EASTER: ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN!

monarch butterfliesThe next day, on the Sabbath, the leading priests and Pharisees went to see Pilate. They told him, “Sir, we remember what that deceiver once said while he was still alive: ‘After three days I will rise from the dead.’ So we request that you seal the tomb until the third day. This will prevent his disciples from coming and stealing his body and then telling everyone he was raised from the dead! If that happens, we’ll be worse off than we were at first.” Pilate replied, “Take guards and secure it the best you can.” So they sealed the tomb and posted guards to protect it. [Matthew 27:62-65 (NLT)]

Christ the Lord is ris’n today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heav’ns, and earth, reply, Alleluia!
Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once He died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia! [Charles Wesley]

Billy Graham told of when an entertainment network was doing a story on highlights of Charlotte, North Carolina. Considered a point of interest, the Billy Graham Library was visited by the show’s co-host, Kristy Villa, and her film crew. Seeing the many crosses displayed throughout the property, Villa asked, “I see all the crosses, but where is Jesus?” Her library guide replied, “He’s in Heaven, and He is also present in the lives of those who believe in Him and follow Him as their personal Lord and Savior.” Villa exclaimed, “Oh, that’s right! Some worship a crucifix, but Christians worship a risen Christ.” The journalist added, “I have been in church my whole life, but I have never heard the emphasis put on an empty cross.” Our emphasis is on the empty tomb, as well!

The bodies of Bahá’u’lláh, founder of Bahá’í faith, and Báb, a central figure in Bahá’í and the founder of Bábisma, are buried in Israel. The grave of Confucius, the founder of Confucianism, is in his home town of Qufu in China and Muhammad, the founder of Islam, is buried in the Mosque of the Prophet in the Saudi Arabian city of Medina. The body of Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, was cremated and his remains were sent to eight different royal families. The Patna Museum in India displays a casket containing his sacred ashes and a temple in Sri Lanka possesses what is said to be his right tooth. When he failed to resurrect, the body of Cyrus Teed, founder of Koreshanity was buried on Estero Island; two years later a hurricane washed his tomb out to sea. As for Jesus? His grave was empty!

Let us never forget that the story didn’t end with the crucified Christ! The cross couldn’t stop Jesus and the tomb couldn’t contain Him. Pilate’s best efforts to secure the tomb were worthless. A Roman seal, large boulder and a sixteen-man Roman guard were not enough to keep Jesus shut in His tomb! Both cross and grave are empty! With His death and resurrection, Christ triumphed over both sin and death! Alleluia!

Easter means you can put the truth in a grave but you can’t keep it there. [Anne Lamott]

But the angel said, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead!” [Mark 16:6 (NLT)]

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HOSANNA IN THE HIGHEST! – Palm Sunday

So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” [John 12:13 (ESV)]

royal palmIt was the week before the Passover and Jerusalem was already filled with pilgrims who’d come for the celebration. News of the rabbi who’d brought Lazarus back to life was spreading through the crowd. As they prepared to celebrate their deliverance from slavery in Egypt, they hoped for the promised Messiah who would deliver them from the tyranny of Rome. Could Jesus be the one?

Jesus rode into the city on a donkey as the people waved palm branches, a traditional symbol of victory for the Israelites. As they had done years earlier when Jehu was declared king, the people laid their cloaks on the ground in front of Him. Sort of like laying out the red carpet, this wasn’t the way a rabbi was greeted; it was the way a conqueror or king was welcomed. Indeed, Jesus was both conqueror and king, but the people didn’t understand what He’d conquer or that His kingdom extended far beyond Judea.

There were shouts of “Hosanna” from the crowd.  A Hebrew word, “Hosanna” combines yasha, meaning “save” or “deliver,” and anna, meaning “beg” or “beseech.” It was an appeal for deliverance much like, “Help me!” or, “I beg you to save me!” We might shout “Hosanna!” if we’d fallen out of a boat into the raging sea but, because “Hosanna!” was also an expression of joy and praise for deliverance, we also might shout it when someone pulled us back to safety. Those shouts of “Hosanna” tell us the people wanted to be saved and saw the promise of deliverance in Jesus.

They shouted “Hosanna!” but for the wrong reasons. Seeking deliverance from the tyranny of the Roman Empire rather than the tyranny of sin, they saw a champion who would free them from Rome’s rule, not Satan’s. They wanted a mighty warrior who would conquer Rome, not one who would conquer death! Preferring to kill their enemies than love them, they sought revenge for their oppression, not a Prince of Peace who preached forgiveness. They wanted a king who would establish a new kingdom on earth, not the Kingdom of God. They wanted a Messiah on their terms, not God’s.

They didn’t understand, but we do! Let us continue to sing our “Hosannas” in praise and thanksgiving for our deliverance!

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. [Zechariah 9:9 (ESV)]

Save us, we pray, O Lord!  O Lord, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  We bless you from the house of the Lord. [Psalm 118:25-26 (ESV)]

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THE SA MEETING

The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners; but I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience for an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. [1 Timothy 1:15-16 (RSV)]

Canada geeseReading Paul’s words acknowledging his sinfulness makes me picture a meeting of the Pearly Gates chapter of a 12-step support program called Sinners Anonymous (SA for short). The meeting would be well attended simply because sinfulness is an undisputed characteristic of all mankind and we are all guilty before God.

Paul would get the meeting started by introducing himself and claiming to be the worst sinner of them all: “I’m the sinner once known as Saul. I persecuted Christians and stood by while people stoned Stephen.” The hymn writer might disagree. “I’m the wretched sinner John Newton. Blind and lost, an ‘infidel and libertine,’ I was a slave trader.” Then the disciple would rise and introduce himself: “Hello, my name is Thomas and I’m a sinner. I abandoned the Lord when he was arrested and then doubted his resurrection.” A nameless man from the back of the room might speak: “I was there at His crucifixion but I, too, am a sinner. My life was spent in crime.” Perhaps the gospel writer would speak next: “I’m the sinner Matthew; as a greedy tax-collector, I was both traitor and thief.” The priest would introduce himself: “I’m Augustine: a sinner who once abandoned the faith for paganism, used and abandoned women, and lived a life of debauchery.”  A matronly woman would announce, “I’m Martha and a sinner who often became so busy with life’s mundane details that I failed to put our Lord first.” Peter would jump up and say, “I’m worse! I’m such a sinner that I denied our Lord, not once, but three times!”

If there were a heavenly SA group, however, it wouldn’t be called Sinners Anonymous; it would be Saints Anonymous! The same people would be there and the same sins would have been committed but the introductions would be quite different from the ones I presented. While all those at that SA gathering were sinners, their sins were forgiven and their faith in Jesus would have made them saints. Instead of identifying themselves as sinners and listing their sordid transgressions, the attendees would introduce themselves as the redeemed children of God whose sins had been forgiven and forgotten. As members of the body of Christ, they’d introduce themselves as saints, not sinners!

Like Paul, we’re all sinners but, like Paul, through our faith in Jesus Christ, we’ve been reborn. We may be sinners but we’re also saints. Thank you, God!

There is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future. [Augustine of Hippo]

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. [Colossians 1:11-14 (RSV)]

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MARCH 25 – HAPPY NEW YEAR

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. [John 1:14 (NLT)]

spiderwortIf we were living in England between 1155 and 1752, today would be New Year’s Day! Although the historical year would have begun January 1, March 25 was the day the civil or legal year began. Since England and its colonies used the Julian calendar (named after Julius Caesar) they celebrated the spring equinox on March 25. Starting a new year in the dead of winter seemed counter-intuitive and the first day of spring, the season of new growth, seemed more logical and the perfect day to start a new year. The Julian calendar, however, had miscalculations (including the spring equinox) and was replaced in 1752 by the Gregorian one (named after Pope Gregory); that, however, is another story.

For those in liturgical churches, today is also known as the Annunciation of our Lord and commemorates the angel Gabriel’s visit to the Virgin Mary. This feast was celebrated as far back as the fourth or fifth century and its March date was set in the seventh century. For the English, celebrating Christ’s first presence as a human being on this day was another good reason for starting the year on March 25.

The story of Jesus didn’t begin in Bethlehem; it began in Nazareth nine months prior to that night. It was when Mary became pregnant that God became incarnate: a human being made of flesh and blood. Granted, He was but two cells fused together but that zygote had everything in it to become Jesus Christ. It divided again and again, the embryo grew, the cells began to differentiate, and the fetus developed everything needed to live outside His mother. Since sin-filled man was incapable of going to God, our perfect God came to us. That baby boy forming in Mary’s womb was the promised Messiah!

While Jesus’s incarnation is the core of our Christianity, it is difficult to understand and, for some people, impossible to believe. Nevertheless, the God who spoke the world into creation, created night and day, scattered the stars through the sky, filled the oceans with water, and populated the earth with living plants and animals could certainly manage to plant a fetus in a womb without going through the ordinary steps. When Mary assented to God’s will, Jesus was conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit!

Of course, since we really don’t know when Jesus’s birth took place, we don’t know the date of His conception. Nevertheless, having grown up in a liturgical church, I find a richness and strength in remembering and celebrating events in the life of Christ (even if the dates are wrong). While Advent is a beautiful season of anticipation both of Christ’s birth and his second coming, Luke’s gospel account of Gabriel’s visit to Mary seems more appropriate in this spring season of new beginnings than in winter, a time of dormancy. On what I hope to be a beautiful spring day for you, please take the time to read the account of this blessed miracle found in Luke 1:28-36. Remember to thank God for entering the world as man to save humanity.

Without question, this is the great mystery of our faith: Christ was revealed in a human body and vindicated by the Spirit. He was seen by angels and announced to the nations. He was believed in throughout the world and taken to heaven in glory. [1 Timothy 3:16 (NLT)]

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DAY ONE

DawnThe faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!” [Lamentations 3:22-24 (NLT)

For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. [2 Corinthians 4:6 (NLT)]

I’m an early riser anyway but the three hour time difference between the east and west coasts had me up well before dawn. While sipping my morning latte, I looked out the window and watched the morning appear. As the sun began to rise, God got out his paints to color the sky and the horizon took shape. I slipped on my shoes and went out to greet the new day. While a rooster in the distance crowed his welcome to the sun, I silently shouted my good morning to God and thought of Matthew West’s song Day One of the Rest of My Life. “It’s day one and here comes the sun!” I sang to myself. Indeed, each morning brings day one of the rest of our lives—day one of the best of our lives! Thank you, God.

Seeing the sunrise shouldn’t just be saved for Easter morning services and I feel sorry for those who sleep through the day’s awakening. They miss experiencing that perfect moment when dawn breaks through: when today becomes yesterday and tomorrow becomes today. Although saying, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life!” is a cliché, that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Telling us that yesterday does not have to repeat itself today, each dawn brings a new beginning.

Of course, we don’t have to arise while it’s still dark to enjoy a dawn in our lives. Our faith in Jesus takes us from the darkness of unbelief into a new beginning. Moreover, because of God’s grace, we’re assured that even when we mess up (and we surely will), there is another new beginning and plenty more after that. Nevertheless, seeing a sunrise reminds us both of God’s forgiveness and the new life in Christ we’ve been given. It tells us that this is the day we should live life to the fullest, honor and serve God the most, and be the best we can be. This is the day we can get back on the right path, realize our dreams, fulfill His will, and be wiser, better, and more forgiving. But, just as we don’t have the power to make the sun rise, we don’t have the power to become the person God wants us to be by ourselves. That power comes from the Holy Spirit within us. It is He who fills us with the peace, love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control to meet each day.

The Psalmist said, “This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.” [118:24] Indeed, each new day brings reason to rejoice. Yet, since every dawn inevitably ends in a sunset, the sunrise also serves as a subtle reminder of the brevity of life. Not a moment should be wasted in regret, anger, resentment, worry or fear. Lord, whether today is the first or the last day of the rest of our lives, fill us with your Spirit so that it is the best day of our lives!

Well, I wish I had a short term memory,
Wish the only thing my eyes could see
Was the future burning bright right in front of me;
But I can’t stop looking back.
Yeah, I wish I was a perfect picture of
Somebody who’s never not good enough.
I try to measure up but I mess it up
And I wish I wasn’t like that. …
Well, every single day Your grace reminds me
That my best days are not behind me.
Wherever my yesterday may find me
Well, I don’t have to stay there.
It’s day one of the rest of my life!
It’s day one of the best of my life! [Matthew West, Peter Kipley]

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! [2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT)]

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WHICH ARE YOU? 

I will appoint over them four kinds of destroyers, says the Lord: the sword to kill, the dogs to tear, and the vultures and wild animals to finish up what’s left. [Jeremiah 15:3 (TLB)]

hummingbird - vulturesWe were enjoying hundreds of exotic butterflies amid tropical plants in the conservatory of a nearby botanic garden when I turned around to see a hummingbird hovering nearby. In spite of the building’s double-door containment procedures, this beautiful little bird managed to find his way into what, for him, must be paradise and no one seemed to mind. Seeing him reminded me of a question asked several years ago: “Which would you rather be—a hummingbird or a vulture?”  I thought, “That’s a no-brainer!” as I watched the iridescent bird hover over the flowers; then I remembered the question wasn’t what we wanted to be but rather what we actually were.

Most of us want to think we’re hummingbirds—those beautiful delicate birds with the fluttering wings—but I’m not sure we always are. Hummingbirds may be small but they’re fearless; they’ll even pursue hawks in defense of their nest. Are we that fearless? Hummingbirds are optimists who always look for the bright and sweet in the garden of life. Do we? These avian helicopters, often thought of as harbingers of good luck, are welcome everywhere. Does seeing us bring joy the way seeing a hummingbird does or is the reaction to us more like that of seeing vultures at the side of the road—something like “Yuk!”

When we search for something or someone to pick apart, we’re like the vultures soaring in the sky and sniffing for the stink of rotting carcasses. Rather than road kill, we’re sniffing around for rumor and scandal so we can dine on other people’s misery or disgrace. When we discourage rather than build up or disparage rather than praise, we’re not much different than the hungry vultures who gather as the swamp dries and anxiously wait for the fish to die so they can pick at the remains. When we remorselessly spew hate, bigotry, or anger, we’re like vultures that, with a well-aimed shot of acidic vomit, can slime someone or something they don’t like. When we choose to live with resentment, bitterness, and the rotten leftovers of yesterday, we’re not much different than vultures who defecate on their feet.

If we want to be hummingbirds, there can be no more concentrating on the unpleasant garbage of our lives or the lives of others. There can be no more feasting on sour guilt, fetid anger, foul-smelling regrets, or the rotten remains of past relationships and issues that died long ago. Hummingbirds don’t just seek out the sweeter things in life; they are one of those sweet things. As hummingbirds, we can’t just enjoy the happiness we find, we must bring joy to those we meet. After all, people plant brightly-colored flowers and hang special feeders for hummingbirds, but I’ve never heard of anyone trying to entice vultures into a garden.

The hummingbird and vulture have no choice—they are what they were born to be. We, however, can decide if we’re going to be hummingbirds and welcome spreaders of joy, or vultures, those unwelcome omens of misery. The choice is ours!

Lord, guide us in our thoughts and actions so we can be like hummingbirds from this day forth!

Always be full of joy in the Lord; I say it again, rejoice! … Fix your thoughts on what is true and good and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely, and dwell on the fine, good things in others. Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about. [Philippians 4:4,8b (TLB)]

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