, his wealth, and even his reputation—He cried out to the Lord, who seemed to have gone missing. But when God finally responded, it wasn’t with an answer to his deepest questions or the reason behind his circumstance. Instead, God countered with a gentle interrogation (and a hint of booming sass).

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much. Who determined its dimensions and stretched out the surveying line? What supports its foundations, and who laid its cornerstone as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4-6)

God pointed at His magnanimous creation and asked a rhetorical question: Who do you think did all this? Tell me, since you’re such the expert. Who spun this world into action? Who sustains the sun that keeps you warm and the atmosphere that lets you breathe? Who gave each piece of fruit it’s own sweet flavor and diverse package? Who designed the mathematical equations you work hard to figure out? Who lets the flower petals know when it’s time to open up? Who weaved together your very being and placed it on this planet at the just the right time? Who uniquely handcrafted you and loves you more than you can even imagine?

Oh, you think this is coincidence?

Look around.

“Who kept the sea inside its boundaries as it burst from the womb, and as I clothed it with clouds and wrapped it in thick darkness? For I locked it behind barred gates, limiting its shores. I said, ‘This far and no further will you come. Here your proud waves must stop.’” (Job 38:8-11)

He designed every magical and breathtaking aspect of the cosmos to draw our wandering minds to true wonder and worship. Everything is intentional. In the form of babies, oceans, divine meetings, and big contagious smiles, He’s constantly wooing us back into His loving arms. Back to the One who created us in the first place.

“Do you know the laws of the universe? Can you use them to regulate the earth? Can you shout to the clouds and make it rain? Can you make lightning appear and cause it to strike you as direct? Who gives intuition to the mind and instinct to the heart?” (Job 38:33-36)

God didn’t randomly throw the world together, watch in complete shock as mankind fell, and then think: “Well, crap. How am I going to fix this?” He already knew all about us—even before we knew about ourselves. He already knew about our past and about our future and about our inadequacies and about our ugliest sin, yet He still decided to make us.

Even before God created the world, His plan was to save it.

“By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.” (Hebrews 11:3)

Sure. He could’ve not created us at all or simply made us robots. But He didn’t do that. Instead, it was worth it for Him to go through this whole mess and big hassle so we could freely choose Him; so He could save us to be free.

Look around.

There’s some brokenness and some heartache and some pain. That’s the fallen, imperfect, not-as-intended world that sin has distorted. But there’s also sparks of loveliness and joy and beauty and redemption and hope and buckets of grace. That’s His Kingdom busting through the jagged cracks of our stories.

Look around.

I peeked into my daughter’s room last night while she was fast asleep. Everything was silent and still, except the soft hum of her breath. Her growing legs almost touch the end of her bed—she’ll be eight in a few days. But in a flashback of memories, I thought of her wiggling inside my belly while her daddy and I poked at her in utero. I thought of the first time she pulled herself up and stood proudly in her crib, cheesy smile looking over the wooden railing after a good nap. I thought of how she currently loves to writes us love notes, stands as grown as my shoulders are tall, and is finding her own understanding of Jesus’ grace.

Look around.

The wind isn’t stagnant. The trees haven’t stopped producing fruit. The world is steadily growing, steadily cultivating, steadily looking around and looking for Him. Life is swirling and budding and changing all around us. We’re alive.

You want evidence for God? Google images from the Hubble telescope. You want proof that there’s more to a person than flesh and bones? Grab dinner with someone you love, look into their eyes, and catch a glimpse of their living soul. You want to trace God’s fingerprints?

Look around. They’re hidden in plain sight.

 

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I had another post written for today, but it didn’t feel right.

Heartbreaking news has been everywhere this week—in our cities, in our countries, in our world.

Our homeland has been shaken by the senseless and horrific attacks in Orlando. Our church family also lost an incredible seventeen-year-old in a fluke accident. A beautiful young wife and mama is fighting Stage 4 cancer. Another little boy was just diagnosed with leukemia. My Nunnie (grandmother) graduated to heaven. Two people we love are facing a divorce. And now I’m reading about the precious toddler who was snatched away by an alligator on a family vacation to Disneyworld.

I could keep going, but you already know…

It’s all devastating.

We’ve gotten cozy in our citified and suburban squares, where it’s easy to develop a false sense of control. We pencil-in our schedules. We execute our to-do lists. We order exactly what we want at our favorite coffee shops. We have plans. We have systems. We have climate-controlled environments.

But then we stumble into hard things, difficult situations, agonizing tragedies that are out of our jurisdiction. And, suddenly, we remember that we’re not in control. In fact, we never were.

My crew and I road-tripped to the Florida panhandle last week. One rainy day found us due to the tropical storm, Colin. And though it mainly hit to the east of us, we still felt the ripple effects for a few days—primarily in the waves.

What’s typically a spacious and sandy beach was covered with gray swells, nearly touching the boardwalks. The waves were bigger, stronger, and more powerful than ever.

As I stood there—feet in the sand, eyes on the sea—listening to the roar of the surf and watching the walls of water pound against each other, I was reminded just how small I am.

And how big, how wild, God is.

 

There are two kinds of wild:

  1. Wild, like unruly and rebellious.
  2. Wild, like untamable and free.

God is the untamable type—riding solo in His own category. And for that, I am thankful.

Because the honest truth is that I don’t always understand. I have a big ol’ stack of unanswered questions I’m constantly wading through. I get frustrated and angry and overwhelmed and defeated.

But the good news is that God is already awesome, so we don’t have to be.

There’s relief found in his wild arms—where there’s no limits, no boundaries, no borders to His ways. There’s nothing too far, too heart-wrenching, too awful, or too confusing to stop His relentless love or His sovereign plans from being carried out.

He created the never-ending waves, the immeasurable sky, and the billions of unique smiles on this planet. He also happens to be more mysterious, more passionate, more mighty, more grandiose, more brilliant, more merciful than we’ve ever dared to imagine.

He’s wild all right—in His character and about His kids. He created us, He sustains us, and even when it doesn’t feel like it, He carries us.

Wild, yet self-controlled. Wild, but always intentional.

And though God didn’t cause this broken world, He’ll certainly use it. He takes it all—the good, the bad, the ugly—and somehow weaves it together, creating one giant tapestry that will eventually make sense.

Sometimes we need to push pause long enough to acknowledge His wide-spanned awesomeness.

We pause—to weep with those who are mourning.

We pause—to surrender our flimsy control.

We pause—to worship the God of the universe.

Our hearts are crushed by 49 bullets, but our hope is not. God is still good, even when life is not good. God is still in control, even when this world seems uncontrollable. God is still King, even when we can’t physically see Him on His throne.

“Then why doesn’t He do something about it?” we ask.

Well, He did.

He sent His Son, Jesus, into our beautifully cracked existence to die the death we should have. All of the world’s yuck—past, present, and future—hung on his shoulders so that we’d get a chance at everlasting life, which is only found in Him.

His wild ways long for permission to access our broken spaces.

But right now? We’re living in the in-between zone. Jesus paid the ultimate debt, but He’s still not done. And while I’d love for Him to get rid of anything that’s destructive and hateful in the “mean time,” I’m also thankful He’s patient with sinners—like me.

“The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” (2 Peter 3:9)

This life has been compared to giant sculptures, paintings, and quilts. All we see is the close-up, behind-the-scenes view—where mud is slinging and paint is dripping and strings are tangled all over the place. Right now, it looks like one giant mess. But if we could zoom out, we would see a magnificent work in progress.

Bottom line: God is at work in this mess (which is the basically the condensed summary of the entire Bible).

The pain we experience is hard, but we can love even harder—all because He first loved us. 

Jesus himself brings comfort with words that are still perfectly relevant today: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Whether you’re sitting in your living room or standing at the edge of an ocean that kisses every continent in the world, know that you have access to your wild, creator God.

Once again, Lord, we put our shaky hands into your strong ones. We whisper the words, “I trust you,” even through our doubts, even through our limited understanding—knowing that YOU are bigger than it all and even closer than we realize.

 

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Well g’morning! And Happy Friday. School is out, summer has begun, and my kids are already running laps around the house. While “free time” is pretty much nonexistent, “fun time” is officially in session.

So I don’t have any funny stories or clever openers for you today. Truth is, some days we need nothing more than to cut the fluff and get right to it—yes? So let’s kick the Word wide open and let it spill out.

Acts 15. You should read it.

Let me tell you what I love about Acts 15. There’s some drama going on—a controversial debate—which brings a famous cast of characters onto the scene and into the same room, ALL AT THE SAME TIME. Because, back in the day, you couldn’t just Google the experts. You had to physically go see them.

Roll call…

 

PETER. The same Peter who left his nets in the sand to follow Jesus. The same Peter who saw Him heal the sick, give sight to the blind, and miraculously feed thousands with his very own eyes. The same Peter who was in Jesus’ inner circle and with Him during the transfiguration. The same Peter who watched Jesus die on that cross, who ran into the empty tomb, and who laid eyes and ears on the resurrected Christ. Even with a rambunctiously temperamental personality, it was Peter who preached at Pentecost on the day the church was born—exploding by 3,000+ new believers. He not only spread the life-changing message of Jesus to the Jews, but also to the Gentiles (which is just a fancy word for non-Jews).

JAMES. James was the half-brother of Jesus and a skeptic until that first Easter Sunday. Can you blame him? If my brother, Jared, told me that he was the Son of God, the prophesied Messiah, I would check him into a psych ward. The only thing that could possibly make me believe him is IF HE CAME BACK FROM THE DEAD, which is exactly what changed James’ mind. James—along with Peter and John—were known as the “pillars of the church” (Galatians 2:9). In the secular work, Antiquities of the Jews, historian Josephus refers to the stoning of “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name is James.” James was willing to face even death because of his genuine revelation and ultimate conclusion that his half-brother, Jesus, really was the Son of God.

PAUL. Paul, who used to be Saul. Who tormented Christians for their faith—the very faith He began preaching after an encounter with Jesus himself. Paul had legit bragging rights in nearly every category on the background check: He was Jewish, a Roman citizen, and a member of the rigorous Pharisee sect. He was basically as hardcore and “religious” as it gets. Unfortunately, he ignored his very own scriptures regarding the coming Messiah. The Messiah, however, did not ignore him. Paul has one of the most radically dramatic transformations in the entire Bible, with God quite literally getting up in his business and showing Himself. So Paul began preaching and teaching The Good News all over the ancient world. He also wrote a solid chunk of the books in the New Testament we still read today.

 

And there they were—all of these great men—TOGETHER IN ONE PLACE (plus some other apostles, leaders, and elders).

Oh, to be a fly on the wall!

This gathering of biblical heroes is often referred to as the “Jerusalem Council,” but that sounds a bit too formal to me. Let’s remember who these men were… Peter: a fiery, blue-collar fisherman. James: the leery half-brother of Jesus who was also the son of a carpenter. Paul: a legalistic radical whose life-mission was to persecute Christians—until he became one.

Instead of the angelic faces and flowing robes often portrayed in paintings, I imagine this meeting to be more “real life” in nature. I’m guessing their calloused hands were strong from hard work; their skin darkened by the hot sun. I bet there were words and tones and expressions that unfortunately never translated onto these ancient scrolls. A group of ferociously Godly men, no doubt, who had seen and heard A LOT. They experienced the sweat, the stories, the supernatural, the surprises, and the scars—all first hand. And here they were, together, navigating through this little deliberation.

So what was the fuss about? And what was decided?

Oddly enough, the dispute was over circumcision. Strange, right? But don’t tune me out yet.

Jesus clearly stated that “those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me will have eternal life” (John 5:24), and that’s exactly what was being preached. But Paul and Barnabas came across a separate group of men were teaching the new believers: “Unless you are circumcised as required by the law of Moses, you cannot be saved.” (Acts 15:1)

[Rabbit trail: Can we address the fact that discussing a grown man’s circumcision, or lack thereof, is completely awkward? I’ve always wondered how they knew if someone was or was not circumcised. Like, was there a Penis Policeman on duty at all times, making guys drop their drawers around every turn? Were there check points? Full-body screenings? These are just a few questions I have.]

So basically, these other men turned the whole ordeal into a legalism issue, treating salvation like a gum-ball machine—i.e., you put the quarter in (works, traditions, rituals) and get a colorful ball of sugar in return (eternal security). But God doesn’t work like that. He chooses us despite ourselves, and gives us the opportunity to take hold of His gracious gift—quarter free!

The real question here is this: Is it really Jesus + nothing? Or it is Jesus + a laundry list of to-do’s and to-don’ts?

WHICH ONE IS IT? A question we are still asking today.

But both Peter and Paul had personally experienced the uncircumcised Gentiles hearing the message of Jesus, believing in Him, and receiving the Holy Spirit. They’d classified this as a non-issue—understanding that the Gospel was for everyone, at any time.

I can imagine these guys being all: “Excuse me… We saw what happened. We were there. WE WITNESSED IT. Do you think Jesus DIED and went to the trouble of rising again so that we could go back to the formalities of working our way to God instead of stumbling into His amazing grace?”

Peter’s take: “God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith. So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 15:8-11)

James’ take: After quoting the prophets who confirmed these Gentile-conversions long ago, he settles it: “And so my judgement is that we should not make it more difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” (Acts 15:19)

In layman’s terms: STOP MAKING IT SO DANG HARD.

Even Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

His burden is light, y’all—not heavy. So why do we insist on making it so difficult?

It’s true that circumcision specifically might not be the name of the game in our society, but this mindset still happens all the time. “You cannot be saved unless you first…”

Clean up your life. Become a member of a church. Read the entire Bible. Pray—every day and twice on Sundays. Be “good” boys and girls. Do a detailed study on the book of Revelation. Give a certain dollar amount to Christian organizations. Fast the first month of every year. Get baptized. Get clean. Get perfect. Get it together.

But if someone says you must first do these things, JUST RUN THE OTHER WAY. The criminal hanging next to Jesus on the cross didn’t have time to do anything but believe, and believe is exactly what he did.

Sure, the things on that list are great, and can absolutely draw us closer God. He built us, after all, and knows exactly how we were made to tick; how life works best. Having a relationship with Him and turning from the sin that holds us down is a game-changer. We should take His advice! He’s the one who hold the blueprints.

But a to-do list does not save us. It cannot save us. 

Paul’s take: “We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who you are.” (Romans 3:22)

So to anyone who’s feeling guilty for not being enough, or guilty for being too much—just come to Him. Even in your mess, and especially in your mess. If following Jesus doesn’t make you feel free, you’re doing it wrong. Because His unexpected and underserving grace truly is FREEING.

But before we get too far on the free and easy train, Paul addresses the question that some of us are thinking: Does that give us the right to do whatever the heck we want?  

“Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2)

“Well then, if we emphasize faith, does this mean that we can forget about the law? Of course not! In fact, only when we have faith do we truly fulfill the law.” (Romans: 3:31)

“For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Galatians 5:13-15)

No matter your religious background. No matter the color of your skin. No matter what you’ve done. No matter how you dress. No matter where you live or what you drive. No matter if you’re rich or poor.

Just come.

We come as we are, but God doesn’t leave us that way. As we give Him our hearts, His spirit will be a life-giving well inside of us—and we’ll begin to yield good fruit. He’ll prune us, He’ll water us, and He’ll raise up a harvest within us. We are not saved by good works, but a genuine faith can’t help but produce them.

So let’s turn to God and love one another. Let’s point each other to the liberating freedom that loosens chains, forgives our wrongs, and shreds our debt.

And, most of all, let’s not make it so difficult.

 

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