Easter is more than bunnies and baskets

By Erika Rizkallah

In a few days, millions of Christians will celebrate Easter — an observance of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Savior of the world.

As a child, I didn’t know about Jesus. For me, Easter was all about the basket. For some reason my father hid the baskets from us.  My brother and I would jump out of bed and spend the morning searching for it.

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I suppose it was easier for a single dad to hide two baskets instead of a bunch of eggs, but it’s one of my fondest memories. I grew up in a non-religious home so we didn’t go to church and I didn’t realize the holiday had anything to do with Jesus.

It meant little more than the beginning of spring break, all fun and games!

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Now, Easter is ripe with meaning. Truthfully, I hate reading about most of the details surrounding the Easter story.

The way Jesus was treated before his death fills me with sadness. I can’t help but feel the agony of what he went through — the betrayal of Judas, the illegality of the trials and brutality of the crucifixion.

In my quiet time yesterday I learned something new and I thought I’d share it with you. But first I have to set the scene . . .

Jesus has already been accosted and arrested in the garden at Gethsemane. The chief priests handed him over to Pilate to be condemned to death and Peter has disowned him. He’s flogged within an inch of his life. Leather whips embedded with bits of bone and lead rip through skin and muscle.

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Then he’s taken into the Governor’s hall and surrounded by the whole company of soldiers. The Bible tells us that they stripped him, dressed him in a scarlet robe and pushed a crown of thorns onto his head. And then they mocked him and knelt in front of him, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” After that, they spit on him and beat him in the head repeatedly with a staff.

This part of the story saddens and repulses me. But what I didn’t know is that for the Roman soldiers, this was a popular game they played with condemned prisoners. There was an actual game board etched into the floor. They would roll the dice and move the “king” around the board while the troops mocked and abused him.

Talk about adding insult to injury.

And though at any time Jesus could have commanded more than twelve legions of angels to rescue him, he didn’t.

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He sacrificed himself and saved us. This is why we celebrate and commemorate his victory over death.

After the crucifixion the sky went dark and a tremendous earthquake shook the land. The only people standing near him were a centurion and a group of guards.

Matthew 27:54 says, When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!

It makes me wonder how they spent the rest of the day.

What grace our God has given us — let us never forget what Easter is truly about!

 

 

What’s missing in your walk with Jesus?

By Erika Rizkallah

One of the most well known stories in the New Testament begins in Mark 10:17. It’s the story of the rich young ruler.

As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a young man ran up to him, threw himself at his feet and said, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

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The first thing Jesus points out is his error. He asks, “Why do you call me good? No one is good — except God alone.”

I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the response he expected. After all, he was rich, young and a ruler. He would have been used to people kowtowing to him.

His had the correct approach. First of all, he ran up to Jesus — something a dignified and respected man would never do in that culture. Then he threw himself at Jesus’ feet, another unusual action for a man in his position.

It was a declaration of worship and I believe he really wanted to know the answer to his question.

But Jesus often does and says the unexpected.

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Jesus responded, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’

The ruler declared, “Teacher, all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

I love the next sentence. The Bible says Jesus looked at him and loved him. This story is often told and preached in pulpits all over the world . . . with the love part left out.

“One thing you lack,” said Jesus. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

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At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

I always feel for the guy when I hear this story. Here was a person who seemingly had it all: youth, wealth and power and yet, he walks away from the conversation in a state of sadness and uncertainty.

Jesus used the episode as a teaching moment for his disciples. He says, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

This flips the disciples out — they’re shocked and amazed — because during that time, it was thought that wealth and power were signs of blessing from God. A guarantee of gaining entrance to Heaven.

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Sometimes we come to Jesus asking deep questions and don’t get the expected answers. But maybe that’s the point.

Only he knows what we truly lack. Only he knows what hinders our faith walk.

But like the rich young ruler, we first have to be brave enough to ask the question.

How about you? What questions have you asked Jesus lately?

 

 

Pursuing peace and quiet

By Erika Rizkallah

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The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures,

he leads me beside quiet waters,

he restores my soul.

Psalm 23:1-3

What pictures come to mind when you think about the words peace and quiet?

Try closing your eyes and pondering for a moment. Go ahead, I’m waiting.

These are a few images that come to my mind:

landscape-photo-2930249_1920I don’t fish so I’m not sure why this is.

canola-fields-1911392_1920I’m not a farmer, but whenever I see rolling hills and fields, my spirit sighs and settles.

snow-3084740_1920  Maybe I’ve read one too many fairy tales, but this makes my heart happy!

The moments I savor and crave most are those when my home or yard is still. The house is silent and I’m alone. No groan of lawnmowers chewing up the grass, horns honking, or people whining.

Silence energizes and the sounds of nature refresh our souls. And yet, what a nosy and noisy world we live in.

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Sometimes I imagine what it was like before God created mankind. But of course, mankind what just what he had in mind. The Bible teaches us that after he created the world, he made Adam out of the dust. He created Eve out of Adam’s rib — flesh of his flesh, bone of his bone.

He placed them in a garden and walked with them and all was well for awhile.

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I think that original beauty and silence is sorely lacking today. I believe we need to find our way back and snatch up as much of it as we can. But silence is scary for a lot of people these days.

How can we hear the Holy Spirit’s whispers if our ears are crammed with noise and our homes rife with strife?

How can we commune with the creator if we stuff our lives with the busyness of the world?

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What do you think? Do you have enough quiet time in your life? Do you make getting alone with God (or yourself) a priority? Do you fear what you might hear?

God loves when we seek him in this way. He loves to whisper into our spirit and he delights in our attempts to hear him.

In 1 Timothy 2:2 the apostle Paul gives instructions for worship and prayer. He asks that we pray for our leaders “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

This is worth pursuing.

Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. James 3:18

 

He believes we can fly

By Erika Rizkallah 

Yesterday morning during my quiet time with God, my feral cat Moo Moo, began to bark. These were strange sounds coming from a kitty who’s named for a cow and meows like a mouse.

I looked up to see him standing on his hind legs on the back of my sitting room chair. He swiped furiously at something in the corner of a casement window. He’s a weird dude, but this was unusual behavior, even for him.

My big burly guy has a teeny-tiny girly voice except when he’s “hunting” indoors  — he’s terrified of the outside.

I got up to look and noticed a bee hovering near the top of my leaky window. It was a sunny and windy day so I figured I’d do him (and me) a favor and send him on his way.

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I popped open the window to give him plenty of room to fly. Instead, he flattened his wings and clung to the glass. I waited, thinking surely it’s a better option than death by cat, but he didn’t seem to agree.

So then I grabbed a magazine and gave him a gentle push, but he clung to the magazine. I helped him further by shaking the magazine into the wind, and instead of flying, he seemed to fall.

I yelled, What’s the problem you dumb bee? You’re in your element. God gave you wings!

Just then, a small still voice spoke into my spirit, Look who’s talking. You’re in your element. I gave you gifts. I gave you wings and yet you cling and refuse to pursue the purpose I have in mind for you. 

God. Smacked.

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Can you relate? Do you feel like God’s been calling you to something more and yet you choose to bide your time, waiting in fear or apprehension?

Sometimes he uses the pressure of an enemy or a gentle wind to shake us out of complacency. Sometimes he pushes us out of the window himself.

I wanted to share my lesson with you today because I feel like someone needs to hear it.

Our Heavenly Father created us with purpose and a plan to fill this broken world with love and light. He’s the only one who truly knows what we’re capable of, and he’ll do whatever it takes to push us toward the goal.

He won’t let us fall — he believes we can fly.