Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Manhattan Declaration

The Manhattan Declaration is a line firmly drawn in the sand by Catholic, Evangelical and Orthodox Christians. This remarkable statement was crafted by leaders from three of the most significant branches of the Church in America. Its purpose is to reaffirm our commitment to "fundamental truths about justice and the common good." Here is an explanatory paragraph from the summary of the Declaration:
We are Orthodox, Catholic, and evangelical Christians who have united at this hour to reaffirm fundamental truths about justice and the common good, and to call upon our fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to join us in defending them. These truths are (1) the sanctity of human life, (2) the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife, and (3) the rights of conscience and religious liberty. Inasmuch as these truths are foundational to human dignity and the well-being of society, they are inviolable and non-negotiable. Because they are increasingly under assault from powerful forces in our culture, we are compelled today to speak out forcefully in their defense, and to commit ourselves to honoring them fully no matter what pressures are brought upon us and our institutions to abandon or compromise them. We make this commitment not as partisans of any political group but as followers of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
The statement is not political, although some will surely try to make it seem so. It is not anti-gay, although it is already being painted as "hate speech". Neither does it condemn people who are living together outside of marriage.

Its purpose is to defend life, marriage and religious liberty all now so much under assault in the United States and the West in general.

You can read the entire (4700 words) declaration here, and if you agree with it, you can also sign it here.

And here is the line:
As Christians, we believe in law and we respect the authority of earthly rulers. We count it as a special privilege to live in a democratic society where the moral claims of the law on us are even stronger in virtue of the rights of all citizens to participate in the political process. Yet even in a democratic regime, laws can be unjust. And from the beginning, our faith has taught that civil disobedience is required in the face of gravely unjust laws or laws that purport to require us to do what is unjust or otherwise immoral. Such laws lack the power to bind in conscience because they can claim no authority beyond that of sheer human will.

Therefore, let it be known that we will not comply with any edict that compels us or the institutions we lead to participate in or facilitate abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide, euthanasia, or any other act that violates the principle of the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of every member of the human family.

Further, let it be known that we will not bend to any rule forcing us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality, marriage, and the family.

Further, let it be known that we will not be intimidated into silence or acquiescence or the violation of our consciences by any power on earth, be it cultural or political, regardless of the consequences to ourselves.

We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sunday School Fun

Linda and I took the opportunity to teach Sunday School for a large group during the second service today, teaming with our friends Ed and Danielle. This was our second week on the job....this week perhaps only 50 in the class!

It was actually quite a bit of fun; even more than the previous week. Last week, we had to work hard to maintain control because the kids naturally came in and sat with their buds.

Ed asks the kids questions for Bible
tic tac toe with Danielle in the background.

We nipped that in the bud [:)] this week by having the kids count off by sevens and then having them move to the the table with their number.

That did not fill them with joy, but once they were away from their friends, it was easier to reach them.

We sang with them, went over last week's story (Jesus' miracle feeding of the 5,000 at the Sea of Galilee) and told them a new story (how God used Gideon for the miraculous defeat of the Midianites with only 300 Israelis). Then we gave them a snack and played a game. The hour and some went quickly.

We had them participate in the story....asking questions and bringing it to their level. They had lots of ideas.....and two main stock answers to every question: "Jesus" or "God".

"What was Gideon doing in the winepress?"

"God"

"How many soldiers did Gideon have when Midian was defeated?"

"Jesus"

They had some good answers, too, but I'm chuckling in retrospect with their stock answers.

Getting them engaged in the story worked well. They were able to answer questions easily at the end....they "got it!" We even ran into one young fellow and his family at the restaurant later in the day and I asked him "what was our story about today" and he said "GIDEON!"

Ed did a great job with Bible tic tac toe. He split the kids into boys and girls and selected a captain in each group. He would ask them questions and then the kids would huddle for an answer. The end result was a draw, but a tie-breaking question led the girls to seconds on muffins. The kids loved it.

Another friend later said she heard one youngster say to her mom, "we had FUN in Sunday School today!" It's music to a teacher's ears....especially when it's combined with the fact that they "got it."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Jesus' Revolutionary Treatment of Women


Jesus changed forever the way women are treated. He actually talked with women as equals and valued friends....something that no respectable religious leader would have done in those days.

At that time, women existed in roles of little authority, were largely confined to their husband's or father's home, and considered inferior to men. That situation exists even today for many women around the world, e.g. in some countries where sharia law is forced on the people.

John Piper recently spoke on John 4:27 (“They marveled that he was talking with a woman”) His words near the end of the talk captured my attention:
What that movie (The Stoning of Soraya M) is intended to do, and did, is give us a glimpse of the dismal plight of millions of women today, hidden away in cultures around the world where Jesus is not known, or trusted or followed. It is a horrific, dismal, plight.

Wherever His Gospel has gone, wherever His Word has gone, and taken root, and begun to hold sway, men treat women with respect. They take humble, courageous initiative to protect women. They create stable, loving families as leaders who love and are like Jesus, in which covenant faithfulness of husband and wife displays to the world the mystery of Christ and His Church.

I read CS Lewis two weeks ago who said, 'the ideal marriage is one that is most like a crucifixion' meaning the husband dies for her. That is unspeakably revolutionary in every culture, including ours.
Here is the entire video clip:

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Jesus Way

I originally delivered this as a sermon at Anchorage City Church on July 26, 2009. You can listen to this and other messages at the Anchorage City Church website.

Life can be lived in many ways. There is one way that is above every other, in my opinion. I have observed that it works better........and it ends better than any other way. It has been called “The Jesus Way" and that's what I'm calling it here.

Let me make an analogy. Popular culture offers a way of life that looks like a full banquet table, but often turns out to be more like white bread and water. The Jesus Way offers a life that many people outside the Church seem to think is just bread and water, but once we start down the way, it turns out to be a stacked high banquet table with food that provides real nourishment. And it ends well.

Jesus talked about this way of life. Let's take a look at two passages of scripture where Jesus talked about this, starting with John 8:12:
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
If we walk in a dark place, we're likely to trip over something, fall in a hole, or bang our heads. Jesus is saying we can avoid all those things by following him, because He will provide the light. The obstacles become clear and we can avoid them.

There's a interesting deeper shade of meaning to the Greek word we translate as "follows." We think first of "follow" as meaning to travel behind, or to come after. But the shade of meaning in this passage is "to be in the same way with, that is, to accompany, as a disciple". So Jesus was saying, “whoever walks along with me along the road of life like a disciple will never walk in darkness.” It’s not a one time event; it’s a process.

Now let's dig deeper into “following” and "being in the same way with." This is also in the Gospel of John, starting in chapter 13 verse 33. Here is the setting for this passage: Jesus is spending his last night with His disciples in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. It's their last night together, but the disciples don't know this yet. Jesus is packing a lot of information in their last few hours together.

Let's listen to the conversation:
"My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.
Now THAT must have riveted their attention. They have been almost everywhere with Jesus for the past three years. He is their leader, their friend, and probably most of them are thinking that any day now He is going to kick out the Roman occupation forces and restore the glory of Israel. What does he mean that he is going somewhere and they can't come???

Let’s skip ahead a few verses to 14:4
You know the way to the place where I am going."
Thomas said to him,"Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?"
Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Let's stop here and focus on the last part of what Jesus said: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

First of all Jesus is talking about the Way to an Eternal life with the Father. He said so just a few words earlier: "You know the way to the place where I am going." Jesus knew He was going to the Father. He knew the disciples would eventually understand that He was on the way to Heaven, even if they didn't get it right then.

Jesus said what He did about being "the way" in an interesting and revealing manner. First He tells us what the Way is…..then He tells us what the Way isn't:
"I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
These two readings from John make it crystal clear. Jesus is saying to us:
  • I am the light (I will keep you from stumbling)
  • I am the truth (my way is the true way)
  • I am the life (the best way to live)
  • Through me, and only through me, can you gain Eternal Life
Jesus is saying to you and me that it isn't possible to get to God the Father through Buddah. We can't get to God through Islam. As good as it is to be a Jew, God’s chosen people, that alone will not get us there either. Along with every other religion, Jesus statement also rules out Baha’i, Jainism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, Shinto, Hinduism, American Indian religions, nature worship, Sikhism, ancestor worship, Confucianism, the old Norse religions, and an old American favorite, "being good.”

Wait a minute: Isn’t being good what most Americans believe will get them to Heaven? Actually, about 7 of 10 Americans believe it may be possible to “earn your wings” according to one statistic I read. Even some born again believers are not clear on this.

But let's hear again what Jesus said: "No one comes to the Father except through me." The New Testament is consistent on this subject: belief in Jesus is the one and only route to Heaven. Good deeds demonstrate our faith, but you and I can get to Heaven only through believing in Jesus with all that believing implies.

OK. Jesus is the only way to Heaven. But not only is The Jesus Way the only road to Heaven, it’s also the best and smoothest road getting there.

We’ll look more at the road getting there in part two of this series on The Jesus Way.

The Jesus Way: A contrast with “The Ordinary Way”

In the first installment of this series I demonstrated from scripture that Jesus is the light, the truth, the way to live and the only road to eternal life.

Let's go back to something that Jesus said earlier. It's in John 10:7-10
Therefore Jesus said again, "I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
Take a look at that last part again: "whoever enters through me will be saved". That’s the eternal life part. But notice this also: "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."

Jesus is contrasting The Ordinary Way of life alongside the way of life He is offering, that is, The Jesus Way. The Ordinary Way is to be stolen from or to be destroyed. The Jesus Way is to have life and that life to the full. The King James version and several other English versions translates that last sentence using the word "abundant." In other words, Jesus is saying that His Way is the abundant life.

Who are the thieves and robbers that Jesus is talking about here?

First of all, I suspect that Jesus was talking in this parable about the religious leaders of His day. They had abandoned faith in the God of Israel for religious practice. They had become hypocrites. Jesus said in Matthew 23 “So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.”

But I believe in a larger sense, Jesus is warning us about “the thief”, Satan. The devil has always offered a way of life apart from God. While the details are always being updated century after century to fit the times, there seems to always be a satanic strategy to lure people away from God with an appealing way of life that seems to work.

Now as you read what follows, please understand that there is no condemnation here from me. If you see your own past or present sin in what I am about to say, understand that I'm am no less guilty of sin in the eyes of God. Every sin separates you and me from our Holy God.

We all sin. We all fall short of God's glory but The Jesus Way offers a fresh start on the right road.

So…..what is The Ordinary Way? The Ordinary Way is to live according to the culture that surrounds us. In Churchspeak it’s “the way of the World.”

The Apostle Paul was blunt about The Ordinary Way in a letter to a church in what is now present day Turkey. This is in Galatians 5:19-21:
"The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God."
Here are some of the features of The Ordinary Way of life.
  1. The Ordinary Way is doing what feels good regardless of the costs to self or others
  2. It's a life running hard after material wealth, a life that measures success by possessions
  3. It's a life of using people to get where we're going
  4. It's a life that puts negotiable value on children in the womb or the elderly
  5. It's a life of disposable relationships
  6. It’s a life filled with drama
Maybe you have been on The Ordinary Way. I have. Before I came to Christ I lived The Ordinary Way. As I look over these points, I see my old self in several places….even `tho I tried pretty hard to live a good life.

The reality is that some of my behavior was evil in God’s eyes. That’s the problem with The Ordinary Way.

There is a better way. It is the High Way of the King and I describe it and how to take this high way in the final part of this three part series.

The Jesus Way: The King’s High Way - A More Excellent Way

In the first and second installments of this series I demonstrated from scripture that Jesus is the only way to heaven and the best route through life. I contrasted it with The Ordinary Way of life offered by popular culture.

Let me introduce you to a much better way. It is the King’s High Way. It is the Jesus Way. For people who do not yet know Jesus, it might look pretty dull….like bread and water. But as we mature in faith in Christ, we find that it is a banquet table like no other.

After he listed the acts of the sinful nature…The Ordinary Way….Paul went on to talk about this excellent way, The Jesus Way. Here’s what he wrote in Galatians 5:22 & 23:
…. the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
You might be interested to know that the early Church was called “The Way” by some. There are several references in the Book of Acts where Luke refers to Christianity as “The Way”.

Let’s take a look at some characteristics of The Jesus Way:
1. The Jesus Way is, first of all, a life of love. Jesus gave us a new command in John 13: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." Loving others as Jesus loved us changes how we treat other people.
2. The Jesus Way is a life of joy. Joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness depends on circumstances. Joy is a heart attitude; a deposit of the Holy Spirit. Happiness is like a thermometer; joy is like a thermostat.
3. The Jesus Way is a life of peace. It is a life of peace with God, and peace with one another; it is a life of comfort in times of trouble.
4. The Jesus Way is a life of patience. If ever there was a model of patience, it must be Jesus. Today I am embarrassed with memories as a younger man of my lack of patience with our children and my wife. It gained nothing but hard feelings.
5. The Jesus Way is a life of kindness. Niceness is not the same as kindness. Nice is on our faces and on our tongue. Kindness is in our hearts. Niceness makes people feel good about us. Kindness does good for others.
6. The Jesus Way is a life of goodness. It is a life of doing good. Faith by itself, if not accompanied by action is dead, it says in the Book of James.
7. The Jesus Way is a life of faithfulness. It is a life of reliance on Christ for salvation, a life of assurance, belief and fidelity.
8. The Jesus Way is a life of gentleness. Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. The Greek word means also mildness.
9. The Jesus Way is a life of self-control. When we unite ourselves with Christ we can rise above our lusts and passions to live a life that is good for ourselves and good for others, and glorifies God.
I will mention two others that I have observed.

10. The Jesus Way is a life of service. We have been given the opportunity to co-labor with Christ the King to extend His Kingdom on Earth. Christians in all ages have given sacrificially of their time and treasure to to extend God's kingdom. It was Christians who founded the first hospitals, the first universities, the first orphanages, and even today run countless charities and ministries around the world. There are plenty of opportunities to serve God right here in Anchorage City Church and in ministries started by individuals and groups from this church. You can help build the Kingdom of God by teaching children in our Kid’s Church, driving the Church van, leading or helping with one of our small groups or classes, working in the kitchen, helping keep track of our family data, taking care of part of the church grounds, ushering, working in the New City Café, teaching in the New Direction Resource Center….and the list goes on.

11. The Jesus Way is a life of community. Jesus himself lived in community with His 12 disciples for three years, and that should be a sign to us that we can best live The Jesus Way when we are in community. We started small groups at City Church last fall to deepen community within our family. Our small group leaders Rich and Aaron talked about this earlier today. I hope you will join a group or class that fits you this fall.
More could be added to the list, but I think we get the idea.

Notice that nowhere here did I list that The Jesus Way is a life of material possessions. I also did not say The Jesus Way is a life without pain. Wealth may come, but troubles will come. The Jesus Way is the way of not being owned by what we own and the way to rise above the troubles of life.

Notice also that I have not suggested a list of rules to follow The Jesus Way. The Jesus Way is a life of relationship with Christ and listening to the Holy Spirit. "Come near to God and he will come near to you," the Bible says in James 4.

In my own life, I have found The Jesus Way more satisfying than I could ever have imagined as an young man 30 years ago with no time for God. My life is full of adventure and meaning and a peace that continues to grow in me. Like the rest of us, my life has been painful at times but I have an enduring hope and a peace that continues to grow in me.

So, what do we do with this?

Maybe your life situation is so difficult that it seems impossible that you could ever get on The Jesus Way. If the Lord is speaking to your heart to follow The Jesus Way, the steps are simple:
  1. Repent of your sins and ask Jesus to come into your heart if you have not done so already. You can do that here today either right where you are sitting or with one of our prayer team.
  2. Pray. Talk with the Lord about this. Start a life-long conversation with the God of the Universe. He’s listening.
  3. Read God's word. Start with the Gospel of John.
  4. Join regularly with other Christians for encouragement and support. Join a small group or class.
  5. Remember that The Jesus Way starts with an event….the decision to follow The Jesus Way……but it is a Way of Life.
If you have already accepted Jesus, but don’t see all the Fruit of the Spirit that Paul wrote about, just repent and ask the Lord to show you how you can take the first step toward seeing that fruit manifested in your life. Talk to Christ followers who you have observed that do have these fruits.

It isn't necessary to go to a church to take these steps. The Lord is already near you. Talk to Him now about these things. Draw near to Him and He will draw near to you.


Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Cooling a Hot Alaska House With Only a Fan

For years when we lived in the Interior of Alaska, we suffered with a hot house on summer evenings. I can remember lying on my back on top of the covers too hot to sleep. The temperature in the house was in the 80's or 90's.....but on the other side of the wall, only a few inches away, the temperature was ten or twenty degrees cooler. Alaska houses are designed to retain heat, so cooling them down on long hot summer evenings can be a problem.

About 15 years ago we learned a trick, and since then we have never suffered from an overly hot house in Alaska. Anchorage set a new official temperature record today (81F, 2 degrees above the previous record), but the house has not been uncomfortable.

The trick is a box fan in the window. We open two windows on opposite sides of the house. We press the box fan up against the screen and keep it in place (in our present house) with a cord secured on either side of the window with screw eyes. The fan takes air from the cool side of the house and exhausts warm inside air out another window.

It seems to be important that the fan is pressed up against the screen. We have tried placing a fan near the window and the effectiveness is markedly reduced. We also cover those parts of the window not covered by fan. The point seems to be to create enough pressure from the fan that the air has to exhaust out another window...which in turn draws in more cool outside air.

If we don't want the noise of the fan, we draw air through a window in the room we want to cool (like where we are sleeping, for example) and exhaust warm air elsewhere in the house. Since warm air rises, we use the fan trick upstairs.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Power of Pentecost

This was originally a sermon given at Anchorage City Church on Pentecost Sunday May 31, 2009. You can hear it online here and see a PowerPoint presentation (as a PDF) here.

Let's first of all anchor this firmly in John's Gospel, starting with John 14:15.
"If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you." Read entire section (John 14:15-27)
Jesus and His 12 disciples are in the Upper Room where they are eating the Passover meal together. This is their last night together, although the disciples don't know this.

As faithful Jews, these 13 men are celebrating an important Jewish holiday this evening. The point of this feast is to remember how the LORD miraculously "passed over" the people of Israel more than 1,200 years earlier.

The Back Story to Passover

The back story to this is that the Israelites had been in Egypt for hundreds of years. At that point they were slaves, they had cried out to God, and God sent Moses to free them. After many chances to let them go, Pharaoh still wasn't willing to give up the Israelite slaves. This one last plague would change his mind.

God told Moses that he was going to kill all the first-born children in Egypt....but He told Moses a way to save the children of Israel. He told Moses that He would "pass over" their houses if the Israelites would dab on their door frames the blood of a lamb without defect. And it happened just like the LORD said, and Pharaoh let the Israelites go.

Pharaoh changed his mind again not long after and went out after them with his chariots. But the Lord saved Israel yet again when He opened a path through the Red Sea....which then closed in over the pursuing Egyptians. God then led them through the desert with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, and He provided for all their needs. Seven weeks after Passover, God gave them the Ten Commandments and the Law on Mount Sinai. This was His first covenant.

Now, as we go through this story today, remember this: seven weeks from Passover to the Law and the Covenant.

You can read the whole story in the book of Exodus. The powerful Exodus story was surely in the hearts of Jesus and His disciples, but I'll bet they were even more focused on what Jesus was telling them.

Although they did not understand the connection right away, Jesus was about to tie together the first Passover and this Passover. More on this in a minute.

Now let's get back to what Jesus was saying to them. Jesus said he would send "another Counselor to be with you forever". He said the Counselor would teach all things and remind them what He had told them.

The word John actually wrote in his Gospel is the Greek word "Paraclete." This can be translated counselor, or one who consoles, one who intercedes on our behalf, a comforter or an advocate. You'll see these words in various English versions of the Bible and they all convey the meaning of paraclete.

After the last supper, Jesus took his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. The religious leaders of the Jews finally caught Him in that private place and within hours had convinced the Roman governor to crucify him.

Connecting the Dots Between Passovers

That's when Jesus connected the dots between the first Passover and this Passover in a majestic fulfillment of prophecy. He submitted to a bloody death on a cross as the sinless lamb of God as a sacrifice to atone for your sins and mine.

Let's take a look at Isaiah 53:5-7. Notice that this prophecy was given 800 years before the event. It is one of many, many Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in Jesus:
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
So, this is the Passover Connection: By the blood of Jesus, the perfect lamb of God, we who believe in Him and follow after Him are spared from eternal death, much like the children of Israel were spared during the first Passover. Jesus blood, and His body, which we remember every time we take communion are what has made possible eternal life with God. Jesus tied together the first and Passover and the fulfillment of it in his last Passover in AD 33.

The blood of lambs without defect on wooden door frames saved the lives of the children of the Israelis in Egypt. The blood of Jesus shed on the wooden cross saves lives from spiritual death and eternal separation from God.

The Power of Pentecost Revealed in the Book of Acts

I told you all that to tell you this. To really understand Pentecost it helps if we first understand Passover.

Let me set the stage for what is about to happen. Picture yourself in a room in Jerusalem with dozens of other disciples. It is now 7 weeks past the Passover season.

You have witnessed Jesus' agonizing crucifixion, and amazingly, you have also seen him alive, complete with the nail scars on his body.

About a week ago, Jesus gave his final instructions to you and the other disciples. Acts 1:8 records some of those words: "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." You probably still don't know what that means. After this you saw him ascend to Heaven, and you have not seen him since.

That was a week ago, and now it is the day of Pentecost or Shavuot [shah-VUE-oat] in Hebrew. Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Law by God on Mount Sinai. Shavuot is still celebrated among faithful Jews around the world as a memorial of covenant renewal, and it comes seven weeks after Passover.

But now it's early on Pentecost morning and something amazing is about to happen. Let's listen to what the Book of Acts says what happened next:
1When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
5Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?
After the onlookers made fun of them and said "they have had too much wine" the Apostle Peter stood and addressed the crowd. At the end of his message, "Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day."

It's easy to focus our attention on the sound of a violent wind. It’s easy to focus our attention on the tongues of fire and the filling of the disciples with the power of the Holy Spirit and the speaking in tongues that they never learned. God got their attention of the disciples and thousands more besides. It has our attention even today. But maybe the greatest significance of that day was that 3,000 were added to their number.

God had given the disciples power to do the works of Christ, and full of the Holy Spirit they had done it and the Church mushroomed from 120 to 3000 in a single day. What a lesson in evangelism!

In the excitement of that day, maybe the significance of the day itself was lost on the 120. But I'll bet that it wasn't long after that they began to see what God had done.

Remember that Pentecost is a Jewish feast of covenant renewal. The first covenant was given from Mt. Sinai. Legends passed on by Jewish rabbis say that one divine voice proclaimed the law from Sinai in 70 languages. The new covenant was confirmed by many voices speaking in many languages under the power of God.

Watch the timing: 50 days after the first Passover, God gave the Law, the first covenant, on Mount Sinai. 50 days after Jesus' resurrection, God ushered in the New Covenant with a demonstration of power and the Holy Spirit came on all the believers.

The Power of Pentecost Today

On this last day of May in 2009, nearly twenty centuries have passed since the Holy Spirit fell with fire on the disciples on the Day of Pentecost. The question for us is this: is Pentecost relevant today and if so what does it mean to us right now? As I have studied and meditated on Pentecost, I have come to see several important meanings relevant to us today.

Perhaps most importantly, Pentecost is a reminder of the great harvest of souls that is our mission and privilege to help bring in. Jesus said in John 4:35 & 36 "Do you not say, 'Four months more and then the harvest'? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together."

The harvest that Jesus is talking about is the souls of the people that He loves, and he loves us all. Not coincidentally, Pentecost to the Jews of first century Israel was also a harvest festival.

The Birth of the Church

The events on that day in AD 33 mark the birth of the Church. That might make it seem like today is a birthday celebration or an anniversary; or maybe a kind of ecclesiastical Fourth of July. But I would say to us that the birth of the Church is much more significant than any of those.

The Church is not an organization, although local churches are organized. It is not a social network, although social networks are important within and between local churches. It is not a political organization, although the Church must be interested in the political process. We are not a benevolent society, although Jesus told us to care for the poor. Neither is the church a building. In fact, the church would continue to exist even if all the buildings we use around the world were destroyed at exactly the same instant.

The Church is more than Anchorage City Church or any other local church. It is more than any denomination or apostolic network of churches. It is more than the Catholic Church or the Orthodox church. It is more than mainline churches or Pentecostal or Charismatic or liturgical churches.

The Church is made up every Christ follower. The apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2 that we are "living stones" being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood." The New Testament word in Greek, ecclesia, which we translate as "Church" means the "called out ones." Clearly we come together in local churches and we work to extend God's kingdom from our local churches, but still, the Church is made up of called out followers of Christ.

The Church is the Body of Christ. It is the visible representation of the invisible power of Jesus. The Church is God's plan for connecting men and women to himself for eternity through the sacrifice of Jesus.

I have heard it said that without the Holy Spirit, the church is only an organization; liturgy only magic, authority only dominance and mission only propaganda. But we do have the Holy Spirit, and we do as God intends when we walk in the power and grace of the Holy Spirit.

Another part of the Power of Pentecost is that the Holy Spirit is now part of the life of every follower of Jesus. In the Old Covenant, the spirit seems to have been given at specific times for specific purposes

At Mount Sinai, 50 days after the first Passover, God wrote the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone and established His First Covenant. Centuries later, In Jerusalem, when the Holy Spirit fell on Jesus' disciples 50 days after that Passover, God wrote His law on the hearts and minds of the disciples as a seal of the New Covenant. This was foretold by the Prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 31:31-33
31 "The time is coming," declares the LORD,
"when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant
I made with their forefathers
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to [a] them, [b] "
declares the LORD.
33 "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time," declares the LORD.
"I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
Has the LORD put His law in your mind and written it on your heart? If you have committed your life to Jesus, then you have the Holy Spirit. If you want the paraclete, the Holy Spirit, in your life, the first step is to turn away from sin and ask Jesus to come into your life. Romans 10:9 says "if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believes in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."

Ephesians 1:13 says "And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit."

When we make those steps of repentance, confession and belief, the Holy Spirit will come into our lives and be a paraclete to us….he will be a counselor…. comforter…. advocate.

There is also a place where you and I can be filled and fully possessed by the Holy Spirit. In the New Testament, when people were filled with the Holy Spirit they were able to do the works of Christ with boldness and power. It was a definite and distinct experience which took them to a higher level in the Spirit. This Holy Spirit filling is just as available to us 21st century believers as it was to those in the first century.

As wonderful as the experience may be, what is really important is what comes from it. We know a person is filled with the Holy Spirit when we see someone who is led by the Spirit and obedient to Him. We see someone who honors God with his life, rather than seeking after his own desires. We see someone who is looking for what the Holy Spirit is doing, and joining up with that. We see the fruit of the spirit the Apostle Paul wrote about in Galatians 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. These things don’t come from humanity, but from God.

Frank Bartleman wrote that "Pentecost opens a possibility to walk where the flesh no longer sets the agenda…….Walking in the Spirit is walking in the way of the cross with Holy Spirit leading."
If you are a believer, you have the Holy Spirit. And if you are a believer you can also ask God to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Being filled is not a one time experience, because we leak.

Sin is what separates us from God and sin is what causes the leaks in our filling. Obedience to God and holiness is what brings us close to Him, and that is what maintains a life of being filled with the Holy Spirit. A life led by the Spirit is a life of relationship with God. Just like a relationship with a spouse or a friend, a spirit-led life happens when it involves time alone with God.

Conclusion

Let me finish by saying something personal. While I still far from perfect, and I still sin from time to time, I know the Holy Spirit is in me because I have heard Him speak to me audibly on several occasions and very often in my inner man. The Holy Spirit is a great comfort to me. I am deeply grateful that the Lord made the Power of Pentecost a reality in my life when I opened my heart to Christ.

I'd like to ask you to take a moment to consider how you should respond to this message. For some of you, I know that Jesus has been calling you to take a step of faith towards Him. Jesus says, I stand at the door and knock, and maybe He is knocking at the door of your heart wanting to transform your life into something better than you could possibly imagine. If that is you, you can open the door to your heart today.

Maybe you are already a Christ follower, but you want to be filled with the Holy Spirit more than you have ever known. You can ask the Lord for that on your own, or ask another believer to pray with you to be filled.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Transformational Living

More than 2 in 3 prisoners returned to American society in 1994 committed another crime which landed them back in jail. There is a basic flaw in a correctional system that has such a high rate of failure to correct. We are as a society just warehousing criminals and then returning them to the streets...in many cases with new skills and contacts for perpetrating more serious crimes.

And we have the highest per capita incarceration rate in the world: 751 locked up per 100,000 population. Even Russia is less with 627 per 100,000.

But there is a ray of hope for turning around the lives of prisoners. I met it last night at the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center in Eagle River. It is the Transformational Living Community operated at several prisons around the US. Here's what the Alaska Correctional Ministries website has to say about the program:
"The Transformational Living Community (TLC) is an intensive 12-18 month faith-based residential therapeutic program within the prison setting focusing God's transforming power relative to the issues of addiction and life controlling problems in an offenders life. The recidivism rate currently is between 11-15% for those who complete the program and have returned to the community. This compares to a general national norm of about 70%.

This multi-phase program is designed to provide a new alternative to traditional types of correctional rehabilitation programs in which the spiritual dimension of an offender's life becomes the primary gateway to habilitation. Prisoners volunteer to be admitted and may volunteer to leave at any time. The residents live together in a positive, supportive community environment and are expected to embrace high levels of personal accountability, responsibility, and commitment to change. Every aspect of the program is designed to help the residents embrace and internalize truth, and to make the kind of changes that are necessary, so that when they come back into the community they will be a person much better equipped for return to society."
A group of us visited Hiland last night and saw a presentation of how the Community works and met 20-some women who volunteered for the program. Participants in the community live and study together and support one another. "I am my sister's keeper", a large banner ready. A mural depicting Jesus standing on the water lifting Peter from the waves fills a wall. The letters in a large "Transformational Warriors" banner are filled with scripture verses.

A chaplain whose meager salary is paid by donors is the shepherd for this small flock. Volunteer mentors from "outside" visit every week and spend time with inmates.

We listened as the inmates sang songs of faith in Christ. Two shared movingly about their broken lives. A former Hiland inmate who came with us talked about how Jesus had been the key to transformation in her life. As I looked into each face, I saw a common element in their eyes: hope!

The community is made possible by a willing correctional center administration and the contributions of churches. The TLC is entirely faith-based, and could not exist without theses contributions.

The astonishing success of the TLC is due to the transforming power of Christ. Prison experts we talked with said nothing else comes remotely close to this.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Between Passover and Pentecost

We are on May 17 in the days between Passover and Pentecost; between the Old Testament feast memorializing the passing over of the Jews by the Death Angel at the beginning of the Exodus, and the New Testament holy day memorializing the Fall of Holy Spirit in Jerusalem.

The Passover that was has for Christ followers become the Easter that is. At Passover, the blood of lambs smeared on the door frames of Israelite homes in Egypt purchased protection from the Death Angel. On that first Easter weekend, the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God, purchased protection from death for all who following Him. Said another way, Christ's Good Friday sacrifice on Easter morning opened the doors of Heaven -- much like the blood of lambs at Passover opened the door to the Promised Land long before.

In the centuries before Pentecost the Holy Spirit was given to a few for specific purposes. At Pentecost, God fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31-34 and sent the Holy Spirit for the first time to all who believe.

Frank Bartleman observed that Pentecost opens a possibility to walk where the flesh no longer sets the agenda. The fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, etc....these are signs of Holy Spirit baptism. Walking in the Spirit is walking in the way of the cross with Holy Spirit leading.

But, will we arrive at the fullness of Pentecost where the fruits of the Spirit operate in us, or are we lingering at the glory of Easter? It is a good thing to believe in Jesus and to follow Him, but it is an even better thing to also have the power of the Holy Spirit working in us.

Let us press forward to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the supernatural power that comes with it to do the works of Christ !

Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Castle, the Cathedral and the Smokestacks

I originally published this in 2003, I believe. A shorter form of this also appeared in the Anchorage Daily News.

In a beautiful city whose skyline boasts the distinctive shape of a castle of Swedish kings and the soaring spires of the flagship cathedral of the Church of Sweden, the very tall smokestacks of Uppsala's Vattenfall seem at first a little out of place. But I came to understand over the course of a year spent there recently that they, like the castle and the cathedral, are monuments in their own right.

The purposes of the castle and the cathedral were fairly obvious, but I did not for some months understand the purposes of the smokestacks. They were not far from our house, and each time I stepped out, I could see them over the tops of the trees near our house. I thought they were simply industrial smokestacks. A neighbor explained them to me one day in excellent English.

The heat always on during cold days and nights in our multi-unit house was piped to us from the Vattenfall (= waterfall) plant, he said. Electricity comes from the same source; augmented, of course, by a regional electric power grid. What surprised me about what he said was that waste burnables are also burned here, and contribute to heat and light. It was a cool afternoon, but even so, the smoke was not very visible. Efficient scrubbers cleaned most of the particulates out of the smoke stream.

Nearly all of Uppsala is heated from the plant at the base of the Vattenfall smokestacks. Steam radiates out through the community in subterranean corridors. Radiators in the floor or along the walls or in heat exchangers are always on in inverse proportion to outside temperature. Individual radiator controls allow for variation within a building.

We had pieced together much of the rest of the system over our preceding months in the community. We had learned early on that trash must be separated before disposal: source sorting it is called. The signs - in Swedish -- on the garbage containers outside our row house were cryptic at first, but my lexicon clarified that the biggest was for burnables. Another was for organic material - compost. Others were for cardboard or heavy paper, hard plastic, and metal. Disposal trucks came on a regular schedule to haul away one or the other. Our house association paid for this.

We could throw away plastic drink containers if we wanted, but the fact was we were strongly motivated to return them to a grocery store. The bigger containers had a return deposit fee of about $0.40. Besides….it was fun to put the bottles in the automated return devices. We put them in headfirst, waited for the green light and put in the next bottle. Crates of beverage bottles could be returned for credit in specialized machines in larger stores. Beverages packaged in aluminum cans had automated machines, too, and printed credit slips just like those for plastic. We would hand the bar-coded credit slip to the cashier, and reduce the overall price for our grocery items.

If you looked at my list above closely, you might have noticed the absence of glass waste, newspapers and magazines. Glass items we cleaned and brought to large round-top containers scattered around the community marked "colored" and "clear." Swedes use more glass in packaging food than we do. Light bulbs had to go into yet another container, as did dry cell batteries. Newspapers and magazines we placed in a central location in the common area of the house. They were bagged monthly and left out for the recycling trucks.

We never threw away anything large, like a television set, a car, or a computer, but each of these have disposal procedures as well. I think the largest item I disposed of was our small Christmas tree. I cut off its limbs, cut the trunk in half and placed it among the burnables. Sometime later it returned to us in the form of electricity and heat.

There is more to the recycling system than I have indicated here. Our limited command of the language kept us from more fully understanding its intricacies, but what we saw impressed us with its integration and completeness. We never thought it onerous or complicated. We quickly adapted to life with multiple disposal containers.

While we observed a bit of litter in some particularly public places, by and large, Sweden is an exceptionally clean country. A well-entrenched recycling system contributes to that, but I believe it is also true that most Swedes are temperamentally inclined to keep their surroundings clean.

Pollution is a fact of life wherever people live, but Swedes have done an impressive job of reducing the fouling of their air and water. The waters of Lake Mälaren flow in several channels through Stockholm, the capital and largest city. In the summer months, some Swedes fish right downtown - and the fact that they can and do eat their catch is a remarkable testament of their national commitment to clean air and water.

While I recognize great differences exist between Sweden and Alaska, there may be some lessons for us here. Uppsala is about the latitude of Homer, and the climate is somewhat similar to Anchorage, although a little warmer in winter.

People in Uppsala don't seem to think much about recycling and sorting their waste…it's just the way these people live. It is an obviously more expensive system than that here, but seems to me to have advantages in reducing waste and energy costs.

My first glimpses of Uppsala took in with admiration the huge spires of the cathedral. Built beginning in the 13th century, it is a national treasure and a testament to the Christian heritage of the nation. Only slightly newer, the castle occupies a commanding hill nearby. Unusual in shape, it is still obviously a building of significance in the community. While I admire these two edifices, I find my imagination returning again and again to the tall Vattenfall smokestacks and the carefully organized system of recycling and reuse they represent that is so well applied in this ancient Swedish city.

The Book of books

Here's what showed up this week on the NY Times Best Seller list:
1. LIBERTY AND TYRANNY, by Mark R. Levin
2. OUTLIERS, by Malcolm Gladwell
3. COLUMBINE, by Dave Cullen
4. ALWAYS LOOKING UP, by Michael J. Fox
5. THE GIRLS FROM AMES, by Jeffrey Zaslow
Perhaps these are all good and worthwhile books, but none is familiar to me. Chances are very good in 50 years, they will be more or less unknown. In a 100 years, they will be antiques.

There's another book that isn't on the list. It's the best seller every week of every year. It is not listed because it would always be number one.

That book is the Bible. There have also been more Bibles printed than any other book; I've seen estimates ranging from 2.5 to about 6 billion since the invention of the printing press. It has been translated into over 2,000 languages, and more language versions are appearing every year.

At first it was copied letter by letter onto parchment or papyrus scrolls by scribes who went far beyond careful to insure there were not copying errors. The text we use today has an incredibly small number of differences from copies made almost 2,000 years ago.

The Bible is not just one book; it's 66 different books written over a span of around 1500 years. We believe the Bible was written by people inspired by God.

And what it really is is a love letter from God to man. When you look at it as a whole, what you see is this incomprehensible love of God for humanity. The story line throughout all these books is this: He made us, but we have often turned away from him, still he keeps pursuing us with a love that will not quit. That story continues even today. Here is a very small sample from the book of Jeremiah (29:11):

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

This book of books; this Bible will open doorways for you, as it has me, into a life of connectedness with the God of the universe. All we have to do is read it and let these timeless truths change our hearts.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Real Significance of Easter

Give or take a few years, today is the 1,982nd anniversary of THE pivotal event in human history. It is the one event that has shaped people and humanity more than any other before or since.

On one level, I have nothing new to tell you. This is an old, old story about a cross and an empty tomb and being saved from the wrath of God, and Satan and sin and Hell. A few billion people are hearing this basic story around the Earth on this day. Interestingly, our brothers and sisters in Eastern Orthodox Christianity celebrate Easter next weekend....but that's another story.

But what if this year there was a new wrinkle in the story? What if archaeologists had found the bones of a man they had identified as Jesus of Nazareth; a man crucified. And what if after months of study, archaeologists concluded that without a doubt this man had been the Jesus of the New Testament.

What would that do to your faith? Would you be able to soldier on as a Christian? I'll tell you what it would have done to my faith: I would cease being a Christian.

But I am here to tell you that the bones of Jesus will never be found on this planet. Let's review what happened on those three amazing spring days 2,000 years ago, and then I'm going to tell you why you and I can have unshakable confidence in Christ's resurrection and all that it means.

I am fascinated by how Isaiah 53 foretells the first part of the story with uncanny accuracy. The accuracy is particularly uncanny in that it was written 700 years before Christ.

The basics of the first part of the story – the Good Friday part – are well known. The Apostle John tells the story from his first-hand experience in John 19:16-42. Each of the Gospels have this basic story, but each approaches it a little differently.

From the viewpoint of the outside world looking into Jerusalem on that day, what happened must have not seemed very different than any other day. Here is the “10,000 foot view:”
  • In late March or early April of about the year 27, a Jewish carpenter who was leading some kind of miracle movement was sentenced to death by crucifixion.
  • His was not the only crucifixion that day, and probably not the only one that week.
  • The Romans had perfected crucifixion. It was an exquisitely cruel method of using gravity and nails to slowly and agonizingly execute criminals, rebels, and others that got in their way. Swedes call Good Friday, the day of Jesus' death, Långfredag which means "long Friday" in memory of the suffering of Jesus over many hours.
  • History tells us that crucifixion was commonly used from Rome to Persia for about 1,000 years. It was finally abolished out of veneration for Jesus about AD 300 by Constantine, the first Christian emperor of the Roman Empire.
  • The Jews were a particularly difficult-to-govern people in the Roman empire and the provincial governors must have thought crucifixion would help keep the population under their control.
Basically, the crucifixion of the Jewish carpenter was just one more in a long line of them. It wasn't big news....at least when the crucifixion got started. This crucifixion didn't follow the usual pattern, however.

First, and for no apparent reason, the curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place in the temple was torn from top to bottom. Second, there was a violent earthquake and the sun went dark. And even one of the soldiers recognized that this man he had helped to kill was special, and called him a son of God.

While it was still light, the soldiers gave Jesus body to Joseph and Nicodemus, and they prepared His body for burial and laid it in a tomb. The Chief Priest asked permission to seal the tomb, and guard it with soldiers, and that is what they did. That was the end of the first day.

Night fell, and it was the Sabbath. The Gospels are silent about the events of this day, but Jesus body lay in the tomb all day. The soldiers continued guarding his tomb. The disciples must have been in shock. What must have been going on in the minds of the disciples on this Sabbath day? Fear and doubt must have been right there at the top of their fevered imaginations. The Gospels record that they kept their doors locked for fear of the Jews. I doubt they slept much.

The religious elite must have been expecting to finally have been done with that troublesome Nazarene....but surely they were struggling on this Sabbath because the crucifixion did not go as they planned. And the people who had a week earlier cried Hosanna, Hosanna must have wondered what had happened to the man they hoped would be king.

But then night fell again, and it was the third day; the day we now call Easter Sunday. Let's pick up the story in John 20:1-19.

Most people, at least here in the West, whether Christ followers or not, have heard the story of Jesus' resurrection. Why do we still believe this incredible story after nearly 20 centuries have passed? Let's take a look at some of the proofs:
  • First of all, the Bible tells us so. There are four separate accounts, essentially the same, by four different authors. Matthew and John witnessed the events first hand. Mark wrote down the words of Peter (according to Church tradition) and Luke interviewed eyewitnesses. There is general agreement in the stories, but not so much as to suggest collusion.
  • Doubters suggest that Jesus didn't really die; that He just swooned. But the scourging was enough to kill some, and that combined with crucifixion was enough to kill the strongest. Even if He had survived that and the spear thrust to the heart, he would have suffocated in nearly 100 pounds of linen and burial spices.
  • People of the first century world did not believe in life after death, with the exception of a few sects of Judaism, and they believed in an afterlife, not life on earth after death. That Jesus returned to actual living life on earth burst like a bombshell in the first century and that is why Christianity spread so quickly -- people rightly interpreted this as a powerful sign from Heaven, and they are still interpreting it that way today.
  • Acts 6:7 records this astonishing statement: "So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith." I'll bet I read that a dozen times before the other shoe dropped. These priests were invested in the Jewish religious system: why would they lose it all by becoming disciples of Jesus? It's because the resurrection happened, and everyone in Jerusalem knew it.
  • Peter turned from a coward to a bold lion. How did that happen? Because he had seen the resurrected Jesus. It was the same with the other disciples. Here were men who had fled in the night on Thursday who on Sunday suddenly had, and kept, courage to proclaim their faith even to the point of death. Will people die for a lie? If they had made up the story of Jesus resurrection, would they be willing to die for their fabrication?
  • What would it take for you to worship your brother as God? In Jesus case, resurrection from the dead had that effect for His brothers. Two of Jesus' brothers were transformed from doubters to believers and became leaders in the early Church, and wrote books in the NT.
  • Then there is the evidence of dramatic transformation in my own life and the lives of people around us, and men and women through history
There are many proofs that the resurrection of Jesus is really true. These are just a few.

The real significance of Easter is that the reality of Jesus as God burst into the minds of men and women. It is still bursting into our minds today almost 2000 years later.

If Jesus rose alive from the dead, then the Good News of the Kingdom of God is the best news of history. It is hope for you and it is hope for me and it is hope for every person who ever lives.

It is hope for a life without drama; hope for healing; for deliverance; hope for peace; hope for forgiveness of all that we have done wrong that separates us from God.

Jesus did not come to us as a mighty king, but humbly, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. He does not command us as a king, but as a suffering servant, He offers us entrance to his Kingdom. He does not call us servants, but friends.

The real significance of Easter is the same today as it was on that first Easter: Christ has purchased our pardon, and He has opened a way back to God. He has made possible eternal life with God instead of eternal separation and torment. We now have a true and living hope.

If today you are far from God, His kingdom is closer than you think. You need only repent of your sins and ask the Lord to forgive you. In the Book of Romans, it is written that that if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Happy Easter!