What’s the Big Deal about Easter?

Earlier this week I read a blog post entitled “Why Easter is Bigger than Christmas” and that got me thinking…  What is the big deal with Easter anyway?  I mean, it’s a celebration of Jesus being raised from the dead.  But that’s it…or is it?

Paul broaches the subject in 1 Corinthians 15:13-19, so let’s try and put this into context.  Jesus’ resurrection is a big deal.  A Really Big Deal.  A Really, Really, REALLY Big Deal.  So big, in fact, that it is the essential event every human must respond to at some point in their existence – either in this life or the afterlife.  It’s that big.

Think about this with me for a second…  If Jesus didn’t get up from the grave then obviously everything he said and did has been invalidated.  But not only that, since the Bible contains the story of Jesus, if what Jesus said and did becomes invalid then everything else in the Bible is also invalid (that whole “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me” thing).  You read that right: if Jesus didn’t raise from the dead we can dismiss the entire Bible and everything in it.  But it goes beyond that even.  I’m arguing that without the resurrection then the very presences of an Almighty God is lost.

Think this through with me for a second… The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is what sets Christianity apart from every other world religion.  No other religion says that God came to Earth to save us.  No other religion says that God died on a cross.  And no other religion says that God came back from the dead.  Without the resurrection, Christianity is no different than any other religion or philosophy; religions all try to address the question of what to do with God – and, in essence, all religions (except for Christianity) say, at best, we have to do something to earn the approval of God.  This is where Christianity stands in contrast to world religions, because it says there’s nothing that we can do to earn God’s approval.

Think of three competing philosophies: one that says there is no God, one that says we need to find a way to God, and one that says God reaches down to make a way for us.  Christianity is obviously the last, but without the Resurrection Christianity is proved false.  Yet because there are so many competing philosophies that fall into group B, all that basically say the same thing, one could argue that the very presense of so many competing philosophies in-and-of-itself invalidates them all (this is the argument Christian apologists have to argue to separate Christianity from other religions, because with so many competing viewpoints pretty much everyone is able to recognize that none are true).  So after Christianity and Group B are both gotten rid of, the only choice left is that there is no God.

But what’s the big deal with that?  Simple.  Without God we are left ultimately with nothing but the here-and-now.  Without God we have no purpose, no authority to answer to… We should “eat, drink, and be merry – for tomorrow we may die.”  How does that look practically?  To start with, we would have no reason to teach good and bad to our kids, but there is no right or wrong.   We’d have no reason to listen to those who have authority over us because, well, no one is in authority over them to put them in authority over us – so we have anarchy.  We have no reason to fulfill or honor any vows we have made throughout our life – be it to our spouse, our friends, our family, or our jobs.  Life truly becomes survival of the fittest, and so any and everything I do is justified and “right” as long as it helps me survive.  I keep my promises – as long as it helps me and makes me stronger; I don’t cheat in business – as long as it means I come out on top; I don’t honor authority – as long as doing so doesn’t get me killed; I don’t value the life of anyone – unless their value brings me strength and victory.

See, without the resurrection we have absolutely nothing.  What purpose is there to being good, honest, and fair?  Why fight for the freedom of other people – when they might end up being stronger than we are and overtake us?  Why work for “the good of humanity”, when humanity will just be out to get me?  Without the resurrection we have nothing.

But with it – well, now that changes things.  Because Jesus did raise – bodily – from the dead, that means there’s a God out there who is just.  A just God means that there are rules to be followed, order to be enforced, rewards to be earned, and punishments to be given.  Let’s just say it – a just God means there is right and wrong.  But it also means there is a God who paid the way for that justice to happen without compromising it in the least.  The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are not just because “God loved me so much…” (though they are about that).  The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ mean that God is so just that he was not able to accept sinners into relationship with him unless a price was paid to wipe out their sin.  The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ show us that God paid that price and made a way for us to live in communion with him for all eternity.  The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ paid the way for a just and loving God to offer forgiveness to individual people.

That’s huge – it’s absolutely mind-blowing to consider this, but the Almighty God of the universe demanded something that we could not do, and instead of lowering his standards he made a way by which we could meet them through the death of his son Jesus.  And then when Jesus got up from the dead, God showed us that he had the power to do everything the Bible said.  And that’s really, really fantastic news!  Now I have a reason to honor my vows, keep my word, obey those who are in authority over me, teach my children right and wrong, and work honestly.

But even more important than that – more important than “living a good and honorable life” – I have a reason to worship, to respond to what God has done.  Yes, Easter – the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead – is a really, really big deal.


What Happened to Easter? (3.28)

Easter was two weeks ago, but it feels like it was a lot longer than that.  One of the things I appreciate about my more liturgical friends both here in town and around the country is the connection they have with the larger church outside the four walls of their local congregation.  Don’t get me wrong – there are a host of reasons I attend a non-liturgical church, and I do so by choice, but just as I believe my liturgical friends have much to learn from us I believe that I have equally as much to learn from them, and this whole church-year thing is one of them.

See, in the church calendar Easter isn’t a day – it’s an entire season – and a long one at that (8 weeks – second in length only to the season of Pentecost).  Our culture is so “busy” and fast-paced that it seems as if holidays are gone before they even happen.  Take Christmas, for instance, the after-Christmas discounts seem to start before December 25th as stores try to get those last-minute shoppers.  And as soon as Christmas is over our stores are decorated and prepared for Valentine’s Day.

Easter was here two weeks ago, but it seems like a distant memory to most people I speak with.  We’re already preparing for Memorial Day weekend (because we’ve just passed Mother’s Day), which is the start of summer.  Some churches in the area are already planning an extra mid-week service (on Thursday night) so that when people travel out of town for the weekend (generally to the river or the beach) they can still attend church before they leave!

But the liturgical calendar – the church calendar – helps us take a pause and remember what really is important.  Easter isn’t something to celebrate once a year but once a week – it’s why we worship on Sunday, after all!  During Holy Week Melissa and I did a special devotional (by special I mean different than our normal one), and I attended some extra worship times with friends and family to help me focus on the work Christ accomplished on the cross.  And then when Easter came it came and went.

In my Friday morning men’s group this past week we were still talking about it, though.  As we looked at examples from scripture of post-resurrection yet pre-ascension appearances of Jesus, we studied and discussed ways to see God in everything we experience and do.  For this group of men – all from traditions that follow the church calendar – Easter wasn’t over; it had just begun.

Which brought up the question we discussed that morning: how can we live every moment of every day in the light of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection?  What difference does the fact that Jesus rose from the grave make in our lives every day?

The answer should start with words like “everything” or “transformational.”  In order to answer the question we need to remember we live in a post-resurrection world – a world where death has been defeated but where evil still reigns.  That means we’re at war – a war that will ultimately be won, but a war none-the-less.  Let us not take treat Easter as just another holi”day”, but live it everyday.  Don’t be afraid to encourage others in their faith, reminding them of the resurrection of Jesus.  Celebrate Easter – sing songs of Easter and read Easter stories, because Easter isn’t done and over with – and it certainly wasn’t the end of the story.  No, Easter is just the beginning.

Too bad we don’t treat it that way.

bin Laden, Jesus, and My Girls

Cross posted on I Respond to Jesus and Grace Notes

For two days I’ve been pondering this whole Osama bin Laden thing – what to think of it, how to respond to it, and, perhaps most importantly of all, where to go with it.  Apparently, I’m not the only one – here are just a couple of the websites and blogs I’ve read recently:

Osama bin Laden Dead; Christians Debate Response

‘Do Not Gloat’ over Osama bin Laden’s Death

How Should Christians Respond to Osama bin Laden’s Death?

‘Do Not Gloat’ vs. ‘Joy to the Righteous’

One of my high school friends wrote a blog post on it in the form of a letter to her two small small children, and another friend from Florida wrote one of the most thoughtful posts in a note on Facebook (sorry, I can’t post that link because it won’t go anywhere if you’re not her friend…)  It’s ironic that no one can agree on what feeling is appropriate.  There are arguments flowing back and forth on blogs (both personal and professional), Twitter, Facebook, and everywhere else.

As I think about the implications of bin Laden’s death I do not care to debate the appropriate response to it.  All those scriptures people are sharing about not rejoicing in the fall of your enemy and not rejoicing in the death of the wicked are true.  And all those verses that proclaim God is a God of justice, that government’s role is to protect and defend the righteous while punishing the wicked, that God takes vengence on the wick – they’re all true, too.  Here are two more verses that I’d like to share with both sides of the aisle:

The Lord our God has secrets known to no one. We are not accountable for them, but we and our children are accountable forever for all that he has revealed to us, so that we may obey all the terms of these instructions. (Deut 29:29)

Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. (2 Tim 2:23)

God is God simply because he is able to reconcile what we can not.  Somehow all those verses people are quoting are true – even though it seems they are mutually exclusive.  God’s ways are not our ways, and this might be one of those things best left up to God.

The night I heard of bin Laden’s death I posted a simple statement on Facebook: “I guess May 1, 2011 is the day OBL realized Islam is not the way to Heaven, 40 virgins weren’t waiting for his arrival into the after life, Alah is not Jehovah, and Jesus is way more than just some good prophet who lived a long time ago.. Yet I feel no pride at this moment, only awesome gratitude that even though OBL and I deserve the same punishment, b/c of God’s grace I am saved from it by a risen Savior and Lord.”  (yes, I know I mis-typed – it’s not 40 virgins, it’s 72, but you get the point!).  I wasn’t being sarcastic, I wasn’t trying to be funny or self-righteous or uber-holy, I was just trying to state a fact.  I wasn’t rejoicing or mourning, I was simply trying to process my own feelings towards the death OBL and what it meant for our country, the world, and my own family’s life.  For the record, I still stand by what I said that night.

As I consider the whole thing, though, I begin to ask myself: What is it I want my girls to know about this?  What is it this situation teaches us about life?  And that’s where I start to find my answers.

First, evil is present in this world – and they need to know that.  Yes, I protect them as best I can – as does my wife.  They are not exposed to many of the evils of this world because I don’t believe they need to be or should be.  But they need to understand that people are bad and that this world is not ruled by Jesus right now but by Satan – and it is a terrible, terrible place.  Yes there is good, yes God’s Spirit is in the world, but scripture teaches us that this world is the domain of Satan right now – and that is why people get sick and die, it’s why people hurt our feelings and “stab us in the back”, it’s why people lie and cheat and steal.  My girls need to know that we are in enemy territory every moment of every day of our lives until we physically reside with Jesus.

Second, they need to know that evil will be defeated because God is just.  OBL was an evil man; I don’t care how much people want to talk about him being made in the image of God.  He was made in the image of God (as we all are), but scripture also says that while he was made in the image of God he was corrupt and fallen, his heart did not not know good.  OBL received his justice on Earth at the hands of the government – the government established by God to protect us from evil and dole out punishment on evil doers.  OBL also faced judgement when he met Yahweh after his physical death.  And God delivered justice when he sent OBL to Hell for all eternity.  Not because he killed thousands of people here on Earth, not because he was a terrorist who attacked my country, but because he was a fallen, evil man (like we all are) who was destined for Hell from the beginning of time unless he accepted the way of the Savior – the God-man who died on a cross at Calvary and then rose from the dead three days later – the God-man we call Jesus.  OBL was destined for Hell as all of us are destined for Hell.

Third, my girls need to see that God is also a God of grace and love.  What’s that saying I love so much? “But for the grace of God, there go I.”  We talk about God’s grace all the time in Christian circles in terms of us being saved, but have we ever considered that it’s more than just “getting saved”?  Here’s the issue – if I had been born to different parents, at a different time, in a different place I would be living a very different life.  Why wasn’t I born as a child of OBL or Saddam Hussein?  Why wasn’t I delivered by a non-believing woman in a far-away country that hated Christianity?  And if I had been, what would my life be like now?  There’s always these debates about whether we are products of our environment or not – the answer is absolutely we are!  If I had been born in Iran in 1976 I can pretty much guarantee you that I would not be a Christian right now one day headed for Heaven but would be following my destiny towards Hell.  Am I saying that those born in Iran are all going to Hell?  Yes.   Am I saying that those born in the USA are all going to Hell?  Yes.  What I’m saying is that all those who are born – regardless of where they are born – are going to Hell.  Grace comes in to play because God placed me in a family who resided in a country that allowed us the freedom to learn about Him, to worship Him without fear of persecution.  And because of that I came to know Him and love Him and serve Him – in short, He worked through my environment to save me.  People don’t go to Hell for any other reason than the simple fact that they are people, regardless of where they came from or who they are.  My girls need to understand that because of the freedoms we have they have more opportunities to experience Jesus Christ in a week than some people will have in a lifetime.  And for that they should be eternally grateful.  And for that they should (also) be eternally broken that people will die tonight and spend eternity in Hell because they did not have the privileges we do.  Hopefully, it will motivate them to serve and share.

Finally, they need to rejoice not just in the defeat of evil, but, more importantly, they need to rejoice in the victory of good.  GK Chesterton’s famous quote came to mind often the last two days: “Fairy Tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”  My girls need to see the world is full of dragons – but, more importantly, they need to see that the dragons can be defeated (and, most importantly, The Dragon has been!). I’ll be honest and tell you that the video of all the people outside the White House chanting and cheering broke my heart and disgusted me.  Not because they were celebrating the death of a terrorist and murderer and not because they were screaming “U-S-A”.  No, I was disgusted and broken over the fact that they were worshipping a false god.  See, exactly one week prior to OBL’s death I led my church in worship – worship on the most glorious day of the year: Easter Sunday – the day Jesus Christ rose from the dead, eternally defeating death, Satan, and the grave and opening the way for me to have a relationship with God based on soley on Jesus paying my debt.  And I can tell you that, to my shame, my church service did not look like that event outside the White House on May 1.  Why is it that we rejoiced more over the death of an evil man than we did over the triumphant victory of God?

And that’s why I’ve wept for the past two days.  Not because of OBL’s death, but because we have rejoiced more over his death than I saw most of us rejoice over the resurrection of Jesus.  I wept not because I felt sorry for OBL’s family or thought we shouldn’t have killed him.  No, I wept – I weep still – because we, as the body of Christ, have spent more hours blogging, Tweeting, posting on Facebook, and arguing over whether OBL’s death was righteous or not.  What we should have been doing – what we should BE doing – is blog, Tweet, post on Facebook, and share the love of God in Christ Jesus – the grace of God found in Christ Jesus – the chance that we as Hell-bound human sinners have to turn around and walk the victorious, free, forgiven life found in Jesus because of his death AND RESURRECTION – with every soul made in the image of God we come into contact with.

I don’t care if my girls know about OBL or not.  What I want them to know is that Jesus is alive, that He loves them, and He wants to forgive them.  That’s what matters, and its is worth shouting about and staying up late over.

A Sweet Memory

It is late at night, but I know if I do not write this I will forget it, and part of the purpose of this blog is to remember these types of things.

This evening I went to a Good Friday service at my friend’s church. Unfortunately, because of the time of the service, Melissa and the girls had to stay home. I got home about 9:00pm and Melissa told me she had just finished putting Chloe to bed (it was a late night), and that she would probably love to see me.

So after I changed out of my clothes I slipped into Chloe’s room. As I approached the bed Chloe sat up, smiled from ear-to-ear, and said, “Daddy!” She then said, “Please lay in my bed.” I asked her if she’d like to rock, she said yes and stood up, so I picked her up and we rocked for about 4 minutes (rocking now, since the rocking chair has moved to Celeste’s nursery, consists of me holding her and swaying as she puts her head on my shoulder to go to sleep). After I put her in her bed she again asked, “Daddy, please lay in my bed.” So I told her I’d snuggle with her for just a few minutes. She got all excited and immediately moved over. As I lay down she said, “Thanks, Daddy.” I said, “Thanks for what Chloe?” And she said, “For laying in my bed and making room for me.”

Then she curled up, stuck her fingers in her mouth, and went to sleep. I left a few minutes later, after I gave her a kiss and told her, “Good night, I love you.”

I know I’ve said it many times before, but bedtime really is one of my favorite times of the day. It’s been my time with Chloe since she was very, very young. While some nights she pushes the envelope and I don’t spend much time in there, others (like tonight) she is very sweet and loving. It was one of those moments where I think to myself (and pray thanks to God), “This is what I love about being a Daddy.”

For the record, Melissa did a fantastic job today organizing an Easter Egg Hunt for lots of Chloe’s friends (and for Chloe, too). When I got home there must have been 35-40 people all running around our yard getting ready to find the 550+ eggs. Chloe ran up to the car and yelled, “Daddy! There are all sorts of kids!” Then she turned and ran back to play with them 🙂