tradition

Easter Morning—a Restoration of Hope

  Photo credit: unsplash.com_RBV

In light of the recent terrorist attacks in Europe and the current acrimonious political scene, it's good to focus on a real hope. Hope that is living and eternal. Hope restored.

This is what the Christian faith has that no other religion can offer or know. It isn't a human hope, yet it's a hope for all humans.

Here's a story of hope restored, when all seemed lost.

Early remembrances

As a young pastor, Easter sunrise services were memorable occasions, especially when our children were young. We have four children within two and three years of one another, so many preparations were made the day and night before Easter. My wife laid out what everyone would wear, and food was prepared for a meal following the service.

Many Easter mornings were cold, even freezing, as we departed into the darkness of the early morning. We packed the children into our small car with blankets, along with my guitar and other things prepared ahead.

Although the early disciples didn’t drive their car to the tomb, I tried to imagine what it was like that first Resurrection Day as we drove to the service. I was excited to celebrate and remember the day that changed history.

Many of our sunrise services were held on a hillside in the southern California desert, somewhat similar in terrain and weather to Israel. Arriving as the first rays illuminated the sky, my heart anticipated the moment the sun broke the horizon.

Waiting for the sunrise seems to take a long time, but when it appears it bursts above the earth as a new day begins.

Hope Lost and Restored

The first disciples didn’t know what to expect that early morning. It was a long night of despair, perhaps sleepless, for it seemed all hope was crushed. The One they believed to be Messiah was crucified and buried on the day Israel celebrated their annual Passover feast.

He who would deliver them from oppression and obscurity had died, and their confidence died with Him. The One to  whom they devoted their lives—believing in Him, leaving all, and following Him—was gone. The night might have dragged on, but when the sun rose things happened fast and unexpectedly.

The women were the first to know about the Lord Jesus’ resurrection (Luke 24:1-12). In accounts from another Gospel, we are told they met Jesus in person after His resurrection (John 20:11-18).

Women had very little status or standing in Jewish culture in those days. Concerning spiritual or religious matters, women were considered unimportant. Yet, these women were the first to know and believe the truth about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. This alone is extraordinary.

Foretold, but unexpected

Everything about Jesus defied the expectations of others and went against conventional wisdom. He began preaching the Kingdom of God in the region of Galilee, far from Jerusalem where the Temple and religious leaders were.

He chose men as His closest followers who were not inclined nor equipped to study the Law and its many interpretations. Some of these men were uneducated fishermen, some religious and political zealots, and one was a hated tax collector. And one betrayed Him.

Instead of resisting an unlawful and unjust sentence of death by crucifixion, shameful and deemed a curse by the Law, He willingly submitted to it. On the day of His miraculous resurrection from the dead, He didn’t appear first to those closest to Him, nor to the important Jewish leaders, but to a few women, even one with a shameful past.

The resurrection of Christ caught everyone involved by surprise, even those who stirred up the crowd and called for His execution. Yet, Jesus spoke of His future resurrection from the dead often and in many instances.

Three written accounts are recorded in the synoptic Gospels (Matt 16:21). Most likely He spoke of this at other times, since the women knew of this when reminded by the angels (Luke 24:6-8).

Following the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus taught that He was the Bread of Life (John 6:35-40). He used a metaphor of eating His flesh and drinking His blood, which caused many disciples to quit following. As He taught this, Jesus made four references to the resurrection related to the eating and drinking of his flesh and blood.

And yet—both His death and resurrection caught everyone by surprise.


What about you?

What surprises you about the Lord and His resurrection from the dead? Is His resurrection a living hope in your heart? Have you experienced His resurrection power in your life?

May you have a blessed Resurrection Day! Everyday!

This is an excerpt from my book, The Mystery of the Gospel, except for the questions at the end, which I've added for this post.

Stop it!

©123RF

Bob Newhart has a hilarious comedy skit as a psychiatrist. His therapy is a simple, two-word solution for problems—"Stop it!" If you've never seen it, click on the link ("Stop it!") for a good laugh, but keep reading!

If only solving life's problems were that simple! Well, in some ways it is. But, alas, many difficulties in life continue to trouble us. Why? Why don't we just stop doing some things, or start doing other things? The Apostle Paul addresses this in his letter to the Roman church (Rom 7:15-19). What got me thinking on this line was my reading in the book of Hebrews. It's a comprehensive look at how Jesus Christ fulfilled and superseded all that is written in the Old Testament Scriptures. After remembering the many heroes of faith in Israel's history, a strong exhortation is given in the next chapter.

Since we are surrounded by so many examples of faith, we must get rid of everything that slows us down, especially sin that distracts us. We must run the race that lies ahead of us and never give up. We must focus on Jesus, the source and goal of our faith. He saw the joy ahead of him, so he endured death on the cross and ignored the disgrace it brought him. Then he received the highest position in heaven, the one next to the throne of God. Think about Jesus, who endured opposition from sinners, so that you don’t become tired and give up.  (Hebrews 12:1-3 GW)

Over the years I've found that many Christian believers try to live as good Christians. My advice to them is—Stop it! Many might say, "But aren't we to lead lives pleasing to the Lord?" Of course we are, but we go about it the wrong way.

Being a Christian is not about trying to do better, it's about being. The popular saying of the Jesus Movement of the early 70's was, "It's not about religion, it's relationship." My children are my children, regardless of their behavior—they just are. They were born into our family, and although there was some labor on my wife's part, they did nothing to become our children and do nothing to maintain their place in the family as our children.

Over the past 20+ years, Susan and I have worked with abandoned and abused children and young women. Without exception, the most important thing for each of them was being connected to their family. In many cases, they needed a substitute family through adoption. It is amazing how strong a bond this is—the bond between child and parent.

In the case of the abused girls or young women, Susan and I, along with the extended family at Rainbow Village, became a surrogate family. This was and is important. We are known as "Mama and Papa" because of the relationship we have with them. This has been an important element in their recovery from abuse.

It works the same way with believers within the Body of Christ, the church community. It is an extended family. It is to be a place of healing and restoration. A place of nurture and growth. A place of belonging.

OK, so what about moving forward in this relationship with the Lord Jesus? Is it possible to just stop it when it comes to our struggle with sin and personal issues? This text in Hebrews (above) indicates this—at first glance.

Go back and look at those three verses (Heb 12:1-3) and observe it more carefully. There are a couple important keys to running the race and growing in faith. Next week I'll go over this. In the meantime, if you're trying real hard to be a Christian—stop it! Just be one. Just be a child of God who trusts in Him.

God Came to Earth

A few years ago I flew into the modern airport of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I had never met Ayele, the young man who would become my friend and partner over the next couple weeks, as my guide and assistant in ministry. Though we had written back and forth many times, we hadn’t worked out our meeting at the airport. I knew he would greet me as I came out of the terminal, but how would I recognize him? No worries, he would recognize me—I would stand out as a lone Caucasian among the noble and handsome Ethiopians!

Several years before this, two young Filipino women, MJ and Ruchell, were sent out from our school in the Philippines to Thailand. They fit right in among the Thais, often mistaken as being Thai. People would speak to them, but they couldn’t understand the Thai language. They looked like the Thais because they were of a nearby culture and people, unlike me in Ethiopia or Asia.
If God were to come down to earth, what would you expect Him to look like? You’ve probably seen pictures portraying Jesus. I’ve seen paintings of Jesus from China and Japan, and He looked very Asian in them. In western countries, He looks more Scandinavian than of Semitic descent. When we imagine another place or person, we draw on what is familiar to us. When visiting another place or meeting a person for the first time, the real experience is different than we imagined.
What do you think God would look like as a human? How do you think he would live His life, or even do things like eat and drink and sleep? Everyone has some perception of what God is like. The Bible reveals who God is by nature, and the Gospels give a personal account of when God came to earth as a human. He was not recognized for who He was, in fact, His own people rejected Him. After three years of public ministry among the people, Jesus was pointed out from a crowd with a kiss from His betrayer. Apparently, He didn’t stand out enough to be recognized, and didn’t meet the expectations of the people He visited.
The passage of John 1:1-18, the beginning of the Gospel of John, is the beginning of the Gospel story, a true story. God, the Creator, the One who spoke and brought everything into existence, came and lived among people on the earth. He, the Word of Life—the very light and life of all humanity—entered the world He created. A man named John was sent to announce His arrival into the world, but most people paid no attention to this message or to the Light Himself. Still, all the darkness of the world could not hide or stifle the Light. Even though those created as His own unique people rejected Him, some accepted and trusted in Him. He brought them into the family of God through a spiritual birth unlike that of this world.
The Word of Life revealed the very nature of God, through a life full of grace and truth. He made a way for man to have relationship with God, because He came into the world as a man. He was announced as the One who was eternal. The world only knew God through a relationship of laws presented through the man named Moses. When the Word of Life came, now in the place of authority beside God the Father, He revealed a new way of relationship governed by God’s kindness and truth. The Word of Life, the Light of all mankind, has revealed God who is invisible.

Here's another excerpt from my upcoming book. I just finished rewriting it all and it's resubmitted to the publisher for review. Hopefully it will be available in a few months.

The Search

©CCCM – the Tent

During the sixties, I was part of the counterculture movement seeking spiritual truth. In the early seventies, I became part of the Jesus Movement.

This movement was neither organized, nor guided by any church or religious organization. It was the work of God in people searching for spiritual truth and encountering Jesus in a personal relationship.

“It’s not about religion, but relationship,” was a common expression in those days. Young people popularized the Jesus Movement, including those known as hippies who joined the developing counterculture of the 1960s.

A spiritual vacuum

A spiritual vacuum existed in those days. For the most part, traditional churches did not reach the young people of that generation. Several elements in our current decade remind me of that era.

Today, traditional and established churches are not reaching the young people of this generation, including those raised in Christian homes. Many surveys show a strong trend toward young people leaving churches in droves.[i]

In my own search for truth as a youth, I sampled wisdom from various religions and philosophies that surrounded me in abundance and diversity.

Raised in a nominally Christian home, even confirmed in the faith of the Episcopal Church at the age of twelve, I found my Christian moorings too weak to keep me from drifting into varied experiences, philosophies, and religious encounters. These encounters brought plenty of confusion and uncertainty.

During the late 1960's, I had developed a ritual of reading the Bible every morning. Even so, I still used drugs and alcohol, practiced transcendental meditation, and played and wrote music, along with other experiences typical of that time.

Through it all, I was coming to believe Jesus was an important element of true spirituality. During this period, a friend invited me to a certain church in Southern California, which later became a mega church within the Jesus Movement.[ii]

Thrown out

I attended an evening service where a very young but quite charismatic evangelist was teaching the Bible. At the end of the study he gave an invitation to “accept Christ.”[iii]I wasn’t ready to do this.

After the service, I began asking many questions my friends were unable to answer. So they brought me to a man considered a Bible answer-man of sorts—I continued asking my questions. He answered me by quoting verses of Scripture from the King James Version (KJV), but without explanation.

I had studied Shakespeare and Chaucer in high school, so it wasn’t the archaic language that troubled me—it was my lack of spiritual understanding.

Each time he quoted a Scripture in response to my many questions, I could hear a round of “amen’s” and some cheering, as he refuted my challenging questions.

Intent on my quest for spiritual truth, and exasperated with his pat answers, I finally asked him—“If I could destroy all the books in the world, how would you then tell me how you truly know God?”

He promptly called me the devil and threw me out of the church.

The wrong way

It was another two years of spiritual wandering before I came into a personal relationship with Jesus, my Lord. I continued reading the Bible and praying, but didn’t give up the other activities and experiences that were counterproductive to my spiritual growth.

My frustration deepened and became desperation.

One morning, leaving the small trailer I lived in with my girlfriend, I went on a search for God. I expected some sign in the sky or a burning bush experience, as Moses had before he led Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 3:1-6).

I saw no sign, no burning bush, and didn’t hear any voices.

Discouraged, I returned to the trailer and began reading my Bible. I came to some verses that challenged me—

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14)

In my heart I took up the challenge of going on the narrow and hard way. I had considered many different philosophies and religions in search of a harmonious belief everyone could hold.

This text showed me I was on the wrong path that led to destruction. I saw the last part of the verse as a challenge to pursue, so I committed my life to God.

A changed life

My life changed little by little as God showed me a new way of living.

I began to give up old habits of my previous lifestyle and developed new ones. On the day of my wedding I experienced a rush of new life and freedom.

I had closed the door on my old life as a new door opened up.

My wife and I attended the same church I’d been thrown out of, but I had a much different attitude and view of God.

I began serving the Lord[iv] in various ways, and became part of the church staff. My wife and I became full-time volunteers who oversaw the childcare ministry at the time our first son was born.

A better way

Years later, I’ve often wondered if the time between my earnest questioning and eventual commitment of my life to Jesus could have been shorter—perhaps two years shorter!

What I needed that night and what millions—even billions—still need is a simple, clear, and complete explanation of the gospel.

For many people, Jesus is only a historical figure whose life is shrouded in mystery.

Every Christian believer should be able to share the truth of the gospel with or without a Bible in hand, and without using Christian terminology and jargon.

Is this possible? Absolutely!


[i] The Barna Group has done a lot of research, especially in the area of young people. Here are a couple reports that reveal this trend of church dropout among youth/young adults— Barna article. There was also a significant study done by sociologist Christian Smith, which he published in his book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Eyes of American Teenagers (published in 2005), coining the term Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD). Here is a link to an article about MTD

[ii] The Jesus Movement was a Christian counter-culture movement starting in the late sixties, and growing to prominence in the early seventies. Young people, often termed Jesus freaks, and Christian rock music, characterized this non-organized movement. [http://www.one-way.org/jesusmovement/| http://conservapedia.com/Jesus_Movement]

[iii] “Accepting Christ,” describes a person making a decision to follow Jesus as their Lord and Savior. It is also called “making a decision for Christ.” An invitation (opportunity) is given to make this decision during an “altar call”—an invitation to come forward or signal an intention to “accept Christ” with a raised hand, then being led in a simple (often rote) prayer.

[iv] “Serving the Lord” became a popular phrase describing volunteerism in the church, but can also include paid staff positions. The idea being it’s more than a job, it’s an opportunity to “serve the Lord.”


This is another excerpt from my book— The Mystery of the Gospel

Remembrances

This past weekend was an important time of remembrance for Christian believers. Depending on how traditional one is, it can begin with observing Lent (40 days of fasting), Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday (Easter). And don't forget Passover, which has great significance for looking at the Gospel story through a Jewish perspective.* It's the precursor to the Christian observance of communion, and gives a greater depth of meaning to Christ's death on the Cross. The most important lens of perspective is celebrating the Lord's resurrection from the dead. I especially love sunrise services!

When I was a young pastor in southern California, I joined with pastors from other churches in our community to celebrate Good Friday. Typically, we would preach through the seven last sayings of Christ on the Cross (Matt 27:46 or Mark 15:34; Luke 23: 34, 43, 46; and John 19:26-27, 28, 30). Although it could get somewhat dry and trite year after year, it had meaning. There was also a community-wide sunrise service, but our church held it's own. It was always a special time of celebration and fellowship as we shared in a breakfast following the service.

Unfortunately, traditional services can become rote ritualism, but they don't have to be. On the other hand, many non-denominational ministries have jettisoned traditional services in the pursuit of relevance and freedom from outdated traditions. I lament this attitude, even though I've been part of non-denominational churches for the past four decades. Traditions and special services (remembrances) remain meaningful when kept with a fresh, spiritual relevance.

It's not the act or service itself, so much as the motive and heart attitude in its observance. I like Seder Suppers (Passover celebrations) and Good Friday services. I like Candlelight services on Christmas Eve, and I love Sunrise services on Resurrection (Easter) mornings. They are important remembrances of spiritual significance, and are valuable.

My family and I lived in the Philippines for fifteen years where the country virtually shuts down in observance of Good Friday. Good Friday is the culmination of their Holy Week, not Easter Sunday. So, our first Easter Sunday in the Philippines (in 1991), we had a simple, small sunrise service on the beach at the back our house. At the time, we were part of a small barangay (village) church. They had never done this, but enjoyed it, especially when we roasted freshly caught fish at breakfast following the service.

The church we were blessed to be a part of later (CCD), now holds a public sunrise service in the provincial (county) park each year (try doing that in the US nowadays!). There are hundreds of people who attend this service and it has become a great outreach in the city. Currently, we've enjoyed sunrise services the past two years at the beach near our home (photo above), where we're involved with a new church plant (OCC).

I love sunrise services because they are a great visual reminder of the Lord Jesus' victory over death and darkness—a reminder of God's faithfulness and power. I'm reminded of an expression I heard many years ago, "It's Friday, but Sunday's a-comin'!" The darkness (visually symbolic of death and sin) gives way to the light—death on the Cross is followed by the victory displayed by the empty tomb.

I'll end my remembrances with an ancient traditional greeting spoken early on Easter Sunday—the first phrase spoken by someone and the second phrase spoken in response by another person—"He is Risen...He is Risen indeed!" The resurrection of Jesus from the grave is a reminder of His power over sin, death, and the devil (Heb 2:14), and the assurance of having a living hope and an eternal future. What is your remembrance of Jesus?

* For an example of observing Passover (Seder Supper) see this blog— http://asmallsnippet.blogspot.com/