Growing up, I never heard of “Holy Week.” Now, it’s all the rage. I am left to wonder why? As a child, I just anticipated the big day of Easter. I knew nothing about the week before. Now, as an adult, I know that I cannot fully grasp the day of Easter without being grasped by the week before Easter. Perhaps this is why I can fully realize this week as a Holy Week.Our world has become so secular; so filled with eggs and bunnies, robins and nests, chocolate and brightly colored baskets. We want all the color, comfort and cozy things of life without the pain and passion of these days of “Holy Week.” The week before Easter has nothing to do with bright color; nothing to do with bunnies; nothing to do with celebration.Holy Week is a journey of seven days and seven long nights to examine the pain and passion of Jesus. It’s about examining unmet expectations; shattered dreams and painful realizations of disillusionment. When one embraces one's own betrayal; dashed dreams and discarded illusions we've clung to in life, then we are ready for a deeper meaning of Easter.All the people around Jesus were dashed to the ground, along with their dreams and illusions, because of this week. Each one: Mary, Peter, Judas, Lazarus, Martha—all had their personal hopes go bankrupt. Each faced a disillusionment of their own seismic proportions. Each person lost something. Peter lost his loyalty. Thomas lost his faith. Judas lost his life. Mary lost her son. Each day of this week became a new ground zero of faith and failure; betrayal and conviction; courage and cowards. Holy week is holding on to what we have lost in life--or will lose soon. There are no exemptions for some kind of loss. None. Every person must walk through their own holy week of loss, disappointment and bewilderment. These are the very things that prepare us for a new opening in our lives--even the opening of a tomb.On Thursday in particular, it was a day of the bottom falling out of the sky. This happened to us, just today. We had hoped of spending our Easter days with a couple of our sons and their families. Our grandchildren were coming. We found a small house at the beach to hold us. They found a house to hold them. It was all set. Then, it came-- a phone call of Maundy Thursday proportions. There house fell through and a phone call brought the shocking news of a tightly held illusion going south. They were told that their house was double booked and they could not come.When the news came, I at first felt a lunge of panic---my hopes of finding sea shells by the sea shore with my grandkids were harpooned and I was left sinking and felt my dreams drowning in the high tide. We would be alone. We would be by ourselves. A shattered dream--again.But my illusions of Easter are pitiful in comparison to Mary—the mother of Jesus. The son she bore in her womb would soon be crucified and she would stand at the cross as she stood when that angel's message pierced her virgin soul. How Mary did it, is how we all must learn to do it--to do life--to endure and to overcome--for this is the real message of every Easter.I had a Mary moment on Maundy Thursday when that phone call came from my son. I mustered courage to say, “All is not lost. Something will open up.” And it did. Another house came open due to someone elses cancellation and alas, my grands and my sons and their wives will come. It will be Easter after all. There will be sea shelling and eggs and crab benedict to boot.You and I stand this week in a week that truly is holy. Each day as we move close to the grave opening up—which is far, far, far better than a house at the beach opening up, everything in our lives will change.May the disappointments, betrayal, shattered dreams, stings of the many deaths of our journies, converge to a Blessed Easter--a day of every tomb opening for us because of the opening of Jesus' tomb that very holy morn.But until then--until Easter, we must wait in our shattered dreams.
“His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” –Ephesians 3:10-11 My life has been about the church. I have lived all of my life within the church. My folks starting taking me to church at six weeks of age and I have not stopped going since.But here’s the truth. I have not always liked the church. I’ve seen beautiful people marred by the church and within the work of the church, I have seen people shoot the wounded, not help them. They have hemorrhaged and bled and been wounded only to find people within the church still kick, abuse and kill them in God’s holy halls. But the paradox is this, I have also loved the church--loved and been lost in the work of the church--loved the positive, good and noble purposes of the healthy church led by healthy leaders.I have been on a journey in my recent years of understanding the church. I watched my own four adult children join me on this journey—because they, like me were raised in the church as well. I call myself a “recovering Baptist.” I’m recovering in most areas of my life where I messed up. Recently, more light has been shed into my path regarding the nature of the church and the nature of its leaders.In working with thousands of leaders who work in the church, I’ve grown weary, tired and disillusioned to be honest. I’ve witnessed so much abuse by men who wear robes and leaders who wear authority that I’ve grown suspicious. Yes, suspicious is a good word to describe my taking a step back and evaluating the relevance, the need, the look and feel of the church in the 21st century.To say that I stumbled upon a verse in the Bible is not the correct way of telling you what shifted my entire paradigm about the church today. This verse had been there all along—throughout the entire birth of the church until this very day. It’s just that I missed it. I overlooked it on my way to find what I felt might be even more verses to help me and to help others.Ephesians 3:10-11 leaped out at me and has nearly knocked me unconscious. “The manifold wisdom of God.” I have sat with that word—“manifold”—trying my best to figure out precisely what Paul intended by choosing such a word.The word “manifold” means: “having many different forms, features, or elements: manifold breeds of dog.” The manifold wisdom of God regarding the wisdom within and about the church is just this: The church too has many different forms, features and elements just as the breeds of the species we call dogs.Because of my work—the work with leaders who feel called to live their life; do their life and give their life because of the church, I’ve seen passionate leaders feel like their church is the right church; the only church; the best church; the hippest church; the most multi-sited church, the largest; the fastest growing and then it morphs into something darker. Every church should be like my church. Since I am with the right church, then everyone else is experiencing something less; something outside of God’s intent. It goes on, as you know.Pride, authority and a seminary education can create the perfect storm for leaders of the church to suffer a malady that infects their own soul and the ministry to which they feel called.Some leaders might feel like their church, call it a blue church, is the way to do church. You have to think blue. You have to be blue. You have to hang with blue people to really be in the blue movement.Then in another state; perhaps another city or even across the street are the orange folk who think and feel exactly the same way that the blue folks do in the blue church. Then there is the red church. The green church and yes, even a pink church.But now, let’s use this word “manifold” here…. And see if we can ease our tension a bit by embracing that from God’s perspective, it is not about the right color. And what is this is true because from God’s perspective there is no right color. There are just a manifold of colors—all seeking to do the same thing but in different ways. Who can say that blue is right and red is wrong? The colors just are. The church just is--and is in every form we find it.As some of you will know, no person on the face of the earth, living or dead has impacted my life more than that of Dallas Willard. It was Dallas who told me years ago when I went to a Catholic (Is Catholic a color?) Monastery with him for a month to recover from my toxicity and my addiction of being a pastor, “Steve, Jesus only spoke the word, “church” two times in his entire life that we know of. Why have you made “church” your God?” That question undone me and I have never, ever recovered from his question. I don’t think I will ever recover either. Perhaps now, 20 years later, I am just now beginning to understand the depth’s of Dallas Willard’s question to me in that Prayer cell were monks fled to do their own version of church.Now, there is more wisdom…. And it is this, if you are in a blue church and I am in a red one, can we surrender our efforts to compete against, degrade and throw rocks at the people who do their life in a yellow church?Perhaps from God’s perspective, it takes all the reds and hues of red; all the blues and hues of blue; all the yellow and hues of yellow to express what God has intended. Perhaps this is so because no human system has dibs on the truth. Not the Lutherans, not the Presbyterians, not the Charismatics, not the Bible-believing-fundamentalist, not even my church or your church. We lay down our efforts to defend our color church and we surrender our dogmas to the fact that in history and through history—no creed has survived in all colors but Jesus. No book has been lifted higher than our Bible. No god has been worshipped but our God—the God who created the manifold ways in which we try every six days to “gather to gather to ask the Lord’s blessings. We hasten and chasten his truths to make known.”Stephen W. SmithCopyright 2014All Rights Reserved.
Chasing the Bitch-goddess of Success
by Stephen W. Smith
Copyright 2013: Stephen W. Smith. This material may NOT be re-printed, used or copied in any form.
We are in trouble. We are living in a corrosive and corrupted culture that is shaping the souls of men and women more that the Divine Potter is forming our very own souls. We are chasing the wind and reaping the whirlwind.
We don’t believe the wise old Jewish preacher who once said:
“One handful of peaceful reposeIs better than two fistfuls of worried work—More spitting into the wind.”
We scorn one handful of anything—but less peace, tranquility and a serene life. We strive for two handfuls of everything. More money. More pleasure. More income. More square footage. More. More. More! We find ourselves living in the illusion which says, “More can be yours if you work your butt off for it.” We live in a time and space which reduces the value of a human being to what you have; not who you are!
The voice of our culture says, “Hurry up and win! “ “You can have it all! But only to those who work the hardest!” “The one with the most toys win.” It’s very interesting to note that in the history of Christianity, men and women who achieved “saint” status were never measured by their accumulations. The amassing of fortunes has never inspired any saint I know of to do more. Their movtivation came from a deeper place—a place inside of them that was not broken; corrupted or wrecked. They were not looking for the outer markers of success as so many are today. Instead, their inner radar honed in on something true; something right and something eternal.
Today, we are shaped by the Fortune 500 list which you will never be on. We are shown fabulous automobiles that we cannot afford. We are mesmerized by beautiful people in ads and commercials which we will never become. We live in a perpetual place of suspension—always longing for but never, ever arriving.
Spiritual pursuits have been replaced by capitalists achievements. We strive. But come up empty. Leaders chase the wind and then spit into it when failure comes. We have swallowed the pill that influences our sense of security, conscious and character. We are confused and we are burned-out from chasing the bitch-goddess of success. That one, seemingly true god which is a hybrid, culturally defined bench marker of what makes a man or women.
The bitch-goddess of success inspires us to believe that self-esteem is found in having more and doing more. Money and success becomes the true currency to get you somewhere. Effort and achievement are heralded as the way to being successful. We read books to help us understand how we can manage our time more to achieve more.
In the end, but at the beginning of the 21st century we are tired, worn out and exhausted---calling it all the abundant life. We are believing the lie that the bitch-goddess haunts us with. “If you do more, then you will be more and then and only then will you have more.”
 Ecclesiastes 4:6, The Message