The Cross Is Not a Celebration of Suffering, But of Jesus’ Victory Over It

Cristo Statues The Cross Is Not a Celebration of Suffering, But of Jesus’ Victory Over ItThere is nothing noble about suffering.

Pain, sorrow, poverty, sickness, disease, violence and death have no redemptive value.

They are not a part of God’s plan to save the world. They are what Jesus came to save us from.

We need to remember that this weekend.

This Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we will have remembrances and celebrations of the cross. Some crosses will be backlit and draped with cloth. Others will be decorated with lilies. We will sing songs about the Wonderful, Beautiful Cross. All of that is good.

But let me encourage and caution my fellow pastors about something as we honor and praise what Jesus did on the cross. We must leave no room for misunderstanding. Let’s be very clear that this is not a celebration of violence and death, but of Jesus’ victory over it.

I’ve never known a church to glorify violence on purpose. But over the years I’ve heard far too many sermons and watched too many passion plays that seem to emphasize the pain and violence of the cross as if pain was the point.

Pain was never the point.

The cross did not become glorious until the tomb was empty.


Why Take Up Our Cross?

When Jesus told the disciples to take up their cross and follow him, I do not believe he was telling them to suffer for him. Some have suffered greatly. Many, including me, never have.

But I do believe he was asking us to be willing to suffer for him.

There is a great difference between the two.

Being willing to suffer is noble. Wanting to suffer is some kind of sickness. Not alleviating suffering whenever we can is sinful.

Jesus doesn’t call us to suffering. He calls us to joy, hope and love. But he was honest enough to let us know that the path to all those wonderful things goes through some painful territory.

Life involves suffering and pain with or without a cross. The cross of Jesus gives purpose to that suffering. It calls us to speak and act redemptively within our suffering. And to relieve the suffering of others.  Continue reading

Yes, My Church Still Calls It Easter – Here are 5 Reasons Why

Easter flyer Yes, My Church Still Calls It Easter – Here are 5 Reasons WhyI wish Easter wasn’t called Easter.

It would be great if everyone knew it as Resurrection Sunday. But they don’t.

Our church uses both terms. But Easter is our go-to. Especially when we invite people to join us.

Some ministers believe it’s outright wrong, even unchristian, to use the word Easter at all. If your church doesn’t use the word Easter, I’m not arguing that you should.

But before you criticize us for it, I hope you’ll hear me out.

Here are five reasons why we call it Easter.


1. Resurrection Sunday Is Insider Lingo

Years ago, I asked a neighbor if he’d like to attend our church for Resurrection Sunday.

His response? “Uh… doesn’t your church celebrate Easter?”

I tried to explain to him that Resurrection Sunday is Easter Sunday. That the word Easter has pagan roots. That Resurrection Sunday is a more theologically correct term.

He wasn’t buying it. A church that didn’t celebrate Easter seemed like a cult to him and he wanted no part of that. No matter what we called it. Or why.

No, I don’t take my theological cues from nonbelievers. But this wasn’t about theology. It was about a language barrier.


2. Easter Is an Open Door

More people go to church on Easter than any other Sunday of the year. It’s also when more people make real commitments to Jesus than any other day.

Why would I close that door by using a term I have to interpret?


3. Using the Word Won’t Tempt Anyone to Worship Pagan Gods

The primary argument against using the term Easter to celebrate the risen Christ is that the word may have pagan roots. (Or it may not. More on that in #4).

But calling it Easter doesn’t mean my church is worshiping the Anglo-Saxon goddess, Ēostre any more than calling it Resurrection Sunday means we’re worshiping the pagan Sun God. We’re also not worshiping the Norse god Frigg on Good FridayContinue reading

The Next Time Your Ministry Feels Like a Failure, Remember This

Cross The Next Time Your Ministry Feels Like a Failure, Remember ThisThe gospel was built on failure.

It was never supposed to work.

For a long time, it looked like it never would.

It started with a young, pregnant single girl in a backwater town too small to be mentioned in most records.

She gave birth in a barn far away from home.

The most powerful man in the country tried to kill her baby.

The Jews were ruled by an empire of such stunning strength and ferocity that a local governor could, and would, execute thousands on a whim.

They had

  • no idols
  • no monuments
  • no army
  • no right to try their own capital cases
  • no power

Just a book.

And a fading hope for a deliverer.


The Would-Be Revolutionary

Into this hopeless setting came yet another traveling preacher.

He saw himself as a would-be revolutionary, but had no home and minimal, if any, formal education.

He had the wrong kinds of friends from the wrong sorts of places. Including women (imagine – women!). And he relied on them for most of his financial support.

Not only did his own religious establishment not support him, they openly despised and opposed him.

Jesus’ most reliable followers were so unruly, almost every time he came into their presence he had to break up a fight or scold them for lack of faith. Continue reading

Online Church Is Great, But It’s Not Enough

smart phone in church Online Church Is Great, But Its Not EnoughThe church needs to be more digital. For Small Churches especially, the digital world can level the playing field, giving us a broader reach and wider ministry.

We need more churches taking advantage of online services, podcasts, livestreaming, social media, blogging, you name it.

But church will never be digital. Screen-to-screen is no substitute for face-to-face. Digital reality cannot replace actual reality.

Yes, we should have online church. The speed, convenience and world-wide reach of the internet is a wonderful tool. The digital world is a great place to network about faith. I know. I do a lot of it. But networking isn’t church.

Church requires that flesh-and-blood people actually hang out in the same physical space together. It’s so important that I truly believe hanging out is holy. You may know it as fellowship.


Not the Post I Planned to Write

Today’s post ended up very differently than it started out. I had the post all mapped out in my head. Then I did something dangerous.

I thought and prayed about it for a while.

My original title was, “What If the Church Was Invented Today?” It was sparked by a new commercial for the Nissan Leaf all-electric car. The ad was built around the question “What if the car was invented today?” The answer, not surprisingly, was that there’s no way we would be running our cars on fossil fuels. It would be a unimaginable as a computers having a gas tank. It ended with the tag line, “The question isn’t why electric?, it’s why gas?”

We need to ask those kinds of questions about how we do church. Questions like, “Why are we doing it this way?” don’t undermine the church, they’re essential for our future.

But, just like you can change some things in cars (gas to electric), there are some things you can’t change (having only two wheels) if you still want to call it a car instead of a motorcycle.

The same goes for the church. Some things must always be questioned and many things must change. But certain fundamentals can’t change if we still want to call it church.


The Church Is Analog

A digital church wouldn’t require the hassle of getting out of the house any more. We wouldn’t have to remember people’s names (something I’ve always been bad at), since we’d know them by their avatar. In fact, we wouldn’t need to interact with people at all.

This led me to ask myself a few essential questions like, “do I really believe that’s a good idea?” and, “is there any chance that’s what Jesus had in mind when he said ‘I will build my church’?”

The answer was a small yes – and a big NO.  Continue reading

We Love Megachurches, Too! (Podcast)

Refreshing We Love Megachurches, Too! (Podcast)Last week I attended two conferences. I try not to do that twice in one week (I don’t always do it twice in one year), but that’s just how last week fell.

I spent Thursday and Friday with my staff, interns and 3,500 other pastors and leaders at Catalyst West Coast. We listened to an array of well-known speakers like Francis Chan, Henry Cloud and Christine Caine.

Then I spent all day Saturday with 35 House Church leaders at Momentum Los Angeles, sponsored by House2House. We listened to an array of virtually unknown speakers like Keith Giles, Ken Eastburn and Karl Vaters.

It’s hard to imagine two church conferences that could be any more different than those two, while still sharing the same basic biblical theology.

So which one was better? Both. And neither.


It’s Not Either/Or, It’s Got to Be Both/And

The body of Christ needs house churches, megachurches and every size in between.

Unfortunately, not everyone thinks so.

In today’s podcast, with Jeff and Jonny from, we talk about the content of one of my earliest posts, Hi, I’m Karl and I’m NOT a Megachurch Basher, and why I had to write it.

When I started, I started hearing from people who assumed that my appreciation for Small Churches meant I hated megachurches. Half of them were upset at me. The other half were cheering me on.

I immediately and regularly do whatever I can to separate myself from those attitudes.

It is possible to be a fan of both Star Wars and Star Trek. To enjoy a Coke one day and Pepsi the next. And it is possible – I think necessary for the future of the body of Christ – to see the value in churches of all sizes.

I write for and about Small Churches because it’s what I know. And because there’s not a lot out there to help us pastor Small Churches well. That’s why I’m so happy to work with the guys at


Click on the 200Churches logo, or the blog post title to go to and listen to the podcast.


Today’s Podcast

200churches 200 We Love Megachurches, Too! (Podcast)200Church Pastors Love Megachurches Too!

In today’s podcast we talk about every size of church, from house churches to megachurches and how each one adds value to the body of Christ. The guys also ask me questions about what Small Churches can learn from megas, including cautions about transposing megachurch principles in a Small Church setting. We even take a couple rabbit trails, including an unexpected chat about our church’s intern program. (Episode 65 – 34:40 total run time.) Continue reading