Visit to the Smokey Mountains

In November of 2014, we drove to Tennessee to visit my 91-year-old Aunt Evelyn, and 95-year-old Uncle Bert for their 70th wedding anniversary. During that trip, we made a trek into a portion of the Smokey Mountains south of Knoxville, and that’s a spectacular part of God’s creation!

“The Smokies”, as they are often called, are a portion of the Appalachian Mountains which runs from Canada to Alabama. In the area of Lenoir, Sevier, Townsend, and Pigeon Forge, we saw beautiful scenery that far surpasses any televised armchair travelogue. (Pigeon Forge has been built up to be a lot like Branson, MO.)

Near Townsend, we took an excursion up the Foothills Parkway. Stopping at a turnoff to gawk at the beauty, we saw a red Toyota with a man inside watching us. As I approached him, he rolled down his window and asked, “How you folks doin?” And we formed a friendship.

His name is DH Tipton. Pointing southeast, he said, “I come up here every week to look at the beauty of God’s nature. See that hill right over there ‘bout a mile off? I was born there 81 years ago. I’m the last from a large family, and by the time I was born my momma ran out of names. So she just called me ‘DH’, and that’s my name: DH Tipton. DH don’t stand for anything. You should’ve seen the looks on the faces of my friends in the Army Corps of Engineers when I told them ‘DH IS my name.’ And yep, I’m a native who was born over there, right near what is now called the Foothills Parkway.”

Quoting from the Blue Ridge Highlander, “The Foothills Parkway West is a 17-mile long section of the Parkway that travels along the backbone of the Chilhowee Mountain between Chilhowee Lake and the town of Townsend in Blount County.  From this vantage point you can view not only the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park to the southeast, visitors can also enjoy views of the huge and grand valley lands of the Tennessee River Valley bordered by the long plateau of the Cumberland Mountains to the northwest.”

This mountain range is famous for its smoky haze that is actually a perpetual fog. DH said, “Anyone from California, New York, or any densely populated area thinks this haze is air pollution. But it’s not. It’s been here before man arrived. But now that I mentioned it, air pollution has been invading these parts. Visibility has been reduced by smog blowing in from both the Southeast and the Midwest.”

Over 9,000,000 people visit the Smoky Mountains National Park each year, which makes it the most visited park in the country. Clingmans Dome at 6,643 feet, is the highest peak in the Smokies. It’s the highest peak in Tennessee and the third highest in the Appalachian range. However, Mount Le Conte is an impressive sight: although it reaches an altitude of only 6,593 feet, it towers more than a mile over the town of Gatlinburg located at its base. That reminds me of Sandia Crest which towers a mile above Albuquerque, NM.

As we drove through the mountains, we would often “catch a glimpse” of a valley, waterfall, or steep mountainside in its pristine beauty. Schedules are a necessary part of life, but as we drove through this part of God’s creation, we decided to modify the schedule. We wanted to see more.

But time eventually ran out and we continued our trek. We drove to Sevierville and ate at the Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant. This restaurant has a far-reaching reputation, and we found out why: the service and the food are GOOD!

We were continually amazed at the magnificence of God during that trip through the Smokies. I know many folks who think that amoebas, salamanders, fish, dinosaurs, man, the earth, and the entire cosmos just happened to materialize out of some mythical and mysterious big bang. But when we stop and think about it both logically and scientifically, we know it’s impossible for stuff (atoms, molecules, stars, galaxies) to appear out of nothing. And it’s also impossible for rocks to morph into life.

The excellent fish dinner I ate at the Applewood Restaurant didn’t just happen to become a cooked meal and plop onto my plate. It took planning and work. Also, life didn’t just happen to exist: it took planning and work. God did both the planning and work. (The staff at the Applewood Restaurant cooked the fish.)

Visit the Smokies if you can, and check out the Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant in Sevierville, TN. You’ll enjoy the trip and the food.

Memorial Day – 2019

PICT0051Memorial Day! The very sound of the name resonates with deep feelings within the minds of some Americans. Parades with marching bands and the rippling Red and White stripes with the Blue field of white stars (one of the most famous flags in the history of the world) will be a major event in many towns dotting the landscape of the United States of America.

This Memorial Day, let’s take time to honor our fallen Americans and give thanks to Almighty God for the freedoms we have. Memorial Day is a celebration of freedom!

So I want to honor the one who taught me to honor God, my country, and my fellow man. This memorial is about my late father: Captain Stanford E. Linzey, Jr. Chaplain Corps, USN.

Stanford was born in Houston, Texas on October 13, 1920. Always involved in the community, at age 16 he attained the rank of Eagle Scout and became Assistant Scoutmaster of Troop 13.

He lettered in varsity as he played right guard on the high school football team in Mercedes, Texas. He was also first-chair clarinetist in the band; and with his mother accompanying him, he won the Texas State Championship for instrumental solos in 1936.

Texas A&M and other schools wanted Stan to attend their schools on music scholarships. But at age nine, he heard John Philip Sousa and the United States Marine Band on Sousa’s last tour, and Stan developed a burning desire to be a Navy musician.

Nine years later, passing the music test administered by Chief Musician John Liegl (who had been assistant director under Sousa), Stan was sworn into the Navy on January 11, 1939. Sixteen years later when I was nine years old, John Leigl became my own music instructor, for which I am deeply grateful.

At age nine, Stan had also accepted Jesus into his life and suspected that he might become a preacher. He stayed away from alcohol, but by the time he joined the navy he had begun smoking cigarettes. However, a change was coming: he met a beautiful girl named Verna May Hall who liked the clarinet but didn’t like cigarettes.

Verna lowered the boom: “I won’t marry you if you keep smoking.” So Stan decided to quit. But after a two-week cruise on “The Original Fighting Lady” (the USS Yorktown CV-5), Stan came back smelling like a chimney.

“You said you were going to quit.” Verna challenged.

“I tried, but I couldn’t.” Stan was smoking almost three packs a day.

“Did you pray about it?”

Stan retorted, “No.”

But at Verna’s encouragement, he prayed then and there. The Lord helped Stan; but Stan also exercised his God-given will power, and never touched a cigarette again.

When he gave up smoking, Stan also totally rededicated his life to the Lord, and his shipmates nicknamed him Deacon. In everything he attempted to do from then on, he endeavored to honor God.

During the Battle of Midway, the Yorktown was severely damaged by bombs and torpedoes. Believing the ship would capsize, Captain Buckmaster gave the order to abandon ship. The USS Balch, a small warship called a destroyer, rescued Stan and many others. (The Yorktown sunk two days later.)

Stan recognized a sailor who was a Christian and said, “Let’s get together for a prayer meeting.”

The sailor moaned, “Deacon, I’m the only Christian on board the ship.”

Stan didn’t believe it. He scouted around and found eight other men, each of whom thought he was the only Christian on board. Stan got them together for a praise service on the fantail (stern) of the ship. Eventually, thirty-two men met each night as more sailors accepted Jesus Christ into their lives.

Stan was transferred to the USS Portland – a heavy cruiser with 850 men on board. He ordered Gideon Bibles and started a Bible Study group.

After the war, Stan left the Navy, continued his schooling, and in 1954 reentered the Navy as a Chaplain. He spent another twenty years serving the Lord and his country to the best of his ability. He retired with the rank of Captain.

Dad was not loud or boisterous (if he didn’t need to be), but was boldly dedicated to spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Dad taught me that living to please our Lord was more fun than living to please myself or the world. He said quite often, “I’m only going this way once; I might as well make the most of it.” Applied in a Christian sense, I’ve found that to be true.

Dad taught me the motto attributed to Davey Crockett: Be sure you’re right, then go ahead. Of course, I’ve made mistakes, but I do my best to honor God, Country, and Dad.

Dad passed away in 2010, but I’ll see him again when I get to heaven.

Hot Air Balloons

After speaking for the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Chapter in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I was going to take Pastor Clarence Gutierrez of the Christian Family Church (Taos, NM) back to Taos. The pastor’s daughter was driving him up from Albuquerque, and I thought I’d have a 15-minute wait. But it’s a good thing I learned not to be in a hurry because the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta generated so much traffic on I-25 that traffic was stalled for more than an hour. I kept in touch with Clarence by cell phone, and relaxed as I drank coffee and talked with other friends.

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is an annual festival that takes place for My Pictures0008nine days in October and is the largest balloon event in the world. Several balloon shapes include: an F/A-18 fighter jet, giant turtle, a car, telephone, cow, covered wagon, soda cans, and hundreds more. Over 1,000 balloons participated in the year 2000, but in order to focus on quality, event organizers now limit the number to 600. Over 100,000 spectators are present each day during the event, with untold thousands more throughout the city observing the balloons as they rise high in the Southwestern sky.

One popular night-time portion of the event is called the “Glowdeo” (glowing rodeo). That’s when participating balloons are inflated but do not lift off the ground, while the propane flames illuminate the various-shaped balloons.

From an historical news clip, we read:

The Balloon Fiesta began in 1972 as the highlight of the 50th birthday celebration for 770 KOB Radio. Radio station manager Dick McKee asked Sid Cutter, owner of Cutter Flying Service and the first person to own a hot air balloon in New Mexico, if KOB could use his new hot-air balloon as part of the festivities. The two began discussing ballooning with Oscar Kratz, and McKee asked what the largest gathering of hot air balloons to date had been. “19 balloons in England”, Cutter replied. Kratz asked “Can we get 19 here?” Cutter agreed to try.

Twenty-one pilots agreed to come, but only thirteen showed up because of inclement weather. That event was on April 8, 1972 and it quickly became very popular. But since autumn produces better flying conditions for balloons, October was decided as the best time to continue the annual event.

The largest and most popular part of the 9-day fiesta is what they call the “MassMy Pictures0006 Ascension”. This is when participating balloons ascend in two waves – 300 in each wave – and the city is filled with “Oooohs” and “Aaaahs” as they rise majestically with the unsurpassed beauty of the 10,679 foot high mountain, called Sandia Crest, providing a spectacular backdrop.

The Balloon Fiesta is one of New Mexico’s most popular tourist attractions, and hundreds of food vendors are on hand to provide almost any kind of food your tummy might desire. For a number of years, the Kodak Company was a major sponsor, and the event was called, the “Kodak Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta”.

The balloons rise off the ground because the propane burners produce a large quantity of heated air that is less dense than the surrounding air, and rises – pulling the gondola (the basket), the propane equipment, and the people with it. This is the same principle in which lighter oil rises above denser water. The balloons stay aloft until the heat dissipates and the balloons begin to come down. The pilots skillfully operate the burners to “fly” the balloons: rising, lowering, and landing where they choose – normally

My Pictures0005But there are also problems associated with the Balloon Fiesta. Traffic gets jammed as drivers watch. Sometimes the propane burners malfunction. Balloons sometimes hit power lines. The wind may blow a balloon over while the burner is operating causing the balloon to burn. Traffic accidents happen because of gawkers.

Pastor Gutierrez finally arrived and we joyfully headed for Taos. The next day, Sunday, the District Superintendent, Mike Dickenson, ministered and we had an enjoyable meeting. Clarence, Mike, and I are long-time friends and our fellowship is based on our love for Jesus Christ.

As you travel through life, stop and smell the roses; don’t get in a hurry. Don’t allow the irritations of life (like traffic jams) bother you, and learn to see the good in every situation. Psalm 111:10 says, “Wisdom begins with respect for the Lord; those who obey his orders have good understanding.”

A Passover Drama

PONTIAS PILATE IN CEASAREA:

Passover week is here again.  I’m not looking forward to it. Too many things going on. I’m worried about what those Jews are up to. This is always the time of year when the foolish Pharisees and the Sanhedrin try to stir up trouble against us again. Why don’t they just mind their own business, and let us mind ours? There is nothing they can do to help this world. But the Imperial Roman Army? We spent several hundred years making this world a better place.

I better go to Jerusalem for the Jew’s High Holy Day, and make sure that they don’t get out of hand. I better take an extra contingent of Imperial Guards to help out … just in case. I don’t like these … these troublesome … goat-lovers!

 

HIGH PRIEST CAIAPHAS IN JERUSALEM:

This is Passover week.  I’m not looking forward to it. Too much going on. I’m worriedDSCN0134 what that Jesus is up to. This foolish would-be Messiah, claiming to be the Son of Jehovah, is trying to overthrow the Sanhedrin’s power. He is getting the entire population to believe His stories … His fairy-tales!  And now the people are beginning to doubt MY authority.

I am not going to put up with this any longer. Jesus is up to no good, and I am going to see to it that He is taken out of the way. I’ll be staying here in Jerusalem for our Highest of Holy Days, and make sure that Jesus doesn’t escape. I better keep the Temple Guard with me … just in case. I don’t like these … these troublesome … Messiah-lovers.

AN EXCITED ISRAELITE AS JESUS ENTERS JERUSALEM:

This is Passover week! Our Messiah has finally arrived, and he’s going to push the Romans all the way back to Rome! Ever since Antiochus Epiphanes, we’ve seen many potential messiahs come and go, and began wondering if the real one would ever come. But this is it. Jesus is the one we’ve been waiting for!

We have been waiting for hundreds of years for this to happen, and we’ll finally get rid of these … these troublesome … ROMANS!

 

THE APOSTLE JOHN AS JESUS ENTERS JERUSALEM:

This is Passover week. I’m glad it finally arrived. Praise to Jehovah, I’ve been looking DSCN0574forward to this for a long time! Our Master, our Teacher, our Messiah will finally set up the Kingdom He has talked about for two years. Will I sit on His right or left side? But I shouldn’t be thinking that way. I’m sure the Master will decide who should sit where in the Kingdom. And He does have a lot on His mind these days – probably the most important is when and how He’s going to destroy the Roman Empire and break its stranglehold on Israel.

The Master said that He’ll be eating the Passover with us this week. This will be wonderful! It’ll be our third Passover together, and I have a feeling that this one will be the most important one.

I really enjoy it when the Master spends time with us; we learn so much when He does. He uses common, everyday things to teach us deep spiritual truths. I don’t know how He does it, but I want to be just like Him. He is closer than a brother to me, and … strangely … I feel that He is kind of like a father … but different. I can’t explain it, but that’s how I feel.

I wonder what the Master will teach us this week.

 

JESUS ENTERING JERUSALEM:

This is it – Passover week. As a man, this is the first time in over thirty years that I am not looking forward to it. However, I’ve been planning for this week since I put Adam in theDSCN0728 Garden, and no one – not even Lucifer – is going to prevent me from accomplishing my goal.

Ever since I put Adam and Eve in the Garden, Lucifer has been trying to destroy my plan. His first attempt was with Eve, and he thought he had succeeded. He has attempted other power-plays throughout history, and his strongest power-play is happening right now – but he won’t win. I’m glad that we, the Father and I, didn’t reveal our Master Plan to any of the angelic hosts. That way the information couldn’t leak to Lucifer, and he still doesn’t know what’s going to happen. I’ll stay here in Jerusalem for this, our Highest of Holy Days, and fulfill my task. I’ll assure that My disciples are not hurt.

I’m sorry that most of the people have forgotten the real meaning of the Passover. I must re-affirm it in the minds of my disciples this week, so that they’ll be able to keep it alive until I return.

As I said, in the flesh I am not really looking forward to what is about to happen.  But I will go through it to for two reasons: I want to restore our relationship with humanity, and prepare humanity to fulfill his destiny and complete our plan.

 

What Happened When Jesus Was Crucified? To be Continued.

Passover

This year, 2019, Passover begins at sunset on April 19, and ends at sunset on the 27th.

I know most calendars mention Easter but I prefer to call the event by the correct historical term: Pascha, derived from Pesach: which is Passover.

The eight-day festival is a celebration which dates back roughly to 1450 BC when the Israelites were set free in Egypt and left in that famous mass-exodus. And by following the customs or traditions of Passover, the Jewish church has the ability to relive and experience the freedom that their ancestors gained.

But as you read through Scripture, you find that the Passover, in which innocent lambsDSCN4172 were sacrificed, foreshadowed the crucifixion of Jesus; for Jesus, the Christ, was ultimately the true innocent Passover Lamb – not just for one nation, but for the world. Let’s briefly recap the history that led to the Passover Celebration.

Ten of Jacob’s sons were jealous of young Joseph because Jacob had given Joseph the coat of many colors – the robe of authority denoting family leadership. Eight of the brothers sold Joseph to a trade caravan and Joseph was taken to Egypt.

Rising in authority in Potiphar’s household, he was falsely accused of attempted rape and sent to prison – probably under Potiphar’s jurisdiction. Joseph interpreted dreams and was taken to the reigning Pharaoh – probably of the Hyksos people who were not native to Africa.

After Joseph died, the native Africans (probably Cushites and Nubians) defeated the Hyksos and regained control of Egypt. But because the descendants of Jacob ethnically resembled the Hyksos, the Egyptians thought the Israelites would rise up and fight for the Hyksos. Therefore, the “Pharaoh who knew not Joseph” ordered them enslaved.

Eventually, Moses was born, placed in the Nile, rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter, and raised in the Egyptian court. He was schooled in every phase of Egyptian aristocracy, could speak several languages, and traveled throughout the kingdom.

However, although becoming a general in the Egyptian army, Moses never forgot his roots and killed an Egyptian task-master who was brutalizing an Israeli. But killing an Egyptian officer without the Pharaoh’s permission was a capital offence – even for the esteemed Moses – and he fled for his life.

PICT0061Deprived of his royal background, he became a lowly shepherd for forty years; but God never abandoned Moses, and commissioned him to return to Egypt to be the human element in setting the Israelis free.

It was understandable why the Pharaoh refused to free his subjects: by now, economics prevailed. So God began to apply leverage to force Pharaoh’s hand. The last straw was the tenth plague. God set the day when this would take place.

God gave Moses specific instructions about how to prepare the last meal in Egypt, for each item and its preparatory procedure would reflect, in some way or other, on the death of the final Sacrificial Lamb. So Moses gave the order to put blood on three places outside the door, and eat the meal with their traveling clothes on. After the meal, they would head out.

The tenth plague that Egypt experienced was death of the first-born male. Cows, mules, and horses also suffered this fate. The term passover derives from pesach which essentially means to pass over something; and in the Land of Egypt, the death angel passed over the houses which had the blood applied to the doorposts. The people who were covered with the blood of the lamb were spared.

Pharaoh’s son died, so Pharaoh finally submitted to Moses, allowing Moses to lead the people out of bondage and into freedom. (Many tumultuous years were in store for the Israelis, but that’s another story.)

In Israeli history, Moses became their servant-ruler, which reflects on our Savior, our Redeemer.

The Temple Sacrifice was instituted to reveal the severity of sin (disobeying God), and also pointed to the final Sacrifice – Jesus, the Messiah.

But there is a significant difference between the traditional sacrificial lambs and our final Sacrificial Lamb. Where the yearly lamb died to gain forgiveness of sin for a year, Jesus died and raised from the dead to grant us forgiveness forever, and inherit eternal life.

dscn0185[1]Passover is a picture of the sinless Lamb of God – Jesus – Who suffered the penalty of sin for us (death), raised Himself back to life, and set us free. All we need to do is to accept Jesus into our lives, ask Him to forgive us for our self-centered lifestyle, then purposely live for Him. We will be covered with the blood of the Lamb and forgiven.

Passover points to Calvary.

Next time we’ll get a glimpse of happened during that famous Passover Week leading to Jesus crucifixion.

Life When the Power Goes Out

dscn3249In 2014 we were in Southern California visiting my Aunt Betty and the family as we celebrated her 91st birthday anniversary. We had an enjoyable time interacting with cousins whom we seldom see.

Aunt Betty had her sense of humor and her memory was good. When she asked if I remembered staying with her family when I was small, I surprised her with stories of several escapades with her sons Jim and Richard. Betty’s husband (Uncle Garnett) was already in heaven with my dad (Garnett’s older brother) and Aunt Betty still lived close to where my grandparents lived decades ago. When I related stories of my stay with the grandparents when I was seven, she addressed me by the name she gave me sixty-five years ago, and asked, “Little Blue-Gene, how do you remember all of that from so long ago?” I laughed and asked, “Aunt Betty, you are twenty-four years older than I am; how do YOU remember the past so well?” She laughed as we enjoyed the bantering, and she gave me an “Aunt Betty” hug.

My wife, Carol, spent time with my cousin Dave’s wife, Cheryl, and they shared some of theirdscn3268b views of Linzey family history. It was a full-house, and I enjoyed interacting with all the cousins. You know how it is at family reunions: since we don’t get together very often, we all try to catch-up on the latest. I even got many of their phone numbers on my cell phone. (Alas: the phone hiccupped and I lost most of them. I’ll eventually get them all back.) The cake was outstanding: beautiful, as well as tasty! The 91st birthday party was a wonderful event.

Suddenly, in the midst of the camaraderie, it happened! The lights began to flicker, got dim, then totally went out! Happy talking morphed into “What happened?” Laughter subsided. A touch of bewilderment set in. Several cousins lit candles and continued a different level of conversation while others got out the flashlights and checked the breaker-box. The breakers had not tripped. Some of the family became concerned about walking around in a darkened, crowded house because physical safety was now an issue. Basically, the big party was over.

dscn3272cThe mystery was growing until several of us looked outside, and VOILÀ! The power in the entire neighborhood was out. Taking it in good humor, Aunt Betty said, “Oh that happens whenever someone around here has a party. It was our turn this time.”

Some of the family decided to go home, but others of us stayed for a while because there is life when the power goes out. With candle light, we ate more cake, looked at more pictures, and told more stories. But gradually the energy level began fading and we all went home. That is not bad; it’s part of life. Carol and I eventually left with cousin Jim.

But isn’t it interesting how fear can creep into our minds when we are in the dark? Also interesting is how folk respond differently to the same power-outage. Some people might withdraw in fear and have difficulty reaching out to others; some leave the darkness for a lighter environment; yet others reach for the flashlight and help others find their way.

But there are other ways our “power” goes out. Sometimes life is going smoothly—we have a good-paying job, the grown children love us, our retirement income is covering our needs, we are in good health, etc.—and we have sufficient energy to get through and enjoy life. But suddenly, darkness descends and tries to suffocate us like a wet shroud: a family member dies, we develop cancer, the stock market plunges, or some other catastrophe thrusts us into the darkness of life. What should we do?

We can withdraw in fear and avoid others; we can fill our life with noise and activity toimg_1578 overshadow, or drown out our emptiness and hurt; or we can reach for the true source of light: Jesus Christ, the Light of the world (John 8:12). This light, Jesus, can expel all darkness and restore power and life if we turn to Him. Jesus said, “I’ll never leave you nor forsake you. (Hebrews 13:5)” There is still life when the power goes out; so share God’s light and life with others who are in the dark. 

An added benefit is: Jesus also supplies more power in life. You can trust Him.

Valentine’s Day

image00771I remember Valentine’s Day in 1965. Valentine’s Day was on Sunday that year, and Carol and I were attending SCC (Southern California College: now VUSC – Vanguard University of Southern California). I remember thinking: “If Carol accepts my invitation to the Valentine Banquet, I’ll know that she is the girl I will marry.” So, nervously, I asked her.

Laugh if you want. I am chuckling now as I write because I was somewhat immature at the time, and I was overcome with “puppy-love.” (Yes friends, she accepted.) I know that isn’t the way to1966 wedding decide whom to marry, but we DID get married a year and a half later — August 22, 1966 — and 52+ years later, we are still in love.

Someone asked Carol several years ago, “What’s it like being married to the same person for all those years?” Carol responded: “Oh, he’s not the same person I married. He’s changed.” She is right. Through time we all change — hopefully for the better. For one thing, my puppy-love grew into a true, full-fledged love for Carol. Maybe not fully-mature even now, but definitely going in that direction. I have learned (and am still learning) to love her with the love of Jesus Christ; and His love supersedes or surpasses any love humans think they have. But how do husbands and wives keep their love and devotion vibrant through the problem-laden decades?

Bishop Valentinus, or Saint Valentine as he is remembered, gave us a hint by manifesting a two-fold love: An undying, obedient, irrevocable love for God, and a deep, loyal commitment to people. And that’s what Carol and I have applied in our marriage through the years.

dscn7495Carol explains it this way: “Marriage is made in heaven. But it comes in a kit that must be assembled here on earth.” She also says, “Marriage is like a pyramid: God is at the top, with husband and wife at the bottom corners. When husband and wife focus on each other, they tend to repel each other. But if they both focus on God and grow toward Him, they inevitably grow closer together. And growing toward God helps us to become more like Him. Therefore, we find ourselves loving each other more with the pure love of God. That’s why God should be at the center of every marriage.”

That reminds me of a song written in Pasadena, California by Frederick Lehman; but the lyrics are based on a Jewish poem titled “Haddamut” written in Aramaic in 1050 AD by Meir Ben Isaac Nehorai, a cantor in Worms, Germany. The words to the chorus are: “Oh Love of God, how rich and pure! How measureless and strong! It shall forevermore endure the saints and angel’s song.”

Another supporting factor in keeping your love going strong is to let your spouse be your very best friend. That way, NO one can ever come between you! Carol has been my best friend for these 52 years, and she will never be deposed from that position as long as we both shall live.

Our friends Gary and Carol Kroah, formerly Associate Pastors of the Siloam Spring (Arkansas) Assembly of God Church say, “To start out, it’s not hard to love someone who is lovable. But our love for one another has endured through the years because of our mutual commitment to Jesus Christ and to one another. The closer we have been to Him, the closer we are to each other. Our determination to care for one another has motivated us to stay together, and love with unconditional love.”

Unconditional Love—growing toward God—growing closer together. It sounds like Bishop Valentine’s two-fold love: an undying, obedient, irrevocable love for God, and a deep, loyal commitment to people.

You’ve probably figured out that I like the Valentine’s Day celebration, but I do not subscribe to the superficiality ascribed by the world. Using the celebration as an enhancement in courting and marriage is fine, but don’t use it for defrauding someone or for sexual immorality.  A person who truly loves someone will act honorably toward that person. Acting selfishly or dishonorably is devoid of true love. Read 2 Samuel 13.DSCN0185

Jesus exhibited the purest love by sacrificially giving Himself in order that we may receive eternal life. (John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son [Jesus], that whosover believes on Him will not perish [eternally] but have everlasting life”. Respond to Jesus. Receive His love, and live. Happy Valentine’s Day.

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.

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)