What Size Are Your Britches?

What Size Are Your Britches?
   Some days when I think I’m sailing along just fine, I hear my mother’s voice whispering in my ear: “Don’t get too big for your britches.” That was her way of corralling my ego when it was evident I was being overly prideful. I might have been bragging about a job I thought I had done better than someone else. Or, perhaps, enjoying an “A” on a test and feeling really smart when I knew darn well I had had a lot of help in that subject. The image of tight fitting pants usually could “bring me down a peg or two.” That was another of Mom’s idioms.
   She has been gone many years, but the cautionary advice she used to keep me “between the guardrails” as a kid is still working today.
   Lately, the Lord has blessed me with a number of opportunities that have turned into successes. As I smiled at my reflection in the mirror one morning, thinking how good I felt about these ventures, I heard my mom whispering in my ear that old familiar warning about my britches. It actually made me laugh because I realized what an appropriate image it brought to mind.
   Pride would never have made it onto the seven deadly sins list if it wasn’t so efficient at puffing us up, making us haughty, and bringing on bragging. Pride can easily expand our opinion of ourselves and make us believe we are bigger and better than our peers.
   We may be familiar with the warning in Proverbs 16:18 that says, “Pride goeth before destruction” (KJV). It is clear where too much pride can take us.
   However, properly placed pride and well-balanced self-esteem do have their places. Like spicy herbs, they can flavor our personalities and be helpful to our conduct, as long as we remember the rest of the above scripture, which points out “and haughtiness before a fall.” That is where keeping in mind what size britches we are wearing is useful.
   When things are going great, success is piling up, and recognition is pouring in for our talents or achievements, it can be easy to slip into a prideful pit of self-aggrandizement.
   But, our Lord is clear with his advice on how to balance these natural inclinations. David realized this when the Lord rescued him from his enemies and from Saul. He sang in Psalm 18:27 that “you rescue those who are humble, but you humiliate the proud.”
   And Romans 12:3 tells us to “be honest in your estimate of yourselves, measuring your value by how much faith God has given us.”
   It is fine to have healthy self-esteem and appraisal of ourselves, as long as we realize where our talents and abilities come from. They are part of the story God is writing in our lives. We have been given them by a loving Lord who wants us to use them for their intended purposes. 1 Peter 4:10 says “God has given gifts to each of you; manage them well so that God’s generosity can flow through you.”
   So, we should nurture and enjoy our talents and abilities. We must work hard to perfect them. But if we begin to feel a bit of binding in our britches, it may be time to take a self-inventory and give a nod of gratitude to God for the gifts we have been given.
-Ms. Nancy Baumgartner, White Pine Church, Cogan House Township

Resurrection Steps

Resurrection Steps
   Watch that first step; it’s a doozy! First steps can be fearful. They take us into unfamiliar territory, places where we are unsure of ourselves. I remember my first step into public speaking in the second grade. I do not remember why I was in front of the class or what I said; all I remember was this tightness in my right pant leg that I had not noticed before. As I was talking, the bulge in my pant leg began to move from my thigh down to my knee and then slithered down my leg and presented itself on top of my tennis shoe. To my horror, it was yesterday’s white and blue stripped underwear that I had left in my pants the night before!
   It is no wonder that first steps can be so intimidating. We put them off and put them off, sometimes making circumstances take the next step for us. Leaving a toxic work environment or a lifeless relationship is not so easy. A lady in my church talked with me about her husband’s alcoholism many times. When I asked why she didn’t leave him, she said, “At least with him I know what to expect.” The fear of the unknown kept her from taking the first step to freedom.
   Jesus’ disciples didn’t know how to take the first steps into living the resurrection life either. Although Jesus had revealed his resurrected body to them several times, they were still reluctant to take the first step. It took a bad fishing trip to move them. (This is recorded in John 21.) Most fishermen will tell you that a bad day fishing is still better than a good day at work, but in this case, fishing and work were one and the same. These professional fishermen fished all night and caught nothing. For guys used to catching fish, this was a blow to their egos. To add insult to injury, the risen Lord showed up on the beach and shouted to them: “‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’” Jesus knowingly predicted their failure (John 21:5). When you don’t take the first steps to live the resurrection life, you will be left empty. Embarrassingly, they had to shout back for all to hear “No!”
   First steps are not easy, but Jesus sweetened it by telling them to throw their nets “‘on the right side of the boat’” to find some fish. “When they did, they were unable to haul in the net because of the large number of fish” (v. 6). It was then that the first steps to living the resurrection life began. They learned that with Jesus in your life anything is possible. Impetuous Peter stripped down to his underwear and jumped into the water and swam ashore. The other disciples rowed the fish-filled boat to the beach (vv. 7-8). It was here they took the first steps to living the resurrection life.
   To begin living the resurrection life, you must come to Jesus. Take the first step, swim, row, or run, but come to Jesus. He is waiting for you, and once you take the first step, the second step is even easier. All you do is commune with him and enjoy resurrection life now!
-Rev. David Mansfield, retired Disciples of Christ pastor

Eastertide

What Is Eastertide?
   Happy Eastertide! I pray everyone had a wonderful celebration of Our Lord and Savior this past Sunday. This season of Easter is one filled with hope and new life. Even though Easter was early this year and all the spring flowers are not in bloom, they soon will be. The celebration of Easter lasts for more than one day. Many Christians celebrate a whole season as Eastertide. This church season runs from Easter Sunday to the day of Pentecost, which this year is May 19th. During Eastertide we are continually reminded of the resurrected Jesus Christ and the events that happened between him and his disciples after Jesus was raised from the dead.
   All of these events are filled with hope and change. All record Jesus sending his disciples out into the world to spread the message he had taught them, both before and after the resurrection. The disciples were sent into all the world to preach the gospel and to let everyone know that they are beloved children of God. John 3:16 states, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” This is good news that deserves to be shared with everyone. Some may not listen or believe this good news, but followers of Christ are called to spread this message without concern whether it takes root in the person we are sharing the good news with. I do not believe this means we pester people with the gospel, but when the opportunity presents itself, we should be willing to talk about why we believe and what Christ’s message means to us.
   Eastertide is a time in the church year when we are strengthened for this work. Let us never forget the most important part of Christ’s message is to love God with all our being and our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). This is called The Great Commandment. The Great Commandment also requires us to radically respect the dignity of every human being. This sounds simple, but it is something we all need to work on, especially with those who are different than we are.
   May this Eastertide remind all of us how much we are loved by God, and may God give us the strength and courage to share that love with others.
-Rev. Lauri Kerr, West Branch Missioner of the Episcopal Church

Hope In The Valley

Hope In The Valley
   “Mountaintops are for views and inspirations, but fruit is grown in the valleys,” Billy Graham once stated. Interestingly, the Bible talks of mountaintops and valleys 500 times.
   Sometimes we are in a valley experience. The familiar mountain is currently behind us, and now our days seem shadowy and even dark. Instead of being refreshing, even the trees look large and foreboding with weird and unexpected shapes. Sometimes the people we are with even appear different, distorted, and unfamiliar. We long for the sunshine, color, and internal happiness we felt, and we probably wonder when we will ascend out of the valley and back into the sunshine.
   Often while in the valley, we feel that it will be our permanent home. Mountain days were quick and fleeting, and nights were restful. But in the valley, nights seem never-ending, full of troubled dreams and unanswered questions. Valley nights can be more painful than valley days.
   Throughout the valley days, whether they are brief or seemingly ceaseless, the only control we have is of ourselves. We desperately want to change the circumstances, challenges, and even our traveling companions, but the knowledge that we cannot causes valley days to seem longer than they actually are.
   In these times of dark distress, the only options are clinging to our Shepherd, choosing to ask Him to change us, and surrendering to the process. And, as we grieve and admit the reality of the dark days, God works. He works in ways unimaginable to us, producing fruit and preparing us for greater service!
   As we sojourn together, even through distressing valley days, may we find relief by reading, especially, Psalm 104 with its timely reminder: God is creator and sustainer. Verse 10 states, “You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills…” (ESV). And with those springs comes great fruitfulness!
   Moving to the New Testament, Christ exemplifies the valleys of life and reveals He is also the redeemer. Jesus gave His greatest sermon on a mount, was transfigured to His Heavenly Glory on a mountain, and climbed up whenever traveling to Jerusalem. This same Savior, however, prayed fervently in the shadowed wood, asking His Father to help Him to accept His Father’s will. At His death, He even descended to the valley of hell.
   He arose out of that valley: victorious, stronger than ever, the Great Deliverer to give eternal help and life. He knows firsthand the betrayal, pain, and suffering of valleys. And HE CONQUERED IT ALL! May we know that valley days are temporary, that deliverance will come, and the Conquering Christ can be our Conquering Savior!
   As Kelly Willard so beautifully sang in the song “Hidden Valleys:”
   “Hidden valleys produce a life song. Hidden valleys will make a heart strong…Hidden valleys turn shepherds to kings.”
-Rebecca Logan, Retired UPMC Chaplain, Member Lycoming Valley Baptist Church

Holy Week – Holy Times

Holy Times
   It is a holy time for worshipers in Lycoming County. No fewer than three religions have been or will be observing holy days in the coming month. This week, Christians of both Protestant and Catholic traditions observe Holy Week in preparation for Easter. Earlier this month, the Islamic fast of Ramadan began, and it will continue into next month. And in late April, the Jewish community will celebrate Passover.
   This week, articles describing each of these holy times have appeared in this publication, written by representatives of the Christian (both Catholic and Protestant), Islamic, and Jewish communities of the Williamsport area. My purpose, however, is to make the case that it is important for us to learn about one another.
   Given that these religious observances are quite different from one another (for example, one is a fast, the other a feast), can we find any sort of common ground, other than the fact of their nearness to one another in the calendar?
   The short answer to this is yes. One commonality is all three of these faiths claim the same roots. All three claim to worship the same God who created Adam and Eve, saved Noah from the flood, and promised descendants to Abraham.
   Yes, there are some differences in belief among the three that are difficult to reconcile, but doing so is not the intent of this article. There are many beliefs upon which followers of all three can agree. For example, our dependence on God, a concern for the poor, and God’s expectation that we love our neighbor.
   In the Christian tradition, this is perhaps best illustrated in Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan. In that story, Jesus lifts up a religious outsider (the Samaritans were no friends of the Jewish people in those days) as the model of what it means to love one’s neighbor. This bears additional significance when Jesus affirms that loving one’s neighbor is one of the most important expectations God has of us. You can read the whole parable in Luke 10:25-37.
   I am not aware of a similar story in either Judaism or Islam, but I do know that both have very similar teachings regarding the principle on which the story was made: God wants us to love one another.
   So, given that we really do have a lot in common, particularly a command to love one another, I would suggest that it is important for us to learn from each other. To learn about Holy Week is to learn about a God whose love for us knows no bounds. To learn about Passover is to learn about the goodness of God who delivers from bondage. And to learn about Ramadan is to learn of the dedication of those who seek to do God’s will.
   And, perhaps most importantly, to learn about one another’s tradition is to learn how to love one another. Given the state that the world is in today, I can think of few things more important.
   And so, whether you will be observing Holy Week, Ramadan, Passover, something entirely different, or nothing at all, I wish you blessings during this holy time in Lycoming County.
-Rev. Jeff LeCrone, Pastor, St. Luke Lutheran Church, Williamsport, and Chair of United Churches of Lycoming County’s Interfaith Dialogue Commission

Islam notes

The Teaching Of Islam In Times Of Crisis
   This article is an attempt to highlight the basic tenets and beliefs in Islam. Sometimes, people may use religion to justify their actions, whether it is permissible within the religion or not, so it is very important to read authentic books on Islam, and other religions, before making a judgment. It is also impossible to capture the breadth and nuances of an entire religion in this article; thus, only key tenants of Islam are highlighted.
   Islam is a religion of peace and submission to Almighty God. [The translation of God in Arabic is Allah (SWT)]. It is a continuation of monotheistic belief and was preached by Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him (PBUH), who lived from 629–632 CE. The Quran clarifies that Allah (SWT) is the same God who Jews and Christians believe in, and states, “And say to the Jews and the Christians: We believe in what is sent down to us and sent down to you, and our God and your God is One, and to Him we submit (ourselves)” (29:46). Muslims believe that Muhammad’s (PBUH) Prophethood was foretold in the original Biblical and Judaic texts.
   The revelations from Allah (SWT) took 23 years to completion and became the Holy Quran, which still is in its original Arabic text. The Holy Quran contains a complete code of life for humankind. It came at a time when Arabia was passing through dark ages: tribal warfare and the killing of female children at birth were the norm. The Quran teaches Muslims to have the utmost respect to those who may follow other religions. It states, “There is no compulsion in religion,” (2:256) and forbids insulting non-Muslims, declaring “Insult not those whom disbelievers worship besides Allah (SWT), lest they insult Allah (SWT) wrongfully (6:108). Respecting people of other faiths is repeated in other places in the Quran (29:46).
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)
   Though the Prophet (PBUH) did not receive any formal education, he was highly respected within his community. In fact, even prior to Prophethood, he was called al-Amin (the trusted one in Arabic) among his community. God was his teacher through the angel Gabriel. The Quran informs about previous prophets from Adam all the way to Prophet Jesus (peace be upon them) and their teachings. Muslims are supposed to revere and believe all prophets equally. The Quran declares, “The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the believers all believe Allah (SWT), all His angels, all His books that He revealed to the various prophets and all His messengers that He sent. They believe in such messengers without making any distinction between them” (2:285). The teachings of the Prophet (PBUH) are derived from the teachings of the Quran, which Muslims believe is the word of Allah (SWT).
Islam and Science
   The Quran contains various knowledge that was unknown to humanity at the time of revelation; we will highlight a few verses that pertain to human biology and astronomy. Pertaining to biology, we know now that most living things are made from water. The Quran states, “Have those who disbelieved not considered that the heavens and the earth were a joined entity, and then We separated them and made from water every living thing? Then will they not believe?” (21:30). The realization that living organisms are predominantly composed of water only dawned upon humanity with the advent of the microscope (nearly 1,000 years later). In the arid landscapes of Arabia, one would least expect that all life be made of water. The Quran also describes the embryologic process of human development (23:12-14), which was not known to scientists for centuries later. Pertaining to astronomy, the Quran provides clear evidence of our heliocentric solar system, which was “discovered” by scientists in 1543 CE, noting: “And it is He [Allah (SWT)] who created the night and the day and the sun and the moon; all [heavenly bodies] in an orbit are swimming” (Quran, 21:33). The Quran also describes the expansion of the universe, “And the heaven We constructed with strength, and indeed, We are [its] expander” (Quran, 51:47). Perhaps one lesser known fact, to most people, is that all iron on earth comes from meteorites; this was also described in the Quran, “We have already sent Our messengers with clear evidences and sent down with them the Scripture and the balance that the people may maintain [their affairs] in justice. And We sent down iron, wherein is great might and benefits for the people” (57:25). Allah (SWT) challenges those who may doubt that the Quran is the word of God, by asking them to attempt to replicate it; in Surah Baqarah, “And if you are in doubt as to that which we have revealed to Our servant, then bring a Surah the like of this, and do call your supporters other than Allah (SWT), if you truly think you can” (2:23).
Islam: The Basics – Five Pillars of Islam
   There are five basic Pillars of Islam: believing in One God, praying five times daily, fasting one month (Ramadan), paying obligatory poor dues, and going on Pilgrimage once in a lifetime if one has the financial ability. These rituals help Muslims practice complete submission to the will of God. Praying five times a day purifies the heart and reminds one constantly about God. During Ramadan, which started on March 11th this year, Muslims do not eat or drink anything from sunrise to sunset! Not only do they need to abstain from eating and drinking, they have to abstain from evil talk or thought or any unlawful act, which may nullify the fast.
   At the end of Ramadan, Muslims celebrate with feasting and giving donations to the poor and gifts to friends and family. Those able give 2.5% of their annual savings to the needy, besides other optional charity. Islam is complete submission to the will of Allah (SWT). Muslims believe that we, as humans, are insignificant when it comes to the will of Allah (SWT). In the past, populations were put through various trials; the Divine Books (Torah, Bible, and Quran) all include testimonials to these. For example, in the times of Prophets Moses and Noah (peace be upon them), their people were tested through trials and tribulations in order to help guide the people on the straight path and to test their iman (faith).
Islam and Philosophy
   We believe that Allah (SWT)’s decree is the most powerful. In Sura Fil (105: 1-5), the story of Abraha is narrated. King Abraha came with an army of elephants to destroy the Kabba but was thwarted when the elephants refused to move forward, and Allah (SWT) sent a fleet of birds, who dropped pebbles on the army, killing the enemies and saving the Kabba. Here we see that small birds can stop a mighty army! We can think of this incident as a lesson to human beings. No matter how powerful we may seem, we are truly helpless and so insignificant in the sight of Almighty God.
   We often question why bad things happen to good people and vice versa. Surah Taha (20:129) answers this, stating: “Had a period of respite not been already decreed by Allah (SWT), the wrongdoers would have faced judgment quickly while in this world.” This underscores the hidden repercussions of our actions, advising against the arrogance of believing that one can escape the consequences of wrongdoing. Simultaneously, it offers comfort to those confronting challenges, assuring them that hardships are transient and necessitate patience. At the same time, Islam teaches us of Allah (SWT)’s mercy. The Quran states, “O my servants who have transgressed against their soul, do not despair of Allah (SWT)’s mercy” (39:53). It has been repeated throughout the Quran and Islamic tradition to repent for any wrongdoing.
Islam and Peace
   Islam is a religion that promotes peace and the avoidance of violence, and it encourages its adherents to approach others with the highest level of kindness. While a prevalent notion in Western media suggests that Islam spread through force, examining the countries with the largest Muslim populations, such as Pakistan, Indonesia, India, and Bangladesh, reveals that Islam predominantly disseminated in these regions through the positive influence of Muslim traders and commercial interactions. Islam advocates the principle of “Repel evil with that which is better” (13:22; 23:96; 28:54; 29:46) and that if one is faced with aggression and intolerance, he/she should respond with peace. In the Quran, we are told “And the servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them [harshly], they say [words of] peace” (Surah Al-Furqan, 25:63).
Islam and Humanity
   Muslims believe that Islam teaches that humankind is held to the highest standard, and is the most honored of all of God’s creations. The Quran states, “Mankind is the best of creation. Allah (SWT) has honored the children of Adam” (95:4). We have been given countless blessings by God, from the alveoli in our bodies that help us with respiration, to the shade of trees on a hot day. The Quran states, “And if you should count the favors of Allah (SWT), you could not enumerate them” (16:18). If we are given such a high rank, we must be responsible with our actions. We should, at the very least, not oppress nor harm others.
   The Quran states, “O humanity! Indeed, We created you from a male and a female, and made you into peoples and tribes so that you may get to know one another. Surely the most noble of you in the sight of Allah (SWT) is the most righteous among you” (49:13). This conveys the message that people’s value comes not from their race, ethnicity, or gender, but from their righteousness. The Prophet (PBUH) said to his followers, “Allah (SWT) will not be merciful to those who are not merciful to humankind” (Sahih Al-Bukhari), and that “Nobody can be a good Muslim unless he /she checks whether their neighbor has something to eat before going to bed.” In the current climate of increased Islamophobia and Antisemitism, it is important to emphasize these teachings of compassion, empathy, and social responsibility. To illustrate with examples from various traditions, one significant teaching in Islam is the strong prohibition against unlawfully taking human lives. The Prophet (PBUH) explicitly forbade his followers from killing children, women, or the elderly during times of confrontation or warfare. Moreover, there is a strict injunction against destroying places of worship and cutting down fruit trees. These lessons are pertinent to modern times more than ever.
The Final Sermon of Muhammad (PBUH)
   The Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) final sermon can be used to broadly highlight Islam’s teachings. Interestingly, he addresses all of humankind in his last sermon, contrary to other sermons which are addressed specifically to Believers and Muslims. The sermon imparts essential lessons, stressing the significance of refraining from causing harm, steering clear of usary, recognizing the influence of Satan, eradicating racism, and treating women with respect. Additionally, it promotes worship, fosters unity among Muslims, and advocates adherence to the teachings of the Quran and Sunnah.
   To learn more about Islam, please access valid web sites like https://yaqeeninstitute.org/ or the various podcasts of https://www.qalam.institute/. The authors acknowledge this article is not an exhaustive exploration of Ramadan nor Islamic principle, but rather a high level view. Any good that comes from this is from Allah (SWT), and any mistakes are from ourselves (4:79).
   Acronyms: PBUH=peace be upon him; SWT=SWT is an abbreviation of the Arabic phrase “Subhanahu wa Ta’ala,” which means “Glory be to Him, the Exalted.” Please note that all in-text citations refer to the (chapter in the Quran: verse within the chapter).
-Dr. Abdul Pathan and his daughter Dr. Munjireen Sifat, represent the Williamsport Islamic Center.

The Christian Walk During Holy Week

The Christian Walk During Holy Week
   During Holy Week, the week before Easter, Christians recall the events leading up to Jesus’ death by crucifixion and, according to their faith, His Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
   The week includes six days of special significance.
   The first day is Palm Sunday, which observes Jesus’ humble and triumphal entry (on a donkey) into Jerusalem to observe Passover. According to the Gospel account, Jesus was greeted by crowds of people who spread their cloaks, waved and laid palm leaves in His path, and proclaimed Him the Son of David, with shouts of Hosannas (Matthew 21:7-9)! It is a reminder to Christians to welcome Jesus or renew Him coming into their hearts, by being willing to follow Him. In many Christian churches, Palm Sunday is celebrated with a blessing and procession of palms.
   Holy Wednesday is set aside to commemorate the “Bargain of Judas” as a secret spy among the disciples. It is also the day that a woman anointed Jesus’ head and feet with a costly oil, which the disciples were indignant about, thinking she should have sold the expensive oil, and given the money to the poor (Matthew 26:7-10, Mark 14:3-6).
   Maundy Thursday marks Jesus’ foundational preparation of His death at His Last Supper, thereafter, establishing the central elements of bread and the cup for Christian Communion and confession of sins. Jesus replaced the traditional servant’s work to wash the feet of His Twelve Disciples at the Last Supper and did the washing Himself to show His love. Jesus also identified the disciple who had betrayed Him for thirty pieces of silver, though Jesus knew the whole time who the betrayer would be (John 13).
   Good Friday has the worship service called Tenebrae, meaning “darkness.” It commemorates Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, after carrying His own cross to Golgotha, a hill outside Jerusalem. It is traditionally a day of sorrow, penance, and fasting. Many Christian churches have worship services from 12:00-3:00 p.m., the time of Jesus’ taking His last breath on earth (John 19).
   Holy Saturday is the traditional end of Lent. Today it is a time for the children’s egg hunts. There just may be a reason for that. Early Christian Churches prohibited the eating of eggs during Holy Week, but chickens continued to lay eggs during that time. The belief of specially identifying those as Holy Week eggs brought about their decoration. The egg itself became a symbol of the Resurrection. Just as Jesus rose from the tomb, the egg symbolized new life emerging from the eggshell.
   Easter Sunday is the celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection, according to the Gospels, on the third day after His crucifixion. The day celebrates the defeat of death and the hope of salvation for all who believe in the Trinity: Father God, His Son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Many churches have sunrise services, celebrating when the awakening sun opens the day. It is a day of celebration, singing Easter hymns, and shouting “Hallelujahs” and “He is Risen” in the worship experiences. It is not the end, but the day of the beginning for all of us (John 20).
   Happy Holy Week and Easter to all.
-Kathy F. Burkhart, Pastor of the New Sonrise Vision and North Mountain Stone Heap Christian Churches in the Unityville, Millville area

Holy Week – Heart, Mind, & Soul

Holy Week – Heart, Mind, Soul
   The average person makes about 35,000 decisions per day. These decisions range from where we will eat, how we will act, and what we will say to one another. People’s decisions can range from the small actions of everyday life to those big decisions that can transform their life and those around them. However, what initial instinct does a person use to make a decision? Some people make a decision based on a feeling within their heart; they know deep within themselves to make a determined choice. Some call this a gut response. Others come to a decision based on analyzing the situation with their mind: weighing out the options and creating a step-by-step plan. While many arrive at a decision through their soul: acknowledging that some aspect of the divine is at work through their prayer and meditation.
   This week, many Christians will make the decision to intentionally enter into the celebration of Holy Week. In particular, they will join in the pinnacle celebrations of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. Christians attend these celebrations for a variety of reasons: a love for the spiritual journey of Christ’s death and resurrection, a long-standing tradition within their own lives, or an inner invitation to take a closer look during these sacred days. No matter the reason which leads one to celebrate these intentional days, the celebration of Holy Week is a decision and response that comes from the heart, mind, and soul.
   On the evening of Holy Thursday, the Christian community remembers how Jesus gathered his apostles in the upper room for the Passover meal. Their beloved teacher, the Son of God, humbled himself to wash the feet of those friends who would later hide in fear. It was at that meal where Jesus broke the bread and shared the cup of wine, saying: “this is my body…this is the cup of my blood…do this in memory of me” (Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:17-20 NAB). In this celebration, the Church acknowledges Jesus’ true presence in what appears to be broken bread and poured out wine. However, this is not the only transformation. The entire community is transformed into the Body of Christ here and now. Loving hearts are moved to become the Christ within their own families, community, and world. The Christian faithful are given that transformative decision to “wash the feet of others” by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and serving others without terms or conditions.
   The somber commemoration of Good Friday recalls the suffering, passion, and death of Jesus. It is almost impossible to understand the suffering of an innocent person. How could someone who proclaimed good news to the poor, healed the sick, and gave freedom to the oppressed be forced to suffer one of the most excruciating methods of punishment? Christ’s decision to willingly suffer in love of all creation may not be the decision any person might have made in weighing out the potential options. Yet, what appears to be an illogical decision of the mind can be the most logical sacrifice of love for another.
   The joyous celebration of Easter begins on Saturday at sunset with the Easter Vigil. The community gathers in a pitch-black church during the darkness of night. However, what appears to be an uncomfortable darkness is illuminated by the bright light of the Easter Candle, with the words: “the Light of Christ.” Slowly the entire church building is brightened by the Living Church, and these celebrants hold their own lighted candles. It is Christ’s light of Resurrection that guides the soul in their response to be the light of hope in our dark world.
   The decision to intentionally enter into Holy Week may be rooted in a variety of reasons. No matter how people find themselves in a local church this week – whether from a response of the heart, an action from the mind, or a movement within the soul – any response to journey with Christ through his passion, death, and resurrection comes from the love of God. When Christ was asked for the greatest commandment, he responded from the Old Testament scriptures, saying: “‘you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul’” (Mark 12:30). This is the Paschal Mystery that we celebrate during Holy Week. This is the invitation to love God with our heart, mind, and soul as the Christian community continues to show Christ’s love in service, sacrifice, and the light of hope.
-Andrew McCarroll, Seminarian at St. Boniface and St. Lawrence Parishes

Praying

Praying
   When I was about fourteen years old, I gave into peer pressure and began smoking with my friends. I did not have a personal relationship with Jesus at that time. I did have parents who would never condone my smoking. This meant going to great lengths to hide my bad habit.
   My friends and I got away with our little secret for many years. After all, the warning on the pack simply stated that cigarettes may be hazardous to your health, not that they definitely were. It wasn’t the smoking that worried me; it was getting caught.
   The years went by, and I continued to smoke. Finally, I was at an age when my parents allowed me to smoke. But things were beginning to change. The warnings on the packs were definite. Smoking was dangerous to your health and could cause results like heart disease and cancer.
   Both my parents were smokers who switched to a milder brand. However, it was too late. At age forty-four, my dad died of a massive heart attack, and some years later, at age sixty, Mom succumbed to lung cancer. I was crushed.
   In spite of this, I kept on smoking. Now, though, I knew Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. I was a wreck but could not quit smoking. I cried and I prayed, and I cried and I prayed some more. I counseled with my pastor and asked my whole church family to pray.
   Little children from my Sunday school class would approach me to let me know that they were praying for me. How pathetic I felt! Why wasn’t God answering my prayer? Why wasn’t He answering the prayers of these children who loved their teacher?
   I knew people would say that God answers every prayer, but sometimes the answer is “no,” and sometimes it is just “wait.” I believed that, but I now was really becoming discouraged. Why would God say “no” when His Word says, “What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” (1 Chorinthians 6:19 KJV).
   There was only one response that I could make, and that was to go back to the Lord. I was alone in the house one day when the Lord spoke to my heart. He told me that prayer had to be honest. I knew immediately what that meant. Hurriedly, I went up the steps.
   I fell at the side of my bed, and kneeling before God, I could not have been more honest. The fact was that I had become addicted to smoking, not just physically but psychologically. Therefore, I enjoyed smoking, and I didn’t want to quit. I admitted this to my precious Lord who already knew, but wanted to hear it from me. I had to ask Him to take away my desire to smoke, my dependance on cigarettes, and the control I was giving to them. I prayed that my desire would be to please Him, surrender all control, and depend wholly on God. What a burden was lifted!
   Prayer is always answered when we pray with a right heart, an honest and submissive heart. It is answered when we pray to our Father the way Jesus Himself prayed: honestly, wanting the Father’s will, and in complete obedience, obedience unto the cross.
   If we do not pray in His will, we are not truly praying. Jesus said, “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me” (John 6:38 KJV). God’s will is always the truth to pray for.
-Peggy Thompson, Junior Church Teacher, Victory Baptist Church, Bloomsburg

Hope Over Trouble

Hope In The Midst Of Trouble
   During the last week of His earthly life, Christ was asked for an explanation of end times. His disciples were questioning what to look for, and as ever, He was completely honest for both their benefit and ours. As Billy Graham once stated, “The Bible tells us that the state of the world will grow darker as we near the end of the age.” In Luke 21:5-38 we read how Christ answered His disciples. Verses ten through nineteen are deeply personal, with Christ using the word “you” twelve times. He warned the disciples about false messiahs, wars, international conflicts, famines, pestilences, persecutions, betrayal, hatred of believers, and the Temple’s and Jerusalem’s destruction. Christ warned the disciples specifically so that the challenging, uncertain times would not overtake them unawares.
   Christ then moves into a more general warning for believers after the disciples are gone. The challenging litany of problems continues from verses 25-28. “There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars,” and on earth, along with the rolling, “roaring” seas. All of heaven will be “shaken” (vs. 25, 26 NIV). Along with the physical signs, humankind will be overcome with anxiety, fear, and perplexity. This will be a dreadful time of emotional, physical, and spiritual turmoil.
   This passage is as up-to-date as this newspaper and today’s headlines! Anxiety and fear are worldwide mental health crises. Jesus did not just share the bad news, however. He gave the disciples and all believers through the ages hopeful encouragement in how to deal with these crises. In this passage, we read that Jesus said to keep settled minds. God will give His words when Christians testify about Him. Understanding God’s wisdom will help us remain victorious. Jesus said, in verse 33, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Realize believers’ souls will both endure and persevere. Stay awake; pray. Straighten up; redemption and God’s Kingdom are close! Watch; don’t be drawn away through drunkenness and cares of this life. Pray for strength to stand unashamed before Jesus. Jesus promises, “I told you these things so that you can have peace in me. In this world you will have trouble, but be brave! I have defeated the world” (John 16:33 NCV).
   The ultimate conclusion to all of this end-time drama is the reappearance of Jesus Himself. Believers will experience joy beyond description as they will never again be separated from the Savior. As Bill Gaither sings in the song, “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow” (Gaither, Gaither, Damico).
   Lent is here; read or listen to the Gospels, and see the life map that God lovingly provided for us.
-Rebecca Logan, Retired UPMC Chaplain, Member Lycoming Valley Baptist Church