Autumnal Easter

autumn-leaves

Living in New Zealand, we have our seasons at the opposite time of year to northern hemisphere folks. This is most obvious at Christmas when we are eating salads, having barbecues and going to the beach while the US and Europe are eating stodgy winter food and peering through frosted windows at snow.

Easter is another festival that for us is ‘back to front’ with respect to the seasons. Here it is autumn, not spring, so the tenuous link between eggs and Easter is lost, let alone how rabbits come into the picture.

Some suggestthat the date of Easter should be moved so that southern hemisphere churches can better appreciate the seasonal nuances of a spring festival, or we should reflect on the ‘refreshing coolness’ of autumn as symbolic of the resurrection. The first suggestion is unworkable and the second is grasping at another tenuous seasonal gimmick.

Autumn gives its own meaning to Easter, with a depth that goes beyond mind games. To every Christian, Easter means the death and resurrection of Jesus. Autumn brings a natural emphasis to the first part of this meaning.

The days cool down, mornings and evenings darken, and nature braces itself for the temporary death of winter. So too we walk through Lent aware of the impending death of Christ. His was also a temporary death but no less decisive for being overcome by the resurrecting power of God.

Seeing trees change colour reminds us that we’ve been here before. The winter to come may be hard but the seasons do change, the approaching season of coldness and death will also pass. This is the value of the liturgical calendar, reminders of what faith means in all the changing seasons of life and that through all such changes Jesus remains constant as our rock.

Fading light adds a solemn weightiness to our experience of Easter. The cross is symbolic of our faith and I appreciate the added emphasis autumn gives to this crucial element of Easter. Summer is over, the hardest part of the year lies ahead. At Easter we remember our desperate need of salvation and the awful cost of it. We move on into the darker months knowing the hope we have in Christ who rose again and conquered both death and the sin that causes it.

The darkening days of autumn also call to mind what Jesus spoke in relation to the death he would die:

So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” (John 12:35-36 ESV)

Let us walk in the light of Christ and the hope of the resurrection.

From suicidal to saved: Lacey’s testimony

Lacey_Sturm

The day Lacey Sturm planned to kill herself was the day her grandmother forced her to go to church, a place Lacey thought was filled with hypocrites, fakers, and simpletons. The screaming match she had with her grandmother was the reason she went to church. What she found there was the Reason she is alive today.

God is with you in the crap of life

If you are a Christian there is always reason to give thanks.
True.

But frankly life sucks at times, for Christians too. Even the Crystal Cathedral went bankrupt, the prosperity gospel ran out of cash. All of our lives have seasons where it seems there is little to give genuine thanks for.

When someone like me starts writing about giving thanks in all things while you slog through difficult times an understandable reaction is to want to tell me where to shove it.

For this reason I have been uncomfortable with the notion of listing all the blessings I can count in my life, because it could easily turn into a boasting in what I have, a thinly disguised love of the world. God does promise us many blessings, some of which are to be enjoyed in this world. However, the greatest blessings are those which are intangible and must be grasped by faith.

A particularly slippery blessing is God’s promise to always be with us:

… And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
(Matthew 28:20 ESV)

Jesus himself promised to be with us while ‘this age’ remains. In Hebrews we also have what appears to be a quote of Jesus:

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
(Hebrews 13:5 ESV)

In the gospels there are several incidents in which Jesus rebuked his disciples for their fear. The entire book of Job points to the great value of trusting in God despite overwhelming evidence causing doubt over God’s goodness. Fear is a killer of faith. But this also works in reverse – faith can kill off fear.

When you look realistically at life and cannot help the concerns over whether God really will provide running through your mind, it is not wrong to acknowledge the evidence before your eyes. With that acknowledgement, fear will arise. Faith considers that fear, accepts it as real and then adds faith into the equation.

I may look at our bank statement and see immediately there is not enough money to pay the bills. We have a fixed income so there is no room to squeeze more dollars from anywhere. Juggling bills helps a little but I still fear the prospect of simply running out and being unable to sustain my family. God makes no promise I am aware of that we will not end up in financial sewerage. However, He does promise that He will walk through the poo with me.

To some this will seem small comfort and too subjective to be of any value. I have been in much worse than financial shit and this promise of His Presence is what has kept me going. Often it was pure faith, believing that God is with me in my mess despite appearances. Occasionally I knew He was with me, strengthening my weak knees and lifting me up so I wouldn’t drown.

Intangible, yes.

Real? Definitely.

This is one of the great gifts from God which underlie my more immediate and superficial counting of blessings. The list continues to grow because I continue to need to remind myself of all I have to be thankful for and rejoice in. As a fallen creature this counting puts me in a better headspace to appreciate how awesome His greater gifts are.

God is my shield

I recently read that there are 366 occurrences of the phrase “fear not” in the Bible, one for every day of the year. This seemed impressive to me and seeded an idea of meditating on each of these passages this year as a way to strengthen my faith. On doing some searching, however, I found far fewer exhortations to ‘fear not’, and a Google search confirmed that others have found the same.

Even so, there are still a lot of exhortations not to fear in the Bible. After some digging through about 140 Bible references about not fearing or being afraid I have reduced it to a list of 50 which I intend to meditate on this year.

Abram’s shield

My first verse is Genesis 15:1 in which God comes to Abram and says:

 “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”

The context is that immediately previous to this Abram rescued his nephew Lot from a band of invading kings and then had encounters with  Melchizedek and the king of Sodom. To one he gave a tenth of everything and from the other he refused to accept anything. In chapter 15 of Genesis God makes a further covenant with Abram, building upon the covenant of Genesis 12:1-3.

What fears might Abraham have had?

He has recently proven his courage by attacking and defeating the armies of four plundering kings (Genesis 14:1-16). Perhaps he is afraid of God’s promises failing because he has no son (Genesis 15:3)? We do know that he feared kings who desired his attractive wife (Genesis 12:1-13 and Genesis 20:2).

Whatever Abram’s true fears were, it is easy to imagine what they might have been because we are ourselves plagued by fears also. God answers all possible fears in this one statement: “I am your shield“.  God will place Himself between Abram and what he fears, no force in all creation can cause harm to Abram.

Can I claim it?

What a fantastic promise! But it was made to a particular Hebrew man about 4,000 years ago – how can it be relevant to me?

Genesis 15:6 makes it relevant to me:

And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
(Genesis 15:6 ESV)

In Romans 4:3-25 Paul shows that this believing in God’s promises makes us participants in those promises also:

But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
(Romans 4:23-25 ESV)

Galatians 3:7 confirms this:

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.
(Galatians 3:7 ESV)

Therefore, I can safely assume that as I trust in God who raised Jesus from the dead, He also says to me, “Fear not Mike, I am your shield.”

Try it yourself

It feels odd initially, but write out this promise from God, inserting your name instead of ‘Abram’. It becomes powerfully personal.


Image of Emblem of Jerusalem: Wikipedia
Image of fear: salvador74(iStock) 

We have today

we-have-today

Ten years ago if I could see myself here today I’d have been gobsmacked by my complacency.

At that time I was newly married, my wife was 6 months pregnant with our first child, we were renting a cute (but chilly) cottage with a fantastic view over the city. My wife was a student at Teacher’s College and I worked as a biochemistry technician, anxious about whether funding for the position would be renewed (it wasn’t).

A lot of people are recalling what they were doing on that terrible day. A day which started as any other for all except 19 al-Qaeda terrorists. Little did we know the horror we were to see unfold on our TV and computer screens that morning. Most of us can remember exactly what we were doing when we first heard or saw the news.

I also remember that evening walking on a beach with my pregnant wife, discussing what had happened, feeling the uncertainty of what might lie ahead. Even in little Dunedin we spent the next few weeks cringing whenever an aeroplane flew low over the city. People were nervous, anxious for the future. it felt as though the world had changed.

In the months after the attack there was a surge in publication of books on ‘the end times’, I heard several sermons on the topic myself and saw plenty of interest in theories regarding whether those events signaled the beginning of the end. Obviously we are still here and still worrying about paying the bills so life has settled back into what we would generally consider normal.

Yet, while I am not convinced ‘the end is nigh’, it has been a troublesome decade. We have seen increased incidence of terrorist attacks, environmental disasters of human making, earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, volcanoes, floods, droughts, and influenza epidemics. Then there are the purely human events such as economic collapse. None of this tells us what God is doing in the world of itself but does all serve to remind us that life is precious and fragile.

As the horror of September 11, 2001 was a stark reminder of how suddenly life can be interrupted and changed forever, so too the events of the decade since then should also serve as a similar reminder. In the natural, life is not as secure as we might think. However, in Christ we are safely in His care – though that does not mean we may not suddenly be taken from this life. So let’s be thankful for today, for the moments we have here now.

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.
(John 10:27-29 ESV)

Image of a new day: Eric Parker