Plan a Successful Easter Get-Together

Who is coming to dinner?

Celebrations usually include food and people. Easter is no exception. Friends and families gather to feast and rejoice, in remembrance of the resurrection of the Son of God. 

With fanfare, Grandma presents her famous ham-balls, Aunt Judy brings special party potatoes, Cousin Barbara the red-hot candied apples and not to be out-done, Sister Sue presents her blue-ribbon coconut cake. Or possibly the local take-out joint comes knocking on the door, delivering hot pizza. Whichever scenario you choose, special events include food and community. 

Four months ago, this same crowd gathered to celebrate Christmas. The food was enjoyed, but when you consider the people, not all were enjoyable. Some were barely tolerable. Arriving in anticipation of sharing the joyous holiday, departing hours later feeling less than – judged, misunderstood or confidence shaken. A recurring theme, but a different season – same emotion, leaving an undeniable imprint. 

Will Easter be any different?

Easter celebrations with food, family and community offer choices.

Choosing to eat wisely, combined with portion control, creates delight and energy. Choosing indulgence without restraint generates misery and exhaustion. 

Just like food, gatherings offer choices too – the choice to depart in delight with confidence intact or exit exhausted and miserable. 

You can have a successful family gathering this Easter.

  • Plan the departure time before arrival. Choosing an exit hour is freeing and creates enhanced enjoyment of the occasion. 
  •  Sharing the departure time with the host is courteous. 
  • Stating “Thank you for understanding” expresses expectation of the response.   
  • Expect pushback. Few people enjoy change. 
  • Create a buddy system to protect yourself and others against toxic, overbearing and judgmental guests. 

Conversations become more intentional and meaningful when an exit time is established.  

Choices can be hard. Choosing to step away from the recurring holiday theme is easier said than done. Change is difficult. Old habits die hard. Disappointing others is thorny. However, staying in the sameness is also hard, experiencing celebration after celebration eroding confidence. Exiting in misery hurts your heart. 

When choosing the “right” hard, there is heightened anticipation and enjoyment in each celebration. Space is created with beautiful freedom to fully celebrate and rejoice in the occasion with others while enjoying a piece of coconut cake.

Read the first post in this blog series:

Celebrating Easter

Celebrating Easter

Who invited the bunny, eggs, candy, lamb and lilies to Easter?

The word Easter does not appear in the Bible, and an Easter celebration is not mentioned, with one exception – in the King James version in Acts 12:4. This one reference can give you the idea that the holiday we have today to honor our risen Savior was observed during the time of the apostles, but that was not the case. Easter in this verse was simply a word translators used in place of Passover.  

The word Easter was used in the Germanic languages to denote the festival of the vernal equinox (when the sun’s direct rays strike Earth’s equator before crossing into the Northern hemisphere), which takes place on the first day of spring in North America, Europe and Asia. With the coming of Christianity, it signifies the anniversary of the resurrection of Christ. 

This special celebration of the resurrection at Easter is the oldest Christian festival.  Specific observances of the festival developed over the centuries. Since the resurrection occurred at the time of the Jewish Passover, the first Jewish Christians probably transformed their Passover observance into a celebration of the central events of their new faith. In the early centuries the annual observance was called the pascha, the Greek word for Passover, and focused on Christ as the paschal (Passover) Lamb.

Many scholars maintain the earliest observance probably consisted of a vigil beginning on Saturday evening and ending on Sunday morning and included remembrance of Christ’s crucifixion as well as the resurrection. Evidence from shortly after a.d. 200 shows that the remembrance included the baptism of new Christians and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. By about a.d. 300 most churches divided the original observance, devoting Good Friday to the crucifixion and Easter Sunday to the resurrection. 

Easter, is the Christian celebration of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So who invited a bunny to hop into the story?

The Bible makes no mention of a long-eared, short-tailed creature who delivers goodies in brightly colored baskets. However, this mythical mammal has become a prominent symbol of Easter by Christians and non-Christians alike. Rabbits, known to be prolific procreators, are an ancient symbol of fertility and new life. Perhaps this representation of “new beginnings” explains its unusual presence in this holy season. 

 Colored eggs

 It all started with the bunny. The tradition of an Easter Bunny first arrived in America in the 1700s with German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania. Their children made nests for the rabbit to lay its colored eggs. Eventually, the custom spread across the U.S. and the fabled rabbit’s nest was replaced with decorated white baskets.

The egg, like the rabbit, is also an ancient symbol of new life. From some Christian perspectives, Easter eggs are said to represent Jesus’ emergence from the tomb and resurrection. Decorating eggs for Easter is a tradition that dates to at least the 13th century. An explanation for this custom is that eggs were formerly a forbidden food during Lent. People painted and decorated them to mark the end of the period of penance and fasting, and then consumed them on Easter as a celebration. 

Easter egg hunts and egg rolling are two anticipated egg-related traditions. In the U.S., the White House Easter Egg Roll, a race in which children push decorated, hard-boiled eggs across the White House lawn, is an annual event held the Monday after Easter. The first egg roll occurred in 1878, when Rutherford B. Hayes was president. The event has no religious significance, although some have considered egg rolling symbolic of the stone blocking Jesus’ tomb being rolled away. 

Why the candy?

Easter is the second best-selling candy holiday. Among the most popular sweet treats associated with this day are chocolate eggs, which date back to early 19th century Europe. Many Easter themed candies are egg shaped, once again symbolic to the rolling away of the stone. 

Lamb anyone? 

Lamb is a traditional Easter food. Christians refer to Jesus as the “Lamb of God,” though lamb at Easter also has roots in early Passover celebrations. In Exodus, the people of Egypt suffered a series of terrible plagues, including the death of all firstborn sons. Members of the Jewish faith painted their doorposts with sacrificed lamb’s blood so that death would “pass over” their homes. Jews who converted to Christianity continued the tradition of eating lamb at Easter.

Although lamb is still the main course in many parts of the world, the custom of eating lamb at Easter in the United States decreased at the end of World War II, when the demand for wool declined, creating a shortage of lamb. Ham replaced lamb on many tables because it was practical and more affordable. A farmer could preserve a ham throughout winter, and it was ready to eat in the spring.  

The white lilies of Easter

These beautiful flowers symbolize the purity of Christ and are frequent decorations in churches and homes around the Easter holiday. Their growth from dormant bulbs in the ground to blossoming flowers symbolizes the rebirth and hope of Christ’s resurrection. Lilies are native to Japan. They were brought to England in 1777, and to the U.S. during WW ll. They became the unofficial flower of Easter celebrations across the United States.

Over the centuries, multiple customs and traditions have been added to Easter – passed from generation to generation, acknowledging and celebrating this most holy season. 

Embracing customs or excluding them at Easter is a personal choice. Choosing to recognize traditions opens the door to beautiful memories for families to share, reminding us of the rebirth and hope we have in Christ. They are not meant to replace the significance of the sacrificial gift Jesus gave that we may know Him and experience relationship with the Father.

Read the second post in this blog series:

Plan a Successful Easter Get-Together

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Deborah—a Faithful Focus on What You Can Do

In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8, 2022, we are spotlighting women who rocked in Bible times!

Women Who Rocked in Bible Times—Stories of Those Who Shaped Their Culture and Still Inspire You Today

Shanna D. Gregor

Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment.
Israel 4:4-5 esv

After the death of Moses, God allowed Joshua to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land with a clear command to destroy the inhabitants. Through obedience to God, Joshua’s leadership brought great military success to God’s people. But once Joshua died, the next generation failed to continue their battle and eventually allowed their enemies—the Canaanites—to influence their culture and way of life. Instead of obeying God and destroying those who lived in the land, they began to do life with them, eventually marrying them. Those they married brought their own beliefs and false gods into their homes and hearts. (This was what God wanted to avoid in his directive to destroy the inhabitants.)

The Israelites began to worship idols and compromise their faith. The book of Judges depicts God’s chosen people in a continual brutal cycle of sinning and repenting because they rejected God’s instruction. Each time Israel repented, God, in his gracious mercy and love, gave them a judge to save them and point them back to the truth of His love.

Deborah’s story begins in Judges Chapter 4. The first verse tells us that once Ehud, the second judge of Israel, died, God’s people once again did evil in the eyes of the Lord. Israel once again found themselves under the rule of a foreign king—Jabin, King of Canaan. Sisera, commander of Canaan’s army, oppressed the Israelites for twenty years, and they called on God for deliverance. (Apparently the third judge of Israel wasn’t effective.)

Verse 4 tells us that Deborah, a wife and prophetess, was leading Israel at the time. The Bible doesn’t say how she became the fourth judge or when. I wonder if Deborah questioned God about his instruction for her to become a judge. Perhaps she had a list in her head of all the reasons why someone else should answer the call to lead. Deborah’s story is about a woman who focused on what she could do instead of what she couldn’t do. Imagine as you go about your day—in the midst of your daily chores, gathering water, washing laundry and taking care of your children—glancing across the field to see Deborah, the leader of your nation sitting under a palm tree judging right and wrong for you and your people. Judges 4:5 says, Deborah would sit under the Palm Tree of Deborah, which was between the cities of Ramah and Bethel, in the mountains of Ephraim. And the people of Israel would come to her to settle their arguments.

Greatly respected among her people, she called herself a mother in Israel. She demonstrated a strong commitment to let God lead and guide her in everything—in her personal life and her public life as a leader. Like many of the other judges of Israel, she went into battle with her people, provided counsel, served as mediator and declared that repentance for sins opened the door to restoration.

Deborah was not power hungry but wanted to serve God. She gave credit where credit was due—to God and to those who responded to him in obedience. Israel’s military leader, Barak balked at going into battle without Deborah, even though God had promised to deliver Sisera, commander of Canaan’s army, into Barak’s hand. Because of his refusal to go into battle without Deborah, she said the victory would not be credited to Barak, instead, “The Lord will let a woman defeat Sisera.”

In Deborah’s day, much of Israel’s history was preserved in song. Judges Chapter five is a song, possibly composed by Deborah and sung by Barak and all those returning with him from the battle against Sisera. The songs made it easy to pass the story of God’s deliverance from generation to generation. It recounts the battle and how God delivered the commander of Canaan’s army into the hand of a woman named Jael. She drove a tent peg through his head as he slept in her tent.

She was concerned about the physical needs of her people, but even more importantly, she paid attention to the spiritual welfare of the nation. She led by example and encouraged the people to obey God. Once God gave victory to Israel, she continued to lead her people in peace, reminding them that war comes when they choose to worship idols.

INSPIRATION FOR TODAY:
Deborah concentrated on what she could do instead of what she couldn’t do. So many times, we list why we can’t do something that pushes us beyond what we think are our limits. Remember, if God is asking you to do it, then He’s put His ability within you to do it, and do it successfully, if you’re willing to follow His lead.

For Discussion

  • Are you committed to following God in obedience to what He asks you to do?
  • How many times have you experienced something and felt a tug in your heart to do something about it?
  • It’s likely God’s call pushed you outside of your comfort zone. When that happens, how can you combat the temptation to begin a list in your head of why you can’t make a difference?

Deborah’s story is told in Judges Chapters 4 and 5.

Shanna D. Gregor (copyright 2014)

Read about other women who rocked in the Bible:
Anna—A Seer of Truth

Want more? Check out our on demand resources

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The Widow of Zarephath—Obedience’s Miracle

In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8, 2022, we are spotlighting women who rocked in Bible times!

Women Who Rocked the Bible—Stories of Those Who Shaped Their Culture and Still Inspire You Today

Shanna D. Gregor

So she went away and did according to the word of Elijah; and she and he and her household ate for many days. The bin of flour was not used up, nor did the jar of oil run dry, according to the word of the Lord which He spoke by Elijah.

1 Kings 17:15-16 nkjv

The Widow of Zarephath’s story begins while she is at the gate gathering a few sticks so she can go home and prepare the last little bit of food for herself and her son. In her mind, the end is near. Her plan—without God’s miraculous intervention, which she must have hoped for—she and her son will starve to death.

God chose to take the life of the prophet Elijah and intertwine it with the life of the one widow. Elijah served as God’s spokesperson, the man who stood in front of King Ahab and prophesied “…the next years are going to see a total drought—not a drop of dew or rain unless I say otherwise” (1 Kings 17:1 MSG). Jezebel, King Ahab’s wife, tried to kill all of God’s prophets. At one point, Elijah thought he was the last living prophet (1 Kings 18:22).

Those who worshipped Baal believed he was the god who brought rains and bountiful harvest—so the words Elijah spoke for God were profanity against Jezebel’s god. After declaring no more rain, Elijah hid himself in the Kerith Ravine, east of Jordan, where the Lord sustained him with water from a brook and food ravens brought to him (1 Kings 17:5). When the brook dried up, God sent Elijah to Zarephath with instruction to look to a widow to sustain him.

The woman, only referred to as the “widow of Zarephath,” demonstrates a powerful faith through her obedience in 1 Kings. The city serves as part of her identification. We can assume she is the only widow in her city. Zarephath rest inside the region of Sidon, the native country of Queen Jezebel, the woman who married the wicked King Ahab and required her god, Baal to be worshipped instead of God Almighty (1 King 21:25-26).  We might easily assume this widow is not of Hebrew lineage, but she clearly believed in the Hebrew’s God and trusted Him.

For a Bigger Purpose

God’s purposes are so much higher and wider than what we imagine. God tells us to go here or there—to do this or that—and it’s easy to think it’s about us. Hopefully we can see it as God positioning us for blessing. While that is often a part of his plan, our eyes usually rest on ourselves, when in fact it has less to do with us and more to do with what He wants to do through our relationships with the people to whom He connects us. Our lives are intertwined for mutual provision and blessing.

The Widow of Zarephath had nothing for her own family to eat, much less a prophet. Through her obedience, God sustained the prophet and her household. 

When Elijah sees the woman God told him to meet, he asks her for a cup of water. I can just see her acknowledge him and turn to go get the water. Then behind her, she hears him ask for a piece of bread. 

Can you imagine just a little attitude in her response to him? The Message says she said, “I swear, as surely as your God lives, I don’t have so much as a biscuit. I have a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a bottle; you found me scratching together just enough firewood to make a last meal for my son and me. After we eat it, we’ll die” (1 Kings 17:12 MSG).

This man of God is asking for the last of all she has. 

Perhaps she’s wondering … 

  • Did God send this man? 
  • Do I dare trust him? 
  • Do I trust God?

Elijah tells her not to be afraid, but instead to “Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’” 

There it was – the promise of a miracle. All she had to do was believe God – the God of Israel – and obey. In that moment she chose to trust God. “So she went away and did according to the word of Elijah; and she and he and her household ate for many days. The bin of flour was not used up, nor did the jar of oil run dry, according to the word of the Lord which He spoke by Elijah” (1 Kings 17:15-16 NKJV).

God sent Elijah to a woman who had nothing so that He could provide for her and her family supernaturally as a result of her faith. As she decided to care for God’s spokesperson, God provided miraculously for her household.

The Widow of Zarephath’s story doesn’t end there. Yes, God sustained her household through the drought, but there is more to her relationship with God’s prophet. 

“Some time later the son of the woman who owned the house (where Elijah was staying) became ill. He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing. She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?” (1 Kings 17:17-18 NIV).

She’s angry. She lashes out in her pain at the man she trusted, the man who God used to perform a miracle. Perhaps she had come to know him well in the time that had passed. She looked to Elijah for answers.

Elijah asks her to give her son to him. He takes the boy from her arms, carries him upstairs to his room and lays him on his bed. He cried out to God and asked that the boy’s life return to Him. God heard Elijah and the boy lived once again. He scooped him up and carried him back downstairs to his mother.

Upon seeing her son, the widow said to Elijah, “Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is the truth” (1 Kings 17:24 NKJV).

INSPIRATION FOR TODAY:

The story of a widow, who remained unnamed in the Bible, was important enough to have her faith and obedience recorded in the Bible. Her name didn’t matter, but her faith and obedience will forever be remembered. 

For Discussion

  • Who has God sent into your life to help you? 
  • Are you looking for God to answer you through the divine connection of relationship He’s placed in your life?
  • What relationships does He want you to cultivate?
  • Are you open to hearing His voice when He speaks through others?
  • Are you willing to be used by God to speak His truth into the lives of others as He leads you?

Read about other women who rocked in the Bible:

Deborah—a Faithful Focus on What You Can Do

Shanna D. Gregor (copyright 2014)

Want more? Check out our on demand resources

Go!

Anna—A Seer of Truth

Women Who Rocked in Bible Times—Stories of Those Who Shaped Their Culture and Still Inspire You Today

Shanna D. Gregor

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
Luke 2:36-38 NIV

We know very little about the lives of some of the most fascinating and influential women mentioned in the Bible. The Prophet, Anna’s story is only three verses long, and yet those few words provide hope, inspiration and a great deal of wisdom for us today. The first thing we discover is Anna was a prophetess. A prophet’s purpose was to speak for God and declare His truth. The title of “prophetess” tells us she dedicated her life to a close relationship with God. Most likely, she was well known for sharing God’s wisdom and knowledge with those who came to the temple long before Mary and Joseph presented their son, Jesus.

As we look deeper into who Anna is, her father, Penuel, was a descendent of the tribe of Asher. It’s easy to brush over this part of Anna’s story because her lineage can be lost on us as we read names of people who are unfamiliar to us. If you take a closer look, this information carries a lot of weight in her identity. Asher, Abraham’s great-grandson, was Jacob’s eighth son, the second son born to Zilpah, Leah’s servant. Asher’s descendants became one of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Before Moses died, he blessed the tribes of Israel, and about the tribe of Asher he said,

“Most blessed of sons is Asher; let him be favored by his brothers, and let him bathe his feet in oil. The bolts of your gates will be iron and bronze, and your strength will equal your days.”

The last sentence in verse 36 allows us to assume Anna was only married for a short time—seven years before her husband died: she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. Some commentaries suggest this is better translated as she was a widow for 84 years rather than 84 years old. Either way, she had served the Lord in the temple for a very long time.

Verse 38 says, She never left the temple, suggesting she lived there. There is no other mention in the Bible of a widow who lived in a temple. Most of them lived with their families. It’s important to note she chose to go a different way—a strong dedication to a life in pursuit of God. I imagine she spent much of her time in conversation with God and ministering to those who came to the temple for spiritual guidance and prayer. The rest of verse 37 says she spent her days worshipping Him, fasting and praying day and night.

The Bible doesn’t say exactly what she said that day when she met little Jesus and his parents. She gave thanks to God, as she recognized the Messiah. Anna was a proclaimer of truth. In her praise to God, it’s very possible the people there that day heard her proclaim the arrival of the one she believed would come. She spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. Anyone within earshot heard the promised child had arrived.

Anna lived a long life but never gave up hope for God to deliver on his promise—to send a deliverer. The Holy Spirit gave Anna revelation of exactly who Jesus was. Her time and dedication to worshipping and serving God was rewarded.

For Discussion

  • Anna lived each day with faithful anticipation of God’s promise. What promises of God are you looking for in your own life?
  • Time spent in worship and service kept Anna’s heart ready to receive revelation and share God’s truth with others. Consider in what ways God desires you to worship and serve. Are you willing to do what He asks?
  • Anna had a spiritual heritage passed down to her from her many times great-grandfather, Abraham. You have a spiritual heritage given to you as well. What gifts do you have, and how does God desire for you to develop them?
  • Most of the culture today values youth. For many, the wisdom from our elders is lost. What wisdom can you glean from those who have lived many years for the Lord? Ask the Lord if he has a mentor in mind for you. Consider, perhaps you have wisdom to share with those spiritually younger. Pray about how the Lord would have you share with others.

Shanna D. Gregor (copyright 2014)

Want more? Check out our on demand resources

Go!