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Easter Is Forever

I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. – Rev. 1:18   (NIV)

If you are a western Christian, you probably celebrated Easter last Sunday. On Monday, Easter was over. Unless you live in certain places (such as North Carolina) where “Easter Monday” was a public holiday until 1987. Other places, such as the White House (White House egg roll) and other countries it is observed in various ways. And this fits in quite well with the thinking of most people who think of Easter as an event or a short season of the year. In western cultures it is a season that lasts for seven weeks (until the 50th day, Pentecost). For many eastern Christians it lasts until the 40th day after or Ascension.

However, the early Christians and the New Testament understood it quite differently. They knew that the resurrection of Jesus was the beginning of an eternal reality.

“The key to understanding all of this for the early followers of Jesus was not just their knowledge of God himself, which we have so heavily emphasized, or their knowledge of the multitudes of non-physical beings or angels that serve him.  The absolute bedrock of their confidence concerning their future was, rather, in their experience of the postresurrection Jesus.” (Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, 395)

They knew Jesus is alive and that Easter is forever. And that being a Christian is a faith relationship with the living Jesus. It is expressed in at least three very important ways. Jesus is our companion. He is with us (“I am with you always.”-Matt. 28:20). He works through us, enabling us to bear fruit for the kingdom. He is in us (Jn 14:17- with you will be in you.) shaping us so that we will ultimately be like Him.

Tomorrow, Sunday (the day of resurrection) is a reminder that Easter is forever. Hope you celebrate it tomorrow and every Sunday by worshiping with your Christian community.

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Never Alone

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 Love, Joy, Peace, Happiness, Wonder—are all emotions often connected to Christmas. Throw in the ideas of family, parties, celebration and you have a package of how Christmas is usually communicated.

However, there is another emotion or experience for many people that is connected to Christmas. It is loneliness. Do a web search for “Christmas, loneliness” and you will discover just how much there is about this connection. Now, obviously, there is a lot of loneliness that has nothing to do with Christmas.

We are in what some are calling a “loneliness epidemic.” The headlines from a National Public Radio story declared, “Americans Are a Lonely Lot.”  According to a study this year from health insurer Cigna, “most Americans are considered lonely.”

However, it does appear that the Christmas season exaggerates the sense of loneliness for many people. It has been a common theme of popular Christmas songs over the years such as a 70’s classic: “Lonely This Christmas.” (And no, it’s not Elvis, even though one youtube video says it is.)

So, what is the Christian reaction to this? The Christmas message itself suggests the most important thing. We are not alone. No one is. Jesus’ own words are clear:

“I am with you always.”
“I will never leave you or forsake you.”

Then, we are to reach out in ways that help lonely people. If we look, they are all around us in the obvious places such as nursing homes. They are also among our neighbors and those who are missing a loved one this year or who really have no one. Some, for whatever reason just think, “no one cares.” Let them know Jesus does.

From Messiah's December Newsletter
*Picture is on this web site affairwithcoffee

It’s Worship– TOGETHER

So let’s come near God with pure hearts and a confidence that comes from having faith. Let’s keep our hearts pure, our consciences free from evil, and our bodies washed with clean water.  We must hold tightly to the hope that we say is ours. After all, we can trust the one who made the agreement with us.  We should keep on encouraging each other to be thoughtful and to do helpful things.  Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting for worship, but we must not do that. We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord’s coming is getting closer.Hebrews 10:22-25 (CEV)

In bold headlines, the Morning Report for August 1st of Religious News Service: “Empty Pews”, “Why fewer Americans are attending religious services.” If you a Christian in a typical church, you are seeing less on Sunday mornings (and other times also). If you are in an exceptional church, where attendance is growing, you probably have heard about declining church attendance and celebrate your experience.

The RNS report says, “Fewer adults are attending religious services in the United States, but not necessarily because they don’t believe.” To be sure, there are those who simply don’t believe. But “some express their faith in other ways, others haven’t found a church they like…. others say they don’t feel welcome.” And you won’t have any trouble finding things like this article: “Six Reasons People Aren’t Attending Your Church.”

There are certainly many different individual reasons. However, I am convinced that a major underlying cause is our failure to appreciate a basic component of the life of those who follow Jesus. We do it with a community of fellow travelers. We do it in face to face relationships. And it is not optional.

Of course there are exceptional cases such as those who have physical impairments. And I don’t mean to sound harsh or unloving. But not having a church which I like or where I feel welcome, a pastor I like, music I like, theology I agree with or a host of other reasons do not negate the fact that being Christian is a shared experience. And the primary expression of that is corporate worship. All excuses aside, New Testament Christians/followers of Jesus worship together. I can’t free-lance and call myself a New Testament follower of Jesus.

Underlying all of this is a simple spiritual principle affirmed by Jesus: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” God’s presence is different when we are together. So find a gathering of fellow followers and worship with them. Jesus will meet you there.

“Volunteers” Is the Problem

“Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things so; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness! Matt. 25:21 (NIV)

Not long ago I was reading a church newsletter. It was a nice example of an informative, visually appealing church communication. But beginning on the first page (the pastor’s page) there was a concept that was communicated more than fourteen times, often in bold headlines. Over and over it was stated that volunteers are needed for this or that. It told me something not only about many in that church, but in churches everywhere. I am convinced one of the problems we have is that many Christians think of themselves as volunteers.

The word volunteer is used only 5 times in the Old Testament. Never is it used in the New Testament. In the New Testament, followers of Jesus are over and over referred to as servants (“only servants”-I Corinthians 3:5).

Volunteers work, are engaged, as they will. Servants work, are engaged, according to the master’s will. Volunteers wonder: “Do I have time?” “What will I get out of this?” “Will it make me look good?” “Will it make me feel good?” “Will it produce good things?” “Is it important to me?”

A servant has one question: “What does the master want?” Granted, in this world, that is not always a question easy to answer for Christians.

But Christians are under orders. They are called to serve, admonished to serve, expected to serve, gifted to serve as God directs. It is our purpose. And our great reward is to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

We Don’t Want You Here

Matthew 8:34  Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.

Does that “jar” you? A whole town is stirred enough to go see Jesus. They break away from their jobs, their daily struggles, important activities, whatever occupies their time and go into Jesus’ presence. Not a surprise; but then they “pleaded” with him, not just asked him, to leave. “We don’t want you here.

I think we are inclined to attribute that to the immediately preceding story where Jesus casts out demons and sends them into a herd of pigs who then run into the sea and are drowned. (I know I am.) We think he’s threatening their lively hood. But I wonder.

There is nothing to indicate that they were angry or went with negative intent. In fact, on the surface it seems to indication there was an attraction to him. But “when they saw him” everything changed–“We don’t want you here.” It seems so different from common reactions to him or what we would expect. But it should “give us pause.” When people encounter Jesus, all reactions are not positive. And a short time later, Jesus puts it in perspective: “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble [fall away] on account of me.” (11:6)

 

Unbelievable?

“they did not believe the women, because their words seemed…like nonsense.” (Luke 24:11, NIV)

Those are some of the most telling words in the New Testament concerning the resurrection of Jesus. Forever they should dispel the notion that Easter was created by the wishful thinking of gullible, unlearned, poor fishermen and such. The first reports that Jesus was alive did not seem credible to them.

These people had to be convinced that what seemed impossible to them was really true. Only when they saw him with their own eyes did they believe it. And this Jesus, once dead but now alive for ever, changed their lives and the world. He has changed me and he can change you too. Because he lives, he offers life to anyone willing to follow him.

He is risen!
He is risen indeed!

Hallelujah!

Don’t Forget. He Died for You

“They crucified him….Jesus said, “It is finished.” –John 19:18, 30

Strangely enough, many Christians will arrive next Sunday at Easter having missed any real talk about the cross/Jesus’ death. Yesterday was Palm Sunday and in many churches that was the focus of the service. Unless, a special service on Thursday or Friday is attended (which for a majority of Christians is unlikely) little mention of the cross will be made. That is a major distortion of the Gospel message.

The New Testament is clear we are saved by Jesus’ death. Consider just a few examples:
— Jesus’ own words on the cross- “It is finished.”
— We are “reconciled by his death.”
— We are “baptized into his death.”
— In communion- “we proclaim the Lord’s death.”
— He “suffered for our sins.”

Easter may be more exciting and more appealing but the message is “he died for me and for you.” (Romans 5:8)

Of course, Easter, the resurrection, needs to be proclaimed and celebrated. In no way should it be minimized or diminished. However, without the cross, an essential element is missing. The early Christians did not disconnect the resurrection from the crucifixion. Without a real understanding of Jesus’ death Easter loses its meaning.