Easter: The Crux of the Matter


If you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll agree with me that Easter is no more about fluffy bunnies, plastic eggs, and chocolate than Christmas is about cute angels, decorated trees, and chocolate. This is our baseline.

And we have to remember that Easter is not about the disciples who abandoned Jesus, or the criminals crucified next to Him, or the women who came to the tomb -- just like Christmas is not about the shepherds, wise men, or even Joseph and Mary.

Easter is about Jesus. And not just Jesus in general, but about how He was resurrected from the dead.

What's the Big Deal?

Why am I making such as fuss about this? Maybe it's because we once went to a Good Friday service at a church where the focus was on the disciples. Jesus was never mentioned, not even one single time.

Maybe it's because of articles that I've read throughout the year (and especially this time of the year) that make a case that Jesus wasn't the Messiah, or never claimed to be God, or especially that He didn't rise from the dead.

Or maybe it's because of some of my most popular articles on my blog, which get lots of push-back from supposed intellectual atheists. For example:

Regardless, this is a great time for us to remember that all of Christianity is based on one fact -- the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ. Different than any other belief system, Christianity is based on a historical event. Eliminate the event of the Resurrection, and you've nullified Christianity.

Paul, who authored more books of the Bible than anyone else, says this in I Corinthians:
12 Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

Other Readings

For further reading on the topic of the resurrection of Christ, here is a list of other articles:

And here are some links to help you celebrate Easter with your children:

This Easter (and everyday), preach the truth and necessity of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Preach it in your family, in the church, and with your neighbors.

"Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching."  II Timothy 4:2
**image courtesy of Desiring God

The 7 E's of Being a Mentor Leader

If you read my other blog, you'll know that I've been going through Tony Dungy's book The Mentor Leader with two different groups of guys:
  1. Four teenage guys whom I've had the pleasure of coaching in football.
  2. Almost 20 incarcerated men who are leaders in the Character-based Housing Unit (CHU) program at Allendale Correctional Institute.
This is my 3rd time going through the book, and I learn more every time I read it. Also, it's a great book for a group study, since we can learn from the insight of others.

The focus of this book is that mentor leadership is about building into the lives of others, not about having an authoritative position. True mentor leaders add value to those around them, instead of looking for glory and recognition.

This time through, I've particularly enjoyed Chapter 8, "The Methods of a Mentor Leader: The Seven E's of Enhancing Potential." Dungy describes a progression of steps that will help others reach their potential.

Here are the seven steps, all beginning with the letter "E":
  1. Engage.  Before all else, you must be their friend first. They have to know that you care. Note that this step is about being at their level.
  2. Educate.  We all have something that we can teach and pass on to others. You must still start at their level.
  3. Equip.  You show them where they need to be, and help get them there. Again, you are still at their level.
  4. Encourage.  We must understand how to communicate effectively, and treat people like they are volunteers.
  5. Empower.  Finally, we are working to bringing them to a new level. This step means "appropriate" freedom, not completely releasing someone.
  6. Energize.  While empowering (#5) gets them going, this step is the sustaining. You have to keep giving them energy and motivation.
  7. Elevate.  The ultimate goal is to help someone get to a level above your own. You have to swallow your pride to make this happen, but it is what a mentor leader is called to do.

I like that Dungy explains that this is a progression. That is, we can't educate until we engage, we can't equip and empower unless we first educate, and so on. And it all comes down to having meaningful and trust-filled relationships (a key point in this talk on Leadership Values: Building Relational Capital).

So, that leaves us with this thought: Who are you (and who am I) building into? Who are we engaging for the ultimate goal of being a blessing to them?

Related Links:   

What's the Origin of the Passover Afikomen?


This year, the Jewish holiday of Passover begins on the evening of April 14. Since I'm the "token Jew" for many of my friends, I tend to get a lot of questions about holidays like this. And I'm happy to try to help.

Here's a question I got from a good friend of mine, who was a part of a leader training for a church-led Passover Seder, through Grace Church's Children's Ministry:
"I have a question about the afikomen -- the piece of matzah that's broken, wrapped up, and hidden. So, before Jesus, and in the regular Jewish passover, this has different meaning for us. Where did that come from, and what does it mean to non-Messianic Jews?"
She was referring to the part of the Passover Seder where one of the three pieces of matzah (unleavened bread) is broken, hidden away, and later found. In the Messianic Jewish perspective, the afikomen points to Jesus.

For non-Christian Jews, the afikomen is mostly used as a distraction for children, giving them a game of hide-and-seek when they finish their dinner. The finder gets a reward. (PS -- my Jewish grandfather used to always hide it under the pillow he was sitting on. ALWAYS.)

When Did the Afikomen Tradition Begin?

The funny thing about the Afikomen is that it probably wasn't in the original (before Christ) Seder. At the least, we don't see it in any Old Testament passages.

Afikomen is a GREEK word, not Hebrew. More than likely, it was brought in by Jewish Christians (who lived in a world that was predominately Greek-speaking), and the non-Christian Jews later adopted it.

I forget what most non-Christian (or, non-Messianic) Jews today say it means. Some say the three pieces of matzah represent Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Others say the Priests, Levites, and Israelites. Some say other things.

Afikomen means "that which comes after." But it's not just a dessert (unless you can find the honey and spice matzah -- that's good stuff!).

The three pieces of matzah represent the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The middle (the Son) is broken, as Jesus was on the cross. It is wrapped up and hidden, as Jesus was prepared for burial and place in a tomb. Later, it is rediscovered, just as God the Father raised Jesus from the dead.

Jesus is "that which comes after." He is the promised Messiah, and the early church added the afikomen to celebrate this truth.

Now for a Funny Story . . .

Years ago, we did a Passover Seder with some other families from our church. Besides helping to lead the Seder, I was in charge of getting the reward. I forgot to get something, and didn't realize it until we were at their house.

I had to run to the local convenience store to pick up ice, and thought about getting some candy for a reward for the child would would find the afikomen. But I had a better idea. I bought a lottery ticket.

The other co-leader was fine with this, but another guy's head was about to explode. Oh, well.

The child who found the afikomen was the son of a pastor at Grace Church. (Un)fortunately, the ticket was not a winner. I would have loved to see this boy interviewed by the news:
News Person"How did you get this ticket, young man?"
Boy:  "Well we were doing a Passover Seder with the church where my Dad is a pastor. And this Jewish guy who is a deacon at the church, he gave me this lottery ticket as a prize for finding the matzah, which is like Jesus' body."

People would have been so confused.

What about you? Does this explanation help? Or do you have any more questions? Let me know in the comments.


Related Links:

**First image: photo credit: Avital Pinnick via photopin cc
**Second image: photo credit: doncav via photopin cc 

Conversation with Paul Tripp and Elyse Fitzpatrick: Parenting and the Gospel

A great 20-minute video on how God's grace affects our family relationships. Will be well-worth your time to watch it, and keep coming back to it.


Here are my favorite snippets:
  • "When I as a parent look at the cross of Jesus Christ . . . I begin to understand what love is, but I'm brought to the end of myself, and that's a good thing." 
  • "You do not want to be the child of a parent who thinks he is a 'grace-graduate.' . . . The parent needs to be rescued from himself, from his own self-righteousness, from his own arrogance."
  • "If we live in the light of God's love for us even though we remain sinful, we shouldn't be shocked at our children's sin."
  • "All of parenting is a gracious rescue."
  • "I have no ability whatsoever -- zip, nada -- to change my child. None. No matter how elaborate my punishments are, no matter how steel-tight my arguments are, no matter how big my threats are. I do not have that ability. I am not the fourth member of the Trinity. . . . A parent must embrace his or her inability, in order to find the liberation of being an instrument in the hands of God."
  • "So much of what goes on in 'Christian' parenting is this covenant of works, which is basically, 'Good parenting in, good kids out.' . . . [Our children] become smarter sinners, until they're old enough to blow it all off."
  • "We have to try to stop trying to find the magic method, whereby we're going to force our children . . . into some sort of compliance and obedience, and instead say, 'Salvation is of the Lord. I'm just like you. Let's run to Jesus.'"

Which statement stands out most to you?


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[Book Review]: AHA (by @KyleIdleman)

I've had at least three "wake-up" moments when it comes to exercising and my physical fitness.

About 10 years ago, my family was visiting my grandmother in south Florida. At one point, I was standing next to her when she suddenly patted my stomach and said, "You're getting thick."

Now, when you sweet grandmother calls you thick, you know it's time to take action. So, when we got back home I joined a gym, and started working out a couple of days per week. I mostly lifted weights, and did some biking and elliptical training. But no jogging. I hate running.

A few years later, I started getting some physical therapy, for some neck-shoulder issues. My PT, who is a long-time friend of mine, pointed out that most of my chronic problems were due to stress, and part of the solution was to start jogging, since it would help keep my joints loose.

I dreaded hearing those words, "You need to start jogging," but more than that, I hated how my joints felt. So I started jogging once or twice each week, and even ran in a team relay. But I still hated it. And I soon found myself jogging only once or twice per month, at best.

Last summer, we were at the beach with family. One afternoon my Dad looked at me and said, "Hey, you're finally got enough size to play free safety and to bring some force with you when you hit someone." (I played defensive back in college. And besides being small, weak, and slow, I was a great football player.)

I got your message, Dad. Loud-and-clear. So I started jogging more, including a "marathon" one month. And I still run 2-3 days per week. And I still hate it.

I am not training to run a race. I just want to be healthy. I need to exercise for my own sake, and so I can be the healthy husband, father, and minister that God wants me to be. My grandmother, my friend (and physical therapist), and my Dad just helped provided my "wake-up" calls.

These were my AHA (Awakening - Honesty - Action) moments. I saw the truth in what they said, and I took action.

Spiritual AHA

If we need these wake-up calls for physical things, don't we also need them for our spiritual life?

That's the premise of Kyle Idleman's book AHA. We go through lives with glimpses of new revelation and enlightening reminders. But we have to do more than just be aware. We have to see our true need for a Savior, and then we have to take action.

Idleman uses the story of the Prodigal Son (in Luke 15) to remind us that life-change happens through God's grace and our AHA process.
"When difficult circumstances come your way, when there is a famine in the land, how will you respond? If you let Him, God will use those circumstances to wake you up and ultimately draw you closer to Him?"

Who Is This Book For?

Warning: This book is very practical. With a wide variety of applications, it will prick your conscience. I don't know how anyone can read it and not think of an area that God is calling them to AHA.

But written with a light tone, and lots of humorous stories, Idleman's book is accessible even to non-theology guys like me.

With most of the focus on the Prodigal Son, the book seems especially applicable to newer Christians, especially those who have come through a season of rebellion against God. Likewise, this could be a great book for those who are exploring Christianity.

And I also appreciate how the author focuses on the older son as well, in Chapter 13. It's not that I haven't been a rebellious sinner (and I still battle, and fail, in temptations every day). But now that I have been a Christian for almost 20 years, I tend to see myself as "righteous" in my own deeds. Idleman reminds me that I am in need of God's grace, and I need spiritual AHA moments just as much as anyone, or more!

"We avoid honest moments because sometimes the truth hurts. Here's the rub: AHA won't happen until we come to a place where we stop defending ourselves."

The beauty of this book is that it mixes practicality with a focus on the power of the Holy Spirit and the grace in the Gospel, both of which are needed by everyone -- non-Christians, young Christians, and mature Christians. We are to obey and trust God even when we don't feel like it, much like I need to go jogging even when I don't feel like it. Our actions prove our convictions, and God empowers us to live them out for His glory.

Though focusing more on our response (as opposed to the work of Jesus) early in the book, Idleman continues to build gospel truths, and clearly communicates our need for a Savior. He is not proposing mere behavior modification and sin management, but a heart-level change that can only be wrought by God:
"We've lived in offense to a holy, righteous God, who reigns in justice. We deserve death for what we've done. . . . 

Despite all of this, God offers us a brand-new inheritance -- one that has been reclaimed and redeemed by His Son, Jesus Christ, who came to earth and died for our sins. . . . In the fullness of our sin, God responded with the fullness of His grace through Jesus Christ."

Recurring AHA Moments 

I need regular wake-up calls. I'm good for taking action, but then I slack off. My grandmother was the first push, but I needed my friend and my Dad to get me back on track to healthier living. Our loving Father is gracious enough to keep sending AHA moments to intersect with our lives.

Likewise, this book was a reminder of the spiritual truths that I know, but I let slip. I must remember that when my life gets messed up (through my own sins, or through others' sins), I need to focus on God's loving grace. I need AHA. I need to Wake Up, Be Honest, and Take Action.


"Ultimately, the story in Luke 15 isn't about two sons who disobey. It is about a Father who loves His children unconditionally."

Giveaway

Publisher David C Cook is giving away a copy of this book to one of my readers. All you have to do is leave a comment below or email me (or contact me some other way).

And if you don't win, or don't want to wait, you can buy your own copy of AHA.

The last day to enter to win is Monday April 7.



Related Link:

Favorite Tweets from March


The best parts of last month were not about me. Even most of my best-liked tweets (@EspinosaJoey) were snippets that I stole borrowed from others. And my most-liked picture on Instagram (@JoeyEspinosa) was from a play that I was not in.

Good.


Top Tweets from Others:

@servantlifeThe most unloving thing a Christ follower can do is say nothing & do nothing.

@Family_Matters: "Jesus seems more interested in finding the lost sheep than he is in why or how they got in that position."

@Arun_S_Andrews:  The Gospel doesn't simply affect cultures it transforms them. May this season of Lent make way for deeper transformation in us & around us!

@JimThompson777"Prayer is not overcoming God's reluctance, but laying hold of His willingness." Martin Luther

@Lecrae:  When you’re reminded that God owes you nothing you find yourself more grateful and less entitled.

@JonAcuff"It's encouraging to see so many bars actively and vocally celebrating the sainthood of Patrick." Your most naive friend.


My Top Tweets:

Want to be more productive in the afternoon? Maximize your lunch break: 8 tips from .

Ten Things I Hate about Link Bait (via ) // Or in other words, "Why sucks."

Some things we considered in our decision to leave this summer...

"Your best decision will happen AFTER you take the next step." & "We can have clarity without certainty."

"We've lived in offense to a holy, righteous God, who reigns in justice. We deserve death for what we've done."

"Conceding a tightly held belief triggers our insecurities. Insecurities release our defense mechanisms."   

According to , all students need to write fiction. As an novelist, I agree!

Well, that was my final meeting with some great men in the prison whom I've been meeting with for 1.5 years.  

Must-Read Parenting Articles

I read, saved, and re-read each of these articles. My intention was to write a blog post on each one. But my bookmarked list kept growing longer and longer.

So I scrapped the original idea, and I'm linking them all here. These are GREAT articles on parenting with a focus on Jesus and the gospel. If you don't have time to read them all now, bookmark this page (or send it to yourself in an email -- you can use the button below this post), and come back to it later. 

Don't Waste Time with Your Children (Christina Fox, Desiring God). We don't own our time. Instead, we are stewards of it. Fox gives three things to think about regarding our brief time with our children. "Time is a strange thing. We can find ways to make things take less time. . . . But there is nothing we can do to manipulate or take control of time itself. . . . Let’s use the precious and limited time we have with our children by investing in their hearts."

10 Surefire Ways to Make Your Kids Hate Family Devotions (Jessica Thompson, The Resurgence).  And if you are going to redeem the time with your kids by teaching them the Bible (and you should), don't make these mistakes. "Family devotions are a good thing. They can be a means of grace to your entire family, but often we turn them into an idol."

6 Ways to Make Christ Central at Home (Alvin Reid, Gospel-Centered Discipleship). Reid uses Deuteronomy 6:6-9 as an outline for Christ-centered parenting. "How can you and your spouse make changes to cultivate a more Christ-centered home that, not only evangelizes your children but also your neighbors? The greatest missionary force in America today sleeps in our bedrooms. May we lead, teach, and equip them well."

Why Satan Hates Your Family (Tim Challies).  While part of this article is a warning against culture's influences, the main premise is bigger. What we need to do is not go into defense mode, but actively work to strengthen our own family, for the purposes of blessing the church and blessing the world.

5 Parenting Opportunities When Our Kids Sin (Andrew Weiseth, The Resurgence).  "Sinful behavior in our kids is not an opportunity to war against them. It is an opportunity to proclaim the gospel. We get to rejoice that God can take what was meant for evil and use it for good (Gen. 50:20)."


PS -- Besides saving this article for yourself, use one of these buttons below to share it with others.