Monday, April 21, 2014

Easter 2014: Ascension

Acts 1:3-11
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What now? Jesus has risen! And He has returned triumphant to heaven, leaving His disciples on earth. As the descendants of the descendants of the descendants of the original apostles, we have never had the opportunity to see and touch the Messiah as we would another human being. We cannot eat with Him, listen to His human voice, touch the nail marks in His hands and feet. But we interact with Him in a new way, able to speak with Him at any time and in any place, not limited by physical distance.
Jesus' resurrection is not the end; it is the beginning! In our church and family we continue our celebration for a full 50 days. We fasted for 40 so now we feast for 50. We know that our time on earth is filled with difficulty. We face challenges far more difficult than the voluntary fasting of Lent. We encounter persecution as violent in its own way as that faced by the first Christians. But we know that the Easter celebration in heaven will be far longer and more rewarding than our time of suffering on earth. We know that Jesus has returned to heaven to welcome us home when the time comes. We know that even death will not prevail over us, that it will be only the beginning, that we will rise again in Christ!
We are His witnesses here on earth, to the ends of the earth. He is with us, ready to hear and respond to our every prayer. So we share Him with others and we know that despite the challenges we face we will receive His help and we will one day rejoin Him for a great celebration which will far outweigh every sorrow we go through, lasting far longer than the troubles we endure.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter!!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Lent 2014: Joseph of Arimathea

Luke 23:50-56
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Although I live in a democratic republic where my opinion can supposedly influence the laws made and who is allowed to make them, my one voice among millions is often not the prevailing opinion. I can't make my government turn in the direction I think it should. I can't convince even elected leaders to stop supporting abortion, to name just one vice I despise. But I can decide how I will respond to the challenges and opportunities I face and whether I will do the right thing despite the opposition.
Joseph of Arimathea disagreed with his fellow leaders. He couldn't stop them from crucifying Jesus. But he didn't step away and avoid responsibility for his own actions. Although he couldn't prevent the terrible injustice, he chose to honor the Lord by giving Him the best burial possible. It was a risk for him. How would the other Jewish leaders respond to his actions? Would he lose his position in the council, be persecuted as a disciple of Jesus, be shunned by his friends? He chose to do what he believed was right despite the potential negative consequences.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Lent 2014: Criminal on the cross

Luke 23:32-43
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The believing criminal obviously knew that Jesus' reign was not one of earthly power over the Roman empire. They were both well into the dying process so Jesus couldn't "remember" the criminal and give him any kind of pardon or reward here on earth. Like Martha earlier, he recognized Jesus' eternal power over the afterlife. He saw that he would go through the dying process no matter what, and that his punishment was just, yet he placed his hope in the Man next to him who was also enduring the cross.
Who among us does not deserve the same penalty the criminal on the cross received? Jesus, the only human throughout history who was wholly just according to His very nature, from conception through until death, dies a painful crucifixion so that we, who deserve such a terrible death, don't have to. Every trial we endure is fully and completely merited. If we look over at someone else and think that that person's life is easy compared to ours, perhaps God is showing His mercy to that individual rather than excessively punishing us (or perhaps our perception is wrong). Either way, I am grateful that Christ died on the cross for my sake and that His power and His reign extend far beyond the grave.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Lent 2014: John the apostle

John 20:1-10
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How do you respond to fear? All of Jesus' disciples abandoned Him when He was arrested in the garden. Only John came back to stay with Him during His final hour on the cross. Perhaps the part of who he was that brought him back to Jesus despite the danger was connected to the reason he is described as "the one Jesus loved" and the reason John was with Jesus in each major moment of His public ministry. Even when He left the majority of His disciples behind, He brought John with Him along with Peter and James. The danger of martyrdom was very real for all the disciples, yet John chose to risk it rather than stay away from Christ on the cross. He risked it again on the third day to visit the tomb when Mary Magdalene reported it empty.
John describes his impression of the empty tomb as something that brought him belief but without understanding. His faith was well grounded in evidence, not simply in word of mouth or feelings, yet it didn't require him to understand in order to believe. Sometimes God chooses not to give us all we need in order to understand but chooses instead to give us just enough to believe and to trust in Him. The details will come later, when we need them. Until then it is enough to believe. It is enough to realize that He is not dead, though He very clearly did die. The implications of that miracle and the full understanding of what He is now will come later.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Lent 2014: Mary Magdalene

Mark 16:9-11
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How frustrating it must have been for Mary when the disciples didn't believe her! She is bringing good news, great news, incredibly amazing news, impossible-to-believe news. Just like Thomas is famous for (Jn 20:25), they weren't ready to believe His resurrection until they encountered Him themselves. Who are we to blame them? We have the account of hundreds of witnesses, followed by historical evidence, backed by the personal testimonies of millions of Christians since that fateful day. It's not brand new information to us. We are not hearing the claim of a human being resurrected from the dead without reason upon reason to believe in the truth of that claim. The disciples heard the news for the first time from one woman who claimed to have seen Him in person; perhaps she had a hallucination or misunderstood the words of an ordinary gardener or had gone crazy from grief.
We each need to encounter the risen Jesus for ourselves. Mary encountered Him near the tomb; the disciples encountered Him in Emmaus and in the upper room; we encounter Him spiritually. If I want someone to know Him personally, my words and testimony might not be enough. They might not believe me any more than the disciples believed Mary Magdalene. But if I can help arrange an opportunity for that individual to encounter Him, the reaction might be like that of each person mentioned in the Gospels who had the grace of seeing Christ Jesus in the flesh after His resurrection. Not one of them is said to have disbelieved the Lord once He revealed Himself fully to them. Every one of them recognized that He was the One He claimed to be and chose to follow Him faithfully to the day of their death. My prayer and my desire for those I love is that they will encounter Him personally that they may choose to live for Him from that point until the day of their death.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Lent 2014: Daughters of Jerusalem

Luke 23:26-31
I am blessed to be her mother
There is a certain insanity inherent in rejecting the Lord's natural design for our lives. As the Creator, He is quite aware of what is best for His creation. Sickness, special circumstances, and sin can make an individual turn away from the natural inclinations we should all have imprinted on our beings, but something is terribly wrong in a society where large portions of the population choose to turn away not simply from the laws He has ordered for us but also from the natural instincts the Creator gave to us. Unlike the animals, we can decide whether we will cooperate with those natural instincts or live in another way. Jesus tells the women mourning for His suffering to mourn even more for themselves and their descendants who choose the insanity of rejecting the normal tendencies He gave us for another path.
We still recognize in our society the disaster that has taken place when a large group of people commit suicide. Something has gone wrong in them to cause them to desire death over life. There is some form of insanity at work, whether spiritual or physical. We have forgotten, though, that it is also a sign of societal insanity that women as a group desire to avoid having children and consider the women "blessed" who never bear a child. Yes, it is natural for a few women to have no desire to become mothers. It's a sign of those women's individual personalities, callings in life, or of a personal difficulty such as depression. Not all women are born with a natural mothering instinct and not all will want to become mothers themselves even while they rejoice in the motherhood of their friends and family members. The insanity comes in when society as a whole tells women that they should actively avoid motherhood and the better path in life is to live for oneself and for earthly treasure rather than being burdened by children.
What other signs of insanity have entered our society? Which ones have we bought into ourselves? Mourn not for a man doing the will of His Father to bring salvation to all humans but rather for those who reject all that we have been given by our Creator. Mourn for those who turn away from even our most natural inner tendencies, who believe that sickness is health and actively spread the illness among as many individuals as possible. Mourn for the society that promotes the insanity of avoiding the blessings of our Creator.