Easter, every day

Christians proclaim “He is risen” one day a year. The tomb is empty. Sins are forgiven. Good Friday is defeated. Jesus lives forever.

So what?

I’m serious. If Easter is a one-day celebration, what’s the big deal?

Here’s a reminder: Easter is a 24-hours-a-day, 365-days-a-year event. We should post these “He is risen” memes every day.

The effects of that Easter morning about 2,000 years ago reverberate into the 21st century. It’s far from a one-time event.

All in

For some, “religion” is a once-a-week thing. Show up for an hour, give an offering, I’m good for the week.

risen 5Nothing in the Bible, which explains Easter in detail, allows for that. Jesus is an all-or-nothing relationship. Jesus gave his life for us. He didn’t have to, but he cares for us that much.

 

The Bible demands we do the same. Follow in Jesus’ footsteps, if you will. Give to those less fortunate, time and money. Serve widows and orphans (those groups are mentioned by name more than once.)

With our schedules turned upside down by the novel coronavirus, how are we doing?

There’s a high school junior near here who plays the bagpipes each evening for his neighbors. Many of us call or text people we haven’t connected with in awhile – I’ve received a few of those calls too. We donate to food banks. We make masks for hospitals and other first responders. We buy groceries for our elderly neighbors.

Many people are serving orphans, widows and others very well during this time of need. It’s heart-warming to see.

Just the beginning

What will happen when stay-in-place orders are lifted? Will we continue serving our neighbors? I hope so.

Or will we go back to our old habits? Traditionally we go from crisis to crisis, forgetting any lessons learned as we make our living, feed our families and hope we get some free time on the weekend.

risen 2

Easter has come and gone, and we don’t talk about it anymore. We should. Every day.

Jesus had 12 disciples in his inner circle, men who left their families and professions to follow him and learn from him. After the resurrection, their lives were transformed.

They couldn’t stop talking about it. They faced opposition, torture and even death. Didn’t matter. They kept talking and living their new lives, because now they had a purpose that transcended themselves.

Easter was not the final word. Easter was just the beginning of their story.

And ours.

New priorities

risen 6

They lived differently. They shared their possessions with each other. Not because a virus forced them to, but because their faith in the risen Savior encouraged them to share.

They did so without even thinking about it. Their priorities had changed that dramatically. They held on to their own possessions loosely. They supported themselves and their families, and shared their surplus with widows and orphans, and others.

They did something else, too. They talked about their new-found faith with everyone they could. Some believed; many did not. That’s the way it goes.

The power of Easter

I just finished a lengthy study of the book of Acts, where those first disciples (and many others) received God’s Holy Spirit at Pentecost, which helped them understand what Jesus had done.

One of the stars of Acts is Paul, an intellectual religious figure who knew the Scriptures and persecuted these new “Christians” because they weren’t behaving appropriately. Paul, however, had a dramatic encounter with the resurrected Jesus that changed his life overnight.

Some Christians today have a similar experience. For others, faith is a gradual process. God knows our hearts and what it will take for each of us to find him. He’s patient, and creative. But he won’t force you (or anyone else) to follow him.

risen 4

If your eyes get opened like those first apostles’ eyes did at Pentecost, look out! Your life will change. Forever.

That’s the power of Easter.

The apostle Paul was given a very clear mission: “… for (Paul) is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel.” (Acts 9:15)

Paul did that for the rest of his life. He was imprisoned for his faith. He was beaten. He was kicked out of town. He was shipwrecked.

Through it all, he kept his eyes on Jesus.

And he preached. That was his mission.

What did he preach? The resurrection of Jesus. Over and over and over. In synagogues, in city halls, in the streets, in private homes, on an island, in prison … he kept preaching.

 

“For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

Paul, in 1 Corinthians 2:2

 

Paul, if he lived today, probably would have graduated from Harvard. Very smart, very intellectual. For a man like that to say he would proclaim only the resurrection of Jesus – everything else was a waste of time (“I count it all as loss”) – was astounding.

This is what the empty tomb does.

Paul did not throw away his intellect or intelligence. His focus changed, that’s all. No longer did he spend his time trying to follow all the rules and regulations of his religion, which was an impossible task anyway. Now, he followed Jesus – and talked about the cross and the empty tomb.

Paul used the gifts and talents that God gave him to worship God and live for him. We as believers today do that too. Every single day, not just on Easter.

He is risen. He is risen today. And every day.

That tomb will never contain Jesus’ body again.

Go ahead and look. You won’t find it.

Instead, you will find Jesus alive – in a different form, as the Holy Spirit – in your heart. Jesus the Son of God has returned to heaven, where he holds a place at his father’s right hand (Acts 7:55, Romans 8:34, Ephesians 1:20 and other places).

This is why Christians worship the living God today. The tomb is empty.

Easter has just begun.

The ACTS of Jesus, and us

Adoration

When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”

Luke 22:14-16

 

Lord Jesus, You were in control of Your life, even as You prepared to die. You are all-knowing, all-powerful, with wisdom beyond our feeble understanding.

You listened to Your Father, who wrote the plan for Your life – and for mine. You are creator, Lord, of the Earth and everything in it, including us. Your desire was not for anyone to suffer, and yet when suffering entered this world, you embraced it – for Your glory.

Your Father created a perfect kingdom, then invited us weak, sinful human beings to enter it. All we have to do is accept Your invitation.

Jesus, You are our savior. You entered our world and became one of us. You offer us meaning and purpose in this life, and the promise of a glorious, never-ending day of joy once we leave this earth.

For all of this, we give You praise.

Confession

When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, ‘Woman, I do not know him.” … The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

Luke 22:55-57, 61-62

 

Jesus, how weak we are. It’s so easy to look at Peter and judge his lack of faith, his fear in the moments before You died. But would I have acted any differently? No, I would not.

I give Peter credit for even being there, for hanging around a death scene. Like the other apostles, I very likely would have fled long before then. Not seeing the big picture. Not understanding why You had to die, or comprehending the resurrection You talked about.

No, Lord, I am a sinner, in need of forgiveness. I think of myself far too often. My own “needs.” My emotional roller-coaster ride. I deserve nothing from You. In the daily battles, it’s easy to leave You behind. To forget that You are supposed to be my Lord as well as my Savior.

Does everyone I meet know that I know You? I’m sure they don’t, Lord. Some do, but many don’t.

How often I have denied You.

Unlike Peter, I have yet to weep bitterly over this. Perhaps that is my greatest sin.

Thanksgiving

As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus.

Luke 23:26

 

Lord, Simon of Cyrene was there to help You in Your darkest hour. Something about him drew the Roman soldiers to pick him out of the crowd, to carry Jesus’ cross.

Thank You, Father, for Simon. For his availability. For his strength to carry the heavy wooden cross – he was physically able to do that, or he wouldn’t have been chosen.

Simon of Cyrene entered Jesus’ story in His time of greatest need. None of His disciples were there. None of His most high-profile followers. Simon was a man in a crowd, just one of hundreds, maybe thousands, along the road to Golgotha, the place of the cross. But You, Father, picked him out of the crowd. The soldiers thought they chose him, but it was You, Father, who put Simon of Cyrene there, in the right place at the right time.

You do that with me as well, Father. Thank You for choosing me, for picking me out of a crowd – not because I did anything to be noticed, but just because I was there. Available. That’s all You ask.

Jesus, I can’t say I’m strong enough to carry Your cross. But in a way, that’s what You ask each of Your followers to do. We carry Your cross to those who need You.

Jesus fell, weak and abused. I wonder if Simon fell too. I certainly fall, repeatedly.

Thank You, Jesus, for the courage to get up and continue on.

Supplication

Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph … and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.

Luke 23:50-52

 

Jesus, I wait expectantly for Your second coming. Your first coming gave us life; Your second coming will give us eternal life with You and Your Father. Please come quickly, Lord. These days are hard. The hope of Your coming is a shining light in a very dark world.

Father, please open the hearts of friends and family who don’t know You personally. Father, as we celebrate Your Son’s death and resurrection this week, I pray that many of us would understand the meaning behind these events, perhaps for the first time, or perhaps in a deeper way than we ever have before.

This Joseph kept his faith hidden because he feared reprisals. But when he saw You die, he forgot about his fears and stepped forward to ask for Your body, so he could give You a proper burial.

Father, take away my fear too. Help me to step out in faith, in public, and serve You, as Joseph did.

Joseph didn’t understand the coming resurrection; no one truly did at that moment. But he served You anyway. Father, may my faith be like that.

Answered prayer

… Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you. … Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself.” … While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

Luke 24:36, 39, 41-42

 

Father, changed lives are the proof of Your Son’s resurrection. Changed for the better. Not change for the sake of change, but now we have meaning in life.

The disciples were stunned, shocked, filled with disbelieving joy and wonder. Could this be? For real? The miracle of miracles? Is this what He meant?

Then You proved it, Lord, by eating a piece of fish. Ghosts don’t eat solid food. Dead people don’t eat solid food, either.

Jesus, You are alive!

All we ask or seek in Your name, it’s true!

This is why we celebrate Easter Sunday, Lord. You overcame the last, most vicious of Satan’s weapons: death. We don’t have to face that anymore. Our earthly death is nothing more than a transition to a glorious life with You.

We adore You, Father. Thank You for allowing us to see and know Jesus, and because of that to know You. The day is coming when we will know You completely.

May that day come soon. Very soon.

COVID-19, Lent offer same message

Is it I, Lord?

I participated in a dramatic reading many years ago in our church of the Last Supper. Jesus’ 12 apostles were seated in the Upper Room, and Jesus had just announced that one of the 12 was going to betray him.

In turn, they all asked Jesus: Is it I, Lord?

I was assigned the role of James the son of Alphaeus, sometimes called James the Lesser. Hardly anything is known about him, so the paragraph I had to memorize was short.

Yes, it is I

The fact that the announcement troubled most – all but one – of the apostles proved that it was not them. But they asked the question anyway, sincerely.

They gave their lives for him. They gave up their careers for him – some of them permanently. (Once Matthew walked away from his tax collector job, there was no going back.) They listened, feared, walked on water, found food to feed 5,000 people, asked questions and learned.

After three years, it came down to this:

Is it I, Lord?

Jesus gave them the answer right away. No, it’s not you. It’s Judas.

A few hours later, they all fled during Jesus’ biggest hour of need.

Yes, it is I.

A time of reflection

As Christians, we are in the period known as Lent, which takes place for about six weeks before Easter.

Lent is a time of reflection. Christians often give up material things as a sign of penance in preparation for Maundy Thursday, when Christians remember the Upper Room scene. Some fast. Some give up meat. Some forego sweets. Or other things.

This year, everyone around the world, Christian or not, is being forced to give up a lot more than a Friday night steak. I don’t think it’s coincidence that COVID-19 struck during Lent.

What truly matters in life? We are doing without sports and entertainment. As with Lent, these sacrifices will be temporary. It’s not the new normal. We don’t know the end date, but there will be one.

Perhaps we will see a new normal. When sports and entertainment return, will we get caught up in them the way we did for so long? Or will they be as they are intended, an escape from “real life,” a chance to relax and unwind?

Temporary suffering

The Last Supper was not truly so for the apostles, of course. It was for Jesus. The apostles would continue the tradition later as communion, which Christians still celebrate today.

We remember what happened on that night.

The night that changed everything.

The night when Jesus transformed the Passover seder into communion, with his body and blood symbolized by the bread and wine.

We’re upset that our jobs are suspended, temporarily. And that does hurt (even with unemployment benefits). Our favorite concert halls, movie theaters, sports arenas and stadiums are dark and empty, temporarily.

Jesus gave his life. His Father gave it back to him on Easter Sunday, giving us the hope of forgiveness of sins at the same time. That’s why Christians view Easter as the most holy – and happy – day of the entire year.

But first, Lent came. Loss. Suffering. Anguish. Fear. Sleepiness. Anxiety.

Lent and COVID-19 serve the same purpose

Today, all of us, worldwide, get to share in that. Whether we want to or not.

We decide for ourselves how to respond to COVID-19. There are public responses which we are asked to support – stay-in-place, go to the store only when necessary. The virus spreads very rapidly. People are dying from it. The curve has not flattened yet, at least not in the United States.

The worst likely is yet to come.

Will we submit to our leaders?

That’s what Lent is all about. Submitting to a higher authority, the living God.

Today, all of us get to do that.

This life is not about us. Some of us are having a difficult time grasping, or accepting, this.

But it’s true. The world existed before any of us was born, and it will continue after all of us depart this Earth.

Is it I, Lord?

Yes, Lord, it is I.

Lent is a time of reflection, of self-sacrifice. To what end? To understand Jesus’ sacrifice for us.

COVID-19 sacrifices are temporary, except for those who die. That’s why we must sacrifice – so we can keep those deaths to a minimum.

It’s not about me. It’s not about you.

This is the message of Lent, and this is the message of COVID-19.

Sacrifice – and hope

What are we doing with the extra time we have, thanks to social distancing? Are we giving thanks for what we still have? Or do we complain about what we’ve lost?

What have we lost? Nearly all of you reading this blog don’t have to worry about where your next meal is coming from, even with stay-in-place orders. We aren’t facing life-changing consequences, unless we get the virus.

When the social restrictions are lifted, and they will be eventually, we will return to some semblance of normalcy.

Will we be changed? Will we be more grateful for the blessings we’ve had all along? Will we appreciate more the things we’ve had to give up during our enforced Lenten season?

Time will tell.

Until that day, we will live in Lent. A period of sacrifice, waiting, suffering – and hope.

Easter is coming. Whether the pandemic ends on April 12, Easter Sunday, or not – I rather doubt it – Easter will come.

That’s a promise. Let’s get ready.

Sometimes the old stuff is still relevant

I believe in God the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
Thence he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of the saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

 

I had to memorize this before I joined a church for the first time in high school. It’s an ancient statement of Christian beliefs called the Apostles’ Creed.

I grew up in formal Protestant churches that were liturgical. We recited the Apostles’ Creed frequently. It’s not a perfect statement of faith, but it’s pretty good. There’s a lot of excellent theology in it.

I attend a non-liturgical church now. We don’t recite the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer or any other liturgical statement, ever. Well, hardly ever.

I miss it. We want to be all modern and new, but sometimes the old stuff is still relevant.

What is a Christian supposed to believe, anyway? Do we even know any more? Every denomination, every church (whether denominational or not), every group of believers of all types, issues a statement of beliefs. Based on what?

Let’s go back to the beginning. Well, OK. The Apostles’ Creed wasn’t around at the beginning. The first version was written about 390 AD. It’s old, but not quite Bible-times old.

Is the Apostles’ Creed worth remembering today?

I think it is. There’s plenty of good Biblical truth in there that often gets lost in 21st century America.

 

I believe in God the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth.

 

Can we agree on the opening line? Do all Christians believe God made Heaven and Earth? The Bible begins, in the first words of Genesis, with this truth. If we disregard this, we disregard everything that follows it – both in the Bible and in the creed.

Did God create the Earth in six literal days, or did those six days represent a longer timeline? We weren’t around then, so we have to study evidence we discover about the Creation. Whatever your interpretation, God created Earth – and all that’s in it, including us. That’s ground zero.

 

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.

 

Yes or no. Is Jesus God’s only Son, and is He our Lord – which means we serve Him with our daily lives?

 

He was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.

 

Was Jesus both God and man? If he was conceived by the Holy Spirit, then the living God is his father. If he was born of Mary, then he was a man, a human being.

This is an impossible concept to fully grasp, and yet it’s true. God himself came to Earth to connect with us on our level, as one of us.

 

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.

 

Many versions of the Apostles’ Creed omit that last line, because it’s controversial. How could the living God descend into hell?

Here’s the best explanation of that I’ve heard (I don’t remember where I heard this first):

In Heaven, we are fully with God. In Hell, we are completely separated from God. (We experience parts of both on Earth, which is why we have such a struggle between good and evil.) When Jesus took our sins, yours and mine, on his shoulders on the cross, God the Father abandoned his Son there – because God cannot even look at sin, much less accept it in any form. Jesus’ cry, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, quoting Psalm 22:1), was a literal question. At that instant, when the Father and Son were separated, Jesus descended into hell.

Of course, that’s not the end of the story.

 

On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
Thence he will come to judge the living and the dead.

 

God the Father forgave all the sin that Jesus had become on our behalf – and by extension, God has forgiven us of all the sins we have committed, are committing and will commit. This is mind-blowing, life-changing, and absolutely true.

This is the definition of unconditional love.

zoo lights 8

All we have to do is accept it, and our sins are forgiven. We can’t earn forgiveness. It’s a gift. We have to say yes, and thank you.

And one day, Jesus will judge us, not for all the good or bad we’ve done or not done, but only on whether we’ve accepted the gift of his forgiveness or not.

Our present and future lives should reflect our thanks to God for this gift. The Apostles’ Creed doesn’t talk about this, but if we think we have encountered the living God and our lives don’t change at all because of it, then we haven’t encountered the living God.

This is basic Christianity.

 

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of the saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

 

The creed ends with several theological statements:

  • The Holy Spirit lives in each believer. The Spirit is God, giving us insight into the Father and Son. Again, this is impossible to fully understand, but we will one day.
  • The holy catholic Church refers to all believers around the world. “Catholic” is lowercase; it does not refer to the Roman Catholic Church.
  • Communion of saints refers to the universal salvation of all believers past, present and future. We are all brothers and sisters, “saints,” in Christ.
  • God forgives sins. He does not excuse or ignore them. Forgiveness requires a huge cost: the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.
  • Our bodies will be resurrected one day – as perfect heavenly bodies. Again, I can’t explain how this will happen, but the Bible says it will, and Christians look forward to it.
  • Everlasting means forever. We have a beginning, but no end. Earthly death is a temporary thing, a transition to a better life that will be everlasting. This is our hope. Death is hard, especially on those of us remaining on Earth, but we all will face it one day. No exceptions. Are we ready?
  • Amen means “so be it.”

With all kinds of ideas out there about what it means to be a Christian, sometimes it’s good to go back to the basics. The Apostles’ Creed is based on the Bible itself.

It’s a good refresher. Hope this encourages you.

Trump, the man, the politician and the nation’s deep divide over him

We don’t discuss politics at home, and that’s a good thing.

I do talk politics in this blog on occasion, however. Responses typically are strong.

The goal of a blog is to spark discussion – to get you, the reader, to ask yourself what you believe, and why.

But with politics, we – nearly all of us – put our blinders on and mindlessly point out how I am right and you are wrong. We all quote “facts” to support our position, and label the other side’s “facts” as “fake news.”

If there’s anything I’ve learned from social media this year, it’s that.

A deep divide

I wrote a blog last week that said President Trump mocks the Christian faith, then followed up a few days later by re-posting a story saying Trump could be the loneliest man in America.

Common sense says we shouldn’t talk about politics or religion in polite society. Talk about both at the same time, and I was playing with fire – and not from an Advent candle.

The flames hurt. Two days before Christmas.

I addressed a deep dividing line among evangelical Christians, of which I count myself as one. Close friends and people I respect tremendously came down on the other side of the line I drew.

God’s choice?

Trump is God’s choice, they told me. If Trump is God’s choice, then so was former President Obama, I responded. And so was every president we’ve ever had, from George Washington forward.

Trump promotes several values and viewpoints that evangelicals defend vociferously. Pro-life/anti-abortion. Appointing conservative judges. Opposing illegal immigration. Removing our troops from war zones where we don’t have a local interest. A tough stance on trade with China. Supporting Israel. Gun rights.

Trump is upholding the GOP platform, which previous GOP leaders haven’t had the guts, or gall, to do.

Our president is a bull in a china shop, and many evangelicals are ecstatic.

Is that what it takes to run a country?

Donald Trump, Melania Trump

He ignores his own experts, often tweeting behind their backs. He’s been married three times (two of them became naturalized citizens while married to Trump), so he’s not the best with personal relationships either. If you disagree with him, he ridicules you, fires you or divorces you.

Is that what it takes to run a country?

No compromise

Whatever happened to the art of compromise? Oh right, Congress forgot how to do that years ago. That’s why Trump got elected in the first place. Congress was immobile and ineffective.

It’s our own fault Trump is president. We asked for him.

In 2016, Republicans understood the nation’s frustration with politics as usual. I’m not sure Democrats still understand.

So, the lines in the sand are drawn.

Jesus’ prayer for unity

Jesus talked about humility and loving others, including the poor and outcasts. He lived that message too. Yet Jesus did not compromise His message when talking with the religious/political leaders of His day, who sought the status quo to protect their positions, and they crucified Him for it.

The very last words of Jesus before He was killed were these:

 

“I ask … on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one … so that the world may believe that you have sent me …”

John 17:20-21

 

This is why my blog last week cut so deeply among so many of us. Jesus’ last words were a prayer of unity for us (those who will believe, future tense). Because we aren’t unified, Jesus’ message “that the world may believe that you have sent me” gets lost in the debate.

Two days before Christmas. Perhaps that was not a coincidence.

War at Christmas

Christmas is not a warm fuzzy story of a baby, “no crying he makes,” in a manger with animals all around. Christmas is God’s declaration of war on sin, nothing less. God the Father sent His Son to this earth to fight, and defeat, sin. To do it, He had to become fully human, as well as remain fully God. Words cannot adequately explain how this works. But that’s the story of Christmas, and the story of our Christian faith.

Donald Trump

If President Trump forces us to take a stand on our faith, then that’s a good thing.

Instead, as I mentioned, we’ve put our blinders on. When I re-posted a report claiming our president might be the loneliest man in America, some of you dismissed the article because of the sources quoted, ignoring the content of the story completely.

Because the sources, several of them, were “liberal,” the authors had an ulterior motive – that Trump isolated himself from the sources, because he disagrees with their viewpoints.

I understand loneliness, at least to a degree. If the president has isolated himself, it’s largely his own fault – because anyone who tries to get close to him gets pushed away or fired. He trusts no one.

As a bull in a china shop, he will not let anyone tame him.

The message that unifies – and divides

I’ve read articles before about loneliness among high-profile actors and actresses, because they live a lifestyle that us common folk cannot relate to. Perhaps this is Trump’s lot in life too.

But no. We reject that line of thinking because we reject the man. We treat him as less than human, because we think he treats us as less than human.

That escalates. We point fingers, accusing the other side of being less human than we are.

This is our country today.

Can we find common ground, somewhere – anywhere?

Jesus knew what He was talking about when He prayed that we might be unified. We justify all kinds of things as Christians. Our message is not unified at all. Faith is messy. Faith is hard. The Bible promises that all believers will suffer for their faith, no exceptions.

Jesus said He did not come to spruce up the traditional Old Testament message; He came to deliver an entirely new one that revolves around His crucifixion and resurrection.

That message should unify, and galvanize, Christians. That message alone.

All the other stuff follows Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

Does President Trump have the cross and the empty tomb as the starting point in his life? No, he doesn’t.

That’s why I wrote my blog last week.

And why all of us, myself included, fall off track so easily.

Father, forgive us. Every one of us, for we know not what we do.

Getting outside, no matter the weather

Even though it’s the lead story on the 6 o’clock news many nights, I haven’t written about the weather in awhile.

News flash: It’s cold out there right now.

You already knew that.

But it’s not that cold today. I went for a walk/jog earlier, and my car temperature gauge recorded a balmy 17 degrees. The sun was out, too.

Unlike some of you, I like living in a place with four seasons. I don’t wear a scarf in the winter; I like the cold on my face. It’s invigorating.

When jogging, I wear layers. My thumbs and fingers get cold first, so I wear two pairs of gloves. I had no issues today.

Joy of winter

I’m thankful for winter. Last year, it never came. I jogged in the rain in January last year – and got soaked in a rainstorm when it should have been snowing. Ugh. That was my worst jog ever.

Those signs that say “Bridge may be icy”? It’s true. There are two bridges over the Black River on my favorite exercise path, and they do ice over before the path itself does. I tread gingerly there. (They get slick in the rain during summer, too. Got to pay attention all the time.)

I drive a passenger van for a living, so maybe it’s strange that I say I enjoy winter. This means I have to slow down when the weather turns nasty. Welcome to the real world.

I learned how to drive in a Chevette in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula a long time ago. I can rock a stuck vehicle out of a snowbank with the best of you.

Step up your game

For Christmas, we visited family in Michigan. I drove my wife and oldest son to a late-afternoon Christmas Eve service in Ann Arbor (with Ohio license plates and a Michigan State sticker on the back windshield, by the way) along snow-covered roads. I traversed aptly-named Hill Street and pumped the gas pedal repeatedly without thinking to get our minivan up the incline. If I’d floored it, I’d have spun the wheels and lost traction. Keep the wheels rolling, slow enough to keep traction with the road but fast enough to keep the vehicle moving.

There’s a skill to winter driving. Perhaps that’s why I like it.

Speed limits, of course, go out the window when it snows. Before our sons were born, we motored through Buffalo the first week of January during a snowstorm similar to the one Erie, Pa., got this week. I drove 15 – that’s fifteen – mph on the New York State Thruway, a 55 mph highway then (it’s 65 mph now). We were grateful we had a motel reservation; otherwise, we might have been stranded out there.

I always see an SUV or two speed past me on snow-covered roads. Be my guest. I’m not surprised to see them in a ditch or stopped by a police officer a few minutes later. Happens all the time, doesn’t it? You’d think we would learn.

I have never owned a snowblower. Put on the boots and get out the shovel. I’ve been blessed with excellent health. It’s good exercise.

Year-round beauty

I enjoy spring more when we’ve had a real winter. If trees never “die,” how can they “come to life” again? New blooms, greener grass, warmer temperatures, more people outside (I saw only one older man on my 6-mile walk/jog today).

There’s a reason Easter is in the spring. It’s a symbol of new life, of rebirth.

Summers are nice in northern Ohio (although I did get dehydrated once after my walk/jog last summer). Not too hot or humid, usually. I couldn’t handle a Florida or Texas summer.

Fall is a beautiful time, as leaves change color and the temps begin to chill a little. We bought a house a few months ago that has a number of mature trees in or near our yard. I spent a lot of time this fall raking those leaves. Again, good exercise. (I have to find the positive side, right?)

Our city has an awesome leaf collection system. We rake leaves to the curb, and the city brings around a huge vacuum cleaner that sucks up the leaves. It’s pretty cool. They come through several times each fall, so we just keep raking. (I filled a couple of yard waste cans with late-falling leaves on Dec. 21, just before the most recent snowfall. Someday I’ll get all the leaves off the yard. Maybe.)

I enjoy getting outside year-round. Cold, cool, hot, warm. It’s all good.

It sure beats over-eating while watching blowout bowl games all day (which I did yesterday, actually – yawn).

Fresh air. It’s good for your health, and mine.

See you on the trail. Any time of year.

At Easter: Why Jesus?

Even if I could prove beyond doubt that Jesus Christ not only existed but was – and is – the Son of God who takes away the sins of the world, some of you, perhaps many of you, still would not accept that.

I heard a conference speaker say recently that the evils of smoking are well documented, but millions of people do it anyway – with the full knowledge that they are harming their bodies. Smokers have their reasons. I don’t judge them; it doesn’t bother me one way or another, as long as no one smokes in my car or house (where the effects will linger, proving that no one lives in a vacuum; every decision we make does affect others).

So, if proof isn’t enough, why follow Jesus?

Because it works.

Abundant life

Jesus wants the best for us.

“I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

Why would we not want that?

Because having “abundant life” means giving up things that do not benefit us. We don’t like being told we can’t have something or can’t do something, even if it might hurt us.

“Thou shalt not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14)

How antiquated is that in American society? And yet God put that in the Ten Commandments for a reason. Marriage is supposed to be the highest form of relationship, when done right, when the husband and wife want the best for each other.

Many of us have screwed that up, so we look for validation in other places. But we’ll never find a deeper relationship on Earth than we will in “holy matrimony.” There are plenty of effects of relationships gone sour when we don’t want the best for each other.

We are inherently selfish. I want the best for me, even if that hurts you. But if I hurt you, I won’t ever find the best for me, because I’ll feel sadness when you are hurt. We are inherently that way too.

The Ten Commandments are a list of dos and mostly don’ts that we are to follow. All of them are for our own benefit. Our common laws are based on them (do not steal; do not commit murder; do not bear false witness against your neighbor; you shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor).

Whether the Ten Commandments are posted on the Courthouse lawn or outside a school doesn’t matter to me. They’re just words on paper, or stone. When they are written on our hearts, then they mean something.

The ACLU has no jurisdiction over my heart.

Head and heart

My heart. That’s where “faith” meets “prove it.”

I had a lonely, insecure childhood. My family moved around some in my elementary and junior high years, including out of state a couple of times. Getting uprooted meant I never formed deep friendships. I’ve never been more afraid than the first day of ninth grade, in a new town in a different state where I didn’t know a soul, except my seventh-grade sister in another part of the building.

The following summer, we attended a church camp in western Pennsylvania, again someplace I’d never been before. I was accepted immediately. The counselors and even other campers noticed me – not because I did anything, but just because I was there.

They made it clear they did that because Jesus loves them as much as He loves me. We don’t have to earn His love; He gives it away freely.

This was new to me.

I wanted what they had.

I didn’t ask for a theological discussion. I didn’t know the history of the Bible then. I didn’t know what the Bible said about marriage, money, pain and suffering, or the End Times. I just knew that Jesus loves me, because I saw it and felt it in the people around me.

That was my starting point.

As I’ve studied the Bible since, on my own and in groups and with Sunday morning sermons, I’ve learned more about Jesus’ love for me, and how to live that way. Mind and heart. Jesus connects in both places.

Good and evil

Why do bad things happen to good people? That’s a big stumbling block for many. If God wants the best for us, why do we all suffer?

My wife and I just attended the funeral of her cousin. She died a week ago of a heart attack at age 56. Left four children and 15 grandchildren. No warning. Totally unexpected. Why?

I can’t answer that.

But none of us is exempt from that kind of story, are we? Who do I think I am that I am above pain?

If we lived life happily ever after on Earth, where would we find meaning? Seriously.

We find meaning in helping others. We fundraise to fight cancer or world hunger. We provide clothes and other necessities to victims of fires, earthquakes or floods. We mentor in schools. We raise awareness for autism or diabetes. We do a myriad of things to serve those less fortunate than us.

Why?

If life is only about making me happy, why should I care about you?

God put a deeper purpose in our hearts than the “pursuit of happiness.” There’s nothing wrong with being happy, of course, but how do we do that? Really?

God: yay or nay

Here’s the kicker, the real reason most people don’t follow Jesus: He demands a response from every one of us. “Faith is fine for you, but not for me,” you might say. Or, “What makes you so certain that your faith is the right one?”

Because Jesus is the only “god” who wants the best for us. No other god can offer salvation from anything. There’s no bigger picture.

Jesus is inclusive and exclusive at the same time.

“I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

The invitation is open to every person, but not everyone will accept the invite. There are rewards and consequences either way. No exceptions.

Good Friday is the most horrific story ever told. What makes it so compelling is that Jesus died on that cross willingly, because He wants the best for us: relationship with His Father.

Jesus overcame even death on Easter.

We do not want the best for our own lives. I say and do things I know I shouldn’t, but I do them anyway.

I ask forgiveness, and Jesus forgives. Every time. He knows the human heart. He created it. I reach out to Him again. He smiles. I walk away, then return to Him. He smiles again.

This is relationship. This is the way life is meant to be.

It’s the way we should treat each other as well.

Think how much nicer America would be if we did.

If we let the God who wants the best for us lead us.

Take a deep breath. Could it happen?

Theoretically, yes. In practice, no.

Because we cannot know good without evil.

So, we live with both.

Which side will you choose?