Book Review

Jesus, the Final Days brings light to resurrection

Even though Easter is past, reading about the resurrection never gets old. In the book Jesus, the Final Days, written by Craig A. Evans and N. T. Wright and edited by Troy A. Miller, Miller has edited talks given by Evans and Wright on the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.

These talks are centered around historical and archaeological evidence supporting the biblical accounts found in the Gospels. They also dispel several theories that seek to dismiss the resurrection as a fable.

Though probably not for educated biblical scholars with doctorates, Jesus, the Final Days would be a great resource for pastors, Sunday school teachers and those who want an in depth background study of the resurrection accounts found in the four Gospels.

For instance, Evans, who is a Payzant Distinguished Professor of New Testament, director of the graduate program at Acadia Divinity College in Canada and the author of other books, describes ancient burial practices employed during the time of Christ, both for criminals and non-criminals. He writes about Passover pardons, and explores Pilate's thinking regarding the pardon of Jesus and Barabbas. What was more politically expedient? What would keep the peace? Wright writes compellingly on the authenticity of each Gospel, even though the accounts differ.

Wright, the Bishop of Durham in the Church of England, has written over 40 books including extensive writings on the resurrection. Wright, who's writing style reminds one of C. S. Lewis (but easier to understand), presents the origin of Christian thinking on the resurrection. Was it from pagan sources, as some claim? Or was Christian thinking based in Jewish thought?

Wright also explores the credibility of ancient accounts. Did the ancients have as much knowledge as moderns claim to possess in this enlightened age?

Jesus, the Final Days is a great book to read during the year, rather than during the rush of the Lent and the Easter season. Pick up a copy today and keep the resurrection close to your heart all year long!

Getting a genuine makeover

Anyone who did not attend the Spring Makeover: Inside and Out retreat at the La Junta Church of the Nazarene last weekend missed a great event.

I usually do not like retreats and really have to psych myself up to go. As a person who has grown up in the church, I have had more than my share of guilt dumped upon my shoulders by well meaning people. I can look back at some retreats after which a good counseling session would have been welcome.

But this retreat was different. Not only did we have a great time in all of the workshops making body scrubs, meal plans and purses out of jeans, but the speaker was outstanding. Dr. Gay Hubbard spoke with warmth and humility. She encouraged us to keep going and to take care of ourselves because it greatly affects our spiritual lives. I wish I could tell you all of what she said, but you'll have to read it in her new book coming out later this year.

One thing she did say that I will--without guilt--incorporate into this commentary is this: The key to a good makeover, she said, is in allowing Christ to shine through us as he continues to do his work in our hearts. Christ is the one who has had the ultimate makeover. On the third day he rose from the grave with a glorified body. However, instead of getting rid of his scars, he chose to keep them.

Wow. He chose to keep his scars. In our world that is so enamored of outward beauty, the Maker of the universe and Creator of humanity chose to keep his scars. These scars must continually remind him of his suffering, but they also speak volumes about his victory. Without the resurrection, Christ's death would have been just like any other crucifixion and our faith would be in vain. Thank God it isn't!

Because of Christ's resurrection, we can hope for two things. The first is eternal life. C.S. Lewis said, "There are better things ahead than any we leave behind." That is true for both the afterlife and the life we are now living. So the second hope is that once we accept Christ, everything we are heading toward is certainly better than what we have left behind in this life. In this life we will still have troubles, sickness and heartache, but Christ stands beside us. This makes all the difference as we deal with life's tribulations.

Because of Christ, then, we can also look forward to life beyond the grave. In First Corinthians Paul quoted Isaiah and Hosea when he wrote, "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."

That victory comes now and in the future--what a makeover!

Nice Words Make a Difference

Well, I finally saw "Fireproof" and I have to say that it was a terrific movie. I've never seen Kirk Cameron play someone who behaved meanly, but that's beside the point. It is a memorable movie with a great message and I would suggest giving it to the married couples on your Christmas list.

The one scene that stood out for me in the movie has been tickling my brain for a couple of weeks. I need to write about it because this is something that all of us do. Even if you haven't seen the movie you will know what I am talking about.

Do you remember the scene after Kirk Cameron tells the flirtatious doctor to stay away from his wife and a nurse is standing outside the doctor's office listening to everything? Do you remember what she did? She went right back to the nurse's station and told everybody what had happened, but when Kirk Cameron's estranged wife came up and wanted to know what they were talking about she went silent. "It's none of my business," the gossip told another nurse later.

This nurse was quick to spread news about someone to other people, but she was not willing to tell the news to the person who really mattered. If this nurse had told the wife, the movie might have been a lot shorter because the wife might have gone back to her husband.

Gossip, whether it is good news or bad news, is not right. The old adage "If you can't say something nice, don't say it at all," is good rule of thumb when talking about other people--actually talking about other people is not the best thing to do. Psychologists say that talking about other people is not a very intelligent form of conversation. Another rule of thumb might be that if you can't say something to someone directly then don't tell it to anyone else. I am not talking about seeking advice from a trusted friend about a situation, or about releasing a burden to a trusted friend. I am talking about gossip. There is a difference.

Proverbs 12:25 is sage advice when talking to other people. It says: "An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up."

We'll never know if Kirk Cameron's wife would have been encouraged by what her husband did because the nurse didn't tell her. Have you had this happen to you? Do you know someone who is going through a tough situation and needs an encouraging word? It doesn't matter if the person is in the wrong or right. When people do wrong a lot of times they just need to know that they can have another chance. Encouraging words do not need to validate an act; they are meant to give value or return it to a person.

People need encouraging words whether they are going through a difficult time or not. This does not mean that we have to be less than genuine or be sickeningly sweet. We just need to be honest and speak up if someone does something that we like or admire. It's good for them and it's good for us.

Spring is full of miracles

The older I get, the more I love spring. Spring means new life after a long winter. When I was young I didn't like spring because it reminded me that summer was coming and I am not a fan of really hot weather.

Now, I enjoy spring. Seeing the world come back to life is amazing.

The family and I were out the other day for a bike ride on Road CC west of Swink. It was getting close to sunset and there were billowy clouds to the south. Toward the west we could see the Southern Mountains. As the sun continued to go down a light haze rested over fields that were just beginning to sprout new growth.

It was a lovely evening. The birds were chirping. The breeze blew gently and it was warm enough to wear a light jacket. All of us enjoyed getting out in the fresh air.

One of my favorite things about spring is sitting in my bay window right now: seedlings. We're going to plant a garden this year so we are growing some of our own plants. I love to watch the little seedlings stretch out of the dirt, some still clinging to the hull of the seed that brought them life.

I witnessed this miracle for the first time in Michigan. We had a large garden and I enjoyed watching the plants grow and develop. The fact that one small seed could produce hundreds of green beans, melons, tomatoes or peppers is still amazing to me.

One small seed, planted in the ground quietly dies and is gloriously transformed into something bigger, better and beneficial to humanity.

In Romans 1 Paul writes, "Ever since the creation of the world (God's) invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made."

When I witness the miracle of the seed, I think of this verse because what happened to the seed happened to Jesus, who died and then was placed in a tomb. Three days later he rose again into something glorious, new and better--a new covenant, a new life for those who believe, a definite benefit to humankind.

There are other lessons to learn from the garden and from nature, so perhaps I will write about those later. This lesson, however, is one of my favorites. New life, resurrection, is why we celebrate Easter. That's why we live in hope throughout the long winter and welcome spring.


April is a busy month

The card companies are missing out if they are not in tune with all of the religious celebrations going on this month.

As I was going over the world religion calendar, I was amazed by all of the activity that the month of April holds. There is the Theravadin New Year, Passover, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Israeli Independence Day, the birthday of a monkey god in the Hindu religion and a commemoration of the 12-day period in which Baha'u'llah of the Baha'i religion declared that he was God's messenger.

In Christian circles, this is the month of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and, of course, Easter. Easter is the most important celebration in the Christian faith.

As one who grew up in a Protestant denomination, Easter, Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Christmas all meant celebration for me and my family. These days were also celebrated at church. Later on there was more emphasis was placed on Maundy Thursday and family communion became an important part of that day.

Because of my background, I am continually intrigued by all of the different celebrations that people of other Christian traditions celebrate on any given Sunday. To a Protestant whose church does not follow the liturgical calendar, Sunday is a day for church. To our Protestant, Catholic and Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters around the world who follow liturgy, most Sundays celebrate some aspect of the life of Jesus or are a day to celebrate the life of someone who followed Jesus.

In the April calendar we see that Eastern Orthodox Christians will celebrate the resurrection of Mary and Martha's brother on "Lazarus Saturday" on the eve of Orthodox Easter. Other Christians will celebrate St. George's Day Thursday, April 23. St. George was a calvaryman who died a martyr's death at the hand of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. He is associated with a knight overcoming a dragon--a symbol of victory in Christianity over paganism.

But why does this matter?

As I grow in my faith and study various Christian practices, I see that it is important for people of faith to remember that from which they came. It's all about community.

Days of remembrance are important in establishing community because those stories and experiences link us to Scripture and to fellow believers of the past. It reminds us that we are part of a big picture. When we spend time focusing on different people and events, we gain a better perspective on our own lives. We learn to cultivate traits such as courage, patience, compassion and self-control.

For example, spending time reflecting on the life of Mother Teresa might move me toward a more in-depth prayer life. Reflecting on the resurrection of Lazarus shows me that Jesus can handle any situation at any time and in every way. Thinking about the martyrdom of St. James the Great on April 30 may spur me fearlessly on toward greater works.

Celebrating different events and people, quite frankly, keeps church from becoming a dull, weekly obligation.

Common experiences also link Christians to one another. The other day I was at the Presbyterian Church Variety Show/Youth Fund raiser called "Structured Chaos." At the end of the program everyone joined in singing "Amazing Grace." When the group reached the last verse that sense of community washed over me:

When we've been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun. We've no less days to sing God's praise then when we first begun.

This common bond expressed in song between at least two, maybe even several, different denominations that were represented at the event, reminded me that we are all living the Christian life together and that someday we will be in heaven worshipping God together. Whatever petty differences there are should be laid aside as we reflect on what beliefs and traditions are common among us.