The lambs of God: paschal and Paschal

Easter Sunday is, of course, the pivotal and most triumphant day in the calendar of the Christian Church. Interestingly however, no trace of an Easter celebration as we know it exists in the New Testament.

The celebration of Easter actually began with the early Jewish Christians who continued to celebrate the Passover, regarding Christ as the true Paschal Lamb. The original and prophetic sacrificial lamb had been the one eaten by Hebrew families their last night in captivity in Egypt.

An examination of rabbinic evidence from those days suggests that the paschal lamb, which had to be a perfect specimen, was arranged in the form of a cross before roasting. One spit went through the lower parts up to the head, and another across the back, to which the legs were attached. Furthermore, none of the bones were to be broken.

Sound familiar? To see the remarkable resonance here, compare the reading in Exodus 12:46b (“Do not break any of the bones”) with that from John 19:31-33:

Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.

For early Christians then, the Passover event naturally passed over into a commemoration of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

You can read an excellent related story by Rabbi Evan Moffic here: How Lent started with Passover.

Miracles from Heaven: extraordinary true story now a movie

The remarkable true story of a young girl’s faith, hope and healing, this movie may well be the first faith-based film finding critical acclaim and a mainstream audience beyond church-goers.

Little Annabel Beam had not been well for most of her early years. At five, doctors finally diagnosed her with two rare life-threatening digestive disorders.* 

“She would pretty much live on the sofa, with a heating pad on her stomach,” her mother Christy explains. As Annabel’s health continued to deteriorate, she lived with chronic pain and spent far too much time in hospitals. The darkest moment came one day as Christy sat by her nine-year-old daughter's hospital bed. The little girl turned to her mother and said, “Mommy I just want to die. And I want to go to heaven and live with Jesus where there's no more pain.”

actual movie poster.jpg

Annabel had stopped fighting, and Christy felt she had nothing left to give.

“However much my faith had been tested and I'd questioned Him,” she says, “at that point I just turned it over to God.”

They needed a miracle. One week later, on December 30, 2011, they got one.

While the majorly crazy miracle of Annabel's healing drives the story, the everyday miracles—and the stellar performances and direction revealing them—transports viewers raptly along to the faith-affirming conclusion of death bringing capital-L Life. Perhaps especially if you, like Christy, find your faith wavers in the dark gorges of our journeys.

Master’s Book Store in Haliburton carries both the movie and book, as does Amazon and other retailers.  
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*pseudo-obstruction motility disorder and antral hypomotility disorder

Jesus rescues Christians AND Muslims: an astonishing tale from the Middle East straight from the book of Acts

Little did the Bibles for Mideast organization know of all the coming connected miracles when they published a story on the Arabian Sea baptism of 24 new believers early last October (you can read that here).  

The fact 24 Muslims had converted to Christianity at the risk of their and their families’ lives alone attests to a miracle-working God. As the baptismal service ended, the new converts and workers—50 in all—boarded a bus to return to their house church for worship and communion. 

A small convoy of militants suddenly appeared behind them and opened fire. All they knew to do was pray to the Lord for protection as they sped away, the gunmen in hot pursuit.

When a massive dust storm formed behind them, they now feared being trapped in the dark, churning grime and becoming easy prey for their pursuers. 

Then, just as suddenly, Jesus materialized in the storm clouds and dust.

“He appeared as a mighty and wonderful man showing his protecting and lovely hands towards us with a sweet smile,’ exulted newly-baptized Rizwan. “Jesus saved us! He himself blocked the road of militants in the form of a dust storm.”

The gunfire slowed and stopped, enabling the bus to drive safely back to the church.

Two months later, the same mission organization released a story of how an Arab woman from a prominent Muslim family (her father a top religious authority in the region) found herself near death after being bitten by a highly poisonous Saharan snake. While her sharp-shooting brother Haroon (not his real name) managed to kill the viper, it nearly killed her (that story in full here).

Hajira (not her real name) spent the next four days near death in a coma. In a few minutes of wakefulness, she heard doctors discussing the renal failure and increasing fibrinolysis certain to take her life. Losing hope, she turned to the wall, weeping, and tried to prepare herself for death.  She fell asleep hoping to never wake up.

As she slept, an angel appeared before her. “Call on Jesus, the son of the Most High, who was crucified for you, died and rose from the dead.”

“Prophet Jesus, the son of Mary?” she asked with irritation. “He was not crucified; and he was not greater than my prophet.”

“You are wrong,” the angel replied.  “Jesus is the Lord of the prophets. He is the true saviour. He can heal you from all sickness and save you from sin and death. Call on him with your heart and mouth.”

The angel disappeared. She awoke to see her brother Haroon standing beside her. “Were you dreaming?” he inquired. “I heard you say something about the prophet Jesus.”

She dreaded his anger as she told him about the angel and what he’d said. To her amazement, Haroon then related his own experience in a dust storm several months earlier. Yes, THAT dust storm!

He’d received information at dawn one morning that a Christian group planned a baptismal service in the Arabian Sea that day. Alerting his wing of 18 armed militants, the gang rushed to the seashore. Planning to kill everyone in the sea during the service, they aimed to terrify the world into realizing death awaited any Christians attempting to evangelize in their region.

But the service had already ended when they arrived.  Seeing a bus leaving the scene, they opened fire and the chase began. As they fired away, he explained that within seconds a giant dust storm formed directly in front of their vehicles. Unable to see or move forward, they climbed from their cars and kept shooting into the dust.

To their astonishment, the angry face of Jesus appeared in the swirling sand, eyes ablaze. “Why are you persecuting me?” his voice thundered. “It’s hard for you to kick against the pricks.” Jesus’ voice literally blew the fighters over and sent their guns flying.  Haroon explained they somehow managed to get themselves back on their feet, but couldn’t utter a word. 

[Note the similarities to the story from Acts 26:14, where Jesus appears to murderous Saul—equally intent on killing Christians and eventually to be the Apostle Paul—with the same plea and the same results.]

Jesus' voice thundered again. “I came to the world not to destroy anyone, but to save you. Go in peace.” He then vanished, the dust storm disappearing with him.

Haroon tried to explain the dreadful fear, yet abundant peace, they all felt simultaneously—nothing like anything he or they had ever known.

When their voices returned, all but two of the men praised and thanked God. The two argued it couldn’t have been from God, and all left the place confounded.

Haroon shared the story with their father, who warned him not to tell others. His own band of militants, however, laid down their arms. "This all happened a few days before you were bitten!" he shared with Hajira. Overwhelmed and overjoyed, brother and sister joined hands in prayer. 

“Lord Jesus, if you are the true saviour, show us the way,” prayed Haroon. “Jesus, if you are the true saviour, forgive our sins. Jesus, if you are the true saviour, heal both our physical and mental sickness. Jesus, if you are the true saviour, send someone to us for further guidance. Amen”.

The siblings wept in joy and gratitude. A couple of hours later, Hajira still at his sister’s side, two strangers arrived in her room unexpectedly. While neither had seen them before, the elder man addressed each by name. 

“The Lord Jesus heard your prayers which you both prayed together,” he began. “The angel who visited you appeared before me also, and asked me to visit you, guide you to salvation, and pray for you. So I left my house at once to come see you.”

He introduced himself as Pastor Paul of the Bibles for Mideast organization, and then explained to them who Jesus is, and why he was crucified and died. 

Hajira and Haroom repented of their sins and accepted Jesus as Lord and saviour. As Pastor Paul put his hands on Hajira’s head and prayed for her deliverance and healing, tremendous power flowed through her body. She rose, completely healed.

Hospital tests proved her healing, and doctors could not help but acknowledge a miracle had happened. Neither could the siblings’ family, who soon all came to Christ. They now ask our prayers for protection and strength to survive the persecution sure to come.
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You can visit Bibles for Mideast here and read more remarkable stories of rescue and salvation. They work secretly in highly restrictive areas, evangelizing, distributing bibles (free of charge), and establishing house churches. Many on their teams have converted from Islam.

Syrian woman had dream for six nights of men coming with Good News; on the seventh day they arrived

By Mark Ellis, Godreports

Syrian refugee woman and child from Aleppo, Syria at a makeshift tent camp in Turkey ( Christian Aid Mission )

Syrian refugee woman and child from Aleppo, Syria at a makeshift tent camp in Turkey (Christian Aid Mission)

As the Syrian civil war continues after a failed cease-fire, many Muslims are encountering God, including a mother with confounding dreams that left her in a state of anticipation.

“The woman dreamt repeatedly of a man who told her that three people would come and bring her good news,” according to a ministry director for Christian Aid Mission (CAM).

“She continued to have this dream for six nights in a row,” the director told CAM. “On the seventh day, one of our teams was doing home visits and decided to visit a new house.”

The three men approached her door, not knowing that God had already prepared the way. The woman’s eyes widened when she opened to see the three, and she quickly ushered them inside.

“When they opened their Bible, she instantly fell to her knees,” the director told CAM.

As her husband and children walked in, she could not contain herself. “These are the people that the man in my dream told me to meet!” she told them excitedly.

The followers of Jesus spoke to her about His saving death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. Then they prayed with the family.

“They all put their faith in Him,” the ministry leader recounted. The entire household was saved!

“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.”  (Acts 16:30-31)

“We have continued to disciple them since then, and they are like sponges – eager to learn and know everything they can,” the ministry director said.

Killing Christians: Living the Faith where it's not safe to believe

Book review by Anne Moore

 I recently read another gripping book which challenged and educated me: Killing ChristiansLiving the Faith Where It's Not Safe to Believe (2015) by Tom Doyle. The book describes the lives of eight believers living in various Muslim countries, all converts to Christianity. They are our brothers and sisters, our family. Their lives are brutal but represent what goes on, daily, in other parts of our world.

The stories tell how the individuals came to be followers of Jesus, what happened to them immediately after their commitment, and what they are doing now. All look forward to the day when their persecution will end and they will enjoy life in heaven. For some, that may already have happened.

The book challenges my pitiful, little faith, and leaves me questioning if I am even a real follower. 

Some quotes from the book:

“What I thought was sacrifice was actually just inconvenience.”

“There is remarkable freedom in having no expectations, no plans for tomorrow [because I might die before then].”

“How could I leave the religion I had so faithfully studied and taught with passion all those years? .... I followed Jesus because he is the only one who could fill my empty soul. I may have been a religious zealot, but I ached to know God and could not find Him even though I had searched all my life.”

Bless you as you read this demanding volume.

Could YOU retain your faith even if it meant losing your life? Your family’s lives?  [Further insight from the book’s introduction--Ed,]

To many Christians in the Middle East today, a 'momentary, light affliction' means enduring only torture instead of martyrdom. The depth of oppression Jesus' followers suffer is unimaginable to most Western Christians. Yet, it is an everyday reality for those who choose faith over survival in Syria, Iran, Egypt, Lebanon, and other countries hostile to the Gospel of Christ. In Killing Christians, Tom Doyle takes readers to the secret meetings, the torture rooms, the grim prisons, and even the executions that are the 'calling' of countless Muslims-turned-Christians.

Each survivor longs to share with brothers and sisters ‘on the outside’ what Christ has taught them. Killing Christians is their message to readers who still enjoy freedom to practice their faith. None would wish their pain and suffering on those who do not have to brave such misery, but the richness gained through their remarkable trials are delivered—often in their own words—through this book. The stories are breathtaking, the lessons soul-stirring and renewing. Killing Christians presents the dead serious work of expanding and maintaining the Faith.

Behind closed, locked doors: does Jesus need permission to enter?

[extrapolations on a sermon by the Reverend Canon Anne Moore]

Our weekday service started late on Monday as we waited for an elderly saint who, another parishioner reported, had locked herself out of her car at the grocery store. We all hoped and prayed the CAA would come with their usual quickness to rescue dear Doreen.

Beginning the service about ten minutes before she arrived, we all paused to give her a cheer when she strolled through the sanctuary door. Anne soon got to the same Gospel reading that would have been heard at Sunday service the day before.

“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’” (John 20:19)

Reading on through verse 31, Anne then launched into a few funny stories of her own experiences with needing, or lacking, protection.

Few of us in our mostly safe Highlands really need to bolt ourselves, our possessions or our cars from intruders, but we all do. Why? Each of us has fears requiring locks to keep the perceived threat from getting in. As John 20:19 explains, that’s why the disciples had tightly secured the doors of the home they were in. They were sure that those who had killed Jesus would hunt down and murder them as well.

But Jesus being Jesus needed no key to get in. He simply appeared in their midst—likely walking through the walls as easily as he once walked on water.

Our English bibles translate Jesus’ first words to the panicky disciples as “Peace to you”. While he spoke Aramaic, Jesus would have used the far more comprehensive Hebrew word ‘shalom’ here. Vastly more than the simple absence of war or discord, ‘shalom’ encompasses all the following and probably more: completeness, wholeness, health, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, fullness, rest and harmony.

We lock our home doors, our car doors, our safety deposit boxes, and some of us attempt to bolt up our hearts. We may even try to lock Jesus out of some or all parts of our lives. But as he moved through the defenses the frightened disciples had in place, he can break through ours.

Perhaps you’re one of those people who has always felt close to Jesus, so getting to know him was straightforward. Most of us, however, likely sensed him knocking at the doors of our lives, our hearts, for years before we let him in. We understand well the scripture, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If any of you hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with you. And you will eat with me.” (Rev. 3:20). There’s no getting away from the fact that, right there, the implication is he needs our permission.

But then there are the remarkable stories of times he miraculously ‘appears’, ostensibly uninvited. He powerfully visits Paul on the road to Damascus, knocking him to the ground, admonishing and then re-directing him. A recent post on this site showed how Jesus appeared to a Syrian Muslim family, telling them he’d be sending a man to tell them more about him (you can read that here).  

This past week’s Gospel reading likewise showed how easily Jesus got through to the disciples gathered in fright behind locked doors a few days after his crucifixion.

So which is it? We have to open the door for him, or he’ll walk through our walls? As with all things Jesus, either or both seems to be the answer.  Every situation and every person being unique, he'll do what he knows is best. If we pray according to God’s will, I truly believe we can hasten/empower/work with God to accomplish that. But as these stories make clear, sometimes Jesus will just float or blast his way in anyway, without our or any other earthly permission!

Jesus appears to Syrian Muslim family, tells them he is sending a man to tell them more

Early this year, Haliburton began planning to welcome a refugee family. Plans and prayers for the family—who will likely be frightened Muslims from Syria—progress wonderfully. (See our original story here: Open arms and hearts in Haliburton Highlands join in Canada’s welcome to refugees).

Around the same time, an astounding story began circulating of a fellow who had been a missionary in Syria to Muslims. Tyler Connell with the Ekballo Project toured American college campuses sharing stories and videos from his most recent trip to Middle East, where he documented a dramatic move of God among Muslims, particularly with refugees.

“At every stop we saw the presence of Jesus break in to these college campuses and touch students, with bodies healed, people saved, and people giving their lives to serve in the mission field,” Connell exclaims.

His first film chronicles a young missionary named Daniel*, 24, originally from Vermont. Two years ago Daniel moved to the Middle East to work with Syrian refugees.

“They go house to house and visit these Muslim families and sit with them and talk with them and find out their names, their stories, and love them. As trust is built, they begin to open up about the Gospel.”

“Jesus is moving in these Middle East nations,” he says. “Many there are disillusioned and broken and just want to know the truth. Now more than ever there is a harvest among Muslims that has not been seen in history.”

One afternoon Daniel walked into a white tent with a family of eight people inside. “Hi, I’m Daniel and I’m here to tell you about Jesus,” he announced.

He wasn’t quite prepared for their reaction. “The family freaked out, they looked at each other, almost turned white. The father was excited, yelling.”

What’s going on? Daniel wondered.

The interpreter explained that the night before Daniel’s visit, the whole family was sitting in their tent having tea together when a man in white opened the door to their tent and stood at the entrance. The man was glowing.

“Hello, my name is Jesus and I am sending a man tomorrow named Daniel to tell you more about me.” Then he disappeared.

So when Daniel arrived at their doorway and told them his name, they were completely undone. “They asked him to tell them more about Jesus and he gave then the Gospel and the whole family gave their lives to Jesus,” Connell reports.

*Name changed for security reasons

[from Assist News. You can read more at Godreports here]

What does it mean to be transfigured?

How can we ever figure out what it is to be transfigured? Transform, metamorphose, convert—all those words, considered synonyms and heady enough, somehow don’t go far or high enough. “Her face was transfigured by the sight of the triple rainbow” may come close.

Possibly the only way to understand the word is to climb the mountain with Jesus for a prayer meeting [Luke 9:28-36; Matthew 17:1-9; Mark 9:2-10].

[The following is based on a sermon by the Reverend Canon Anne Moore]

Have you ever, as a child, been outside on a warm summer night and caught sight of fireflies, or lightening bugs? You run to their flashings, and then perhaps think, “I’m going to catch them and put them in a bottle!”  Freeze the moment and make it last. But does it?

The movie Chariots of Fire tells the mostly true story of two British athletes at the 1920 Paris Olympics. Harold Abrahams struggles with himself as well as other runners, but wins in the 100-yard dash. Eric Liddell, a devout Christian, refuses to run on Sunday so switches to the 440, and wins gold.

After the games are over, the movie shows the athletes returning to London, and then rushing off excitedly at the station.  All except Harold Abrahams, who keeps to himself. His girlfriend waits for him, the crowds thin out, and when the station finally empties, Harold slowly emerges. He has achieved what he set out to do: he has been to the summit. Down from the giddy heights, he must face reality. Nothing will ever compare to that mountain-top moment, now unfrozen and never to be recaptured. *

Peter, James and John all got their own mountain top experience with Jesus in what we recall and celebrate as Transfiguration Sunday. Jesus took the men up the mountain to pray with him. While they fought off sleep, Jesus prayed.

 “The appearance of his face changed. His clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in shining glory. Jesus and the two of them talked together. They spoke about his coming death,” which would happen soon on a wooden cross outside of Jerusalem. 

The tired disciples suddenly woke up to the brilliant sight.  Peter blurted out, "Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters. One will be for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."

The tired disciples suddenly woke up to the brilliant sight.  Peter blurted out, "Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters. One will be for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."

As often seemed the case with Peter, the Bible tells us, “he didn't really know what he was saying.” All Peter knew is that he wanted to capture the moment, make time stand still, stay and have it all right there forever. None of this nonsense about suffering, rejection and death!

A cloud then descended and surrounded them, terrifying the three followers. The Voice and words heard at Jesus’ baptism thundered out again, "This is my Son, and I have chosen him. Listen to him."

On the way down, Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone what they had seen until he had risen from the dead. As usual, they had no idea what he meant. But they did keep it to themselves until after the resurrection, when so many of Jesus’ teachings finally began making some sense.

Just after they came down from the mountain, their behaviour reverts back to normal and we read later in Luke 9:46 about an argument. “The disciples began to argue about which one of them would be the most important person.” The disciples have seen the glory of the Lord but they didn’t allow his glory to transform them. Eventually it will.

After Jesus death and resurrection and empowered by the Holy Spirit, Peter wrote to his friends as a changed and strengthened man. He explained how he had been an eyewitness to Jesus’ majesty.

“We told you about the time our Lord Jesus Christ came with power. But we didn't make up stories when we told you about it. With our own eyes we saw him in all his majesty. God the Father gave him honour and glory. The voice of the Majestic Glory came to him. It said, ‘This is my Son, and I love him. I am very pleased with him.’ We ourselves heard the voice that came from heaven. We were with him on the sacred mountain.” (2 Peter 1:16-18)

Unless our search for God produces a new person, there is no reason to continue searching. Commitment to Christ is commitment to the CHOSEN Son of God and his mission on earth, not to a memorial where people can glory in what they have experienced; not the three tents. Commitment to Jesus is not commitment to a sacred place with its sacred memories, but commitment to a mission.

Visions and holy moments in God’s glorious presence are not the essence of religion, or the goal, or the norm. Walking to the cross after Jesus is. God said “Listen to him.” We listen in order to believe, to commit, to learn and to follow.

Prayer:   Ever-living, ever-loving God, grant us grace to worship you as you are rather than as we would have you to be. Give us the courage to see you as you would appear to us, rather than as we would like you to look. Guide us into the depths of your mystery. Help us to scale the heights of your glory. In all things, help us to love you as our God, our Guide, and our Saviour.  Amen.     (William Willimon)
* Chariots of Fire illustration thanks to N.T. Wright

Jesus and Satan argue about computer skills

Jesus and Satan were having an on-going argument about who was better on the computer. They had been going at it for days, and frankly, God was tired of hearing all the bickering.

Finally fed up, God said, “THAT'S IT! I have had enough. I am going to set up a test that will run for two hours, and from those results, I will judge who does the better job.”

So Satan and Jesus sat down at the keyboards and typed away.

They moused.

They googled.

They downloaded.

They e-mailed.

They e-mailed with attachments.

They did spreadsheets!

They wrote reports.

They created labels and cards.

They created charts and graphs.

They did some genealogy reports.

They did every job known to humanity, and more.

Jesus worked with heavenly efficiency and Satan was faster than hell.

Then, ten minutes before their time was up, lightning suddenly flashed across the sky, thunder rolled, rain poured, and, of course, the power went off.

Satan stared at his blank screen and screamed every curse word known in the underworld.

Jesus just sighed.

Finally the electricity came back on, and each of them re-started their computers. Satan searched frantically, screaming, “It's gone! It's all GONE! I lost everything when the power went out!”

Meanwhile, Jesus quietly added all his files from the past two hours of work to a memory stick to show God.

Satan observed this and became irate. “Wait!” he screamed. “That's not fair! He cheated! How come he has all his work and I don't have any?”

God just shrugged and said, "JESUS SAVES."