What’s the Basis for Your Faith?

The title of this Reflection is a question I’ve been asked several times. Years ago, I often said: “The Bible is the basis for my faith.” But my answer has changed. Now I joyfully say, “Eyewitnesses, and the empty tomb where Jesus was buried is the basis for my faith.”

What’s the difference? To answer that, I’ll use a Protestant version of the King James Bible.

This version of the KJV Bible (printed around 1885) has 66 books, 1,189 chapters, 31,102 verses, and 788,258 words in the text. It contains stories and narratives that relate information such as numbers of people killed in numerous battles, lists of kings, priests, and prophets, and genealogies of various people.

But that information, and a lot more, is based on various dating and numbering methods. For example: some cultures listed the second year of the king’s reign as the first year simply because some kings were killed before the first year was complete. Sometimes the second year of a baby’s life was counted as its first because 1st-year mortality was rampant. Sometimes, a king and a co-regent reigned simultaneously, yet their individual reigns seem to be listed consecutively.

Various versions of the Bible – even various KJ versions – have different word and verse counts. Other things are documented differently, depending on the original ethnic scribes or subsequent translators.

All of that, plus more, give people opportunities to call the Bible wrong – therefore, impugning the integrity of the Bible – which, consequently, tends to impugn the integrity of those of us who believe the Holy Bible.

Therefore, I no longer say the Bible is the basis for my faith because detractors, skeptics, agnostics, atheists, and adherents of other religions think they have grounds to prove the Bible wrong.

I now rely on eyewitnesses and the empty tomb as the basis for my faith. As surely as the person on the right of this blog witnessed the US Navy Blue Angles flying over Duncanville, Texas, there were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection and of the empty tomb in which He had been buried. That means Jesus rose from the dead. How can you argue against a person who predicted that he would die, how he would die, by whose promptings he would die, by whose hands he would die, and that he would come back to life in three days – and it all come true? Are you going to call him a liar? Not me; especially since much of it was also predicted centuries earlier by others.

How can a person debate that? Jesus either rose from the dead, or he didn’t. It isn’t “The Bible” I have to believe – it is eyewitnesses I believe. Witnesses such as Matthew, Peter, John, and others who documented their observations. They had no idea that their writings might be saved for people to read centuries later. However, because their observations and stories were found to be authentic, they were incorporated into a group of books that became the Holy Bible.

Merriam-Webster defines the word bible as: a publication that is preeminent especially in authoritativeness or wide readership. Many bibles abound such as the Machinists’ Bible, Deer Hunters’ Bible, Flower Gardener’s Bible, the Holy Bible, and many more.

The topic of Jesus’ rising from the dead has been found by archeologists in ancient Roman documents because it was a political concern for the emperors. Therefore, it is worth our time discussing it, but not arguing over it.

But I don’t blindly accept the Holy Bible. We can believe it or we don’t have to believe it; but there isn’t much sense in arguing over it. The fact is that the Holy Bible is not just a spiritual book; it is one of the oldest and greatest history books in existence. It’s also a matter of faith. But faith goes both ways: you either have faith to believe Jesus rose from the dead, or you have faith that he didn’t rise from the dead. You have faith to believe the Bible, or you have faith not to believe it. You have faith to believe in God or you have faith not to believe. Everyone’s life is based on faith in something or in someone.

The historicity of Jesus living and dying has been proven by non-biblical sources, so that is not the issue. His raising from the dead is the issue. But you’ll also discover that Jesus’ resurrection has been proven by atheists and agnostics. Of course, they became believers in Christ once they verified the deity of Jesus Christ.

Not only does the empty tomb provide me with answers for this life, it also substantiates my faith for eternal life. And I ask you to turn to Jesus Christ and live for Him.

Two Trees … Two Lives

As we walked through the Redwood Forest in Northern California, we were awed by the beauty, the grandeur of these magnificent trees that average 240 feet in height. I grew up in Southern California but rarely did my parents have opportunity to go that far north. Eight hundred miles was a long way in the 1950s, and I saw the Redwoods only one time in my childhood.

But this was 2018, Carol & I were on our year-long jaunt around the US of A, and childhood memories came flooding through the canals of my mind. On November 14 we visited the Humboldt Redwoods State Park, and on December 8, we visited the Calaveras Big Trees State Park – in the snow, of course – with our son, Ron, and his family.

There are basically two divisions of giant Redwoods: Giant Sequoias (sequoiadendron gigantem) are found in the California Sierra Nevada Mountains, and Coastal Redwoods (sequoia sempervirens) grow near the Northern California coast.

Some Giant Sequoias grow 300 feet tall, have a diameter up to 35 feet (that’s almost 110 feet in circumference!), have a root system which can cover several acres, and be more than 3,000 years old. For history buffs: a tree that old sprouted about 100 years after Charlemagne died, the timeframe when Eric the Red (Viking) established the first colony in Greenland, and the beginning of the Mayan Post-Classical period. The Coastal Redwoods can grow 370 feet tall – the tallest trees in the world – with trunks up to about 30 feet in diameter (95 feet in circumference).

Loggers had cut about 90% of these colossal trees for housing, furniture, etc.; but various conservation groups appealed to Congress to preserve the Redwoods, and the state and national park systems succeeded in rescuing the remaining 10%.

 As Carol and I walked among the trees, we saw a number of them that looked as though two or three had been planted together. Standing very close together with 8-foot diameter trunks, it looked as though someone had poured liquid bark on the trees ten feet off the ground which solidified, connecting the trees. Looking at this photo carefully, you can see where the bark has joined the two trees.

Yes, they had grown up together – the seeds having landed about ten feet apart. As seedlings, ten feet is a long distance. But as they grew and their trunks began touching, a phenomenon called inosculation took place. This funny word means to connect or join; to become one or make continuous; to unite.

As each of them grew in width at about an inch per year, they began touching in 120 years. As the trunks or branches rubbed together and wore off the bark, the live fibrous tissues touched each other and began intertwining. They didn’t get infected, and the trees became one plant, sharing nutrients and water.

Depending on how close trees are, either the bark joins and becomes one covering around both trees, or the tree trunks themselves physically join and become one tree. The trees that fuse together like that are called Hugging Trees. And together, they are stronger than individual trees.

Trees and bushes are not the only organisms that experience inosculation. This interesting phenomenon takes place when a person receives a skin graft. Through inosculation, the blood vessels and skin tissues connect, intertwine, and become one.

As I stood in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park gazing at these two magnificent works of God that had become one, I began thinking about my relationship with Carol.

We were born in different states. Eighteen years later we met in Southern California in college. Both of us lived on campus, and – attracted to each other – we saw each other in classes, during meals in the cafeteria, and in the choir.

Married August 22, 1966, we began growing together – yes, including rubbing each other the wrong way sometimes. But we didn’t allow the irritations, the inconveniences, the frustrations, and occasional anger to infect us as we wore off the rough edges; and over the years we became one in many ways.

We share the same house, the same joys, the same children, the same grandchildren, the same church, the same God. We have the same basic goals in life. We even react in much the same way, and at times spontaneously come up with the same ideas. We’ve grown strong together.

Two trees…two lives. It’s amazing how two individuals can develop a strong marriage if they stay together, weather the storms of life, and learn to truly love each other.

The Positive Side of Life

Have you noticed that I like to be joyful, happy? I like to laugh and have a good time. I learned that from my dad who used to say, “We’re only going this way once; we might as well make the most of it!”  Of course, Dad meant that within a totally Christian lifestyle.

Should we be serious? Yes, but we don’t have to somber to be serious. Just after the North lost a major battle in the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln told a joke in Congress and was challenged by his Secretary of State.

“Mr. President, don’t you think you ought to be serious in a time like this?”

President Lincoln replied, “If I took everything serious, I would lose my mind.” Lincoln understood that a little humor alleviated a lot of mental turmoil.

We sometimes forget that God’s original intention for all mankind was to be joyful, happy while we fulfill His will for our lives – even if we encountered difficulties.

Do you know that the word joy, its derivatives, and related words are in the Bible over 250 times? God approves of joy and happiness as we serve Him. One of the words is rejoicing which is “celebration of thanksgiving; making happy sounds; laughing, having a good time; being cheerful.”

Proverbs 15:13 tells us that a cheerful heart brings a smile to your face; a sad heart makes it hard to get through the day.

Proverbs 18:14 informs us that the will to live can get you through sickness, but life is difficult with a broken spirit.

Proverbs 15:15 tells it from the opposite viewpoint: “Every day is hard for those who suffer, but a happy heart is like a continual feast.” In other words, even if we’re poor and are struggling, a cheerful heart fills the day with song.

Proverbs 17:22 says, “A happy heart is like good medicine, but a broken spirit drains your strength.” And I have found that a cheerful disposition is good for our health, but gloom and doom leave us bone-tired.

If you find that the cares of life are getting you down, remember the prayer of Francis of Assissi. It goes something like this:

          Lord, grant me the strength to change the things I can change;       

          Grant me the courage to accept the things I cannot change;

          And grant me the wisdom to know the difference.

Keep in mind that facing each situation with a cheerful disposition can make the difference between success or failure.

A truly joyful person is one who can enjoy the scenery even on a detour. Some of Carol’s and my more enjoyable traveling moments have been on routes we didn’t plan on, and it happened again just today. When things seem to go wrong, we try to find the good in it.

Normally, joyful people are healthier, they are more creative, they are more alert, and are more fun to be around. Why? Joyful people enjoy life! And joy is contagious. (So is depression, and that’s a problem!)

Joyful people don’t usually get stopped by negative influences, but more freely release or express the creativity that our Lord placed within them. Joyful people are generally more productive because they are prone to stay focused on what God wants them to do in this life.

It says in Nehemiah 8:10, “Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

That last phrase could be translated, “…for the joy that the Lord gives you will make you strong.”

Forget Murphy’s Law that says, anything that can go wrong will go wrong. That’s pessimistic and can slow you down. Instead, think about how you can make things right.

Let’s focus on and dwell on the last part of Romans 8:28, “…And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”  

So let the joy of the Lord saturate your bones, your mind, your spirit. If something seems to go wrong, turn to God and ask Him for understanding and guidance; and then you be the human element that turns things around for the better.

Join me on the positive side of life.

Jesus Overruled Physics and Politics

Before Jesus was born, His title was “The Word.” John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Verse 14 tells us that the Word became a human and lived among us. God, the Word, was born under the name of Yehoshua (the Lord is Salvation) and translated into English as Joshua. Translated from Hebrew into Greek, his name is Iesous, and then translated into English is Jesus.

Historical records verify that Jesus was born in Bethlehem; lived in Egypt, Nazareth, and Galilee (and several other places), and His vocation was carpenter and stone mason. Contrary to popular opinion, Jesus was no wimp. Although He had a gentle disposition, He was muscular, physically tough, and had a will of iron. Those who were hurting or oppressed received gentle looks of compassion, but some of His adversaries shriveled under his steely glare!

Jesus had no identity crisis. He knew who He was and knew why He left heaven to live on earth. This was verified in Luke 2:48-49. Joseph and Mary were looking for Jesus and found Him in the temple bewildering the teachers of the law. When Mary asked twelve-year-old Jesus why He didn’t stay with them, Jesus responded, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Jesus never did anything worthy of execution, so why was He crucified?

A sacrifice had to be made to rescue us from the black hole of oblivion called hell so that we could live with God forever in heaven. But to complete this liberating task, the sacrifice could not remain dead. Only God could accomplish this other-worldly task, and that’s why Jesus came.

Historical records verify that multi-thousands of people, including the Roman Emperor, heard that Jesus had risen from the dead, although most folks didn’t want to believe it. When the guards told the leaders of the Sanhedrin that Jesus had left the tomb, the leaders paid them to lie and say that Jesus’ disciples took His body from the tomb while they were sleeping. But that lie was absurd. Any reasonable child understands that we don’t know what’s happening while we’re asleep.

In 1546 AD, John Heywood said, “There are none so blind as those who will not see.” That reminds me of the verse in Jeremiah 5:21, “Listen, you foolish and senseless people, with eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear” (NLT). Both Jeremiah and John were speaking to people who refused to believe the obvious: those who closed their eyes and ears to reality. But Jesus was seen by many hundreds – perhaps thousands – of people during the forty days after He left the tomb. Jesus is alive!

Myths and legends have been created by those who refused to accept the fact that Jesus is alive, and I’ve been asked a number of times what happened to Him? The greatest history book in the world – the Bible – answers that question.

In Acts 1:9-11, after Jesus gave parting instructions to the hundreds of people standing with Him on the hill, He left earth under his own power. The verses say, “…as they were watching, He was lifted up, and a cloud hid Him from their sight. As He was going, they were looking into the sky. Suddenly, two men wearing white clothes stood beside them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why are you standing here looking into the sky? Jesus, whom you saw taken up from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you saw him go’” (NCV).

Not only did innumerable people see Jesus for forty days after He walked out of the tomb, but hundreds of people also watched Jesus overrule gravity and ascend into the sky. As He disappeared into the clouds the angel told them how Jesus would return.

Return? How? Why?

Jesus was not ruled by the laws of physics nor the pressures of politics, and the same will be true at His next appearance. Accompanied by myriads of angels and people, Jesus will come out of the sky under His own power. He will end the prevailing wars and put an end to all evil empires, corrupt democracies, and inadequate kingdoms. Jesus will set up His own Kingdom, and those whom He calls righteous will rule with him.

This is not the end of the story: read the Bible for more.

Walking with God

Several people have asked the question, “What does it mean to walk with God” and everyone in the world should be interested in knowing the answer. I’ll start with Billy Graham’s response. The following Q & A is from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association “Answers” blog, February 13, 2017.

Question: “I’ve heard preachers say that we need to learn to walk with God, but what exactly does this mean? I’d like to walk with God, but I don’t know how. And anyway, how would I know if God was actually with me?”

Answer: “I’m thankful you want to walk with God—because He wants to walk with you! He wants to assure you that He is always with you, and He also wants to talk with you—and you with Him.

“Look at it this way. By nature, we are cut off from God, because we have sinned and turned our backs on Him. But when we come to Christ and commit our lives to Him, God cleanses us of all our sins, and we are no longer separated from Him. Instead, He makes us part of His family, and we become his children forever. The Bible says, “Now if we are [God’s] children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17).

“How, then, do we walk with God and grow closer to Him? Just as we do with our children, the most important way is by spending time with Him—listening to Him as He speaks to us in the Bible and talking with Him in prayer. Just as human friendships wither and die if we never spend time together, so our relationship with God will grow cold if we never spend time with Him. Set aside time every day—even if it’s only a few minutes at first—to be alone with God.

“But Christ is also with you every moment of the day! Even when you’re busy, you can still talk with Him and follow Him. Jesus said, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

I like Billy’s response. My prayers are often short, to the point, and I receive answers. I don’t play church, and I am not super-spiritual. But I know that walking with God is a vital reality and is a necessary part of life if we are to be an active child of God. But we have to reduce the noise and busyness in our lives and pay attention to God in order to hear Him!

God in heaven doesn’t play church, and neither did Jesus on earth. And no one ever walked with Father God as closely as Jesus did. Enoch came close.

Genesis 5:21-24 says: “Enoch lived sixty-five years, and begot Methuselah. After he begot Methuselah, Enoch walked with God 300 years, and had sons and daughters. So all the days of Enoch were 365 years. And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him” (NKJV).

Enoch being “taken” is another story for another time, but what made Enoch different, or special? What set him apart from the rest of humanity? He purposely lived a Godly life in the middle of a corrupt and perverse culture. He didn’t water-down or modify his ethics, morals, and faith in order to win the world or to be relevant to the world. Enoch had set his mind to know—really KNOW—the God who walked in the Garden with Adam.

And in case you haven’t noticed, we live in a corrupt and perverse world just like Enoch did. Sadly, many Christians are immersed in their own lifestyle, they have deleted consecration to God from worship, and are oblivious to the idea of walking with God. A great many Christians desire God’s favor and ask God to bless them, but their lifestyles do not reflect the nature or the character of Jesus. Many Christians are so busy living for themselves that they cannot hear the Lord’s voice when He speaks to them.

To boil the answer down to a few words: Walking with God requires knowing how and what He thinks, what He wants of us, and obeying Him. It’s that simple. The emphasis is on learning to know Him and obeying Him.

When we learn to know the Lord by studying His thoughts as found in Holy Scripture, First Corinthians 2:16b becomes reality: “We have the mind [thoughts] of Christ.”

Are you one of those who wants God to care for you, to help you, to bless you? I can almost hear the Lord say, “You quit asking Me to bless you, and you start walking with Me and obeying Me. That’s when I’ll do something with your life.”

God is waiting for you to truly turn to Him.

The Donkey Spoke

In the year 2000, I filled in as interim pastor for a couple of months in a small New Mexico town while the leadership searched for a new pastor. Then in December, the elders surprised me by asking me to be their pastor. I said “No.”

The church had a history of ups-and-downs with a poor reputation, and it couldn’t afford to give me a salary. It was 200 miles from where I lived, and I was already working 60-hour-per week; so you might understand why I didn’t want to accept the call. Part time at that distance was okay, but I didn’t want to commit to full-time.

The elders and I discussed the logistics, and they eventually offered a parsonage we could use; agreeing that I would keep the current employment.

But a 400-mile round-trip every weekend? Huh-uh!

They asked me to pray about it. Now I was trapped. Christians, especially pastors, can’t refuse to pray – that’s against the rules.

I found out that God must have a sense of humor, because after praying about it, it seemed like the Lord was prompting me to accept. So on January 7, 2001, I hesitantly accepted the call.

Now my attitude was different. Why? Instead of merely filling the position while they were supposed to be looking elsewhere for a pastor, my new objective was to find out why the church was having ongoing problems. Maybe I should have already known, but I had decided to let the next pastor figure it out. Now I was that next pastor.

However, as I did my pastoral homework, it didn’t take long to discover the problems. To put it mildly: a lack of Christian love ruled the roost. The owner of the local grocery store told me the church was known as “the Fighting Church.” That didn’t make me feel any better.

Part of the problem was, as is common in many local churches, poor communications and unwillingness to compromise on small issues in order to make headway on larger concerns. How was I going to turn it around?

Did I mention that God has a sense of humor? Keep reading.

After the service one Sunday morning, two of the elders and I were discussing an idea that I thought would help the church. They didn’t agree, so I invited them outside the church building to look at the situation. I hoped that by looking at the problem, it might help them understand my point of view.

Reminding me that they disagreed, they politely listened anyway.

The church building was in the countryside, and a ranch was across the fence. Choosing my words carefully, I laid out my thoughts, and I was convinced I had won them over. But at the very moment I said my last word, the donkey in the adjacent field spoke!

I haven’t heard a donkey bray that loudly before in my life! Of course, the elders and I began to laugh at the timing of the interruption. But to make matters worse, my lead elder said as loudly as the donkey, “My Sympathies, Exactly!”

The three of us broke out in an uproarious laughter. We had been friends for over a year and disagreements never hurt us. But that event brought us even closer together.

When I muttered, “Dumb donkey!” the other elder said, “He’s not dumb. He spoke his mind quite clearly.” More laughter ensued, and we went back into the building to get some coffee—mine with cream and sugar.

Then Romans 12:3b came to mind. “Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us” (NLT).

Over coffee, I asked them to state their opinion—again—and I would listen carefully. In the next half-hour, I realized they were right, and we worked out an alternate plan.

That incident did more than settle a disagreement. As word got around to the church members that they now had a pastor who was willing to listen, they began to trust me.

Still working on the other problems, I preached on forgiveness four times a year for three years—that’s what it took to settle the other personnel issues. And when I eventually resigned as pastor, that same groceryman told me, “Your church has a new name in town: the Loving Church.”

I thanked God for prompting the donkey to speak.

Who Are You?

I recently heard a portion of a conversation. A man named John went to a hospital to visit a bed-ridden, dying man. The name of the man in bed was Tom. (The names have been changed.)

In the early portion of the visit, Tom perceived that his visitor was troubled concerning his vocation. Not wanting to be nosey or pushy, the dying man realized, however, that John was the one who needed to be encouraged. Also, Tom noticed that John was an up-front, forthright kind of man, so Tom jumped right in. As close as I can recall, here is what I heard.

“John, who are you?”

That took John off guard. “Uh, I’m a basketball coach. Why do you ask?”

“If basketball went away, who would you be?”

John thought about it, then mentioned his other vocations, adding that he is a father, a lay-leader at church, and ….”

“John, you’re missing the point of my question. All those things are what you do or have done, and every one of those things will someday not be so any longer. I’m asking you one simple question. WHO are you? If you became an invalid, as I am, who would you be?”

John is like most of us – he never thought of that before. But Tom wasn’t through. He had one more question.

“My friend, here’s how you can figure out who you are. When you die, as I will soon, you will be none of those things you mentioned. As you enter heaven, none of those titles, jobs, and positions you filled will be part of you. None of your importance, influence, prestige, reputation, or money will go with you. Who will you be then? Think about it, John. Who are you?”

John left the hospital perplexed, and that question began rolling around the corridors of my mind. Who am I? I’ll come back to that in a minute.

Dear reader, you and I could spend several days or weeks trying to impress each other about our jobs, our accomplishments, how we’ve changed our company, church, or society. We also have a culturally imbedded idea that what we do is who we are. I am the president of this. I’m the CEO of that. I started this company. I am a pastor. I’m the chief mechanic over this operation. On and on we could go because we strongly identify with what we do.

But is any of that who we are? If we sleep in a garage, does that make us a car?

Bed-ridden, dying Tom was pointing to eternal reality. When all the temporary things in life vanish, when we breath our last, the eternal question is: who will we be? If we can answer that question, we’ll know who we are.

So, who am I? I’ve learned not to tell folks about my accomplishments because it could be considered a matter of pride. Even while I was a pastor, I truthfully said that I didn’t have a ministry. Why? The Ministry belongs to God, and He graciously allowed me to be a part of what He was doing.

Who am I? I am a King’s Kid. I am an adopted son of the Living, Loving, Eternal, Creative, Almighty God. That’s who I am. And I’ll be that forever.

I remember a 1796 song written by Charlotte Elliott. The first verse is: “Just as I am without one plea, But that thy blood was shed for me, And that thou bidst me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.”

I asked the Lord to accept me into His family when I was five years old, and I’ve never turned my back on Jesus. Do I sin? Yes, but when I realize it, I ask the Lord to forgive me. And He does. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Today, I listened to a 1992 song written by Mosie Lister. In addition to being a song-writer, he was a great pianist. The words to the chorus are, “Beyond the Cross is a tomb that is empty, you won’t find Me there anymore. And beyond the tomb is life ever-lasting, and hope forever more.”

Jesus died for us, but He raised back to life three days later. He is alive, and I’ll be alive with Him forever. Who am I? I am an adopted son of God!

Friend, who are you?

It’s all about Jesus

December 25 was a special day of the year. Having said that, you might expect this to be about Christmas. But have you ever … wait a minute. Let’s start somewhere else.

 Joy to the World the Lord Has Come! Angels We Have Heard on High…. Those songs, and others, were prompted by the message given to the shepherds out in the fields with their sheep. Silent Night, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, and many others, were written about a special baby that was born. We Three Kings, and others, were written about several Persian noblemen who visited Joseph, Mary, and the toddler Jesus about a year later in their home.

Who was this famous baby that changed the world? Or, since babies don’t change society, the question should be, Who is this Person that changed the world?

The Book of Matthew starts with Jesus’ genealogy, then verse 18 begins the detailed account of his birth. Mark starts with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Luke starts with the history behind Luke’s Gospel, then verse 26 begins a detailed account of Jesus’ birth. But the Gospel of John starts prior to the beginning of mankind and prior to the creation of the earth.

John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Verse 3 tells us the Word created everything in the universe. Verse 14, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”

John 1:2 bounces me back to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” By this we know that the Word, Jesus, Who had no beginning, created the cosmos.

Okay, now we can think about Christmas, December 25. Was Jesus born at this time of year? Probably not, but that’s another story and don’t worry about it. We’re celebrating the birth of the Person mentioned in John 1:1 and Genesis 1:1 – God in human form. He is the greatest dichotomy of all time. For the first – and only – time in history, a real God was born as a human.

The Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and many others developed myths, legends, and fantasies of gods creating themselves, gods being born, gods squabbling over territorial rights, fighting and killing each other, and a whole lot more. Their pantheons of gods were memorials of either great imaginations, or possibly of demon activity within mankind’s history.

Many citizens of those nations worshipped their gods out of fear, and offered sacrifices, including their own children, to those gods to appease their anger and to gain good business ventures and harvests.

But Genesis 1:1, John 1:1, and the remainder of Scripture tell a different story. The one and only God did not create Himself, because He never had a beginning. He is The Great I Am. God didn’t come to squabble or fight with anyone. Instead, He came to give life, redeem us, give peace, forgiveness, security, and a lot more. It would cost Him His natural life to accomplish it. But He came prepared with that in mind, and nothing would deter Him from fulfilling His mission.

The angels told Mary to name the baby Jehoshua, which means Jehovah is salvation. Through time, it was shortened to Joshua, and through Latin influence, we eventually have the name Jesus.

Have you ever thought about all that? That’s what Christmas is all about. (Christ-mas: a mass or meeting about Christ.)

“In the little village of Bethlehem, there lay a Child one day, and the sky was bright with a holy light, o’er the place where Jesus lay.

“’Twas a humble birthplace, but O how much God gave to us that day, from the manger bed what a path was led, what a perfect, holy way.

“Alleluia! How the angels sang. Alleluia, how it rang! And the sky was bright with a holy light, ‘twas the birthday of a King.”  By William Harold Neidlinger; 1890.

Display your lights, give gifts, share your meals – either scrumptious or meager. Listen to concerts, sing the Hallelujah Chorus and Christmas carols. Visit family, renew friendships.

But always keep in mind why Jesus came. Even as a baby, He was God. But He came to grow up and give His life for us so that we may have eternal life with Him in heaven.

The wonderful greeting of Merry Christmas is joyful, beautiful, and fitting one month out of the year, but Praising God and blessing people is fitting all year long. Be kind to one another and help others in this difficult time in history.

Dickens and Christmas

Have you heard about the movie: The Man Who Invented Christmas?

Chris Knight, chief film critic for the National Post, said, “The movie is based on Les Standiford’s long-winded historical non-fiction from 2008, The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits.” Knight also said of the movie, “By all rights, The Man Who Invented Christmas should be a humbug. Instead, it’s a humdinger.”

Charles John Huffam Dickens was a prolific writer. One article says he is regarded as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era, and that he created some of the world’s best-known fictional characters. Several of them are: Jack Dawkins, the pick-pocket in Oliver Twist; Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit, and Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol; Mr. Pott, the editor in The Pickwick Papers; and David Copperfield in David Copperfield.

Dickens was a prolific writer. But did he invent Christmas? Humbug!

But some pagan activities did intermingle with the sacred celebration.

Another commentary is from Ronald Hutton, an historian at Bristol University in the UK. He said, “It’s a mistake to say that our modern Christmas tradition comes directly from pre-Christian paganism. However, you’d be equally wrong to believe that Christmas is a modern phenomenon. As Christians spread their religion into Europe in the first centuries A.D., they ran into people living by a variety of local and regional religious creeds.”

One report says: “A Christian holiday honoring the birth of Jesus Christ, Christmas evolved over two millennia into a worldwide religious and secular celebration, incorporating many pre-Christian, pagan traditions into the festivities along the way. Today, Christmas is a time for family and friends to get together and exchange gifts.”  (history.com/topics/christmas)

Philip Shaw, who researches early Germanic languages and Old English at Leicester University in the UK, said, “Early Christians wanted to convert pagans to Christianity, but they were also fascinated by their [pagan] traditions.”

Stephen Nissenbaum, author of “The Battle for Christmas”; Vintage, 1997) made a good case for an old Christmas celebration when he said, “If you want to show that Jesus was a real human being, not just somebody who appeared like a hologram, then what better way to think of him being born in a normal, humble human way than to celebrate his birth?”

Christmas celebrations developed independently around the world for almost 2,000 years. And why not? Jesus’ birth was probably one of the two most important events in the history of the world!

And that’s why we celebrate Christmas – God became man in order to redeem us and restore our fellowship with Himself. And he came as a baby, born in a manger.

But as mentioned previously, many of the Christmas festivities became corrupted. Instead of candlelight services or worship services, rowdy and drunken revelries became common. Therefore, many protestants rejected paganized Christmas celebrations. Early Protestants wanted to honor Jesus Christ, our Savior – not have a festivity which obscured Christ. Denouncing sin and frivolity, they gave necessities for life as gifts; avoiding superficial parties, they shared sacred meals.

But as some Protestants squelched the pagan revelry surrounding Christmas, they also put down anything associated with Christmas celebrations. They threw out the baby with the bathwater. In this case, they threw out observing the birth of Jesus with the pagan celebrations.

Enter Charles Dickens.

Noting societal debauchery, prevalent poverty, and abusive child labor in the 1840s, Dickens vowed to do something about it – and writing was what he did best. In six weeks, he wrote A Christmas Carol. If you’ve read it, you know why it became an immediate best-seller.

Dickens wanted to insert joy and gladness into a life filled with drudgery, dreariness and death. Without ignoring the seriousness of life, he portrayed the Spirit of Christmas filled with miracles and laughter. He also reminded society of the importance of blessing others by caring for those around them.

Did Dickens invent Christmas? No. But he did encourage joy and human-kindness, and inspired a positive change in society.

Jesus, who is God (John 1:1-3), came to earth to restore man’s relationship with himself. But he came as a baby (Matthew 1, Luke 1) so, as he grew, he could personally experience mankind’s trials, hardships, and joys.

Jesus loves you and desires for you to know him as he is today – God and Savior.

May the Lord bless you this Christmas season.

Memory & Mental Health

In 2018, Carol & I were in Young Harris, Georgia, at the USS Yorktown CV-5 Survivor’s Club Reunion.

The purpose of a reunion is to socialize with friends and family, help us remember an event, or to celebrate the life of a person. The original purpose of the Yorktown reunions was to give the survivors of the USS Yorktown at the Battle of Midway (June 3-7, 1942) opportunities to share memories of life on board the ship – including experiences of the hell that erupted during battle – as well as memories of life’s experiences after the war.

Dad was stationed on the Yorktown from 1939 to June of 1942. In 1953 dad reentered the US Navy as a chaplain, and after retirement became chaplain of the CV-5 survivor’s club. I had the privilege of attending several reunions with dad and enjoyed hearing the ‘war-stories’ the men told.

Although most of the Yorktown veterans endured horrific experiences during the bombing, strafing, and torpedoing, those who freely shared their memories with others suffered much less mental anguish about it. The freedom to talk about the events often reduces PTSD. Visiting memorials and sharing memories with others is therapeutic, and aids in positive mental health which, in turn, can remove the need for long-term counseling.

Years ago, a man racing a 595-pound, 1200cc Kawasaki motorcycle at 95 mph plowed broadside into a Datsun (predating the Nissan) that our son, Ron, was driving. The wreck splintered the bike, killed the biker, destroyed the Datsun, and sent our kids to the hospital.

Ron was 16 years old and I didn’t want an emotional scar to develop, so I encouraged him to talk about what he experienced. As Ron initially related everything he remembered about the accident, we took many pictures of the aftermath; and every day for two weeks, I asked him to talk about it. At first, it was difficult. Then we discussed the event several times a week for a month. He relived, analyzed, and discussed the incident until he could narrate the event objectively – without emotional pain

The result? He has clear memories of the event and is sad about it, but he has no emotional scars and no mental trauma to overcome.

Those who will not talk about or share their feelings should at least write them down. Write out your experiences in as much detail as you can.

A good friend up north was having severe marital problems, but he would not violate his vows and did not want to hurt the children. Not willing to talk about it to anyone, he quietly, secretly, and in great detail, wrote his anxieties, emotions, bitterness, and frustrations as letters to himself. After writing each letter, he read it to himself – sometimes tearfully and in pain – then sealed it in an envelope and hid it. Each week he sealed another envelope, and never opened any of them again. Although he didn’t share the letters or his feelings with anyone else, he continually asked God to help him.

After several years he overcame the problems that plagued him and he was healed. He didn’t forget the problems. In fact, refusing to bury or hide them, he acknowledged his emotional struggles and communicated to God about it all. Then he asked the Lord to help him forgive his wife.

The situation improved and years later he died a happily-married man. As a side note: his wife didn’t change much. It was the process of opening up and releasing the problems – and forgiving her – that enabled him to accept his wife as she was and receive his healing.

Sharing memories with others can release emotional pressure and help maintain or regain positive mental health. But be sensitive to others. Don’t badger or bore them. Be willing to listen as well as to speak.

Forgiving and not holding grudges, and talking about problems in a positive manner, is similar to disinfecting a wound: the memory bank is cleansed and emotions are healed.

But also consider Philippians 4:6-7; “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (NLT)

So spend time with family and friends, develop good memories as you enjoy life. Your happy memories will be one of your most important blessings in later life.

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