Day 38: "A very different kind of ruler."

"If you don't play by the world's rules," a wise friend once told me, "then you don't have to play by the world's rules." If you don't bow to the world's system (the world's way of doing things), then you are not bound to the world's system (the world's way of getting things).

—From Ch. 38 ("New Rules for a New World"), Jesus Journey

In 2013, when I was visiting the Sheppard’s home in Boston, Trent mentioned to me that he was planning to write a new book about Jesus. I was very excited and curious to find out how Trent as an American living in the 21st century world was going to portray, describe, and explain the deep beauty and disturbing scandal of Jesus Christ, unexceptional and extraordinary at the same time, a man like no other in the whole of human history.

So the day the book was published in the UK, because I was in such a hurry to read it, I bought a Kindle version instead of having to wait a few days for the hard copy to arrive by post. One of the first things I did was look at the content page, and the first chapter I wanted to check out was "New Rules for a New World." Initially, I was not completely sure what attracted me to reading this chapter first, but now I can understand why...

It was because there was something more going on in the back of my mind. It was because for the past two decades of my life I have been grappling deeply with the question: Who is Jesus Christ in relation to the world of power politics, international relations, and the global struggle for justice for all?

Too often, in my years of (limited but global) experience with Christianity, I’d found that Jesus is magnified as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords for the inner world of the human soul (meaning: 'I invited Jesus into my heart.' Great!), and in the private world of our social clubs we call ‘churches’. But what about the public world of politics, economics, and law? Is Jesus simply good news for the inner world and private world of man but irrelevant in the public and international sphere of human existence? (And, by the way, ‘King of Kings’ and ‘Lord of Lords’ were political titles used to describe Babylonian and Roman emperors in the ancient world.)

Is the risen King Jesus really the absolute reference point for everything that goes on in the world of sovereign states and the modern international system of war-making and diplomacy? Did the resurrection of Jesus fundamentally change the core logic and inner-workings of the world of global politics?

If such a change did occur on that first Easter Sunday, and if the resurrection radically altered the direction and end-goal (telos) of world history, then how should we as disciples of King Jesus in the 21st century live with regards to what happens in the power centres of our world—Washington DC, New York, London, Moscow, Beijing, and other places?

Is it possible and credible to argue that the past two thousand years of world history cannot be understood or explained without reference to the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead? More specifically, can we as Christians discuss anything that goes on in our world (e.g. currency trades in global financial markets, bilateral business treaty agreements, advancements in weapons technology, etc.) without reference to King Jesus?

These are the questions I am constantly grappling with—and I become so frustrated when I encounter a 'Jesus-show' that is actually an escape from or a foil for not dealing with the public issues affecting our world.

And so reading Trent’s book with these questions in mind took me on my own Jesus Journey. Let me share with you a few thoughts about what I’ve been learning along the way... 

First, Jesus is a very different kind of ruler, and his rules are nothing like anything we may have encountered and experienced in the world. He is the ruler seated on the highest throne of authority in the universe, and yet he abides in the hearts of his subjects through the Holy Spirit in the most intimate way—including in the hearts of the least and last, the outsiders and nobodies. Therefore, there can be no elitism in the Jesus scheme of things.

And so in one sense, what goes on in the human heart really does matter for Jesus: The heart of the matter for Jesus is really the matters of the human heart. Our hearts, yours and mine, are desperately wicked and only Jesus has the power to cleanse and transform the heart. Simon Peter experienced this transformation when he ate breakfast with Jesus on the beach.

New rules for a new world begins with the human heart.

Second, Jesus is the true King of Kings and Lord of Lords of world history, the rightful ruler over all of reality, from the material and sub-human level to the outer realms of the cosmos. But there is a strange paradox here. Despite the fact that Jesus is the unchallenged triumphant ruler of the world, he has given human beings a certain degree of autonomy from his rule.

This means that human beings have real freedom to do good and righteous things, and to do terrible and wicked things. For Jesus, giving people the freedom to do what they desire and protecting that freedom is more important than imposing his will on us.

And yet at the same time Jesus hasn’t simply abandoned this world to the choices and actions of wicked people. His back is not turned to us. Incredibly, he still takes ultimate responsibility for what happens in our world. And we can trust his judgements (instead of doing the judging ourselves), knowing his judgements will prevail in the end. 

Jesus is a strange kind of ruler. He is making the world new not by imposing his divine will on us or abusing his heavenly power for his own ends (as so many earthly rulers have done), but through transforming the human heart, one person at a time, even if this will take another two thousand years. Who are we to decide otherwise or question the mind of Christ?

Ultimately, there is no other way that leads to life for all except the Jesus way. According to Jesus, "new rules for a new world" means there are no shortcuts for the fulfilment of the new heavens and the new earth.


Today's guest post is by Philip Powell: Philip (aka Indian Sage, Brown Englishman) is from Chennai in India and has lived in England since 1998. He has travelled to over 30 countries speaking on global justice and human rights issues, and has engaged in advocacy work at the United Nations and Westminster Parliament. In Cambridge, he is a member of and leads the Lyn’s House Community, a place of welcome for disabled and differently-abled people inspired by the work of L'Arche International and the vision of Jean Vanier. He also leads a reading group in Cambridge studying the writings of Lesslie Newbigin. As part of his work with the Jubilee Centre, he leads an online course Biblical Foundations for Public Leadership and the Social Reformers Summer School in Cambridge (http://www.jubilee-centre.org/training/). Philip has a Masters degree in International Relations, and is a passionate cricket supporter (the sport, not the insect).

Photo credits: Chelsea Hudson

Day 37: "The way He says your name."

“Mary,” the gardener speaks. And the whole earth becomes quiet, completely still, because Mary recognizes that voice. She recognizes the way Jesus says her name.

—From Ch. 37 (“The Gardener”), Jesus Journey

There is a practice in Ignatian spirituality that is helping me to encounter the Jesus of the gospels afresh. In days of old, it was used to bring the scriptures alive to the illiterate, but in these last few months it has brought the wonder of the God-man Jesus alive in my heart again.

If you would like to try, here's how it works:

  • First, read a gospel story over and over until it becomes familiar to you (in the past, people would have had it read aloud to them).
  • Second, close your eyes and imagine the scene in your mind.
  • Third, begin to ask yourself questions, and engage with Jesus in the scene (e.g. What do you see? How do you feel? Do you have a role in the scene? What does Jesus look like? What’s the tone of His voice?).

Trent describes the interaction between Jesus and Mary Magdalene in John 20:15-16 as “tender.” As we say in England, “hats off to you”, my friend—I cannot think of a better word!

You see, in these last few months of reading the gospels ‘Ignatian style’, I have lost count of the number of times that I heard Jesus say my name. The tone of His voice has varied according to the moment, always so personal, fitting, and timely—always so unmistakably Jesus. In moments that are deeply humbling and empowering all at once, I, like Mary, am learning to recognise the way He says my name.

I love that this tender moment between Mary and Jesus in “the third garden in the story of God” (as Trent puts it) is with the resurrected Jesus. It tells me that hearing wonderful, beautiful Jesus say your name isn’t an experience reserved only for the disciples who walked with Jesus on earth in the first century; no, the utterance of her name that Mary recognised that day came from resurrected lips!  And that changes everything for you and me!

Take a moment today, quiet your heart, and hear the way He says your name.


Today’s guest post is by Danutia Banwell: Danutia and her husband Chris often pinch themselves at the privilege of living in the beautiful county of Cornwall in the south west of England. This stunning Celtic land is well worth a visit (just bear in mind that Cornish folk will beg to differ about it being part of England!). Danutia and Chris help to lead a church family in their hometown of Falmouth (www.falmouthlightandlife.co.uk), whose dream it is to see their community transformed by the life and love of Jesus.

Photo credits: "fig tree"—Bill Pekrul / "sunset" & "blossoms"—Chelsea Hudson

Day 36: "Will there be restrooms in heaven?"

"Look at my hands and feet; it really is me, myself. Touch me and see! Ghosts don’t have flesh and bones like you can see I have."

With these words, he showed them his hands and feet.

While they were still in disbelief and amazement from sheer joy, he said to them, "Have you got something to eat?" They gave him a piece of baked fish, which he took and ate in front of them.

Luke 24:39-43

Do you remember the movie, Casper: The Friendly Ghost? There’s a scene where Casper’s uncles—The Ghostly Trio—are eating. The shot moves from these three un-dead slobs at the dinner table, shoveling food into their mouths, to Casper, quietly sweeping up the chewed up pieces of food that have fallen straight from the ghosts’ teeth to the floor.

You would think those ghosts were a bit like Jesus—they had died, after all—but really they were not like Jesus at all. They had no biology.

Last Thursday I graduated with my nursing degree. Working in the medical world means accompanying people in the rawest, most elemental moments of life. I have had privileged access to birth, death, and nearly everything in between that makes us what we are.

There are basic bodily functions that we all experience: lungs breathing, a heart pumping, a stomach digesting—these are what every human has in common. Jesus shared in all these basic facets of biology with us. They should have died with him.

The Ghostly Trio had no lungs, no hearts, no digestive tract. We can only wonder whether the disciples were expecting a similarly messy floor as they handed Jesus the piece of fish to eat. What questions were in their minds that day?

I would probably take it one step further and ask: If Jesus eats food in his resurrection body—and clearly he does according to Luke 24:42-43—is that food still digested in the same way? And if so, what happens to it?! In other words, will there be restrooms in heaven???

But leaving aside that highly significant question, this encounter between the now and the not-yet, the biologically ordinary disciples and the seemingly super-biological resurrected Jesus, reminds me of a passage in the book of Romans, where Paul declares that,

“the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves… groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” [Romans 8:23]

Jesus is the first. His broken body has now been redeemed, transformed. According to the scriptures, his existing biology still functions, but he also looks somehow different and can trans-locate and even walk into locked rooms. He is the first—we are waiting.

I am presently thirty-eight weeks pregnant. I am waiting (and occasionally groaning) for the new life to be revealed. I am limited in what I can do, my back hurts, and my body is carrying a huge burden. But it all has purpose—there is new life coming! And just like Jesus’ new body still carries the battle scars of the victory He won over death, “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” [Romans 8:18]


Today's guest post is by Maria Shahid Rowe: Maria lives in Charleston, SC, with her husband David, her son Samson, and her very pregnant belly. She is a doula and a nurse, likes to kiteboard whenever she can, and cares deeply about good food, Korean dramas, and Dimitar Berbatov.

Photo credits: Chelsea Hudson

Day 35: "Apostle to the apostles."

"If a group of men in the first century wanted to make up a believable story about someone rising from the dead, they would not have chosen women as primary witnesses. But in every gospel account of the resurrection (all of those accounts written by first-century men), women are the first and cornerstone witnesses of the event."

—From Ch. 35 ("Sunday Rising"), Jesus Journey

One of the many things that struck me while writing Jesus Journey is the extraordinary way in which Jesus interacted with women.

Whether it's the woman at the well in John 4:4-30, the female disciple known as Mary of Bethany in Luke 10:38-42, the unidentified woman Jesus honors with the unprecedented title "daughter of Abraham" in Luke 13:15-16, the unusual fact that Jesus' ministry was uniquely dependent upon the financial support of women according to Luke 8:3, or the fascinating historical anomaly that all four gospel accounts record women as the first witnesses of Jesus' resurrection... the way in which Jesus related to women is groundbreaking in its first-century setting.

In fact, because of the critical role that Mary Magdalene in particular plays in the resurrection accounts—she was the first person to see Jesus alive again, and the first to share that good news with others—Mary has traditionally been known as the "apostle to the apostles."

I absolutely love how John 20:17-18 describes the historic and deeply moving moment when Jesus commissions Mary Magdalene as the very first preacher of the good news:

Go tell my brothers what you have seen...

There have been so many women who have helped me see Jesus more clearly. One of the most recent is my wife's remarkable grandmother, Lorry Lutz.

"Grandma Lorry" is now eighty-nine years old, but I wholeheartedly agree with the memorable words of my son Blaze (one of her nineteen great-grandchildren!), when he recently told her, "Wow, Grandma, you don't look eighty-nine at all!"

But it's not just that Grandma Lorry looks like she is overflowing with life at almost ninety years of age—she actually is.

Right now, for example, she's spending two months in Kenya, East Africa, helping some of her old friends write a book about the university they started there many years ago. (You can read all about it on her blog: LorryLutz.com.)

And just in case you're wondering why these friends would ask Grandma Lorry to help them with this significant writing project—it's because Grandma is the author of twelve books!

Her most recent, Daughters of Deliverance, is a gripping historical novel that explores the life of Katharine Bushnell (1855-1946), a medical doctor and anti-trafficking activist who exposed the trafficking of women in Wisconsin labor camps in the late 1800's. To my shame, I had never even heard of Katharine Bushnell until I read Grandma Lorry's highly inspiring account of her life...

There is a beautiful and unbroken line of heroic, Jesus-centered women that extends from Mary Magdalene on Easter Morning (the "apostle to the apostles"), to Katharine Bushnell in those Wisconsin labor camps, to so many amazing women around the world who give their lives for the sake of others, for their children, and for those in need each and every day.

When Grandma and I were recently corresponding about the astonishing historical fact that women were the first witnesses of Jesus' resurrection, this is what she relayed to me:

"I was well into my fifties when the awesome meaning of His first appearance to a woman struck me. In one small but very significant act, Jesus lifted the value of women from the inferiority and inequality of what they were experiencing, to that of a full person. 

"And Jesus didn’t stop there! He instructed her to 'go tell my brothers what you’ve seen.' From that day I squared my shoulders and accepted the value and position God has given me as a woman. And if necessary I also 'go and tell the brethren.'"

Yes, yes, and amen!

So thank you, Grandma Lorry, for extending the extraordinary legacy of Mary Magdalene, and Katharine Bushnell, and so many other remarkable women like yourself—to all of us.

You are an example to us all, women and men alike.

Today's post is by Trent Sheppard / Photo credits: Chelsea Hudson

Day 34: "Answers to prayers unprayed."

“. . . Seeing my children celebrate the resurrection with such abandon, I think I caught a glimpse of at least some of the delight, a little of the joy, the awe, the wonder that filled Jesus’ earliest friends and followers when they saw him alive again.” 

—From Ch. 34 ("Good Morning!"), Jesus Journey

As my grandfather liked to say, my last name, Pasquariello, can be translated “little Easter."  The Sheppard children, on the morning they learned of Christ’s resurrection, were “little Easters” too: children of Easter. And in being children of Easter, they are children of Christianity, children of Jesus—which is a very good thing to be. 

Jesus said, “unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom” (Matt 18:2-5, MSG). But how do we become like children—when we are adults with the layers of experience, and opinion, and judgment we have grown over the years?

Before any human knew of the resurrection, Mary, Mary, and Salome prepared and set out in the dark, arriving at “the tomb, just at sunrise.”  Both literally and figuratively, the women experienced the darkness before the dawn—and they experienced it without any expectation—without even an ability to imagine they would find anything other than a stone they wouldn’t know how to move.

There have been times when I couldn’t even imagine what to pray, times when I didn’t know I needed to pray, times when my visibility was far too limited to imagine what Jesus could have in store. I didn’t know I needed to pray when I set out to travel around Europe in college and I couldn’t imagine I couldn’t make it on my $10/day planned budget—but thankfully God answered the prayer I never prayed—and my father quietly gave me some extra money that made the trip possible. My visibility was far too limited when my birth mother struggled with mental illness and I was in foster care and kinship care; I could never have imagined that I would be in a loving, wonderful adoptive family; that there would be much better treatment for her illness; and that we would continue to have a strong relationship. I couldn’t even imagine to pray for all of those things to happen—and I doubt many in my families could either—yet God answered our unprayed prayers. 

When the women in the resurrection accounts set out before dawn, I think they also couldn’t imagine to pray for something better, something different. Perhaps all they could offer were the words Jesus had taught them in the Lord’s prayer: “thy will be done.” In those moments when we cannot understand, when we cannot imagine a way out, when we don’t even know what to pray for, what more can we pray? In our hours of darkness, what more can we do than pray into the darkness and let it be?

When we pray “thy will be done,” when we really “let it be,”—even, and perhaps particularly, when our vision is so limited that our prayer is only a resigned lack of action, and not even a conscious prayer—God’s response to the prayer can be far more wonderful than we could ever imagine.

“Then when they looked up, they saw that (the stone) had been rolled away.” (Mark 16:4)

In those moments, when God rolls away the stone, when Jesus stands before us resurrected and says “Good morning,” how can we help but return to our innocence—to a state without expectation or prejudice?  How can we feel anything but awe?

And in such moments, God might answer another prayer that just maybe we also didn’t think to pray—he can make us all "children of Easter" once again. 


Today's guest post is by J. Justin Pasquariello (aka "J. Justin" in the acknowledgements): Justin is often in awe of his wife Vanessa Fazio-Pasquariello and their joyful son who just celebrated his second birthday (and at whose birth, they were blessed to have Bronwyn Sheppard as their birth doula). They are all members of Sacred Heart Catholic Parish in East Boston, and are also part of the Ekklesia house church. Justin and Vanessa are passionate "Eastie" residents—and Justin was thrilled to recently become the Executive Director of the East Boston Social Centers: a 99-year old settlement house organization serving people from age 2 months through old age across the diversity of his local community. Justin founded and serves on the board of Silver Lining Mentoring, and is seeking to prove the world can be a more joyful place—beginning in Eastie.

Photo credits: "dancing girl"—Chelsea Hudson / "garden path" & "sunrise"—Maria Khoroshilova 

A graduation weekend sale from the publisher of Jesus Journey—$1.99 for the ebook May 20-22!

A graduation weekend sale from the publisher of Jesus Journey$1.99 for the ebook May 20-22!