Sara's Musings

Home » Posts tagged 'Truth'

Tag Archives: Truth

Calendar

January 2018
S M T W T F S
« Dec    
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031  

Blogs I Follow

The Presidents Club

Click pic for 2015 post on "The Presidents Club"

The Surest Defense Against Evil

Click pic for "The Surest Defense Against Evil"

The Triumph of Grace

Click pic for "The Triumph of Grace"

Contemplating God’s Sovereignty

Click pic for "Contemplating God's Sovereignty"

How Should We Then Live?

Click pic for "How Should We Then Live?

Not a Timid Christianity

Click pic for "Not a Timid Christianity"

Finishing the Race

Click pic for "Finishing the Race"

Because the Time is Near

Click pic for "Because the Time is Near"

Revelation Song (YouTube)

Click pic for "Revelation Song" sung by Phillips, Craig & Dean

Where The Wind Blows

Click pic for "Where The Wind Blows"

Doing Great Things

Click pic for "Doing Great Things"

Recognizing a False Prophet

Click pic for "Recognizing a False Prophet"

The Power of Forgiveness

Click pic for "The Power of Forgiveness"

Created for Relationships

Click pic for "Created for Relationships"

The Only Way I Know

Click pic for "The Only Way I Know"

Faith: The Misunderstood Doctrine

Click pic for "Faith: The Misunderstood Doctrine"

Our True Home Address

Click pic for "Our True Home Address

‘Tis the Season . . . for L-O-V-E

Click pic for "'Tis the Season . . . for LOVE"

The Paris Terrorist Attack and the Problem of Evil

Click pic for "The Paris Terrorist Attack and the Problem of Evil"

Cherry Picking 101

Click pic for "Cherry Picking 101"

Love Sweet Love

Click pic for "Love Sweet Love"

So Goes The Culture

Click pic for "So Goes The Culture"

Idols of the Heart

Click pic for "Idols of the Heart"

Divisions Are Not Always Bad

Click pic for "Divisions Are Not Always Bad"

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Click pic for "The Resurrection of Jesus Christ"

From the Inside Out

I ran across a statement recently that gave me pause for thought: “Christians are often known for their squabbles and divisions.” However, that statement needs to be taken in the context of the article for a clear understanding since “squabbles and divisions” can happen in any group of people and not just among Christians. The article is titled, Why Are There So Many Christian Denominations? published on StartingPoint.com, which is a part of North Point Ministries founded in 1995 by Andy Stanley, communicator, author and pastor. The article is quite informative:

During Jesus’ ministry, he prayed that his future followers would exhibit a special kind of unity that would be a testimony to the world. So what happened? Rather than unity, harmony, and cooperation, Christians are often known for their squabbles and divisions. Even when they appear to get along, they divide up into hundreds of different groups, churches, and denominations. For those who are not Christians, it seems confusing. Why can’t they agree on anything? Why are there sometimes four different churches on the same street? Even for believers, the question often arises: Why are there so many Christian denominations? Before we explore this issue, let’s survey the landscape. Within Christianity, there are three main branches: Eastern Orthodoxy (which is chiefly practiced in Russia and Eastern European countries), Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism. In the United States, we’re most familiar with Roman Catholic churches and Protestant denominations. While virtually all Roman Catholic churches have the same beliefs, form, and structure, Protestant denominations can vary. These include Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Pentecostals, and numerous other groups. In addition, some churches consider themselves within the Protestant stream, but do not affiliate with any specific denomination (such as Bible churches or community churches).

So, why are there so many different denominations and types of churches? There are several reasons. For starters, let’s not forget that denominations are made up of churches and churches are made of people; and sometimes people just don’t get along. After all, just because people are Christians doesn’t mean they always agree. Moreover, Christians still struggle with pride, selfishness, and stubbornness, and this means they sometimes respond to relational conflict poorly. This has often led to debates and divisions within churches and denominations, which in turn leads to the creation of new churches and denominations. It’s an unfortunate situation, but a reality given human nature. Maybe this is why Jesus focused so much on unconditional love and forgiveness as an expression of the kind of people he wants us to be.

Another reason Christians are sometimes divided is legitimate disagreements about secondary areas of belief or practice. What does baptism mean and who should get baptized? How should local churches be structured? Who should fill leadership roles? How often should communion be practiced? How should certain passages in the Bible be interpreted? These are good questions and the answers aren’t always clear in the Bible. Perhaps this is the reason the Bible exhorts us to exercise wisdom and humility when it comes to secondary issues where genuine differences exist (Romans 14-15).

A third reason that so many different groups of Christians exist is differences in personality, passions, and talents. Some people are more inclined to worship God through the exercise of their minds. They therefore focus on analytical thinking and biblical knowledge. Others are more artistically or creatively wired and the way they express their faith is quite different. Still others are more engaged in their relationship with God when they serve others. They find the greatest fulfillment when they can work with their hands or actively serve people with special needs in their communities. While all of these things are important, it’s no surprise that different churches and even whole denominations would emerge in light of the unique personalities of their adherents.

Another example relates to the role of tradition. Certain types of people appreciate the structure and heritage of worshiping God according to traditions passed down over generations or even centuries. Thus, a more traditional church in the Episcopal or Lutheran denomination might feel more comfortable to them. Other people, however, prefer to explore fresh, innovative ways of growing in their relationship with God and often feel boxed in by long-standing rituals or traditions. Therefore, a nondenominational church might suit them best. Of course, these are not the only reasons that different churches and denominations exist, but such practical matters like the role of tradition in a worship service can often play a large role. A lesson we can learn from such diversity is that various churches and denominations can learn from each other and that together, they make up the larger community of faith known as the people of God.

Finally, people from different cultures will express their faith and worship God in their own distinctive ways. It shouldn’t surprise us if churches in a middle-class Midwest American city are extremely different from those in a war-torn, poverty-stricken village in Africa. Consequently, various churches and whole denominations will vary greatly depending upon the geographical location and cultural values of the people themselves.

Despite these differences, there are a few central tenets that bind all Christians together, regardless of their particular church, denomination, culture, or geographical location. Christians believe in God (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), that all humans are sinful and in need of grace, and that only Jesus Christ makes it possible for us to have a relationship with God through his death and resurrection. Christians also believe that the Bible most clearly reveals who God is, how we can have a relationship with him, and how we can extend God’s love to other people. While other beliefs and practices are important, and often the cause of disagreements, they are secondary. God’s story is bigger than our differences, and if we continue to seek him according to the longing and desires that he has given us, we can all begin to find our places in his grand story. (Quote source here.)

“God’s story is bigger than our differences, and if we continue to seek him according to the longing and desires that he has given us, we can all begin to find our places in his grand story.” And that is the key to our relationships within the Church and with each other. The causes of our disagreements are secondary and should never take “front and center stage.”

One area of confusion among Christians today centers around the difference between legalism and grace. Matt Slick, President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM), gives us the definition of both in the following statements on CARM:

What is legalism?

In Christianity, legalism is the excessive and improper use of the law (the ten commandments, holiness laws, etc). This legalism can take different forms. The first is where a person attempts to keep the Law in order to attain salvation. The second is where a person keeps the law in order to maintain his salvation. The third is when a Christian judges other Christians for not keeping certain codes of conduct that he thinks need to be observed. Let’s examine each one more closely.

The first kind of legalism is where the law of God is kept in order to attain salvation. This is a heresy, a completely false doctrine. We are not able to attain salvation by our keeping the law. Rom. 3:28, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Rom. 4:5, “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.” Gal. 2:21, “I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.” It is simply not possible to keep the Law enough to be saved. Therefore, to try and gain salvation through one’s efforts is a false teaching. It is so bad that those who hold to it cannot be Christians since it would deny salvation by grace through faith.

The second kind of legalism is where a person tries to keep or maintain his salvation by keeping the law. This is also a false doctrine. We receive our salvation by faith (Eph. 2:8-9), not by our ability to be good because no one does good (Rom. 3:10-12). As Rom. 3:284:5, and Gal. 2:21 clearly show, we are justified by faith, not by faith and works. Furthermore, there are strict warnings about attempting to keep the law in order to maintain salvation: Gal. 3:10, “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.” And James 2:10, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” So, if a person is seeking to be either saved by his works (Law) or maintain his salvation by his works (Law), then he is under obligation to keep all of it, and if he does not then, he is guilty before God. Furthermore, consider Jesus’ words in Matt. 7:22-23, “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” Jesus condemns them because they were appealing to their salvation based on their faith and doing good. So it should be obvious that we do not keep our salvation by our efforts.

The last kind of legalism, where a Christian keeps certain laws and regards other Christians who do not keep his level of holiness with contempt, is a frequent problem in the church. Now, we want to make it clear that all Christians are to abstain from fornication, adultery, pornography, lying, stealing, etc. Christians do have a right to judge the spirituality of other Christians in these areas where the Bible clearly speaks. But, in the debatable areas, we need to be more careful, and this is where legalism is more difficult to define. Rom. 14:1-12 says that we are not to judge our brothers on debatable issues. One person may eat certain kinds of foods where another would not. One person might worship on a particular day where another might not. We are told to let each person be convinced in his own mind (Rom. 14:5). As long as our freedom does not violate the Scriptures, then everything should be okay. (Quote source here.)

What is grace?

Grace is the unmerited favor of God. It is where God shows us mercy, kindness, and patience instead of the judgment that we deserve for sinning against him. God’s grace cannot be earned by our actions or sincerity. It cannot be lost by our rebellion or sin. Grace is based on the character of God and not on our sincerity, performance, or ability to keep the law of God. Otherwise, grace would not be grace.

  • Rom. 11:6, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.”
  • Gal. 2:21, “I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”
  • 2 Timothy 1:9, “who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity.”

If it were not for God’s grace, we would never be saved from his righteous judgment. It was the grace of God that worked in Christ who bore our sins in his body on the cross (1 Peter 2:24), so that we might be forgiven and justified by faith (Rom. 3:285:1). Because of God’s gracious kindness, all who put their trust in his work on the cross will receive forgiveness, salvation, regeneration, and the eternal love of God. Again, God’s kindness to us is based on his character not on ours. His grace to us is completely and totally an act of his free will and not based on any ability, merit, or performance of our own.

God’s grace is manifested to unbelievers also. Ultimately, all people deserve the judgment of God because all people have sinned (Romans 3:23). However, God does not execute his judgment upon all people right away. Instead, he is exceedingly patient and kind towards them. Please consider what Jesus said regarding loving our enemies even as God loves the unrighteous in Matt. 5:43-48:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Quote source here.)

One last item I want to mention comes from a book titled, How Now Shall We Live? (1999), by Charles Colson (1931-2012), founder of Prison Fellowship, and Nancy Pearcey, Professor of Apologetics at Houston Baptist University. It has to do with the difference between Christians who actually practice their faith as compared to Christians who primarily use it for their own purposes. The following is taken from Chapter 32 titled, “Don’t Worry, Be Religious,” on page 314:

Gordon Allport (1897-1967) [Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, 1930-1967], the great psychologist of religion, drew a distinction between “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” religion. Extrinsically religious people use religion for external purposes, like the politician who attends church to gain respectability or the person who prays for purely materialistic benefits. But intrinsically religious people serve God without ulterior motive: They pray in order to communicate with him and understand his truth; they give without utilitarian calculation. In Allport’s professional experience, improved mental health [one of the topics in this chapter] correlates only with intrinsic religion. The benefits go to those who genuinely believe, not to those who use religion for ulterior purposes. (Quote source, “How Now Shall We Live?” p. 314.)

So the question we should ask ourselves is this one: “Are we intrinsically or extrinsically motivated?” I’ll end this post with the refrain from the song, From the Inside Out,” sung by Phillips, Craig and Dean: And my heart and my soul, well, I give You control . . . 

Consume me from the inside out, Lord . . .

Let justice and praise become my embrace . . .

To love You from the inside out . . . .

YouTube Video: “From the Inside Out” by Phillips, Craig and Dean:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Advertisements

Playing Favorites

Nobody likes to be the one who is left out. Yet showing favoritism to some people while ignoring others is commonplace in this world of ours including in church settings, in the workplace, schools and colleges/universities, in the military, in politics, and in any other type of social setting including families, relatives, among friends and even strangers. And it is often done with such frequency that we don’t even give it much thought or even realize on a conscious level that we are doing it. At other times we are quite aware of what we are doing. “Favoritism is partiality or bias. To show favoritism is to give preference to one person over others with equal claims. It is similar to discrimination and may be based on conditions such as social class, wealth, clothing, actions, etc.” (Quote source here).

This evening I ran across an editorial written by A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) on this very topic of favoritism. Tozer was a pastor, author, magazine editor, and spiritual mentor from my grandparents’ generation. This particular editorial is titled, “Beware Respect of Persons,” and is Chapter 26 in the book titled, We Travel an Appointed Way (originally published in 1988 and republished in 2010), compiled and edited by Harry Verploegh (d. 1999) which contains a collection of 39 editorials written by Tozer during his fourteen-year tenure as the editor of Alliance Life,” the official magazine of The Christian and Missionary Alliance. Tozer wrote in the early-to-mid 20th Century so keep that in mind as you are reading this editorial:

Beware Respect of Persons

There is an evil which I have seen under the sun–one that grows and does not diminish. and it is all the more dangerous because it is done without evil aforethought but, as it were, carelessly and without wrong intent.

It is the evil of giving to them that have and withholding from them that have not. It is the evil of blessing with a loud voice them that are already blessed and letting the unblessed and the outcast lie forgotten.

Let a man appear in a local Christian fellowship and let him be one whose fame is bruited abroad, whose presence will add something to the one who entertains him, and immediately a score of homes will be thrown open and every eager hospitality will be extended to him. But the obscure and the unknown must be content to sit on the fringes of the Christian circle and not once be invited into any home.

This is a great evil and an iniquity that awaits the judgment of the great day. And it is so widespread that scarcely any of us can claim to be free from it. So we condemn it only with utter humility and with acknowledgment that we too have been in some measure guilty.

No observant man will attempt to deny that a vast amount of Christian money is being spent on those who do not need it, while the poor and the needy and such as have no helper must often go unnoticed and unhelped, even though they too are Christians and servants of our common Lord. (The modern church would appear to be as blind and partial as the world in this matter.)

Our Lord warned us against the snare of showing kindness only to such as could return such kindness and so cancel out any positive good we may have thought we were doing. By this test, a world of religious activity is being wasted in our churches. to invite in well-fed and well-groomed friends to share our hospitality with the full knowledge that we will be invited to receive the same kindness again on the first convenient evening is in no sense an act of Christian hospitality. It is of the earth, earthy; its motive is fleshly; no sacrifice is entailed; its moral content is nil and it will be accounted wood, hay, stubble (see 1 Corinthians 3:12-15) before the judgment seat of Christ.

The evil here discussed was common among the Pharisees of New Testament times. In chapter 23 of Matthew, Christ mercilessly exposed the whole thing, and in so doing earned the undying enmity of those who practiced it. The Pharisees were bad not because they entertained their friends but because they would not entertain the poor and the common among the people. One bitter accusation which they hurled against Christ was that He received sinners and ate with them. This they would not stoop to do, and in their high pride, they became seven times worse than the worst among the sinners whom they so coldly rejected.

In spite of our lip service to democracy, Americans are a decidedly class-conscious people. The very politicians and educators and church leaders among us who sound abroad the praises of the common man and plead for equal rights for all are in private practice as aloof from the plain people as the proudest monarch could ever be. There exists among us an aristocracy composed of famous people, rich men, social lions, public figures and headliners of one kind or another, and these are the class apart. Beneath them, standing off in wide-eyed admiration, are the millions of anonymous men and women who make up the mass of the population. And they have nothing in their favor–except that they were in the heart of Jesus when He died on the cross.

Within the church also there exists a class consciousness, a reflection of that found in society. This has been brought over into the church from the world. Its spirit is completely foreign to the spirit of Christ, utterly opposed to it, indeed; and yet it determines to a large degree the conduct of Christians. This is the source of the evil we mention here.

Gospel churches which mostly begin with the lowly are usually not content till they attain some degree of wealth and social acceptance. Then they gradually fall into classes, determined largely by the wealth and education of the members. The individuals that comprise the top layer of these various classes go on to become pillars of the religious society and are soon entrenched in places of leadership and influence. It is then that their great temptation comes upon them, the temptation to cater to their own class and to neglect the poor and the ignorant that make up the swarming population around them. They soon become hardened to every appeal of the Holy Spirit toward meekness and humility. Their homes are spotless, their clothes the most expensive, their friends the most exclusive. Apart from some tremendous moral upheaval, they are beyond help. And yet they may be among the most vocal exponents of Bible Christianity and heavy givers to the cause of the church.

Let us not become indignant at this blunt portrayal of facts. Let us rather humble ourselves to serve God’s poor. Let us seek to be like Jesus in our devotion to the forgotten of the earth who have nothing to recommend them but their poverty and their heart-hunger and their tears. (Quote source: “We Travel An Appointed Way,” pp. 73-76).

Tozer was not a man who was afraid to tackle the tough topics in the church of his day. And often his words from 70-80 years ago hit right at the heart of the matter in today’s churches, too. In another book titled, Culture(published in 2016) which contains another twenty-four selections by Tozer, the publisher’s note at the beginning of the book states, “A.W. Tozer was a man who understood his times and who knew what to do. The twenty-four selections that follow are a small sampling of Tozer’s writing on what it means to be a Christian in a world that is largely uninterested in Christ” (quote source, Culture,” p. 7). The following is taken from Chapter 15 titled, “Are We Evangelicals Social Climbing?”:

Are We Evangelicals Social Climbing?

Traditionally, Christianity has been the religion of the common people. Whenever the upper classes have adopted it in numbers, it has died. Respectability has almost always proved fatal to it.

The reasons back of this are two, one human and other other divine.

Schleiermacher [Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher (1768 – 1834) was a German theologian, philosopher, and biblical scholar] has pointed out that at the bottom of all religion there lies a feeling of dependence, as sense of creature helplessness. The simple man who lives close to the earth lives also close to death and knows that he must look for help beyond himself; he knows that there is but a step between him and catastrophe. As he rises in the social and economic scale, he surrounds himself with more and more protective devices and pushed danger (so he thinks) farther and farther from him. Self-confidence displaces the feeling of dependence he once knew, and God becomes less necessary to him. Should he stop to think this through he would know better than to place his confidence in things and people; but so badly are we injured by our moral fall that we are capable of deceiving ourselves completely and, if conditions favor it, to keep up the deception for a lifetime.

Along with the feeling of security that wealth and position bring comes an arrogant pride that shuts rightly the door of the heart to the waiting Savior. Our Very Important Man may indeed honor a church by joining it, but there is no life in his act. His religion is external and his faith nominal. Conscious respectability has destroyed him.

The second reason Christian tends to decline as its devotees move up the social scale is that God will not respect persons nor share His glory with another. Paul sets this forth plainly enough in his First Corinthians epistle:

Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. (1 Corinthians 1:25-29, NKJV)

When God sent His Son to redeem mankind, He sent Him to the home of a workingman and He grew up to be what we now call a peasant. When He presented Himself to Israel and launched into His earthly ministry, He was rejected by the respectable religionists and had to look for followers almost exclusively from among the poor, plain people. When the Spirit came and the church was founded, its first members were the socially unacceptable. For generations the church drew her numbers from among the lower classes, individual exceptions occurring now and again, of which Saul of Tarsus was the most noteworthy.

During the centuries since Pentecost the path of true Christianity has paralleled pretty closely the path Jesus walked when He was here on earth: it was to be rejected by the great and accepted by the lowly. The institutionalized church has certainly not been poor, not has she lacked for great and might men to swell her membership. But this great church has had no power. Almost always the approval of God has rested upon small and marginal groups whose member were scorned while they lived and managed to gain acceptance only after they had been safely dead several score years.

Today we evangelicals are showing signs that we are becoming too rich and too prominent for our own good. With a curious disregard for the lessons of history we are busy fighting for recognition by the world and acceptance by society. And we are winning both. The great and the might are now looking our way. The world seems about to come over and join us. Of course we must make some concessions, but these have almost all been made already except for a big of compromising here and there on such matters as verbal inspiration, special creation, separation, and religious tolerance.

Evangelical Christianity is fast becoming the religion of the bourgeoisie. The well-to-do, the upper middle classes, the politically prominent, the celebrities are accepting our religion by the thousands and parking their expensive cars outside our church doors, to the uncontrollable glee of our religious leaders who seem completely blind to the fact that the vast majority of these new patrons of the Lord of glory have not altered their moral habits in the slightest nor given any evidence of true conversion that would have been accepted by the saintly fathers who built the churches.

Yes, history is a great teacher, but she cannot teach those who do not want to learn. And apparently we do not. (Quote source: “Culture,” pp. 119-122.)

Do remember that these words by Tozer were written in the mid 20th Century. When I read them this evening I was struck by how true they still are, and maybe even more so, today.

Back in 1992, the musical group 4Him came out with a song titled, “The Basics of Life” (YouTube video is below). I’d like to end this blog post with the words from that song as they are even more relevant today:

“The Basics Of Life”

We’ve turned the page,
For a new day has dawned
We’ve rearranged what is right
And what’s wrong

Somehow we’ve drifted
So far from the truth

That we can’t get back home

Where are the virtues
That once gave us light

Where are the morals
That governed our lives

Someday we all will
Awake and look back

Just to find what we’ve lost

[Chorus:]
We need to get back
To the basics of life
A heart that is pure
And a love that is blind
A faith that is fervently
grounded in Christ
The hope that endures
For all times

These are the basics,
we need to get back
To the basics of life

The newest rage is to reason it out
Just meditate and you can
Overcome every doubt

After all man is a God, they say
God is no longer alive

But I still believe
In the old rugged cross

And I still believe
There is hope for the lost

And I know the
Rock of all ages will stand

Through changes of time

[Chorus]

[Bridge:]
We’ve let the darkness
Invade us too long

We’ve got to turn the tide
Oh and we need the passion
That burned long ago

To come and open our eyes
There’s no room
For compromise

Lyrics compliments of AZLyrics.com

Those words speak truth to us today. May we be willing to listen . . . .

These are the basics . . .

We need to get back . . .

To the basics of life . . . .

YouTube Video: “The Basics of Life” by 4Him:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

The Bigger Picture

The new year is just over a week old now, and already I’ve started it out on a very positive note. Most of us are familiar with the expression, “Out with the old and in with the new,” especially at the start of a new year. In the past three days I’ve read one new book published on December 5, 2017, and I’m currently in the middle of a second new book published on January 3, 2018. Both have been informative and they have definitely captured my attention. For anyone looking for a challenge on expanding their current mindset, reading one or both of these two new books is a great way to get started.

The two books are (in the order I’m reading them as neither book outshadows the other): Unimaginable: What Our World Would Be Like Without Christianity,” by Jeremiah J. Johnston, Ph.D., President, Christian Thinkers Society, and Associate Professor of Early Christianity, Houston Baptist University; and Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality,” by Nancy R. Pearcey, M.A., Director, Center for Christian Worldview; Scholar-in Residence; and Professor of Apologetics, Houston Baptist University. She is also editor-at-large of The Pearcey Report.

Starting with the first book, from the many endorsement for the book, Unimaginable: What Our World Would Be Like Without Christianity,” here are just a few of them (source here):

“Western culture is under assault, and it may not survive. That’s why ‘Unimaginable’ is so critical to this moment in history. I encourage you to share it with someone who thinks the Christian faith is outdated and irrelevant, because what comes after Christianity may be the end of us all.”

Phil Cooke, PhD, filmmaker and author of “Unique: Telling Your Story in the Age of Brands and Social Media”

“As we live in a world desirous of scourging religion from life, Dr. Johnston shows that without difference-making believers in Jesus, many of the greatest elements of our world would be missing. Atheist, agnostic, or lifelong churchgoer–read this book and realize the importance and power of Christianity.”

Gregg Matte, Pastor, Houston’s First Baptist Church

“‘Unimaginable’ is one of those rare books that successfully combines cutting-edge scholarship on the origins of Christianity with meaningful and thought-provoking reflections on the place of religion in the contemporary world. In a bold way, Johnston presents the strong and unflinching case that in terms of ethics, social values, and human equality the world is a better place because of the contributions of Christianity.”

Paul Foster, Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity, School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh

“Always the scholar who keeps his finger on the pulse of real-world society and culture, Jeremiah Johnston has produced a volume that addresses the myriad of blessings Christianity provides. It immediately reminded me of the ‘New Atheist’ complaints in recent years that religion never produces good results. Read this book and you’ll have more answers than you’ll ever need!”

Gary R. Habermas, Distinguished Research Professor and Chair, Department of Philosophy, Liberty University

“For the past few decades, Western society has been on a path to purge itself of Christian influence. If the trend continues, will progressives want what they get? Engaging and informative, this timely volume considers what our world and even modern Western society might look like without the tremendously positive impact of Christianity. I love the concept! Christian and non-Christian readers alike will walk away with a conviction similar to that of militant atheist Richard Dawkins: ‘Christianity may very well be the barrier preventing the world from becoming a place where freedom and justice are things of the past.'”

Michael R. Licona, PhD, Associate Professor of Theology, Houston Baptist University

“More than one hundred of the foremost atheists, agnostics, secularists, and philosophers have filmed interviews with me. Collectively, their accusation is that Christians do not know how to think critically. Jeremiah Johnston not only refutes the error, but presents the positive, seismic, irrefutable changes Christianity has brought to our world. Every Christian needs to know the crucial truths in this book.”

Dr. Jerry Johnston, jerryjohnston.com

“Many say Christianity is outdated and bigoted, based on a book of ancient myths. Jeremiah Johnston beautifully and biblically outlines that from politics to education to the hope of eternal life through Jesus Christ, Christianity is actually the world’s greatest force for good.”

Janet Mefferd, radio host, “Janet Mefferd Today” and “Janet Mefferd Live”

The following is taken from the inside front cover of the book:

Is God Dying?

That’s what some people think and want. They say Christian beliefs and our way of life aren’t relevant anymore. But what critics and even many churchgoers don’t realize is the life-changing importance of Christianity.

Showing how the world would be a dark place without Christianity, “Unimaginable” guides you through the halls of history to see how Jesus’ teachings dramatically changed our world and continue to be the most powerful force for good today. Learn . . .

· How Christianity has stood against the evils of slavery (more than once), racism, eugenics, and injustices toward women and children

· Why democracy, freedom as a universal value, and modern education and legal systems owe much to Christianity

· How Christians throughout the ages have demonstrated the value of human life by sacrificially caring for the sick, handicapped, marginalized, and dying

· How people of faith are extending God’s kingdom through charities, social justice efforts, mental health initiatives, and other profound ways

This provocative and enlightening book is for anyone concerned about where our world is heading. (Quote source here.)

Regarding the second book, Love Thy Body,” I found a couple of reviews online. The following review is by Tim Challies, co-founder of Cruciform Books, a book reviewer, and author:

It is always a big deal when Nancy Pearcey releases a new book. It’s a special pleasure when that release is timed for the beginning of a new year. Such is the case with “Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality.” In this new work she brings her unique voice to some of the most pressing moral issues of our day. “’In Love Thy Body,’” she promises, “we will move beyond click-bait headlines and trendy slogans to uncover the worldview that drives the secular ethic. By learning the core principles of this worldview, you will be able to engage intelligently and compassionately on all of today’s most controversial moral challenges.”

And, indeed, that is exactly what she does and exactly what she delivers. As in all her works, she shows that the prevailing worldview around us is one that involves a two-tiered reality that places theology and morality in the realm of what is private, subjective, and relativistic while placing science in the realm of what is public, objective, and valid for all people. Thus secular science reigns supreme over all other matters, including faith. This then leads to a fact/value split where values are placed in the first realm and facts in the second. Your values are for you to live by, perhaps, but they have no bearing on the rest of humanity.

In “Love Thy Body” she shows how this very divide is at the heart of so many of today’s moral issues. The world around us neglects the core unity of human beings and instead divides us into two-tiered beings. “Christianity holds that body and soul together form an integrated unity—that the human being is an embodied soul. By contrast, personhood theory entails a two-level dualism that sets the body against the person, as though they were two separate things merely stuck together. As a result, it demeans the body as extrinsic to the person—something inferior that can be used for purely pragmatic purposes.”

After a thorough introduction that will get you caught up if you have not read Pearcey’s previous works, she turns her attention to six key issues, each of which can be explained and combated through a right understanding of the secular worldview that underpins them. In “The Joy of Death” she shows how body/person dualism is behind arguments for abortion and infanticide while in “Dear Valued Constituent” she looks at euthanasia, stem cell research, and even the growing movement toward transhumanism. “Schizoid Sex” shows how the hookup culture so prevalent on campuses today claims to set the body free, but actually diminishes its important. “The Body Impolitic” and “Transgender, Transreality,” turn to homosexuality and transgenderism. The final chapter, “The Goddess of Choice Is Dead,” turn from the individual to wider society.

Put together, this is a powerful book that brings Pearcey’s unique and uniquely-helpful voice to crucial issues. “We live in a moral wasteland,” she says, “where human beings are desperately seeking answers to hard questions about life and sexuality. But there is hope. In the wasteland we can cultivate a garden. We can discover a reality-based morality that expresses a positive, life-affirming view of the human person—one that is more inspiring, more appealing, and more liberating than the secular worldview.” Read this book to grow in your ability to do that very thing. (Quote source here.)

The second review of the book is much longer and it is by Bill Muehlenberg at CultureWatch. I’ve included excerpts from that review below:

Life and death. Sex. Just a few of the massively contentious issues of our time. Whether speaking of abortion, eugenics, assisted suicide, pornography, homosexuality or transgenderism, these are the hard-core topics occupying the attention of so many today – both in theory as well as in reality.

How we are to understand and assess all these hot potato ethical issues can be very difficult indeed. The problem is, most folks simply look at an individual issue and try to wade their way through it, instead of seeing the bigger picture. As noted Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer said decades ago, “The basic problem of the Christians in this country in the last eighty years or so is that they have seen things in bits and pieces instead of totals.”

Thus when dealing with individual moral topics, one needs an ethical model (be it utilitarianism or whatever) with which to assess them, and this in turn should come out of one’s overall worldview. So the proper way to assess an issue such as euthanasia is to see it in terms of one’s worldview.

Worldview thinking was of course one of the chief emphases of Schaeffer, and it has been as well for one of his better-known students: Nancy Pearcey. She has already demonstrated her more than capable grasp of such matters in her earlier important volumes, including Total Truth (2004) and Finding Truth (2015).

In her brand new volume she looks in detail at these contentious ethical issues, and takes us back to see the bigger picture: “The problem is that many people treat morality as a list of rules. But in reality, every moral system rests on a worldview. In every decision we make, we are not just deciding what we want to do. We are expressing our view of the purpose of human life.” . . .

And this is no mere book of philosophy or lofty ideas. It is a very practical book that reminds us of the importance of ideas, and how bad ideas can harm us so very much. But the book is one of hope as well. It not only demolishes faulty worldview thinking, but it points the way forward.

Says Pearcey, “Christians have to become familiar with secular worldviews and learn to uncover their dehumanizing and destructive implications. Only then will the other person be open to considering Christianity as a credible alternative.”

The concluding paragraph nicely sums up the heart and spirit of this book, and of where Pearcey wants us to take all this:

Christians must be prepared to minister to the wounded, the refugees of the secular moral revolution whose lives have been wrecked by its false promises of freedom and autonomy. When people are persuaded that they are ultimately disconnected, atomistic selves, their relationships will grow fragile and fragmented. Those around us will increasingly suffer insecurity and loneliness. The new polarization can be an opportunity for Christian communities to become safe havens where people witness the beauty of relationships reflecting God’s own commitment and faithfulness. (Quote source here.)

As Christians in our society today, we often don’t recognize how much the secular worldview has become a part of our own lives. These two books give us a very clear picture of the differences between a Christian worldview and lifestyle and a secular worldview and lifestyle.

I’ll end this post with the words Jesus said to those who believed in him. He said in John 8:31-32If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. . .

Then you will know the truth . . .

And the truth . . .

Will set you free . . . .

YouTube Video: “Lose My Soul” by TobyMac, Kirk Franklin, and Mandisa:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

My Wish For You

On this first day of a brand new year (2018) I thought I would share something short and sweet to get us started off in the right direction. Back in April 2006, the American country music group Rascal Flatts released a new album titled Me and My Gang,” and the third single on that album was “My Wish.” By December 2006 it had hit #1 on the U.S. Country music charts . . . And as of May 2016, the song had sold 2.927 million in the U.S., and in August 2016, a re-recorded version of the song was released to celebrate the song’s 10 year anniversary (source here). Background information on the song can be found at this link.

Here are the words to My Wish (YouTube video is below):

“My Wish”

I hope the days come easy
and the moments pass slow,

And each road leads you
where you want to go.

And if you’re faced with a choice
and you have to choose,

I hope you choose the one
that means the most to you.

And if one door opens
to another door closed,

I hope you keep on walkin’
’til you find the window.

If it’s cold outside,
show the world the
warmth of your smile.

But more than anything,
more than anything…

[Chorus:]
My wish for you
Is that this life becomes
all that you want it to.

Your dreams stay big,
your worries stay small.

You never need to carry
more than you can hold.

And while you’re out there
gettin’ where you’re gettin’ to,

I hope you know
somebody loves you,

And wants the
same things too.

Yeah, this is my wish.

I hope you never look back
but you never forget,

All the ones who love you
And the place you left.
I hope you always forgive
and you never regret,

And you help somebody
every chance you get.

And you find God’s grace
in every mistake,

And always give more
than you take.

But more than anything,
yeah more than anything…

[Chorus x2]

This is my wish
I hope you know
somebody loves you.

May all your dreams
stay big…

Lyrics compliments of AZLyrics.com

So as we travel through this new year of 2018, may your dreams stay big . . .

Your worries stay small . . .

And you never need to carry . . .

More then you can hold . . . .

YouTube Video: “My Wish” by Rascal Flatts:

Photo credit here

Moment by Moment

New Year’s Day is right around the corner, and now is the time when folks who are inclined to set some New Year’s Resolutions do so in preparation for the first day of the New Year on January 1st. A  New Year’s resolution is “a promise that you make to yourself to start doing something good or stop doing something bad on the first day of the year” (quote source here). One of my perennial favorites is to lose “X” number of pounds (and rarely have I ever actually accomplished it) and to start eating more healthy foods (which I actually did accomplish this past year).

New Year’s resolutions can take all forms. Here’s a list of the Top Ten Resolutions in 2015 from an article titled, This Year’s Top New Year’s Resolution? Fitness!!”:

Now that we’ve put the holidays and the leftover pumpkin pie behind us, how are we pledging to better ourselves and our lives in the New Year? Or have we simply thrown in the towel and opted to check our resolutions at the door?

As it turns out, old habits die hard, and Americans say they’re just as committed to getting fit this year as they ever were. Health and wellness are top priorities for U.S. consumers as January takes hold, as data from a new Nielsen survey highlight how “staying fit and healthy” is our top resolution, coming in at 37%, followed closely by “lose weight” (32%). And based on the survey results, just a handful of us are throwing in the towel and not making any resolutions (16%).

TOP 10 NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

Stay fit and healthy 37%
Lose weight 32%
Enjoy life to the fullest 28%
Spend less, save more 25%
Spend more time with family and  friends 19%
Get organized 18%
Will not make any resolutions 16%
Learn something new/new hobby 14%
Travel more 14%
Read more 12%
Quote source here

It seems as if “losing weight,” “getting fit,” and “eating healthy” top the list every year, and they are good goals for anyone to have (unless you are so fortunate as to not need to lose even a few extra pounds of weight). However, since I write from a Christian perspective, I thought it would be interesting to find out some of the resolutions Christians might think about making (along with the typical resolutions everyone else makes, too).

In answer to the question, What sort of New Year’s resolutions should a Christian make? GotQuestions.org gives us the following answer:

The practice of making New Year’s resolutions goes back over 3,000 years to the ancient Babylonians. There is just something about the start of a new year that gives us the feeling of a fresh start and a new beginning. In reality, there is no difference between December 31 and January 1. Nothing mystical occurs at midnight on December 31. The Bible does not speak for or against the concept of New Year’s resolutions. However, if a Christian determines to make a New Year’s resolution, what kind of resolution should he or she make?

Common New Year’s resolutions are commitments to quit smoking, to stop drinking, to manage money more wisely, and to spend more time with family. By far, the most common New Year’s resolution is to lose weight, in conjunction with exercising more and eating more healthily. These are all good goals to set. However, 1 Timothy 4:8 instructs us to keep exercise in perspective: “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” The vast majority of New Year’s resolutions, even among Christians, are in relation to physical things. This should not be.

Many Christians make New Year’s resolutions to pray more, to read the Bible every day, and to attend church more regularly. These are fantastic goals. However, these New Year’s resolutions fail just as often as the non-spiritual resolutions, because there is no power in a New Year’s resolution. Resolving to start or stop doing a certain activity has no value unless you have the proper motivation for stopping or starting that activity. For example, why do you want to read the Bible every day? Is it to honor God and grow spiritually, or is it because you have just heard that it is a good thing to do? Why do you want to lose weight? Is it to honor God with your body, or is it for vanity, to honor yourself?

Philippians 4:13 tells us, “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” John 15:5 declares, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” If God is the center of your New Year’s resolution, it has chance for success, depending on your commitment to it. If it is God’s will for something to be fulfilled, He will enable you to fulfill it. If a resolution is not God honoring and/or is not in agreement in God’s Word, we will not receive God’s help in fulfilling the resolution.

So, what sort of New Year’s resolution should a Christian make? Here are some suggestions: (1) pray to the Lord for wisdom (James 1:5) in regards to what resolutions, if any, He would have you make; (2) pray for wisdom as to how to fulfill the goals God gives you; (3) rely on God’s strength to help you; (4) find an accountability partner who will help you and encourage you; (5) don’t become discouraged with occasional failures; instead, allow them to motivate you further; (6) don’t become proud or vain, but give God the glory. Psalm 37:5-6 says, “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.” (Quote source here.)

There is another side to setting resolutions from a Christian perspective that I had not thought about until I ran into a devotion this evening from the book, My Utmost For His Highest,” by Oswald Chambers (1874-1917). The devotion I read is titled, God’s Purpose or Mine?”:

He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side…Mark 6:45

We tend to think that if Jesus Christ compels us to do something and we are obedient to Him, He will lead us to great success. We should never have the thought that our dreams of success are God’s purpose for us. In fact, His purpose may be exactly the opposite. We have the idea that God is leading us toward a particular end or a desired goal, but He is not. The question of whether or not we arrive at a particular goal is of little importance, and reaching it becomes merely an episode along the way. What we see as only the process of reaching a particular end, God sees as the goal itself.

What is my vision of God’s purpose for me? Whatever it may be, His purpose is for me to depend on Him and on His power “now.” If I can stay calm, faithful, and unconfused while in the middle of the turmoil of life, the goal of the purpose of God is being accomplished in me. God is not working toward a particular finish— His purpose is the process itself. What He desires for me is that I see “Him walking on the sea” with no shore, no success, nor goal in sight, but simply having the absolute certainty that everything is all right because I see “Him walking on the sea” (Mark 6:49). It is the process, not the outcome, that is glorifying to God.

God’s training is for now, not later. His purpose is for this very minute, not for sometime in the future. We have nothing to do with what will follow our obedience, and we are wrong to concern ourselves with it. What people call preparation, God sees as the goal itself.

God’s purpose is to enable me to see that He can walk on the storms of my life right now. If we have a further goal in mind, we are not paying enough attention to the present time. However, if we realize that moment-by-moment obedience is the goal, then each moment as it comes is precious. (Devotion for July 28; quote source here.)

We tend to live either in the past or in the future, but rarely stop and contemplate the present, which is all any of us actually get. The resolutions we make on New Year’s Day always extend out into the future, but it is only in the “moment-by-moment” that we either accomplish them or we don’t. However, God wants us to live in the “now.” Today. Right now. This present moment. God’s purpose for us is in the process and not in the goal we have set. As Chambers stated above, “What we see as only the process of reaching a particular end, God sees as the goal itself.” We need to pay attention to the present moment.

If you are one of the many folks who will be setting some New Year’s resolutions for 2018, may these short readings above give you some food for thought as you go about setting them. And as Proverbs 3:5-6 states: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding . . .

In all your ways . . .

Acknowledge Him . . .

And He shall direct your paths . . . .

YouTube Video: “Testify to Love” by Avalon:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Christmas is Coming

Christmas is literally right around the corner, and no doubt many a last minute shopper is scurrying about purchasing last minute presents. I consider myself fortunate to not be one of them this year. 🙂 However, since the final hours before Christmas are quickly approaching, I thought I would share some Christmas cheer before Christmas morning arrives.

One of the oldest and most common Christmas poems titled “’Twas the Night Before Christmas was written back in 1822 by Clement C. Moore (1779-1863), and it tells the story of Santa’s arrival on Christmas Eve at a typical American household. The original poem is available at this link. A year ago I posted a parody of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas in a blog post titled, A Bit of Christmas Cheer,” and I thought I’d repost that version along with a Christian version of the poem following after it. Here is the version from last year’s blog post:

’Twas The Night Before Christmas
Legal Version

Whereas, on or about the night prior to Christmas, there did occur at a certain improved piece of real property (hereinafter “the House”) a general lack of stirring by all creatures therein, including, but not limited to, a mouse.

A variety of foot apparel, e.g. stocking, socks, etc., had been affixed by and around the chimney in said House in the hope and/or belief that St. Nick a/k/a/ St. Nicholas a/k/a/ Santa Claus (hereinafter “Claus”) would arrive at sometime thereafter.

The minor residents, i.e. the children, of the aforementioned House, were located in their individual beds and were engaged in nocturnal hallucinations, i.e. dreams, wherein vision of confectionery treats, including, but not limited to, candies, nuts and/or sugar plums, did dance, cavort and otherwise appear in said dreams.

Whereupon the party of the first part (sometimes hereinafter referred to as “I”), being the joint-owner in fee simple of the House with the party of the second part (hereinafter “Mamma”), and said Mamma had retired for a sustained period of sleep.

At such time, the parties were clad in various forms of headgear, e.g. kerchief and cap. Suddenly, and without prior notice or warning, there did occur upon the unimproved real property adjacent and appurtenant to said House, i.e. the lawn, a certain disruption of unknown nature, cause and/or circumstance.

The party of the first part did immediately rush to a window in the House to investigate the cause of such disturbance. At that time, the party of the first part did observe, with some degree of wonder and/or disbelief, a miniature sleigh (hereinafter the “Vehicle”) being pulled and/or drawn very rapidly through the air by approximately eight (8) reindeer.

The driver of the Vehicle appeared to be and in fact was, the previously referenced Claus. Said Claus was providing specific direction, instruction and guidance to the approximately eight (8) reindeer and specifically identified the animal co-conspirators by name: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder and Blitzen (hereinafter the “Deer”). Upon information and belief, it is further asserted that an additional co-conspirator named Rudolph may have been involved.

The party of the first part witnessed Claus, the Vehicle and the Deer intentionally and willfully trespass upon the roofs of several residences located adjacent to and in the vicinity of the House, and noted that the Vehicle was heavily laden with packages, toys and other items of unknown origin or nature.’

Suddenly, without prior invitation or permission, either express or implied, the Vehicle arrived at the House, and Claus entered said House via the chimney. Said Claus was clad in a red fur suit, which was partially covered with residue from the chimney, and he carried a large sack containing a portion of the aforementioned packages, toys, and other unknown items.

He was smoking what appeared to be tobacco in a small pipe in blatant violation of local ordinances and health regulations. Claus did not speak, but immediately began to fill the stocking of the minor children, which hung adjacent to the chimney, with toys and other small gifts. (Said items did not, however, constitute “gifts” to said minor pursuant to the applicable provisions of the U.S. Tax Code.)

Upon completion of such task, Claus touched the side of his nose and flew, rose and/or ascended up the chimney of the House to the roof where the Vehicle and Deer waited and/or served as “lookouts.” Claus immediately departed for an unknown destination. However, prior to the departure of the Vehicle, Deer and Claus from said House, the party of the first part did hear Claus state and/or exclaim:

“Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!”

Or words to that effect. (Quote source here.)

Now that you’ve had a bit of laughter, I also found a version of the poem written from a Christian perspective (quote source here):

’Twas The Night Before Christmas
Christian Version

‘Twas the first night of Christmas a long time ago,
The hillside was peaceful, the moon was aglow.
The world couldn’t know from what happened before,
That men would remember this night evermore.

The sheep on the hillside—their days journey over,
Were dreaming sweet dreams of a field full of clover.
The shepherds were watchful while guarding their flock,
The earth was their pillow, the stars were their clock.

Then all of a sudden, they jumped at the sight
Of the sky all a blaze with a heavenly light.
They huddled in fear, then they started to rise
As the lightening-like flash tore open the skies.

The heavens were split by the silvery ray,
The dark disappeared and the night became day.
And lo, at the end of the rainbow of light
Appeared then an angel to banish their fright.

The angel brought news of a birth in a manger
And bade them to hasten to welcome the stranger.
For Mary had just given birth to a boy
Whose coming would bring so much comfort and joy.

A choir of angels looked down from the sky
And heavenly voices were heard from on high:
Peace be on earth and good will to all men.
The Savior has come on this night, Amen.

The heavenly angels then faded from sight,
The sky once again turned from day to night.
The shepherds all quietly rose from the ground,
And hurried to go where the child would be found.

As they reached Bethlehem and the inn was in sight
From the barn came a trickle of half-hidden light.
It led like a path to a soft little bed
And shone very tenderly on a child’s head.

The child in the manger was sleeping so sound,
His eyes were still closed, as the shepherds stood round.
From that instant of grace on that night long ago
Thousands of years would be warmed by the glow.

Guided by light from a bright shining star
Came a pilgrimage led of three kings from afar.
They were dressed in the finest of satins and lace,
Their complexions were that of an Orient race.

The three wealthy kings were wise men and proud,
But they went to the Christ child and solemnly bowed.
They came bearing treasures of incense and gold
To that sweet little child, still not very old.

The star in the sky twinkled down from above,
The world was awakened to kindness and love.
The past was forgotten, the future was bright,
And the spirit of Christmas was born on that night.
(Quote source here.)

And with that being said (or rather, written), may the world be awakened to kindness and love with the past forgotten and the future bright, and . . .

Merry Christmas to all . . .

And to all . . .

A Good Night! ! ! !

YouTube Video: “Carol of the Bells” by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here
Photo #4 credit here
Photo #5 credit here

The Reason Behind The Season

In the past three weeks I’ve written blog posts on Advent including The Three Relationships of Peace and  Gratitude and Wonder; and on the background of the song The Twelve Days of Christmas; and on Celebrating Hanukkah,” so it seems appropriate that I finish up this series of Yuletide blog posts with the actual reason behind the season–the birth of Jesus Christ–which Christians worldwide will celebrate on December 25th. The following account of the birth of Jesus Christ is taken from Luke 2:1-40 (ESV):

The Birth of Jesus Christ

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

The Shepherds and the Angels

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.  And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Jesus Presented at the Temple

And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
    according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
     that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,

    and for glory to your people Israel.”

And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

The Return to Nazareth

And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.

The story of the birth of Jesus Christ is a story that is universally known. In answer to the question, What is the true meaning of Christmas?GotQuestions.org gives us a very concise answer:

The true meaning of Christmas is loveJohn 3:16-17 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” The true meaning of Christmas is the celebration of this incredible act of love.

The real Christmas story is the story of God’s becoming a human being in the Person of Jesus Christ. Why did God do such a thing? Because He loves us! Why was Christmas necessary? Because we needed a Savior! Why does God love us so much? Because He is love itself (1 John 4:8). Why do we celebrate Christmas each year? Out of gratitude for what God did for us, we remember His birth by giving each other gifts, worshiping Him, and being especially conscious of the poor and less fortunate.

The true meaning of Christmas is love. God loved His own and provided a way—the only Way—for us to spend eternity with Him. He gave His only Son to take our punishment for our sins. He paid the price in full, and we are free from condemnation when we accept that free gift of love. “But God demonstrated His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). (Quote source here.)

Granted, this is the Christian story of Christmas–it’s about the birth of Jesus Christ. However, in recent years at least from a media perspective there has been a downplaying of the Christian story of Christmas. Some have called it “The War on Christmas.” One year ago on December 19, 2016 an article was published in The New York Times that tackled the issue. It is titled, How the War on Christmas Controversy Got Started,” by Liam Stack, who covers breaking news and social and political issues for the New York Times express desk. He is also an Arabic speaker, and he worked for seven years as a Middle East correspondent covering authoritarianism and revolution in the Arab world. Stack writes:

It’s that time of year again, folks. It’s time for the War on Christmas.

What is that, you may ask? The short answer: a sometimes histrionic yuletide debate over whether the United States is a country that respects Christianity.

For the longer answer, keep reading.

The idea of a “War on Christmas” has turned things like holiday greetings and decorations into potentially divisive political statements. People who believe Christmas is under attack point to inclusive phrases like “Happy Holidays” as (liberal) insults to Christianity.

For over a decade, these debates have taken place mainly on conservative talk radio and cable programs. But this year they also burst onto a much grander stage: the presidential election.

At a rally in Wisconsin last week, Donald J. Trump stood in front of a line of Christmas trees and repeated a campaign-trail staple.

“When I started 18 months ago, I told my first crowd in Wisconsin that we are going to come back here some day and we are going to say ‘Merry Christmas’ again,” he said. “Merry Christmas. So, Merry Christmas everyone. Happy New Year, but Merry Christmas.”

Christmas is a federal holiday celebrated widely by the country’s Christian majority. So where did the idea that it is threatened come from?

What is the “War on Christmas”?

The most organized attack on Christmas came from the Puritans, who banned celebrations of the holiday in the 17th century because it did not accord with their interpretation of the Bible.

Fast forward 400 years, and the idea of a plot against Christmas gained wide publicity when Fox News promoted a 2005 book by a radio host, John Gibson, that alleged liberal antagonism toward the holiday, according to Dan Cassino, a professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Mr. Gibson said in an interview that he was “amazed” by the uproar his book caused.

He said it primarily focused on an issue that rarely happens anymore: educators and local officials banning nonreligious symbols like Santa Claus or Christmas trees out of a mistaken belief that displaying them violated the Constitution.

Mr. Gibson said the book had taken on a life of its own over the years — and that it had never dwelled on the political implications of “Happy Holidays.”

He attributed the firestorm to two things: The book’s take-no-prisoners title (“The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought”) and the Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.

“It wasn’t really me. I think it was more Bill, to tell you the truth,” he said. “When Bill made it an issue, it went mega”. . . .

Mr. O’Reilly returned to the War on Christmas this year [December 2016–see article at this link], but his tone has been triumphant.

“That culture war issue ignited and we won,” he said last Tuesday, later adding, “Donald Trump is on the case.”

Is this a real thing?

There is no evidence of an organized attack on Christmas in the United States.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said the annual uproar is based on “stories that only sometimes even contain a grain of truth and often are completely false.” He has spent years pushing back against it.

“This politicizing of the whole issue is mind-boggling to me,” Mr. Lynn said, “and it has been for well over a decade.”

He added, “They see this as some kind of a politically correct effort, but I see it as reasonable to not use Christmas references as just an accommodation of the reality of America”. . . .

What does the “war” look like in practice?

Many conservative groups have rallied to defend Christmas, lobbying for decorations in public schools or town halls. One group, the American Family Association based in Tupelo, Miss., publishes a “Naughty and Nice” list every year to castigate companies it believes are “censoring ‘Christmas.’ ”

“There are secular forces in our country that hate Christmas because the word itself is a reminder of Jesus Christ,” the group said on its website. “They want to eradicate anything that reminds Americans of Christianity”. . . .

“Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”?

The greeting “Happy Holidays” has been in use as a Christmas greeting for more than 100 years. But it has grown in popularity in recent decades as people have tried to be inclusive and sensitive to those of other faiths and the nonreligious.

The controversy appears to have shifted opinion about the proper greeting. Mr. Cassino wrote in the Harvard Business Review this month that the number of people who said they preferred to hear “Happy Holidays” has decreased sharply in the last 10 years, from 41 percent to 25 percent. “Merry Christmas” remained popular. Indeed, President Obama, a Christian, has frequently uttered the phrase.

It should be noted that Jews, Muslims and others who do not celebrate Christmas often say they are not offended by a hearty “Merry Christmas.”

So perhaps there is hope for peace on earth, or at least cable television. (Quote source here.)

A more lengthy article with lots of links for those interested in the 2017 version of “The War on Christmas” is available on Bloomberg View, published on December 13, 2017, and titled, To the Christmas Barricades, Candy Canes in Hand–The state of the War on Christmas: The movies are too sweet, but Silicon Valley is too judgmental,” by Stephen L. Carter, a Bloomberg View columnist and a professor of law at Yale University. Carter states in the second paragraph of his article (full article available at this link):

Is there a “war on Christmas”? Surely it’s a matter of perspective. A story last year in the New York Times [and yes, he is referencing the article posted above] discussed the history of the idea, but got it only partly right. The piece skipped from the banning of Christmas celebrations by 17th-century Puritans to the 2005 publication of talk-show host John Gibson’s polemic, “The War on Christmas.” That’s a lot of history omitted, and it’s history that matters. But I’ve tacked that subject in this space before; for now, I’ll simply recommend that those who want to learn the holiday’s true and somewhat surprising history should readThe Battle for Christmas,” by the excellent Stephen Nissenbaum. (Quote source and entire article is available at this link.)

GotQuestions.org gives us some advice on how Christians can respond to this “War on Christmas”:

Many people perceive a modern-day “war on Christmas” being waged in the public square. Those who believe in the reality of a war on Christmas see a concerted effort to eliminate the word “Christmas” from public discourse. Stories confirming a war on Christmas seem to be coming more frequently: a grade-school choir sings “We Wish You a Happy Holiday” instead of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” for their “Winter Concert.” A library invites “holiday displays” from the community provided the displays have no religious connotation—the stable may have animals in it, but no people. And major shopping chains forbid their employees from wishing anyone a “Merry Christmas.” It is possible to do all one’s Christmas shopping and never see or hear the word “Christmas” in the stores.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with saying “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings.” But if someone says “Happy Holidays” for the sole purpose of not saying “Merry Christmas,” then we are right to question what’s going on. Is there truly be a cultural “war on Christmas?” “Why is the word “Christmas” censored?” we wonder as we wander through the malls. Why do some public schools celebrate everything from Kwanzaa to Labafana the Christmas witch, and ban the Nativity, all in the name of “inclusion” and “tolerance”?

One reason put forward by those seeking to avoid the word “Christmas” is that it offends non-Christians. But, according to a recent Gallup poll, only 3 percent of adults in America say it bothers them when a store makes specific reference to Christmas. This fact gives the “war on Christmas” a more sinister twist. The exclusion of Christmas is less about sensitivity and more about censorship. Expunging all mention of Christmas from society is not really a way to “adapt” to a more diverse culture but a way to engineer a more secular culture.

Many times, the arguments against Christmas programs and displays are couched in political terms, but the bias against Christmas goes much deeper than that. The war on Christmas is primarily a spiritual battle, not a political one.

How should Christians respond to the war on Christmas and the ubiquitous use of “Happy Holidays” to the exclusion of “Merry Christmas”? Here are some suggestions:

1) Celebrate Christmas! War on Christmas or not, let the joy of the season show in your life. Teach your family the significance of Jesus’ birth and make the Christmas traditions meaningful in your home.

2) Wish others a Merry Christmas. When confronted with a “Happy Holidays,” get specific and wish the greeter a “Merry Christmas!” You may be surprised at how many respond in kind. Even if you are met with resistance, don’t let it dampen your cheer. In Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” Ebenezer Scrooge wages a personal war on Christmas, and his nephew feels the brunt of his uncle’s attacks year after year, but it doesn’t stop him from wishing his humbug of an uncle a Merry Christmas and inviting Scrooge to Christmas dinner.

3) Speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). The Christmas season is a wonderful opportunity to share Christ’s love and the gospel message. He is the reason for the season!

4) Pray for those in positions of power (1 Timothy 2:1–3). Pray for wisdom. Pray for revival so that Christmas, instead of being “offensive,” would be honored by all. May we each be a peaceful warrior in the cultural war on Christmas. (Quote source here.)

“May we each be a peaceful warrior in the cultural war on Christmas.” And that is very wise advice during this Christmas season . . . .

Glory to God in the highest . . .

And on earth peace . . .

Goodwill toward men . . . . (Luke 2:14, NKJV)

YouTube Video: “O Holy Night/Ave Maria” featuring Lexi Walker – The Piano Guys:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

Celebrating Hanukkah

Today starting at sundown marks the beginning of the first day of the eight days of Hanukkah (Chanukah)–December 12-20, 2017. Hanukkah is one of the more recognizable celebrations of Jewish tradition and is not religious in nature. Rather, Hanukkah celebrates a nation’s heroes and the miracle they experienced. It recognizes the efforts of a group of freedom fighters known as the Maccabees. Here is a brief history of Hanukkah from Chabad.org:

Some 2100 years ago the Land of Israel came under the rule of the Syrian-Greek emperor Antiochus, who issued a series of decrees designed to force his Hellenistic ideology and rituals upon the Jewish people. He outlawed the study of Torah [the first five books of the Old Testament] and the observance of its commands, and defiled the Holy Temple in Jerusalem with Greek idols.

A small, vastly outnumbered band of Jews waged battle against the mighty Greek armies, and drove them out of the land. When they reclaimed the Holy Temple, on the 25th of Kislev, they wished to light the Temple’s menorah (candelabrum), only to discover that the Greeks had contaminated virtually all of the oil. All that remained was one cruse of pure oil, enough to last one night–and it would take eight days to procure new, pure oil.

Miraculously, the one-day supply of oil lasted eight days and nights, and the holiday of Chanukah [Hanukkah] was established.

To commemorate and publicize these miracles, we light the Chanukah menorah (also known as “chanukiah”) on each of the eight nights of Chanukah. This year, we start lighting the menorah on Tuesday night after nightfall, December 12, 2017 (quote source here).

So who, exactly, is this small, vastly outnumbered band of Jews who waged a battle against the mighty Greek armies and drove them out of the land? They are the freedom fighters known as the Maccabees. The following information on the Maccabees is provided from an article titled, The Maccabees: The Jewish Freedom Fighters,” on Chabad.org:

The Maccabees were a band of Jewish freedom fighters who freed Judea from the Syrian-Greek occupiers during the Second Temple period. The word Maccabee is an acronym for the Hebrew words that mean “Who is like You among all powers, G-d.” Led by Judah the Maccabee and his four brothers, they trounced the Greek interlopers and restored the Holy Temple in Jerusalem to the service of G-d. Their victory is celebrated during the holiday of Chanukah.

The Background

More than 2,000 years ago there was a period of time when the Land of Israel was part of the Syrian-Greek Empire, ruled by the dynasty of the Seleucids. In 174 BCE (3586), Antiochus IV ruled the region. He was called Epiphanes, meaning “the gods’ beloved,” but people called him Epimanes (“madman”), a title more suited to the character of this harsh and cruel king.

Wanting to unify his kingdom through common religion and culture, Antiochus tried to root out the individualism of the Jews by suppressing the practice of all Jewish law. He also meddled in the affairs of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, installing idol-worshipping High Priests who paid him handsome tributes.

At that time, Antiochus was also engaged in a successful war against Egypt. But messengers from Rome arrived and commanded him to stop the war, and he had to yield. Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, a rumor spread that a serious accident had befallen Antiochus. Thinking that he was dead, the people rebelled against Menelaus, the corrupt High Priest, who then fled together with his friends.

Antiochus returned from Egypt enraged by Roman interference with his ambitions. When he heard what had taken place in Jerusalem, he ordered his army to fall upon the Jews. Thousands of Jews were killed. Antiochus then enacted a series of harsh decrees: Jewish worship was forbidden, and the scrolls of the Law were confiscated and burned. Sabbath rest, circumcision and the dietary laws were prohibited under penalty of death. Many brave Jews refused, preferring death.

One day, the henchmen of Antiochus arrived in the village of Modiin where Mattityahu, a respected and elderly priest, lived. The Syrian officer built an altar in the marketplace of the village and demanded that Mattityahu offer sacrifices to the Greek gods. Mattityahu replied, “I, my sons and my brothers are determined to remain loyal to the covenant that our G-d made with our ancestors!”

Thereupon, a Hellenized Jew approached the altar to offer a sacrifice. Mattityahu grabbed his sword and killed him, and his sons and friends fell upon the Syrian officers and men. They killed many of them and chased the rest away. They then destroyed the altar.

Mattityahu knew that Antiochus would be enraged when he heard what had happened, and would certainly send troops to punish him and his followers. And so, Mattityahu and his sons and friends fled to the hills of Judea.

Judah the Maccabee Strikes Back

All loyal and courageous Jews joined them. They formed legions, and from time to time they left their hiding places to fall upon enemy detachments and outposts, and to destroy the pagan altars that were built by order of Antiochus.

Before his death, Mattityahu called his sons together and urged them to continue to fight in defense of G-d’s Torah. He asked them to follow the counsel of their brother Shimon the Wise, and their leader in warfare was to be their brother Judah the Strong, or Judah the Maccabee.

The Maccabees won battle after battle, including one in which they fended off an army of more than 40,000 men.

Then the Maccabees returned to Jerusalem to liberate it. They entered the Temple and cleared it of the idols placed there by the Syrian vandals. Judah and his followers built a new altar, which he dedicated on the twenty-fifth of the month of Kislev, in the year 139 BCE (3622).

Since the golden Menorah had been stolen by the Syrians, the Maccabees now made one of cheaper metal. When they wanted to light it, they found only a small cruse of pure olive oil bearing the seal of the High Priest Yochanan. It was sufficient to create light for only one day. By a miracle of G-d, it continued to burn for eight days, until new oil was available. That miracle proved that G-d had again taken His people under His protection. In memory of this, our sages appointed these eight days as a holiday of annual thanksgiving and lighting candles.

The Maccabees Rule Judea

The Maccabees and their descendants took the throne of Judea for themselves. This was a problem because they were priests, descendants of Aaron. Their job was to serve in the Holy Temple and guide the people in spiritual matters. It was the place of the descendants of King David, from the tribe of Judah, who were supposed to sit on the royal throne. Indeed, it did not take long until the monarchy of Judea was dragged down into a series of unending power grabs and bloody intrigue, with king after king trying to imitate the very same Greeks their ancestors had ousted from the land.

Yet, for all their shortcomings, the Maccabees leave us with an empowering message that resonates in all times and all places: Never cower in the face of tyranny. Do your part, trust in G-d, and success is sure to come. (Quote source here.)

In an article published today on The Independent,” titled Hanukkah 2017: What is the meaning behind this Jewish festival and why is it sometimes called Chanukah? by Dina Rickman, head of social and trending content at The Independent,” she states:

They say every major Jewish holiday can be summed up by the following quote: “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.”

In the case of Hanukkah, the story is that of the Maccabees, a guerrilla army of Jewish rebels based in Israel who revolted against the Seleucid Greek King Antiochus who had–as the saying goes–tried to kill us.

The exact historical truth of the religious version of events is disputed, but we do know that King Antiochus and the Maccabees existed. What is less established is whether the miracle described in the Hanukkah story really happened.

Jewish people are taught that the oppressed Maccabees somehow defeated Antiochus’ mighty troops and reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem. To celebrate, they attempted a ritual lighting of a seven-pronged Menorah candle–but they only had enough oil to last one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted a full eight days, giving Jews enough time to procure new oil. This is why Hanukkah is known as the festival of lights.

Around 2,000 years on, Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah by lighting their Menorah every night for eight days–with the crucial difference being that modern Menorahs–also known as Hanukkiahs–have eight prongs with a large prong, known as a shamash, in the middle. The shamash is used to light one extra candle each night for the eight days. Observing in public is a key part of celebrating the festival. Jewish people are encouraged to place the Menorah in the front window of their home, and some organisations have organised public Menorah lightings.

Now for the most important part, the food. The story of Hanukkah is about oil, so it’s traditional to eat fried goods such as potato latke pancakes or doughnuts.

Because the festival normally falls in December (although there are no guarantees with the Jewish lunisolar calendar), Hanukkah is often known as Jewish Christmas. While gift giving doesn’t have any religious significance on Hanukkah, a tradition has developed to give presents during the festival – normally one for every night–possibly because of where it falls in the calendar.

In 2017 the celebration begins on December 12 and ends on December 20.

Here are five facts you may not know about the festival:

1. Hanukkah is the only Jewish holiday not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible

Unlike other major Jewish holidays, Hanukkah is not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible.

2. Hanukkah means eating doughnuts

To commemorate the miracle of the burning lamp, Jews customarily eat foods fried in oil and this means doughnuts.

3. Chocolate coins

Chocolate coins or gelt (Yiddish for money) wrapped in gold and silver are exchanged at Hanukkah.

4. Spinning the Dreidel

Gelt is also used in a game played with a spinning top called a dreidel at Hanukkah.

Players sit in a circle and put a chocolate coin in the middle. Each person takes a turn at spinning the cube-shaped dreidel, which has a Hebrew letter on each side.

5. Exchanging gifts

Traditionally Jews only exchanged gifts on Purim, a Jewish holiday commemorating the time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from extermination by a young woman called Esther.

However, when Christmas became more prominent in the late 19th century and the Christian holiday’s consumerism grew, the Jewish custom shifted in imitation of Christmas.

To find out more [on each of the five items listed above], click here (Article/quote source here.)

In another take on Hanukkah, a December 12, 2012 guest commentary published in Forbes titled, Hanukkah’s ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ Message Is Universal In Its Appeal,” by Eric Rosenberg, journalist and former national correspondent for Hearst Newspapers, former senior vice president at Ogilvy Washington, and currently principal at EMR Content + Communications Inc., as well as adjunct faculty at Johns Hopkins University, Rosenberg provides an interesting perspective on Hanukkah:

The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, which is celebrated this week, is compelling for Jews and non-Jews alike because of its clarion call to religious liberty. Anyone remotely versed in American political thought will recognize the spirit of the Hanukkah story, with its “don’t tread on me” quest to worship as one chooses without fear of retribution, in the language of the U.S. Constitution.

Jews and gentiles alike have been persecuted for their religious beliefs. No single demographic has the market cornered on religious persecution. But to Jews, who for nearly two millennia lacked that freedom, they feel a special connection between the Hanukkah story and America’s guarantees of religious freedom.

For Jews, a straight line can be drawn from the Hanukkah experience of the second century BC to the eloquent expressions of religious freedom of the Founding Fathers, many of whom as learned Christian gentlemen of their era were versed in Hebrew and the Jewish canon.

It is an undeniable truth, James Madison wrote, that “that religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the Manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence.”

No citizen, wrote John Adams, “shall be hurt, molested, or restrained, in his person, liberty, or estate, for worshiping God in the manner most agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience; or for his religious profession or sentiments; provided he doth not disturb the public peace, or obstruct others in their religious worship.”

George Washington, as the newly installed first U.S. president, wrote the Touro Synagogue in Newport, RI, assuring congregants that the new nation would be unlike Europe with its widespread religious intolerance and state religion.

“May the children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid,” he wrote.

That’s not to say the founders had the Hanukkah story in mind when they created the United States. Of course they didn’t. Rather, like the Passover story, the Hanukkah story has a universality that any good revolutionary would find instructive.

In the second century BC the ancient Jews were overrun by the Assyrians, a Greek proxy in the ancient Middle East. As part of the Assyrian conquest, the Temple in Jerusalem, the centerpiece of Jewish worship, was turned into a Greek temple where Jews were further humiliated and forced to eat pig meat and worship Greek idols.

A group of Jews called the Maccabees led an underdog revolt, defeated the Assyrians, and cleared out the Temple of the offensive materials. When the time came to rededicate the Temple for Jewish worship, only one day’s worth of ritual lamp oil was available. The oil, however, burned bright for eight days, enough time to have additional ritual oil made. Thus the second miracle of Hanukkah, the first being that the ancient Jews defeated the numerically and military superior Assyrians, who had the backing of powerful allies.

The Hanukkah story is all the more a paean to religious liberty for the details left off the sanitized version taught to children for generations. For example, the Maccabees were not religious liberals. Modern scholarship has likened them to an ancient Taliban-like band of zealots who had no time for religious tolerance themselves unless it hewed to their own brand of old-time religion.

What’s more, the Maccabees, being pragmatic in search of allies to blunt Greek influence in their country and ensure their power base, sent out diplomatic feelers to an up-and-coming power, the emerging leviathan of the Roman state.

The Maccabee delegation dispatched to Rome met with the top leaders in an attempt to secure their support. “It was natural to solicit the sympathy and support of the great new power in the west,” the scholar Cecil Roth wrote in his “History of the Jews in Italy.”

But it was a fateful decision for the Maccabees with dreadful consequences for religious freedom. As ironies go, it was huge. The people who fought for religious freedom were inviting into their midst the very opposite.

Over time, as the Maccabee reign descended into civil war, Roman legions marched on Jerusalem in support of their clients and they never left. In the year 70 AD, after years of revolt from the locals, the Romans destroyed the Temple the Greeks had temporarily occupied, decimated the population, enslaved what was left, and thoroughly obliterated the Jewish world’s epicenter, thus robbing the Jews of the guarantee of religious freedom–until the founding of the United States.

The lesson of Hanukkah and what came after is a poignant one. And it is probably best summed up in a quote sometimes attributed to another Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson. “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” (Quote source here.)

With that in mind, as we celebrate Hanukkah, let us remember the key message of the Maccabees as freedom fighters as stated at the end of the second article of this post, which is to . . .

Never cower in the face of tyranny . . .

Do your part and trust in God . . .

And success is sure to come . . . .

YouTube Video: “Candlelight – Hanukkah” by The Maccabeats:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here
Photo #4 credit here

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Most of us are very familiar with the song, The Twelve Days of Christmas,” starting with “a partridge in a pear tree,” and ending with “12 drummers drumming” (YouTube video of the song available here), but I have to be honest in that I have never really looked into the background or history of the tradition, so I decided to take a look. And here is what I found out.

First off, it doesn’t start twelve days before Christmas as some might think it does. It actually starts on Christmas Day, December 25th, and goes to the Epiphany celebrated on January 6th:

The 12 days of Christmas, in fact, are the days from December 25th, celebrated as the birth of Jesus Christ, to the Epiphany, celebrated on January 6th as the day when the manifestation of Christ’s glory was realized. Some exchange gifts on each of the 12 days instead of only on Christmas day. (Quote source here.)

In an article titled, The Hidden Meaning of the Twelve Days of Christmas,” published on December 14, 2011 (the author’s name is not mentioned), I found the following information:

The Twelve Days of Christmas was created in England during a time of religious persecution when Catholicism was outlawed in the 16th to 18th centuries. The song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” was written as a kind of secret catechism that could be sung in public without fear of arrest – a learning or memory aid to Christians in fact. Each verse refers to a teaching of church doctrine — with the partridge being Christ who died on a tree and the “True Love” being God the Father, who gave us all gifts. The twelve days of Christmas are the twelve days between Christmas Day, Dec. 25th, the birth of Jesus, and the Epiphany, Jan. 6th, the day Christians celebrate the arrival of the Magi (Wise Men) and the revelation of Christ as the light of the world.

Each element in the song is a code word for religious truth:

1. The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus.
2. The two turtledoves are the Old and New Testaments.
3. Three French hens stand for faith, hope and love.
4. The four calling birds are the four Gospels.
5. The five gold rings recall the Hebrew Torah (Law), or the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament.
6. The six geese a-laying stand for the six days of creation.
7. The seven swans a-swimming represent the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.
8. The eight maids a-milking are the eight Beatitudes.
9. Nine ladies dancing are the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit.
10. The ten lords a-leaping are the Ten Commandments.
11. Eleven pipers piping represent the eleven faithful Apostles.
12. Twelve drummers drumming symbolize the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostles Creed.

Merry Christmas! (Quote source here.)

The following information is taken from an article titled, The Twelve Days of Christmas,” by Dennis Bratcher, Webmaster, General Editor, and the Executive Director of CRI/Voice Institute:

The Twelve Days of Christmas is probably the most misunderstood part of the church year among Christians who are not part of liturgical church traditions. Contrary to much popular belief, these are not the twelve days before Christmas, but in most of the Western Church are the twelve days from Christmas until the beginning of Epiphany  (January 6th; the 12 days count from December 25th until January 5th). In some traditions, the first day of Christmas begins on the evening of December 25th with the following day considered the First Day of Christmas (December 26th). In these traditions, the twelve days begin December 26 and include Epiphany on January 6.

The origin and counting of the Twelve Days is complicated, and is related to differences in calendars, church traditions, and ways to observe this holy day in various cultures (see Christmas). In the Western church, Epiphany is usually celebrated as the time the Wise Men or Magi arrived to present gifts to the young Jesus (Matt. 2:1-12). Traditionally there were three Magi, probably from the fact of three gifts, even though the biblical narrative never says how many Magi came. In some cultures, especially Hispanic and Latin American culture, January 6th is observed as Three Kings Day, or simply the Day of the Kings (Span: la Fiesta de Reyes,el Dia de los Tres Reyesel Dia de los Reyes Magos; Dutch: Driekoningendag). Even though December 25th is celebrated as Christmas in these cultures, January 6th is often the day for giving gifts. In some places it is traditional to give Christmas gifts for each of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Since Eastern Orthodox traditions use a different religious calendar, they celebrate Christmas on January 7th and observe Epiphany or Theophany on January 19th.

By the 16th century, some European and Scandinavian cultures had combined the Twelve Days of Christmas with (sometimes pagan) festivals celebrating the changing of the year. These were usually associated with driving away evil spirits for the start of the new year.

The Twelfth Night is January 5th, the last day of the Christmas Season before Epiphany (January 6th). In some church traditions, January 5th is considered the eleventh Day of Christmas, while the evening of January 5th is still counted as the Twelfth Night, the beginning of the Twelfth day of Christmas the following day. Twelfth Night often included feasting along with the removal of Christmas decorations. Many European celebrations of Twelfth Night included a King’s Cake, remembering the visit of the Three Magi, and ale or wine (a King’s Cake is part of the observance of Mardi Gras in French Catholic culture of the Southern USA). In some cultures, the King’s Cake was part of the celebration of the day of Epiphany.

The popular song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is usually seen as simply a nonsense song for children with secular origins. However, some have suggested that it is a song of Christian instruction, perhaps dating to the 16th century religious wars in England, with hidden references to the basic teachings of the Christian Faith. They contend that it was a mnemonic device to teach the catechism to youngsters. The “true love” mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The “me” who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the “days” represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn.

However, many have questioned the historical accuracy of this origin of the song The Twelve Days of Christmas.  While some have tried to debunk this as an “urban myth” out of personal agendas, others have tried to deal with this account of the song’s origin in the name of historical accuracy (see Snopes on The 12 Days of Christmas). There is little “hard” evidence available either way. Some church historians affirm this account as basically accurate, while others point out apparent historical and logical discrepancies.

The reality is that the “evidence” for both perspectives is mostly in logical deduction and probabilities.  Lack of positive evidence does not automatically provide negative evidence. On the other hand, logical deduction and probability do not provide proof either. One internet site devoted to debunking hoaxes and legends says that, “there is no substantive evidence to demonstrate that the song ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ was created or used as a secret means of preserving tenets of the Catholic faith, or that this claim is anything but a fanciful modern day speculation…”. Yet, there is no “substantive evidence” that will disprove it either.

The view of the song as a secret catechism is most likely legendary or anecdotal. Without corroboration and in the absence of “substantive evidence,” we probably should not take overly rigid positions from either perspective. It is all too easy to turn the song into a crusade for personal opinions. That would do more to violate the spirit of Christmas than the song is worth. So, for the sake of historical accuracy, we need to acknowledge the likelihood that the song had secular origins.

However, on another level, this should not prevent us from using the song in celebration of Christmas. Many of the symbols of Christianity were not originally religious, including even the present date of Christmas, but were appropriated from contemporary culture by the Christian Faith as vehicles of worship and proclamation. Perhaps, when all is said and done, historical accuracy, as important as that might be on one level, is not really the point. Perhaps more important is that Christians can celebrate their rich heritage, and God’s grace, through one more avenue during the Advent and Christmas seasons.  Now, when they hear what they once thought was only a secular “nonsense song,” they will be reminded in one more way of the grace of God working in transforming ways in their lives and in our world. After all, is that not the meaning of Christmas anyway? (Quote source here.)

And now for a bit of fun trivia regarding “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” published in Business Insider on November 24, 2017, in an article titled, Here’s the True Cost of the Twelves Days of Christmas,” by Akin Oyedele, Senior Markets Reporter:

  • Every year, PNC calculates the real-world prices of all the gifts in the “12 Days of Christmas” carol. 
  • Their so-called Christmas Price Index rose 0.6% this year, driven by higher costs of pear trees, more demand for gold rings, and higher wages for Lords-a-leaping.  
  • While it’s frivolous, PNC’s index mirrors some of the underlying trends in the US economy. 

A partridge in a pear tree and all the other 11 gifts would set you back $34,558.65 this year.

That’s slightly more expensive than last year, according to PNC’s annual index of the 12 Days of Christmas. 

For 34 years running, PNC has set out to calculate the costs of every item in the carol to create a Christmas Price Index. It’s more frivolous, but not that different from the government’s consumer price index that tracks the costs of everyday items. PNC’s sources include retailers, poultries, and dance companies. 

The CPI (from PNC) increased by 0.6% year-on-year, led by higher costs for pear trees and increased demand for gold rings. Indeed, the precious metal has had a good year like many other financial assets, gaining about 11%. 

In addition, the index was driven up by higher wages for 10 Lords-a-leaping. PNC recorded a 2% increase to $5,618.90 for this gig. Perhaps all the clamor for higher minimum wages and a tightening labor market helped.

Some workers, however, saw no compensation growth, much like the federal minimum wage, which has stayed unchanged since 2009. They included the eight maids-a-milking and nine ladies dancing. 

PNC also calculates a core-CPI. They exclude unpredictable swan prices instead of food and energy costs like the Department of Labor does. The core index rose 0.9% and would cost about $21,000 excluding swans-a-swimming. 

The chart below shows how the “12 Days of Christmas” gifts have evolved over the years.

A full infographic is available over at PNC »

One final article back on a more serious note that I found on Bible.org titled, The Twelve Days of Christmas: A Christmas Song for All Year Long,” by Timothy J. Ralston, Professor of Pastoral Ministries at Dallas Theological Seminarystates the following:

“On the first day of Christmas my true love…” When I was young it was a cute Christmas song. Getting all those gifts in right order at breakneck speed was the annual challenge. (I rarely succeeded. But then no one else did either.)

Then I grew older (and more spiritually intense). It became another secular mockery of sacred themes. It joined my collection of Yuletide debris discarded in an attic steamer trunk. Recently rummaging through my memories I found the chest with its song inside just as I’d left it.

I think I was wrong. I’ve missed a most wonderful gift, wrapped and given to me by those who followed Jesus before me.

Who wrote it? No one knows. But it’s been around for a long time. Although I couldn’t speak to its author, I could start with two facts. First, the twelve days are the period between the differing celebrations of Christmas—December 25 (in the Western church) and January 6 (in the Eastern church).

Second, people living when it was written commonly wrote, painted, and thought using symbols to express what they meant. All those birds and people are probably much more than they seem. (It certainly isn’t a coded list of significant biblical numbers. That probably confuses it with a similar song called “In Those Twelve Days”.) So I started looking. Here’s what I found.

In the Middle Ages birds were symbols of a human being, the soul, and each bird had specific associations. But the birds in the song had interesting Christian connections.

  • The partridge was always associated with Jesus’ birth. More than that, so was the pear tree. So the song begins with a double-image of the Nativity!
  • Since I’m thinking of Jesus’ birth, “two turtle doves” brought to mind Jesus’ presentation at Mary’s purification (Luke 2:21-24) and the Spirit’s descent upon him after his baptism at the start of his public ministry (Luke 3:21-22).
  • “French hens,” symbols of self-sacrifice and care, are reminiscent of Jesus’ role as the Good Shepherd to his own while he was among them.
  • “Calling birds”? One author suggested it might originally be “colley birds,” that is, blackbirds. (Unfortunately I haven’t found anything on their symbolism…yet.)
  • Since it’s Christmas, the “five gold rings” aren’t jewelry. Instead they remind us of golden ring-necked pheasants that were often associated with Nativity scenes (as can be seen in Fra Angelico’s Nativity) as well as a royalty (suggesting Jesus’ Messianic role) and the promise of life that rises from the ashes of death.
  • “Geese” (whether white or gray) symbolized spiritual vigilance, avoidance of worldly pleasures, wholehearted devotion to Godly obedience. Sounds like Jesus again.
  • “Seven swans” bring the opening series to a climax. Swans, always associated with royalty and prophecy, were thought to know the hour of their death and announce their death with a great cry (“swan song”), thereby earning them an enduring association with Christ’s work on the cross. Then add the biblical nuance of seven suggesting a completed work, and the connection to the cross is complete.

Boy, this was really interesting! If I’d lived 500 years ago, singing the first seven verses could be a powerful reminder of my Savior, his life and work.

As anyone who sings this song knows, from here on you gotta hold on to your dentures! Momentum gathers with the last five gifts – all people. Lowly “milk maids” at work give way to dancing “ladies” and “lords” in ever-increasing displays of joy, followed by an orchestra of “pipers” and “drummers” to support the chorus, and rehearsed at a speed that carries me along in its grand celebration. What a wonderful way to celebrate the coming of our Savior!

Then I got out my calculator. How many gifts were there? If one arrives on the first day, three on the second, six on the third, …by the last day there’s a grand total of 364 gifts. That’s one for every day of the year!

Now at last I understood. “My True Love” was no mere earthly lover but my Heavenly Father. The gift of His Son was sufficient for every day of my year.

The irony? Everybody, even my fellow Christians, think it’s only a secular song. They even enjoy the lusty singing of its parodies – like “The Twelve Days After Christmas – to mock at the corruption of the holiday. They don’t understand why I can’t laugh and sing it with them anymore. As Laurence Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996), p. 177, notes: “Misinterpretations and secularization of this old text in the recent revival of its use probably reveal more about our loss of theological awareness that we care to admit.”

No, I don’t expect to hear The Twelve Days of Christmas in a Sunday worship service this season. That’s not where it was created or where it belongs. Instead listen for my voice some July afternoon, ringing out from a hot car or crowded street corner, celebrating the profound work of our Savior and the joy of his presence that fills my heart every day of the year! (Quote source here.)

I hope you’ve enjoyed this short journey into the history of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” I learned a lot, too. And may it give new meaning to an old and familiar song at this time of year.

On the first day of Christmas . . .

My True Love gave to me . . .

A Partridge in a pear tree (Jesus) . . . .

YouTube Video: “Carol of the Bells” (for 12 cellos) – The Piano Guys:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here
Photo #4 credit here

Gratitude and Wonder

The official start of Advent is tomorrow (Sunday), December 3, 2017, for this year. For those keeping an Advent calendar or taking part in daily Advent readings, it started yesterday, December 1, 2017, and will end on Christmas Day. Calenderpedia.com gives this brief description of Advent:

Advent is the name of the season in which Christians prepare for the celebration that commemorates the birth of Jesus ChristChristmas. The word Advent comes from the Latin phrase “Adventus Domini”, meaning “arrival of the Lord.”

The Advent season is of variable length, and the start date changes every year. It starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day (also known as Advent Sunday and First Sunday of Advent), which can fall between November 27 and December 3, and always ends on Christmas Eve.

Common customs observed in churches and at home during Advent are the decoration of the house with an Advent wreath adorned with candles and the keeping of an Advent calendar. (Quote source here.)

At the beginning of this week I wrote a blog post titled, Three Relationships of Peace,” which gives the background on Advent. I also mentioned that I purchased a small book of Advent readings titled, The Dawning of Indestructible Joy,” (2014) by John Pipera pastor, author, and founder and leader of desiringGod.org, and he is also the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. Yesterday I began reading the daily readings–each of which is two to three pages long. After I read today’s reading for December 2nd, I thought it would be a great way to open this season of Advent. Here is that reading:

Prepare Your Heart for Christ

“How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” ~John 5:44

God owns and controls all things. And there is nothing that he could give you for Christmas this year that would suit your needs and the longings better than the consolation of Israel and the redemption of Jerusalem, restoration for past losses and liberation from future enemies, forgiveness and freedom, pardon and power, healing the past and sealing the future.

If there is a longing in your heart this Advent for something that the world has not been able to satisfy, might not this longing be God’s Christmas gift preparing you to see Christ as consolation and redemption and to receive him for who he really is?

How is the heart prepared to receive Christ for who he really is? It is very simple.

First, the heart must become disenchanted with the praise of men. “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one and other and do not seek the glory that comes from God?” (John 5:44; 7:17-18).

Second, the heart must become disenchanted with the sufficiency of money and things to satisfy the soul. “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him” (Luke 16:14).

Then, third, alongside this disenchantment with the praise of men and the power of money, there must come into the heart a longing for consolation and a redemption beyond what the world can give.

Fourth and finally, there must be a revelation from God the Father, opening the eyes of the heart so that it cries out, like a man who stumbles onto an incredible treasure, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God, the consolation of my past, the redemption of my future. Now I see you. Now I receive you–for who you really are.”

May God do this for you this Advent. May this be your gift, and your witness, and the testimony of many this Advent. (Quote source: The Dawning of Indestructible Joy,” (2014) for December 2nd, pp. 17-18).

So this Advent season let us keep our focus on the real reason we celebrate this season–on Jesus . . .

The One who is . . .

The One who was . . .

And the One who is to come . . . . (Rev. 1:8)

YouTube Video: “Ode to Joy to the World” (with Choir and Bell Ringers) – The Piano Guys:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Blessed with a Star on the Forehead

As I navigate through this life ...

bonhoefferblog

Can Dietrich Bonhoeffer make a difference in twenty-first century preachers and preaching?

The Nerdy Lion

Lions can wear glasses too

natsab

Here I stand.

The Daniel Fast

Consecrate yourself unto the Lord through extended prayer and fasting.

Unshakable Hope

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

It's a God thing...

Unpacking the baggage of life, love, and spirituality

drcristy

Dystopian Fiction Writer | Doctor | Wife | Mom

Reformedish

incompletely reformed thoughts on God, ministry, and life

lovelyseasonscomeandgo

This WordPress.com site is the bee's knees

Messianic Sabbath

A daily break in your day to celebrate our salvation in Yeshua (Jesus) and our abundant life through the Torah

For Such A Time As This

"...who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" Esther 4:14

The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Disciples of hope

Living the hope that comes from Christ

daily meditation

daily thoughts on scriptures

The Minstrel's Wife

A worship leader's missus and her views from the pew

From the Wisdom of our Founders

Important Quotations to Instruct and Inspire

Growing Forward

a blog for those seeking personal change for God's glory

The Old Guys

Quotes & Resources From... The Old Guys

Prime Reality Ministries

God is the Real Reality!

Flotsam and Jetsam

Random thoughts and commentaries on God's Word

Sara's Musings

Living It Out. . . on WordPress.com

Don Sweeting

Reflections on theology, worship, culture, history and the church

What's The Good Word?

Reflections on daily readings from the Scriptures

A DEVOTED LIFE

Practical Daily Devotions for the Real World

The Daily Way

A Daily Devotional from Dr. Michael Youssef

Jean Huang Photography - Los Angeles Custom Portraiture and Fine Art Photographer

"Transformational Beauty" "Maternity" "Newborn" "Children" "FineArt" Photography

Life in the Boomer Lane

Musings of a former hula hoop champion

Laura's Lens

Taking a look at the beauty around us

Perception

Photography. Life.

ILLUSTRATION AGE

THE ULTIMATE RESOURCE FOR ILLUSTRATORS

The Elliptical Saloon

Weblog for WhiteHouseMuseum.org

Thought For the Day

Bringing whatever stirs my heart

A Breath of Fresh Air

"Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God." Philippians 2:15

Joel C. Rosenberg's Blog

Tracking events and trends in Israel, the U.S., Russia and throughout the Epicenter (the Middle East & North Africa)

ForeWords

Lectionary Musings within the Community of Christ

Of Dust & Kings

Empowering Faith. Transforming Culture.

A MINIATURE CLAY POT

"We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives" 2 Corinthians 4:7 The Message

gracefully50

On your birthday: count your candles, count your years, count your blessings.

lilies, sparrows and grass

"That I may publish with the voice of thanksgiving, and tell of all thy wondrous works." Psalm 26:7

%d bloggers like this: