Christian Complacency Thrives in Multiple Locations

Shockingly, Mark Driscoll is back on the evangelical news radar. While this is no surprise to anyone, it is getting tiresome. Evangelicals devote far too much time to “All Things Mark Driscoll”.

In fact, I’m thinking of buying that as a domain name right now, so that I can sell it later as a retirement investment.

The latest comes in an article from Matthew Paul Turner concerning Driscoll’s covert activity on message boards some years ago. Let me warn you: The language and the descriptions in Driscoll’s posts are not for the faint of hear or the easily offended.

Let me also point out that this was 14 years ago, when Driscoll was an up-and-coming pastor without formal training. As I’ve argued, there are dangers in skipping the preparation to be a pastor. I certainly didn’t learn everything in seminary, but I learned enough to recognize unethical, deceptive and narcissistic behavior. Thus ends the digression…

Following Turner’s work, Rachel Held Evans jumped into the fray on the subject, followed by a challenging article from Jonathan Merritt  and a thought provoking Twitter back-and-forth on the subject of forgiveness. Round and round we go.

It all finally came to a head this week, with Acts 29 Ministries removing Driscoll and his church, Mars Hill, from their organization.

Much of the discussion around Driscoll centers on his immaturity, misogyny, homophobia and “bullying”. I completely disagree with much of Pastor Driscoll’s approach to ministry, as well as the reasoning and theology behind it. But questions about his attitude and theology are the wrong questions.

Instead, we need to be asking:  What enables a person like Mark Driscoll, or any other pastor, to color outside the lines of Christian ethics?

The deeper problem behind Mark Driscoll is not his attitude towards women, “Biblical” manhood, homosexuality or Christian theology. The deeper problem is a lack of accountability. Driscoll can say and do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and he really doesn’t have to answer to anyone–even the members of his church.

And that’s scary.

All the hand-wringing over Driscoll’s misogyny/homophobia/bullying often misses the deeper issue at work here. It is the attitude of complacency that allows him to have the kind of power that he does.

As long as a ministry is large, popular, and numerically successful, people are willing to be a part of it. Believers are choosing a path of complacency, where they don’t have to deal with the dirty work that sometimes is the reality of church. They choose to speak only to vehemently defend the church against anyone who brings a criticism, no matter how valid that criticism might be. As long as everything looks good and gets lots of attention (even negative attention), then it must be “God’s church” and we simply need to go along with it.

It’s much the same attitude and approach championed by fans of the televangelists in the 80s, until they had no choice but to wake up and see the monsters that a lack of accountability can create.

And that’s even scarier.

Perhaps Driscoll and other mega-church pastors push the lines of ethics, but the Christian members are enabling them to do it. The defense of Look how many people they have or look how much good they do will falter unless the membership decides to acknowledge the full scope of the reality of these ministries.

No one is saying that mega-churches and mega-pastors don’t do Godly work. But the end does not justify the means. And it doesn’t alleviate the membership from asking questions or knowing the truth behind what is happening in their church.

No one within these churches seems willing to ask why a church requires a “gag order” for staff members that leave.

Or why pastors ask for more offerings while purchasing a 16,000 square foot home.

Or why a board of non-church members set the salaries without the church’s knowledge.

Or why those offerings are used to buy the pastor’s way onto the New York Times Best-seller list (and that has happened in multiple locations).

Before I begin getting comments and private messages about how much good mega-churches do, or how judgmental I am, or how I just don’t understand large churches, let me offer another perspective.

Pastors and members of smaller churches (and that includes me) may be tempted to point self-righteously at these ministries and say, “I told you so!” But that attitude is disingenuous, because the same attitude of complacency and just “going along” exists in the small church just as it does in the mega-church.

The two sides might look very different, but they’re both on the same coin. One side may prefer easy listening to the rock concert atmosphere of the mega-church, but it still entices them to choose a Christianity of convenience.

Comfort and complacency may cause people to join a church where they can enjoy the show without having to ask any questions. Many people in smaller churches shun the show in favor of the status quo. It prevents them from making changes or moving forward beyond their traditions.

And our churches are dying because of it.

The members have decided that they are more interested in preserving what they have than they are in actually taking a chance to live for Christ. We have selected a Christianity on life support, because we don’t want to make anyone mad and we don’t want to hurt feelings. And we certainly don’t want Mr. or Mrs. So-and-So to get so mad that they stop giving their money.

I will be the first to admit that I can’t stand it when people are mad at me. However, I am painfully aware that we are living in an age when making people happy or playing on their emotions/desires is not going to cut it.

We cannot survive on entertaining music and attention-getting sermon titles. Nor can we live in the ease of our comfortable, little church family that makes us feel “at home”.  Usually when I feel at home, I want to put my feet up and crash in front of the television…and that’s a far cry from the discipleship to which Jesus calls us.

At some point, we have to dig for a Christian faith beyond the inch-deep version that is making us far too comfortable where we are. We cannot be satisfied with entertainment. We cannot be content with the status quo.

Jesus is calling us to a discipleship that is heart-piercing and accountable to Him, as well as the believers around us. If we don’t answer that call and find the will to ask the hard questions (of our leaders and ourselves), we will continue to watch our churches dwindle and die. And we’ll continue to see “pastors” such as Mark Driscoll run roughshod over the Body of Christ.

And neither will take us one step closer to the Kingdom of God, or the Christian maturity that is so desperately needed in our postmodern world.

Whereas Real Love Happens in the Middle of the Storms

Last weekend, I had the privilege of a fun evening with a family in our church, where we took advantage of their new Karaoke Channel on Uverse. Unfortunately, my “privilege” was everyone else’s pain. I definitely have a chorus voice

My old friend and I turned back to a song from that oh-so-classic 80s group, New Edition (feel free to pause your reading for a laugh). Yes, we selected the timeless classic, “Can You Stand the Rain?” Please forgive the excessive 80s references here and take note of these lyrics:

Sunny days,

Everybody loves them,

But tell me baby,

Can you stand the rain?

Okay, so it’s a cheesy 80s pop/r&b song. And it’s a lot more Bobby Brown than U2 (if you don’t know who Bobby Brown is, then you may be too young to read blogs. And if you don’t know U2, get to Google ASAP). In spite of my inability to find a musical point of reference beyond 1989, those lyrics struck a strange theological chord in me.

Churches thrive on telling people what a loving group of people they are. Quite often, this might be true…IF things are going well. What happens when the storms come and it’s pouring down rain? How much do we love one another when the challenges of being a 21st Century church are pouring onto our hearts and minds?

Is our love strong enough to move us when we are called to love others as we love ourselves?

If you walk into most churches on a Sunday, you will encounter people who love one another. Oh, they may not love YOU right away (at least not until you fill out a visitor card), but they will exchange conversation and prayers and hugs and Christian concern. Our family attends a church where an outpouring of love is obvious.

But how much do we love others when we get down to the hard work of making decisions and discerning what the Lord wants us to do, and the very hard work of being Christian?

It’s very easy to talk the language of faith, love, unity and diversity. What happens when we are called to put those values into practice tells the truth about who we are and how real our love is, both for Christ and one another.

Faithfulness is simple when it only demands a couple of hours of our Sunday. As long as we don’t change the music too much and the preacher keeps us ahead of the Methodists at the buffet, we can keep that loving, caring atmosphere. We can love everybody, as long as most everybody looks like we do.

What happens when He says, “Pick up your cross and follow me?” Or give up our earthly wealth? Or wash the feet of others? And yes, Jesus commands all of that in the Bible, so take it up with him if it’s a problem.

FAITHFUL OBEDIENCE is a calling that pierces our heart. Can we–WILL we–continue to love even as we are called to be and do more in Christ?

Here’s the thing: Christians all over this country are facing crucial decisions about the future of the church. We are learning that Christianity is dirty and messy and difficult. The future of church demands the hard work of discipleship.

We are called to decide if we’re willing to put in the hard work of being disciples. And the only guaranteed “Return on Investment” is that things are going to look very different from the church we once knew.

We are now dealing with the fact that we cannot sustain our big, beautiful church buildings, much less utilize them to further the Kingdom of God. We can’t drive from our safe, suburban sanctuaries down to the inner city to get a dose of diversity, or wait until our summer mission trip to encounter people of color or the struggle of poverty.

Diversity is now sitting on our doorstep, and joining us in the pews. We are being called to engage with people who are not like us, and loving them just as we love one another in Christ.

We can choose to close our hearts and close our doors, protecting our particular brand of love just for those that we select. Or we can realize that Christianity was never supposed to be easy or white or managed or controlled. We can let Christ lead us to love even when the path He shows us is littered with challenges.

Please do not take this as some arrogant, self-righteous rant. There are days when I am chomping at the bit to race towards this new kind of Christianity. Then there are days when I encounter people and problems that make me say, “Really? This again?” I have plenty of times when I long to simply preach and teach and visit and love on people without the challenge of letting Christ radically change my heart.

 But those days are gone. The true test of our love for one another is our willingness to seek the way of the Lord and the leadership of the Spirit beyond ourselves. ANY church that will do this has a chance to continue a legacy of faithful ministry. If we close our doors and our hearts, the Holy Spirit will move past us.

There is one singular hope for the church in the midst of this identity crisis. You know what it is before I even say it, and it may even come across as a corny cliché. But the unity of spirit is only possible with a singular focus on the Living Christ.

We are being called to decide if we love the Lord enough to love one another as we are called to abandon our personal comfort zone of what church is supposed to be. And we must ask ourselves: If we can only love when there is no challenge, is it really Christ’s love that brought us together in the first place?

The true test of our faith is the ability to keep our heart focused and unified in Christ even when the waters are the roughest. Or, in the cheesy words of New Edition: Can we stand the rain?

Whereas an Educated Pastor Is not a “Dangerous” Thing

It has become the new fad in various Christian circles to declare that seminary/divinity school is a waste of time. I even follow a guy on Twitter who runs a podcast and blog called Seminary Dropout (@beardonbike). It’s definitively not an anti-seminary website, but it’s also no accident that it’s a catchy title and hash tag in this era of Christianity.

Then there are articles like this one, that tell us it’s “dangerous” to require a pastor to have a seminary education (or experience, or a certain marital status).

Let us leave the last two alone for now, and focus a little on the first requirement.

Why is it suddenly a bad thing to expect someone to be educated to do their job?

Okay, I confess: I WENT TO SEMINARY! And I confess again:  I LOVED it, thought it was great, and had a terrific experience. I still talk to friends from my class and professors from good old Pittsburgh Theological.

(Before anyone else can say it: Yes, it’s a Presbyterian (USA) seminary, and some would call it liberal and I really don’t care what you think. They gave me a full ride).

The growing anti-seminary, anti-education trend in Christian circles is an extremely troubling one. Perhaps it is my own sense of bias, or a great desire to justify three years of my life that I cannot get back. Or, perhaps I think that there is nothing wrong with a pastor/minister preparing for his/her vocation.

By the same token, perhaps others feel the need to justify their choice NOT to attend seminary; or perhaps they want people to be drawn to their particular brand of Christian higher education.

Whatever the logic of either side of the argument, there is no need to insult anyone for their position on this issue.

I certainly would not say that it’s “dangerous” for a church, that knows their circumstances and environment, to establish requirements for being pastor. Shouldn’t this decision be left to individual congregations? Doesn’t the church and/or its advisors understand their reasoning better than someone reading the classifieds?

No, seminary is not required for someone to do ministry (I have several friends in ministry that never attended). But there is certainly nothing empirically “dangerous” about a church asking their pastor to be well-educated.

The problem begins with a fundamental misunderstanding of what seminary is supposed to do. People seem to think that ministers should come out of seminary knowing how to be a pastor. In fact, some pastors come out of seminary thinking that they know how to be a pastor! What they need to think is, “Hey, now I’m ready to learn how to be a pastor!”

When people discover this little caveat, they sometimes take it to the next…um…”logical” step. The argument often goes something like this: “You can’t learn to be a pastor by going to school, so seminary is useless!”

And that is 100% legitimate. Education, for the most part, isn’t intended to make you good at something the minute you graduate. It is intended to prepare you to begin a journey of getting good at something.

I don’t think that going to medical school makes you a brain surgeon, but I’m not going to let someone cut open my skull unless they have a medical degree. You don’t need a degree to work in auto repair. But before I put my money down for you to work on my car, I want some assurance that you have some kind of training in your craft.

You absolutely cannot learn to be a minister in school, but you can learn a lot that will help you to become a better minister. The knowledge base, discipline, and relationships that you amass in seminary are certainly not bad things and can prove to be valuable tools.

Jesus DID spend 30 years of life preparing for a 3-year, whirlwind ministry, and He spent much of those three years teaching and training 12 guys to take the ball and run with it after His departure.

There is no doubt that seminary–like the church–needs a massive overhaul, and some of that is already happening. Even traditional seminaries and divinity schools are looking for creative ways to “fast-track” individuals who are called to ministry. I am all in favor of anything that reduces the amount of student loan debt for people in this country, particularly for pastors.

Changing the system does not mean eliminating it altogether, and it certainly doesn’t mean insulting those who choose to value the discipline. Christian higher education certainly needs to modernize, adapt, and lower the cost of the process; but they need to do so without devaluing the process.

Seminary trains you to be a minister much in the same way church trains you to be a Christian. It provides you the teaching, tools, knowledge and support to do what you need to do; but, the only way to ultimately learn is to go out and put it into practice.

But, in doing so, I hope that I don’t demand that my impression of the requirements for ministry are the only requirements that matter. There are plenty of opportunities to serve without a divinity degree, and that service is equally valuable to the Kingdom of God.

At the same time, I fear that we are coming to a place where we belittle those who want to further their education as well as those who expect their minister to do so. And we have no right to do either.

While it is essential to recognize that all are called, in various ways, to serve the Lord, criticism of a church for having certain expectations borders on being divisive and judgmental. Perhaps those who do not value seminary education can trust that God may still work through churches that do, and vice versa.

While I certainly fall on the “pro-seminary” side of this, I hope that I do not diminish those who feel the opposite way.

Expectations for ministers may vary from church to church, or ministry to ministry. Calling out others because their expectations are different is much more dangerous than the expectations themselves.

 

What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

Ah, yes, one of the great joys of summer is the time-honored tradition of the family vacation. It’s tolerable-to-good when it’s your immediate family, but adding the extended family creates an entirely new element.

Imagine our hesitation when we found out that this year’s family vacation would include a family that is only our family in a technical sense.

My father-in-law, Bob, remarried two years ago to a lovely lady named Marie. This was difficult, although not unexpected, after we recently lost Tracy’s mom to cancer at a young age. We were not opposed to this in the least , but the change felt very raw to us.

This had absolutely nothing to do with Marie and her family, and everything to do with the struggle of adapting to the loss of someone that was a part of just about everything in our lives, even from a distance. “Honey” (as our children call her) still remains vital and fresh in our memory.

This year, Bob and Marie decided that it would be great for all of Bob’s side to get together with all of Marie’s side for a beach vacation.

Gulp.

“Skeptical” would be an understatement for my initial thoughts on this event. Who are these people? Other than the fact that our parents got married late in life, did we have anything in common? Would there be official referees to monitor all activity and interaction as 26 people live together in one big house, for an entire week?

Okay, we’re all adults here, right? Can we act like it for an entire week? Better yet, could I act like one for that long?

Marie has four children, with spouses and grandchildren to boot, which put us in the minority. All of us tend to be nervous when we’re outnumbered, even by people who are nice.

This had all the makings of a fiasco…except, it wasn’t. In fact, it was quite the opposite. It turned out to be one of the most enjoyable vacations we’ve had in a while. No, it wasn’t restful with 26 people in one house, but it was enjoyable.

We started to reflect on why the week was such an overwhelming success. The primary answer was pretty simple: Marie’s family showed up determined to make it a success. Oh, I doubt that they talked about it in those terms, but they reflected it in their attitude.

In fact, they taught us a few lessons, several of which would benefit most Christians and churches. They didn’t talk much about politics. They didn’t talk about religion. They didn’t discuss Hobby Lobby or Super PACs or President Obama or the Koch brothers. It became pretty clear that they understood something we could all stand to learn: Our time together is too valuable to spend it arguing about things that we cannot change!

But it was beyond that. They just approached everything with an attitude of helpfulness and cooperation that might be considered extraordinary. As a matter of fact, they might have been a little too helpful at times. We felt like we didn’t do quite enough to help with meals, clean-up, hauling stuff to the beach, etc.

We also noticed that they spent more time listening than talking! (What a novel concept!). They asked us about our jobs, lives, hobbies and habits. And they actually listened to our answers, instead of thinking about what they would say next. We might be stunned at how people changed their perspective on Christ, if Christians would take that same approach.

Granted, we went into this looking to make the best of it. But the approach of our new relatives certainly made it much easier to have a positive attitude. Isn’t it amazing how situations can change, simply based on our attitude going into them?

There is significant talk around our church—and many churches—about the fear of the unknown future. We are afraid of being outnumbered. We look at new situations with dread and apprehension. We are terrified of losing our habits and traditions if we submit to the changes that God is calling us to make.

But how good would these changes be if we went into them with the right attitude? We might quickly realize that we have no reason to fear. We might find that we have friends and family in unexpected places, if only we would make a conscious decision to welcome others into our hearts and lives.

Jesus warns us, all over the Gospels, to go into our relationships with an attitude of true hospitality. He tells us that how we welcome one another is a statement about our true character (Luke 7:36-50), and He rebukes those who refuse hospitality to others (Mark 10:13-16).

Resistance to change almost always involves a fear of loss. We dread the idea of trying something new because we fear that we will lose the control that we have when things stay the same.

But we didn’t lose any more of our “Honey” on this trip. Our memories with her—and sadly, that is what we have left—are as solid and secure as ever. Those memories were honored by welcoming new people into our lives.

And it is critical to keep in mind that we dishonor the Christ that we claim when we refuse to embrace people for any reason, particularly others that bear His name as well.

It’s all about attitude. If we go into new adventures and relationships with a mindset to make it work, we give the Holy Spirit a chance to introduce us to some new and wonderful things. If we close our hearts and minds before we even get started, then we shut off the work of the Spirit before it even begins.

So thank you to Marie’s family, for your willingness to embrace the new and the heart to make sure it went well. Thank you for valuing relationships and other people above yourselves.

But most of all, thanks for giving me some great sermon material for the rest of the summer.

You Learn a lot at a Garage Sale

Anyone who has ever moved at any point in their life knows the truth. And the truth is this:  If one had to choose between moving and being dragged behind a tractor on a gravel road, naked, through a hail storm, then one would have to think long and hard before making a decision. I’d be tempted to try a root canal without novocaine rather than move.

Yet, here I sit, just a couple of weeks removed from the experience of moving. Again. My wife and I have been married for almost 24 years, and we’ve moved nine times. (Yes, nine times!). To some, we’re a couple of lightweights, but averaging a move every three years is still no picnic.

This time, however, was different. We moved from a 2000+ square foot house to a 940 sq. ft. apartment, and we haven’t lived in an apartment since 1991. Yeah, you could call it a life change, one that involved the Garage Sale of the Century last month.

Not only have we lived in houses for most of our married life, but our homes have grown progressively larger over the years. We’ve always had plenty of living space AND the ever-elusive and all-important storage space. In fact, we’ve had storage space to spare. And what do us humans do when we have extra space?

We fill it.

So our house was packed to the ceiling with stuff, much of which had not seen the light of day since our last move in 2007. This time, we had no extra space, so a lot of this stuff had to go. (Okay, we DID get a 10×10 storage unit, but still…)

What I learned at that garage sale was a lesson that I wish I had learned a long time ago. Most of the “stuff” that I’ve accumulated is not stuff that I need. Not by a long shot. In fact, we don’t even need a lot of the stuff that we kept. As we looked around for houses prior to giving in to the apartment life for a while (perhaps a looooong while), we talked about the stuff we once thought that we “had” to have. We HAD to have a two-car, enclosed garage. We HAD to have three bedrooms, minimum. We HAD to have plenty of attic storage. We HAD to have a bonus room.

But did we?

Somewhere along the way, during the sale preparations, I realized that I probably did not need six pennants from the Steelers win in Super Bowl XL. One might be enough. Perhaps we didn’t need the three extra book cases or the box of metal shelves that we never opened. And we can probably even live without the 17 plug-in Christmas window candles that were in the attic, which allowed us to choose between a variety of options every Holiday season.

Now, do I WANT all that stuff? Absolutely! This is not some self-righteous minimalist diatribe where I’m bragging about all the stuff that I “gave up” to move out of our house. It’s the exact opposite. This is a full-blown confession that I am an absolutely worldly, materialistic person that is a bit furious at having to give up his Man Cave in which to watch football and display his sports memorabilia. In fact, I’m a little ticked off right now that I can’t find my autographed picture of Mike Ditka.

But this is the point of change, of allowing our heart and soul to be challenged by the things that we would rather not do. This is how we are sharpened to realize that our needs are always significantly less than our wants.

During the yard sale, a grandmother was scouring our junk for toys to keep at her house for the grandchildren. She found the toy to end all toys:  The Mighty Mo. This force beyond nature was unstoppable big yellow dump truck that hauled everything from army men going into battle to equipment for my sister’s Barbie house. Hey, the chicks dig the Mighty Mo.

 

UnknownIt was truly the irresistible force for moving a Barbie bed…or a platoon of Army men.

As I showed the couple that the truck still worked, I got pretty nostalgic. I wasn’t sure I wanted to give it up. After all, you could still wind this thing up and let it run over obstacles in the living room, right?

While I had no real desire to let go of this piece of my childhood, somewhere deep down I realized how silly this was. It’s never a bad thing to have memories, but we cannot hang on endlessly to the things that provide those memories. What possible good could the Mighty Mo do stashed in a storage unit? Are the memories gone just because I don’t have the physical presence of a piece of molded plastic?

This is the point where the theological reflection kicked in for me. How do we learn to give up our wants in order to better meet our needs?

The truth is that we often make a choice to put ourselves under certain burdens in order to hang on to more stuff. We don’t care for the challenge that comes with moving on to something new and away from the things that once had meaning, even great meaning, for us. We assume that most things in life are a “must”, when they may not meet even the most broad definition of a need.

Most of the world survives, or even thrives, with far less than 940 sq. ft. of living space. In some cultures, the idea of personal space is a foreign concept. Many of these cultures don’t have reliable running water or electricity, much less unknown concepts like central heat and air.

Certainly, my sacrifices are minor compared to what others must endure, and probably shouldn’t even be characterized as a “sacrifice” at all. What I call a loss might actually be a luxury to major chunks of humanity.

I don’t begrudge anyone who has material possessions, because I often wish that I was that person. Perhaps others manage their “stuff” much better than I did, so it’s not a spiritual drag on their lives. My hope is to find the discipline, somewhere in relationship to Christ, to be more than satisfied with what I have, because it’s more than enough. The most meaningful part of the journey is to be with my family, the people of my church, friends, colleagues, and those that God has placed in my life for any number of unknown reasons. And we believe that cutting down on the clutter is helping us do that.

As the church, we often struggle with this Needs vs. Wants issue. Do we need that bulletin, that costs $10,000 a year to print? Do we need our own personalized Sunday School rooms? Do we need that pew that we like to call “ours”? (And if you don’t think that still exists, just sit in someone’s favorite spot one Sunday).

The church, as the Body of Christ, as little to do with personal space or preferred seating or our desired, familiar way of doing things. It is all about recognizing that the people of God are the church of God, and therefore need to be less beholden to “stuff”. We need to be moved by the Spirit of God. We certainly don’t need any extra baggage to weigh us down…we are more than a big enough load by ourselves!

When God challenges us to trim down aspects of our lives, it is uncomfortable to the point of being painful. But we all have to endure that, in some aspect of life, if we ever hope to be healthy in our relationship to the Living Christ. If we will allow ourselves to go through this, we are certain to come out better, stronger and more prepared to spiritually grow (John 15). If we are willing, then our gain will be so much greater than anything we might have lost.

Why Thursday Matters

Yesterday was the Thursday before Easter, and most of the Christian world has some idea what that means. It’s known as Maundy Thursday, from a word originally designating the washing of the feet of the poor on this day, in the spirit of Jesus’ washing the feet of His disciples in John’s Gospel.

Christians know it as the night that Jesus took His last bite of bread with his disciples. It’s the night where Judas sold out everything he had to put Jesus into the hands of those strangest of bedfellows, the Romans and the Jewish Religious leaders.

It’s the night where Peter grabbed a sword to fight for his Lord, just minutes before he denied that he even knew Him. It’s the night where the disciples slept, even as Jesus prayed so hard for some other choice that drops of sweat and blood overwhelmed Him.

All these things are critical events leading to the Cross of Friday, and then finally empty tomb of Sunday. But we miss something essential to Thursday, something that happened well before nightfall.

From the time Jesus entered the gates of Jerusalem to the cheering crowds, He found new ways to make people stop cheering. This opening day parade quickly turned into a series of confrontations and entrapments and riddles that sent the temple leaders and others into a tirade.

Thursday matters because it was the last straw for these people, the point at which they decided to stop listening and start silencing the witness. Thursday matters because people who were supposed to know God decided that they no longer wanted to listen.

The truth hurts. Somewhere around Thursday, the truth became to frightening to the crowds that once listened to Jesus, and infuriating to the Pharisees, Saducees, etc.

It didn’t frighten the Romans, other than their general distaste for anything reeking of disorder. It frighten the “church” of that time, the preachers and boards and power brokers in Jerusalem who had no intention of letting go of the devil they knew for the Jesus they didn’t understand.

Let’s be clear on this. It wasn’t the pagans or those who followed the cult of the emperor who led this charge. It wasn’t the philosophers or politicians. It wasn’t the atheists or the agnostics. It was the people who were supposed to know better, the ones who were supposed to recognize and celebrate Jesus.

By the time darkness fell on Jerusalem for the Passover, the decision was made and the wheels were in motion. Forces mounted throughout the week against Jesus, and He certainly wasn’t helping matters because of His willingness to speak up. He promoted a way of following God that didn’t involve power, or hate, or pages of religious regulations. He advocated a path of suffering with our neighbor, of loving our enemies, of enduring what the world throws at us with a smile on our face and love in our hearts.

And all of those forces were those that considered themselves “religious”.

When we talk about standing up for Jesus, fighting the forces that are pushing against the Gospel, we often think about outside forces. But perhaps we need to take a closer look at Thursday. We may THINK we are standing up for Jesus, but we may well be standing for our religious traditions and social norms rather than standing for Christ.

Thursday is crucial because it forces us to make a decision. Will we follow the crowd that considers itself righteous? Or will we follow the Christ who makes us right?

These people were the “Christians” of their day. These were Jesus’ people. They had listened to Him. They knew who He was, but they failed to know Him. And when someone stirred them up to protest and anger against this religious “outsider”, they fell into step with the crowds.

When we engage in our Holy Wars and “take a stand”, we like to believe that this is the way of Christ, the way of discipleship. But is it? Or do we really just follow the loudest of the religious people in the room, without really stopping to consider what Jesus wants us to do?

After the sun goes down, Peter makes an attempt to stand up for his Lord (before he denies Him). He picks up the sword and attacks, but Jesus tells Peter to put it down, leave it alone. It is the call for Peter to pick up his cross and follow Jesus.

It’s easy to rally people to a crusade, to an open fight where we can claim to be on the “right” side. It’s easier to engage in that fight, because we can put down our cross in order to pick up a sword. But maybe Jesus is calling on us to put down our swords and anger and self-righteous rage to pick up our Cross, and follow Him.

The conspiracy that forms against Jesus on Thursday leads to the way of the Cross. It is Jesus telling us to abandon the crowds that are stirred into a pseudo-religious fury and to stand up for Him…not by fighting, but by following.

We prove very little by our efforts to “stand up” for Jesus. He doesn’t call on us to follow the crowd in some “Christian” fit of anger and outrage. Jesus doesn’t need us to fight for Him. He needs us to stand with Him, and that requires a strength and power that only Christ can give.

Ask yourself:  Where would you be on Thursday? Would you be expressing your anger at this religious malcontent, who came to change things? Would you be Peter, looking for a sword?

Or would you be willing to stand WITH Jesus, rather than for Him? I suspect that we would risk standing with the conspirators and the grumblers and the haters more than we care to admit.

The choice we make on Thursday determines where we are on Friday, and ultimately on Sunday. We need to be a people seeking the empty tomb, rather than fighting those who tried to fill that tomb in the first place.