Easter is Why We Worship

Easter is Why We Worship

Yesterday we celebrated Easter.

Resurrection Day.

Greetings of “He is risen!” were met with, “He is risen, indeed!” in the halls of our church. Faces were bright, happy, and hopeful.

Worship was enthusiastic and joyful in a way it isn’t on other Sundays. I’m good with that. It is similar to how my affection for my husband is amplified on our anniversary. The annual celebration of our wedding anniversary is more than a nice dinner out, it’s an opportunity to remember our commitment, to celebrate faithfulness, and to look ahead to another year of being married and walking together with Jesus. Celebrating our anniversary inspires affection and renews desire.

The annual celebration of Easter is more than an Easter Egg Hunt and a festive service with like-minded believers. It’s an opportunity to remember God’s commitment, to celebrate his faithfulness, and to look ahead to another year of being in his church and walking with Jesus. Celebrating Easter inspires gratitude and revives my weary heart. I need the annual reminder of God’s sacrifice and victory at Easter the same way I need the weekly reminder of the relevance of scripture for my days through Sunday worship, and a daily reminder of his presence in my moments through personal study and prayer.

I don’t want to move on too quickly from the refreshment I find in an Easter service.

Easter is why we worship.

Easter is about the risen Christ who has set us free to live the life for which God created us.

On Good Friday we think about Jesus on the cross. We should.

We think about him hanging there between two criminals – thieves.

Stop there a minute.

Theft earned crucifixion.

We don’t really think about stealing as a crime deserving the death penalty.  We barely view murder as deserving the death penalty!

God takes theft seriously, doesn’t he?  As a matter of fact, he takes all sin seriously.

All sin deserves the death penalty – which is why Christ came.

If you think about it, all sin is theft, in a way.

  • We are stealing God’s glory when we sin.  We tarnish his name by taking the image of God in us and distorting it into something ugly.
  • We steal from his world when we abuse the earth rather than exercise dominion over it.
  • We steal from his inherent creativity when we create vulgarity instead of beauty.
  • We steal from his people when we hoard instead of giving lavishly to others.
  • We steal life through abortion, slander, gossip, and silence.
  • We steal joy through criticism and judgment, cruelty, envy, and anger.
  • We steal innocence and destroy fidelity with our clothing choices, language, and no-fault divorce laws.

I think these are just some of the ways our enemy steals, kills, and destroys. Jesus stands in stark contrast to the thieves hanging beside him, because they deserved to be there for taking, while Jesus came to give (John 10:10).

We don’t think too much about the thieves because we know they at least did something wrong – even if we don’t consider it worthy of the death penalty.

And I think sometimes we don’t think too much about ourselves in that light either.  Sure, we did something wrong, but is it really worthy of the death penalty?  If our sins came to light – the half-truths, the critical words, the judgmental heart, the coveting spirit, the contention, dissension – and we were condemned to death by lethal injection or electrocution – we’d be outraged!  It would seem unjust.

But it’s not.

God said, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

I need to be reminded of the death penalty I earned by my sin.  Not because I live condemned, for “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). No, I need to be reminded of the great debt that was paid.

Easter reminds me of a life characterized by theft, murder, and destruction (even in their lesser forms), and that I have been freed by someone else to live a different life.

The events of the first Easter are why we can worship.

Praise be to God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ through the power of his Spirit who calls us and teaches us to worship him in spirit and in truth!

How Will You be Remembered?

How Will You be Remembered?

Last Sunday I heard a great sermon. I thought of all kinds of folks who would benefit from that sermon. Since my husband is the preacher and the sermons are recorded, it’s even possible for me to make sure all those folks I thought of during that sermon get a copy. I can even email the link – no postage required! Technology is awesome, isn’t it? It’s a great tool for sending light to penetrate the darkness.

I’m glad the truth preached from our pulpit can enter the day-to-day experience of folks in other parts of the world, but sometimes I wonder if it enters my world. Sometimes I wonder if the words preached in my hearing penetrate my heart.

I know I’m not alone in this. There is at least one Bible story that points to this common experience.

Mark 14:3-9
And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

Now I know you may be wondering how this passage relates, but bear with me a minute!

Let’s look at this scene more closely.

Jesus is visiting with some folks in the house of a friend. Probably a marginalized friend, since he was know by his ailment. A woman comes in and effectively pours $47,000 worth of perfume on Jesus’ head. The folks sitting around are indignant. They’re thinking their cultural equivalent of, “Wha…?!?! I could’ve sold that on eBay for $47,000! Think how many bottles of clean water that would’ve bought for the Sudanese refugees!”

All true.

And yet Jesus rebukes them.

Now it’s our turn to say, “Wha…?!?!”

The thing is, the folks scolding this woman were not comparing her actions to Christ – who lived a life of sacrifice – but to themselves. And it is for that thought Jesus rebukes them. He reminds them they will always have the poor among them and they (they, as in those folks sitting right there) could do good to the poor any time they wanted.

But they didn’t want to.

They wanted this woman to.

Jesus takes a moment here to remind them to look to their own actions before he vindicates hers.

It’s as if he says something like, “Sure, she could have sold the flask and given the money to the poor – there are poor folks all around. But you there – you sitting there condemning her actions – what are you doing with your money? You can do good to the poor any time you want. But do you? You are neither giving to the poor nor sacrificing an astronomical amount for the kingdom.”

Which is where this experience intersects with my sermon experience.

Words of scripture rightly preached are an invaluable resource. But what do I do with that resource?

Do I invest the teaching God has given me in kingdom work by shining light on the sinful places in my own heart? Or do I deflect his prompting and judge other people’s actions by the truths I hear? Do I evaluate myself in the light of the active sacrifice of Christ, or do I evaluate others in light of my actions?

When we hear preaching and teaching in various contexts, God is always asking the question. “What are you doing with your heart? How does this change what you know about Me and you? How does this change you?”

There’s one other aspect to this story I think we should consider. Jesus honored this woman by promising that wherever the gospel was preached, her action would be retold. She is remembered.

But so are those who were sitting there.

This woman is remembered for her sacrifice. For her love for Jesus and the kingdom. For her love. (Indeed, we are called to love one another as Christ loved us – and to be known for such love!)

Those who were indignant are remembered for their indignance. For their hard heartedness. For their condemnation and judgement and apathy.

How will you be remembered?

__________

This post builds on the theme we’re talking about today over at Redeeming Easter: A Resurrection Day Study. If you’d like to join us you can subscribe to that Bible study with daily devotions here: http://eepurl.com/bPCVqn.

The One Thing You Need for the Perfect Easter

The One Thing You Need for the Perfect Easter

Do you realize it’s only a week and a half until Easter? There is a lot to do to prepare for the perfect Easter. In our house that includes working with our littlest kids so they know the songs they’ll sing with the children’s choir on Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. We’ve got spring clothes to buy (which is no small task when you have seven kids). And I don’t know if it’s a southern thing or if it’s expected in the northern regions to which we moved this winter, but I need to find white shoes for my girls. They can’t possibly wear black on (or after) Easter!

Maybe you’re also making Easter baskets, dying eggs, and planning egg hunts. Families will gather for special meals – all of which need planning, shopping, and preparing to pull off. In our house we are also preparing for Easter with daily devotions, memorizing scripture, and little activities to bring our hearts and minds back to Jesus. He is, after all, the reason for this season, too.

In the days before the first Easter, there was a lot going on as well. And those preparations mirrored the preparations expected of Jews in Egypt before the first Passover. You know, there is an awful lot about that first Passover that point to Christ’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection.

The Jews followed a specific set of instructions to prepare for Passover. There would’ve been a flurry of extra work on top of their already full days of slave labor working for the Pharaoh.

Sometimes I forget that those days before Passover weren’t vacation days for the Hebrews. They had all the ongoing burdens of gathering straw and fulfilling their recently-increased daily quotas for bricks to do as they were selecting the lamb, protecting the lamb, packing their homes, borrowing silver from their Egyptian neighbors, buying bitter herbs and cleaning every. last. bit. of. leavening. from their homes.

Moses claimed this coming event would set them free from the tyranny of Pharaoh and their lives of slavery. My guess is the hustle and bustle of daily life and preparing to kill their lambs, mingled with the fear that this too, would provoke Pharaoh to increase their misery, may have overshadowed the hope Moses offered at least a little.

It sounds a bit like Easter preparations today, doesn’t it? Just like the Hebrews, Easter is added on top of all we already have going on. Just like the Hebrews, we will miss a mighty salvation if we fail to prepare the most important things. The Hebrew focus was on a lamb and covering their doorposts with its blood. Our focus must be on The Lamb and covering our hearts with his redeeming blood.

As we come into the home stretch of preparing for Easter, will you please stop to consider whether or not you have the blood of the Passover Lamb sprinkled on the lintel and door-posts of your heart? Are you sheltered by the blood of the Lamb that was slain? Have you been purified by his righteousness? Do you now walk in the presence of the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come?

Salvation by Grace is all you need for the perfect Easter.

If you are at all uncertain, I suggest you watch this brief video which explains how to know Christ as your Passover Lamb, your Savior. {Actually, even if you are 100% certain, I suggest you watch it as well – we all need to preach the gospel of grace to our hearts daily, lest we try to complete our perfection by our own effort (Galatians 3:3-5).}

So, what now?

We can’t earn salvation; we are saved by God’s grace when we have faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. All you have to do is believe you are a sinner, that Christ died for your sins, and ask His forgiveness. Then turn from your sins – that’s called repentance. Jesus Christ knows you and loves you. What matters to Him is the attitude of your heart, your honesty, your willingness to acknowledge you have a sin problem and you can’t fix it. Not even a little bit.

You might want to start by praying a prayer something like this:

Dear God,

I know I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I know there is no other way to be right with God and freed from the power and the penalty for my sins. I trust and follow you as my Lord and Savior. Guide my life and help me to do your will.

I pray in the name of Jesus, Amen.

Then you’ll want to connect with other Christians so that you can learn more about what it is to follow Jesus day to day.

I’d love to know if you are resting in his grace for the first time. Please send me a message so I can welcome you into the family and help connect you with a local church.

__________

This post builds on the theme we’re talking about today over at Redeeming Easter: A Resurrection Day Study. If you’d like to join us you can subscribe to that Bible study with daily devotions here: http://eepurl.com/bPCVqn.

It’s Pi Day! {With a Giveaway!!}

It’s Pi Day! {With a Giveaway!!}

It’s Pi day.  March 14, 2016. 3/14/16. Pi = 3.1416. Get it? Anyway, I think it’s worth celebrating.  Any reason to celebrate, right?

Right about now you are likely asking yourself, “What does Pi have to do with pursuing life in Christ with creativity, wisdom, and grace”?

Give me a minute and you’ll get a little peek into my crazy head!

First let’s talk about Pi (I am a mathematician by education, you know!).

Pi.

Pi is the 16th letter of the Greek alphabet {Hey! It’s 2016! There’s no correlation, but it is kind of fun, isn’t it?}

Pi is also the symbol assigned to represent the relationship between the distance around the outside of a circle and the distance across a circle if you cut it exactly in half.  For any circle – and I really do mean any circle of any size – if you divide the circumference of that circle by the diameter of that circle you will always get Pi.

Pi is predictable. However, Pi, as a number, is irrational.

Being irrational means there is no way to divide Pi by any other number and end up without a something left over.  As a decimal, it means that none of the digits after the decimal will repeat indefinitely or terminate.

It is similar to having an argument with someone who is irrational. They never seem to return to the same point twice, and if they do, it’s only briefly and they are off in another direction… You can never get to the end of an argument like that, can you? Likewise, you can never get to the end of Pi.

Math lesson ended, let’s move on to baking. {Yay! I like baking, too!}

Pie.

Pie is a baked dish which usually has pastry dough containing sweet or savory filling. Most people associate pie with a round pie plate filled with a sweet filling and served for dessert.  However, the American Pie Council claims fruit pie originated in the 19th century as a breakfast food to prepare for a particularly long day.

According to a 2008 survey by Crisco and the American Pie Council, pie is America’s favorite dessert. Pie is not just for dessert nowadays, either.  According to the same study, 35% of Americans have eaten pie for breakfast, 66% have pie for lunch, and 59% have pie for a midnight snack.

So what does all of this have to do with life in Christ, creativity, wisdom, and grace?

Probably nothing, but since my brain is driven to find connections, I came up with one:

Pi is a number which keeps going forever and does not look the same from one digit to the next.  Pie is a highly favored dessert that should be repeated often.

Pie is a great way to extend hospitality.  Hospitality doesn’t have to look the same for everyone; and, like Pi hospitality often looks very different from one instance to the next.

So…. hospitality is like Pi!  And Pie is a great way to offer hospitality.  Which means hospitality is the relationship between Pi (an irrational, infinitely extending number) and Pie (a delicious pastry filled with yumminess).

Lots of times we think of hospitality as entertaining, but it doesn’t have to be.

  • Hospitality can be taking a pie to a neighbor or to a pot luck dinner as much as having someone in your home.
  • Hospitality might be meeting someone for a picnic where you both bring part of the meal.
  • Peanut butter (or in our case, Wow Butter, since we have a peanut allergy) sandwiches are just as hospitable as Shepherd’s Pie.
  • Freezer pops on the lawn with neighborhood kids counts.  So does a big batch of snow ice cream (if winter.just.won’t.end where you are).
  • Hospitality can be delivering a bag of jelly beans or a handful of daffodil bulbs you dug out of your garden.
  • Hospitality can mean inviting a struggling math student to understand Pi.
  • Hospitality can be a cup of tea delivered to an elderly neighbor while you rake her leaves.
  • It can also be a bucket of fried chicken or a couple of pizzas you pick up on the way over.
  • Maybe hospitality is having kids over to play or going to a friend’s house to help them prepare for a garage sale.
  • It might be asking someone along for a grocery run or a walk around the neighborhood.
  • Hospitality could be inviting your kids to help you make a pie. 🙂

Really my point is simple: Hospitality is something we need to do.  Romans 12:13 instructs us to practice hospitality. 1 Peter 4:9 says to do it without grumbling. And since 1 John 4:18 reminds us perfect love casts out all fear and Philippians 4:6 tells us we are to be anxious about nothing (given that the Lord is at hand – Philippians 4:5), being afraid to have people over isn’t really an excuse either. You don’t even have to have anyone over.

So, how about it?  Would you be willing  to celebrate Pi Day with me? Or maybe Day-After-Pi-Day, if a Tuesday suits you better?

Why not make pie for your family? Maybe you could double the recipe and take one to a neighbor, co-worker, pastor, or friend?

Is making a pie intimidating?  Here’s an easy recipe you might enjoy.

First, Pie Crust:

If the definition of pie is a pastry filled with something, it all starts with the pastry, right?  I’ve adopted Pilsbury Refrigerated Pie Crusts (they are egg free, and we have an egg allergy).  Talk about easy!  I do actually roll the crusts out so that they are thinner.  A thinner crust becomes flaky.  I can get two pies from one Pilsbury crust.  Rolling out a ready-made crust is completely optional.

Apple Pie

Apple pie

    • 5-6 apples, dipped in lemon (enough to double the height of the pie plate, I like Granny Smith or Stayman Apples)
    • 1 cup white sugar
    • 1/2 cup brown sugar
    • 2 Tbs. flour
    • 1 tsp. cinnamon
    • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
    • 1/4 cup butter
    • one pie crust, rolled so the circle is several inches wider than the pie plate

1.  Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2.  Roll the pie crust until it drapes to the counter when you lay it in the pie plate.
3.  Mix the sugars, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a small bowl.
4.  Peel and core the apples. Cut into bite sized pieces and sprinkle with a little bit of lemon juice to prevent browning.
5.  Spread half of the apples in the pie plate, inside that beautiful crust you just rolled out. Sprinkle with half of the sugar mixture.  Repeat with the rest of the apples and follow with the rest of the sugar mixture.
6.  Slice the butter into thin pats and scatter them over the top of the pie.
7.  Gently turn the edge of the pie crust up and over the pie.  The center of the pie will be uncovered.  You can fold it prettily, but it mostly just “drapes” over the top of the pie.  This eliminates the need for a top crust, lattice top, venting, etc.  I like to sprinkle the top of the crust with a little white sugar or cinnamon sugar to make it pretty.
8.  Bake at 450 for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 (without removing pie) and continue baking for 35 more minutes.  Let the pie cool for at least 10 minutes (if you can stand it!) so the juices thicken before serving.

Want More? How about a FREE mini-cookbook of Pie recipes!

Comment on my blog, Tweet about this post, share on your Facebook wall, or Pin it and I’ll send you recipes for Shepherd’s Pie, Chicken Pot Pie, Chocolate Pie,  and an exceptionally easy Fruit Cobbler (for when you don’t have crust!).

Send me an e-mail to let me know where you’ve shared and a mini-PDF cookbook will arrive in your inbox!

Bonus:  The Shepherd’s Pie and Chicken Pot Pie have freeze-ahead versions!

The Only Way to be Fiercely Committed to Joy

The Only Way to be Fiercely Committed to Joy

You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men, even among the rebellious, that the LORD God may dwell there. Psalm 68:18

Psalm 68 mentions this “host of captives in your train.” Have you ever thought about those folks? A train of captives might include people captured as spoils of war. These might be the the folks who were from the conquered nation, being led unwillingly to captivity in an unfamiliar land. These folks would understandably be grieving for the loss of their culture, homes, the men who died in battle. They’d be consumed with uncertainty – were they being led to a mass execution? Slavery? Would families be torn apart? Would women and girls be forced to marry or worse, into prostitution?

Think of the many times the Israelites were captured like this. They added to the common human experience of being captured the fear that they would be required to defile their bodies with forbidden foods and practices. They could no longer go to the temple for atonement of sin or thank offerings.Their hearts would be all the heavier for knowing they could not satisfy God’s requirements in this new place.

But another thought occurred to me recently: A train of captives might include the people who had been previously captured and were now being rescued by warriors from their homeland. Perhaps a train of captives consists of people being returned to their homes and families; rescued by the king who would not forsake his people.

Genesis 14 talks about one such “train of captives.” Abraham heard his kinsman Lot had been taken captive by an enemy king. So he mustered 318 trained men and pursued the captors. They defeated these kings and brought back all the people and possessions who had been taken from Sodom and Gomorrah, including Lot.

The people in this captive train would experience something completely different from the previous day when they were being taken away from their land. Hope replaced despair. Gratitude replaced fear. They were now victors, not victims. They were rescued. Their future was no longer shrouded in uncertainty and grief. There would, of course, be a rebuilding and grief. Their dead were still dead. Their homes were likely damaged during the battle. But they were willingly walking toward a rebuilding, not a forced relocation. Freedom, not slavery. Life, not death.

When we think of Jesus, who leads a host of captives in his train right into the throne room of God, which train do we join?

Sometimes I think we walk through our Christian experience living as if we have been defeated rather than delivered. We don’t live as if our King has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and is leading us to the heavenly places where our true home awaits. We cultivate fear instead of joy. We walk as unwilling captives being forced into an unfamiliar existence. And all too often we cling to our idols.

What would it look like to walk through whatever faces you today with a heart fiercely committed to joy?

What would it look like to “consider it all joy when you encounter various trials” (James 1:2) knowing that you are headed home?

The only way to be fiercely committed to joy is to leap into his grace with everything we’ve got. We only find fierce joy as we recognize Christ as our rescuer. Only the knowledge of his abundant grace transforms our hearts from victim to victor. We only understand his grace as we walk in repentance.

So, I guess what I’m asking is: In day-to-day (even moment-by moment) life, is Christ your rescuer or captor? Do you live redeemed or resigned? Are you willing to let your heart and mind be transformed by the truth of the gospel in such a way that your life changes? Will you leap into grace?

This post builds on the theme we’re talking about today over at Redeeming Easter: A Resurrection Day Study. If you’d like to join us you can subscribe to that Bible study with daily devotions here: http://eepurl.com/bPCVqn.