Easter: the Main Event

I read that in the most recent census there were more people than ever before giving their religious affiliation as “none.”  It doesn’t necessarily follow that all these people are non-believers, but it does mean they have no on-going relationship with a church and a great many of these people have never read the Bible.

easter bunny

To these folks, Easter is probably a celebration of Spring, acknowledging the end of winter and the time of Nature’s renewal with symbols of the season such as bunnies, flowers, and candy eggs. They may have no understanding of the meaning these signs of rebirth have for Christians. The Easter Bunny is the star of their show.

How sad for those who don’t understand and don’t share in the true meaning and promise of the Resurrection.

For those of us who do believe and have claimed Christ as our Lord and Savior, Easter is the Main Event; the pinnacle of the Holy calendar and a time to celebrate the most miraculous happening in history.

I don’t worry too much about the commercialization of the Christmas season, but it grieves my heart to see so many unaware of the blaze of victory which followed that humble beginning.

The babe in the manger is a precious image… but, the man on the cross, bleeding and dying; defeating death for me… that is something else… that is something to celebrate… that is the main event… that is love.

16-18 “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.

John 3:16-18 (MSG)
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Mourn the loss but celebrate the victory

At the time, Good Friday was not considered good. The mood of Christ’s followers was one of loss. Even his close disciples who had been told what was to happen must have held out some hope that Jesus would somehow use his power to avoid death. They must have been deeply shocked when he sighed, “It is finished,” and breathed his last. Their mourning would have been overwhelming.

Then, incredibly, on the following Sunday, they saw with their own eyes that Jesus had not avoided death, but had conquered it, not only for himself, but for all believers, for all time. What a victory.

As a child I often saw a road sign proclaiming gloomily in large print, “The wages of sin is death.” It wasn’t until I was older that I noticed the smaller words on the sign, “but the gift of God is eternal life.”

 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23 (NKJV)

The large, bold words of warning on that sign seeped into my consciousness and colored my feelings about death, even the deaths of believers, for many years. I could only see the sorrow.

While mourning the loss of loved ones this year, the promise in the rest of the verse came into sharper focus. I realized that while grieving for those whom I would miss, I could celebrate that they were now in the presence of the Lord they loved. My pain was greatly eased by focusing on their present joy and the certain knowledge that I will be with them again one day.

There is a reason that dying, for a believer, is sometimes referred to as going to their reward.

When we ponder Christ’s pain and suffering on the cross today, let us look ahead to the great victory of Resurrection Morning, knowing that for those who believe, because of His sacrifice, there is a resurrection morning for us to celebrate, as well.

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Put your trust in God alone

“Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.”

After the events of this week, I felt in need of comfort and encouragement for the struggles to come. The words of the hymn Nothing Is Impossible keep running through my head:

Put your trust in God alone and Rest upon His Word, and everything, yes everything, Oh, everything is possible with God.

Difficult days are ahead for Christians. We will be tested and refined. It is important to remember our trust belongs in the One who never disappoints.

“…in God I trust and am not afraid. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 56:11)

Bombarded with shocking revelations and accusations, misinformation and half-truths, targeted by scammers and schemers, it is hard to know who we can trust. When the people in leadership positions are revealed to have committed misdeeds, how do we know who we can rely on?

As always, the Scriptures provide guidance in such a time as this.

When it comes to those we should follow in positions of leadership, the Bible tells us this in Exodus 18:21: But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain…

We can judge the character of leaders by looking at the results of their choices, as we are told in Matthew 7:20: You can tell who the false prophets are by their deeds. We can read “false prophets” to be anyone who would choose to advise us, whether friends or leaders. A person whose own life is in a shambles would be the last one we should trust to tell us how to live.

The best advice in today’s confusing times bears repeating:

Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.

Psalm 40:4 (NIV)
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Don’t go into this battle unarmed

While observing the chaos in the world today, it is understandable to feel a sense of helplessness.

When a person feels helpless, it is common to succumb to apathy, or to misdirect frustration onto whatever target is closest, but a more productive response might be to change things one small step at a time within one’s own sphere of influence:

Do the next right thing.

Make a difference where you can make a difference; be kind to people you encounter, offer praise freely when it’s deserved, forgive slights, real or imagined, and most of all, pray for one another and trust God.

We are in a spiritual battle where faith, prayer, and righteous acts are powerful weapons.

In order to be most effective we must be equipped with the full armor of God.10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the]wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints— – Ephesians 6:10-18 (NKJV)

We are in a real battle, one where each believer must enter the struggle girded with truth. As much as we might like to jump into bed and pull the covers over our head while the conflict rages, we have been called to participate.

God has provided us with all the weapons and ammunition we need.

Don’t go into battle unarmed.

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Grace: it’s amazing!

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—

Ephesians 2:8 (NIV)

“Amazing Grace” the hymn written in 1772 by poet/clergyman John Newton may be the most recognized Christian hymn of all time. The moving words are often heard at funeral services, both Christian and secular. Perhaps because we have come to associate the tune with the mournful tones of the bagpipes, this hymn of praise and joy is too often sung at a dirge-like tempo.

When my congregation sang it recently, I was struck by how the doleful tempo of the music jarred with the words.

How incongruous to sing:

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

This hymn begins and ends with joy at God’s amazing, incredible, mind-blowing, astonishing, remarkable, unbelievable, astounding, breathtaking, exciting, fascinating and marvelous grace to His children. Why would we choose to sing it as though we are sad and mournful?

The tunes and tempos of worship music play on our emotions and, when paired with inspirational lyrics, can move us in deep and meaningful ways. However, it is important to sing with the heart and the mind; with emotions and also with understanding of what we are singing.

Music has always been a vital component of worship, and how much greater can be our worship experience when we pay attention to the words and sing them from the heart.

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The hardest commandment

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Matthew 5:43-45 (NKJV)

There was a time when I thought the only way someone might be my enemy was in the unlikely event that I were to be involved in a war. Anyone fighting on the other side would become my enemy. But I thought in my day to day life, while I might have disagreements with people, that would never make them an enemy.

In our current divisive climate, however, it sometimes seems that anyone who expresses an opinion we don’t agree with becomes the enemy. Although this is distressing, it is also an opportunity for us, as Christians, to mature in our faith by obedience to this most difficult commandment of Christ.

When we encounter those with differing views of the current turmoil in our country and our world, we can choose to respond in a mature, kind, respectful manner while praying for God’s power and discernment in their lives and in our own.

The Message translation of the verse above puts Jesus’ command in words we can’t fail to understand:

43-47 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the supple moves of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

Matthew 5:43-45 (MSG)

We are engaged in spiritual warfare, make no mistake, but our Enemy in this battle is found in the spiritual realm.

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What can you give up for Lent?

At this time of year, one sometimes hears people talking about giving something up for Lent. Catholics traditionally gave up eating meat and lived a generally less self-indulgent life during this time, which accounts for all the excesses of Carnivale or Mardi Gras, as folks ate up all the goodies before the beginning of the Lenten season on Ash Wednesday.

The English word Lent is simply a shortened form of the Old English word lencten, meaning spring season, however Lent, the time between Ash Wednesday and the Saturday before Easter, is often considered by Christians as a time of preparation and an opportunity to go deeper with God.

This is a time for personal reflection that prepares people’s hearts and minds for Good Friday and Easter as we consider the unimaginable suffering and sacrifice of Jesus Christ at the crucifixion in order to give us the joy of the resurrection and all it means.

Giving something up for Lent is our feeble attempt to share in Christ’s sacrifice.

While giving up meat, chocolate, or some other daily treat can be a real sacrifice for some people, I’ve been thinking that in today’s chaotic and uncertain climate, I might try to give up something more meaningful. I’m going to try to give up fear, anxiety, anger, and resentment… handing it all to God and trusting Him to take care of all these circumstances I cannot change.

Taking a few weeks off from some physical indulgence can be hard. Giving up my sense of control will be harder still unless I lean on Him and trust His word:

So do not be afraid. I am with you. Do not be terrified. I am your God. I will make you strong and help you. I will hold you safe in my hands. I always do what is right. (Isaiah 41:10 NIRV)

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Who do YOU trust?

Constantly bombarded with shocking revelations and accusations, misinformation and half-truths, targeted by scammers and schemers, it is hard to know who we can trust. When even the people considered to be paragons of virtue can be revealed to have committed misdeeds, how do we know who we can rely on?

As always, the Scriptures provide guidance in such a time as this.

When it comes to those we should follow in positions of leadership, the Bible tells us this in Exodus 18:21:

But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.

We can judge the character of leaders by looking at the the results of their choices, as we are told in Matthew 7:20:  “You can tell who the false prophets are by their deeds.” We can read “false prophets” to be anyone who would choose to advise us, whether friends or leaders. A person whose own life is in a shambles would be the last one we should trust to tell us how to live.

The best advice in today’s confusing times is still these words:

Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.

Psalm 40:4 (NIV)
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A blessed reminder

In times like these, it is especially important to remember the basics of our faith.

When the Apostle Peter was nearing the end of his life, with his martyrdom imminent, he wrote to encourage the early believers who were also enduring persecution.

The little New Testament book of 2 Peter has only one brief chapter and is easy to overlook, but it contains the very essence of Christianity.

He reminds Christ’s followers, even when times are confusing and difficult, of what is truly important:

…giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:5-8 (NKJV)

If you are feeling unsettled and insecure today, read and meditate on 2 Peter and be encouraged.

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Anyway

We all have lots to be discouraged about these days, but as Christians we have much to praise God for, as well. We each have a choice in how we let current events affect our attitude.

We can spend our time worrying and complaining, or trust that God has everything in hand and give Him praise for all His blessings, anyway. This is His will, as the Scriptures tell us.

 in everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 NET

It is tempting to think that these words were meant for the early church and that it must have been easier for the believers living at that time. They didn’t have to deal with what we do, after all.

There are at least two things wrong with that idea. First of all, our omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient God who inspired the Gospel writers knew then, as He knows now, exactly what each one of us is going through today. Secondly, the early Christians faced oppression, persecution, and difficulties we cannot even imagine. And God, through the Apostle Paul in this instance, told them to give thanks, anyway.

So, for us today, no matter how discouraged we may get, our mission is to trust God, anyway.

Give thanks, anyway.

Do the next right thing, anyway.

Any Way We Can.

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