What Happened When Jesus Was Crucified?

You might wonder why I say Jesus was crucified on Thursday, but the answer is simple. Jesus said he would be in the grave for three days AND three nights. Scripture also says Jesus rose from the grave in the morning before sunrise on the first day of the week. Simple math says if he was in the grave for three nights and he rose on Sunday morning, he had to be buried on Thursday.

Also, note that Passover is called a high holy day and a High Sabbath. John 19:31 informs us Jesus was crucified the day before the high day, or high Sabbath.

Matt. 12:39-40, Matt. 27:57-61, John 19:31

DSCN0874It is Thursday. Jesus was crucified around 9:00 am. He died at 3:00 pm – about the time of the evening sacrifice. His limp body was lowered from the cross. His friends, led by a member of the Sanhedrin, bound His lifeless form in long strips of linen cloth. They placed Him on a cold slab of rock in a new burial room in a hillside. They would be back to finish the burial in 3 days: after both the Passover and weekly Sabbath celebrations.

Matt. 27:62-66

The guards have been positioned.  They were ordered to stand guard for at least three days to prevent Jesus’ friends from stealing His body, and claiming that He had come back to life.

Many folk were in their homes eating the Passover supper and were glad this day was over. It had been quite a turbulent day and they wanted to get some rest. After the Passover, life in Jerusalem would be back to normal … they hoped.

Matt. 27:50-53

DSCN0728BBut they also were quite worried. The graveyards had been badly damaged during the earthquake, and thousands of graves had opened up. People throughout Israel thought they would spend several weeks or months reburying the dead.

Others were deeply grieving. They couldn’t eat,  they couldn’t sleep. Their Friend, Master, and Messiah? Was dead! And the Kingdom He promised them now seemed to be a fading mist. He was gone and the hated Romans were still ruling Israel.  All their hopes and dreams for themselves and for their nation were crucified and buried in that tomb.

But Wait A Minute … Something is happening. There is activity in Hades, the place of the dead. Jesus is there, talking to a lot of people – perhaps millions of them. They are listening intently. Now they are yelling and dancing and rejoicing with the Savior.

There are also hosts of angels there, standing guard. They are waiting for orders from Jesus, their Commander and King!

I Peter 3:19,  Eph. 4:7-10

Now Jesus is speaking with Lucifer and another group of people. Some are sad, many are angry. Finally, with all the demons of hell looking on, Lucifer reluctantly bows to Jesus. Lucifer is defeated, and he surrenders all his authority to his Master: Jesus.

Jesus then turns to the jubilant, joyful group, and gives the final command: “Follow Me!”  And the army prepares to move out!

Back in the graveyard ……

It is the third night of the third day: still dark in what we would call Sunday morning. Near the tomb where Jesus’ body lay, some of the soldiers were on guard while the others were sleeping.

Suddenly, there was another earthquake! It was about as strong as the one three daysIMG_1578B earlier. The sleeping soldiers jumped up, and they all saw the stone roll away from the front of the tomb. As the stone rolled away, the soldiers saw that the cave was filled with an unearthly, brilliant light which was brighter than the noon-day sun.

They saw a man inside whose face shone like lightning! He was walking toward the opening of the tomb. That unearthly light, which cannot be described, filled the entire surrounding area.

Matt. 28:1-4

Fear such as these soldiers had never known before enveloped them! Their legs buckled and they collapsed, falling unconscious to the ground as though they were dead: and Jesus walked out of the tomb and into Resurrection Life. All his grave clothes remained where Jesus had been laid.

Matt. 27:50-53

Remember the graves which had opened up three days earlier? Just as Jesus came out of his grave, thousands, perhaps millions, of others were coming out of their graves. The Bible lets us know that Jesus ministered to them and set them free. The place called Abraham’s Bosom, the place of the righteous dead, no longer exists and the Old Testament Saints have a new home in Heaven. Jesus lead them from death to Life in order to emphasize His OWN resurrection.

Acts 1:9Bible.docx

I’ve been asked if they died again. The answer is, No. They told of the Glory and the Power of God for forty days. When Jesus left the earth, these resurrected folk left earth with him.

Jesus is alive, and all those who believe in him will eventually go to be with him.

Pilate heard of Jesus’ resurrection. With bewilderment and a touch of wry humor, he thought, Of course, it isn’t true; but good for him if he could pull that one off! I was on his side, anyway. Maybe my wife will feel better now, and it’ll give those rebellious Jews something to chew on for a while. True or not, this Jesus wins in the end! He then wrote a letter to the emperor about the situation.

Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin were terrified and angry. This can’t have happened! No one comes back from the dead – and Jesus can’t either, especially after the hell the Romans put him through. We’ve got to cover this up until we find that blasted body! First, we’ll bribe those guards to lie about it, then the real work begins! (Matthew 28:11-15)

The citizens of Jerusalem were at first scared out of their wits! This is weird! Crazy! A nightmare! Things like this are only dreamed about! But when reality set in, they realized Jesus must, also, have come back from the dead. What had happened?

Matthew 27:52-53

Friends and relatives they had buried days or long ago were now alive and walking through the streets talking about the glorious wonders of God – almost as though they had been in the very throne room of God. These resurrected people were real: they were not spirits or ghosts. Their resurrection cannot be denied, and that gave heavy proof that Jesus also came back from the dead.

dscn0464Because Jesus never sinned or did anything wrong, because he suffered the penalty for every sin mankind has committed, and because he rose from the dead, Lucifer has absolutely no power or control over us. 1 John 1:9 guarantees it. If we confess our sins and repent, God will forgive us and restore our relationship with him. All we need to do is to obey him. We might face the human consequences for what we’ve done, but God will forgive us and we can live with him forever in heaven.

THAT’s what Passover and Resurrection Day is all about.

You Are Wrong!

IMG_1791That took me by surprise. John and I were having an interesting discussion; but when we touched on an idea about which he disagreed, he spat out, “You are wrong!”

We were discussing concepts of how life on earth began. Let me say here that there are hundreds – if not thousands – of theories, myths, legends, and accounts about the formation of life. No longer can we merely say that we believe in either evolution or creation; rather, we must now specify what we believe about evolution or creation.

Among the many concepts in what we call “evolution” we find: modernearth evolutionary synthesis, natural selection, cosmic evolution, and population genetics. Several creation concepts are: intelligent design, the six [24-hour] day creation, the six [1,000-year, or more] day creation, punctuated equilibrium (although a version of this hypothesis is also accepted in evolution); and myriads of pagan creation stories. Here is an Egyptian myth:

 “Atum willed himself into being, and then created a hill, otherwise there’d be no place for him to stand. Atum was genderless and possessed an all-seeing eye. He spat out a son, Shu, god of the air. Atum then vomited up a daughter, Tefnut, goddess of moisture. These two were charged with the task of creating order out of chaos.”

My first question here is: how can a non-existent being – therefore, having no will to exercise – will himself into existence? Absurd. But … back to my friend.

John and I agreed that God never had a beginning, and that the Biblical genealogical record suggests He might have created man about 6,000 yearsdumbbell-nebula1[1] ago. So far, so good. But John came to a mental roadblock when I said, “In the infinity preceding the creation of life on earth, I wonder how long God thought about and planned His proposed creation.”

That’s when John informed me, “You are wrong!”

Detecting a potential breach of friendship, I pondered on that before responding. John, a conservative Christian (as I consider myself to be), obviously felt that I had violated Scripture and he entrenched. I instinctively knew that if this was not quickly resolved, the remainder of the visit would be rather cold. Therefore, being considerably older than John, I did my best to identify with him and to keep communications open.

 “Where am I wrong?” I gently asked. “You’re just wrong!” was the reply.

I was surprised at the repetition of his abrupt judgment, so I said, “You and I both live our lives according to the best of our understanding of Scripture. Tell me where I’m wrong, and verify it Biblically, and I will correct my beliefs.”

After considerable contemplation, John finally said, “I cannot verify it Biblically. Maybe you are not wrong, but I disagree with you.”

“Thank you for your openness and your honesty. I welcome disagreement; but please tell me, with what do you disagree?”

 “It just seems to me that you are inferring that the longer it took God to design His creation, the better it would be. Why can’t God think it up perfectly one second and speak it into being the next?”

Now, we were getting somewhere.

“Good point.” I responded. “However, since God was here for eternity past, do you think He did absolutely nothing for multiple eons of what we call time? And was He impulsive in thoughtless creation when He DID ‘go to work’? Or could He have taken some time to think and plan? Who knows how long God actually thought about creating the cosmos, this earth, and life on it? The Bible doesn’t say; and only God knows.”

Communication was reestablished, our relationship was preserved, and John relaxed – a little. I told him I was mentioning ideas, not facts. The Bible doesn’t tell us everything and we are free to use our God-given imagination to fill in the gaps as long as we do not disagree with or conflict with what the Bible clearly and explicitly teaches.

I referred him to Scripture because for any Biblical discussion, we need to have Biblea good understanding of Scripture and history. Second Timothy 3:15-16; “Study [the Bible] to receive God’s approval as you correctly understand and teach the word of truth. But avoid useless arguments: for they will drive people further away from God.”

I suppose the major thought I was trying to help John understand was this: YOUR disagreement does not always mean the OTHER person is wrong. Think about that. In each discussion, debate, or argument, it is probable that both sides have something to learn. So employ the love of Christ as you interact with others.

By the way, John and I are still life-long friends.

You Can Change Your World

Do you feel trapped? Stuck in a rut? Has life penned you in with no wiggle-room? I calldscn9807 that “mental claustrophobia” and that’s a tough prison. How do we get trapped like that? Some folk might say life has dictated our fate. If you’ve watched the movie “Anne of Green Gables” you could say it’s because of a lack of imagination. Yet others may actually blame God for it.

But: Is it possible that you’ve been afraid of stepping out of your comfort zone to accept a new challenge? Has God been asking you to do something for which you feel unqualified? Please know that not following God’s leadership, for whatever reason, will generate a “stuck syndrome” and the only cure is to step out and obey the Lord. God may want you to change your world.

Here are a few of the brave souls who stepped out of their comfort zone and cooperated with God to change or preserve their world:

  1. For 100 years Noah obeyed God, preached, and endured mental and physical persecution while building the boat to save both humanity and land animals from total annihilation.
  2. Joseph, sold as a slave by his own brothers, obeyed and preserved Jacob’s family to allow it to become the Nation of Israel.
  3. Moses, the prince demoted to a fugitive shepherd, obeyed and led the fledgling nation back to the Promised Land, and compiled the first five books of the Old Testament.
  4. The Apostle Paul obeyed and gave us over half the New Testament.
  5. Martin Luther, standing against the established church, obeyed and reestablished the doctrine of “The just shall live by faith!”
  6. George Washington and Abraham Lincoln fought king and country, and obeyed to give us and preserve for us the United States of America.
  7. Hudson Taylor, one of the greatest missionaries since the Apostle Paul, stepped outside conventional wisdom and founded the China Inland Mission.
  8. Pastor William Boothe resigned his pastorate, obeyed and gave us the Salvation Army.
  9. Blind Fanny Crosby obeyed and gave us over 8,000 hymns.
  10. The Wright Brothers, willing to sacrifice their reputations, gave America the airplane.
  11. Henry Ford stepped outside conventional wisdom and gave mankind the automobile assembly line.
  12. Unknown Billy Graham picked up a Bible and started preaching.
  13. Harland Sanders challenged the restaurant industry and created KFC.
  14. President Kennedy announced the “impossible” and sent man to the moon.
  15. University student Michael Dell built and sold computers from his university dorm room, then his garage, and created the DELL Company.
  16. Robert Jarvik disregarded church doctrine and conventional wisdom and created the Jarvik artificial heart.
  17. And it is our Lord Jesus Christ who descended from heaven, sacrificed his human life, was crucified, died, but rose again, to offer us eternal life.

These people stood up and created a better world for us.

pict0268Great benefits could await us if we dare to step outside our comfort zone. No, I am not suggesting that we put safety and common sense aside, and I am not suggesting that we stop providing for our families. But we may have an invention tucked away in our God-given creative mind, we may have an idea that could improve the quality of life, or we may simply want to reach out and expand our horizons; but we must be willing to take a risk. The risk can span the financial, physical, emotional, or reputational realms; but with proper mentoring we can break out of our mental prison. God doesn’t want us stuck. Dependable, yes! But not stuck.

Now, if you are happy and content where you are and with what you are doing, don’t make a change for the sake of change; God may want you right where you are. And if you place a higher priority on security than on adventure, then stay where you are. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with that. But if for some reason you are unsettled with life as-is, talk with a counselor or a mentor you trust, and pray about it. God may have something in mind for you to do. And if the Lord does lead you to change your direction in life, don’t give a half-hearted effort; be diligent in what you do.pict0848

But remember, God doesn’t choose those who are self-reliant for His tasks; rather He chooses those who will cooperate with Him.

There is no need to feel trapped or stuck. Pray about your situation. As you cooperate with God, you might change your world.

Enhanced Character Reduces Stress

So you want to improve your character? Zig Ziglar said: “The foundation stones for a Dad's 85th0009balanced success are honesty, character, integrity, faith, love and loyalty.”

So how do we improve our character or integrity? Think about the following account.

An acquaintance of mine was on his way to an appointment when his right front tire blew out. He immediately lost control of the car; he hit the guard rail, bounced into another car, and finally came to a stop in the median. It was called an accident.

A legal definition of accident is: an unforeseen event that occurs without anyone’s fault or negligence.

Sooooo, was this truly an accident? The answer is No. Why? It could easily have beenPICT0027 prevented! He knew that his tire pressure was very low but he wouldn’t take time to inflate it to the proper pressure. “I’ll take care of it next Saturday.” he said. But he didn’t.

Proper tire care can prevent many automobile calamities, and really, we are never too busy to be safe. My friend understood the benefit of punctuality (honoring others by being on time) but he didn’t quite figure out the benefit of initiative (accomplishing what needs to be done in a timely manner).

While not all problems are this simplistic, many of them are. A fatal situation I read about some time ago was when a father ran over his five-year-old son in the driveway of his own home. Was that truly an accident?

The father said that he didn’t know the child was out of the house. Guess what? The kid is dead! All the dad needed to do was walk around the car to check for children, bicycles, toys, etc. before putting the key in the ignition. If the father had made alertness part of his daily habit (being aware of what is happening around me so I can respond properly), the child might still be alive today. Believe me: he does the walk-around now.

Jesus wants us to be safe and aware of what is happening; so being alert enhances not only our character, but also can make us more like Christ.

So I ask the question again: were these events truly accidents? The answer in a great many situations will be “No.” Instead, these situations were caused by negligence, ignorance, apathy—or a combination of the three. So what is needed to rectify those situations? What does it take for personal growth?

You can call it character, integrity, reliability, or spirituality. I don’t care. Whatever you call it, I call it Godly Character. Character is what determines a person’s response regardless of the situation.

In Reflections On Faith & History [found at https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=node%3D154606011&field-Front cover - finalkeywords=Reflections+On+Faith+%26+History], I addressed numerous questions that many people asked me through the years. My desire was to help people grow both spiritually and intellectually by helping them to gain a more complete understanding of the Bible. I did this by presenting some of the history and culture of the times as it related to the Scriptures. Learning also helps us grow in our character or integrity. It is actually learning to become like Christ.

1) We learn to know and to incorporate the mind of Christ.

2) We learn to interact with others in a wholesome, uplifting manner.

3) We learn to stop being self-centered.

4) We are enabled to fulfill our destiny and enjoy life.

I was a bi-vocational pastor while working at a national laboratory. I had previously worked in the aerospace industry, direct sales, and several other areas. Wherever I went I watched people at work, at play, in the stores shopping, and driving their cars. It was apparent that many people–including Christian–were either uninformed about how to properly conduct themselves, or they didn’t care. It didn’t make sense to me until I began studying about character and integrity.

I found that if we attentively–the key is attentively–read about the Lord and study His integrity, His character, His nature, and diligently apply Biblical principles to life and life’s circumstances, we will be surprised at how our lives will be changed for the better. We will be able to traverse life with less stress, less frustration, more understanding of people, more personal contentment, and live a more fulfilled life. Reading First Corinthians 13:4-7 will help.

So, how does this reduce stress? I’m glad you asked.

As I grow in my understanding of life, I have less reason to get upset over mistakes, errors, or misunderstandings. I am more apt to see things from Jesus’ point of view, and can more easily forgive people. This allows peace to flow through my being and I can share that peace with others.

As you think on the character of Jesus, I pray that you, too, learn to incorporate His integrity into your life.

New Year’s Ruminations

    Did you know that the New Year celebration is one of the world’s oldest holidays? DSCN2635BBefore 2000 BC (in Abraham’s time), the Babylonian New Year began at the first visible crescent of the New Moon after the Vernal Equinox, and could be the origination of the worship of Allah – the moon god. The moon had many names; the more popular being Nanna, Nannar, Asimbabbar, and Suen. (Suen evolved to Sin, and both are pronounced Seen.) The Babylonian New Year celebration lasted for eleven days, and our modern New Year’s Eve festivities pale in comparison to theirs.

     The Romans originally celebrated the New Year in March. In 153 BC the Roman Senate declared January 1 to be the beginning of the New Year, but the date bounced around a bit. Julius Caesar finally established the Julian calendar in 46 BC. However, because emperors had the irresistible compulsion to put their own spin on the calendar, they played with dates and got the calendar out of synchronization with the sun – again. Pope Gregory made corrections and approved the current Gregorian calendar in 1582.

     Janus was the Roman god of doors and gates, and had two faces: coming from either direction the traveler saw its face. Julius Caesar felt that the month (January) named after Janus would be the appropriate “door” to the year. One report claims that Caesar celebrated this New Year change by “ordering the violent routing of revolutionary Jewish forces in Galilee, and blood flowed in the streets.” In later years, Roman pagans observed the New Year by engaging in drunken orgies—a ritual they believed constituted a portrayal of the chaotic world that existed “before the gods conquered chaos and recreated order in the universe.”    

The early Church condemned the new years’ festivities as paganism – and rightly so. But as Christianity became politically accepted, the Church began adopting many of the pagan customs and the “Christian” New Year’s Day celebration became no different. Hypocritical Christians have always given the world reason to believe that the church was a farce; and that’s a major reason why Christians who are truly devoted to Jesus are often accused of being hypocrites. 

January 1 has been celebrated as a holiday by Western nations for over 400 years, and some churches erroneously observed the New Year’s Day festivity as the Feast of Christ’s Circumcision.

     The tradition of using a baby to signify the New Year started in Greece around 600 BC. PICT0012They celebrated their god of wine and drunkenness, Dionysus, by parading a baby in a basket. The baby represented the annual rebirth of Dionysus who was also the god of fertility. And, of course, public moral debauchery was part of the festivities.

     Traditions include using noise to welcome in a new year. This custom goes back to ancient times when people thought noise scared off evil spirits. Some eastern religions still believe this. New Year’s resolutions also date back to the early Babylonians. Their most popular resolution was to return borrowed farm equipment. That’s a good resolution – if they actually returned it.

     A 2007 study by Richard Wiseman showed that “88% of those who set New Year resolutions fail. Men achieved their goal 22% more often when they engaged in goal setting, while women succeeded 10% more when they made their goals public.” Frank Ra in his book “A course in Happiness” said: “Resolutions are more sustainable when openly shared with others.” That’s true because we find that peer-support (peer-pressure?) helps us stay on track.

     The lyrics of Auld Lang Syne (meaning “old long since” which essentially means “the good old days”) were partly collected and partly written by Scottish poet Robert Burns in 1788. The poem reminisces about and longs for the past. Good, positive traditions and memories are beneficial because they can balance our outlook on life and strengthen our character.

     So much for the past; what about the future?

     The New Year is often a time people attempt to turn over a new leaf. That means we finished writing on one page, then turn the page – turn the leaf – and write something new. It refers to changing an action, or starting something over.

     However, no matter our sincerity, merely deciding to change is meaningless without God’s help. Personal problems and national perplexities are looming on the horizon and we need help. What do we do?

     Two factors are necessary in making a substantive, permanent change. One is to seekBible.docx God’s guidance in making plans. Proverbs 3:5-6 (NCV) says, “Trust in the Lord with your whole life … He will direct your decisions.” The second is to rely upon God for the courage and integrity to fulfill His plans. Don’t get side-tracked. Psalm 111:10 (NLT) says “[Sincere] Reverence for the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom.”  And we need wisdom to succeed in doing what is right.

HAPPY NEW YEAR FRIENDS.

HEAVEN

     You have politics coming out your ears, but have you thought about heaven? The word “heaven” is in the Bible (KJV) 457 times so it must be important. What is Heaven?

Dumbbell nebula
Dumbbell nebula from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telesco

Heaven is contemplated on three levels: The firmament, or atmosphere; (Gen. 2:19); the stars or outer space (Matt. 24:29); and God’s throne (Deut. 10:14). Heaven has various names: New Jerusalem (Rev. 3:12), Everlasting Kingdom (2 Pet. 1:11), Eternal Inheritance (Heb. 9:15), a Better Country (Heb. 11:16), and My Father’s house (John 14:2). There is neither suffering nor evil in heaven (Rev. 21:4). 

     Where is Heaven? This is difficult to answer because the Bible doesn’t tell us. However, heaven is where God the Father is, and is where Christians go when our bodies stop breathing. But heaven is not a million miles away. Heaven isn’t “out there” somewhere. When believers close their eyes in death, they immediately wake up in Heaven.

     1Thessalonians 4:13-18 says (NLT) says:

DSCN0508B
Total solar eclipse from my camera

“And now, brothers and sisters, I want you to know what will happen to the Christians who have died so you will not be full of sorrow like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus comes, God will bring back with Jesus all the Christians who have died. I can tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not rise to meet him ahead of those who are in their graves. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the call of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, all the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and remain with him forever. So comfort and encourage each other with these words.”

 

     One little commentary on that Scripture: It appears that the Christians’ spirits will come back from heaven with Jesus and be reunited with their bodies coming out of the graves.

     How do we get to Heaven? Whenever we want to go somewhere: we know where we are, we decide where we want to go, we enter a vehicle and GO. So where are we? In a sinful world. Where do we want to go? To Heaven. How do we get there? Jesus is the only way to Heaven (John 14:6). We must accept Jesus into our life, and live for Him. And until Jesus returns, we go through the door called “death”. But for believers it is the “Door to Life”.

     Jesus said in John 14:1-3 (NLT) says: “Don’t be troubled. You trust God, now trust in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s home, and I am going to prepare a place for you. If this were not so, I would tell you plainly. When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.”

     Jesus died to redeem mankind. Defeating death, He returned to life and will live forever. He wants you to live forever with Him. You will never have to lock your doors again. You will never be afraid again. You will never be hurt again. But if Jesus does not return soon, we all will die.

     What does that feel like? Many times our kids fell asleep on the couch or on the floor of the living room but woke up in their bed. In the morning they asked, “How

PICT0033
Our children – decades ago

did I get here?” And my Precious Wife told them, “After you fell asleep, your father picked you up and took you to your room.”

 

     That is what death is like for the Christian. Whether we leave this life because of sickness, an accident, or old age; we merely fall asleep here in our “living room”, but we wake up in Heaven because our Father took us to our new home.”

     Are you living the way God wants you to live? If you died today would you go through the door that I call LIFE and live with Jesus, or go through the other door? Is there anything you need to ask God to forgive you for? Don’t be afraid to talk to God about it. He loves you very much and wants to forgive you. He wants you in Heaven with Him.

A BLESSED CHRISTMAS

Said the shepherd boy to the little lamb, “Do you see what I see?”

Way up in the sky little lamb, “Do you see what I see?”

A star, a star, shining in the night, it will bring us beauty and light.

It will bring us beauty and light.

    DSCN4172Thinking about that song brought many thoughts to my mind.  Allow me to share them with you.

     The shepherds, watching their flocks out in the field, looked up into the cool fall sky. Suddenly, one of the shepherds jumped up and cried out, “Look! Do you see what I see?” The others quickly looked – and in Luke 2:10-12 the lead angel made the announcement as the other shepherds shielded their eyes from the bright light:

“Do not be afraid. I am bringing you good news that will be a great joy to all the people. Today your Savior was born in the town of David. He is Christ, the Lord. This is how you will know him: You will find a new-born baby wrapped in white cloth, lying in a manger.”DSCN0574

     The shepherds, following the heavenly directions, quickly went to the cave or animal stall where Joseph and Mary were. When they saw the new-born baby who was declared by the angels to be God, one of the shepherds slowly knelt down, and incredulously asked, “Do you see what I see?” And their lives were changed forever!

     Anna, the 84-year old prophetess, was in the temple when Joseph and Mary brought Jesus in to be circumcised and blessed. When Anna saw the 8-day old Baby in Mary’s arms, she said gently and worshipfully, “Do you see what I see? I thank you, O Great Jehovah, for allowing my eyes to see the salvation of Israel.” She then prayed over baby Jesus, and began telling everyone what she saw: “People listen. This Little One is the Messiah for whom we all have been waiting. Let’s Worship the King!” And her life was changed forever!

     The Wise Men spent much time studying the sky. They were the scientists of their day and were advisors to their king. They were probably from Persia, which would include DSCN0309Iran and Iraq today. One night, one of the astronomers suddenly called to his colleagues, “Look! Do you see what I see?” The others gathered around and were amazed at the startling message unfolding in the sky, for it told them that a new King was born in Israel. Because of the writings left by Daniel back around 560 BC, they had been expecting it, and within six months, they left on a caravan for the Promised Land. Finding the house and kneeling down in front of Mary who was holding the child who was nearly a year old, the noblemen worshipfully said:  

   Here, most highly honored King, exalted by God in the heavens. We give you Gold: a treasure which does not tarnish or rust, it is a gift to royalty and conveys our life-long worship to you.

   We give you Frankincense: an aromatic treasure which we hope conveys the aroma of our love and adoration of You to the exalted God in the heavens.

   And we give you Myrrh: to make Your life on earth sweet.

And their lives were changed forever!

     Do you see what happened? Whenever people encounter the Living God, their lives are changed! And when someone’s life is truly changed, that person will change the world around them.

     As the shepherds went back to their flocks, they told everyone they met about the new Messiah for months to come because their lives had been changed. And they changed their world as they spread the Good News.

     At eighty-four, you know that she told people about the new Messiah for the rest of her life because her life had been changed. And she changed her world as she told folk who came to the Temple to worship.

     And the Wise men made an international impact, for they changed their world whichPICT0057 was the Middle-East. They told people in the trade caravans, the scientific community, kings and nobility about the new King.  That’s because their lives had been changed.

     Has your life been changed? Do you tell people about Jesus our Savior, or are you afraid of offending someone? God is calling you to change your world by being a faithful witness about what you have both seen and heard. Go ahead – people need to hear the Good News.

     Have you seen what I have seen?

Christmas – X-Mas?

Through the years I’ve asked many folks what they thought about Christmas, and I was saddened at many of their responses. PICT0077Most of them talked about crowds in the stores, traffic-jams, discourteous people, gifts they had to return, the price of the gifts, how much to spend on family members, Christmas debt, and a lot more. Several folks even said that they wish Christmas didn’t exist. For them, the season was merely X-mas. Or more appropriately $$-mas!

Very seldom did I hear a response about Jesus, the Holy Son of God, His entry into the world, going to a Christmas Cantata, or worshiping the Lord for HIS gift to humanity. I’ll come back to this in a minute, and in more depth next week; but let’s look at some of the data related the seasonal stress.

Do you know how much a family spends during Christmas? Here are a few numbers – admittedly several years old, but it gives you an idea of the problem.

According to an MSN article in December of 2011, Americans planned to spend approximately $271 per child. When one mother was asked about that amount, she said that wasn’t nearly enough. In that survey, almost 10% of the responders planned to spend over $500 per child.

One father figured $50-$75 per infant or toddler, $100-$150 per elementary age kid, and $200 or more for high school age. Others said $400 per child is not bad.

Of course, the amount of spending can depend on where you live. Some shoppers in New York City (families of four) planned to spend a total of about $1200, while same-sized families in Texas wanted to top out around $700. I also found that some lower income families spend as much as upper middle-class families – they just go deeper into debt.

I read that the average spending in 2001 was $1,052 per family; dropping to a low of $417 in 2009; but back up to $882 per family in 2015. Please remember, those are averages.

Recently there has been a decline in the complaints of crowds, traffic-jams, and the rest because a tremendous amount of buying is done online. That does save money for the buyers. Another benefit is that it reduces traffic, which, in turn, which reduces traffic accidents. But buying online has also caused thousands of business – including many Sears stores across the nation – to close down. That eliminated many thousands of jobs.

But I have a question: Is any of that truly about Christmas?

To answer that, let’s look at the word.

DSCN4498Christmas came from Christ’s Mass – a worship service about Christ. (Christ is a title which came from the Greek Christos. The Hebrew word is Mashiach, translated as Messiah. They both mean anointed, or anointed one.) In the 14th century, Christ’s Mass evolved into Christmas.

So, is all the hustle-and-bustle of shopping really about Christmas? Is all the debt, stress, worry, gift-giving, traffic-jams and all the rest truly about Christ? The answer is a resounding No! It’s a terribly expensive misunderstanding. Apparently true worship of Almighty God has devolved into a financial, secular frenzy which brings disgrace on the name of the Lord.

How do we get back to the truth? We start by reading the Truth.

 Luke 2:8-15 says, “That night some shepherds were in the fields outside the village, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terribly frightened, but the angel reassured them. ‘Don’t be afraid!’ he said. ‘I bring you good news of great joy for everyone! The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born tonight in Bethlehem, the city of David! And this is how you will recognize him: You will find a baby lying in a manger, wrapped snugly in strips of cloth!

“Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God: ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to all whom God favors.’

“When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, ‘Come on, let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this wonderful thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’”

Regarding an event that took place almost a year later, Matthew 2:9-11 says, “The starDSCN0309 appeared to them (Wise men, Magi), guiding them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house where the child and his mother, Mary, were, and they fell down before him and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

Getting stressed out over buying and giving causes us to miss the joy of Christ. We miss the purpose of Jesus coming to earth. We join the secular world in actually disgracing the Lord Jesus Christ.

But Christmas, if we celebrate it, is supposed to be about worshiping Almighty God. Jesus’ purpose in coming to earth was to give US a gift – the gift of eternal life. We can give gifts to others, but our primary response is to give God a gift – the gift of ourselves. 

We’ll talk more about this next time.

CHRISTMAS QUESTIONS

Christmastime is almost here again. It seems like just last month people were resting up after last year’s Christmas-New Year’s rush. But here we are again, and in my mind I can hear Handel’s majestic Hallelujah Chorus.

Questions about Christmas have been asked for centuries, and I would like to give a brief response to two of those questions that people have asked me. Don’t laugh now, because they are serious questions.

Was there really a Santa Claus? My children want to know.PICT0540

Believe-it-or-not, there was a pastor named Nicholas in the third century AD in what is now Demre, or Kale, Turkey. The one to whom I refer came from a wealthy family, became the Bishop of Myrna, and upon the death of his parents used his inheritance to help the poor. Years after his death he was declared a Saint.

Nicholas became known by many titles in various areas of the world: four of which are Saint Nicholas, Saint ’Ch’las, and Sinterklaas, which were appropriate; and recently Santa Claus. The name Kris Kringle apparently originated in Germany from “Christkindl”, which means Christ Child (sometimes, referred as Christ’s Helper). But the image we have today of a fat, jolly ole St. Nick – Santa Claus – may be attributed to a poem in 1823 by Clement Clarke Moore: ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (also called “A Visit from St. Nicholas”).

Why do we treat “Santa Claus” as a non-religious person? Post-Christian America builds up Christmas as they do Valentine’s Day or Halloween: it isn’t considered religious, but as a money-making endeavor. Also, it is politically correct to deny the reality of Jesus Christ, Biblical morality, and the intrinsic truth behind Jesus and the real Saint Nicholas.

     However, Saint Nicholas was a compassionate pastor who represented a caring, loving God. Nicholas represented Jesus Christ Who died for us, but raised from the dead three days later to redeem us from our sin. For many years, Pastor Nicholas gathered donations of clothing, shoes, and food, and distributed them to the poor; and not just in December. He did this year-round. Yes, there was a Pastor Nicholas whom some people called Saint Ch’las, or Santa Claus. 

Who were the three wise men?

     Matthew 2:1-2: “…wise men came from the east to Jerusalem saying … we have seen his star in the east….” Matthew 2:11: “When they entered the house, they saw the young child with his mother….”

     Many ethnic groups claim the wise men as their own, and the east is a big area so we need to know what eastern societies employed astrologers or astronomers. China, Persia, and India are prime candidates so let’s briefly look at them.

At that time China claimed their leader as god and viewed other national rulers with some contempt. So they are out. The basic religions of India were Jainism and Hinduism, and they were not astronomers nor would they have traveled anywhere to honor a new king. That leaves us with Persia. The main religion in Persia at the time was Zoroastrianism, and their priests were of a class called “Magi” – magician. (Zoroastrianism today is not the same as that in Ancient Persia.)

     Until about 220 AD, Zoroastrianism was sympathetic to any religion – including Judaism and Christianity – that taught kindness, justice, righteous thinking, truth, and monotheism. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego introduced Judaism to Nebuchadnezzar and his empire around 586 BC; and after Nebuchadnezzar recovered from his illness, he declared to his empire that Daniel’s God was the supreme God of heaven (Daniel 4:37).

The wise men of Persia (Magi) were scholars or educated priests. They had various fields of expertise, of which astronomy/astrology was one. When a heavenly sign or starDSCN0716 indicated a royal birth (Psalm 19:1), a delegation (minimum of three) was sent to acknowledge that royal event; timing their arrival when the child would be six months to a year old (Matthew 2:11). For safety purposes, the royal delegation traveled with a large trade caravan, and there could have been five to ten Persian scholars or Magi who visited Jesus’ family at the house. The reason our tradition mentions three is because of the three gifts they brought: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Today, people ask: “Are you ready for Christmas?” That’s an interesting question, for it reveals their lack of understanding of the celebration. A more pertinent question would be: “Are you ready to publicly acknowledge Christ as did the shepherds and the Magi?”

     The good news is: God reveals Himself to whomever truly wants to know him. Jesus is no longer a baby-in-a-manger. He is our living God Who created the entire universe. (John 1:1-4, 14)

God’s Amazing Grace

Have you read and thought about the words to John Newton’s famous hymn “Amazing Grace”?

Let me refresh your memory with the first verse:

     Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!

     I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind, but now I see.Boy

As a teenager I told my dad, a Navy Chaplain, “I can’t sing the song because I am not a wretch.” But my father, a wise man, said, “The man who wrote that song was speaking about himself. You need to read about him. But before you do, look up the word.” So I did.

“Wretch” is traced to the Old English “wrecca” which means “banished person.” It also means “a despicable, worthless, contemptible, or vile person.”

Well, that didn’t apply to me as a thirteen-year-old boy. The worst thing I ever did was lie to my parents and fight with my siblings. Maybe I talked back to my parents, and cheated on a test. Oh whatever – but I decided that I was NOT a wretch!

When dad asked me what I found out, I gave my report about how bad I was NOT. Granting that I was overall a good boy, dad asked me a strange question: “Are you in the same category as Jesus – one who has never sinned?”

“Of course I have sinned,” I said. “But I’m still not a wretch!” What was dad getting at anyway? Had I done something really bad that I had forgotten about? I didn’t think so. Well, I did shoot at cars with my Red Rider B-B gun one time; but the B-Bs never even came close to the cars which were a quarter-mile away. And I’m sure dad never knew about that.

Dad had turned to James 2:10 in the New Testament and read: “And the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as the person who has broken all of God’s laws.” He then asked me what it meant. All I did was to repeat the verse because it was self-explanatory.

“So,” dad asked, “are you any better than John Newton?”

Rev. John Newton was born July 24, 1725 and died December 21, 1807. In his later years, he was an Anglican minister, hymn-writer, and supported the English abolition of slavery. So, what’s the deal about a wretch? There’s more to the story.

The son of a British shipmaster, the Royal Navy captured John – a common way of drafting men into the military, sometimes called “shanghaied.” Somewhat of a rebel, he was flogged and sold into slavery. He referred to himself as “a servant of slaves in West Africa.” But he was eventually set free; and, although having been a victim of slavery, he became a slave trader.

ShipAlthough it was totally demeaning, barbaric, and inhuman to the captured Africans, it was a lucrative endeavor. Not only that, it was a joint-effort: black Africans were capturing neighboring black Africans and selling the ones they didn’t kill to the white slave-traders.

Newton married a Christian, and made a confession of faith in Christ, but continued in the evil, inhumane business of treating human beings worse than he treated his dog.

When offered a better position, Newton quit the slave trade and grew in his understanding of the evil nature of slavery. By the late 1760s Newton’s conscience was gnawing at him in such a way that he finally realized the wretchedness of his malevolent, cruel involvement, and how much he had offended God.

God had revealed His “Amazing Grace” to Newton, and the song was written in 1773. InCross 1788, thirty-four years after Newton left slavery, he wrote a pamphlet titled “Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade.” He described the hellish conditions of the slave ships, and said, “It will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders.” He joined William Wilberforce, and in 1807 they led the charge of ending the slave trade in England.

Dad was waiting for my response. I said, “According to James 2:10, since I have sinned in other areas, I am no better than a slave trader, a murderer, or anything else. I guess without Christ I did fit the ‘wretch’ category.”

Dad said, “Good boy. That is the correct conclusion.”

I now could sing the song. But it took me many years to fully understand the true wretchedness of a person without Christ. And I also understand, decades later, that if I fail to live for the Lord in the best way I know how, I would still be a wretch. 

Want about you? Have you thought about it?