The After Life

The After Life

Last fall, I planted bulbs in the front of our house. Daffodils, lilies, tulips, crocuses, you name it. I went a little crazy because it felt like a junior high science experiment and I wondered if it’d work. If it did, I knew that by spring I’d be seeing petals.

For urban types like me, our gardening experience is limited to a few window boxes from community block parties. So I consider it downright amazing to bury one thing in the ground and have it emerge months later something altogether different. It seems an impossible feat: in spite of concrete, asphalt and broken beer bottles, flowers with colors as bright as any New York taxi can burst forth.

I’m convinced we need the power of nature, of art and color and story, to move beyond existing and enter that place where we live fully, or at least, well. We do need words that spring forth from flowerbeds, that speak of newness and beauty and hope all wrapped up in one. If nothing else, we need the colors and fragrances of a changing season like spring to soften the concrete struggles around us. They keep us going. They inspire.

That’s the nature of resurrection.

To be sure, this undercurrent of the Christian life, this back-story of every story we encounter — death, resurrection, transformation — runs deep in our collective soul. It is the theme of more songs and films, paintings and novels, missions and centers than any other in the history of art (which is the history of humanity). We cheer for the underdog on the screen who conquers each obstacle set in her path; we marvel at the painting that stirs some feeling we’d forgotten we had. We turn the dial, change the channel or visit another creative ministry until we connect to a song or an image that draws us to a new place, a new perspective, a new way to press on.

We’re wired to hope. To look forward, not backward. We want to believe the impossible. Why? My guess is we know there is more to this earthy existence.

Thank God there is.

After Jesus died, he went for walks on the beach. After he spent three days buried in the soil of death, he cooked breakfast for a few friends. He chatted and lingered on sidewalks and in gardens, telling stories, holding hands, eating bread. Sure, he lived well before he died. Admirably. Heroically. Boldly. But after he died — that is, after his lungs collapsed and his heart stopped — he spent the next month and a half strolling through the Middle East; 40 full days of handing back hope to women who’d lost it, reminding men of the truth of scripture, encouraging hundreds of friends that there was indeed more to this world than what they saw each day as the sun came up.

Yes, that was some living.

And those days on earth after his execution were apparently so full, so exciting and rich, that John says he couldn’t record them all in his Gospel account (John 20:30, 31). Maybe the Risen Christ drew pictures in the sand; maybe he sang hymns with his friends. Maybe he picked figs or went fishing or danced jigs. Whatever else he did in his resurrected life — apart from the stories we do have — history testifies to the reality that he gave us plenty to keep reveling in the wonders of living.

To keep planting bulbs and watching for petals.

There are the stories, of course, from the Gospel narratives about his earthly ministry before death. But we should know, too, that there are other stories from the life of our Risen Lord. They are equally true stories and equally reflective of the magic — or miracle — of what happens in the garden of a human heart when the Person of God in Jesus appears.

After Jesus died, he spent what I call “very-much-alive-time” with utterly desperate friends. He walked with them (Luke 24:15), ate with them (Luke 24:41-43), comforted them (Matt. 28:9-10), taught them (Luke 24:27). He spent so much time with them, in fact, that the stories of their lives changed history. His death and resurrection planted in them new life.

And what happened to them also happened to others, and others beyond them. It still does. Miracle stories. Impossible new beginnings. Spring fragrances.

Bright daffodils that once were only hard dull bulbs. A desperate faith that blossoms into hope all because a Holy Presence dug through the soil to make a garden.


Excerpted and adapted from A Desperate Faith: Lessons on Hope from the Resurrection (Baker Books) by Jo Kadlecek. Used by permission.

Rethinking Sacrifice

Rethinking Sacrifice

What might the cross teach those who sacrifice too much, those who over-give of themselves? What can people learn who live with subtle and debilitating forms of deep resentment—even rage and shame—because they do not stand up enough for themselves? What about individuals who live under the impress of both structures and ideations adversely internalized? What about those of us (and it is almost all of us, in some way) who labor for others without tending to our own needs for rest, peace, and sincere affection? What about you?

Rev. Toby Sanders at Beloved Community in Trenton, New Jersey. (Photo credit: Michael Mancuso/The Times of Trenton).

The cross is there for you too. It is an end to under-appreciating yourself and under-valuing yourself; a renunciation of the martyr complex, if you can see what Jesus does for you and endures for you. In one sense, here, at the cross, you are the point: there is a light at the cross. Jesus does something there for you—something you cannot do for yourself, something that you need done so that you can stop trying to get it from your work…a truly unconditional thing: a release.

One of the gravest mistakes of the tradition of faith that I walk and love
 is the valorization of the violence of the cross, mixed with a shallow celebration of the heroism of the spectacle. It makes many of us inordinately emphasize sacrifice as negation, asceticism as an idolatrous form of faith. This often leads us ironically to hunger to be recognized for our sacrifice. When we are not…it leads destructively to resentment, to vicious forms of passive-aggressiveness that masquerade as “help” but are really desperate measures to punish and control. Christians, I believe, are the worst when it comes to this.

The cross can be of great help here; but, it must be preached and taught properly. We need our greatest preachers and theologians to reflect on suffering and violence (overt and emotional forms) in ways that are life-giving and not “pornographic”—by this I mean ways that excite us deliciously but shallowly; stimulating us without building relationship; encouraging privatistic and consumerist spirituality: in a word, pornographic. Yes, pornographic violence because of what is hidden, the processes and instruments of the humiliation that serves us. We cover the most probable nakedness of Jesus on the cross—always! Why? It’s easier to celebrate a Disney-ized view of good and evil than to grapple with the self-critical reality that the cross actually represents.

At the core of this help is the real drama of the cross and crucifixion; the trial; the public humiliation; the comfort, courage and grace of several souls involved in the great story; but, centrally, the man who submits his own will to God’s in service of both his own fulfillment and the desire of his God—without rancor, bitterness, or shallow self-congratulatory or dishonest resignation.

Jesus is not a victim of history or theology. He is an agent of the reconciliation and the wholeness that deep change makes possible. Sacrifice is not an end. Rather, the giving of one’s self is a grace. If self-giving leads to emptiness and “crooked-twig” abusiveness it is not a grace: it is faith misguided, faith misused.

How does the cross teach us the limits of our own self-sacrificing? I am not entirely certain. I am still grappling with the centrality of violence in this spectacle…but I am certain that we do not need to be Jesus, but simply like him. I am sure that our crosses are specific to our fears and our callings; sure that our crosses are not an end in and of themselves. I am confident that healthy sacrifice does not require acknowledgement. Healthy sacrifice, instead, is intrinsically valuable for us as well as those we seek to serve. We each have a cross, a rightful one—not Golgotha’s, but our own. When we face our deepest fears we achieve a victory so deep that it inspires the grace we need to forgive, to endure, and to thrive without resentment or regret: wholeheartedly.

The light of the cross shines within us; the most truly heroic things we do are often small and insignificant to most people but work transformation in our lives and the lives of others. I am sure that pain is involved, but not destruction and that on the other side of real sacrifice is the negation of fear’s powers over us.

I am coming to the realization that some of us sacrifice too much. Some of us are asked to bear the costs for whole families, whole communities, and whole systems. This pressure misshapes us, often making us practitioners of abuse ourselves: self-abuse, unfairness, quiet, destructive, and often secret forms of resentment-driven despair—even rage—almost certainly rage in us or those we love the wrong way.

The cross of Jesus seeks to end the cycle of violence, the curse of fear and hatred. Sometimes our cross is facing and ending our victimhood. Our cross might be the pain and sadness we must face to end our own willingness to be used by others. Our cross could be facing own need to be thought of as good, right, helpful, noble, useful, or nice; to be thought of as the peacemaker, the good son, the good daughter, the good wife, the good friend. Our cross may entail putting an end to crosses themselves—in our life and in the lives of others we sentence to the isolation and pain of our pettiness. Jesus dies once and for all, for us the living, a living sacrifice.

It is hard to see this on “Good Friday,” but it is certainly there proleptically. In Jesus’s actions through the Passion we are somehow freed from the bondage of sacrifice systems that purport to free us but perniciously feed on us. The victory of the Cross is the victory of over fear; the victory over the sting of death; the victory that stalks every vengeance-driven tale or politics or religion; the victory over triumph shallowly understood. We are more than conquerors.

In this way the cross can free us from the need to win that often attends sacrifice for sacrifice sake and the ultimately corrosive resentment and passive aggression that attends such “victories.” Jesus frees us from this game with His cross: Once and for all.

Our faith is often in need of reformation, individually and collectively. The cross does this work forever. Every Easter we are asked to encounter these ironies and to encounter this challenge as a form of renewal. And we do not undertake this work alone, for the Holy Spirit—who comes at Pentecost—augments and undergirds our strength.

Elevating Easter

Elevating Easter

Video Courtesy of Mario Moton


In the weeks and days leading up to Christmas, the average Christian spends a lot of money, time, and energy preparing for the holiday. While I’ve always considered that time of year to be a very special one, I’ve often wondered why we don’t elevate Easter–or Resurrection Sunday, to use the name that many believers prefer–to the same level. After all, didn’t Jesus come into the world for the very purpose of suffering, dying, and rising again to demonstrate His love and give us new life?

So why don’t we celebrate the day Jesus arose from the dead the way we celebrate the day He came into the world? Well, if I interviewed every believer I know, I’d receive a multitude of opinions. For example, some men and women of faith would say it’s because Resurrection Sunday is more somber than Christmas. When these Christians think about the horrific thing that was done to Jesus to save our souls, they can’t help but be sad. They don’t like thinking–or talking about–the demise of any human being, let alone the torture and death of the One they call Savior. So, while they honor the day Jesus was resurrected, they aren’t inspired to engage in the same type of festivities as the ones they deem appropriate for Christmas.

For other Christians, the difference in how they celebrate these two holidays stems from the fact that they aren’t constantly being courted by retailers that promise to provide just what they need to have a perfect holiday. In other words, as Resurrection Sunday approaches, they don’t feel the same kind of pressure or obligation to buy the right presents or hang the prettiest decorations. So, they don’t do anything special for the holiday. Still others would probably say that it’s simply because, other than Passion Plays or Sunday school programs put on at churches, there just aren’t that many religious traditions associated with the holiday.

But does it have to be this way? Couldn’t we begin today to create our own family traditions that recognize the fact that Jesus kept His promise that He’d die and then, on the third day, be alive again? Isn’t that very fact pivotal to our Christian faith? Isn’t that reason enough for a celebration or, even better, kicking off certain lifestyle changes that will last long after the holiday has come and gone?

Holiday traditions have a wonderful way of ushering in greater spiritual awareness and a renewed commitment to one’s faith. They can provide us with opportunities to fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as share our faith with non-believers. And they can also help us make our faith more tangible in the eyes of our impressionable children.

One way to do this is to set aside time to pray and read God’s Word every day, particularly reflecting on verses that remind us of His Son’s sacrificial love for us. Among the verses you may want to read and meditate on are the following ones: John 3:16; Romans 10:9; Luke 19:10; Romans 5:8; and I John 4:7-10. Don’t feel as though you have to do this alone. Invite your spouse, a prayer partner and even your children to join you. If you already set aside time for devotions, you may want to use the time to not only read them but memorize them. That way, they’ll not just be counted among the many that you perused this year, but listed among those that meant enough to you that you chose to engrave them into your heart and mind.

Reaching out to others during this time is another way to take your appreciation of the holiday to new level. Some people do this by inviting unsaved relatives, friends, or neighbors to go to church with them. Others may opt to host an event–such as a brunch, dinner party, movie night, or even a dessert party–in their home for relatives and friends who appreciate Christian fellowship as much as they do. In addition, those that love giving presents on holidays could consider making homemade gifts–such as sugar cookies made into shapes representative of various components of the Gospel message (e.g., a cross, sheep, stars, etc.)–or purchasing small gifts at their local Christian bookstore.

You also could fill your home, office, and car with sights and sounds that are symbolic of Christ’s life. Little figurines displayed on mantles or tables in your home, as well as small ornaments, hung on bedposts, doorknobs, or even your car’s rear-view mirror could serve as perfect reminders of what God did for us through His Son. If you’ve been thinking about incorporating more faith-based forms of entertainment into your life and home, this is the perfect time to start. Check your local library, video rental store, or favorite bookstore for inspirational titles and schedule a few movie nights. And don’t forget to set aside time to be blessed by the ministry of music, whether you enjoy the gospel, contemporary Christian, holy hip-hop, or sacred jazz. Let it play softly in the background while eating dinner with your family, as you complete chores, and as you’re commuting to and from various places.

Regardless of which traditions you decide to infuse into your life in the coming weeks, what’s important is that you hold on to why you’re adding them. Celebrate the good news of Easter unabashedly so that you, your loved ones, and anyone who crosses your path will have the opportunity to experience a renewed appreciation for Resurrection Sunday and all that it symbolizes for God’s children.

We’re Still Doing Easter?

We’re Still Doing Easter?

Is it time for Easter again? It doesn’t feel like Easter season. Easter (or Resurrection Sunday for the purists) is around the corner, and yet many Millennials feel little reason to celebrate. When I think of Easter, I think of special sermons, church presentations, fancy outfits, and big dinners. I also think of bunnies, eggs, and baskets thanks to corporate marketing. Ironically, what I don’t think about immediately is the Resurrection. But isn’t that the reason for the season?

Selective Memory

Easter FamilyFor the past few years, social media campaigns have tried to remind people that Christmas is about Jesus’ birth. It has become so commercialized that people come out of the woodwork you didn’t even know were Christian. They remind everyone following them that Jesus is the reason for the season, that Jesus is the best gift we could get in the season, that Jesus wants us to give in this season, and that we should be content whether we get other gifts or not.

But Easter doesn’t have gift-giving traditions. Were it not for multi-colored chocolate eggs, most of us would not even think about what we receive on that holiday. But Easter is supposed to be the center of the Christian faith. Jesus goes to the Cross, dies for our sins, and resurrects with power, giving hope of salvation to all the earth.

Perhaps one of the reasons why Easter doesn’t immediately remind us of resurrection is because resurrection hope seems so far removed from our current situation. Current events in our world—from politics to protests, global warming to global injustice, doubt in our lives and doubt in our faith—have caused many to lose hope.

The Sweet By-and-By

It is hard to think about the hope of resurrection when we are surrounded by so much death. But that is exactly why we as Christians need to remember the Resurrection. What greater hope is there in the midst of a death culture than the revelation that death is not the end of the story? That our God loved us enough to take death on Himself and then overcame death itself?

Resurrection is not just about “the sweet-by and-by” either. We have to hold on to the promise of life after this life, but resurrection also comes when we hear the testimonies of those who are still living, still striving, still fighting, still hopeful despite facing ridiculous obstacles and even threats to their very lives.

Jesus gives new hope to a woman with an issue of blood who was treated as dead by society, and He not only wasn’t afraid of a man with a legion of demons, He set the man free and made him a missionary. Jesus is hope for resurrection in a world that needs new life.

Time to Remember

CalvaryIt could be because of Saint Patrick’s Day that takes place around the same time, so people are focused on Irish beer and clovers. It could be because we feel like we’ve heard the Easter sermon before, so we’ll catch it on livestream. It could be that you didn’t know Mardi Gras, Carnival, and Lent had anything to do with Easter, so it just isn’t in your mind.

It could be because no one you know buys Easter clothes, or because there will be no big dinner, or because you’ve got so many other things going on that you just forgot. But whatever the reason we weren’t thinking about the Resurrection yet for Easter, we should take time to remember it now.

It is the story of our salvation. It is the “right now” power of God. It is what we need to face today together.

At The Cross

At The Cross

Video Courtesy of The Kingdom Choir


Up on the cross is where Jesus overcame. I have a victorious life, but I will remain at the foot of the cross.

Sometimes I find myself getting so caught up in me and the things I experience day to day.  I think back over my career the past thirty years and I feel as if I’ve been dealt a bad hand.  I did all the things I was taught to do to be able to have a prosperous career.  After high school, I attended a major university and received a bachelor’s degree.  After securing a good job and working for several years, I decided to further my education and get an MBA so I could move up in the corporate world.  It wasn’t enough to boost my career, so I joined associations in my field and even held offices.  It still wasn’t enough. I had gone as far as I could and started seeking employment with other companies.

I got another job, and I was starting to rise up the ladder. But when a new management group came on board, I was stuck again.  Less qualified people were hired on my level, even though I had more experience.  It became clear to me that it’s not about what you know, but who you know. 

I began to feel that life is so unfair.  I did all the things I had been taught to do, but I was never able to move into management positions.  I complained to God, asking, “Why am I being treated so unfairly? I’ve done the right things, but I’m not prospering like others.  What am I doing wrong?  Am I being punished for something I did earlier in my life?  I go to church every Sunday. I teach Sunday School. I attend Bible study. I sing on the choir. I am the VBS director. I don’t just know your name, but I personally have a relationship with you.”

God dropped in my spirit: Because of who you are and whose you are, you will experience trials and tribulations.  You may never have more than what you have.  As a matter of fact, you may have even less than what you have now.  I need you to be a vessel for me.  I need you to serve.  You say you want to do My Will, experiencing these types of things and not getting where you think you should be is exactly where I want you to be. 

I am understanding why I need to remain at the foot of the cross.  I’ve done what I perceive to be the right things, but that doesn’t mean I will get what I have planned for my life.  I need to be able to accept the disappointments in life and continue to have joy and peace.  I need to know that the things I want are not necessarily the things God wants for me or needs for me to be. When His will is placed in my life, I need to know it may not look like what I expected. 

Every day of my life is a victorious life.  I need to stop complaining, stop whining.  Each day that I am alive is a new opportunity for me be an example to others on how to take disappointment and handle it as an assignment from God. 

As I feed on God’s word, my actions should be as the Bible states “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20, ESV). I should be challenging myself to live a victorious life and to stay away from sin, such as complaining and whining about what I wasn’t able to accomplish but concentrate on and be thankful for my many blessings from God.

I will stay at the foot of the cross.  I need to keep “executing God’s plan for my life.  Keep advancing in my kingdom purpose.  I need to stay focused on the outcome.”  I will stay around the Cross and live a victorious life. Are you challenging yourself to live a victorious life? Search yourself and decide what you will leave at the foot of the cross.


Video Courtesy of The Kingdom Choir

Pray About It

Lord, each day I am alive is a victorious day for me.  I need to be an example so others can see that I am at the foot of the cross.  I have sins such as complaining, whining, gossiping, not always being humble and so much more that I need to leave at the foot of the cross.  Thank you, God, that you correct me and instill in me the desire to do better.  In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Luke 14:27, NLT: “And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.”


TONIA WILLIAMS. Tonia lives in North Augusta, SC where she grew up.  She received her BA degree in Journalism from the University of South Carolina (USC), Columbia, SC and her MBA degree from Brenau College in Gainesville, GA.  She is actively involved with her church, Old Macedonia Baptist Church, where she sings on the choir, is Director of Vacation Bible School, and teaches the Women’s Sunday School class