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Easter Power

Jesus Christ was dead. Jesus Christ is risen! Jesus Christ is forever alive!

Those three statements point out the possibility of the most profound yet unimaginable change in our own lives occurring as we come into a living connection with God. That connection happens as we trust Jesus Christ as our Savior, receive by faith the benefits of the wholeness and hope he gives, and follow him as we live the rest of our lives.

Jesus Christ was dead. His early followers had watched him die on the cross, and heard him cry with his last breath “It is finished.” None of us have reached the end of our own lives yet and experienced physical death. All of us, however, have a past that is already dead to us. We have memories from the past. Some are good. Still others are painful and haunting. We relish the precious times from earlier years, and are sometimes haunted by our other decisions and deeds. There is no way for us to relive the good and correct the bad. It is gone, dead.

The good news is Jesus has dealt with our past. By his death on the cross he fixed the sinful and dead past life of every believer. Jesus death changes the very nature of who we are and frees us to live in communion  with God. The Bible says “…everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:43) As we receive forgiveness and new life flows into us we become reborn as children of God.

Jesus Christ is risen! We know the sacrifice Jesus made for our sins is effective because God’s power was demonstrated in a most radical way. Jesus did not remain dead. He is risen! His resurrection was something totally outside the normal working of the universe. In one mighty act God reversed the course of everything and created righteousness out of sin, life out of death.

We have a living Savior. Jesus, resurrected to life again, made the promise to his followers that he would be with them every day of their lives, everywhere they found themselves. Because of who he is, and how his authority was verified by countless eye witnesses, we can trust that what he says is true. Christ is with those who belong to him. He hears our prayers, provides sustainable support, rekindles hope, and walks with us day by day.

Jesus Christ is forever alive! When he rose from the dead, Jesus broke the powerful force of death. Because he lives, we can face tomorrow. By God’s powerful act the biggest threat facing us is defeated. The resurrection proves that life exists beyond the grave. No longer do we need to be controlled by fear of the end of our existence. While it may be appropriate to dread the process of our dying, death itself is but a transition into the place where Jesus lives. Imagining what continuing our lives in the home of God is impossible in our limited human knowledge. If we listen to what Jesus says, however, we can even begin to discover snippets of what that life shall be like, and it’s going to be good!

Jesus Christ was dead. Jesus Christ is risen! Jesus Christ is forever alive!

May those three truths provide you with a road map of hope for life. The Christian’s past, present, and future are changed by the power of Jesus Christ and his resurrection. This is the good news of Easter. Believe it, live it, enjoy it, and share it with the blessing and power of God.

Happy Easter!

The theme for this years Lenten services is He Set His Face Toward Jerusalem. We have walked with Jesus these Wednesday nights since Ash Wednesday as he made his way to Jerusalem for Passover and then to the cross. It is now Holy Week. Last Sunday we joined together to wave palm branches and proclaim Christ's triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. Our voices joined with those across the centuries as we called out the words in Matthew 21:

     “Hosanna to the Son of David!”
     “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
     “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Thursday night we will come together in quietness to reenact the Last Supper. We reflect with sadness that those same voices that sang his praises as he came into Jerusalem will now ring out, “Crucify him! Free Barrabas!”  We cringe when we read of Peter's denial. We will hang our heads in shame that we too often deny him.

We will suffer with him on Good Friday as we see him dying on the cross for our sins. That will be the darkest time of all. But Resurrection Sunday will come soon with Easter, and we'll join together in joyful celebration with our risen Lord! He rose victorious over evil and death. We will be thrilled with the women of old who found the tomb empty! And because of that we will join him in heaven! This journey will have taken us through the forty days of Lent. During this time we have looked within and searched ourselves for those areas of life where we need to repent and be forgiven. It's been a thoughtful journey with a glorious ending!

     Hallelujah! He has risen just as he said!

Someone said to me the other day that he hated for Lent to end because it will be such a long time until Advent comes again. Those two events are so closely connected. At Advent we await the coming of Christ into the world. And during Lent we focus on the reason he came and see it to completion. Both are significant and relevant to our Christian lives. Let's use the time between these seasons to learn and grow in faith and share the good news of the gospel with the world around us!

Blessings to you this Holy season!

Where Have All Our Neighbors Gone?

Jesus said the most important thing is to love God, and then to love our neighbor. It seems like a pretty simple thing, at least until we step back and assess how well we are doing it. Most of us at that time admit we need some help if we are to actually do what Jesus said was basic to our faith.

One of the difficulties in following this commandment, apart from our hesitancies to fully give ourselves to God, and our prejudices toward the folks around us, and our dislike of having to something we don’t necessarily want to do is that our neighbors seem to have all but disappeared. Where have all the neighbors gone?

We have our families, at least the ones who are alive, around us, and still speak to us. The fortunate among us have a handful of old friends. And then there are the people we spend time with at work. All these are the folks that are more or less close to us.

And then we have our acquaintances. These are people we think we know — on Facebook they are called “friends.” We “like” what they post, and we “like” their friends who then become our friends. Our aquaintances include the pharmacist who gives us our pills at the drugstore. Is her name Rosemary? Or is Rosemary the nice lady who sits two pews behind us in church? She, too, is a an acquaintance. Or is she a friend? Then there is the gentleman in charge of the monthly meeting for civic advancement. He’s such a friendly and competent person. Good to know him.

Where have all the neighbors gone? Missing are the people who fill the middle group, the “neighbor” role. Neighbors are folks who aren’t as close as family or co-workers, but who are still far more significant to us than the Facebook “friend” we barely know. They are the people next door or across town whose names we do know, and whose kids’ names we know. They are people we actually sit down with once in a while over a cup of coffee. Neighbors are the people who notice when we need help, and offer a hand. They let us watch their house while they’re gone, and help rake the snow off our roof. When we are sick they bring us chicken soup, and when they lose a loved one we bring them a casserole.

While people have always had family as a basically close group about them, we are seeing rapid changes to the structure of the family itself. Relocation from the family homestead, the constant alteration of relationships, and the flexibility of individual lifestyles all help make the contemporary family something a little different than families have been in the past.

And then the group farthest removed from us — the acquaintances — has expanded greatly for people today. Whether we count the 250 people who have “friended” us on Facebook, or the rapid ability to zero in on interest groups that catch our attention and fulfill our immediate needs, such as providing health feedback or dissecting the Red Sox’s coming year, there is no doubt our most distant relationships, that of fringe acquaintances, has grown drastically.

So where have all the neighbors gone? Where are the people who provide stability in daily life and human connection when family fails us and perhaps even an affirming arm around our shoulders at a critical time? Perhaps the answer is found within ourselves. Perhaps it’s we who haven’t been all that neighborly. Neighbors don’t just happen but are grown, cultivated. Neighbors take investment, and our behavior and attitudes have an enormous influence in the development of this crucial middle group of folks around us. It’s far more difficult a task to relate to a real neighbor than to “like” someone in cyberspace. Our neighbor’s lawn gets far too unkempt, they vote for the wrong person, and their dog is truly obnoxious.

These pesky neighbors are the people Jesus singled out for us to love. Family usually takes care of itself with more or less a comfortable level of love. Those on the outskirts of our lives are easy to love, since they are too far removed to have irritating faults. If a fault does appear, we "unfriend” them. The neighbors are more complicated. It’s the neighbors who are hard to love. Yet it’s the neighbors Jesus pushed us to love, and then stirred the pot even more by suggesting it is even harder to love God without seeing him, than it is to love our neighbor, who is sometimes too visible. Are we sure Jesus really knew how much effort it would take to love our neighbor? What are we going to do about it now?

Learning Lessons from the Snow

As we all know, February has been the snowiest month anyone can remember. Conversations with people from other parts of the country invariably begin with, “Is it really as bad there as it looks like on TV?” The answer always is, “Yes! It really is!” My family from Louisiana had planned to be here for winter vacation week. That didn’t happen. We were all so disappointed. It was a trip long planned for and anticipated but many flights were cancelled and plans had to be postponed.

But there are some lessons that I have learned from the snow:

1. We have to work together and depend on each other. Neighbors and family have helped each other. I hate to be dependent on others, but in this situation it has been absolutely necessary. Those who are able have helped those who are not.

We are part of a community. A community of being fellow sufferers binds us. We all have the same problems with the snow and ice. We can just look at each other any emphasize. We know it’s hard. We feel connected with those who share the same difficulties with us.

2. We have to have patience. Waiting is hard. But things of this magnitude can’t be rushed. The snowplow guy will get to us when he is able. We just have to wait. Learning to be patient is a difficult but valuable lesson. We remember that “Those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength.” So we wait for better weather and for that promised strength.

3. We are blessed beyond measure. It is cold out, but we have warm houses. We have coats, boots, and gloves. Our pantries many be less full because we can’t get out to the grocery store, but we have food to eat. But there are many who don’t have these things. We are called to help and comfort those less fortunate than us.

We are blessed, above all, that we have received the knowledge that God loved us so much that He sent His only son to die for us. Many don’t know that. Again, we are called, as believers, to tell others that God loves them and that we do, too.

4. We remember the promise that spring will come again. On our ride to church we pass a corner house that has a curved flower bed that we enjoy all summer with its bright profusion of colors of every flower imaginable.

When I see it now piled high with snow, I remember the promise of those beautiful flowers. I know that buried under that mountain of snow, bulbs are waiting to burst forth when the weather warms up. I recognize that that is God’s plan for the earth.

I know that the Red Sox are practicing in Florida. Surely baseball season will come again. Surely life will return to normal. May we use the slower pace of life that is called winter to reflect on those things that really matter. And may God have mercy on us!

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