This morning we began a new series at Grace Church called The Netflix Gospel. This was an idea I had several months ago, based on a series we did at LifePoint Church last year called Now Playing. At LifePoint, we examined several movies (which were in theaters at the time) for their spiritual insights and messages. In this series at Grace, we’re doing the same thing, but for TV series currently available on Netflix.

The first series we looked at was Fringe, a science-fiction epic (think: X-Files) that ran on Fox from 2008-2013. I first discovered the show on Netflix last fall, and very quickly became a fan. It follows the story of three FBI operatives as they unravel the secrets behind a mysterious sequence of events called The Pattern. The central character, Walter Bishop, is a brilliant but broken scientist trying to make up for a lifetime of destructive choices.

The spiritual arc of the show follows Walter’s journey from atheistic hubris to theistic humility. In the message, I shared two powerful scenes from the second season that demonstrate Walter’s journey into brokenness and, ultimately, a redemptive belief in God. Many folks expressed an interest in the show after the message this morning, and while I highly recommend it to adult viewers, please be aware that it gets very grotesque at times. There is a lot of blood and other disturbing material along those lines. There is also a significant amount of drug content – typically in the context of Walter’s fondness for using LSD in his experiments.

The series continues next week as we look at Breaking Bad. (Yes, I said Breaking Bad.) Then, two weeks from now, we finish out by examining the spiritual elements of The Walking Dead. (I know.) All in all, it was a fun weekend, and I think it’s just going to get better from here!

Last Thursday we left our campsite in Flagstaff, AZ, and headed north in a rented car toward the Grand Canyon. It would be my second time to the Grand Canyon, but for Breena and the kids, it was their first. Before we arrived at the park, we drove through some beautiful country on the Arizona backroads.

Just south of the park is a little town that has benefitted greatly from the tourism the Canyon draws. I don’t remember it being there when I last visited the park in 2003, and anyway, all the buildings look as though they’ve been built in the last five years. The kids were grateful to stop someplace familiar: Wendy’s. As we waited in line, Breena spotted a brochure for a helicopter ride over the Canyon. On a normal trip this wouldn’t even be a consideration, but this is the Zekey Trip after all, and we’re here to make memories. So we booked our helicopter ride for 4:10, and we sped off toward the Canyon to get as much sight-seeing in as we could in the meantime.

The Canyon defies description. It is vast and deep and intricate and beautiful. That first glimpse into the Canyon’s depths will take your breath away, no matter how many times you’ve seen it. Photographs, obviously, cannot do it justice. The kids loved it, especially the girls. Bexley had no fear – she wanted to get as close to the edge as she could. But all Cyrus and Eisley could seem to talk about was the impending helicopter ride.

It was amazing. It was worth the cost. I almost threw up.

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We’re calling it the Zekey Trip. We had made arrangements with Make-A-Wish to take an RV trip all across the country, but when Zekey passed away in March, Make-A-Wish could no longer make the trip happen. Breena and I both felt that the trip would be an important investment in the healing of our family, so we set up a fund to help make it a reality. Many of you who read my and/or Breena’s blogs gave generously, and so the Zekey Trip has become a reality. (I’m sitting in the back of an RV in Flagstaff, AZ typing this.) To you we are so very grateful. Though many of you have never personally met us, you have poured generously into our lives, blessing us profoundly.

Below are some of my favorite pictures from the first couple of days of the trip. I hope to post more soon, but as you can imagine, our days are so full that I am usually exhausted by 8:00 and ready to fall asleep, incapable of stringing even one coherent sentence together. The trip started in Denver, and we spent our first night in Cripple Creek, CO, up near Pike’s Peak. On the second day we ate lunch at Garden of the Gods before driving to Santa Fe, NM down I-25. That drive was absolutely beautiful. On day 3 we drove to Flagstaff, AZ, stopping at the Petrified Forest National Park and the Meteor Crater along the way. The American West is stunning.

Several folks have been asking if they can still donate to Zeke’s Memorial Fund. The answer to that is, “Of course!” You can click on the PayPal Donate button in the left column of this blog, which will take you to a secure donation page. Again, we are eternally grateful for all who have made this trip a reality. God bless you!

Since our son Ezekiel passed away two and a half months ago, Breena and I have been often asked: How are you doing? The truth is, we’re doing well. This fact can be difficult for some to understand. After all, our 4 1/2 year old son died of a terrible disease that slowly destroyed his brain and his body for more than two years. How could we possibly be doing well after experiencing something like that?

IMG_0158The only answer we have to that question is that we’ve found a hope that transcends death. We’re doing well because we have hope that there is something, or someone, who is greater than death. This hope, which has buried itself deep within our hearts over the past two years, is rooted in Jesus and his resurrection from the dead. We believe that Jesus conquered death once and for all; not that he has yet eradicated it and our bodies will never die, but that he has risen again from the dead, thereby destroying the power of death. If Jesus rose again, then death isn’t final, at least not for those who follow Jesus.

Nothing else on earth offers this kind of hope. No other religion or ideology offers the kind of hope that Christianity does through the resurrection of Jesus. The cross and resurrection, the “true message of the Gospel,” gives humanity a hope that no other way of life can – a hope that strips death of its power to make us afraid and replaces it with a vision of an unimaginably glorious and good life beyond death. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15,

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This morning I preached a sermon at Grace on Matthew 12 called Sacred Cows. Jesus and his disciples were walking through a grainfield on the Sabbath, and because they were hungry, his disciples picked some heads of grain and ate them. The Pharisees, who enforced strict Sabbath-keeping laws, were incensed by their irreverence for the Sabbath, which had become the theological symbol of Moses’ law and the litmus test for Jewish faithfulness. The Sabbath had become a sacred cow for the Pharisees, and Jesus and his disciples were, in a sense, kicking the cow. He responded to their outcry with a bold claim: The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. 

We all have sacred cows, the things that have become primary identity markers, or litmus tests of faithfulness. It could be any number of things, including politics, our family, an ideology, or even the Bible. But when Jesus declared himself Lord of the Sabbath, he made the powerful statement that he is greater than all of our sacred cows. He is the Lord of all of our sacred identity markers and theological litmus tests. When any of these things come into conflict with him – as they did through the hunger of his disciples in that grainfield – we must choose him. We cannot serve two masters; we cannot serve both God and Sabbath.

If you’ve been holding onto something the way the Pharisees held onto the Sabbath, it’s time to let go. You’re crushing it under the weight of your expectations and demands. What the Pharisees should have done, and what we need to do, is to remind ourselves of this truth and live in it daily: Jesus is greater than. Because when you get that right, Jesus can do to the Bible, and to your family, and to your politics what he did to the Sabbath – he can redeem it from a dead list of dos and don’ts and transform it into something that breathes life into your spirit, sustains your soul, and brings healing and freedom to your whole being.