A WEEK OF RESURRECTION SUNDAYS

Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. [John 11:25 (NLT)]

rabbitWhen I walked into Bible study last Tuesday, I was greeted with “Happy Easter.” The woman wasn’t late; in fact, she was right on time! Although the candy is gone, the baskets stowed away, and the hard boiled eggs eaten, it is still Easter. On the church calendar, the season of Eastertide (“tide” just being an old-fashioned word for “season” or “time”) lasts fifty days. With seven Sundays, that means we have a week’s worth of Sundays in which to celebrate Easter (and sing the beautiful “alleluias” in Christ the Lord is Risen Today). Eastertide will end on Pentecost (the day we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church).

The celebration of Easter, Christmas and other Christian holy days or seasons are not mandated in Scripture. Although Acts 7:20 tells us that the early church chose to gather together on the first day of the week (Sunday) for the Lord’s Supper, it was not until 321 AD that Constantine proclaimed Sunday as the official day of worship. In 325 AD, in the hope of unifying the early church, the Council at Nicaea affirmed Scripture’s truths with the Nicene Creed and set Easter’s date as the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after March 21.

Remembering that, in the Old Testament, God ordained the regular celebration of events in the history of the Israelites, the early church fathers made a liturgical calendar to help Christians remember the acts of God in the history of their redemption. People didn’t have ready access to Bibles and the regular celebration of these events in the life of Christ and the early church helped them both to understand and remember them. We could say that Jesus laid down the essentials and the church fathers handled the details.

Not sacred, the church calendar didn’t come by divine revelation but was developed by tradition and church law. While liturgical churches such as the Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist and Roman Catholic still observe the seasons of the church, most other Protestant churches do not. Perhaps as a way of combating the secular commercialization of our religious holidays, however, some non-liturgical churches are beginning to return to the traditional calendar. Last year, a non-denominational mega-church near our northern home announced, “This year we’re going to observe Lent!” as if it were a new idea rather than one centuries old.

While one of my friends went out and purchased half-price candy on Monday, we don’t want to spend the next seven weeks consuming jelly beans or Peeps. Coloring eggs once a year is more than enough mess for me and, while I admit to finding well-hidden Easter eggs several weeks after the grands have departed, I’m not suggesting that we repeat those secular traditions every Sunday until Pentecost on June 9. Instead, for the next several weeks, we could spend as much time pondering the meaning of Jesus’s resurrection as we did pondering the meaning of His birth last December. Easter, after all, was the whole reason for Christmas and, without His resurrection on Easter, we just would have a good man who said some wonderful wise things and was killed for his words.

The promise of our salvation doesn’t disappear when the last chocolate bunny is eaten. The glorious Easter message is everlasting. Christ’s resurrection brings us love, grace, peace, forgiveness, and redemption, not just on Easter, but on every day of our lives. One day is hardly enough time to celebrate a risen Christ; let us be Easter people all year long.

The resurrection gives my life meaning and direction and the opportunity to start over no matter what my circumstances. [Robert Flatt]

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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THE ROAD TO HELL

PythonI don’t want Satan to outwit us. After all, we are not ignorant about Satan’s scheming. [2 Corinthians 2:11 (GW)]

The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis, is a series of letters written by a senior demon, Screwtape, to his nephew, Wormwood, a demon-in-training. Screwtape, acting as Wormwood’s mentor, advises the novice tempter on ways to acquire the soul of a nameless young man known as “the patient.” Wormwood, like many young people, is both enthusiastic and impatient. He hopes to win the man’s soul quickly by having him sin on a grand scale with an act of deplorable wickedness. Screwtape, however, points out that the patient succumbing to the many little temptations of life are what will eventually corrupt him. The experienced demon points out that evil on a petty scale will seep into the man’s relationships, prayer life, and view of the church and that, says Screwtape, is the way to capture a soul.

Lewis’ book reminds us to keep alert regarding Satan’s plots. It’s easy to be confident about not becoming terrorists, murderers, blackmailers, bank robbers or kidnappers because we’d see those satanic schemes a mile away. It’s the little things like pique, exhaustion, fear, disillusionment, annoyance, disappointment, over-confidence, or boredom that can give Satan a foothold in our lives and blind us to his presence. Once he’s gotten in the door, he provides us with temptations to gossip, bicker, ridicule, lie, cheat or covet and nudges us with discontent, restlessness, and a dash of envy so we want bigger, better and more than our neighbor. He encourages unforgiveness, self-importance, jealousy, and intolerance and then tells us we’re not being boastful, selfish, petty, hypocritical, greedy, self-righteous or vain. He tells us what we want to hear—that the end justifies the means, the crowd can’t be wrong, or that no one will know! He subtly encourages us to put other activities before prayer or Bible study and to put other relationships before our relationship with God.

Make no mistake about it—Satan and his forces are out and about and we must never forget it. He knows our weaknesses, doesn’t play fair, and won’t announce his presence or tell us his plans. Whether the enemy crushes us with one blow from a wrecking ball, a few swings of a sledge hammer or patiently chips away at us with a chisel makes no difference to him; he just wants to defeat us.

You will say these are very small sins … The only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy [God]. It does not matter how small the sins are, provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts. [Screwtape to Wormwood, from “The Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis]

So place yourselves under God’s authority. Resist the devil, and he will run away from you. Come close to God, and he will come close to you. Clean up your lives, you sinners, and clear your minds, you doubters. [James 4:7-8 (GW)]

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SEEING THE ERROR

For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones. Watch out! I have warned you about this ahead of time! [Mark 13:22-23 (NLT)]

white ibisYesterday, I wrote about Cyrus Teed, the Koreshan Unity, their strange theology, and Cellular Cosmogony: the belief that the earth is a hollow shell and the entire universe exists inside that shell. Whether he was a charlatan or insane fanatic, Cyrus Teed claimed to be immortal. When he died in 1908, his followers kept his body in a bathtub for five days and waited for his resurrection. Rather than rising, Teed began to stink and authorities forced his corpse to be buried. Nevertheless, many of his followers faithfully waited another thirteen years for his return.

When it became obvious his second coming would never come, membership in the Koreshan Unity began to decline (the belief in celibacy not helping their numbers). By 1961, when it was clear the community would not survive, its last four members deeded the remaining 305 acres of Unity land to the state.

Hedwig Michel was the last of the Koreshans. In 1982, reporters asked if she still believed in Cellular Cosmogony and she replied, “Well, I did believe it until I saw the boys walking on the moon.” That moon walk took place in 1969, 61 years after Teed’s failed resurrection and several years after Sputnik and Explorer 1 launched, Alan Shepherd flew into space, and both Yuri Gagarin and John Glenn orbited the earth in spacecraft. Yet, Hedwig Michel held fast to her Koreshan beliefs until she saw Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon.

For the most part, the Koreshans were an educated lot and, when walking through their settlement, I wondered why they clung to their strange theology and pseudo-science for so long. Then again, while it’s easy to recognize the folly of someone else’s ideas, it’s not so easy with our own. Jesus warned us about false prophets but not all of them are as obvious as Cyrus Teed. At some time or another, we all may have believed in the wrong person or ideology or held on to erroneous viewpoints or prejudices. Perhaps, we still do.

Why do people continue with false beliefs or follow false prophets? Perhaps, it is easier to believe a lie than admit our thinking could be wrong. The Koreshans gave up their homes and personal possessions to devote their lives to Koreshanity. Like them, could we stubbornly cling to certain beliefs or biases because admitting our error might mean we’ve wasted opportunities, time, energy or even money? For many years, the Koreshan Unity prospered, having 7,500 acres of land and more than a dozen businesses. Skepticism and doubt probably don’t thrive in well-being and, like Teed’s followers, we’re unlikely to question what appears to be successful, even when we suspect it could be wrong. With such a strong sense of community, some Koreshans may have been afraid to abandon their sect and step out on their own while others may have feared ridicule from outsiders if they admitted their error.

Like those die-hard Koreshans, do we have blind spots? Are we unwilling to examine some of our beliefs in the light of God’s truth? While it’s never easy to admit we’re in error, it’s easy to know God’s truth. If we’re not loving God, loving all of His people, and walking in the way of Jesus, we’re in error. When our attitude, values, principles or opinions don’t line up with God’s word, they’re wrong. For Hedwig Michel, it took seeing men walk on the moon’s surface before she accepted the falseness of Koreshanity. What will it take for us to see any falseness in our lives?

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. [2 Timothy 4:3-4 (NLT)]

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FACING THE MUSIC (Philemon)

Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living. [Romans 6:18 (NLT)]

swamp milkweedPhilemon was a wealthy member and leader of the church in Colossae and Onesimus was his slave. Apparently after stealing from his master, Onesimus ran away and ended up in Rome. After finding his way to the Apostle Paul, who was under house arrest at the time, Onesimus became a Christian. The one page book of Philemon is simply a personal letter to the runaway slave’s owner pleading the man’s case.

Although Onesimus had become a new man in Christ, both he and Paul knew that, before the runaway slave could begin his new life as a Christian, he had to finish his old one with Philemon. As a fugitive slave, he’d always be looking over his shoulder wondering if and when he might be caught. He wouldn’t even be at liberty to openly share his new faith or be active in the church for fear that Philemon would learn of his whereabouts. Paul sent the remorseful slave back to Philemon with a letter asking his forgiveness and offering to make any financial restitution necessary.

I can’t help but think of steps eight and nine in many twelve step programs. Step eight is to make a list of the people who have been harmed and be willing to make amends and step nine is to make direct amends wherever possible, except when doing so would harm them or others. Making amends is a delicate process; sometimes it can be done directly, such as repaying a debt or making a repair. Sometimes, however, direct amends are impossible; neither lost lives nor stolen innocence can ever be returned. Moreover, there are times direct amends are unwise—some secrets are meant to be kept and one’s conscience should never be cleared at the expense of others. When direct amends can’t be made, then indirect amends are. Nevertheless, in all cases, part of making amends is facing the consequences for our behavior. The consequences facing Onesimus were serious: a thieving runaway slave could have been killed. Nevertheless, trusting in God (and Paul’s letter), Onesimus returned to Philemon to “face the music” and make amends. It certainly couldn’t have been an easy choice for him.

Onesimus’ story reminds me of news stories I’ve seen over the years of individuals who failed to resolve their past before starting new lives. Perhaps they arrived here illegally, evaded arrest, jumped bail, escaped jail, or remarried without benefit of divorce and managed to go undiscovered for many years. In some cases, they became productive citizens and may have married and had families. Then, through a routine traffic stop, a picture posted on line, or a chance meeting, their lives come tumbling down around them. Their past is discovered and they end up deported, in legal difficulties, or even in prison.

Unfinished business can plague us all; not living in the past doesn’t mean ignoring it. When we don’t deal with yesterday’s unresolved issues, the past can end up defining us. Without returning to Philemon, in spite of his new found faith, Onesimus would always be a runaway slave. We’re not runaway slaves but could we be slaves to the past? Are there problems we have escaped but not really resolved? Are there any loose ends that need tying up or amends to be made? Are there people we need to face or issues that need to be sorted out before we can truly be free of yesterday? We will continue to be troubled by the past until we face it; only then will we be able to live our new lives as free men and women.

Make peace with your past so it doesn’t screw up the present. [From “God Never Blinks” by Regina Brett]

My guilt overwhelms me—it is a burden too heavy to bear. [Psalm 38:4 (NLT)]

Fools make fun of guilt, but the godly acknowledge it and seek reconciliation. [Proverbs 14:9 (NLT)]

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SPIRITUAL MALAISE

These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote. [Isaiah 29:13 (NLT)]

queen butterflyA friend was on her way out the door when the CO (carbon monoxide) detector started beeping. Thinking the batteries needed replacing, she pulled it off the wall, removed the batteries, and departed for the day. Upon her return, she tried new batteries in the monitor but it started to sound again. She was faced with two options: either the detector was bad (they should be replaced every five to seven years) and she could ignore the alarm or her house was filled with an odorless, tasteless, colorless, and potentially fatal gas! Fortunately, my friend called the fire department. They detected a high level of carbon monoxide and discovered the cause: a chipmunk that got stuck and died in the gas water heater’s flue. With its carcass blocking the pipe, the heater couldn’t vent properly and deadly CO was backing up into the house. Had my friend gone to bed that night instead of calling the fire department, she probably would not have seen another day.

Spiritual malaise (what the early church called acedia) is nearly as undetectable and potentially fatal as CO; like that toxic gas, it can sneak up on us without our realizing it. While most of us probably won’t experience CO poisoning, I think we all, at some time or another, will experience a kind of spiritual malaise or lethargy. Rather than a blocked flue or a faulty exhaust system, its cause can be anything from being too busy to not being busy enough. It can occur when we feel defeated by our difficulties or too self-confident in our triumphs—when we’re disheartened by disappointments or become complacent in our blessings. Instead of nausea or drowsiness, spiritual malaise brings a subtle loss of purpose, an erosion of values, a wavering faith, a loss of hope, or a feeling of helplessness. Instead of replacing the oxygen in our red blood cells with carbon monoxide, it replaces the passion and joy in our worship with boredom, our desire for God’s word with disinterest, our fervor in prayer with listlessness, and our God-dependence with self-reliance. We grow drowsy in study, lethargic in worship, and sleepwalk through our prayers. Bible study, worship and prayer are seen as obligatory rather than the pleasure, privilege and honor they are. I think the enemy probably loves a passionless Christian almost as much as a passionate sinner!

When those passionless times come, and they will, we won’t have an alarm that beeps. We have to do our own self-monitoring and recognize the symptoms. Instead of opening windows or leaving the house, we need to turn to God, run wholeheartedly into His arms, and give ourselves fully to praise and worship. Rather than call the fire department, we must fellowship with other believers so that their enthusiasm can rub off on us. We must dig into God’s word and fill our minds with His truth, leaving no room for Satan’s lies. Most of all, we should pray for wisdom, strength, a rekindling of our faith, and the opportunity to use our gifts for His purpose.

Father in Heaven, remove our fatigue; renew, redeem, and restore us to your salvation. Fill us with the power of the Holy Spirit, transform our weariness into strength, and lift us on your mighty wings.

Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me. Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you. [Psalm 51:10-12 (NLT)]

But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. [Isaiah 40:31 (NLT)]

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THE PAINTED LADIES

Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. [James 4:13-14 (NLT)]

painted lady butterfliesWhen the headline described it as a “swarm of a ‘billion’ Painted Lady butterflies,” I thought that an exaggeration until I walked out into the garden where hundreds of them were flitting through the flowers. While visiting family in southern California last week, I saw more butterflies in a few days than I’ve seen my entire life. Having spent their winter in northern Mexico, the bevy of butterflies was the result of winter’s heavy rains that enabled the desert to come out in full bloom. With an abundance of plants on which to feast, the Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) population exploded, resulting in this massive migration north.

Hoping to get the perfect photo, I staked out the flowers every afternoon. The problem wasn’t finding a butterfly; the problem was finding one that would stay still. Before I could get it in focus, the insect had fluttered to another blossom. “Why can’t you just find a sweet flower and stay? What makes you think the next flower is any better than the one you’re visiting right now?” I wondered.

The fickle butterflies reminded me of people who continually search for the next best thing: another product, idea, person, job, possession or diet that seems better than what they presently have. They’re only satisfied until what appears to be the next best thing comes along. But, before I started pointing fingers, I looked at myself. In three days, I’d taken several hundred photos. While most had been deleted, more than twenty-five had been deemed worthy of editing and saving. Yet, there I was on day four, taking even more pictures, hoping for an even better Painted Lady shot.

“Surely, this is the starting point for a devotion about discontent,” I thought, until remembering there is more to the butterflies’ story. Capable of flying faster than twenty miles an hour and covering more than 100 miles in a day, the Painted Ladies are speeding their way to the Pacific Northwest. With a life span of about two weeks, however, the butterflies I saw feasting in the garden will never get to their intended destination. They emerged from their chrysalis with a fat reserve enabling them to fly from dawn until dusk. When the fat diminishes, they stop, begin to feed (as were these butterflies), become sexually active, breed, and die. It will be their descendants who eventually get as far north as the Canadian border. Although flitting from blossom to blossom seemed fickle, it was just the butterflies doing their assigned task: eating and pollinating. While sipping nectar, they pick up pollen on their bodies which gets transferred from one flower to the next as they move through the garden. Flowers must be pollinated to bear fruit and, since about one-third of the food we eat is dependent on pollinators like bees and butterflies, I should be thanking instead of censuring them.

Perhaps we should be more like butterflies. Preferring the sunlight, they stay out of the shade; like them, we must prefer the Son’s light to the darkness of this world. They sought flowers and hungrily feasted on nectar; we should seek God and feast on His word. They spread pollen but we must spread God’s love and Good News. Their work bears fruit as should ours. While it is instinct that leads the butterflies on their journey, it is the Holy Spirit who leads us on ours. They were doing their best to bring another generation closer to their destination and I wondered if we are anywhere that committed to bringing the next generation closer to God’s Kingdom. Although the butterflies I saw will never get to their intended destination, they neither worried nor quit. They simply did what they could and made the most of the day given to them. While our lifespan is much longer than a butterfly’s, like them, we will pass this way but once; life is as uncertain for us as it is for them. Those Painted Ladies were on a mission to sip the sweetness of life and be fruitful; let us do the same.

Oh God, give me grace for this day, not for a lifetime, nor for next week, not for tomorrow, just for this day. Direct my thoughts and bless them, direct my work and bless it, direct the things I say and give them blessing, too. Direct and bless everything that I think and speak and do. So that for this one day, just this one day, I have the gift of grace that comes from your presence. [Marjorie Holmes]

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. [Matthew 6:33-34 (NLT)]

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