Archive for the ‘Discipleship’ Category

His name was Joseph. Yet everyone called him Barnabas, which means “Son of Encouragement”. That name became such a part of his identity that today few people remember that his given name was Joseph and we refer to him only as Barnabas. So how did Joseph become Barnabas for the rest of history? There are two events in the Bible that stand out. The first comes in Acts Chapter 4:32-37. In the early church Barnabas is noted as one of the people who gave a large sum of money in order to insure that the poor were feed and had their needs met. That act of sacrifice was a huge encouragement to the first generation of Christians.

Later in Acts 11:19-26 we find Barnabas seeking out a young convert to Christianity and including him in the leadership of the new church at Antioch. That convert was the Pharisee named Saul, who we come to know as The Apostle Paul. In an incredible irony, that is only possible in a faith in which love and forgiveness are core values, Paul ends up leading a church that was begun by refugees who fled the persecution that he instigated before he came to faith in Christ. Imagine the kind of person Barnabas had to be that he insisted on reaching out and including the very guy who started the persecution that resulted in torture and even death for some followers of Jesus. Paul had already been rejected by the leaders in Jerusalem after his conversion. They didn’t trust him. They basically said, “great to know you are not killing us any more. We will call if we need anything”. So Paul ends up hundreds of miles away doing next to nothing for the expansion of Christianity, until Barnabas, The Son of Encouragement” takes a journey to find him and include him in the leadership of the Church at Antioch.

So what can we learn about being an encourager when we look at Barnabas? For one, he was willing to sacrifice for the sake of others so that they would be built up, strengthened, encouraged. He was willing to sacrifice financial resources so that people in need could have hope. He was willing to sacrifice his reputation when he brought in Paul for leadership. In both cases Barnabas thought more about the needs of someone else than he did about his own. But it wasn’t only the needs of the one he encouraged that he thought about. In bringing Paul into a leadership role, Barnabas was also thinking about the people Paul would impact with his ministry. He saw a gifting in Paul that needed to be encouraged to the surface in order to help others.

An encourager sees the positive impact another person does make, and can make, and comes alongside them to help it happen. What Barnabas did was come along side people to empower them, when nobody else would. That is what an encourager does. Far too many people are willing to point out the negative, where people are lacking, what can go wrong. Barnabas looked for what could go right and did what he could to make that happen.

Encouragers don’t care if someone else gets the limelight and credit. I think one reason why we don’t encourage one another more is that we are self-centered and worry that there is only so much credit and encouragement to go around. So in order to rise up above other people, we put them down or at the very least, withhold encouragement that might give them the strength they need to succeed. We see the opposite in Barnabas. He didn’t care if someone else received recognition and credit. In fact he seems to have been very happy when the one he encouraged had success. Very quickly in his relationship with Paul, he takes second place. Paul moves to the forefront as spokesman and leader. Lesser people would have been jealous, not Barnabas. An encourager does not worry about that. In fact an encourager finds delight in the success of those they encourage.

I have got to believe that over time, Barnabas rubbed off on Paul. Paul who was so encouraged by Barnabas, eventually became committed to a ministry of encouragement. Just one example comes from First Thessalonians 5:11-14 where Paul writes;

11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.

How different might your life be if you had someone who encouraged you instead of discouraged you, built you up instead of tore you down, respected you instead of denigrated you? We all need people like that in our life. But we also need to be that person to others. If you are around people who are encouragers, it will rub off on you like it did with Paul. I learned this from a wonderful guy I meet as part of the coaching staff at North Allegheny High School in Pittsburgh. His name was John Ross. John was the quarterback coach on that team and he was the consumate encourager. He always had positive feedback for players and friends. That does not mean he didn’t correct errors. Any coach has to do that. But he did it in a way that you knew he was on your side. John was quick to point out to other people how great someone was. I remember the first time one of my young sons met John. One of the first things he did was tell my son how lucky he was to have such a great dad. That is an encourager. What did it do for me? For one thing it motivated me to be an even better dad. Far from making people rest on their laurels, encouragement does the opposite. It gives people the motivation to live up to the words of encouragement and do even better.

Here is another thing I have learned about encouragers. When you give out encouragement to others it has a funny way of coming back to you. If you are always negative, the attitude that comes back to you will be negative. But if you encourage others, come along side them and build them up, you quickly find yourself in an environment of encouragement and others will encourage you. You will be paid back in kind. Dish out negativity and you will be paid back in negativity. Hand out praise and encouragement and you will find yourself rich in encouragement.

A very practical first step is this, look for someone who could use some praise, some encouragement, some positive reinforcement and give it to them. It could be as simple as telling someone how much their friendship means to you. It could be telling someone at work what a great job they did on a project, or what a wonderful idea they had. Find a character trait in someone that you admire and let them know you wish you could be as good at that as they are. The point is, build up people, encourage them. When you do that consistently, you will find that your life becomes filled with people who act as Barnabas in your life and encourage you.

John Maxwell wrote the book 360 Degree Leadership. The title is from the idea that in any organization you can and should provide leadership to those above you, below you, and around you on the org chart. We need to think of 360 degree relationships as followers of Christ. I see a model for this in the biblical relationships of Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy. In looking at what the Bible tells us about these three men and the experience of my own life I am forced to ask myself some very important questions. First, who are the people in my life to whom I play the role of Paul, and Barnabas, and Timothy. The second is the other side of the coin. Who are the people in my life who play the role of Paul, and Barnabas, and Timothy for me?

You may be wondering just what those roles are? I think each can be summarized fairly easily. Paul is the spiritual leader/mentor who helps another become all that Christ has for them. Barnabas is the encouraging co-laborer with whom you share life and who strengthens you along the way. Timothy is the follower who is looking to a Paul for guidance and direction in what it means to live this life for Jesus.

Now before we get to far into this I know there will be some people who immediately respond by saying, “Don’t look to men! Only look to Jesus” or some variation on that theme. As highly spiritual as that may sound it is actually a violation of what Jesus Himself said. So I am left to wonder if such folks are actually even looking to Jesus. You see Jesus commanded that we are to go and make disciples. We are to follow the pattern He set by investing ourselves in the lives of other people so they begin to follow Jesus and grow to maturity. That is why Paul did what he did with someone like Timothy. Jesus was also the one who sent people out in pairs to do ministry. He followed the time-honored Biblical principle that it is not good for people to be alone, work alone, even walk alone. As the Bible says, “when one falls down the other is there to pick them up”. Clearly Jesus thinks we are to be in relationships in which we encourage one another, care for one another, challenge one another and in general share life together in order to become more like Him. In fact that is what is at the root of the Biblical word for fellowship. It is KOINONIA and has its roots in the Greek word for “common”. Fellowship is sharing our common lives together in order to exhibit what the Body of Christ is all about. It is about breathing the same air, facing the same challenges, exalting in the same joys and living life, together.

Let’s take a look at the examples of Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy and see what we can learn. First, what about Paul? Here is the big question. Who are you pouring your life into so that they become more like Christ? Who are you guiding into Christian maturity so they can use their life and gifts in service to God and others? That is what Paul did with Timothy. Most people shrink back from this thinking that they are not worthy enough, smart enough, or holy enough to lead someone else in following Christ. Well I agree. None of us are. Yet Jesus expects us to do just that. Actually Jesus is the one who makes it possible for us to do that as He lives through us. We are ALL called to make disciples. We are all called to lead someone else closer to Jesus. If you are a parent then you are called by God to disciple your children so they become more like Jesus and serve Him in whatever they do. If you are married you have that same responsibility towards your spouse. If you know someone who is not a Christian, you are called to be Paul to them by living out your Christian faith in such a way that they want to also follow Jesus. No one is exempt from this. If you have been following Jesus for two weeks and you meet someone who has been following Him for two days, guess what. You are twelve days further down the road than they are and you can and should be a Paul who helps them navigate their next twelve days. Of course you should still be growing in your relationship to Christ so in theory you are always twelve days ahead. The reality is, if you really invest yourself in being Paul to someone else, your growth in Christ will accelerate even faster. The call to make disciples is for all followers of Jesus. So in a sense we are all called to be Paul to someone else.

But that also brings up the question of who you are looking to as that Paul in your life. Who is your role model? Who is the person who is following Jesus in a way that you think you should? Who could help you go to the next level in your relationship with Jesus? You see, in addition to being a Paul to someone else, you need a Paul or two in your own life. When I first came to faith in Christ a guy named Scott Jones was the local Young Life leader. He was my first Paul. During my Senior year in High School, Scott would meet with me and a handful of other guys once a week before school. We read and studied Paul’s Letter to the Romans together. But that was not where Scott made the biggest impact as my “Paul”. Every few weeks he would pick me up before school and we grabbed a couple donuts and a cup of coffee at a local donut shop. We talked about life, both of our lives. We talked about how following Jesus applied to our lives, both the easy and the hard parts. Scott also spoke into my life with all the wisdom a 25 year had to give a 17-year-old. It was huge for me.

I am convinced that one of the most glaring weaknesses in the church today and in the lives of individual followers of Jesus is the stark absence of “Paul” relationships. When you take seriously the call to invest your life in another, there is a huge payback in terms of your own spiritual growth and maturity. When we fail to make that investment, the payback is nil.

At the end of part three I will share some practical tips and resources for developing not only healthy Paul relationships but also the Barnabas and Timothy ones as well. In the meantime I would encourage you to be praying for God to show you the people to whom you are already supposed to be “Paul” and look back on your life and see who has been Paul to you then and now. If you don’t have anyone who fills the role of the Apostle Paul, then in your prayer time start asking God now to show you to that person.

I recently attended a workshop to learn how to graft new branches onto an existing Bonsai tree. In this case it was to graft branches from a Shimpaku onto a Personi Juniper. In the process I was reminded of Paul’s words to the Christians in Rome when he speaks to the Gentiles as being united to Christ. He told them that they had been “grafted into the nourishing root”, meaning they were now intimately connected to Jesus.
So if in fact we have been grafted into a relationship with Christ, what lessons are there from grafting that caused Paul to use this illustration? The first one came to mind with the first action I had to take toward the plant that would receive the graft. It required taking an extremely sharp straight-razor and cut a deep wound into the tree. I had to cut through the bark and cambium and into the heartwood of the tree. I couldn’t help but think of the wounding that Christ had to go through prior to and on the Cross in order for me to have forgiveness and a new life. When the instructor said you need to cut to the heartwood I could only picture the spear cutting to the heart of Jesus Christ. In order to receive me as one to be connected with Him, Jesus was willing to be deeply wounded beyond what I can comprehend.
The second step dealt with the piece of Shimpaku branch that was to be grafted into the cut on the Personi. I had to select a small branch and cut it from its original tree. If it was going to be a successful grafting it had to be completely removed from were it previously received it’s nourishment and support. You cannot keep a connection between the old plant and the new plant. It just doesn’t work. It is impossible. The piece to be grafted will surely wither and die if it tries to remain connected to both Shimpaku and Personi. When it comes to following Christ, trying to hang on to what we have trusted in for support and nourishment in the past, simply will not work. Jesus put it simply, give up everything and follow Him. When he bid Peter to step out of the boat he was bidding him to give up everything his experience told him to rely on for support and safety and trust only in his connection with Jesus. Peter couldn’t cling to both. He could not hold onto the boat and walk on water with Jesus. James and John could not follow Him and stay on the shore with their nets. Matthew couldn’t be a disciple and stay sitting in his tax collectors booth. And neither can I. Neither can you. Being grafted into a relationship with Jesus Christ means being cut off from all that you would cling to for safety and security and trusting only His word as you follow behind Him on a path that only He can really see.
There was another aspect of the grafting that struck me. In order for the newly grafted branch to take, it needs a clean, solid, tight connection to the life giving nourishment of the receiving plant. The vascular system of the graft can only bond with the vascular system of the receiving plant if it is intimately and tightly connected. Jesus made the point in John 15 that we must abide in Him if we are to have real life. He makes the point that he is the vine and we are the branches and apart from Him we can do nothing. Apart from the nourishment of the receiving plant, the graft can do nothing and it will in fact wither and die. If we are going to grow strong in Christ we must absolutely be bonded to Him in such a way that our life’s nourishment, what feeds us and strengthens us, is His life giving Spirit.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer is famously quoted as saying, “When Jesus calls a man to follow Him, He bids him to come and die”. This morning I read that quote in the context in which he wrote it in “Cost of Discipleship”. What Bonhoeffer was pointing to was the cutting off of the branch to be grafted from what had nourished and sustained it before. He is saying that all that you cling to, other than Christ, must be cut off from you. That such a life must be dead, you must die to that life and find your life first, foremost, and only in Christ. Bonhoeffer points out that for some there may await death as a martyr for Christ. For others not. But the dying he speaks of is not the future dying that may mean martyrdom, but the dying to yourself, and to all you cling to instead of Christ. This is a daily dying. It is a moment by moment reminding that only in Christ am I secure, only in Christ can I find safety, only in Christ is there truly life. Everything else is a counterfeit that seeks to interfere with the deep intimate bond that a well grafted branch must have.

In the fall of 2008 the Indian state of Orissa was rocked by a shocking wave of violence. Tens of thousands of Hindus went on a month-long rampage against local Christians. By the time the violence ended more than 60 pastors were killed, mostly beaten to death by mobs, and 100 churches or church related buildings were burned. I have just returned from doing 3 days of basic ministry training for 130 pastors and other leaders in Orissa. It was the most difficult trip I have ever taken. Not because of the forty hours of travel to get there, or the large furry rodents running at my feet as we ate in the hotel restaurant to go with the two others the kitchen staff had just killed and swept out the door. It wasn’t because of the garbage and filth that lined the streets and choked every lake, pond or canal. It wasn’t the smell of raw sewage flowing in the gutters or stepping in one of the countless cow patties left by the animals that roamed freely, everywhere. It wasn’t even the concern for my safety that my hosts had after a gang of men tried to disrupt our training. (From that point on I was not allowed to be on the street and was never alone expect when I got back to my hotel room.) All of that I expect as part of the deal. I have traveled enough to know that’s how it is and that someplace has to be the worst yet. You simply have to learn how to roll with that.

What made this so difficult was seeing the video tape from the news station that showed people being beat to death because of their faith, seeing the homes and churches that were burned, talking to pastors who hid in the woods for a month while people brought them food. Seeing all that and then seeing that these Christians continues to press ahead, longing for ways to reach out and serve the very neighbors who attacked them and then comparing it to our own situations in the west, THAT is what made it so difficult and painful. No matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t, and still can’t, shake the words of Jesus out of my head, “to whom much is given is much required”.

You see, even though these pastors have theological degrees and are well-educated in doctrine, church administration, preaching and the like, they have received no training in basic disciple-making, community outreach, the pastors family life, or multiplication through church planting. The training we did was the only known training conference for pastors EVER in this area. The average evangelical church member in the USA or England or South Africa has tons more training and resources in basic ministry than these pastors of churches in India. On top of that a single pastor there typically oversees 6 or 7 churches at the same time. They have nothing. Yet they press ahead in the face of life threatening opposition, seeking to learn how to love and serve their neighbor, their enemy. They are doing more with nothing than most in the west are doing with everything.

When I finished a session on The Good Samaritan and told them you do “What You Can, With What You Have, Where You Are”, a number of them said that they felt guilt and shame because they had no idea that ministry was supposed to be about reaching out to those God puts in your path, those who are clearly in need. They had a time of repentance right there.

The typical reaction when hearing about this is for western Christians to express how grateful they are for the blessings God has given us, our freedom, resources, safety, etc. But as we are prone to do, such sentiments, while a good start, fall woefully short of what is really needed. What we  need to do is ask, “God, what do you require of me in light of all my freedom, blessings and resources”. Again I say, “to whom much is given is much required”. It simply will not do to stop with a recognition of our good fortune. We must go the next step and ask how that fortune is to be used by God so that others will come to know and love Him. In Orissa, Christians are asking that question in spite of the fact that the answer could lead to their death. How much more should we be asking that question ourselves?

How would you answer that question? What criteria do you have for measuring success? For some, success is measured by their income. For others it is measured by the size of their office or home or car. One popular measure of success today is simply that you are famous. I am reminded of a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean. British officer to Captain Jack Sparrow, “You are possibly the worst pirate I’ve ever heard of” To which Sparrow responds, “Yes, but you have heard of me”.

Within Christian circles we know that the measures of success that are found in the secular world are not our measures. it is easy to say that having lots of possessions, popularity, or power are not the answer. Yet in churches we often still measure success in concrete, numerical terms. Successful churches are the ones growing the fastest or with the biggest budgets or the most popular. Maybe in some of our better moments we say that success is found in the number of baptisms, or people in a Sunday School Class or on short-term mission trips. In families we might say that is it having your children all believing in Jesus and a healthy marriage. While those things get closer to what success for Christians and ministries needs to look like, they still fall short. And in some ways because they are close yet so far away, they are perhaps more dangerous because they make us think we are successful in the right way.

If you watch little kids playing soccer for the first time it looks more like a giant amoeba moving up and down the field chasing a ball than it looks like soccer. On one occasion the ball ended up in the net, more by accident than by any intent. It was the first goal scored. Parents on the sideline screamed and clapped and cheered. From the reaction it was obvious that the children playing the game were stunned. The coach saw recognition dawn on the faces of his players. Putting the ball in the net is what the game is all about. The coach had assumed that they understood that. The kids had missed that point. They saw success as running up and down the field, kicking the ball around. Although that is part of the game it is not the whole deal. Success is putting the ball in the net.

Going to Bible classes, having people come to church, meeting budget and all the other things we associate with ministry are certainly part of the deal. Having your children believe in and follow Jesus is certainly a part of what it means to be a successful parent. But they are not, “putting the ball in the net”. Those are more like the running up and down the field part of the game. Jesus gave us what success looks like. He said “going into all the world, make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you, an I will be with you to the end of the age” Matthew 28:19-20. Success is living a life that shows other people what it means to follow Jesus. It is an ongoing thing. He literally said, “as you go”, meaning that as you go through life, live out the truth in radical ways so others follow too.

This is not a new concept with Jesus. In Deuteronomy 6 it says that we are to speak of the truth of God, as we walk along the road, as we rise up and lay down, as we eat, we are to tell it to our children in all these cases and even as we enter and exit our homes. In other words, you pass on the faith to your kids by being a living demonstration of what it means to follow God.

All of that is well as good and certainly many would say that they are doing just that. Many churches would say that they have programs that are accomplishing all this through evangelism and discipleship. But this is often just more, “kicking the ball up and down the field”. There is one more passage that we need to focus on that ultimately defines success for the Christian. In 2 Timothy 2:2 Paul says this to Timothy; “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others”. It was at a conference in India that I was confronted with the power of this verse like never before. As I spoke with Christians who were having incredible impact among Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists I heard this verse over and over again. What they said was that you are not successful unless your ministry goes to the fourth generation. You are the first, those you train are second, then there are those who they pass it on to who in turn pass it on to others.

Far too much of what we do as Christians is a “one-off” dead-end. Preachers give the message to a congregation and we think we have scored. Parents see their children confess faith in Christ and they shout, “GOAL”. The real test of success is not that my kids all have faith in Jesus. The real test is have a demonstrated a faith that they then pass on to others who pass on to others? The test is not did the message impact the congregation and inspire them. The test is, are they taking it to others who are passing it on to others?

The kind of four generation success that real discipleship produces requires investing your life in people everyday. It is as you are going. It is not a program. It is a passion. It pours out of you and into others and it overflows from them to the next generation and beyond. Christians in India are reaching hundreds of thousands of the most resistant people on the planet. They are doing it to the fourth generation because they have marked that as real success.

A few days ago I had breakfast with Frank Viola. No he is not the Cy Young winning pitcher who played for the Minnesota Twins, although that would be a great breakfast also. This Frank Viola is the author of “Pagan Christianity”, a book that calls the church to consider the ways in which we have gotten off mission by adopting structures and values from outside the Bible. To say the least the book is controversial and challenging. For example the quote, “The traditional church has neither the biblical nor historical right to exist as it does”, is bound to stir up some serious response. Unfortunately what people focus on is the structural issues related to church that Frank talks about. He is a huge proponent of churches meeting in homes. So you can understand why some people get a bit touchy.

What people need to focus on, and what I had the privilege of exploring at breakfast, is the heart Frank has for followers of Jesus living in community with one another and doing so in a way that brings glory to Jesus. Far too many churches function as large groups of passive people watching a small group of people do all the ministry. They are often filled with people who have not had the blessing of being grabbed by the awesome power of living in real community with Christ and His people. They are people who have not been confronted with the amazing miracle of being used by God to lead another person to faith in Jesus. Far too often our churches are filled with people who have had a very limited and a very diluted experience of Jesus and the power of being fully devoted to Him.

As a result of our diluted and passive Christian experience most people never have an impact on the world around them. Most Christian lives are just not provocative. We don’t provoke questions from others. Part of the motivation behind Provocative Christian is that our lives are too much like those of people who are not following Jesus. As a result nobody sees any difference in our lives as Christians, at least not a difference that they want in their lives. Frank wants to help Christians live in such a strong biblical community that our lives will be different and those lives will draw people to Jesus. I couldn’t agree with Frank more.

One of the best parts of our discussion was on how much of American Christianity is focused on the individual follower. It focuses on how to be a better Christian who does all the right things. What gets left out is that we can never be the kind of followers Jesus wants us to be if we are not in community with other Christians. It is impossible to become more like Jesus if you are not living out your faith in community with others. A basic theological reason for that is our understanding of God as trinity. The Father, Son, and Spirit exist as one God yet in the marvelous relationship that we call the Trinity. If God is such a relationship of unity and we are created in His image, then in some way we must demonstrate godly relationships.

On a more concrete level, any reading of the Book of Acts shows how incredible that first century community was. They loved, served, cared, challenged and died for one another. If anyone was in need then they met that need. If anyone was sick, the visited and prayed for them. If anyone was straying from the faith they went to them in love and urged them back. Living in such community made it possible for them to grow in Christ like character. It also caused the world to take notice of the difference in those followers of Jesus. Some people were in repulsed by those differences. People always will hate some aspect of the Christian life. But many were attracted by it. It was a compelling witness to how life could be different and so they asked why these Christians lived as they did, why they loved one another so deeply. Eventually the world was turned on it’s collective ear because of that community of believers.

Frank Viola is coming at this from the direction of the House Church or Simple Church. I come at it from the direction of discipleship and the need for each follower to give it all for Jesus. Yet in a very real way we are both coming at it from the same starting point. That starting point is the questions “What needs to happen for Christians to live a life so united to Jesus that they change the world for His glory”. There are lots of details that Frank and I would think differently about or at least have a different perspective. But when the bottom line for both is bringing glory to Jesus through changed lives then we stand on a pretty solid piece of common ground.

We have been reminded of and celebrated the fact that Jesus conquered sin and death and rose from the grave. Churches around the world did their best to worship God and inspire people. Choirs burst forth in song, preachers gave their all, the faithful dressed in their best. And with that, Easter for this year is over. Now what? What will you do differently in light of all the assurance, hope, and inspiration you received on Easter?

We focus a great deal of understandable attention on the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus. But we should never stop there. As important as those two events are, there is a third that is connected to them that when left out or ignored, has a huge impact on our thinking, attitudes, and actions. That third event is what we call, the Ascension. Luke tells us about this all important event in Acts 1:9. We are told that Jesus spoke to the disciples, gave them their marching orders to take the Gospel into all the world, and then was raised up, ascended, into the clouds and out of sight. At that point an angel spoke to them and said that we would one day return in the clouds just like they saw him depart.

Okay, fine, what is so important about how Jesus was raised up into the clouds that it absolutely must be spoken of in the same breath as the Crucifixion and the Resurrection? Simply this; it is not how Jesus ascended that really matters but where he ascended to that is all important. In the Apostles Creed we state that Jesus is “seated at the right hand of the Father”. We get that idea from numerous places in God’s Word. Perhaps the most complete and compelling of those passages is found in the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

18I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. Ephesians 1:18-23

The theological capstone on the Crucifixion and Resurrection was that Jesus was raised to glory in order to take His place at the right hand of the Father. The imagery of being at the right hand is that Jesus is now reigning over creation as Lord and Christ. He has gone from being the despised, suffering servant, to being the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the one to whom every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth. He has been vindicated and is now ruling over his kingdom.

For us that means we can go through life with a confidence that is beyond measure. We can go forth into the world carrying out the mission of taking the Gospel with us and have no fear. We need not fear because Jesus has conquered sin and death. We need not fear because Jesus is enthroned in glory. We need not fear because he has sent the promised Holy Spirit to lead us and strengthen us and comfort us in all things.

We can also live in a constant sense of wonder. Easter is a day that reminds us of that wonder. It is a wonder that the tomb was empty and Jesus appeared alive to the disciples. From the empty tomb, to the angels, to the grave clothes lying inside, to Jesus appearing to Mary, then to the disciples, then to Thomas who doubted, every detail is a wonder to behold. We rightly feel that sense of wonder and joy on Easter. But we can and should feel and walk in that sense of wonder everyday. Everyday is a celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus. Everyday can and should be an acknowledgement that our King is ruling over all the universe. Such knowledge should take our breath away. It should constantly impact our decisions and actions. A picture of Jesus on the throne as King should cause us to live each moment as an opportunity to love and worship him like never before.

He is risen. He is Risen indeed! He is risen not only yesterday, but everyday and is ascended on high and rules and reigns over all creation! Live like it.

What do you do the day after the person you have surrendered everything for, followed night and day for three years, were convinced would be the liberator and savior of your nation, is brutally executed like a common criminal? Between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, there was Saturday. We are told next to nothing about what happened that day and what went through the minds of the disciples of Jesus.

We know that when Jesus was arrested, most of the disciples scattered in fear. John the youngest, followed after the crowd as they took Jesus away and he was able to get into the court yard where Jesus had been taken. Because he knew someone in the High Priests house, he was also able to get Peter inside, just in time for Peter to deny even knowing Jesus. By the time Jesus is nailed to the cross later that day Peter is hiding in shame. Only John along with a group of women, including Jesus mother Mary, are there to watch Jesus die.

Somehow the disciples manage to gather together for the next forty hours. We know that they are together because on Sunday morning the women who found the tomb empty, rush to the place were the Apostles were gathered to give them the news. Peter and John run to the tomb and from that point on the whole mood changes. But until then, during that seemingly endless forty hours, it had to have been the longest, loneliest, and most frightening time of their lives. They were certain that the religious officials would come for them next. After all, didn’t Jesus tell them that if they persecuted Him, the Master, how much more would they do to them, the followers.

As they huddled behind the locked door of the upper room the memories of the meal just hours before would have been fresh in their minds. They would have been running through their minds the memories of Jesus words around the table, looking for some clue as to what had happened and why. Accusations would have flown as to who was to blame. Anger at Judas Iscariot would have been at a fever pitch. Off in the corner, Peter would have been silent for maybe the first time in all the years they had known one another. From time to time, moans and sobbing from a man racked by guilt would be heard coming from his direction. The bewilderment of having lost Jesus, Judas being a betrayer, and Peter the second in command in an emotional puddle on the floor would have been nearly impossible to deal with. Every bit of security and familiarity that they might cling to had been rocked and crumbled.

I wonder how many of them thought, “I should have never left my fishing boat”. Were some of them even now trying to find a way to slip back home unnoticed and try to take up their anonymous life hoping that no one remembered them being with Jesus? Were they in such shock that such plans and ideas were still beyond their capability? Were they paralyzed by the possibility of finding themselves on a cross at any moment? Were they like the proverbial deer caught in the onrushing headlights just before being crushed to death?

For us, that Saturday before Easter and the celebration of the Resurrection is almost a spiritual pause. It is a day of anticipation of celebrating the victory over death that Jesus achieved and has promised for all who love and follow Him. It is a day of looking forward with expectant hope. For that first band of followers, it was a day of dread. They had no grasp of the promises of new life that Jesus had given them. His statements of being raised after three days made no sense to them prior to Easter morning. This day for them was a day of fear, hiding, shame, bewilderment, and recrimination. It was a day when each one looked deep inside himself and felt very alone, in spite of being in a room crammed full of other people who were in exactly the same emotional and spiritual state.

After the reality of the Resurrection sunk in, they were a completely different group. Their boldness in the face of opposition became legendary. Their willingness to sacrifice for Jesus and one another is a model for all who would come after them. Their joy even in the face of hardship would become something at which we marvel. It seems to me that in many ways we are the complete opposite of that hardy little band. On the day before Easter we are relaxed and anticipating the Resurrection. They were in hiding, fearful and uncertain. On most of the days following Easter, we can quickly become Christians in hiding, not letting our faith shine before others. We become afraid of what we will loose if we to openly follow Jesus. We live with doubts and uncertainty about the truth of who Jesus is and our own future resurrection. On the days following Easter, they lived and loved boldly. They had no fear. They refused to hide. They were as certain of their own future resurrection as they were of that of Jesus whom they had seen and spoken to and eaten with.

It is odd that it works that way. One would think that living in the light of the Resurrection, living Post-Easter, we would be much more like those early followers were on Easter Monday, Post-Easter. Instead we are often more like they were the day before that first Easter morning.