A piece exploring the process by which faith turns to action, by guest contributor Paul Lewellan.
The book of Acts, chapter 9, tells the story of a female disciple in Joppa named Tabitha. What is surprising about this particular passage is that the woman is named. Most women are nameless in the New Testament. They do the work. Men get the publicity.
Tabitha is a widow of means. Her financial state and her faith compel her to provide for others. When Peter is called, her friends show him clothes she made for the poor even before they take him to the upper room. Perhaps they are not in a hurry because they know she is already dead. Or maybe her gifts are so important because the clothes are all they have to remember her by.
But why did they call Peter? What did they expect him to do? Did they hope for a miracle? Maybe they wanted him to broadcast Tabitha’s story to the other faithful (which is what ultimately happened).
Tabitha’s story is an early illustration of the difference one person can make. In more recent times, there is the example of Nicholas Winton, the 29-year-old stock broker on vacation in Prague who saved 669 children from the Nazis, or Maurice Hilleman, the microbiologist who developed over 40 vaccines, or Nils Bohlin, the Swedish engineer who invented the three-point seat belt. I am conscious of ordinary people, such as members of my church, who sew quilts, read to children
in after school programs, or donate Spanish language books to indigenous people in Guatemala. They are like Tabitha, too.
The Apostle Peter is another model. In the years he followed Jesus, Peter was inconsistent. Sometimes he was a rock. Other times he was vain or doubting or hesitant. He fell asleep at key times. In other words, he was a lot like us. Three times he denied Christ, but after Christ’s resurrection, all his hesitation was gone. In Acts 9, Peter is shown to the upper room where Tabitha is lying. He asks the other women to leave. He instructs Tabitha to rise from the dead. She does.
Tabitha’s ministry comes from this same kind of faith. She, too, translates faith into action. Tabitha can feed and clothe the poor, and so she does.
Now consider those “feel good” stories on the back pages of newspapers or featured in a sound bite at the end of the evening news. There’s the 94-year-old knitting caps for preemies and the retired Army sergeant who bakes pies to pay off a neighbor’s medical debt. Anyone can do something like this. Why are these simple acts of kindness newsworthy? Why should people be amazed when someone of faith cares for others? It should be the norm, but instead is the exception. Exceptions make the news.
Maybe you’re one of these people who make a difference, but nobody is writing about you. Take time to pat yourself on the back. Write a “good news” piece about the things you do for others: neighbors, strangers, relations, refugees, people you don’t even like very much. Better still do the same for your friends. Tell them how much you admire their actions in support of others. Don’t let them go unnamed or unnoticed. Tabitha is not the only one who has made a difference in the lives of others.
Paul Lewellan retired from education after fifty years of teaching. He lives and gardens on the banks of the Mississippi River with his wife Pamela, his Shi Tzu Mannie, and their ginger tabby Sunny. He has recently published fiction in Clay Jar Review, True Chili, Blood and Bourbon, Jupiter Review, and Holy Flea Lit.
Why the grief of Good Friday is just as important to observe as the joy of Easter Sunday. By Natasha Bredle, contributing writer and editor.
Holy Week is one of tumultuous emotions. There’s the anticipatory celebration of the crowds welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the visceral anger Jesus expresses in the temple courts when He drives out the merchants capitalizing there on Holy Monday, the bitter shock and dismay of Judas’ decision to betray Jesus on Holy Wednesday, and the somber finality of the serving of the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday. On the spectrum of joyful to solemn emotions, however, no day of Holy Week is more saturated with suffering, grief, fear, longing, and loss than Good Friday, the day of Jesus’ crucifixion.
Many Christians will subconsciously trade the sweeping emotions of Good Friday for the joy, hope, and peace promised on Easter Sunday, when we commemorate the rolling away of the stone by singing, “Allelujah, He is risen!” There is certainly nothing wrong about this joy-filled proclamation. As Christians, we are sustained by this foundation of our faith, the promise that Jesus has overcome sin and the grave. But is it important to remember what came before our salvation: our need of rescuing. What came before Heaven’s victory: what was, in the moment, a defeat.
We know that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and eternal. We call Him by names such as the Creator of the Universe, the King of Kings, the Alpha and the Omega, and the Lord of Most High. By no means did our all-mighty God have to take on flesh and dwell among us. He did not have to humble Himself, suffer persecution, and offer Himself as a sacrifice for our sins. Yet God chose to. Why? Because He loves us (John 3:16.) Because He loves us so much, Jesus paid the wages for our sin (Romans 6:23) which we never could have offered ourselves (Ephesians 2:8.) Without the unparalleled act of love, mercy, and grace Jesus performed upon the cross, we would never have been able to cross the distance sin puts between us and God. Yes, always and forever we should celebrate that our Savior conquered the grave and rose up to life again. But let us never forget what had to come before the resurrection: death.
Were You There is a hymn that does well at capturing the emotions of Good Friday. It invites us to envision the crucifixion as it occurs, to become witnesses to our Savior’s suffering. The question “Were you there?” repeated in every stanza connotes something other than having physical presence, because of course, no one in our age could have been alive at the time of Jesus’ death. But believing Christ died for our sins means believing that it truly was a facet of ourselves that Christ shouldered when He bore our transgressions on the cross.
‘Being there’ when they crucified our Lord, nailed Him to the tree, and laid Him in the tomb, as the lyrics of the song digress, could mean allowing ourselves to feel the full weight of the emotions of Good Friday this Holy Week. It could mean letting ourselves become overwhelmed by God’s self-sacrificing love for us, taking a moment to weep and mourn the unblemished Lamb who was slain. As the hymn refrains: oh, oh, oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Good Friday doesn’t have to be a completely grief-stricken day. But understanding how God perceives us and why we profess Jesus Christ to be our savior begins with recognizing the gravity of what happened on the cross. The tumultuous emotions of the days of Holy Week leading up to Easter Sunday should not be perceived as something to be avoided or suppressed. Rather, we should remain open to them and allow ourselves to experience fully all that the crucifixion evokes. We know that in three days’ time, the Lamb who was slain will become the Lion who conquered the grave. But for as long as Good Friday lasts, it’s okay to tremble.
The juxtaposition of two of the world's most celebrated holidays. By Natasha Bredle, contributing writer and editor.
The Surely As the Sun team sincerely hopes everyone reading this has had their spirits momentarily, if not lastingly, rejuvenated and illuminated (hey, that rhymes) by the light of Christ during our celebration of His birth. Or, in other words, we hope you’ve all had a very merry Christmas—and in just a few hours, a happy New Year as well. It feels a little bit crazy, to say in the least, that less than a week after we celebrate the beginning of something glorious and new, we turn all our excitement and anticipation to a closing, a sort of curtain drawing, with New Years. Twelve months, fifty-two weeks, three-hundred-sixty-five days, however else you want to frame it, all add up to the conclusion of one planetary journey around the sun, and the commencing of yet another.
Christmas and New Years, as two often correlated holidays, are surprisingly juxtaposed with one another. Christmas, on one hand, largely deals with the transcendent. Recent trends in our increasingly secularizing world have aimed to suppress the divinity of this holiday by making it largely commercial. (Not to hate on Santa, but the image of a big old man in a red suit delivering toys and munching on sugar cookies doesn’t exactly shout ‘transcendent.’) This piece will dive into the true root of Christmas which Christians commemorate every December 25th: the miraculous human birth of Jesus Christ, which would, from that point onward, change everything.
Jesus was not of the world (Isaiah 55:9) but came into it (John 3:17) because He wanted to be with us. He wanted to be close to us, surrounding us, reaching us, working through us, and yes, most importantly, saving us. He wanted us to become one with God our Creator again. How so? Well, Jesus showed us while He lived as a human on the earth. His words and works are recorded in the gospels. But one way of paraphrasing it is to say that Jesus beckoned and continues to beckon us to live lives that transcend this world.
We all know that nothing lasts. The book of Ecclesiastes, which dotes on this a lot, doesn’t use the peppiest tone when pondering life’s latter boundaries, which is why, save for a few verses, it’s not many people’s go-to for inspiration. Nevertheless, there’s a reason why Ecclesiastes is included among the Bible’s wisdom literature. Solomon’s musings remain relevant to us today. Even our modern world, with all its technological advances, can’t combat the passage of time. Food expires. News stories become outdated. Cars break down. Conversations get forgotten. Corporations go out of business. Movements fade away. People die.
Some things in this world may appear eternal to us. Good things, like prosperity, abundance, and growth, can have their stretches of false invincibility. It’s easy enough to see that such worldly contentment does not, in fact, last forever when we lose or are stripped of our wealth, wellness, or relationships. On the other hand, bad things like injustice, hatred, violence, and affliction can appear more and more permanent as we witness occurrences of them in our world every day. Yet we learn from the book of Revelation that there will too come a time when Jesus will return to the earth to put an end to these once and for all.
Our culture doesn’t like thinking about mortality. This can be seen in the outpouring of assets into the monolithic cosmetics industry, or in trends of increasing retirement age, or in the general taboo we’ve placed around the finite fact of our existences. People tend to avoid thinking about death until, frankly, they have to. We even mask our discomfort around this topic with extravagant celebrations on New Year’s Eve, ritually shrugging the old year’s dust off our shoulders and thrusting ourselves headfirst into the new, even if all the hope and excitement we don is a facade concealing our internal anxiety.
God knows the thought of death is scary. That’s why He gave us a cornerstone to stand upon when everything and everyone we know and love on this earth gets lost, changes, or fades away. The faith, hope, and love we put in Jesus Christ remains (1 Corinthians 13:13.) That we can be sure of.
What Jesus came to earth for on Christmas was not some imminent task that lasted only the span of His human life, a handful of measurable years. It was transcendent. Jesus’ arrival in our world has echoed through human history for thousands of years, and will continue to reverberate until the end of time.
Christmas is transcendent. New Years is imminent. While our lives may fluctuate from year to year—reach highs and lows, waver from stable to uncertain—Jesus’ presence in our hearts will never age. The truth of His love will never change.
Throughout 2023, we each may foster prayers for beginnings. Or we may pray for certain things to end. We all may have to face beginnings and endings that we don’t want to face. But along this passage of time we call life, we must remember that ultimately, God is who comes before us and who goes after (Revelation 22:13.) God is in control of the universe. He will make everything right, in His perfect timing. It should be our eternal comfort to know that He loves us and cares deeply for us, and will remain unchanging throughout all the years of our lives.
On the significance of winter and the timing of the world's most celebrated holiday. By Natasha Bredle, contributing writer and editor.
The fourth and final week of advent, with just a few days left to go until Christmas, and just a few more after until the start of the new year, seems like a fitting time for the publication of our inaugural blog post. It’s the season of new things, which almost feels like a paradox, considering the nature of the winter season when stripped of its festivity. Winter is cold (if you haven’t already noticed), and dark, since the sun spends fewer hours illuminating certain areas of the earth. Grass withers away, vegetation doesn’t grow, and humans can’t venture outside for long if not equipped with the proper gear.
Different cultures throughout the ages have devised stories to explain these ominous changes. In Finnish folklore, the supposed goddess of the north takes the sun and moon hostage inside a bleak mountain stronghold, inadvertently leading to the yearly shift into a dim, frigid season. A better known retelling comes from a Greek mythology tale, in which Hades, the king of the underworld, kidnaps the spring goddess Persephone, and her anguish from the plight causes the suspension of all plant growth in the mortal world.
These, of course, are just fictional stories. As Christians, we know that the yearly cycling of the four seasons is just another unique facet of our earth orchestrated by God way back when at the time of Creation. The celestial perks of a spin and a tilt for the planet were all part of God’s perfect design, though they most likely play a less significant role in His bigger picture for humanity. But there’s no denying that the existence of seasons has huge implications on human lives.
Though we may not be acutely aware of it, the changing of the seasons changes us. As the weather shifts from temperate to warm to blistering to chilly to frigid and back again, we, as adaptable and volatile creatures, change our clothing, our habits, our plans, and even our attitudes. In fact, seasonal depression, a mood disorder that affects people during the regular cold seasons each year, has been found to be an extremely common condition across the United States. The lack of sunlight and the increased hours of isolation that occur when we are pushed indoors are sorrows shared by a vast majority of the globe.
Considering all this dimness and seclusion, it’s no wonder why so many old cultures have attempted to give winter a villain origin story. Personifying a season may at best appear creative on paper, but giving winter such characteristics—cold, relentless, and cruel—seems more realistic when the distress of being alone hits, or when harsh sleet and snow trample traveling plans, or when a simple stroll outdoors invites misery from vicious, biting wind.
Winter is a hostile season. And yet, when we observe all the festivity of the coldest winter months, it’s clear that few Christians, and secular people as well, perceive it that way. In fact, millions hail it to be ‘the most wonderful time of the year.’ Why? Well, if it wasn’t obvious before, because of Christmas.
In recent years, researchers have been skeptical about the symbolic date of Jesus’ birth, citing that the event more likely took place in the spring rather than the dead of winter. But accuracy aside, the timing of one of the world’s most treasured holidays is incredibly significant.
Before Jesus arrived, the world was cold, damp, bitter, and lacking in light. But when He came to earth as a humble human infant, He became our light. He brought warmth and joy when he beckoned people everywhere to come have a loving relationship with Him. He offered a way out of the fear, doubt, and loneliness that plagues us. And He continues to do all this today. No matter if it’s regarded from a secular viewpoint or a religious one, the peace, love, and joy emphasized during the holiday season all point to the one surefire way out of darkness and cold: hope in Jesus Christ.
Celebrating Christmas in the winter does more than just lift our spirits during a bleak time of year. It serves as a reminder that Jesus descended from heaven to be right here with us, to be the fire to our frozenness and the sun to our shadows.
‘Winter’ itself is a word that comes from a Germanic root meaning ‘time of water.’ Water is quite a popular symbol in the Bible. For instance, water is the primary element of baptism. In Matthew, the first book of the New Testament, the first thing recorded after the event of Jesus’ birth is Jesus’ baptism. Jesus used water as a symbolic cleanser of sin. He later revealed on the cross that He Himself was the water to our sin, the one true redeemer of humanity.
Winter, the time of water, is therefore the perfect time to celebrate the birth of Christ. A light came to illuminate the darkness imprisoning us and to warm our frozen hearts. Water came to wash us clean and make us new, righteous followers.
Our world right now may still appear to be a very cold, dark, and cruel place. But we can remember that our one true, everlasting source of peace, love, and joy is always with us. The hope of Christmas is transcendent. It can brighten our winters, and shine through every other season of our lives.