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.

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.

The Only Reason You Ever Need to Have Hope

The Only Reason You Ever Need to Have Hope

What do Star Wars and Obama have in common? I know. This is not your typical Wednesday-morning question. Okay, I get it. You haven’t had your coffee yet. Star Wars offers “A New Hope” and Obama claimed to promote “Hope and Change.” They both (and they aren’t the only ones) offer the only reason you ever need to have hope.

And whether it’s science fiction or a political promise, we all take notice because we all long for hope. I think we’ve longed for hope since the garden. And right there in the garden, God gave us a reason to hope as he promised a remedy for the problem of sin and death.

Isn’t that what Star Wars and Obama (and anyone else selling hope) are doing? Aren’t they promoting the idea that there is relief from this present darkness? Whether it’s hope for those weary of life lived under an oppressive galactic army or hope for those who are impoverished, marginalized, and rejected, we all want hope. Which is why we like to watch the Rebel Force press back the boundaries of the Empire. It’s why people vote for “change” without thinking about the unintended consequences of change without a moral compass. We long for immediate relief from our suffering, and sometimes that means we buy into false hope.

The only one capable of fulfilling our hopes is God. Yet we look to other sources for a solution.

God tells us we should honor Christ in our hearts and always be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…” (1 Peter 3:15). The implication is that we have hope.

Our hope – our only true hope – is Christ. Christ truly is the only reason you ever need to have hope. Christ in the flesh. Christ crucified. Christ resurrected. Christ ascended. Christ interceding. Christ glorified. And Christ returning for us.

God, in his grace, prompted prophets to prophesy about the coming Messiah. God in his grace fulfilled the prophecies in Christ so we also may believe. And God in his grace has opened our eyes and ears that we might see and hear the truth, and believe (Ephesians 1:15-21).

Our faith is founded in Christ and the work he completed on the cross. It is not wrapped up in the evidence and testimony of the saints who have gone before us, but the reasons for our faith are strengthened by the evidence and testimony of the saints who have gone before us.

But wait! There’s more!

 

Our faith and hope, while founded in the work completed, doesn’t end with what has already been accomplished. We have a future hope.

Christ is returning for us. Christ will cover us on Judgement Day. Christ will take us to the home he has prepared for us. And all these afflictions will finally be seen as light and momentary with respect to the great glory awaiting us.

And as we focus on the glimpse of glory to come, true hope can sustain us here. now. today.

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 Natural Result of Knowing the Lord is at Hand

The Natural Result of Knowing the Lord is at Hand

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7

People tend to cross stitch “Rejoice in the Lord always” on pillows. We see greeting cards reminding us not to “be anxious about anything, but in everything … give thanks.” And condolences during grief or challenging times often repeat the phrase, “the peace which surpasses all understanding….”

Yet, sometimes the commands to rejoice and not be anxious seem harsh and burdensome.

There is a little phrase in the middle of these verses we leave off of the marketing materials. It’s right there between rejoice and don’t be anxious:

The Lord is at hand.

Why doesn’t that make the pillows, t-shirts, greeting cards, and calendars?

The only way we can rejoice in all circumstances, be reasonable, abandon anxiety, and give thanks as we make our requests known to God is to live in the knowledge that the Lord is at hand. The only way to experience the peace that passes all understanding is to pursue the presence of God. And the only way we have the power to live according to his design is to recognize his presence in our mundane moments.

When we strip the comfort and confidence of knowing the Lord is at hand from the instructions on how to live, we forfeit the peace that passes understanding – the very thing he promises. We accept a burden we were never meant to bear. Rejoicing and freedom from anxiety aren’t so much rules to be obeyed, as they are the natural result of living under the hand of the Lord.

Lets ask ourselves honestly, “How would it change my day today if I live as if ‘the Lord is at hand’?”

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.