The Hope of Our Suffering

As a college student, I wanted to spend a summer abroad, but money was so tight that Raman noodles were my Sunday treat. I found a communal farm in Israel (sort of like modern WWOOFING) that provided room and board plus ten dollars a month (and a daily pack of cigarettes!) for simple, manual labor. I signed up.

Alarm Clock r1

I talked with a few people who had “volunteered” in the past. They said that it’s difficult to gain the respect of the communal farm members; partly because the large farms attracted loads of volunteers; but mostly because the host members found the volunteers to be irresponsible, unreliable, and lazy.

I wanted the respect of the farm members, so I signed up for a small farm (in order to actually rub elbows with members) and I resolved myself to be responsible and diligent.

On the flight to Tel Aviv I read this verse: “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent” (Pr. 17:28). In my continuing determination to gain respect, I decided to speak less and listen more.

My siblings had been urging this practice on me for years.

Why Mary Magdalene?

Mary Magdalene is called The Apostle to the Apostles; she was the first human to see the risen Christ; Jesus ask her to preach to the apostles the truth of the resurrection; for a time, she was the church.

Mary Meets Jesus

Why Mary Magdalene? Of all the followers of Jesus, why does God choose her?

What can we learn from Mary?

What four words does Jesus say to Mary Magdalene that we need to hear today?

Listen to this 31 minute podcast from Easter Sunday:

Mary Meets The Risen Jesus – Sam Williamson

(Ignore the feedback in the beginning. It goes away.)

Sam

We Are Strangers in a Strange Land

I grew up in a family that camped. My father was a pastor who got four weeks of vacation. We took all four weeks at once, camping the whole month of July, mostly in wooded forests next to lakes. We hauled a small Sunfish sailboat on top of our sagging station wagon.

Williamson Vacation 1968

Williamson Family Vacation, July 1968

Vacations were a young boy’s fantasy, filled with mysterious forests and stormy seas. Four weeks wasn’t enough. We carried our home wherever we went. It was often hot, sometimes cold, and occasionally rainy. The car always broke down. And I loved it.

I recently heard a quote from the Epistle to Diognetus that resurfaced all those old memories,

The difference between Christians and the rest of mankind is not a matter of nationality, language, or customs. Christians do not live apart in separate cities, speak any special dialect, nor practice any eccentric way of life… [They] conform to ordinary local usage in their clothing, diet, and other habits…

For them, any foreign country is a motherland, and any motherland is a foreign country.

What’s The Big Deal With The Resurrection?

Why did Jesus have to rise bodily from the dead? Why not just return spiritually to the Father?

Of course the song of resurrection inspires us. It harmonizes beautifully with all our other commonplace choruses, “It’s darkest before the dawn,” “Spring follows winter,” and “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.” I once even heard a preacher conclude his Easter sermon with, “So Christ rose in our hearts.” The idea of resurrection feels good.

Such choruses are simply sappy, sentimental attempts to feel good in difficulty. But Paul claimed, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is in vain and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). If Jesus didn’t really, physically, bodily rise from the dead, our faith is just horse manure.

The resurrection is a big deal. But why? Isn’t the real gospel that he died for our sins?

When I was twelve or thirteen, I went on a church retreat in the middle of The icy plungeJanuary. The temperature was below zero. With friends I crossed a low bridge that spanned a three-foot-deep stream. We wrestled a bit, and I accidentally fell off the bridge into the stream.

I was plunged into a pool of stabbing cold; I gasped in shock; the bitter chill astonished me. The icy water began to suck all heat from my body (though technically, I’m told, my tiny body tried to heat hundreds of gallons of ice cold water). We later measured the water to be just above freezing. It felt unbelievably cold. And so did I.

That is the condition of humans after sin; our life is being sucked away in an icy river of death. Sin is not just bad behavior (“I lied,” “You cheated”). Sin is the power of death that ceaselessly, relentlessly, inexorably drains every unit of warmth of every cell from every human being.

The Hidden Secrets of Belief

Many years ago, I worked for a struggling company. Our architecture was outdated and sales revenue plummeted. Investments in new architecture meant expenses skyrocketed. We were hemorrhaging money with no doctor in sight.

And then our president had a heart attack.

Our parent company asked me if I would consider becoming president. I was flattered by their great offer (and impressed with their great wisdom), but when I prayed I sensed God say, “No.” His word felt clear and strong, and I declined.

Instead, I suggested a new vice presidentDemotion r1 that I had recently hired and who had become a friend. Our parent company agreed, and my friend became our new president.

The next day, my president-friend began to attack me. In the following weeks, he reduced my pay, took away my office, demoted me, and publicly belittled me. *

My friend’s blitzkrieg movements stunned me. I was paralyzed and bewildered. Each new day brought a new disappointment. Every way I turned saw ambush and embarrassment. All of this came from a friend I had helped promote.

And God seemed absent, at least silent. I felt abandoned by God to a betraying friend who appeared intent on my professional destruction. I had voluntarily obeyed God by declining a promotion. As a result, I was demoted, humiliated, discouraged, and scared.

What kind of God would do this to someone who tried to obey him?

Spiritual Judo

Three decades ago, I reached the high water mark of my personal physical fitness. I ran thirty miles a week, performed three hundred pushups a day, and regularly boxed. (Ever since I’ve been on a downward slide, reaching new low water marks almost daily.)

2004 Bucharest Europeans 14/16th May

Used with permission: www.judophotos.com

While in that peak physical condition (never mind its short duration), I met a man with a black belt in Judo. He was twice my age, plump, and he wheezed when he walked. I was lifting bars with heavy weights; I think he was visiting bars with many beers.

He was the first black belt of any kind I had ever met. I was curious, and a bit skeptical. Could this chubby, middle-aged man really beat me in a friendly fight?

Alas. The glory of my youthful strength was unmatched by any glory of real-world wisdom. That fool inside me challenged him to hand-to-hand combat.

Never since childhood had I spent so much time on the ground. The lawn and I quickly became intimate friends. I huffed, puffed, wheezed, and groaned (and maybe cursed), as he effortlessly tossed me to the grass over and over again.

It didn’t matter what punch I threw. Every jab, hook, and uppercut resulted in me lying on my back, staring at the sky, gasping for air, and wondering what had happened.

Wounds and Hope and Glory

Will our wounds plague us forever? We have all had wounds and trials and setbacks, and the best we usually expect is to neutralize them or to simply see them healed. Scripture promises much more. God turns the world upside down such that those events of our lives which appear to have had the most destruction will eventually bring the most glory and hope.

Instead of merely wishing for a return to the pre-wound status quo, we have a hope that these very wounds and setbacks will lead to an inconceivable glory. Who—but God—could conceive of a plan in which the darkest nights will lead to the brightest days?

Video length: 3 minutes 3 seconds