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5 Ways to Prepare for Easter

“Will you Easter with me?”

My daughter had been at my mom’s that day, and I’d heard they had gotten out the Easter decorations. When I arrived to pick her up, she sweetly and eagerly looked up at me, holding her basket full of eggs, and asked, “Will you Easter with me, mom?”

At first, my kiddo’s syntactical error made me giggle. But after a moment, I realized that she’d said something very profound.

Easter is a verb. Or at least it should be. Easter, our annual celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, is a time for intentional and purposeful celebration. But what would it look like “to Easter” in our everyday lives?

 

Welcome Him

When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem the Sunday before His death, the crowd spread their coats and branches on the ground, giving Him quite the welcome. They knew that this was no ordinary man entering their town, and so they cried out “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:8-9).

We call this day Palm Sunday, and often commemorate it in church with praise and exultation. This is not only a time to remember Jesus being welcomed into Jerusalem, but it is also a time to ask for His direction and leadership in our own lives as well. It is a day of welcoming, a day of aligning ourselves with Him.

I recently did this by writing out a list of the roles I play, the key relationships in my life, and the various places I often find myself in. One by one, I went down the list and welcomed Jesus into these roles, relationships, and places. Sure, He was technically already present in these places; He is God, after all. But this was about my willingness to welcome Him in and intentionally acknowledging once again that He’s the one in charge. It is a way of saying, “Not my will, but yours.”

This wasn’t easy. As I welcomed Jesus into my home, my marriage, my role as mother, my classroom, my friendships, my idols and strongholds, I realized that His presence would demand some changes in these areas. Lies, anxiety, and strongholds can no longer rule where He is welcomed. Part of the welcoming is believing in and affirming His worthiness above all. Let’s welcome Christ in this Easter season, no matter the cost.

 

Remember Him

The evening before He died, Jesus celebrated Passover with His disciples—a festival remembering how God had delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. At this meal, Jesus instituted what we know as the Lord’s Supper, or Communion. As He sat around the table with His followers, He broke a loaf of bread, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” He then took the cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:19-20).

Jesus’ words “do this in remembrance of me” are big and bold to my eyes. He has asked us to remember His sacrifice by eating the bread and drinking the cup. This needs to be a part of our “Eastering” this year. When we accept the bread and the cup, we are putting our lot in with His. We are saying, “We want in. We want to be a part of this.” This means we will suffer with Him, but it also means that as His children, our future is secure; we will resurrect with Him.

Remember Christ’s sacrifice in this way as you partake of the Lord’s Supper this Easter Week.

 

Grieve Him

On Friday during that Passover week, Jesus was nailed to the cross. After suffering for several hours, He called out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46), and then took His last breath. Matthew tells us that there was an earthquake when Jesus died (Matthew 27:51), and we read that there was darkness from noon until three that day (Luke 23:44-45).

Can you imagine how oppressive it would have felt to stand there at the foot of the cross? To experience that earthquake, in the darkness? To see with your own eyes the havoc that sin and shame had wreaked on the world? All of this speaks to the somber weight of that day’s events. The Son of God crucified. God the Father turning His back on His Son. This seems like the worst day in all of history.

How do we enter into this grief? How do we experience the heaviness of what went down that day? I think the obvious answer is one we don’t necessarily like—that we need to sit with this; we need to not rush past it, to not skip ahead to Sunday. We need to sit in Friday for a while, and we need to grieve not only Jesus’ death, but our sin that put Him there.

We need to ask God to help us understand, the best we can, the weight of His sacrifice, the weight of the loss and the shame that the world experienced that Friday. And so we grieve. We grieve the sin and shame that has infected and infiltrated our world. We grieve our part in it, and thus our separation from God. Rest assured, though, that the story doesn’t end here. . .

 

Wait for Him

Can you imagine what that Saturday was like, when Jesus lay lifeless in the tomb? The disciples—did they feel hopeless, thinking they had it all wrong? Or did a few, through understanding from the Spirit, begin to put all of Jesus’ teachings together and wait hopefully for His return?

This tension of Saturday—between Jesus’ death on Friday and His resurrection on Sunday—is not to be skipped over. Jesus was dead, and some of His followers felt hopeless. Yet we know that Sunday was coming and Jesus would rise again. The interim is a hard place to be. A willingness to wait, to sit in the tension, demonstrates an understanding that we’re not in charge. Just like the grieving, let’s not rush past this. The joy of Sunday won’t make sense without the restlessness of Saturday.

What does it look like to wait for Christ today? Yes, in the Easter season, but also in the seasons of our lives. Maybe we’re “in-between” in our circumstances right now. Where and in what way are we being asked to wait, to live in the not-quite-yet? How do we cling to Christ in this time of waiting? And what exactly are we waiting for?

As Christians, ultimately we wait for the fullness of God’s Kingdom. We wait for when Jesus will return and set all things right, when sin will no longer have dominion over the world. And so, in our waiting, we set our eyes on Sunday. . .

 

Rejoice in Him

On Sunday morning, the Resurrected Jesus appears before His friends, family, and disciples. The grave could not hold Him. He stared death in the face and overcame it. He took on the wrath against our sin and shame, and atoned for us completely.

Can you imagine this day? All the sadness and hopelessness being undone? Our worst nightmare proving not true? The disciples missed and longed for Jesus, and now He stood in front of them, in the flesh again. He is indeed who He said He was. He is the long-promised Rescuer, come to save His people from their sin and for His glory! A debt we could not pay, paid in full! He has made a way for you and me to know Him and to live with Him forever! Sin no longer separates us from our King, and so Sunday is the best day in all of history!

This year on Easter, let us drink deeply the joy that abounds because of the risen Christ. Let’s sing our praise to Him loud and proud. Let’s open our arms wide and receive His forgiveness, grace, and goodness. Let’s hug our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and announce with the worldwide Church that He has risen! He has risen, indeed! Augustine said it best in his discourse on the Psalms: “We are an Easter people, and Allelujah is our song!”

My friend, will you Easter with me this year?

Learning to Love God in the Midst of Crises

We watched the waters rise around our home. After days of rain, with only more days of rain in the coming forecast, we decided to pack up what we could, and go spend the night at our neighbors’ in their upstairs guest bedroom.

We were maybe 20 feet from our home, but that night was a night of unknowing. The rain poured long and hard, and we were certain that when we went back home the next morning, we’d find inches of rain in our home.

But for whatever reason, our home didn’t flood during Hurricane Harvey; so many people had it so much worse than we did. But even so, the packing up of our home, turning away and leaving, not knowing what state it would be in when we returned. . . . All this unknown started an anxiety in me that would continue to unfurl and grow in the coming year.

A month or two later, we were driving home after lunch on a Sunday afternoon. There was some construction on our normal route home, so we followed the detour instead. It might have been the unclear signs, a new route, and I don’t know what else—but before we knew it, we had been hit by a car going really fast.

Shattered glass, air bags in our faces, several loud hard impacts, my niece crying out in the back seat. What took just a few seconds felt like an eternity, as we were tossed to and fro in the mass of metal around us.

We were okay that day, we walked away with cuts and bruises, but ultimately, what matters is that we walked away safe and alive. But the anxiety that had been sitting in my chest since Hurricane Harvey was awakened again that day. This time it was full-fledged. I allowed my imagination to walk down dark alleys, wondering “what if” this, and “what if” that.

The days and weeks that followed were dark for me. I would cry at a moment’s notice, afraid to think of what could have been, but not quite being able to stop myself.

We had just paid off the car that was totaled that day, and so we received a decent insurance check. We took that check and bought a new car; this new car would require a few years’ worth of car payments, but we were in a position to pay those, or so we thought.

Days after our purchase, my husband called me with the news. He had been let go from his job. This was completely unexpected, and it was done in a way that was very personal and hurtful. We loved my husband’s co-workers, and so in some sense, that day we didn’t even just lose a job, but our people too. Why was all this happening? Why did we keep getting knocked down, barely able to stand back up?

Loving God—affirming His goodness, clinging to His truths—in the midst of whys and crises is one of the hardest things we will ever learn to do. And it is one of those things that we often have to learn the hard way.

But how we respond in a season of hardship is shaped by the truths ingrained in us during the times that are not crises. The truths below became our battle cry at times, claiming what we knew to be true, even when it didn’t “feel” like it. May these truths resound in our hearts and minds as we walk through our days!

 

1. His Grace Is New Every Morning

During those difficult times, we learned to look for the small graces, the things we’d often take for granted: like a home that had walls and was not torn down to the studs. (I’m pretty sure I’d never thanked God for the walls in my home until after Hurricane Harvey.)

And we were also reminded that God takes hard, bad things all the time, and turns them into something good. So while the circumstances all around us were crazy, I have to say that our marriage only grew stronger and closer. I’ve never felt more David’s partner than during this hard season. And that was all because of God’s grace to us during this time.

Recognizing this grace enables us to love God, because we see not only that He cares and provides, but also that He redeems. We see that He is worthy of worship and praise, and thus, worthy of love.

 

2. God’s Goodness Is Not Dependent on Circumstances

The most difficult thing I learned during this year is that God is good regardless of my circumstances. Even if our home had flooded, God would still be good. Even if one of us were killed in the car accident, God would still be on His throne. He is not good only when things seemingly go our way. He is good and He is God, and nothing, no circumstance, can change that.

Sin and evil have infected our world, and because of that, tragic things happen sometimes, but none of that changes the truth that God is good, and that He wins in the end. God hates death, and in His new kingdom, death and sickness will have no place. Affirming and remembering God’s plan for us in the long run—that we are eternal, that we belong to Him, that our time in this world is not the end of the story—all of this helps us to recognize and acknowledge God’s goodness in the midst of difficulties.

 

3. The Valley Is a Place of Vision

During this time, I was reminded of a prayer from a book my professor had often used, called The Valley of Vision. The title prayer is a beautiful picture of how—though we might assume that being on the mountaintop gives us a better view—it is actually the valley that is a place of vision. It is when we are in our darkness that we can see His light. The poem reads, “. . . I live in the depths, but see you in the heights; Hemmed in by mountains of sin, I behold your glory.”

The author continues and says that in the valley we learn that Jesus’ way, though it may be paradoxical to the world, shows us, “That to be low is to be high, that the broken heart is the healed heart. . . that to have nothing is to possess all. . . that the valley is the place of vision.”

And so this is where my family sits, in the valley, trusting and getting glimpses of His vision for us. I’d love to tell you that this hard year has been tied up in a nice little bow and everything is perfect now, but that wouldn’t be the truth. Yes, things are definitely looking up, but we are in a waiting position, sitting still, lifting our eyes to the hills. Why? Because He is where our helps comes from.

May our love and affection for our wondrous Savior ever increase, even in the valley.

 

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on learning to love God in the midst of life’s challenges. Click here to read about how another contributor learned to love God through grieving the death of a friend.

The Key to Happiness—Don’t Follow Your Heart

We’ve heard it a million times. We’ve read it on our Instagram feed, our coffee mugs, t-shirts, artwork, even in Christian bookstores: Follow your heart. But is it right to follow my heart? Will following my heart even make me happy?

There have definitely been times I regretted following my heart. I’ve followed my heart to indulge in a big meal, for example. But instead of happiness, I got a tummy ache. I’ve also followed my heart into a relationship that ended in sadness instead of happiness. This cry to “follow our hearts” seems to affect and color every corner of our lives.

 

The heart is deceitful

Many people strive to follow their heart, truly believing it to be the best guide they have. Yet Scripture tells us that the heart is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9). Surely, we would not want to follow something that could lead us so far astray!

It is often difficult for us to realize that the heart is indeed deceitful. It takes hard work to change the narrative in our head and realize that our flesh may actually betray us. But as our hearts are transformed to be more and more aligned with the heart of Jesus—as we are washed and sanctified by God (1 Corinthians 6:11)—we can begin to trust our hearts a bit more. However, until we are remade and resurrected one day, our heart may still lead us down the wrong path.

It’s not that emotions are bad. Emotions allow us to experience God more fully. We know that He is with us in grief, in joy, and that He knows intimately what it feels like. But emotions should not be driving our decisions and actions. Ultimately, the driving force in our lives should be our faith—what we know to be true, what we trust regardless of how we feel. When faith is our driving force, our emotions will be less likely to send us awry.

So how can we find a balance between knowing that emotions are a gift from God and yet understanding that they might still lead us astray?

 

Don’t follow your heart, follow Christ’s heart

I think the answer lies in sacrifice. Sacrifice is an essential part of the gospel message. It is key to what we as Christians are about, because it was key to what Jesus was about. Jesus humbled Himself to enter our world; He served people through daily, regular sacrifice; and then He suffered the ultimate sacrifice on the cross. On the evening of His death, He prayed in the garden, “Not my will, but yours.” So we, as image-bearers of this Christ, have sacrifice stamped in us, as part of our spiritual DNA.

If we were always following our hearts, doing what we want and doing it our way, where would sacrifice come in? Can we truly be disciples of Christ and still get our way all the time? Here’s where the shift must come in: instead of aiming to follow our own hearts, we should follow Christ’s heart.

Since those two are not always the same, sacrifice is necessary. We need to lay down our will and our desires and take up His. We need to say along with Him, “Not my will, but yours.” And we do this because we trust His heart more than our own.

This is hard in our day and age, but I actually think that not getting our way is a helpful discipline. It reminds us that we are not in charge. Are we following Christ’s heart or our own? Are there areas in our lives where we should sacrifice our own wants?

In my own life, this plays out in my kitchen. If I followed my heart on any given evening, it would not take me to the kitchen. I do not enjoy doing the dishes, grocery shopping, and lunch packing. It also frustrates me that my kitchen stays clean for only a split second before there’s another crumb, another spill, another dish to clean.

But eventually I realized that there was no better place for me to practice the discipline of sacrifice than in my kitchen. In my kitchen, I can live out the gospel. I can die to self and align myself with Jesus’ heart. I can love the people around me in the form of a clean plate, a lunch packed, or groceries stocked. And that convicted me.

That might seem almost silly compared to people around the world who have sacrificed in far more intense and terrifying ways. But I believe God honors my regular rhythm of disciplined sacrifice, as small as it is.

So I head to the kitchen most evenings, packing lunches, prepping meals, doing dishes. But I don’t go there out of my own initiative or will. I go because God has asked me to love my family in this way. The truth is that since I’ve begun doing that, it’s been an immense blessing to me. I wouldn’t have it any other way. If I had followed my heart instead of Christ’s, I would have missed out on this experience—this practice—of living out the gospel in my day to day life.

 

Does that mean I’m not supposed to be happy?

Having said that, I’m not suggesting that God wants us to always give up what we want, to always be sacrificing, and that emotions are bad. As a parent, when I see my child happy, it brings a new kind of joy that I’ve never experienced. And God feels this way toward us. When we are happy, He is happy. What matters, though, is what we find our happiness in. God wants to grant us true happiness—lasting happiness that truly satisfies—and we can find this by following His heart.

How do we know what’s in God’s heart? Reading His Word is the best place to start—and will help us trust that He knows not only what is best, but what will truly make us happy. The things of this earth may entertain for a season, but they cannot satisfy our longing for the eternal. If we start looking for happiness on our own, by following our own hearts, odds are that we will settle on something lesser and temporal, and ultimately something that will disappoint.

Psalm 86 has long been a favorite of mine. King David says in verse 11: “Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.” He has it right—our hearts are divided. And because of this, they lead us astray. So instead, we echo the psalmists’ words and say “Teach me your way, O Lord” (emphasis mine).

Our motto need not be “Follow your heart,” but instead “Follow His heart.” This shows an implicit trust in His ways, an acknowledgement of His authority. It shows the world that when we drink of Him, the Fount of Life, we are satisfied. We have tried other methods and they have been found wanting. He alone satisfies; He alone can make us happy. Follow His heart.

 

Editor’s Note: For more stories and perspectives on why we should not follow our hearts, read “When (Not) to Follow Your Feelings” and “Follow Your Heart . . . Really?“.

How Can We Look to Christ’s Return This Christmas?

While remembering Christ’s first coming during Advent and Christmas, we also anticipate and prepare for His second coming. Many people feel fearful when they think of Jesus’ return, perhaps because there is so much unknown about it. But I would like to suggest that His return should be something that brings encouragement to our hearts and minds. Christ’s return is the best news we have, because it promises fruition of His kingdom!

But how do we cling to this encouragement? What does it actually look like to anticipate and prepare for Christ’s return during this Christmas season?

Here are three ways we can look to Jesus’ return this December:

 

1. Examine Ourselves

First, I think one of the most important things we can do is to take some intentional, quiet time to examine ourselves. If we are truly preparing for Christ’s return, then we have to ask ourselves some hard questions:

If He came back today, would I regret the way I had used my last moments and days? Would I have wasted them? Would there be something I wished I had done or said?

This is sometimes difficult to think about, and can make us feel sad or even morbid, but I think it is worth our attention. By examining our lives in light of our eventual end, for example, we might realize that we have been wasteful in how we spend some of our time. This self-reflection can help root out areas of concern or laziness, and re-energize us to steward our time well.

So I encourage you to carve out some time for yourself this December to examine your life. Maybe grab a coffee and write this out in your journal, or stay at home in your favorite chair. Go ahead and reserve a time and date in your calendar for this!

I’ve done this before in other circumstances, and this year I look forward to reflection as part of my Advent celebration. Here are some questions I will be considering, and perhaps you will find them helpful in your time of reflection:

  • Do I have any unresolved or unconfessed sin?
  • Am I aware of any area of disobedience? What am I going to do about it?
  • Is there anything God is calling me to do or say?
  • Do I have any relationships that need to be reconciled?

Ultimately, ask the Holy Spirit to lead and guide your time. My prayer as I begin my time of reflection will be from these words of the psalmist: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139: 23-24)

 

2. Strengthen Our Faith

I’ve been studying the gospel of Matthew for a while now, and noticed almost right away how many Jewish prophets the author quotes. All these Jewish prophets spoke of a time when a Messiah would come. And just as the Old Testament prophets were waiting for the Messiah to come, so we wait for the Messiah’s return. Just as His first coming was promised, so is His second (Acts 1:11, John 14:13, among others).

The Old Testament prophets knew what it was like to live in the midst of the waiting, and we can find strength and encouragement alongside them. Isaiah, for example, wrote his prophecies roughly 750 years before Jesus was born. This means the world had to wait 800 years between Isaiah’s prophecy and Jesus’ coming! But Jesus did come, and the prophets did not wait in vain.

Friends, even if we have 750 years left to wait before Jesus’ return, we can wait with purpose and encouragement, knowing that He will come as He promised. Because of this, we know that we are not just wandering aimlessly through this life; we are building and waiting for a Kingdom that will come to fruition. We are kingdom builders.

I don’t know about you, but this purpose emboldens and energizes me. When I see how the original prophecies were fulfilled, my faith is stirred. I’ve seen God stay true to His word; I have evidence of it, and I have no reason to doubt He won’t stay true to it again.

 

3. Encourage Each Other

Paul talks of Christ’s return in 1 Thessalonians 4. It seems that some in the church of Thessalonica had some questions about what happens when people die, and so Paul sought to alleviate their concerns.

In verse 16, he gives a description of what will happen when Jesus returns: “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.” He then concludes with these words: “Therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18).

These words offer us hope: that in the midst of a world where everything has gone wrong, one day Christ will come, and all will be set right.

Recently, a family member passed away after battling cancer. We prayed that he would be victorious in Jesus over this cancer. And though he ended up dying a physical death, I realize he was victorious over the cancer—because the physical death is not the end of his story. Because he knows Jesus, he will rise again one day, in a resurrected body to live in a resurrected world (1 Corinthians 15:42-44).

Friends, encourage one another with these words this Advent and Christmas season. We hurt and grieve when we lose someone or when something is cut short, because we are made in the image of God: we’re hardwired to long for the eternal. So when your spirit is restless with grief or the effects of sin, rest assured and encourage one another: this is not the end of the story.

John says in the book of Revelation, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).

 

Be encouraged, friends. Go forth and celebrate—remember Christ’s first coming, but look ahead too! Anticipate and prepare for His return. The Messiah is coming!