A Song of Triumph

By Ed Sasnett
Senior Pastor
 

Long before I became a Christian, I had clear memories of Easter. I remember my sisters with new dresses in spring colors and me with new pants and a shirt. My mother would take us to church on Easter, and that must have been where the egg hunt happened. The church we occasionally attended had a great children’s church. A dedicated couple—the Johnsons,—taught us songs, did Bible drills and told us stories with puppets. But my understanding that Easter was the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus didn’t come from that or the pastor’s sermon. It was the hymns we sang that taught me what Easter was all about.

One of our Easter hymns was “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.” John Wesley authored the lyrics, but the composer of the tune is anonymous. When the hymn was first published in a Methodist hymnbook in 1780, something was missing from the hymn we recognize now—there were no alleluias. This is the hymn’s most distinctive feature. Apparently the lyrics didn’t quite fit the tune, so an unknown editor added the famous alleluias later. The word conveys emphatic joy, thanksgiving and triumph. I am so glad he did!

The song must have stuck in my childhood memory because it’s so celebrative. Every statement about the resurrection is interrupted with the worshiper shouting forth, “Praise the Lord.” For example, the first verse says:

Christ, the Lord, is risen today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth, reply, Alleluia!

Jerome, translator of the Latin Vulgate, recorded that Christian houses of worship in the fourth and fifth centuries shook from the intense alleluias shouted by believers. For centuries Christians have greeted one another on Easter with: “Alleluia! He is risen! Alleuia! He is risen indeed!”  I’ve read that Roman Catholics and Episcopalians refrain from speaking or singing alleluia during Lent, but they return to its use to express their thanksgiving on Easter morning.

Before Christ became my Savior and Lord, my theological knowledge as a child and youth was very elementary, but the church’s music had conveyed to me that there was something triumphant and joyous about Easter. It prepared me to accept the reality that the dead Jesus was now the risen Christ! Alleluia!

Are We More Like Judas Than We Think?

By Lauren Sudberry
Children's Minister

Teaching the Easter story to children is probably one of my favorite things in the whole entire world. It is so exciting to strive to find something new and different to present to the kids. Many of the kids at our church know and have heard the story a million times, yet it is fun to find a way to surprise them with the story! Focusing on something they have not noticed before has been my challenge every year! This year I chose to focus on Judas. When I chose this aspect of the story, I did not expect to be convicted, but let me tell you, Jesus convicts when we least expect it. And I am so incredibly thankful.

Throughout the entirety of the New Testament, Judas Iscariot was always mentioned as “the one who betrayed Him”. Beginning in Matthew 10, that is the title that follows him. The agreement of Judas to betray Jesus comes directly after Jesus was anointed at Bethany. Judas had just witnessed an incredibly selfless act by a woman with a jar of expensive perfume. His mind should have been amazed, and he should have been focused on being selfless towards others.

However, he was focused on the exact other side of the spectrum. He went to the chief priests and asked what he could receive if he turned Jesus over. I can only imagine that when he discovered he would earn 30 pieces of silver his eyes lit up! He was excited and eager to make that money! Matthew 26:16 states that “from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray Him”. Judas did not happen upon Jesus in the garden and decide that he might as well turn Him over. He sought out that opportunity.

I hope and pray that when we read that, we are amazed. Amazed that someone could seek an opportunity to betray Jesus. Surprised that someone could stoop so low for money. I hope this passage makes your stomach turn with uneasiness at the betrayal of the Savior of the world.

However, I believe that we betray Jesus often without even seeking to do it. Now, stay with me for a minute. We may not be as extreme as Judas was, but we are still sinners. God cannot look upon sin. He despises sin. Yet for us, sin can sometimes become a part of our lives without even knowing it. We don’t take the time to stop and think about our actions and the affect they might have on our lives and others’ lives. Sometimes I say things without even thinking about the words that are coming out of my mouth. Sometimes I do things without realizing how it might affect others. We are all sinners. We all do things that we don’t like and that God despises.

However, God loves us so. He desires to walk with you and teach you and help you. No matter what is going on in your life this week, God desires to be right beside you through it all—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Personally, I am amazed that we serve a God who loves us more than we can ever imagine. His love is greater than anything we can fathom.

My challenge for you this Easter season is to think about your life. What sin has snuck into your life without you even noticing? Are you more like Judas than you think? Take that sin and cast it as far away from you than ever, and remember that God loves you. He sent his son to die for YOU. There is nothing you can do to make Him change His mind. You are His child and you are dearly loved. No matter what.

Mirror, Mirror...

By Elvis Peacock
Youth Minister

Have you ever looked at yourself in a mirror? Of course you have. Everyone does it! It doesn't matter if you're male or female. It doesn't matter if you're shaving or putting on makeup. You look in the mirror to use the reflection of yourself to gauge accuracy. And when you do this a lot, maybe you start to get a little critical. (Like for me, I think my nose is big!)  

Do you ever wonder if Jesus did the same thing? Do you think He noticed something about Himself that He didn't like, or did He simply see the face of His Father?

When others looked at Him, they didn't see anything special, they said..."He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him."-Isaiah 53:2.      

Jesus might not have been a "looker, but people were still drawn to Him. Luke tells us in verse 52 of the second chapter of his book that "Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men...everyone praised Him." Jesus didn't turn heads with His looks, but He did turn people with His heart. He was unique. He had favor. He had authority. He had compassion. He had power!  He was strong enough to turn over merchant's tables, yet tender enough to touch the lepers and make them whole. Those who appreciated His uniqueness were drawn to Him.  

So, when you're checking yourself out in the mirror, ask yourself what you are looking at. Are you looking at a body of imperfection, or are you looking at a unique reflection of your Heavenly Father? We were created in His image, and my hope for all of us is that others can see Him reflecting in us. 

Four Ways to Make Easter Different

By Brady Neal
Worship Pastor

Can you smell it in the air? Spring is almost here! The greatness and majesty of our God is all around us, “Our God is so big, so mighty and strong”, my son sings. To me, Easter means a time of remembrance of God’s grace, but also a time of renewing in His mercy as we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. Often when we get caught up in doing the same thing over and over, even year in and year out we tend to forget the meaning and purpose of it all.

May I suggest this year, change things up as you celebrate Easter!

***Disclaimer****
I want to first mention that I am all about fun and traditions, but I dare you to experiment this year and see how changing just some of your Easter activities might bring a fresh awareness of God’s grace and mercy.

Remember the Lord’s Supper
I suggest a re-enactment of the “First Lord’s Supper” in your home. This can be done with your family or even a group of friends, but think about the impact. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Prepare a Passover Meal together. (What is the Passover Dad? Be Ready!)
  • Read through Matthew 26:26-30 or Luke 22, and breakdown the meaning of this great event together.
  • Discuss what might have been going through the disciples minds that night.
  • End with a time of singing or prayer.
  • Most importantly, prepare for this time. Think through it, and make it special. Come up with your own creative way to make this time unforgettable.

Ditch the Easter Outfits!
According the National Retail Federations Easter Spending Survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics in 2014, Americans will spend over $2.6 billion dollars on Easter clothing! That is Billion with a “B”. I know, I know, but what will you post on Facebook! Think about how big of an impact the $50-$100 you would have spent on Easter clothing might have on someone in need, a specific charity or even a special offering like the Annie Armstrong North American Missions Offering. Don’t let this life lesson skip you by. If you have kids, be sure to explain to them why this year might seem a little different than last. Have fun with it!

Come to the Cross
If you walked around your home, you can likely locate several crosses. The symbol of the cross is a powerful testimony of our Faith and the sacrifice that our Lord Jesus Christ made on the cross because of our sin. Prepare a cross in your home. It might be as simple as taking one down off the wall or going outside with the kids and putting some sticks together. Place this cross somewhere special. During the week leading up to Easter, have little pieces of paper sitting next the cross. As you go through your week and face fears, worries or sin, bring those struggles to the cross. Using this with children can be a powerful way to illustrate God’s love and forgiveness.

Save the Stone
“The stone was rolled away!” What does that mean for you? Everything! Our Savior is Risen. Find a small stone, round and flat—something that might represent on a much smaller scale the kind of stone that sealed the tomb of Jesus. Now get out a piece of paper, set that stone at the top and begin to list how the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ has changed your life! Don’t just think on the surface here.  Dig deep and put some thought into this. You might even have to come back to this two or three different times. Save the Stone in a safe place, and keep this piece of paper next to your bed or in your Bible. Every morning and evening go over this list until it is written on your heart.  Now bring out that stone and carry it in your pocket, car, purse or maybe even take a picture and make it your phone background! Let this stone serve as a visual reminder of your gratefulness of the resurrection of our Lord.

Now, try one of these different approaches to celebrating Easter, or maybe all four! But take action now. Start planning, and think about how you will make this year different.  Be creative and thoughtful with each activity. If you are struggling with ideas, let me know and I would be glad to send you some more detailed suggestions on how we plan on making this Easter a little different. You can contact me at bneal@nebaptist.com.

A Time 'After Christ'

By Glenne' Whisenhunt
NEBC Preschool Administrator

 

Time. It’s something for which we often wish. It’s something that each of us has been allotted the same quantity each day. It’s just a matter of what fills those hours and minutes. The older I get (and I’m not saying I’m old!), I tend to divide the past by significant events and places. 

B.C. - Before College. That’s a time period that I had in my life before I went to college. It’s funny. Going to college scared me. I was so uncertain of what was to be! I couldn’t imagine it! I was certain I was going off on an adventure that would change my life, but I wasn’t certain how long I would stay. 

B.T. – Before Tim. That’s the time in my life that includes life after I went to college and before I met my husband, Tim.  Oh the fun that was in this time! I became involved in the BSU and was presented with many opportunities to meet new friends and begin to understand what college education really means. 

B.C. – Before Children. That’s a time referred to as the time during which Tim and I were friends, dated, and were married. It was a time filled with laughter, stories, late nights and road trips. It was a time filled with new people, college graduation, and relocating to a place where few knew us and we had to truly begin to stand on our own as adults. It also includes a time in which the decision to have children was considered with great emotion, concern and planning. We knew we wanted children but we weren’t certain of how we would be able to provide for their needs.  We weren’t certain of what parenting truly meant. What did we know at the ripe old age of 24 that had prepared us for being parents?!?!?

A.C. – After Children. This time includes the last 21 years. Oh the fun and joy we’ve had. We can’t imagine our lives without the joy and responsibility of our children! It’s been a time of sacrifice that we never could anticipate nor imagine. Sacrifices we gladly made and would do again. We’ve laughed, cried and prayed more in this era than in any other. 

As I look back at all of these, I smile. I am thankful for each of these time periods that has resulted in the life I have today. But there are two other time periods…

B.C. – Before Christ. This is the time in my life before I committed to Jesus being my Boss by asking Him to forgive me of my sins. I remember agonizing over this decision! Satan filled me with years of doubt. He provided evidence that I was already a Christian. I remember sitting on the back row of a church as a youth wondering what others would think if I went forward. I stood there silently crying. As I finally stepped out, the heaviness I felt began to lift and became lighter and lighter with each step! I couldn’t and still can’t explain it. I do know that it was my Jesus saying I’m here – I got this! That day, Jesus saved my soul from all my sins. He forgave me from my past sins, my sins of today, and those of the future. What a day! But what happens next? What was I to do after that? 

A.C. – After Christ. After Christ has been an adventure like no other! I have watched God choose to guide me, protect me and bless me more than I ever deserved. I continue to be overwhelmed by God’s measure of patience with me. I’m not perfect. I don’t make every decision as I should every time. I fall plenty. God is faithful to forgive.

Why do I write these words now? It’s part of my celebration of Easter. Easter is a time that I can celebrate the giving of my best gift of all. It’s a gift that required my decision to follow Jesus. It’s a time to reflect on the greatest sacrifice of all. God freely made the sacrifice of His son for me and for you He did it with no regrets. What a reason to celebrate! I have a time A.C. that is leading me to a time A.D. (After Death) where I know that I will spend my eternal life in Heaven with God! It’s because of God’s willingness to sacrifice for me and my willingness to trust Him to forgive me. The Bible states this gift in this way:   

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16. 

Trust God. Choose to follow Jesus. Have a time A.C. so you can enjoy the security of life A.D. 



Running for Love

“What’s Love Got to Do with It” asked Tina Turner in her #1 pop hit in 1984.  I can tell you it’s got everything to do with it!  Last Christmas my daughter Laura asked who in the family wanted to run a marathon with her.  No one wanted to run a marathon with her!  So she asked who’d run a half marathon.  Three years earlier her and I were going to run a half marathon in Minneapolis where she lived at the time, but I hurt my knee snow skiing with the sons-in-law.  I had to have surgery and we never got back to it until this past Christmas.

Oh, how I suffered getting into shape!  Once when I ran in the afternoon, some middle school boys had gotten off the bus coming home from school.  I was breathing so hard they made fun of my labored breathing!  I’d have spanked them but I didn’t have the breath to catch them.  So I started running after dark.

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Laura gave me a running program and encouraged me to follow it.  She promised if I would do what it said, I’d be able to run the half marathon.  Then she gave a personal testimony how it worked for her.  I scheduled it out and put the calendar on the refrigerator to hold me accountable.  She was right.  It worked.

While we were running the half marathon, I ran fairly comfortably.  But at the ten mile mark it all changed.  After that I had two goals: finish alive and run every step.  Once she said that the red flag ahead was the finish line.  She challenged me to pick up the pace.  I did, only to discover it was the 12-mile marker!  Finally, I saw with my own eyes “Finish Line” and we finished strong together.

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My love for Laura is what gave me the strength to persevere through the several weeks of training.  I did not want to disappoint her.  My love for Laura is what made me put one foot in front of the other after mile ten.  She was strong the whole race and I was holding her back.  I just couldn’t stand to have her walk because of me.  At one point I encouraged her to go on ahead.  But finishing with me was more important to her than an improved time.

It was joyous to finish together, and to give her a big hug after our accomplishment.  The joy was a mixture of having endured the race, not running anymore, and doing it with Laura.

Pastor Ed Sasnett and his daughter Laura after completing their half-marathon run (13.1 miles).

Pastor Ed Sasnett and his daughter Laura after completing their half-marathon run (13.1 miles).

Sometimes we dwell on the hardships of life.  Sometimes wanting the ache to stop is all we can think about.  But love is strong enough to persevere.  Love made Jesus stay on the cross.  Love causes the Holy Spirit to not give up on us and our frequent failures.  When God wanted us to understand how much He loves us, He used the picture of a groom entering into a covenant marriage with His bride.  In other words, God wasn’t just committed to love us when it was pleasurable or easy.  He would keep on loving us even when it made Him suffer and cry.

I told Laura I would not have done this but for my love for her.  I love Laura.  You see the explanation for why I ran a half marathon is because of my love for a person. 

That’s not a bad lesson for a preacher to learn.  

Best Easter Ever

When it was proposed that each staff member write about the best Easter they ever experienced, I thought back.  Last year we had the greatest attendance ever at Northeast on Easter.  For the first time we had over 300 people attend worship!  

I remembered the first Easter at my first pastorate.  The church had a tradition of gathering before dawn, going out to the local cemetery, having a brief devotional, and then returning to the church for a big breakfast.  Carol and I got our preschool daughters up early that morning before dawn and dressed them warmly.  At the church we all piled into the old red church bus.  At the cemetery we gather around the grave of a former patriarch of the church.  The wind is blowing, the atmosphere is damp, and we’re all about to freeze standing on the open, windswept hill.  Needless to say, I abbreviated my comments and we quickly boarded on the bus to go to church for a great breakfast.  I think that was the last sunrise service I ever led or attended!

As a child I remember my sisters had new dresses and I got new shoes, shirt, and pants for Easter services.  Do people still do that today?

In thinking back to past Easter services, it occurred to me that the “Best Easter Ever” for me is about to occur.  A few weeks ago at a staff retreat my phone was going crazy with dings.  I thought, “Why is my family trying to reach me?  They know I’m on a staff retreat.”  I made some comment to that effect as I went to turn it off, and Brady, my son-in-law and our music minister, said, “They are responding to a message from Sally Kate that she was saved this afternoon!”  Sally is my six-year-old granddaughter.  Well, that changed everything!  I have the great joy of baptizing her this Easter.

But that’s not all.  I’d been praying for my eight-year-old grandson Carter to be saved.  I’d had a conversation with him about receiving Christ last year, but he wasn’t ready.  I talked to his mother and said it would be a great joy if Carter could be baptized with Sally on Easter.  I sent him a children’s tract to explain how to become a Christian.  He read it with his dad and mom and they helped him understand the commitment to Christ.  On my way back from Canada, last week, Carter called to tell me he is now a Christian!  He will also be baptized on Easter Sunday!

For a Christian our best days are never in our past.  Our best days are always before us.  What could be greater than God dividing the Red Sea to rescue the Israelites from the murderous intent of the Egyptians?  How about God raising Jesus from the dead?  How about that one day being my experience?  Yes, my best Easter ever is definitely yet to come!

Dr. Ed Sasnett is the Senior Pastor at Northeast and is very excited to be baptizing his grandchildren on Easter!

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