Is Christmas or Easter the Most Important Christian Holiday?

I love questions like this because it forces us to think about the things that God has done for us through sending His Son, who was born or a virgin, lived and taught as a wise man, suffered as a common criminal, and then was resurrected to new life to proclaim His divinity once and for all. Can we really tear them apart, Christmas and Easter? One cannot have its own importance without the other…

Those are fun thought experiments. But I think that they miss one of the most vital moments in all of human history: the moment Christians celebrate on Good Friday.

So much of the Old Testament points forward to this moment. From the prophecy that one of Eve’s children would be a snake crusher who would be crushed by the snake himself after the first sin:

[God said to the snake, “] 15 And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
    and you will strike his heel.”

Genesis 3:15

To the promise to the patriarchs that through the family of God all of the nations of the world would be blessed:

12 The Lord had said to Abram, …
“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

Genesis 12:1-3

To the sacrificial system set out in the Levitical Law (there are, like 613 laws… ah, I am not going to be able to reference all of them here… but if you want something specific, go take a gander at Leviticus 16). To the saving nature of some of the leaders of Israel:

16 Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders.

Judges 2:16

To the outlook of the prophets, who looked forward to a time when God would send the best example of a savior for His people:

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:5-6

So much of the story of God’s interaction with people leads to the moment when Jesus was nailed to a cross and died. In that moment both the snake and Jesus were crushed, blessing was extended to the whole world for all could now be a part of the Family of God, the Lord has sent a true Leader who could save His people out of the hands of those who would have us turn away, and,

21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21

And now our lives have been changed because of Jesus’s incredible sacrifice. Truely, by His wounds we are healed. Our sins are forgiven. We are made new.

While Christmas and Easter are certainly important holidays for Christians, most of the story of God’s interaction with His people points toward and flows out of the cross of Good Friday.

It’s Snowing in April!

While this may have happened last year as well… a huge snowstorm in April is still unconventional. Granted, it definitely made me think about the song lyrics that say,

Jesus paid it all;
all to Him I owe.
Sin had left a crimson stain;
He washed me pure as snow.

I started wondering, is this just a really fun word picture, or did the lyricists get it from the Bible? Enter everyone’s favorite superhero: Google Search!

Looks like Isaiah 1:18 may be our winner! Check it out here in its original context:

16 Wash and make yourselves clean.
    Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
    stop doing wrong.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
    plead the case of the widow.

18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,”
    says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
    they shall be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
    you will eat the good things of the land;
20 but if you resist and rebel,
    you will be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

In this passage Isaiah is calling out his fellow Israelites because they we not fulfilling their destiny as the children of Abraham. God called Abraham’s children to fulfill the promise God first made to him at the very beginning of Abraham’s journey with God in Genesis 12:2-3:

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

All of the peoples of the earth should have been being blessed by the Israelites, including the fatherless and the widows among them. But, alas, no such luck. Israel had sinned by not becoming the people God had called them to be. And in their ledger their sin had left marks of scarlet and red crimson.

But God promised Israel that there would be a time when all the red would be removed, all the stain from the sins would be white, like snow…

It is simply the genius of God that the thing that He would use to both fulfill all of Israel’s failures and bless all of the nations of the world was the deep crimson red blood of Jesus. Ephesians 1:7 says,

In him [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace

And Ephesians 2:13 says,

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Through the blood of Jesus, the sins, which marked Israel’s ledger red, have been forgiven. By the blood of Christ the blessing of being a part of God’s family have been brought near to to everyone!

While the white snow may be a bit overwhelming, especially since it has fallen so late in the year, it also reminds me of the scarlet-crimson-red stain that sin left on the ledger of all of humanity; it also reminds me of the scarlet-crimson-red blood of Jesus which simultaneously brings everyone who is willing to submit to God into His family and washes away the stain, so that even our sins are as white as snow.

My Grill is Broken

I am not sure if any of you remember this past winter… but at some point it was still warm enough for me to go outside and grill up some bacon… I think it was around Christmas time… And then the grill was all warm and so I decided to let it cool down before putting the cover on… but then it was too cold at night for me to want to go outside and put the cover on once it had cooled down… And then it snowed. A lot. And then it got really cold, and then warmed up and snowed more, and then got really cold again, and then warmed up and snowed even more…

The end product of this story was that this spring, as the icicles from the ice dams on my roof started to fall, I could not move my grill, for it had become frozen in place.  To top it off, it was frozen WITHOUT a cover to protect it from said falling ice, due to my failure to take care of it before the snow fell.

Most people hear this story and think, “Well, that’s nice. Hopefully you can learn a lesson from the natural consequence of not having a grill until you buy one at some point this summer.”

I deserve that. And, come next fall, hopefully I will have learned my lesson. (Always cook bacon inside… that is the right lesson, right?)

But for now, my family needs to deal with the fact that Daddy’s neglect has led to our having a harder time doing one of the ministries that we love doing together: Friday Night Neighborhood Cookouts! This year we are going to have to rely on the rest of the neighborhood’s willingness to host a bunch of people grilling, a bunch of kids running, and a bunch of chaos happening, on on their small Minneapolis plot of land. I think it will work out; it is just going to take some more organizing this year compared to last summer’s plan.

How are you planning on using the warm weather to reach out to your neighbors?
-Are you planting a garden? _ou can swap tips, tricks, and stories about Jesus with the folks next door who also have a bunch of fruits, veggies, and weeds growing!
-Do you plan on spending more time down at the local park running/working out or playing with your kiddos? Meeting folks on the trails or as you watch the kids (to make sure they don’t injure themselves beyond repair) is a great time to tell the tale of how Jesus runs after you and keeps you protected from the ultimate evil brought upon you by your own sin!
-Is biking more your thing? I don’t understand biking culture, but I know that the folks who ride 3 feet away from multiple ton vehicles whizzing past them have to swap close calls every now and then… Why not spice up the conversation with your close encounter with the Risen Lord?
-Are you planning on hosting cookouts of your own this summer? It is easy as a note in everyone’s mail box that reads, “Meet around the grill on (insert date) at (insert time) at (insert location) with your own meat (or other grilling item) and a side dish to share. See you there! Contact me, (your name here), at (your phone number here) with any questions.” Sharing food and sharing life go hand in hand! Talk about how you spiced your main dish; talk about how Jesus spiced up your life/became your main dish…

(I think that last one went a little too far…)

Share your summer evangelism plans below so that we can all share ideas!

Remember:

15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

1 Peter 3:15

Whatever You Do…

I have been thinking a lot lately about a verse in the Bible that says,

17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:17

It was one of those verses that was put to music for me as a youth and so it has stuck well in my mind as I recall scripture I have memorized in the past. But this verses has once again become alive to me as I have tried to think through the implications of doing EVERYTHING in the name of the Lord Jesus.

There is so much to EVERYTHING. My day starts with a snooze or two of three different alarm clocks. Am I taking master over my time in the name of Jesus, or am I letting time be master over me. I drive into work eating a couple of bananas on the way to help me wake up. Is that the best way to eat in the name of the one who created all things? I often am racing the clock to make sure I punch in before my start time. Does that action fall under something that honors the name above all names? I have a couple of fellow UPSers who don’t have the best of reputations around the operation. Am I treating them in a way that shows off that I have been remade into a likeness of God through Christ, or do I just perpetuate the negative talk? I race home to help get the kids up and on the bus. Will my kids look back on the memory of their father and be able to think about their Heavenly Father fondly, or will they have to reject what their earthly father taught them so that they can fall in love with the one who loves them more than I ever could? So far we have made it to 8:19 AM, and the kids are on the bus.

There is so much to EVERYTHING!

God isn’t just interested in the time you have set aside to be devoted to Him by reading your Bible or praying. He is interested in ALL of you. He made all of you to be something that reflects who He is to a watching world.

How do you reflect the God who loves extravagantly, the One who creates order from chaos, the One who molds beauty from ashes, and the Lord who saved you from the power, presence, and penalty of your sin in ALL that you do? Seriously, I wanna know! Leave a comment and we can talk about some of the ways we have found to pull this off!

The Gospel in Dental Floss

One of the ways that we have been trying to teach our kinds about Jesus and the gospel is asking them to figure out ways that their current activity relates to them.  (Sometimes finding the relationship between “How to Train Your Dragon” and the gospel is a bit of a stretch… but we normally are able to find it!)  The only problem that I have found with this practice is that now I find myself doing it all the time!

For instance, I was flossing… not the awesome yet overdone dance move… flossing my teeth and all of a sudden it hit me: cleaning my teeth is a lot like the gospel.  Every single day I brush my chompers, both morning and night, to keep them looking fresh and free from plaque and germs… but there is something about using a bit of dental floss that gives my mouth a “fresh from the dentist feel.” When I rub my tongue against the back of my teeth after flossing it is crazy how different it feels! (TMI? Sorry…)

The thought that hit my head after flossing: we need a refresher of the gospel every day. Actually going and trusting a dental hygienist and dentist to get your mouth completely clean is the only way to actually make sure you are in for some good oral health, but every day we need to do our part. We need to not just coast through life brushing to make sure we don’t have bad breath, but actually taking out the floss and getting rid of the nastiness! (And it gives us the added benefit of reminding us how good our mouth feels when we come out of the dentist’s office!) Actually going and trusting the God of the universe to cleans you from all of your unrighteousness is the only way to actually make sure that you are in for some good spiritual health, but every day we need to do our part. We need to not just coast through life with a prayer at meal times and attending our small group and Sunday service every once in a while, but actually commit each day to God and seek reminders from Him about who you are in His world, from His Word, and through the guidance of His Spirit and His people. (And it gives us the added benefit of reminding us how good it feels to be in the presence of the Most High King known as one of His children!) We need a reminder about the gospel every single day.

I think this is why Peter wrote these words:

12 So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. 13 I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, 14 because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.

2 Peter 1:12-15

We need reminders about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ every day.  What are you doing that helps you?

Do You Remember?

I listened to a sermon online recently that encouraged the people of the church to all come to the point where they have all at least read the bible.  The idea was that the bible is our sacred book, we should at least probably know what is in there…

Recently I have been using the ReadScripture App put out by The Bible Project folks.  While it is a bit boring normally to just read through the Bible from cover to cover, this app has videos to help me on my way, and the checklist helps me see how far I have gotten through a book, which I like.  Either way, here is a link…

https://www.readscripture.org/

Anywho, I am starting up Joshua right now.  (The first book after Moses kicks the bucket and tells the stories of how Israel made their home in the promised land.) The first time the Israelites head across the Jordan River in the promised land, Joshua gathered 12 stones taken out of the river to help Israel remember that God had parted the river for them.

20 And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. 21 He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over.

Joshua 4:20-23

When something wonderful happens in your life, do you make some kind of physical action to remember the event? I wear a ring to remind of the day when I became Chelsea’s husband (THAT was a good day.) We have marks on our bathroom wall to show each of the kids’ heights at different ages. I gather with my brothers and sisters to worship God on the day of the week that Jesus came back to life after He died to forgive our sins.

When children ask us, “Why do we gather on Sunday?” we can tell them, “This is the day of the week that God showed the world that sin and death don’t win in the end.”  It is one of the many reasons why I love gathering with you all on Sundays; I hope it will help you worship God on Sundays as well.

Be Prepared!

This Wednesday I was about to walk outside, when I started to hear the severe weather siren sounding. I started to get a bit confused, because while I was growing up these alarms only sounded in the summer (or maybe they sounded all year long and I was having too much fun at school to notice…). But then I realized that it was the first Wednesday of the month, and it was only a test. These alarms go off every month so that if there ever is severe weather we will be prepared to react to it is the best way possible.

It got me thinking about all the ways that we need to be prepared… from being ready for a everything (thank you Boy Scouts for that one):

Image result for be prepared

To getting ready for the death of the king…

Image result for be prepared lion king

To getting ready for the installment of a new king over a whole new earth:

5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Revelation 21:5

To getting ready for the moment when we will all join this new heavens and new earth:

51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
1 Corinthians 15:51‭-‬52

Being ready is an idea that even Jesus asked His disciples to do in Matthew 25:1-13, the parable of the 10 virgins. Herein 5 of them were ready and got to go to the feast when the Bridegroom returned, while the other 5 weren’t and were left out from the fun!

After my mind raced with all of these ideas, I got to thinking about how precious today is, because we only get it once.  After today is over, we will never experience it again. Am I prepared to face it? Am I ready to go out into this world that is full of hurting people who happen to be hurting others out of their pain? Am I ready to share the greatest news that I have ever heard with everyone I meet? Am I ready to talk to that one single person about the fact that Jesus is my Lord and Savior?

Am I ready?

I am reminded by Marshall Bruce Mathers III that I need to be ready because I only get one shot to do today, so I better be listening to the music of God so that I can be ready… honestly, it might be better to let him tell you:

You better lose yourself in the music, the moment
You own it, you better never let it go
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime you better
Lose Yourself, by Eminem

Luckily for us we get a reminder every month, on the first Wednesday of the month, at 1 PM, that we need to be prepared.  Are you?

Grafted Community Church Covenant

Every year it is good for us to remember what we signed up for when we say we are going to be a part of the Grafted family.

Here is Grafted Community Church’s Covenant:

“We believe God has called Grafted Community Church to glorify His name by helping as many people as possible become fully committed members in Christ’s forever family in Northeast Minneapolis and anywhere else He provides the opportunity. We believe God has called us to be a local community of believers who celebrate God’s presence in worship, unleash God’s power in prayer, utilize God’s Word as the ultimate source of truth for every aspect of life, and do whatever is necessary to go into the kingdom of darkness and bring Christ’s message of love and forgiveness. He has called us to live in Biblical community through loving relationships and accountability to one another. We believe He has called us to live out the obedience of faith and to grow in Christ through loving God and serving in His work on earth: being good stewards of the time, talents, finances, and other resources God has entrusted to us. God has also called us to demonstrate His grace and love in all we do. Together as a church, we covenant together in carrying out His vision for this church.”

What do you want to do in the next year to carry out your part of this covenant? Is there any help you need from anyone? Who are you going to ask for that help?

Jesus, help us to honor You as we continue to build this little part of Your Body called, Grafted Community Church.  You are worthy of our spending everything we are and have to bring You just a bit more praise.  Help us to see everything we have and do as a way to live out Your calling on our lives. Amen.

The Bible Speaks to Our Hearts

I was listening to a podcast a few days ago on my way home from work on the concept behind the Hebrew word chochmah (seriously, is there anything The Bible Project guys don’t do?) and they mentioned a verse from the book of Proverbs. Here is it:

4 Where there are no oxen, the manger is empty,
but from the strength of an ox come abundant harvests.

Proverbs 14:4

When they brought it up I knew right away that this was something that my daughter would enjoy… she being slightly obsessed with the farm lifestyle right now… and I knew that it was something that would make sense to my middle school like mind… because the proverb has to do with poop.

The idea is, when you don’t have any animals, your barns are clean (no poop to clean up), but it is with the strength of the animals that you get enough food to eat. So you need to do the things you need to do when you need to do them (take care of animals), so that you can do the things you want to do when you want to do them (have enough food at the end of the year). Do your chores so that you can read. Pick up the mess so that you can do another craft. Take a bath so that we can cuddle before bed. Write your blog post so that you can go to sleep. Do what you need to do when you need to do it, so that you can do the things you want to do when you want to do them.

And the idea related perfectly to the Gospel. Follow and submit to the Lordship of Christ (which has all kinds of activities we need to do on a daily basis), so that God can grow good fruit in our lives. Pretty amazing to find the gospel in a verse that on the surface is about animal husbandry.

And so, I brought the verse up as we were getting ready for our days. (It was in the moment when someone was distracted by a book and not brushing their teeth… but that is another story.) And, lo and behold, the verse struck a chord that made sense! The thing that I thought was incredibly special was seeing how she could use her knowledge of how a farm worked to work through what the Bible was saying about responsibility and how our actions have effects on life. (And I got to talk to my daughter about poop in the Bible… so that is always a win!)

We got to talk through some big ideas using concepts that we both enjoy. I am pretty sure that the Bible speaks in the heart language of every single person in our church, but it may take a little digging to find the verses that speak to you.  Reading the Bible, listening to podcasts, reading commentaries, and studying God’s Word don’t always yield new revelations about who God is and what He has done and thus who I am in light of what He has done. Instead there are many times that I spend time with God and cannot see any immediate benefits in my life. It is in those times when I trust that a verse is coming, maybe tomorrow, maybe next week, that is going to knock it out of the park, speaking to my heart and it can be something that speaks to the heart of someone else I love. I need to press on, and allow more of God’s Word to rest in my heart so that when the moment comes, the Holy Spirit can use it to encourage me to continue to call Jesus my Savior and Lord.

A Thought on Prosperity Theology

God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.

This is a phrases that has helped many begin a conversation about who God is and what Jesus’s death on a cross means for their life with others. The evangelistic parachurch Cru used the Gospel tract “The Four Spiritual Laws” for years which opens with this very line. I am thankful for the ministry of Cru in my own life and I pray that if my kids go to University that Cru is still alive and well and knocks on their freshman dorm room door. I DO believe that God does love me, and you, and that He has wonderful plans for our lives. I think He wants to work amazingly in each of us that we may become more and more Christlike as we grow deeper and deeper in our relationship with Him. And I think that many of those who have used this phrase in the past would agree with me.

And yet, there is an anthem that is declared using this same phrase that says something very different. In this anthem God’s love and His wonderful plan are expressed to us through financial blessings and physical well-being. This is often called the Prosperity Gospel. And, while these ideas are clearly in scripture:

7 He holds success in store for the upright,
he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless,
8 for he guards the course of the just
and protects the way of his faithful ones.

Proverbs 2:7-8

they are not the final word in all of the scriptures. The Proverbs and Deuteronomy both have the flavor that “if you do good things then God will bless you with health and finances.” But books like Ecclesiastes with its:

2 “Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”

Ecclesiastes 1:2

speak against the Prosperity Gospel being the final word in how God relates to our world. The Bible speaks to itself and says, “your good deeds don’t always end in blessings in this world.” The Biblical authors wrote down their struggles understanding how both God blesses those who do good deeds in this world and this world tends to beat people down. Whether it was Isaiah declaring that was God sitting on the throne in the year the king died, or Job’s answer from God as to why pain had come his way, “I am God and you are not,” the Bible says that prosperity is not always the result of living faithfully in this world…

And then the God of everything stepped into the world and spoke words of peace to His followers:

33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

We are going to have trouble in this world, but Jesus has overcome the world. We are going to have relational difficulties, financial hard times, bumps and bruises, our health will fail us in different ways at different times, and the world is going to beat us down. But in the end a blessing beyond our wildest imagination will be ours through Christ Jesus.

No matter what you are going through right now, I offer you these verses from Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus which have encouraged me to praise God in all kinds of circumstances.

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

Ephesians 1:2-3