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“Sunday, April 12, is the date the global Orthodox church will celebrate Easter Sunday, according to the Julian calendar. For the first time, perhaps in centuries, Iraqi and Syrian Christians, many of whom are Orthodox, will not celebrate Easter Westminster_Abbey_martyrs_stitch_cin their home churches, but rather in camps for refugees and displaced people.” (Timothy C. Morgan, Gleanings, NY Cardinal, ‘AD’ Producers Step Up Campaign against Mideast Persecution,
7 April 2015)

Persecution and killing of people due to their religious beliefs in the MiddleEast and Africa ought to weigh heavily on our hearts and minds. Those persecuted and their families should be in our prayers. But we need to do more. We need to speak out against the violence and intolerance, and we should assist those who have lost homes or livelihoods as a result of the persecution. Two websites which provide information on the situation and offer avenues to assist are 21martyrs and The Cradle Fund. I encourage you to visit these sites, read news reports from the regions, and prayerfully ask God to guide you in assisting our friends and enemies in the affected areas.

sunrise-153600_1280“To put it at its most basic: the resurrection of Jesus offers itself, to the student of history or science no less than the Christian or the theologian, not as an odd event within the world as it is but as the utterly characteristic, prototypical and foundational event within the world as it has begun to be. It is not an absurd event within the old world but the symbol and starting point of the new world. The claim advanced in Christianity is of that magnitude: Jesus of Nazareth ushers in not simply a new religious possibility, not simply a new ethic or a new way of salvation, but a new creation.”
— N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, p.67

Recommended reading for today: Seven Stanzas at Easter by John Updike.

The gospels have many passages which speak of God’s love for us and God’s desire to give us good gifts. In Matthew 7, Jesus teaches, “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” God’s giving of good gifts does not spring from pity for us poor humans, or from a sense of responsibility for having created us, but from God’s love for us.

Jesus speaks of the depth and intimacy of God’s love when he tells us that “even the hairs of your head are all counted” (Matthew 10:30). Reflect on that for a moment: God loves us so much that he counts the hairs on our heads! Being in love is a universal human experience, and most of us have been deeply in love at some time in our lives. I have been in love, deeply in love, “head over heels” in love, but I have never loved so deeply that I wanted to count the hairs on the head of my beloved. Let’s be honest – if we saw someone counting the hairs on someone’s head, we would probably think that person looney. We would judge such a person to have gone “off the deep end”; he/she would be acting foolishly. And yet that is exactly how God loves us – intimately, lavishly, foolishly.

God loves us more deeply than we can comprehend, and God wants to give us good things. God wants you and me, all of us, to be joyous, deliriously happy. We also want this for ourselves. So why aren’t we all amazingly happy all the time?

The problem is in ourselves. We desire happiness, and we desire many things which we think will bring happiness. But our natural inclinations don’t bring happiness; our inborn sinful nature leads us astray. What we think we want, what we desire, and what we often work toward, are not things which will bring happiness and goodness into our lives. The Apostle Paul recognized this problem and wrote: “For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Romans 7:18,19). And Paul also recognized the solution to the problem: “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me …? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24,25). The solution to the problem is given in God’s greatest gift to us: salvation through Jesus, God’s son.

The solution is not a magical one – believe in Jesus, and poof! your life is all good and happy! It doesn’t work like that. When Paul writes the words quoted above, he is writing as a believer in Jesus. Paul was a believer but he still had difficulty living a life which reflected God’s love. We’re born with a human nature, and believing in Jesus does not put an end to our humanity. It alters our nature but it doesn’t do away with it. Accepting God’s gift of salvation alters us by bringing us into a new relationship with God through the loving sacrifice of Jesus.

The way in which being a Christian leads to a happy life is by demonstrating a very important fact: the source of happiness is not good things but good relationships with God and our fellow humans. We want good things to make us happy, but things, not matter how good or useful they are, won’t bring lasting joy or fulfillment. What brings happiness are relationships based in God’s love and growing in that love. The life of Jesus shows us the reality and power of such relationships.

Love abides (I Corinthians 13:8,13) and relationships founded in love – true love, pure love, God’s love – last forever and bring lasting happiness. Such relationships are not easy to build or maintain. Many aspects of our human nature work against us – we are often selfish, for example. But, as Paul recognized, our relationship to God through Jesus enables us to go beyond our human nature. Through effort, with God’s help, we can build relationships founded in God’s love, relationships which reflect Jesus’ life of love and faith. When we do so, we discover happiness.

copyright 2014 by the author