Wednesday 20 March 2024

Remembering Easter

Easter sort of snuck up on me this year. My mind said it should happen in April as it usually does, but my son assured me that every four years we celebrate this sacred and glorious day in March. I guess leap year is sort of like daylight savings time. We know it's going to happen but are never quite prepared to have our sleeping cycles or our thoughts and plans disturbed. I don't know about anyone else, but even small changes in my routine have an unsettling effect and cause me to rethink even the simplest things.

But with a few adjustments I think I will be ready to put my heart into the meaning of the season now that it is just a little over a week away. A small gift has been put in the mail for my grandson. He was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at three so all the seasonal candy is out of the question, but he's really smart and loves most anything he can build or rebuild and electronic gadgets are always a hit. I gave my granddaughter a new outfit last Sunday and the grand dogs a treat. For their parents I got solar-powered radios with a ton of different features and ways to charge them. I believe they will be important to have if the power outages that are raging across Europe hit our shores. I was even lucky enough to get a great deal on two generators so no one will lose everything in their freezers again. I've had it happen twice and my son once and having to throw out over a thousand dollars in frozen food without being able to salvage a single item is not something I want to experience again.

Since I have a new calling in my church, I'll be helping with an Easter party this Saturday. I've never attended one in my eight years of living here because I no longer have young children at home, but helping other families have a good breakfast and watching the little ones hunt for Easter eggs might be fun. It's certainly gotten me thinking about how my family of origin celebrated Easter when I was a child. While most of my memories have been severely limited due to the psychological trauma I received at the age of five, I know holidays had to be a special time when there were anywhere between one and seven children involved. 

I do remember the easter baskets with colorful strips of wood running around their circumferences and dying lots of eggs that were basically fresh from the henhouse. I say basically because they had to be a few days old or we couldn't peel the skins off without losing half of the egg. Daddy would hide them around the front yard and we would count the number found until all were accounted for. We would eat them with pepper and salt while mother turned at least a dozen of them into deviled eggs to eat with our Sunday meal. We would each get a large, hollow, chocolate easter bunny along with assorted jelly beans and the big, hard-shelled, marshmallow eggs that I dearly loved because of the way my mouth and tongue felt as the insides dissolved.

I tried to find them this year, only to discover that they were discontinued last summer because the cost of sugar made it prohibitive for the candy company to make them. How sad it is that skyrocketing inflation is making it impossible for people in the most free and prosperous nation on earth to no longer enjoy some of life's most simple pleasures. And even sadder is the fact that it wouldn't be this way if the people at the top of the food chain could see what their greed and lack of compassion and understanding has done to middle class Americans who are the true backbone of our nation. 

These hard-working individuals are forced to experience the demise of their personal American dream as they keep cutting back on needs, wants and desires while those pesky, unlawful taxes are increasing more rapidly than ever. But the funds basically stollen from us will never be enough to support the life styles of those who refuse to work, those who come over the border illegally and expect everything to be handed to them and those selfish and unethical millionaires and billionaires who will never have enough and are always finding loopholes so they can keep what they have and add to it at our expense. As far ahead as we can possibly look our descendants will never be able to repay the national debt as it expands a trillion dollars every one-hundred days on interest alone.

But that's something to discuss at another time. Prophesy is rapidly being fulfilled, and while it might not happen in my lifetime, I have every reason to believe that some of the people alive today might just be lucky enough to be here when the Savior makes his triumphant return. That's when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that he is our Savior, Redeemer and Son of the Living God. It gives me goosebumps and makes the tears form just thinking about how glorious that event will be regardless of our vantage point when it happens. The stage is certainly being set and we cannot allow our hearts to fail us. It is an exciting time to be alive, but it is also a time to pay attention to what is going on around us and throughout the world. It can be a scary sometimes because we have no idea who is telling the truth. But if we are as prepared as we can possibly be we have nothing to fear, even if our mortal life ends. There is an amazing eternity waiting for us if we put our faith and trust in our Heavily Father who created us.

I want to take just a few minutes and tell you some of the things I've learned this year about that calm and beautiful Easter Morning so many years ago. The story is not new to any real Christian and is one filled with betrayal, sorrow, unbelievable suffering, false rulings, degradation, fear and tough lessons learned, but it is also a testament to never-ending love, full compassion, complete understanding and an abundance of hope, light and eternal rejoicing. It is the most remarkable event that ever transpired, and righteous and wicked alike will receive eternal life because of it. 

W. Cleon Skousen has written a remarkable book titled Days of the Living Christ that offers a new insight into scriptural passages many of us have been raised reading. He has spend much time in Jerusalem and the surrounding area and is both knowledgeable about the culture and the Bible, along with being an amazing storyteller that makes seemingly complicated topics come alive. His writing is filled with understanding, fresh insight and a thoughtful approach as to how some of the more minor characters may have felt about the events unfolding around them. I just happened to be at the conclusion of the book last week and my heart was completely impacted by some of the tender things I read.

A week before Christ was crucified by his own people, he stood on a hilltop and looked across the valley at the city of Jerusalem and wept. These were his people about to crucify him, and it would only be a few days before they clamored for his death and chanted His blood be upon us, and on our children. That invocation would bring such a disaster to his people that never again would the Jews be united as a nation until the latter days. Never again would they be gathered together in freedom, peace and prosperity until they had drunk the very last dregs of the bitter cup they had asked for. But they were still his people, and it was no accident that they had been chosen in Heaven to help him get through this cruel yet necessary assignment of suffering on the cross. And as horrible as their actions were, they would do it without being robbed of their opportunity for Salvation when the right time arose.

The physical cross he was required to carry weighed between seventy-five and a hundred pounds and the Savior was in a weakened condition after his unbelievable suffering in Gethsemane, being scourged with a deadly weapon that could strip the ribcage of the offender to the bone, and having a crown with two to three inch thorns shoved down on his head. His heart must have been heavy indeed because along with his personal sacrifices he knew how much his remaining eleven apostles were suffering as they watched their hopes for a glorious kingdom slowly expire. They would not receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost as a constant companion and be able to understand that Christ's Kingdom was not of the earth until days after his resurrection. 

And once he stood upright on the cross where even breathing was nearly impossible, he continued to teach those around him. The Light of Christ that every human being is born with, and that exists with him or her until that gift is thrown away by disobedience and hardheartedness, was working overtime on one of the two thieves tied with ropes to crosses next to him. The more penitent one confessed Christ as the Lord and wanted to accept him as the Messiah. But with complete love Jesus taught him that confessing the Lord's existence is not an automatic assurance of salvation nor a passport into "paradise". It is an important first step, but it must be followed by repentance, baptism, complete reception of the Holy Ghost and then faithful endurance on a prolonged course that ascends upward until it reaches the presence of Christ and eventually the glory of the Father. Christ said: "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doth the will of my Father which is in heaven."

Part of the Savior's test on the cross was to have his Father's spirit fully withdraw from him; plunging him into that outer region of complete darkness where there is nothing but "weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth." This complete withdrawal of the strength that had previously sustained him must have come as a complete shock because it caused him to cry out in the ninth hour of his great suffering: "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?"   

We do not know how long Jesus was left suspended in that agonizing region of darkness, but certainly long enough to satisfy the stringent requirements for His role as the Messiah-Redeemer. When the Father's spirit returned, Jesus knew it was almost over. He had done it. He had drunk the bitter cup to the very dregs. Equally important, the Father's ordeal was over too. It could now be declared with heavenly choirs and trumpets that: "For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved."

Jesus had the power to retain his life until he was willing to surrender it. When he said: "it is finished," it meant he knew he had fulfilled his manifest destiny. His last words were, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." Then he died. At that moment, Jesus became the Christ, the great Messiah-Redeemer. How gloriously unselfish, beautiful and divine his precious gift is.

The Savior's body was placed in the tomb of a wealthy man, Jospeh of Arimathaea, who had likely accepted his teachings. It was sealed and guards were placed to watch it because the rulers who had put him there were afraid what he claimed might actually happen or that some of his disciples would try to steal his body. What is ironic is that none of Jesus's followers were expecting him to be resurrected or even claiming that he would be. They were completely bewildered by what had happened and their faith had been shaken so badly they had retreated to the house where the Last Supper had been held to figure out what they were going to do next.

After three day the miracle happened. The ground shook, the stone rolled away of its own accord and an angel appeared before the guards who were watching the tomb. They were sufficiently frighted and hurried to tell the elders what had happened. However, they were not chastised but were given a large sum of money to tell anyone who asked that Jesus's disciples had come by night and stolen him away while they slept. 

Even the women who came to anoint his body early that Monday morning did not believe he would be resurrected on the third day. They simply had to wait until the holiday celebrations and Sabbath observance were over. The women were met by the same angel and given the same message as the guards, but they didn't understand the ramifications either and fled from the sepulchre with fear and trembling to find a quiet place to regain their composure.

Meanwhile, Mary Magdalene hurried to find the apostles to tell them what she thought the heavenly messenger had said. Nine of the eleven did not move after hearing her message, but Peter and John ran towards the garden. After seeing with their own eyes that Jesus's body was gone they slowly rejoined the other men. Mary must have reentered the garden after they left because this was when the Savior chose to make his presence known, but he withheld his glory. His only badge of identification were the marks in his hands, feet and side. So it did not appear to be a heavenly being - just an ordinary man - who called out to her and asked; "Woman, why weepest thou? Whom seeketh thou?"

When she suddenly recognized the voice, she cried out: "Rabboni!" which means "my master."

What an unbelievable moment that must have been. But one day each of us will have the same experience as we meet our Eldest Brother, Savior and Redeemer again. Will will see the wounds he bore for us, the love in his eyes and fall at his feet and cover them with tears of gratitude and joy. How beautiful this season of new birth is and how lucky we are to have knowledge of the greatest gift the world had ever known. May we rejoice for the blessings we daily receive and all that is eternally possible because of Christ's life and mission on earth. It truly is a most glorious time to live. 

Saturday 2 March 2024

Why the Attack on Christians?

Last Sunday I was asked to give a talk at church on "loving thy neighbor". It wasn't the easiest to prepare since the world is in such chaos and all we see or hear on the news is people spewing hatred about everything and every one, but I took a deep breath, looked deep inside, did some praying and sat down at my computer to compose thoughts that would fill at least twelve minutes. I had an idea of what I might say, but things changed dramatically when my mind and fingers began working together. This statement by Ian S. Arden seemed to take center stage. He said the it "is sufficient to give or to do what you are able and then allow Christ to magnify your efforts."

I suddenly realized that give and do are action verbs and regardless of our situation we can do something to brighten another person's day. Over the past couple of months as I've struggled through shoulder surgery and the accompanying therapy that quite often brings tears to my eyes because the pain is so intense, my thoughts have often focused on my younger brother who died in a nursing home at the height of the Covid epidemic. There was no funeral or viewing; just a few family and friends who gathered on a blistery November day for a brief graveside service to mourn his quiet passing. 

Our family had never been close, and I have always felt that my brother and I were the catalysts that drove what little light and laughter there was away. I was five and he was three one early spring morning when our mother sent us out play, with firm instructions that I keep my eyes on him. It didn't take long for us to grow bored with each other's company, and the next thing I remember is my father racing towards the house with Sandon's limp body in his arms and shouting for the keys to the old Army jeep - our only means of transportation. He said my brother was dead. Inadvertently, Daddy had run over him with the tandem disk that was used to break up the clods of soil in preparation for spring planting. Mother there them to him, but as he was pulling away she turned to me and said, "This never would have happened if you'd been watching him as I told you to."

I suppose many lessons about the right kind of parenting could be learned from that statement, especially when it comes to destroying a child's emotional stability and life in general, but suffice it too say that through God's grace my little brother survived. Nonetheless, he was in a coma for six weeks and when he awakened the right side of his body was paralyzed, along with some accompanying brain damage. It was a family's worst nightmare come true.

But one thing I can tell yo about my brother is that I have never seen a more Christlike person, despite a lifetime of insensitivity and downright cruelty. He had to learn how to do everything again, without the aid of rehabilitation therapy which was non-existent in those days, and he never regained any real use of his right arm. When he was finally allowed to go to school he would fall almost daily getting on and off the big, yellow school bus and his elbows and knees were always scraped and bleeding. He had to stay in at recess to work with his teachers so he wouldn't get so far behind. Kids pointed fingers, laughed at him and didn't want him to be part of their activities. If it hadn't been for three boys his age in our farming community, he would have no one to associate with other than his family. No girls wanted to date him so he took our younger sister to his senior ball.

But during all those years of unkindness and numerous additional surgeries to help improve his mobility, he never blamed anyone for what had happened to him and he always found someone to befriend who had gone through their own difficulty. He finally learned how to drive a car and eventually married and fathered six children. But he made a few mistakes like people, who just want to be loved and accepted for who they are, do and paid for them dearly by falling into a fire pit and not being able to get out. The people he was with left him there to die. But before he completely expired they loaded him into the back of his van without any identification and dropped him off outside the hospital emergency room doors.

When I was finally able to see him in the burn unit his entire body was so swollen I couldn't even recognize him. It was one of the most horrifying experiences of my life to watch the burned skin being pulled from his body, to know how much he was suffering again and not being able to do anything to help. He lived the remainder of his life in a nursing home where some of his burns never healed.

But true to his God-given nature of being a peacemaker and truly loving people, he spent a decade and a half encouraging and lifting the spirits of the other residents, many of whose families had abandoned them. His bear hugs were the greatest, there was always a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, and even when he was in pain he found something to laugh about. I don't know how he did it with all the strange smells, eery sounds, bland food, intense suffering and a near total lack of physical freedom, but he became friends with everyone capable of even knowing he was there. He would listen while they talked, take part in activities, and even though he couldn't rub two pennies together because he didn't have them, he would do whatever he could from his wheelchair to bring those around him a little joy.

I want to be more like him, but that's not so easy to do, especially since Covid. Whatever it's origins, it has distanced people in a profound way. As a society we no longer trust each other, our willingness to be kind, patient, understanding and helpful has eroded, and we're afraid of saying the politically wrong thing for fear of being ridiculed, persecuted or even prosecuted for exercising our First Amendment rights and expressing how we feel. There is certainly very little peace and brotherly love in the world today.

As Christians we knew this life would not be easy, but I doubt few of us really understood how bad things would get before the end of humanity as we know it came to an end. Like us, Christ was born into a politically and spiritually charged culture. His life was anything other than strife free and ended in a horrifically violent and unjust way. Still He honored his mission in showing us by example and teachings the way back to our Heavenly home. Each of us here today have a mission designed specifically for our eternal edification, and like Christ we have to face our own battles against the tactics of the evil one who only wants to destroy us. I know a big part of mine is standing true to the principles our Elder Brother taught, regardless of repercussions from those who don't want to believe in anything other than themselves and getting what they want. 

I suppose it helps knowing that the war between good and evil has already been won, but there are still many battles to be fought and we have to do that together. We have to quit hiding in our homes thinking we are too busy, too unimaginative, too frightened, too shy or too important to be bothered by someone else's needs.

We are our brother's and sister's keepers and we will be held accountable if we don't reach out in whatever meager way we can to those within our circle of influence. And we don't have to do it in a big way or put ourselves in any emotional, spiritual, or physical danger. There are toxic and evil people that need to be avoided because they have chosen a different path. But the majority of people we meet want to do what's right. I've had to turn to others for help more the past two months than I have in my entire life combined, but being on the needy end has shown me how much a little compassion, an unexpected dinner or treat, a short visit or even a phone call or text means when you're going through a difficult time.

Love for others has no bounds, not race, religion, political affiliation, social class, amount of money or personal issues we may never understand. Accepting people for who they are and trying to see into their hearts is required of us because every soul is equal in God's eyes - not worse or better - just equal. As members of His kingdom who want to return to where He is, we must come to see and love all of his children as He does. It's not any easy task, at least for me, but my actions here will determine where I spent eternity.

I want to leave you with one final thought from Christophe G. Giraud-Carrier. "Rather than seeing each other through the distorted lens of mortality, the gospel raises our sights and allows us to see each other through the flawless, unchanging lens of our sacred covenants. In doing so, we begin to eliminate our own natural prejudices and bias toward others, which in turn helps them minimize their prejudices and.bias towards us."

That's pretty much my talk, and I was feeling more peaceful than usual when I got home from church after giving it. But those feelings didn't last long.The next morning I read an article that presented findings of a Washington DC based Family Research Council project that brought me straight back to the reality of the America I love so much. It stated that there had been 436 hostile incidents against churches during 2023 - more than double those in 2020 and eight times as many as in 2018. These events include vandalism, gun-related incidents, arson, bomb threats and even a few deaths.

The article went on to state that Americans are increasingly comfortable lashing out against churches due in part to the hostility against Christians displayed by the Biden administration. You can take from that what you like but my Christian beliefs have been attacked unceasingly since his arrival in the White House. And the laws enacted against anyone who will not bow down to the far lefts ideology have increased exponentially to the point that I'm almost afraid to write a blog because I could end up in prison for expressing how I feel. I mean people who pray in front of an abortion clinic are put in prison while those who burn buildings used by pro-life persons and induce physical harm don't even get a slap on the wrist. And what about the veterans who are being thrown out of their homes in New York City, and elsewhere, to house illegal immigrants. The list of injustices in our two-tiered system of justice today would fill volumes.

That's not acceptable in any country, especially one that was founded on God-given freedoms in a Constitution and Bill of Rights, but far too many of us are afraid to take a stand. We think if we remain silent someone else will fight the battle and things will settle down once the election is over. But those who do not speak up are silently expressing their consent to any injustice that is being perpetrated amongst their fellow citizens. It took time for me to accept that, but once I got away from the lies mainstream media perpetuated I began see to see how completely those in charge have forced their ideologies on us unsuspecting, gullible and ill-informed citizens of what was once the freest, most admired and healthiest country in the world.

Not to leave this post on a dismal note because I know who is really in charge of this country and the people who inhabit it, but the bad news for American Christians only continues to get worse. Biden just declared Christian Nationalists - without defining what that term was supposed to mean - to be the greatest threat yet to democracy; far greater than any outside or inside terrorist groups among which there are many to choose from. Listen to Glenn Beck's story about journalist Steve Baker being arrested by the FBI yesterday (March 1, 2024) if you really want to know what that means for any American conservative. It's pretty chilling stuff.

This ongoing battle between good and evil is intensifying so rapidly that it's hard to keep up with all the assaults on our rights as Americans. Nothing about the principles our country was founded on is sacred any longer, and unless we unite as patriots and remove people from office who do not stand up for the things we value, the complete takeover of our nation by the global elites will be a reality none of us will be able to endure for long. I don't know about anyone else, but I believe freedom is not a guarantee even under a Constitution as great as ours. We must be willing to stand up and fight, if necessary, to retain what we have left. Right now it is a battle of ideologies, but it has every marking of escalating into another civil war that will be both bloody and costly to every American. I don't want that to happen. That's why I stand with our true unsung patriots who continue to fight for the freedoms we continue to undervalue. 

Another winter storm is here, but the gray skies, high winds and sheeting snow are a reminder that storms of any kind eventually end and the sky turns blue again. But the moments of quiet reflection during their passing can help get us reexamine what is truly important - life, liberty, God and family. Without even one of those things, we would never learn the meaning of true happiness.