I use the word “church” here with a somewhat heavy heart. I know that for many of my readers that very word will carry the overtones of large, dark buildings, pompous religious pronouncements, false solemnity, and rank hypocrisy. But there is no easy alternative. I, too, feel the weight of that negative image. I battle with it professionally all the time.
But there is another side to it… For many, “church” means just the opposite of that negative image. It’s a place of welcome and laughter, of healing and hope, of friends and family, and justice and new life. It’s where the homeless drop in for a bowl of soup and the elderly stop by for a chat. It’s where one group is working to help drug addicts and another is campaigning for global justice. It’s where you’ll find people learning to pray, coming to faith, struggling with temptation, finding new purpose, and getting in touch with a new power to carry that purpose out. It’s where people bring their own small faith and discover, in getting together with others to worship the one true God, that the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. No church is like this all the time. But a remarkable number of churches ar partly like that for quite a lot of time.
Nor must we forget that it was the church in South Africa which worked and prayed and suffered and struggled so that, when major change happened and apartheid was overthrown and a new freedom came to that land, it came without the massive bloodshed we were all expecting. It was the church which stayed alive at the heart of the old Communist eastern Europe, and which at the end, with processions of candles and crosses, made it clear that enough was enough. It is the church which, despite all its follies and failings, is there when it counts in hospitals, schools, prisons, and many other places. I would rather rehabilitate the word “church” than beat about the bush with long-winded phrases like “the family of God’s people” or “all those who believe in and follow Jesus” or “the company of those who, in the power of the SPirit, are bringing God’s new creation to birth.” But I mean all those things when I say “church”.
– taken from N.T. Wright’s book Simply Christian pgs. 123,124
The meaning of the story is found in every detail, as well as in the borad narrative. The pain and tears of all the years were met together on Calvary. The sorrow of heaven joined with the anguish of earth; the forgiving love stored up in God’s future was poured into the present; the voices that echo in a million human hearts, crying for justice, longing for spirituality, eager for relationship, yearning for beauty, drew themselves together into a final scream of desolation.
Nothing in all history of paganism comes anywhere near this combination of event, intention, and meaning. Nothing in Judaism had prepare for it, except in puzzling, shadowy prophecy. The death of Jesus of Nazareth as the king of the Jews, the bearer of Israel’s destiny, the fulfillment of God’s promises to his people of old, is either the most stupid, senseless waste of misunderstanding the world has ever seen, or it is the fulcrum around which world history turns.
Christianity is based on the belief that it was and is the latter.
– taken from N.T. Wright’s book Simply Christian
C.S. Lewis wrote a composition of poems that would end up being published in 1964, a year after his death. Within that selection was this simple prayer for the apologist, the one that sought to defend the faith. Here is that poem, The Apologist’s Evening Prayer:
From all my lame defeats and oh! much more
From all the victories that I seemed to score;
From cleverness shot forth on Thy behalf
At which, while angels weep, the audience laugh;
From all my proofs of Thy divinity,
Thou, who wouldst give no sign, deliver me.
Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust, instead
Of Thee, their thin-wore image of Thy head.
From all my thoughts, even from my thoughts of Thee,
O thou fair Silence, fall, and set me free.
Lord of the narrow gate and the needle’s eye,
Take from me all my trumpery lest I die.
In a great sermon, “Christ’s Agony,” Johnathan Edwards put it like this:
[In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus] had then a near view of that furnace of wrath, into which he was to be cast; he was brought to the mouth of the furnace that he might look into it, and stand and view its raging flames, and see the glowings of its hear, that he might know where he was going and what he was about to suffer… There are two things that render Christ’s love wonderful: 1. That he should be willing to endure sufferings that were so great; and 2. That he should be willing to endure them to make atonement for wickedness that was so great. But in order to its being properly said, Christ of his own act and choice endured sufferings that were so great… [it was] necessary that he should have an extraordinary sense how great these suffering were to be, before he endured them. This was given in his agony.
That love – whose obedience is wide and long and high and deep enough to dissolve a mountain of rightful wrath – is the love you’ve been looking for all your life. No family love, no friend love, no mother love, no spousal love, no romantic love – nothing could possibly satisfy you like that. All those other kinds of loves will let you down; this one never will.
– Taken from Timothy Keller’s book “King’s Cross”