Easter: A Bittersweet Season

Bittersweet. An odd combination of sorrow and celebration. That is the best word I have found to describe this Easter season. Those of us who are in Christ are simultaneously experiencing the tragic effects of living in a fallen world, while rejoicing in our future hope. We understand that this world is not our home, yet it’s where we find ourselves during this brief moment in time. In a time of year typically celebrated together with family by hunting beautifully decorated eggs, eating lovingly prepared meals, and joyously celebrating our risen Savior, many now find themselves isolated, alone, and longing for the warm embrace of loved ones. The fallen nature of even the natural world necessitates physical separation from family and friends this Easter.

The world as a whole desperately longs for healing. Scientists all over the planet are racing to find a cure for a virus that has left sickness and death in its wake. But long before COVID-19, the world was already ill. Jesus came to earth as the first and only frontline response to the pandemic of sin that has separated us from our creator since the very first transgression. He is still our only rescue from that horrible ailment. As such, He understands our pain, and provides the antidote that gives us hope. Isaiah 53:5 tells us “But he was pierced because of our rebellion, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on him, and we are healed by his wounds.”

I read recently that even unpleasant, bitter tastes serve a purpose in helping to identify poison in the things we might attempt to ingest. The same article indicated that sweet tastes help us identify energy-rich, beneficial nutrients. If we apply this physical principle to our spiritual lives, we need both bitterness and sweetness in our lives. The bitter times remind us that we live in a fallen, sinful world and cause us to long for the hope of eternity. The sweet times compel us to express gratitude for all our Heavenly Father has bestowed upon us. I believe we are living in the tension between these two necessary flavors of life right now.

As I read over the events of the very first Holy Week described in scripture, the words leave a bittersweet taste behind. Jesus knew full well what events lay ahead of Him as He prepared to drink the bitter, poisonous cup of death. He was completely aware that it was only by consuming this cup prepared for Him by the Father that we could reap the sweet, life-giving benefits of forgiveness. In my mind’s eye, I juxtapose the ugliness of the cross, arguably the most brutal execution known to man, against the beauty of redemption accomplished once and for all by our Savior and Lord.

As we consider our current most unusual Easter season, may we be encouraged by the accomplished work of Christ on the cross. The words of scripture in 1 Peter 5:10 assure us that “The God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, strengthen, and support you after you have suffered a little while.” My prayer is that God would use the bittersweet flavor of these days to cause us to hunger all the more for fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and ultimately with God Himself by drawing near to Him to answer the deepest needs of our hearts.

Book Review: Talking With Your Kids About Jesus

Natasha Crain’s newest book, Talking With Your Kids About Jesus, is an essential resource for anyone seeking to provide spiritual guidance to children in today’s cultural climate. It could not have come at a better time as children ask parents big questions in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic. The author makes these critical conversations manageable even for busy parents or grandparents as she provides content broken down into short sections that can be easily digested in just a few minutes a day.

The book is divided into five sections which cover the identity of Jesus, the teachings of Jesus, the death of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, and the difference Jesus makes. Each chapter within the section consists of several pages of content followed by a summary of the key points. The author also includes a conversation guide for parents to use as they talk with their children and train them to boldly defend their faith.

While I believe every conversation in the book is essential, I am particularly impressed by the way the author covers several topics. The first is in the section about the identity of Jesus. Crain highlights the importance of ensuring that our kids have a thorough grasp on knowing that Jesus is God, even though He never says those exact words. She provides a solid foundation of Biblical evidences to equip kids to face challenges from others with different worldviews.

In her section on the teachings of Jesus, Crain addresses another crucial topic by examining what Jesus taught about religion. She explains that many today inaccurately portray Jesus as pitting religion against relationship. The author astutely points out that this is a false dichotomy, and describes the profound impact embracing this belief can have on kids in terms of a lowered view of the nature of truth, the authority of the Bible, and the importance of the church.

Crain addresses the relationship between Old Testament animal sacrifices and Jesus’s death in the section on the death of Jesus. She emphasizes the importance of not only teaching kids the fun and memorable stories of the Bible, but explaining the enormity of sin to them through learning about the sacrificial system, and describing how it took the death of an innocent sacrifice to make atonement for it.

The final section of the book describes the difference Jesus makes in the life of the Christian. The chapter on what it means to trust in Jesus is especially timely in the midst of uncertainty and fear related to the ongoing pandemic. She provides helpful answers to the questions of evil and suffering by describing the biblical concept of trust as well as common misunderstandings of what it means to trust in Jesus. Natasha brings clarity to this difficult topic and provides guidance for parents as they discuss current events and personal disappointments with their children.

While I was familiar with Natasha Crain’s work in equipping parents to engage in apologetics conversations with their kids, this was the first of her books that I had the pleasure to read. Natasha has the ability to write about difficult topics in an easy to understand style even for those with no prior apologetics training. She communicates in a winsome manner, and makes parents feel as if they are hearing from a trusted friend. This book is a great resource for parents, grandparents, teachers, or Bible study leaders who desire to give children a clear understanding of Jesus in a world that often paints a confusing picture of the Founder and Perfecter of the Christian faith.

Curing Heart Disease

The heart is universally recognized as a symbol of love, and the month of February is prime season for all the hearts as we fashion chocolate into hearts, scribble them on our Valentines, and emblazon hearts across our t-shirts. One of my favorite traditions when my boys were young was to prepare a giant chocolate chip cookie cake in the shape of a heart for them to eat for breakfast on Valentine’s Day. After all, what better way to express my love than to offer chocolate chip cookies for the most important meal of the day! On our very first Valentine’s Day as a dating couple, my husband demonstrated his love for me by wrestling a giant inflatable heart up the stairway to my second floor apartment. Songs tell of burning hearts, shattered hearts, and even achy breaky hearts. Our hearts are the source of life flowing through our bodies, contracting 100,000 times a day, pumping 2,000 gallons of blood, and delivering oxygen and other essential nutrients to our vital organs. So it’s no doubt that our hearts are of great importance.

God created our hearts with both physical and spiritual significance, and confirms the vital nature of the heart through the number of mentions in His Word. In the CSB translation of the Bible, the heart is mentioned 508 times. That’s almost ten times the number of mentions of the soul (55), and almost five times the number of mentions of the mind (111). Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI, recognized the importance of the heart when he said, “What the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.”  If this is true, and seeds planted in the heart grow into thoughts and actions, then it’s important to make sure our hearts are both physically and spiritually healthy. In fact, Proverbs 4:23 cautions us to “Guard your heart above all else for it is the source of life.”

Our Hearts Are Sick

Heart disease is the number one killer of people in the United States. According to the CDC, approximately 647,000 deaths occur each year as a result of heart disease. Physical heart disease can be managed through proper nutrition, adequate exercise, and appropriate medication. But what are we to do about our spiritually sick hearts? Spiritual heart-sickness has caused even more devastation over the millennia than physical heart disease. The first mention of the heart in scripture is in Genesis 8:21 when God promises after the flood to never again curse the ground because of man, “…even though the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth onward.” Later in the Old Testament, Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Thus, we are born with diseased hearts, spiritually speaking. As much as we may desire the cure, we don’t have the means within ourselves to provide it. We can’t reach inside and fix this ailment. Unfortunately, many times we are encouraged to just “follow our hearts.” Perhaps it’s not wise to let emotions guide us without the direction of the one who created our hearts in the first place. Proverbs 3:5-6 instructs us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; in all your ways know him, and he will make your paths straight.” Only when God mends our hearts can we be assured that we will remain on course.

God Heals Our Hearts

So is there anything we can do to treat our spiritual heart disease? We can do nothing on our own. The cure rests in placing our faith in Jesus, who suffered, died, and was resurrected to pay the penalty for our sin. Romans 10:10 says, “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” Psalm 119:11 instructs us to treasure God’s Word in our hearts so that we will not continue to sin against Him. As God’s Word takes root in our hearts, sin becomes less appealing to us. But, as flawed humans, sin inevitably rears its ugly head, requiring us to cleanse our hearts through the regular practice of confession and repentance. The psalmist is an example for us in Psalm 51:10 when he pleads, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” As we strive to keep our hearts pure and live holy lives during our brief time on earth, God promises that we will live eternally with Him in heaven. Jesus assures us in Matthew 5:8 that the pure in heart will see God.

We Satisfy Our Hearts In Him

The first portion of the great commandment in Mark 12:30 says to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart…” So what does it mean to love God with all our hearts? Does it mean mushy emotionalism, or could it mean something more? Psalms 24:3-4 says, “Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god.” We were made by our Creator to worship, and our hearts will never be truly satisfied or whole until we humbly submit our wills to His as an expression of loyalty and faithful worship. Augustine of Hippo said, “Thou has made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.” God’s Word promises in Jeremiah 29:13 that, “You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart.” As we journey on an earnest quest toward deeper fellowship with our Creator, we recognize who He is, and that He is the only one worthy of our whole-hearted devotion.

When my older son was about two years old, he made a Valentine in his Sunday School class. He brought it home, and we proudly displayed the lovingly crafted artwork on his bedroom door. As we went through our bedtime routine every night, we typically read a bedtime story, said a prayer, and went through the standard toddler stalling tactics. One night as he noticed the heart hanging on his door, he said, “There’s a heart on my door. Isn’t it pretty?” I’m not sure why, but we jokingly responded, “No. It’s disgusting, it’s horrible, it’s ugly!” Seeing the shock on his face, we then immediately replied, “No. It’s beautiful, and so are you!” He then said, “And so are you!” Hugs and kisses ensued immediately. For several months this became part of our bedtime routine, and we recited it exactly the same way every night. I admit it was kind of strange, but reflecting back on it, I think it gives a little insight into how we relate to God. We think there’s nothing wrong with our hearts and proudly put them on display. As we hold them up before a holy God, the ugliness within is revealed. Because He loves us, He provides the means to make our hearts beautiful and pure so we can enjoy His presence forever. And that will truly be a magnificent place to dwell for all who place their trust in Him.