Jesus didn’t need the stone rolled away.

There is something that bothers me a lot when we talk about Easter or when I hear songs about the resurrection. It’s a little thing, a small detail that most people probably don’t even hear. But when we talk about Easter and use this certain phrasing it changes the story.

One of my favorite Christian songs is Glorious Day by Counting Crowns.  They use this phrasing in their song. “One day the grave could conceal Him no longer, one day the stone rolled away from the door. Then He arose over death He had conquered.” Did you hear it? Honestly its just one little word. THEN He arose.

Nope. That’s not how it works. Jesus did not need the stone rolled away so He could leave the tomb. When you use the word then it sounds like Jesus couldn’t leave the tomb unless someone opened the door. We believe He was born to a virgin, lived a perfect life, died on the cross for our sins, and rose from the dead three days later, but He needed the stone moved so He could get out of the tomb?

Maybe it’s silly how much this one word affects me, but, to me, this changes the story. It opens up room for so much doubt. How could Jesus be the Son of God if He needed the stone moved? He performed miracles but was trapped in the tomb until the stone was moved? Was He trapped in there until an angel of the Lord came down from Heaven and rolled the stone away? (Matthew 28:2)

No. Jesus wasn’t in the tomb when the angel moved the stone. Matthew 28:5-8 says, “But the angel answered and said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.'”

The stone was not rolled away so Jesus could come out. Jesus was long gone from the tomb when the stone was rolled away. He was already on His way. He is alive. The stone was rolled away so that we may go in. It was moved so we  could see that the tomb was empty, so we could see the folded cloth and know that Jesus is not there. The stone was moved for us.

The stone was rolled away and we found an empty tomb, not Jesus waiting to get out.

Do you hear the difference that one word makes in the story? Death was already conquered. Jesus had already arose. God had already won, long before the stone was moved. The stone was moved so those who needed to see the empty grave could see it.

I’m not sure why the story gets told as if the stone was rolled away first. Maybe in the songs it just flows nicer that way. Maybe people don’t even realize the way they are phrasing it. Maybe I’m the only one in the whole world who hears it that way. (Although I’m guessing you’ll hear it now even if you never have in the past.) Maybe it shouldn’t bother me as much as it does, but it does bother me.

Jesus rose from the dead and THEN the stone was rolled away from the tomb. Not the other way around.

 

A Quest for a Church

In my last post, I wrote about wanting to be on fire again, to feel that passion about going to church that I felt as a teen. I’ve been feeling this way for a while and trying to figure out what to do about it. As I thought over the past few month, maybe even the last year, I realized how lukewarm I felt about, not my faith or my God, but about attending church. It also occurred to me that I wasn’t the only one in my home feeling this way.

We have missed way more church services than we attending. No one was excited about going on Sundays to the point where most weeks we didn’t even bother to get out of bed or dressed until it was too late to make it on time.

I’ve been “regularly” attending the same church since I was 14 years old. If you asked me where I go to church, it’s the one I would have named. But it’s not working for us anymore. Something has to change. And I have prayed to feel differently to the point where I am starting to believe that God has answered that prayer with a firm “NO.” It’s time to do something different.

I did a Google search for churches in our town and found that there are over 80 churches here. Wow. I’m pretty sure we should be able to find a church that works for all of us with that many to try. Right away we can rule out all of the catholic churches, any that speak a language other than English, and a couple of denominations that we know we disagree with their doctrine. I figure that leaves us with about 40 churches IN OUR TOWN!

We started our search on Palm Sunday. I had such high hopes for it. I really enjoyed the service and the boys loved the children’s service. However, there were some really big downsides. As a visitor, I felt so out-of-place trying to figure out how to get the boys signed in. When I walked up to the “Welcome Center” and asked how to sign the boys into the children’s church, they acted like it was the strangest thing they had ever been asked.

We finally got the boys signed up and settled and headed into the service. I liked the service, but with a guest speaker they passed the offering plate twice. This is one of the biggest ways to get us to never come back. The second issue was that the closing song actually turned out to be five songs making the service last over an hour and a half. At one point my husband had finally had enough and actually walked out. We crossed this church off our list of possibilities and moved on.

For Easter Sunday, we attended our regular church. My thoughts on this were that for Easter I didn’t want to take a chance on a service where I wouldn’t know what to expect and that I might not enjoy. Plus, since it was Easter, I assumed they would be having communion. Well, you know what they say about assuming.

The service was enjoyable, but instead of communion it was a baptism service. I normally love a baptismal service, but on Easter I really needed communion. It just reinforced my feelings on needing a new church.

Over the week following Easter, as we talked about what church we would try that week, I continually said I wanted to go somewhere that I knew I could have communion. I grew up in a Church of Christ, so I knew that they do communion every Sunday. There are three of them in our town. I started Googling them to find starting times and addresses. One is a teeny tiny church, and we were concerned that because we weren’t members of that church that they might not let us take communion. One was a United Church of Christ so I wasn’t sure if they have communion every week. The third doesn’t actually have “Church of Christ” in its name so we couldn’t figure out which church it was.

Finally my husband decided that we would just drive the 30-45 minutes to the Church of Christ I grew up in. My parents decided to make the drive with us. It was kind of like going home again. Unlike the church a couple of weeks before, everyone was so friendly. We still knew a handful of people there, and the pastor was the same.

The bulletin scared my husband a bit with all the songs listed but singing out of a hymnal is much different from what he was used to and the songs don’t last nearly as long. The service was very enjoyable, and it was so nice to sit in a service where the pastor wasn’t afraid to talk about the Christian being persecuted around the world or say that abortion is wrong. And towards the end of the service, I could feel my husband tense up next to me when the preacher said he had 45 minutes worth of talking left. But he relaxed as everyone else laughed, and the service ended right at an hour.

There were definitely some downsides. The most obvious being the drive. It is just too far for us to attend regularly. The next would be that even though I want the boys to know the hymns that I grew up with, I have been attended contemporary services for too long to go back to such a traditional service. And the next issue we had is the size. With the six of us attending, we literally increased the attendance by ten percent. So this is just not a feasible option for us at this point.

For our fourth church in four weeks, we decided to try a missionary church that we had been to a couple of times years ago. Again, I Googled to find the starting times. (Do you remember when all churches used to start at 10:30?) Their website said they had a 9:15 and a 10:45 service. We headed out Sunday morning for the 10:45 service. When we got there, the sign at the road showed the service times as the same as we saw online. However, as we walked to the door, there was another sign saying the service times were 9:45 and 11.

We walked in the doors and were overwhelmed with the people and the noise. It was so loud in the entry that my husband and I couldn’t hear anything the other said. I finally spotted the area to sign the boys into the children’s church (since at this church there was no one working the welcome center.). We got them all signed in and were pointed down the hall to where the classrooms were. However, we were not told which classroom we were to take them to.

I finally found the one with a sign saying 5 & 6 year olds. The lights were off, but there were two adults in the room. They told us for the second service all the kids go into the same classroom, the one for the 1 & 2 year olds. I was so confused by everything that had happened up to this point, I said to the woman, “Church starts at 10:45, right?”

She responded with, “10:45 or 11. I don’t know. Don’t worry. You’re not too early.”

Are you kidding? Of course, I wasn’t too early. By this time it was 10:45 and I was wondering if anyone here knew what was going on or if they let you work in the kids area on your first Sunday.

I took the boys across the hall and found a teenager in charge of the room where there was nothing age appropriate for my boys. And while I certainly don’t mind a teenager working with the kids, I did want someone who appeared to care and/or know what was going on. I dropped the boys off and stepped back into the hall where my husband was waiting.

We just stood there a minute dumbfounded wondering what was going on. I noticed a back door with no alarm right behind us. I looked at him and said, “Want me to grab the boys and we’ll sneak out that door?”

We discussed it for a minute. What was the service going to be like if no one knew what was going on? What were the boys going to be doing during the service? Was the service ever going to start? We grabbed the boys and left. If it is this unorganized before hand, we weren’t hanging around to see what the service was going to be like.

For those of you keeping score, this means that in 4 churches in 4 weeks, my husband has walked out of half of them.

So what have we learned over the last four weeks?

1. The church we are looking for needs to be within a 30 minute drive from our house.

2. We want a contemporary service.

3. There must be only one time the offering plate is passed.

4. The service needs to be an hour long.

5. We would like there to be other people there around our age or at least other kids for the boys to make friends.

and most importantly to me at this point

6. The people in charge MUST know what is going on and what time the service starts.

 

We have laughed that we can attend a different church every Sunday for at least a year, and maybe that’s what we will do. As we’ve all learned, if it’s bad we will just walk out. I’ll keep you guys updated on our Quest for a Church.

What things do you look for in a church? What else should we be looking for?

 

Instead of the Bunny, Focus on the Lamb

courtesy of jonfletch via rbgstock.com

courtesy of jonfletch via rbgstock.com

Today is Good Friday and the start of Passover. Christians reflect on the day our Savior gave His life for ours on the cross, and the Jewish people remember the day God spared their lives and delivered them from slavery in Egypt.

As it happens every year at this time, I have found myself aggravated again on Good Friday. The boys were sitting down to watch some cartoons and became so excited. It was a new Wonder Pets! Connor comes running to find me, yelling, “Easter is coming! Record it, Mom!”

I went to see what was on and, sure enough, the Wonder Pets were talking about Easter coming. They were talking about collecting eggs and helping out the bunny. Oh, how I despise that bunny. I paused the show and told the boys we were going to have a talk before I turned it back on.

I asked, “Is the Easter bunny real?”

They both shouted, “NO!”

“What is Easter about?”

“Jesus!” Cameron answered.

Not to be outdone, Connor yelled, “Jesus is alive!”

We talked about it a little more and then I let them watch the show. As I walked away, I realized that we’re doing it right. It’s okay for them to watch the shows like that one as long as they understand what it’s all really about. And they knew what Easter is about with no prompting. They get it and understand it as much as kids that age can.

I let the aggravation roll off me. All the pictures of the bunny and Facebook post of Easter crafts and center pieces that are about nest and eggs and bunnies. I don’t have to let it bother me. I don’t have to let it affect the way we spend this weekend.

And then I thought back to the Jewish people and Passover. Last Sunday I attended a church where the message was given by a Jew for Jesus. It was amazing. I knew almost nothing about Passover, other than it was in remembrance of God freeing the Jews from slavery in Egypt. I learned so much.

I found it incredible how every part of the Passover meal relates directly to Jesus. The first time Christians had communion was at Jesus’s last Passover Seder. And as the Jewish people remember the sacrifice of a lamb to spare their firstborn sons, we remember the sacrifice of the Lamb who is the firstborn Son.

Last year on Good Friday, I took the boys on an adventure to find the cross. This year I’m focusing on the Lamb. When I see that bunny, I’ll remember the Lamb. And, when we are on our egg hunt, we will remember the Lamb.

Remember the Lamb who died so that we may live and rejoice that He is alive! The tomb is empty! Our Savior lives!

The bunny doesn’t matter.

From my family to yours, happy Easter.

You can learn more about Jews for Jesus here.

Happy Halloween

Tomorrow is Halloween. I’ve shared my thoughts on Christmas and Santa Claus. I’ve told you where I stand on the Easter Bunny.  So where do I stand on Halloween? Is it a satanic holiday that we stay completely away from? Is it all just fun and we go all out?

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I guess you could find us somewhere right in the middle. Yes, the boys have costumes. Yes, we went to a Halloween party last weekend. Yes, we are going to do a little trick-or-treating this year.

I believe Halloween is just like everything else. If you want it to be satanic, you can make it that way.  You can also worship Santa Claus at Christmas and make that holiday anything but holy. It’s a matter of where your heart is, and our hearts are good.

Of course, there are things that I dislike about Halloween. Honestly I despise anything where you ask people to give you something (this includes bridal and baby showers). I can’t stand the idea of going to strangers and asking them for candy. When I was little, on the handful of Halloweens we actually went trick-or-treating, we would go up and down our street. We knew everyone. We currently live in a neighborhood where there aren’t a lot of kids and few houses even turn their lights on. Each of the last three years, we’ve had exactly two trick-or-treaters.

If there’s no one handing out candy in our neighborhood, then where can we go? I really don’t like the idea of driving to another neighborhood to go trick-or-treating. (Although we have been invited to go with friends in their neighborhoods.) Instead, we put on our costumes and go see the grandparents. We are going to take part in our town’s business trick-or-treating in the afternoon, and we will spend the evening at home waiting for those two trick-or-treaters that will stop by.

And don’t get me started on the costumes. Halloween may be the one time I’m grateful to not have a little girl. It was hard enough finding appropriate costumes for my boys. Have you seen the little girl costumes? The little girl police costume has a short, frilly skirt, handcuffs, and fingerless gloves. Why are we sexualizing our little girls?

For my boys the costumes were slightly easier. However, the first costume Connor picked up was a zombie doctor. Why are there gruesome zombie costumes for four-year olds? And then, because he is big for his age, the age appropriate costume he really wanted didn’t come in his size. Thank goodness I had that elephant costume in the closet.

Earlier this month we went to our local orchard. There was a hayride out to the pumpkin patch. The boys loved it, and they got to pick out their own pumpkins. Instead of carving them, I gave the boys paint and paintbrushes (and their fingers) and let them paint them. They were so pleased with the results and put their pumpkins on the front porch. (Note: if you let kids paint pumpkins with washable paint, set the pumpkins outside and it rains, the paint will wash off.)

There is nothing wrong with pumpkins or jack-o-lanterns. I’m pretty sure God loves pumpkins since He made them. Unless you are kneeling down and worshipping your pumpkins, I don’t see anything satanic about our pumpkins,

So we have our wholesome, age appropriate costumes, our pumpkins on the porch, and our trick-or-treating plan, and I think that’s okay. We’ve had the talk so they know that anything scary that might see is pretend, although we are doing our best to stay away from the scary stuff. We are going to get some candy and remember to say thank you. We are going to walk through downtown and interact with the local businesses. We are going to hold open doors and wait our turn. There will be no satanic rituals in our Halloween.

I was wracking my brain this afternoon trying to find good holiday comparison for Halloween. It took me a while to come up with the right way to describe my feelings about it, but I finally figured it out. Halloween is a child’s St. Patrick’s Day. Sure, it probably meant something when it first started and it may still mean that to some people today. However, today St. Patrick’s Day is about green beer and Halloween is about costumes and candy.

The most important thing is to guard your heart. Everything that doesn’t move you to God will move you away from God. If you let it, anything can be turned evil.

And if you are looking for us tomorrow evening, you can find us at home with the porch light on waiting for that random van that happens to be driving down our road and stops.

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A journey to find the cross

Today is Good Friday. It’s the day of rememberence and reflection of Jesus dying on the cross for the world. I believe it’s as important to know that He didn’t have to die as the fact that He actually did die.

At any moment, He could have changed the story. The soldiers taunted Him as he hung on the cross saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God.” Luke 23:35

 

Let there be no doubt

 

At any time, Jesus could have stopped it all.

Matthew 8:23-27 tells us the story of Jesus and the disciples out on a boat. Jesus took a nap as a storm rolled up. The disciples panicked and woke him, thinking they were on the verge of death.  Jesus rose and rebuked the wind and immediately it was calm.  (Matthew 8:27) “So the men marveled, saying, ‘Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”

Luke 19:39-40, as Jesus is coming into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday with the crowd praising him, “And some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, ‘Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.’ But He answered and said to them, ‘I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.”

Matthew 4 tells us about Jesus being tempted by Satan. Jesus was tempted three times by Satan, and each time He turned Satan away with the word of God. And at the end, “the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.” (Matthew 4:11)

If the seas and the winds obey Him, if the stones would cry out to worship Him, if the angels ministered to Him, why would He die for you and me?

Where’s the cross?

We live in a very religious community. With very little thought, I can come up with ten churches within 5 miles of my house.

I knew I wanted to write this post today, and I knew I wanted a picture of a cross to go with it. Being Good Friday and in a religious community, you might think I could walk out my front door and find a cross. You’d be wrong.

The boys and I set out on an adventure today. They were so excited and asked what kind of adventure it was. I told them we were looking for a cross.

“What kind of cross?”

“The kind Jesus died on.”

Even though we’ve been talking about it, they didn’t really understand. They are my babies (even at four and six, they are babies in my heart) and I’ve protected them from death as much as I can. They know their great-grandma Aust is with Jesus, but they haven’t asked any hard questions so I haven’t given them any more details. They love adventures because adventures mean fun so we were off.

Exactly none of our local churches had a cross outside today, not the ones in town or in the country. We drove and drove and could not find a cross.

Finally I had an idea. There is a “mega” church that does a huge walk through Bethlehem for Christmas. Certainly they would have a cross for Easter. It was a few miles out of the way, but we were on an adventure. I pulled into their parking lot and no cross.

Really?!

On the verge of giving up on our quest for the cross, I looked across the four lane highway. And there it was.

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If I hadn’t looked up at just that moment, if I hadn’t pulled into that church parking lot, I would have missed it. Way in the back, meaning so much and looking like so little, was the cross we were looking for.

We drove across the road and pulled in. The boys still didn’t get it, just like most of the world. They were just on an adventure, searching for something that they didn’t understand. We parked and got out of the truck.

Way out of the way, there was a sidewalk leading up to the cross. We walked up to it. This ordinary cross in this ordinary field on this ordinary day took my breath away.

The boys didn’t understand what it meant or even what it was. How could they? They started asking questions. What was a cross? What did it have to do with Jesus?

And standing there it just all made sense. I told them about the nails used in His outstretched hands. I told them about the nails in His feet. Standing there at the cross, I was watching their faces as they both finally understood.

It was an amazing moment that I can’t properly put into words as at the same time a look of understanding crossed both their faces. This is why we had them; this is what we’re raising them towards. An understanding of the cross.

For a moment, the three of us stood there in silence, reflecting, staring at the cross.

Love is a choice

There is only one reason that Jesus willingly died on that cross and it’s love.

Jesus loves you and me and everyone before and after us. There were so many opportunities for the story to change. So many chances for Jesus to just go back to Heaven and leave us all to our wicked ways, but He didn’t.

Just before His arrest, Jesus went to the Mount of Olives and prayed for what was about to transpire “saying, ‘Father, if it is Your will, take this cup from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.'” (Luke 22:42)

And because of God’s great love for us, He did not take that cup from Jesus.

Jesus was arrest, found guilty of nothing, and still was convicted. The people cried out for his death. He was beaten. He was mocked. He was forced to carry the cross (for us) until He fell under the weight of our sin. He was nailed to the cross.

And hanging there on that cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34) Even on the cross, He thought not of Himself but for those that He was hanging there for.

That day, that cross

When I think of that day, it’s a day unlike today. Today was warm. The sun was shining. The birds were singing.

That day on Calvary I imagine to be much different.

I imagine it to be dark, as if the sun couldn’t bear to shine. I imagine the birds are silent as they mourn the death of our King. I imagine it cold and dreary, without hope, as the Son of God hangs on that tree. I imagine a silent Heaven as the angels wish to swoop down and end His suffering. And I imagine a God heartbroken at the pain and proud of the strength as His Son gives up His life for you and me.

And as dark and dreary as I imagine that day to have been, the sunshine seemed fitting today. It serves as a reminder of the amazing and wondrous thing that happened just three days later.

The Heavens rejoiced. The world sang out. Jesus conquered death so that we may live forever with Him.

As dark as that day was, today my Savior lives. And soon He is coming to take me home.

Sunday is not an egg-stravaganza or celebration of spring

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(photo credit: Cassidy Lewellen)

 

This is the holiest week in the Christian faith. It is a week of reflection and celebration. And contrary to everything my kids have seen on tv this week, it is not a spring egg-stravaganza.

This past Sunday was Palm Sunday. It was the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and the people spread palm leaves out on the road. They shouted, “Hosanna!” (Matthew 21:1-11)  as He rode in. It was just days before Jesus was betrayed, arrested, beaten and crucified.

Friday is Good Friday, the day Jesus died for you and me and everyone else. It is a day of remembrance. Jesus lived a sinless life and was willing to die on the cross for all of us. God loves us so much He sent His Son to die a horrible death for you and me.

And Sunday is Easter. A day of great celebration. The day Jesus conquered the grave and rose from the dead. It is the day that the stone was rolled away from the tomb to show the world an empty grave. (Matthew 28) This is the most important of all the biblical stories. Without Jesus rising from the dead, none of the rest of it matters.

 

Egg-stravaganza

I have two young boys, and they love cartoons. Their favorites can be found on Nick Jr. and the Disney Channel. Yesterday every cartoon was about Easter. Wow. That sounds great, doesn’t it? But the Easter being celebrated on tv is not the Easter that we will be celebrating. All the shows were about the Easter bunny and finding eggs and helping the bunny and a celebration of spring and the blooming flowers. It got to the point that my youngest son asked me if Easter was the Easter bunny’s birthday. Um, no. Easter is not the bunny’s birthday.

This lead to a long discussion where we pulled out their children’s Bible (or the Jesus book as it gets called around here). We read through all the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) discussing all the miraculous things Jesus did. And then we got to the crucifixion (which is very, very condensed). I then had to explain all sorts of fun words to a four year old and a six year old. Words like death, dead, grave, and tomb. Once they understood that as best they could, we got to the resurrection.

We talked about how Jesus rose from the dead and how that meant that He was alive again. We talked about how He is living in Heaven with God and someday He is going to come back and get us so we can live with Him. I told them that Easter is the day we celebrate that Jesus is alive. And my six year old reacted to that information the way we all should. He looked at me with his eyes wide and said, “WOW!” And, really, wow is the best way to describe all of it.

 

Are we doing it wrong?

 

As I’ve been writing here about faith, I’ve thought a lot about it. I’ve thought about what my faith means to me and how we celebrate the holidays, especially now that we have kids. I’ve thought about Christmas, the celebration of Jesus’s birth. I wrote a post about how we handle Santa Claus in a Christian home. And then I thought about how we celebrate Easter. We read the Bible. We talk about how Jesus is alive. We do go on egg hunts. We do not do the Easter bunny. The boys know that the bunny is pretend.

But as I was thinking about all of this, I wondered if we are celebrating these two important holidays the right way. For Christmas, we gather our families together sometimes with celebrations happening on multiple days. There are gifts and lights and decorations and parties. It is spectacular and over the top.

And then Easter comes. There are no lights and decorations unless you have an Easter Lily. Theres no big gift giving. Depending on your family, there may be some candy or even Easter baskets and some gifts like religious jewelry or Bibles. And sure, you may even have an Easter dinner. But I’m guessing that you don’t put up decorations a month (or more) in advance of Easter. I’m guess there’s not a giant pile of gifts awaiting your kids when they wake up Easter morning. And although you may have dinner with your extended family, I think it’s a safe bet that you aren’t having Easter dinner three or four times with all of your family and friends. And your employer probably hasn’t thrown an Easter party for you and your coworkers.

Compare the two holidays. These are the two big ones for Christians, and I think we may be doing them wrong.

 

A real reason for celebration

 

Don’t get me wrong. Christmas deserves all the celebration and grandeur it gets. Jesus came to Earth as a baby and it is right that we celebrate His birth. But without Easter, without the cross and the resurrection, Christmas would be just another birthday. Without the cross and the empty tomb, the manger is just another birth.

At any time, Jesus could have ended His mission on Earth. He didn’t have to let the soldiers arrest Him. He didn’t have to be beaten. He could have saved Himself from the cross. But He chose to fulfill God’s plan. He chose you and me. He gave His life so we could have eternal life with Him. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:16-17)

We should be shouting it from the rooftops. Our Lord is alive! Our Savior has risen! The stone was rolled away so we could see that the tomb was empty. The sun rose that morning to show the world that He is alive.

This Sunday we will thank God for the sunshine and the flowers that are starting to bloom and the green grass and even bunnies, but that’s not what we’ll be celebrating.  We will be celebrating that Jesus is alive.

This year we are celebrating while looking through the eyes of a child who heard the story and could only say, “Wow!”

Jesus IS alive! WOW!