Moving on up…

Recently, I migrated my blog to my own host and domain name. Check it out at http://jeremygeerdes.com

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Living In a Good Friday World

The sun was getting higher, the temperature climbing. The sound of soldiers laughing and debating, then finally dividing the clothing, wafted over the hilltop. There was the taunting: first the leaders – the Pharisees and Sadducees and scribes. Then the soldiers joined in. Finally, even one of the two thieves hung on the next cross over was making fun. Just as the sun was reaching the top of its path, though, it abruptly went out just as if someone had turned off the switch.

That is, if they had switches back then.

For three hours, a palpable darkness came over the whole land. In John 23:45, though, just before the darkness lifted, Jesus cried out, “Father, into your had I commend my spirit.” And with that, after 33 years on earth, more than 3 years of public ministry, thousands of people fed, hundreds of miles walked, dozens of messages and parables and conversations, and countless healings and conversations, Jesus was dead.

Given Luke’s commitment to present an eyewitness account of Jesus’ life and ministry, you would think he would have sought out the disciples to get their reactions. What did Peter, James, and John, Jesus’ inner circle do when they learned that he was dead? How did the other nine respond?

But they were nowhere to be found.

Instead, starting in Luke 23:50, we see the reaction of complete strangers of a complete stranger and some no-name women. Just as though someone had dropped a nuclear bomb, Jesus was dead, and all the regulars were gone.

While the sun returned, make no mistake, it was the darkest day in history.

Some of us need not imagine too hard. We have had a darkest day. Perhaps we are going through it right now. For others, of course, this is something we have yet to experience. Regardless of which camp you are in, rest assured: it’s coming.

On the darkest day, it seems like everywhere we look, we see war, famine, unemployment, underemployment. Cars break down. Violence and crime. Broken marriages and homes.

In the responses of this stranger and these no-name women, then, we find some essential observations for life in a Good Friday world.

We have regrets.

Consider, for example, Luke 23:50-51: “There was a good and righteous man named Joseph, a member of the Sanhedrin, who had not agreed with their plan and action. He was from Arimathea, a Judean town, and was looking forward to the kingdom of God.” Here, we are introduced to Joseph, a man from Arimathea. This, however, is the first and last time that he appears in Scripture. There has been some conjecture about where Arimathea is, but the truth is that we really do not know.

In fact, all we really know about this guy is what we find in these couple of verses: he was a member of the council or Sanhedrin, he was “a good and righteous man,” and he “had not agreed with [the rest of the council’s] plan and action” to arrest and crucify Jesus. Why did he not agree? Because he “was looking forward to the kingdom of God.”

Luke hints at what John makes clear: Joseph was a secret follower of Jesus.

For months, Joseph had been following Jesus from a distance. He could not always go to where Jesus was for fear of people finding out, mind you, but he went whenever he could. The rest of the time, he paid close attention to the regular reports brought back to the Sanhedrin about where Jesus was, what he was saying and doing. And he paid close attention to how the other council members were responding. When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, then, I imagine Joseph was ecstatic. Was this it? Was the kingdom of God finally come?

But then, his colleagues confronted Jesus about the things the crowd was shouting, and Joseph just stood back and kept quiet, hoping no one would notice him.

When Jesus threw the merchants out of the temple, embarrassing the Sanhedrin – they had, after all, been the ones to allow the merchants to set up shop in the court of Gentiles – I imagine Joseph bit his tongue as they ranted and railed.

And when Jesus criticized them directly, and they resolved to kill him, Joseph was alarmed, but they had talked like this before. In fact, several other times through Jesus’ ministry, the Sanhedrin had plotted to kill him. Nothing had ever come of those times, so Joseph said nothing now.

But then, very early Friday morning, news came to Joseph that Jesus had been arrested, and things became a blur.

Perhaps someone on the council had heard that he was sympathetic to Jesus, and so they did not send for him in time to attend the trials. Perhaps he hastily threw on some clothes and raced across town to witness the trials, but when he saw how rabid the rest of the council members were, he held his tongue once more in fear. The truth is, we do not know exactly what happened. We know only that Luke tells us that Joseph disagreed with the plan and the action, but Mark tells us that “all of them condemned him as deserving death” (Mark 14:64).

However it all went down, as we read these two verses in Luke, we find in Joseph a man with deeply profound regrets. Why did he not say something? Why did he not do something? Why did he not follow Jesus when he had the chance?

Make no mistake, regret is a hallmark of the Good Friday world. We are all familiar with it. We did something we should not have done, or we did not do something we should have done. We said the wrong thing, or we just did not say the right thing. We could have, should have, would have…

So often, this is our mantra.

Yes, in a Good Friday world, we have regrets.

We need courage.

Yet, we something else in Joseph. Yes, he had these regrets, but in verse 52, it was Joseph who went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. And believe me, this was a big deal! Have you ever heard of the phrase, “Guilt by association”? In the Roman world, crucifixion was reserved for the worst of the worst, the enemies of the state. Typically, these were allowed to hang on the cross for days even after their death so that their flesh would be picked at by animals and birds, and if anyone dared come to claim the body before that could happen, it was assumed that they were sympathizers: they could be nailed up on the next cross.

Of course, Joseph had the advantage of being a member of the Sanhedrin, so he could imply that the council wanted him to have the body. But it was still risky. Would someone rat him out? Would he be tacked up beside Jesus?

It was, then, a pretty courageous thing for Joseph to go to Pilate and ask for the body. Yet, Joseph did not stop there. In verse 53, he took the body down, wrapped it in linen cloth, and laid it in his own brand new tomb. It was one thing to take the body down and bury it hastily in the potter’s field, where they put the poor and criminals. But Joseph actually took care of the body! It is pretty hard to claim you do not sympathize with someone when you donate your grave for their use.

Yes, it was s a pretty courageous thing for Joseph to do.

Unfortunately, we often mistake courage for the lack of fear, but courage is more accurately defined as a resolve to do the right thing, even when it’s scary. In the Old Testament, courage was a prominent theme. In fact, the word appears 98 times in the HCSB translation. In each case, there was something scary that needed to be done in order to correct something that was wrong, and one or two people, perhaps a small handful, stood up to make it happen.

The thing is, though, courage was not something that God just handed out. In Joshua 1, God commanded Joshua to be strong and courageous. Courage is our responsibility.

If we are going to live in a Good Friday world, we need courage. It is not that we are not afraid, because we may very well be terrified. Rather, it is that, despite our fear, we are committed to doing the right thing.

We have disappointment.

At this point in Luke’s narrative, in Luke 23:45-55, the spotlight shifts from the unknown stranger to the unnamed women. For whatever reason, Luke simply omitted their names. Perhaps their names were not important. Luke did, however, provide us one crucial bit of information: they “had come with [Jesus] from Galilee.” That is, they had been following Jesus for months, witnessing his miracles, hanging on his every word. They had been among the crowd shouting “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is the king!

Yes, they had expected Jesus to save Israel from the Roman oppressors and then be crowned king, but instead, in verse 55, they “followed along and observed the tomb and how His body was placed.”

That is disappointment, and it is an inescapable part of living in a Good Friday world. We have disappointment.

We expected that new job, the perfect spouse, cute and cuddly children. Instead, we get a rejection letter. He leaves his dirty socks in the middle of the bedroom floor or works too late. She is a terrible cook. And children are not nearly so cute and cuddly when they are screaming their heads off at 2:00 am.

Some of this disappointment may be the result of ill will. That is true. But it is also true that disappointment just happens. In fact, Jesus warned his disciples that this would all happen. He had told them explicitly that he was going to Jerusalem to die, and yet, they still got their hopes up. They were still disappointed.

In a Good Friday world, we have disappointment.

We need hope.

But it was even worse than that. In verse 54, we discover that Jesus died on “preparation day.” That is, he died on Friday. More specifically, he died at about 3:00 pm Friday afternoon, and so, by the time all the paperwork was filled out and Jesus’ body was released, the shadows were starting to grow long.

That is important because the Jews counted their days from sunset to sunset, and they called Friday “preparation day” because at sunset Friday, the Sabbath began. All the shops in town closed. No work could be done.

In other words, despite Joseph’s best efforts, there was no time to give Jesus a proper burial.

So in verse 56, we discover what may be the most unsatisfying ending to any story ever: “Then [the women] returned and prepared spices and perfumes. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment.”

Talk about bleak.

Ken Heer, in his commentary on Luke, observed, “It is hard to look at the events of this day and see the hand of God in them. Evil men had their way with the Son of God. The One who promised life died. The life of the King was brutally ended before He could come into His kingdom. There was nothing left to do by those who believed in Him but to complete His burial, and by doing so they would bury their hopes for a redeemer.

Sometimes, in a Good Friday world, all hope seems lost. We find ourselves alone in the dark, and it seems as though there is no light anywhere to be found.

It is a good thing, then, that this was not the end of the story. Luke does not end with Luke 23:56. And in fact, as we turn the page, the first word of chapter 24 is huge:

But…

Things were about to change.

Now, that is easy for us to say two thousand years after the fact. In the moment, the hopelessness of these women was undeniable. It was real. And it was overwhelming.

Indeed, in the moment, the hopelessness of our Good Friday world can be overwhelming.

In the moment, when all hope seems lost, the good news of Good Friday – the only reason we can call it good at all – is that this was not the end!

And as dark as this Good Friday World may be, we who believe in Jesus yet have that hope: But on Sunday, the stone would be rolled away and the tomb empty because Good Friday was not the end.

Today, we all live in this Good Friday World. Perhaps you are right now living your darkest day. Perhaps that day is yet to come. Regardless, know that this is not the end of the story.

Several years ago, S. M. Lockridge, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in San Diego, CA, delivered a poignant Easter meditation. His words resound today as we press on in this Good Friday World:

It’s Friday Jesus is praying Peter’s a sleeping Judas is betraying But Sunday’s comin’

It’s Friday Pilate’s struggling The council is conspiring The crowd is vilifying They don’t even know That Sunday’s comin’

It’s Friday The disciples are running Like sheep without a shepherd Mary’s crying Peter is denying But they don’t know That Sunday’s a comin’

It’s Friday The Romans beat my Jesus They robe him in scarlet They crown him with thorns But they don’t know That Sunday’s comin’

It’s Friday See Jesus walking to Calvary His blood dripping His body stumbling And his spirit’s burdened But you see, it’s only Friday Sunday’s comin’

It’s Friday The world’s winning People are sinning And evil’s grinning

It’s Friday The soldiers nail my Savior’s hands To the cross They nail my Savior’s feet To the cross And then they raise him up Next to criminals

It’s Friday But let me tell you something Sunday’s comin’

It’s Friday The disciples are questioning What has happened to their King And the Pharisees are celebrating That their scheming Has been achieved But they don’t know It’s only Friday Sunday’s comin’

It’s Friday He’s hanging on the cross Feeling forsaken by his Father Left alone and dying Can nobody save him? Ooooh It’s Friday But Sunday’s comin’

It’s Friday The earth trembles The sky grows dark My King yields his spirit

It’s Friday Hope is lost Death has won Sin has conquered and Satan’s just a laughin’

It’s Friday Jesus is buried A soldier stands guard And a rock is rolled into place

But it’s Friday It is only Friday Sunday is a comin’!

It’s even more powerful in video form! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRiIpsbJW8o

Seminary Update

A couple of weeks ago, I finished my fifth semester as a seminary student, and over the holidays, I received my final grades for the two courses I took. In Congregational Spiritual Formation, the larger of the two classes, I received an A-, and in Personal and Corporate Disciplines, I received an A. This gives me a GPA of 3.90. I am excited about this for a couple of reasons. First, it means that I have thus far been successful in this whole seminary thing. That is significant because one of my primary concerns going in was that I would not have the capacity to succeed at the graduate level while balancing full-time vocational ministry. And second, one of my biggest regrets from high school and especially my undergraduate studies was that I did not fully apply myself to my studies. The result of this was that, when I graduated from college, I missed receiving honors by (as I recall) .03. I will always know that, had I applied myself just a little bit more, especially during the first semester of that Literature course, I would have walked with a cord around my neck (in a good way). A GPA of 3.90, then, is vindication! Continue reading ‘Seminary Update’

I Went for a Run Today

I went for a run today. I’ve been trying to get back into running regularly over the last several weeks, but I will admit that it has been tough. Today as I walked out the door a little after 7:30 am, I was hit by a wall of heat and humidity which I knew immediately would make the run more challenging. For a moment, I even considered changing my route and running a shorter distance, closer to home, but as I reached the sidewalk in front of my house and started jogging, I resolved to go my usual route.

I love my usual running route. A shade longer than a 5K, it goes down a great hill, runs through a beautiful greenway, past a scenic lake dotted with ducks and herons and such, then along the Des Moines River, through some woods (which are still flooded from the wet spring and last week’s flash floods), and back up the main drag through the heart of my neighborhood. Along the way on any given day, you may see numerous species of birds, rabbits, squirrels, woodchucks, turkey, and deer. It’s also quiet. Yes, you can hear the distant rumble of trucks on the interstate, the buzz of an occasional airplane or helicopter, and even on occasion the purr of a boat meandering up the river, but you can also hear the birds singing, the squirrels playing, and the deer snorting at passersby intruding upon their munching.

This morning, one of the reasons I so wanted to take this route was that, for about a half mile, the path runs alongside the Tai Village. Originally intended to be a place for the Tai Dam people, originally from China, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand, to settle in Iowa, the Tai Village today consists of a cultural center, a few pavilions and gazebos, and the aforementioned lake. Every year during Labor Day weekend, the Tai Village hosts a festival celebrating their culture and others who have found refuge in our little part of the world.

This is why I was so eager to run this route today. You see, the Tai Dam people and many others would not be my neighbors if not for the work of one man, Robert D. Ray. Ray was many things over his long and storied career. Some of the things in his biography which struck me were the fact that he was the head of the Republican Party in Iowa. He was elected five times to serve as governor of the state of Iowa, and this was no small thing considering he was a staunch conservative serving during the social upheaval of the 60’s and 70’s, not to mention the Watergate scandal which rocked the public’s trust in government and the Republican Party. And in the midst of all this, Bob Ray lived and led in such a way that, in the wake of his passing this weekend, people on both sides the proverbial aisle have delivered tributes to him.

This is striking, particularly in today’s political and ideological polarization, and it compels me to wonder what it was that led even those at the opposite end of the political spectrum to respect and honor this man. And I think I find three things.

First, Ray was a man of unimpeachable character. The Des Moines Register described the conservative Republican as “quiet, humble and thoughtful, yet confident in his deeply held beliefs with the courage to act.” Those who knew him best described Ray’s leadership as open, honest, moral, and ethical, but what has struck me most were the words of David Oman, who served as Ray’s chief of staff: “That’s how he lived and that’s how he led” (source: https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/2018/07/08/bob-ray-obituary-iowa-governor-robert-ray-dies/998099001/) Simply put, Bob Ray was, by all accounts, a man of character, both in and out of the public spotlight, and that was clearly the primary reason he is today so widely respected. We would do well to heed this observation! Yet too often, we attempt to separate the public and private, insisting that we can be honorable in one sphere without having to be so in the other. If there is one lesson we must take from Robert Ray, as leaders and as people, it is that we must be people of unimpeachable character.

Second, Ray was more concerned with what was right than what was politically expedient. The Tai Dam people are a tremendous case in point. Today, we hear Republicans clamoring for walls and restrictions on immigration, but in 1975, as communism consolidated its hold on Vietnam and Laos and the Tai Dam, who had stood firmly against communism, feared reprisals, it was the Republican Bob Ray who went to President Ford seeking permission to resettle them in Iowa. He then helped form Iowa SHARES, a charity which raised $500,000 to help refugees in Thailand. In gratitude for his work on their behalf, the Tai Village named its cultural center in Ray’s honor, and Ray’s efforts laid the groundwork for many other groups of refugees displaced from places around the globe to find a new home in our community. And our community is better for it. We would do well to heed this observation as well! But instead of considering the situation and responding with right, how often do we listen to the sound bytes of pundits whose sole motivation is to rally votes? This is not to say that we should not have border security and immigration law! But it is to say that it is sometimes important – nay, imperative – that we step back, consider the bigger picture, and do the right thing rather than that which merely conforms with what our political affiliation tells us. Ray saw people in need, even on the far side of the world, and he endeavored to help. I dare say we must do the same!

Finally, one of the most impressive tributes to Ray which I have read in the last couple days was written by a woman who once debated him. Ray was staunchly conservative (read that, pro-life), and this woman was a leader of Planned Parenthood. There was no way the two were going to agree, and yet she recounted how their impromptu debate – which happened while they were both laid over in an airport terminal – was respectful and even warm. And at the end, she walked away from the exchange with an appreciation for both his position and the man. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out the application here. Watch the news for a few minutes, listen to talk radio, or even glance at Facebook, and it is plain to see that our discourse is dominated by vitriolic polemics which do little to convince anyone of anything and even less to reconcile. As a result, our culture is becoming increasingly polarized, both politically and ideologically. Some of this is inevitable. St. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, “There must, indeed, be factions among you, so that those who are approved may be recognized among you” (1 Corinthians 11:19 HCSB2009). But Paul also exhorted these same Corinthians to embrace a “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5). How can we have any hope of reconciliation, or even cooperation, if we’re too busy burning bridges with incendiary rhetoric and inflammatory discourse? It is interesting that Paul held no illusion that the church at Corinth would ever be completely uniform. Indeed, he advocated that their diversity was an essential strength! He advocated instead for unity, where all the different parts and pieces were committed to the same basic purpose and therefore pulling in the same general direction. And what was that purpose? The author of the Pledge of the Allegiance figured it out: “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Despite all our differences, we must be committed to liberty and justice for everyone. American. Tai Dam. Syrian. Mexican. Rich. Poor. Male. Female. Black. White. Old. Young. Unborn. We can have honest debates about how to best accomplish that. But we must never lost sight of the fact that we’re in this together, and so we must always engage those debates in a respectful and even warm way.

Robert D. Ray will probably never be a household name beyond the bounds of Iowa. But his life and his leadership have left a precedent for which we must all strive.

Seminary Update

It has been several weeks since the spring semester of seminary concluded, but I haven’t sat down to provide an update. This past semester, I was enrolled in Christian Proclamation and Mentoring & Spiritual Direction. In both classes, I received an A.

In Christian Proclamation, we examined a variety of styles of preaching, the process of preparing a sermon, and the theology of preaching. We prepared several sermons and shared one with the class. (In case you’re wondering, the message I turned in was called “Not Done Yet,” out of Genesis 2. You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNyouTpADNk). Christian Proclamation was challenging on a couple of levels. First, I was challenged to preach outside of my proverbial box. In fact, the message I submitted to the class was outside of my normal style. Second, the class itself was challenging in the way it was organized. I think if I was organizing a course on preaching, I would start with the preparation process, instructing students to exegete a theology of preaching. Then I would move into doing exegesis on particular topics and passages to prepare sermon outlines and start preaching. As it was, we started with the preaching, then worked on the exegesis and theology; the class was organized almost exactly the opposite of how I would have done it. Of course, I am not the expert (in either preaching or teaching!), so there may be a reason for all of this that I was missing. Third, the course was challenging in that there was an unplanned change of faculty just as we approached the end. This introduced an element of uncertainty and stress for the entire class, and also for the dean who stepped in to finish the course. I am therefore grateful to both Dr. Joy Moore and Dr. Absom Joseph for another tremendous course.

In Mentoring & Spiritual Direction, we explored the process of forging a mentoring relationship from both sides. Essentially, the mentor’s role is to help the mentee recognize what God has been doing in his/her life. The mentee’s job is to make the time and space necessary to discover the same. To be honest, I found this class quite enlightening. Namely, it helped me to understand some purposes and methods that, despite years of reading and practicing, had yet eluded me. Again, I will not profess to be an expert in mentoring, but I am hopeful that this new understanding will help me be more effective in the future. Once again, though, I must confess a degree of confusion. Namely, given the essential role of mentoring throughout the entire MDiv process, I find myself wondering why this class – which covers choosing a mentor and the basic purposes of a mentoring relationship – was not the first spiritual formation course of the program.

With these two courses completed, I am now two semesters, six courses, from the completion of the MDiv core. In addition to these courses, I have four electives to complete. Three of these electives are dictated by my church health and revitalization specialization, while the fourth is a true elective: I can choose what I want to study. I have been advised that I should take at least one of these as an independent study, and I am working to figure out what that will look like.

It seems like yesterday that this whole MDiv process started. Now, it seems strange to see that the end is coming into sight!

PHP Zen Cart SSL Connect Error: Mystery Solved

Warning: Geek speak ahead.

For many years, I have done web development as a hobby and side income. Since I’ve been in seminary, I have dramatically curtailed this activity, but I do still help people out. And I have a couple of clients that I continue to maintain. This week, one of these clients had a problem. Their website, an online store using Zen Cart, was suddenly reporting that it could not communicate with the credit card company (Linkpoint / First Data).

The first thing I did when I received this report was to check my spam filter for the error reports. When I found it, I was stumped: all it contained was a generic cURL error: 35 – SSL Connect error. This said that something went wrong when the script was trying to contact the credit card processor’s secure server, but it didn’t really tell me what.

With nothing more to go on, my first suspicion was outdated software. Indeed, Zen Cart told me that we were one version behind. So I updated that. Nothing.

My second suspicion was a corrupt setting. So I rooted through the settings and confirmed that everything was correct. Then I thought it was perhaps a momentary blip. So I waited a day to see if the error would clear. It didn’t.

With still no information to go on, I began to research the issue. I found several places online that talked about this message. Some talked about needing to update an SSL certificate. Others talked about checking server and port settings. Still others talked about needing to update PHP and a number of other things. None of them specifically dealt with Zen Cart and the Linkpoint payment module. Worse, the wide variety of diagnoses confirmed that this was a very generic error message: no help there.

I reached out to the hosting company. Their support was… underwhelming. The first person I chatted with never grasped that the problem was not between the end user and the server. Despite repeated attempts to explain the situation, they kept telling me that my SSL certificate was fine and they saw no errors on the website. The second person with whom I chatted dug a little deeper, checking to make sure that the server could communicate via the required port (i.e., 1129). Unfortunately, before that process was completed, something happened to our connection, and we got cut off.

At this point, I attempted to submit a support ticket rather than use the live chat. Unfortunately, the hosting company has apparently done away with support tickets and refers everything to live chat. I will probably be searching for a new hosting company going forward.

Finally yesterday, I was able to chat with a third support representative at the hosting company. This agent worked with me to confirm that the server was in fact able to communicate via port 1129. This, however, left me back at square one: not knowing the problem.

I asked the client to reach out to his bank. Their local banker referred us to their merchant support services and the credit card processing team. In the meantime, I kept researching.

And that’s when we struck gold. A single post on the Zen Cart support forum, so new that it had not yet been indexed by Google, described our exact problem. And the solution: line 322 in /includes/modules/payment/linkpoint_api/class.linkpoint_api.php:

curl_setopt ($ch, CURLOPT_SSLVERSION, 3);

This line specified that cURL should use SSL v3 (aka, TLS) to communicate with the Linkpoint servers. This version of SSL has been compromised for several years, but the Linkpoint payment module was apparently never updated. It would seem that on or about February 14, Linkpoint grew tired of waiting and shut it down. The solution, then, was simple: comment out line 322 and allow cURL to negotiate with the host which SSL version to use.

And just like that, the problem was solved.

I don’t offer this here to trumpet my own horn. Rather, I offer it in the hopes of making life for some other webdev a little bit easier! Happy coding!

Winter 2017 seminary update

As my friends and family well know, I have been pursuing a Master of Divinity degree through Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University. Early this morning, I received the final grades for Fall 2017, and I am pleased to report that I have passed both Christian Worship and Goal Setting & Accountability.

Continue reading ‘Winter 2017 seminary update’


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