Friday, March 29, 2024

Resurrection Day

On the first anniversary of the resurrection of Christ, what kind of celebration took place? Was it dutifully noted as a special day? Perhaps the fervor of the early followers had not yet waned, and so they simply paused for a moment to remember that a year had passed since their lives were transformed by the Risen Lord. And then they swiftly went on with their mission to tell what they had witnessed. To proclaim the truth. To extend the reach of the Gospel. After all, that was their commission.

History suggests the first Christians remembered the death of Christ with a Passover meal, but there was no formality in observing the day of His resurrection. Special days for the Christians were still primarily Jewish events. Early Church historians note that changes occurred to allow a more comfortable transition into the faith for those coming from pagan traditions, and to peacefully transfer Christianity from its Jewish roots into the larger order of things. Of course, much was gained in the matter of extending the Gospel. But was something lost? Perhaps the early Church didn’t cling to tradition. Maybe reaching the world—all of it—was worth giving way to change.

Sunday became the day to remember the death and the resurrection of Jesus, and in the course of time the traditions of Easter became part of the Christian faith. A few interesting bits of Easter history: It’s widely known the name of our modern holiday is derived from the pagan goddess, Eostre (Ishtar, or Ostara), but did you know the Easter egg is rooted deep in Babylonian legend? Or that the Easter rabbit was said to lay eggs as gifts from the goddess for all good children to eat? 

Christianity redeemed the eggs by giving them a spin to representations of faith. One tradition says the rolling of the egg symbolizes the stone rolled away from the tomb. At some point, the eggs were tinted red to represent the blood of Christ. No matter their origin, the pagan icons are vaguely remembered in modernity, and the same can be said of the symbols of Christianity. All has come to this: plastic eggs filled with candy delivered by an oversized bunny who walks upright.

Pagan influence colored the true story of the day Jesus rose from the grave, but earlier history does not leave out its Jewishness. For instance, in a tradition not typically associated with Easter, some writings indicate first-century believers fasted on Wednesday and Friday before the Sunday marking the resurrection. This is not as easy for modern Christians to consider as it was for those who survived in a less substantial environment, but fasting is part of the Christian experience as taught in Scripture. Maybe a day or two spent in obedience to this doctrine would help to prepare our hearts for a truly meaningful Resurrection Day. As it is, we do well to spend a few moments reflecting on the One who saves us from all condemnation. Our day is wasted on the trivial.

The American Christian has likely grown up spending Easter Sunday morning in church, followed by an afternoon hunting eggs. Little girls still wear their frilly new dresses. Stuffed bunnies and baskets of candy wait in the backseats of cars filling church parking lots. The day is Christian and Jewish and pagan, and the lines are blurred now. But the truth must be kept in focus.

This is not the day to honor the goddess of springtime or fertility. We don’t need her rabbit to feed eggs to our children. We may allow the melding of antiquity to mark our celebration, but never let it define the reverent and joyous remembrance of our Risen Savior. Like the Easter holiday, we are marked by unrighteousness. But because of the first Resurrection Day, we’re redeemed for eternity, alive with Christ our Great Resurrected King.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Scoffers Come Scoffing

On Oct 7, 2023, a war began. No surprise there. Nothing that hasn’t happened before, right? People scoffed. It's just another outbreak of the war that never ends. Our president was quick to respond with a message of reassurance. When I heard Biden say that he, and America, will stand with Israel no matter what, my mind in silent wonderment, and without so much as a moment’s consideration, proclaimed, “Lies." 

The day brought death, and the response brought death. The Palestinians, more or less used and abused by Hamas, are portrayed on the evening news as innocents being slaughtered by the murderous Jews. The clips of injured and abandoned children are heartbreaking. But the news here in America is slanted. Why are these people in harm’s way? How many were told by Hamas not to flee the evacuated areas? How many Hamas leaders hovelled underground, and still do, directly below what should have been safe places? How many trucks of medical supplies and food have been highjacked by Hamas? I wonder, if I were a mother in Gaza hoping to save my children, if I would consider that the IDF might offer better protection. Of course, I’m watching it all from across the world.

Nevertheless, this war has indeed ushered in propaganda layered with lie upon lie. The devil is in the business of spreading lies, and his business has shown a profit these past few months. The believers of the lies are fooled by two realities. First, blindness overtakes those living in spiritual darkness. 

Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. 2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT

Second, ignorance of history gives false perception to blinded eyes. They scoff at Israel's right to reasonable defense. Here is an excellent article that clears up some of the current fallacies promoted in demonstrations around the world, typically by the pseudo-educated, the woke, political leaders, the media and, at times, by leaders and members of the body of Christ. The latter should not be. Not at all.

What should be the opinion, action, and emotion of the body of Christ?

Pray for Israel. 

The nation of Israel, the war, or the signs of the approach of Day of the Lord are hardly mentioned by the Christians in my circle. I try to bring it up when opportunity arises. And I pray. I know I am not alone. Others are praying.

Pray for the enemy. 

It's hard to pray for those who are likely so blinded by desire to wipe Israel off the map that they will never be turned. But a few will believe the truth, eventually. In the meantime, I will pray for those children I see on the news. I pray they will be released by the power of the gospel from the pull to join the terrorists in their evil plotting. I pray this war will end soon. But I know there is only One who is able to save the lost ones and who will bring peace at last. 

And He’s coming.

I never realized, until lately, the depth of a verse I’ve read for years.

…knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.  
2 Peter 3: 3,4 ESV

I always thought it referred to the lost, the blind, and surely it does. However, Peter was speaking of false teachers. Such members walk comfortably among the redeemed. Why would the lost and blind even consider the coming of Christ? They’re not waiting. It’s the Church that has waited and wondered these two thousand years. Is it the Church that’s now scoffing?

Praise God, there is a great and mighty hope for the body of Christ, for believers watching and waiting, and believers who question the promise. For the nation of Israel. For the lost sons of Ishmael. For the educated and enlightened who have no understanding of the Light. For all of us.

Here is the mission and purpose of the Son of God as written in the book of Isaiah, and read by Jesus in the synagogue:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
  to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor”
Luke 4: 18,19 ESV

Jesus spoke words from Isaiah up to the proclamation of the year of the Lord’s favor. He stopped mid-sentence, set the scroll aside, and sat down. He had revealed His mission to those listening, that is, the mission of His first advent. The words of Isaiah speak further of the full mission of Jesus, to the time of the second advent, and the restoration of Israel. Read the rest of the passage from Isaiah 61:2b-7…

    and the day of vengeance of our God;
    to comfort all who mourn;
 to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
    to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
    the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
    the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.

They shall build up the ancient ruins;
    they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
    the devastations of many generations.

Strangers shall stand and tend your flocks;
    foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers;
but you shall be called the priests of the Lord;
    they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God;
you shall eat the wealth of the nations,
    and in their glory you shall boast.
Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion;
    instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot;
therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion;
    they shall have everlasting joy.


God never forgets His promises. Remember Israel.

Remember that our Deliverer is coming. And pray.




Monday, January 15, 2024

The Promises of Democracy

A true leader brings great hope to a nation.

Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. Isaiah 40: 3

The world changed when John the Baptist fulfilled this prophecy by preparing the way of the Messiah. More recently, another man spoke the words during a time of cultural upheaval in one of the most important speeches ever delivered. During that speech, before Martin Luther King, Jr. began his eloquent revelation of a dream, he referenced the valley:

Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

Then came the heart of the speech and the sharing of the dream, and this man of God included Isaiah’s prophecy. He knew of its fulfillment. And yet, he believed the words held a future hope. For Americans? For peace among the races calling themselves Americans? Most certainly. But Dr. King realized the words were written to proclaim the coming of Christ. To mark the day when the glory of the Lord would be revealed, and all flesh would see it together.

Evil shut the mouth of John the Baptist, but the prophecy rang true and the message did not end. The voice of Dr. King met evil as well. But his dream didn’t end. Great loss was suffered, and great progress made in exalting that dark and desolate valley. A servant of God, one with a vision and a voice can bring great change, raise up the lowly, flatten mountains, straighten what is crooked and smooth the rough places.

But not completely. Evil still lurks. Some claim the media is responsible for stirring the racial tension rising up in America today. In reality, Satan is behind it. And he’s got his claw in politics too. Absurd comments from this unusual crop of presidential candidates seem to result in a tangled, ridiculous waste of time. No potential leader possesses the vision and voice to lift us from the sinking wasteland, or flatten any mountain blocking a secure and united future. The new political horizon makes the setting sun of current rule seem practically tolerable.

I long for the vision of a man who was murdered when I was a child. As a southern white girl, I wasn’t raised to fully appreciate his legacy. As a Christian woman, I can see the greatness of his message and his leadership. But I have a dream that One even greater will come and rule the world with truth and justice. Thank God, the prophecy will soon be fulfilled again. He is coming.

I have a dream that I can gather with all races to worship in freedom. But it’s not a dream—not anymore. It’s reality every time we gather in my Southern Baptist Church. It would have never been this way in the past. But now, it’s not an issue to even note. We’re just family.

I have a dream that come November I can step into the voting booth and mark a reasonable choice. But not all dreams are meant to be. I know this much: God appoints leaders. Some to lead with greatness. Some, by their ungodliness, to cause a nation to turn from rebellion against God or else meet an end. I wonder what Dr. King’s prayer for our nation would be today. He might still hold firm to the promises of democracy. Hope is not yet lost. Or perhaps he would simply pray, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus."

Friday, January 5, 2024

The Good Question

God is great. God is good. Let us thank Him for our food. By His hand we all are fed. Give us, Lord, our daily bread. Amen

Most children, or at least those who learn to give thanks at mealtime, recite this little prayer. It teaches the basic lesson of expressing gratitude for God’s provision. But even before giving thanks and asking God to meet our needs, the truth of God’s attributes are taught in those first two short sentences. First, greatness is accredited to God. And then, goodness. An important lesson, and yet it’s often repeated in vain until children grow into adults who may or may not increase in understanding, in the expression of prayer, or in the realization that God is not only great, but He’s also good.

The distinction between the greatness and goodness of God is addressed in the first book of the Bible. God makes a lot of something out of absolutely nothing. The Creator of the whole universe brings it all down to a perfect piece of a paradise with a crowning touch of humanity, and He introduces Himself to His creation. His greatness is not in question. But for reasons that perfectly happy first couple could not comprehend, the Great Creator allows His goodness to become of matter of doubt.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”  And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.  For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:1-5
God’s greatness wasn’t the issue when Eve reached up and grabbed hold of one thing God told her not to eat. The serpent didn’t raise the question in her mind as to whether or not God was great. But…was He good? Really? Maybe He didn’t have her best interests at heart after all. Maybe He was withholding something
wonderful. Maybe He didn’t tell her everything she needed to know to live a perfect life in a perfect place. 

And so the question arose, not just for Eve and the man who let her do all the talking in this world-changing event, but for the rest of us, too. The question of God’s goodness dropped us onto a slippery path that eventually led us to question even His greatness.
Now, a long time after Paradise and a long way down after the Fall, how do we know that God is not only great, but that He is good? Do we know by the number of good things that happen in our lives? No matter how good life once seemed, most people meet a crisis that causes them to question God’s goodness. This is no Garden of Eden we’re enduring. Sometimes it’s more like a war zone and we’re living with the scars of our battles. Sometimes those scars run deep enough to kill any remembrance of God’s goodness. If God is good, why is the world so bad? We might find some assurance of God’s greatness in the world around us, but His goodness will always come into doubt. It’s our nature to ask the question and we’ll never find enough evidence to convince us of God’s goodness without a resounding, eye-opening transformation.
There is no other way to know that God is good except by the truth of the Good News.
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. Galatians 4:4-7
He is great. He creates, sustains, and holds the world together by His might. No one can measure His greatness. And He is good. His goodness can be measured by the depth of His love in that He provided a way of escape from sin and death. We might acknowledge His greatness, though in our present state we can’t fully comprehend it. But it’s the light of the Gospel that brings us to acknowledge His goodness. A great God might have left a fallen world in the darkness. A good God never would.