Thursday, March 15, 2018

There is always more to learn about Easter

by Barrett Vanlandingham
March 27, 2018

          On behalf of children everywhere, please restrain yourselves from telling the kids to go hunt Easter eggs you haven’t hidden yet just so you can say, “April Fools!!”
          The last time Easter Sunday fell on April 1st was in 1998, and the next time will be in 2029. So if your 2-year old doesn’t get the joke this time, you can always try it again when they’re 13 (smile).
          The floating date of Easter was decided long ago. In 325 A.D. Roman Emperor Constantine gathered 300 church leaders from several countries to have a meeting in Nicaea (in Turkey). Their discussions decided Easter should not coincide with a particular phase of the moon. This resulted in Easter being placed on or after the first day of spring (vernal equinox) on the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring.
          We can be sure that today’s Easter celebrations of Jesus’ resurrection take place during the correct season because Jesus ate the Jewish Passover meal the same week He was crucified. The Passover celebration always took place the same time of year.
          On Thursday of that week, after Jesus and His disciples ate the Passover meal (aka: Last Supper), the Jewish supreme court, known as the Sanhedrin, had Jesus arrested and convicted on false charges. On Friday, the Romans crucified Jesus. Then, a wealthy member of the court who was a secret follower of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea, got permission from the governor of Judea, Pilate, to take down Jesus’ body, wrap it, and place it in a “tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid” (Luke 23:53).  
          We do not know much about Joseph, except for his generosity that day, and the fact that he did not consent to the crucifixion (Luke 23:51). We can only presume that if word got out about who cared for Jesus’ body, Joseph would have faced great persecution, along with his helper and co-council member, Nicodemus.
          Something tells me that when the events of Sunday came, those who believed in Jesus knew without a doubt that any trouble they faced in this life because of Jesus would have been worth it. The same is true today.  Have a great week!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Some memories may never go away

by Barrett Vanlandingham
March 20, 2018

          With Easter only two more Sundays away, I can’t help but feel a little nostalgic thinking about family gatherings over the years. And though they get harder to remember with each passing year, it occurs to me that memories may last longer than we think.
          In the after-life, whether saved or unsaved, our family and friends will remember life on earth. It makes sense that heaven will seem sweeter if we are able to remember how we got there. Likewise, those who receive eternal punishment will be more remorseful by remembering their choices. In either case, earthly memories will figure in to how “we’ll understand it all by and by.”
          In the after-life story of the rich man who was in “Torment”, and poor man Lazarus who was in “Abraham’s side” or “Paradise,” Abraham indicates he was aware of the unfortunate relationship between the rich man and Lazarus while they were living, and how the rich man showed little, if any, compassion. Abraham basically said it was too late for the rich man to change his sad outcome.
          The rich man wanted Lazarus to bring him some cool water, but the separation between them prevented this. The rich man also wanted Lazarus to go back to his father’s house to warn his five living brothers so they could repent (Luke 16:19-31). Abraham said the rich man’s brothers wouldn’t listen anyway, even if the messenger were a resurrected dead man!       
          By the way, Abraham’s talk of living people and a messenger’s resurrection from the dead seems to indicate the immediate after-life mentioned here is not the same as heaven or hell which comes at Judgment Day.
          Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John each have wonderful accounts of the resurrection of Jesus, and of His interactions with friends afterwards. It will be amazing someday to stand in the same circle with men and women who witnessed Jesus’ final days here, and to see their faces as they remember, and tell their stories of gratitude.
          I encourage each of you to spend time with God, family, and friends on Easter Sunday and every day possible. And even though our special memories here will fade with time, that won’t be the case forever.  Have a great week!

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Counting down to Easter with special memories

by Barrett Vanlandingham
March 13, 2018

          When I was a kid, one of my favorite things was to smell the roses and irises that bloomed in our front yard in the spring. It was a close race on which one smelled the best.
          One year, I remember asking my mom if I could cut off one of the roses for me to wear to church that morning because it was Easter Sunday. I remember that day well because I figured the answer would probably be “no” since the rose bushes were quite a showpiece for our yard. But to my surprise and joy, my mom said, “sure!”  There were bunches of them, so I picked the one I wanted, and mom helped me pin it to my suit jacket.
          That was a good day. I wore that rose to church with pride. I don’t remember if any of the other boys got to wear a rose. But I am thankful I did. The sunshine that day, the roses, and the satisfaction of getting to wear a rose on Easter Sunday has stuck in my mind ever since.
          I knew that particular Sunday, out of all the others in the year, must be very special since my mom let me pick that rose.  I would find out later that, in fact, Easter Sunday is more significant than I ever knew! It is the day that Christians all around the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the day in history that proved to the world that Jesus was actually the “anointed one” or “the Christ.” He was and still is the Son of God!
          Jesus’ identity as the Son of God was proven to be true by the empty grave, and by his many appearances to hundreds of people during the forty days he spent on earth between the resurrection and his ascension to the Father.
          The resurrected Jesus was not a ghost. His disciples grabbed hold of his feet and worshipped him, Thomas felt Jesus’ scars. Other disciples ate meals with Him.
          The probability of a risen Savior is believable, not just because of the mountains of Bible and non-Bible evidence, but because of the countless lives that have been changed for the better. Have a great week!

Friday, March 02, 2018

Easter really is a big deal

by Barrett Vanlandingham
March 6, 2018

          In less than a month, people everywhere will be celebrating Easter. Many locals here in Fort Gibson will bring their children to our church grounds for a massive egg hunt on Saturday, March 31 at 1:00pm. Others will celebrate by participating in a special Easter worship service that focuses on Christ’s resurrection.
          I enjoy both kinds of celebration. After all, who doesn’t like to watch children hunting eggs, and who doesn’t like to hear the story of Jesus’ resurrection in a worship setting or in a play? The Bible is a huge fan of events that bring people together, and provide opportunities for Christians to practice hospitality in our communities (Luke 14:12-14, Matthew 25:34-40, 1 Peter 4:8-9, Romans 12:13-20). There may not be a command of “Thou shalt celebrate Easter” in the Bible, but we no doubt are directed to meet (Hebrews 10:25) and learn God's word.
          Some of the final words Jesus spoke are recorded in the Great Commission. It’s where Jesus told his disciples to go and make more followers, baptizing them and “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).  The word “all” is a very big word and would certainly include teachings about the resurrection which is key to making followers.
          The apostle Paul told young Timothy that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).  Once again, the word “all” is used, followed by several descriptions of how the stories of the Bible are to be used.
          After Jesus healed a man possessed by a demon, Jesus told him to “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you” (Mark 5:19). There is no greater gift to tell people about than the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
          Christ commanded his disciples to “be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Jesus said those words after His resurrection from the tomb, just before He ascended back to His Father. His followers had an obligation to tell others about these wonderful events! We do too.  Have a great week!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Sin is no match for grace

by Barrett Vanlandingham
February 27, 2018

          Everyone sins. The Bible says so, and in our heart of hearts, we know so. Some sins are intentional or willful, others are accidental. So even though we all have free will, nobody is exempt from stumbling into the long arm of temptation.
          “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
          We also know that any sin, great or small, is enough to send us to hell if we are not in a spiritually saved condition.
          “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
          The phrase “in Christ Jesus” is important. The apostle Paul tells us that believers get “into Christ” (where eternal life is) by being baptized (Romans 6:3-5 and Galatians 3:26-27). It is only because of God’s grace that He allows any of us to follow this path of righteousness that leads to salvation (Romans 5:20-6:2).
          Grace is an amazing thing. We really would be lost without Jesus’ commitment to saving us in spite of our continual shortcomings. We can do and do and do, but none of us can earn a spot in heaven. It is God’s grace that not only makes up the difference for our failures, but gives our faith, trust, and obedience one more great reason to exist in the first place, in other words, a legitimate place in helping decide our eternal destiny.
          Jesus said, “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done” (Matthew 16:27).
          If you’re like me, you sometimes have difficulty accepting and forgiving struggling sinners, while rejecting the sin. But God is patient with us (2 Peter 3:9), and he forgives us even though we are not deserving. God wants us to do the same for others (Matthew 6:15). God also wants us to love and pray for those who hurt us, and to be merciful to the ungrateful (Luke 6:27-36).
          This week, let’s strive to forgive and accept struggling sinners, and let God deal with their sin and ours, too.  Have a good day!

Friday, February 16, 2018

There is no reason to live in confusion

by Barrett Vanlandingham
February 20, 2018

          One day it’s 15-degrees, another day it’s 75, then 40.  Ice, sunshine, then rain.  Nothing seems to be consistent with the weather these days except for the inconsistency. People who live life like this experience no peace and no joy here on earth.
          There is One who can offer us everything we need, because He is the Creator of all things, and He is always consistent. He is our Lord God. The writer of the book of Hebrews reminds us of the importance of putting God first.  He alone is the answer to all of our worries and problems. The writer also reminds us to take note of faithful Christians whose priorities are evident by the fruit of their lives.
          “5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9 Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings” (Hebrews 13:5-8).
          Notice this passage does not say you will live a life free of problems. It says God will help us every step of the way when we make the choice to walk His righteous path. The Bible reminds us trouble will come even for those who live righteously, citing “a servant is not greater than his master” (John 15:18-21). But Jesus reassures us that since He overcame the world, we will too if we follow Him (ref: John 16:33).
          Even though these sporadic weather days make no sense to us any more than the struggles of life, we’re not God, and there is no way we can understand life’s challenges and disappointments, and how “God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28). But we can know for sure that God understands, and He sees clearly the victory that is ours because of His Son. Have a great week!

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Love, it’s the best!!

by Barrett Vanlandingham
February 13, 2018

          Articles I’ve read say the 55-percent of Americans who celebrate Valentine’s Day will spend about $140 a person. That’s nearly 20-billion dollars in cards, candy, flowers, going out to dinner, and other gifts.
          Love is an amazing thing. And even though God created it, people have tried for generations to improve upon it. But anything other than God’s description of love is not love at all. The apostle Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 13 to describe “the most excellent way” of life:
          “1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
          4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
          8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
          13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
Have a great week!