I love to ponder. Maybe I like to look beyond the visible and contemplate the unexplainable because I am a teacher. Maybe my investigative skills developed out of necessity. After all, one cannot raise five children without great skills of suspicion, discernment, and problem solving. Whatever the reason, I love to ponder.
Lately, I have been pondering on humanity. What makes mankind special from the rest of creation? All created things have a function; and although those functions may vary in degree of difficulty, all are purposeful. All created things are valuable; and although the value is commensurate to the need and the supply, everything has value. If these thoughts are true, then what sets mankind apart, what determines his uniqueness, what qualifies him as superior?
That which separates humanity from the rest of the created things is the heart of man. Oh, I am not referring to the organ that pumps blood and sustains natural life. I am speaking of the seat of emotions: love and hate, faith and fear, loyalty and prejudice, or hope and despondency. I am also speaking of the seat of character: intention, purpose, will, and conscience. I am speaking of the totality of the inner person.
Proverbs admonishes us to guard our hearts because the heart is the well-spring of life. In other words, the heart is the production center of our actions. When the heart is filled with joy, gladness or mirth, we reflect that light-heartedness. Conversely, when the heart is occupied with anger or bitterness, our actions and our words will reflect those attitudes. If the ‘well-spring of life’ is filled with deadly poisons, the waters from which we drink are poisoned. That which should bring us life instead causes us harm.
Another analogy with which the Bible compares our hearts is that of soil. In the same manner that the earth can receive a seed and become a production center, so can our hearts become a depository for ideas that produce actions. Hearts have the ability to grow the fruit from which the rest of our life draws sustenance. Just as we do not want the waters of our heart polluted, we do not want our heart’s crop to be filled with decay and corruption thus poisoning the whole of our life. Hence, the scriptural admonition is to guard the heart.
We live in a generation that is familiar with the concept of guarding. We have locks on our doors, security systems on our cars, metal detectors in the airport terminals, and surveillance cameras in most public places. We guard places to protect them from unlawful and unethical conduct. There is great wisdom and profit in using such caution. Do we, however, have any screening devices in place to guard our heart? Are we careless about the voices that advise us, the circumstances that stimulate us, the immorality that entertains us? Maybe the old Sunday School song that admonished us to be careful little eyes what you see and be careful little ears what you hear was more profound wisdom than we had realized.
Because the heart receives both good seed and bad seed and because it grows both kinds of seed, we must use caution as to that which we allow to be planted and that which we allow to grow. Those who eat the fruit of our lives will appreciate a well-tended garden. Beyond that, we will be able to journey into the garden of our own hearts to discover an arboretum of fragrances and an orchard of fruit that develops in a healthy heart.
The stony halls of the Praetorium that day must have produced an eerie silence as the two stood facing one another – two rulers with armies stationed in readiness for their command; two powerful leaders whose words would set the course of history. One man, Pilate, boldly exhibited his entitlement to represent the might of Rome. The other, Jesus, humbly revealed his authority to embody the will of Heaven.
Pilate took the role of inquisitor, potentate, and judge. He claimed power over Jesus –power to declare guilt or innocence, power to condemn or to reprieve, power to chastise or exonerate. Jesus claimed sovereignty. Pilate had no power but what God had permitted. Legions of angels would liberate Jesus if he chose to summon them. Jesus took the role of servant, sacrifice, and love.
Pilate, the judge, was himself on trial that day. He could find no fault in the carpenter from Nazareth. However, a non-guilty verdict would not satisfy the dissident crowds who had delivered Jesus to his judgment hall. He was afraid of the Roman emperor to whom he must give an account for the peace of the city. His own position meant more to him than his just dealings with the Son of God. He gave no thought to what the verdict of the generations would be. Pilate was on trial by heaven’s court and found wanting of the reverence of God.
Void of God-fearing stamina to enforce his judgment of ‘not-guilty’, Pilate decided to silence his own voice and let the crowds speak. “Crucify him,” was the verdict. Pilate ordered his soldiers to carry out the decree. Jesus also chose to silence his voice. He would let his Father in heaven speak for him. “Into thy hands I commend my spirit,” Jesus said, and then he died.
The Roman cross and the sealed tomb seemed to validate Pilate’s claim as superior ruler. But then, Sunday morning came. Jesus’ followers arrived at his burial place to find the stone rolled away and the grave empty. The soldiers, which Pilate had stationed to guard the tomb, were powerless to enforce the interment. Jesus had risen just as he had promised. He was alive to never die again. The empty tomb definitively validated Jesus’ claim as reigning, omnipotent monarch.
Within a few years of Jesus’ infamous trial, Pilate himself was disposed from his position as governor and summoned to Rome to be tried concerning a military massacre. His death was accredited to suicide. The dethroned, judged, and deceased ruler was forever silenced.
Throughout history, Jesus has been repeatedly put on trial in the hearts of men, in the courts of politics, in the vain philosophies of humanists. Pilates all. Would-be judges. Self-proclaimed monarchs. Christ’s resurrection still has the power to silence all contenders for right to rule. Jesus is Lord of eternity. He is Champion over death. He is Sovereign in power. He is King of truth. His resurrection proves all His claims. And because of his resurrection, he forever speaks.
Celebrate Easter! Celebrate Christ’s resurrection!
Holiday traditions develop within a nation, among ethnic groups, and in individual families. Traditions memorialize an event, encasing its significance and ensuring its continuity. They warm our hearts, stir our emotions, and spark our memories. Traditions are those precious treasures that our children will remember long after they have forgotten our words.
Easter is one of those holidays that is replete with tradition. Signs of the approaching holiday can be found everywhere. The stores’ shelves are filled with candy for the customary Easter baskets. Community groups are organizing and advertising Easter egg hunts. Department stores have spring fashions on display in hopes to sell seasonal Easter bonnets, patent leather shoes, and pastel clothing. Families are making plans to convene for that Easter luncheon and fellowship time with the too seldom seen relatives. And, usually, somewhere in the list of traditional Easter activities is a trip to church.
The church service with its hymns, scripture readings, and sermon is a tradition that is rooted in the actual event of the resurrection of Jesus. On the first Easter season, then known as Passover, Jesus had been brought to trial on trumped up charges, found guilty based upon false witnesses, and sentenced to death upon a Roman cross. The Messiah’s short-lived but impressive career as teacher, healer, and miracle worker had come to an abrupt halt, carrying with it the dreams and aspirations of His followers. From their point of view, His promises and their hopes were buried with the body of the Lord.
But Easter morning came! Women arrived at the tomb as the day was dawning to find the stone that had sealed the tomb removed and the body of Jesus gone. At the grave, they encountered an angel who announced that Jesus had risen. Their Lord was alive; their hope was revitalized. The resurrection of Jesus was an actual, historic event that not only changed the lives of His disciples so long ago but is still changing the lives of His followers today.
The Easter tradition of church attendance serves to memorialize the resurrection of Jesus, encasing its significance and ensuring its continuity. Unlike the tradition of the Easter bunny that has its roots in imaginary characters and children’s fables, Jesus really lived, really died, really rose from the dead, and really lives eternally. Of all our Easter traditions, the most weighty, the most significant, the most enduring is that trip to church to celebrate the resurrection.
As you make your plans for this coming Easter season, pick a church –any church. Celebrate Easter. Celebrate with the tradition of church attendance.
The first day of spring officially arrived on March 20. Meteorologists on every TV and radio station were heralding the opening of nature’s next season. All the professionals knew the actual date because the season is marked on the Northward equinox when the subsolar point appears to leave the Southern Hemisphere and cross the celestial equator, heading northward. Yeah – that is the definition of the March equinox according to Wikipedia. For those of us less technically-minded to read the position of the planet in relationship to the sun, we look for more everyday signs. I got my sign early on the first day of spring.
There was a knock at our front door. My husband opened the door to allow our expected visitor to enter. As she walked over the threshold, she was accompanied by unexpected male and female cardinals. Apparently, these soon-to-be parents were making a nest in a bush next to our front porch. Whatever causes the fowl to internally read the equinox metrics of seasonal shifts, they certainly knew how to respond to spring. Nests. Eggs. Baby birds. Startled by our friend passing their domain, they took flight – right through the door into our house.
Although the signs of spring were beginning to show outside our home, the interior of the house looked just the same as it had all winter. The temperature on that first day of spring still registered only in the min-30’s, so our furnace was working just as it had throughout the cold days of winter. The only internal equinox reading our heater gets is from the thermostat that is operated by the humans who are less spring conscious than the birds. The only Amsden plants being tended were sitting on shelfs inside the house; no outdoor gardening had begun. The inside of our home was only adorned with signs of winter– that is until the cardinals entered.
My husband, our guest, and I were anything but composed at the appearance of our winged visitors. Springtime had burst upon us in a totally unexpected – and uncontrollable – and uncontainable – and unpredictable manner. We began to open doors and try to force these two signs of spring to exit. They began to frantically seek any opening that looked like an exit. Unfortunately, they were unable to tell a clear window pane from an open door. (I’m not sure how that testifies to their internal reading on equinox metrics.)
Our anxiety, along with that of the birds, escalated. I tried using the word shoo; my husband attempted waving his arms; our friend endeavored to catch the female. Flapping wings, flying feathers, and chipping sounds all communicated that the wildlife could not understand the intentions of the human life. Finally, the male cardinal spied the open patio door and flew back into the spring. With only mother bird to redirect, our friend climbed a chair, trapped the cardinal in a corner of the window sill, picked up the bird in a gentle hold, and carried her to the door. Upon release, the female flew away.
Several days have passed since spring has sprung. The cardinals have returned to their nest-building outside our front door. We have cleaned up all the bird residue from their brief but memorable visit inside our home. And the signs of spring continue to testify all around our house – inside and out. Some of our plants that wintered inside have been moved outside. The maple tree is budding and the cherry tree is turning a soft pick hue. Each morning the robins sing to welcome the day and invite us to acknowledge that spring has arrived. The grey of winter is yielding to the colors of the new season.
All of creation seems to know that the subsolar point has left the Southern Hemisphere and crossed the celestial equator. How do they know that? Apparently, the birds can hear and interpret creation’s voice more easily than they can understand three anxious people. Nonetheless, the first day of spring has arrived and the signs of the new season abound. Ecclesiastes 3:1 promises us “to everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.”