‘Seven Stanzas at Easter’ by John Updike

Make no mistake: if He rose at all

it was as His body;

if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules

reknit, the amino acids rekindle,

the Church will fall.


It was not as the flowers,

each soft Spring recurrent;

it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled

eyes of the eleven apostles;

it was as His Flesh: ours.


The same hinged thumbs and toes,

the same valved heart

that — pierced — died, withered, paused, and then

regathered out of enduring Might

new strength to enclose.


Let us not mock God with metaphor,

analogy, sidestepping transcendence;

making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the

faded credulity of earlier ages:

let us walk through the door.


The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,

not a stone in a story,

but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow

grinding of time will eclipse for each of us

the wide light of day.


And if we will have an angel at the tomb,

make it a real angel,

weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,

opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen

spun on a definite loom.


Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,

for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,

lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are

embarrassed by the miracle,

and crushed by remonstrance.

Imitating God (Ephesians 5.1–2)



Ephesians 5.1–2


When I was in high school, I played basketball. One afternoon, my coach decided to forego practice and take us to see a movie instead. The movie was Hoosiers. Set in 1951, it told the story of Coach Norman Dale, who led a small, ragtag team of Indiana farm boys to the state championship.

My coach took us to see Hoosiers for two reasons: inspiration and imitation. We, too, were a small, ragtag team that regularly played larger, more talented teams, and coach wanted to inspire a fighting spirit within us. But he also wanted us to imitate Jimmy Chitwood, the star player on Coach Dale’s team. Jimmy always squared up for his shots. He always tucked his elbows in when he shot. He always followed through with his wrist. He always went to the boards for a rebound. Coach wanted us to do the same.

In life, as in basketball, we learn by imitation. As young children, we imitate our parents. As adolescents, we imitate our peers. As adults, we imitate—or at least try to keep up with—the Joneses. Imitation is inevitable. The real question is not whether we imitate, but who we imitate.

As Christians, we are expected to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4.1). Whose “walk” is worth imitating? God’s, of course! Consider Ephesians 5.1–2: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

How do we imitate God? Certainly not by becoming gods ourselves! There is an infinite, qualitative distance between Creator and creature that simply cannot be bridged. We are not eternal, for example, and we cannot become all-powerful or all-knowing. Some Mormons proclaim, “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may be,” in the words of LDS Apostle James E. Talmage (1862–1933). Some New Agers speak of the “divine spark” within us. No Christian says these things. We simply cannot become God. But we can become like God, at least in terms of our moral character.

How so? Paul commands us to “walk in love, as Christ loved us.” Implicit in this command are two profound theological ideas. (1) God is love (1 John 4.8). And (2) his love is most fully expressed through Christ’s death on our behalf (Romans 5.8). The more we imitate God, therefore, the more loving, self-giving, and forgiving we should become.

My basketball coach wanted my team to shoot like Jimmy Chitwood. Square up. Tuck your elbows in. Follow through with your wrist. Hit the boards. Shooting like Jimmy Chitwood didn’t happen overnight, however. We had to unlearn bad ways of shooting and learn new ways.

Walking like Jesus Christ isn’t easy either, and it doesn’t happen overnight. But every time we love a little more, give a little more, and forgive a little more, we become more and more like God.

P.S. If you want to know how Jimmy Chitwood shot, watch this video:

Five Case Studies in Change (Ephesians 4.25–32)



Ephesians 4.25–32


Yesterday, I wrote about the three-stage process of change Paul teaches in Ephesians 4.17–24:

  1. Put off your old self (verse 22).
  2. Be renewed in the spirit of your mind (verse 23).
  3. Put on the new self (verse 24).

In Ephesians 4.25–32, Paul applies this process to five case studies.

First, lying: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another” (verse 25). Dishonest speech violates the Ninth Commandment: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20.16). It also violates Jesus’ commandment to speak with absolute integrity: “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil” (Matthew 5.37). Lying is an old-self behavior that needs to be exchanged for new-self truth telling. Why? A renewed mind understands that truth telling is indispensable for building strong relationships, and in the church, “we are all members of one body.”

Second, anger: “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (verses 26–27). Anger is a legitimate response to injustice, at least initially. But it is possible for “righteous anger” to become “unrighteous rage,” which is why Paul writes both “Be angry” and “do not sin” in the same sentence. Unrighteous anger is the old-self behavior that needs to be put off. Quick resolution of grievances is the new-self behavior that needs to be put on. Why? A failure to deal with anger allows a little bit of hell into your heart.

Third, theft: “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (verse 28). Paul is most likely referring to individuals who are freeloading off the church’s generous social welfare programs. Such freeloading by able-bodied workers is tantamount to theft. The antidote to freeloading is hard, honest work. Why? We work to provide our own needs, as well as the needs of others.

Fourth, unwholesome speech, that is profanity, obscenity, sarcasm, and insult: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (verse 29). The antidote to unwholesome speech is praise, encouragement, sincere compliments, and constructive criticism. A renewed mind recognizes that our words are means of divine grace to others.

Fifth, divisiveness: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (verses 31–32). Notice the stark choice: The old self divides a community through malice, but the new self unites it through kindness. A renewed mind knows that we must pass along to others the very same forgiveness God has given us through Christ.

Let us strive to change every behavior that grieves the Holy Spirit (verse 30), whatever that may be!

Three-Stage Process of Change (Ephesians 4.17–24)



Ephesians 4.17–24


A group of young men once asked me to talk to them about the use of pornography. They knew that using porn was unworthy of the life to which they had been called (Ephesians 4.1), but they felt unable to give it up. Why didn’t God answer their prayers and take away their desire for it?

I asked them a series of very simple questions: Have you thrown away your magazines? Have you destroyed your DVDs? Have you asked someone who does not struggle with this issue to hold you accountable? Have you asked that person to install Internet filter software on your computer? For the most part, their answers were, “No.” They had prayed, but they had not taken practical action.

Prayer is obviously an important tool God has given us for experiencing moral change in our lives. So, whenever we face temptation to sin—whether that sin is using pornography or anything else—we ought to ask God for help to resist temptation, and he will provide it. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10.13: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” But keep in mind that “the way of escape” involves practical action on our part.

Consider what Paul writes in Ephesians 4.17–24:

 17Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.  20But that is not the way you learned Christ!—21assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Verses 17–19 contain a diagnosis of the sinful condition. Notice that it is rooted in wrong thinking (“futility of their minds,” “darkened…understanding,” “ignorance”) and a spirit closed to God’s influence (“alienated,” “hardness of heart”). Wrong thinking and a closed spirit are not Christian (verse 20)! Instead, Paul instructs us to do three things (verses 21–24):

  1. Put off your old self. Take active measures to eliminate sin from your life.
  2. Be renewed in the spirit of your minds. We need to view sin from God’s perspective, as something that hinders us from being what God created us to be.
  3. Put on the new self. Bad habits must be actively replaced by good habits.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at how Paul applied this three-stage process of change (put off, be renewed, put on) to several areas of Christian behavior.

Spiritual Gifts (Ephesians 4.7–16)



Ephesians 4.7–16


Paul’s letter to the Ephesians naturally divides in halves. In the first half (chapters 1–3), Paul’s overarching theme is “by grace you have been saved, through faith…not by works” (2.8–9). But in the second half (chapters 4–6), Paul’s overarching theme is “live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (4.1). If I had to summarize the entire message of Ephesians, I would do so this way: Jesus Christ saves us by grace through faith for works.

So, as we begin to study Ephesians 4–6, it is helpful to keep in mind that this half of Paul’s letter deals with works, that is, with Christian behavior. Yesterday, I wrote that a life worth of Christ’s calling includes humility before God, patience with others, and unity with fellow believers. Today, I want to show you how using your spiritual gift is an essential part of the grace-filled life.

Please read Ephesians 4.7–16. The key verse is verse 7: “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” The grace Paul writes about here is not the grace of salvation. Rather, it is the grace of using your spiritual gifts. Citing Psalm 68.18, Paul argues that when Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, he poured out the Holy Spirit on believers, spiritually equipping them for ministry (verses 8–10). Using your spiritual gift, in other words, is a way of demonstrating Christ’s lordship over your life.

There are a variety of spiritual gifts. In verse 11, Paul lists those spiritual gifts usually associated with clergy: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Notice, however, that this list of spiritual gifts is not exhaustive. In verse 12, Paul writes that God gives these spiritual gifts “to prepare God’s people for works of service.” In other words, the spiritual gift of the clergy is to train the laity to use their spiritual gifts. As Pastor Rick Warren likes to say: “The people are the ministers. The pastors are the administers.” And the people’s ministries take a variety of forms. See 1 Corinthians 12.7–11, 27–31, and Romans 12.3–8 for illustrative lists of these ministries.

What is the purpose of all these spiritual gifts? Verses 12–13 state it: “so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” In other words, when you use your spiritual gift as God intended, you become more Christlike, people within your sphere of influence become more Christlike, and your church as a community becomes more Christlike. A lot rides, then, on whether you put God’s grace to work by using your spiritual gift.

So, do you know what your spiritual gift is? Are you actively involved in a lifestyle of serving others and meeting their needs? If so, keep up the good work! If not, why not?

Our First Right: Religious Liberty | Public Discourse

From Our First Right: Religious Liberty | Public Discourse:

At the heart of the American model of public life is an essentially religious vision of man, government, and God. This model has given us a free, open, and non-sectarian society marked by an astonishing variety of cultural and religious expressions. But our system’s success does not result from the procedural mechanisms our Founders put in place. Our system works precisely because of the moral assumptions that undergird it. And those moral assumptions have a religious grounding.

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