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 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)

The Purpose of Miracles

What is a miracle? Several years ago, a man told me, “If you can explain it, it wasn’t a Question Markmiracle!” I found that rather humorous; but because the man was serious I didn’t want to insult him by laughing. However, that is not a criterion for miracles.

I find two basic types of miracles, with several variations of the theme. 1) Supernatural: God works above, against, or outside the laws of nature. 2) Natural: God uses natural phenomena or natural laws; but inexplicable timing is the key element.

The Veritas Bible commentary says,

Miracle may be defined as that which takes place by Divine power outside the ordinary course of nature. Miracles are not an end in themselves but are intended to show either the truth of what is taught or the presence of God in the person who teaches. The object of Christ’s miracles was to prove His Divinity so that men might come to salvation.

I agree. The purpose of miracles is to glorify God, although mankind does benefit from them.   Let’s address the supernatural element first; and I want to start by saying that LIFE is a miracle.

The first miracle I find in Scripture is creation. A long-standing scientific principle says, “Matter can be neither created nor destroyed; but can merely change state.” That is: change from solid, to liquid, to gas, and (temporarily) to plasma. You and I create things out of stuff that exists. That is fabricating, but isn’t a miracle. God, Who exists outside time and space, created stuff out of nothing. That’s a miracle.

So, if matter cannot be created, but it exists – and matter cannot spontaneously appear from nothing – we know there is a God Who has always existed outside time and space. God is the great “I AM” – the eternal, self-existent One; the first cause of all things. (Remember that phrase because nothing can happen without a cause. That is also a scientific principle.)

Another above- or outside-nature miracle is raising the dead to life. Stated very simply: PICT0122man can neither create life nor restore life; but God – Who is outside time and space – can. Physical healings are sometimes miraculous. And, of course, one of the greatest miracles is exemplified in our eternal salvation. Looking at a baby reveals the miraculous power – and love – of God. But (don’t think I’m beingIMG_1439 funny here), watching an egg hatch also reveals the miraculous power of God. Think about it: man cannot instill or create life.

Now, for miracles in the natural realm.

An example (inexplicable timing) of the second type of miracle is found in Joshua 3:14-17 where the Jordan River stopped flowing at flood-time for the Israelites to cross over. DSCN4904Verse 16 says, “the water above that point began backing up a great distance away at a town called Adam, which is near Zarethan. And the water below that point flowed on to the Dead Sea until the riverbed was dry. Then all the people crossed over near the town of Jericho. (NLT)”

A supernaturally-timed land-slide temporarily blocked the river’s flow. When the nervous priests reluctantly, yet obediently, stepped into the flooded Jordan River, they didn’t know the water level was about to recede. Then, after more than a million people with all their animals crossed over, the temporary earthen dam gave way and a tsunami of water, rocks, and mud came crashing down the Jordan River. God caused the heavy landslide at the right time which blocked and contained the water until the right time. The timing was miraculous.

The Bible records about 37 miracles performed by Jesus, and He said in John 14:13, “If you ask for anything in my name, I will do it for you so that the Father’s glory will be shown through the Son.”

THAT is the purpose of miracles: that the Father’s glory will be manifested, and that His purposes will be fulfilled on earth and in heaven.

Miracles are not for our self-aggrandizement or to puff up our reputation. They are not even primarily for our benefit. This is where many in the Church make their mistake: they focus on the miracle or on what they think they did through “their word” or by “their faith.” We must face the fact that, although man does benefit from them, miracles are for the purpose of exalting God.

Jesus said in Luke 10:20, “Don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are registered as citizens of heaven.”

So, don’t brag about your faith or your prayers. Learn to align yourself with God. Pray, act, and speak in concert with God’s will, in Jesus’ name, and allow God to receive the credit. He’ll bless you for it.Bible.docx

Just remember: The Bible lets us know that the purpose of miracles is to glorify God.

BibLe cOdeS?

You might think the Bible Code fad had faded into oblivion, but that isn’t the case. When IMG_1799BI was asked about it, I found it is alive, and it’s been thriving for millennia. I don’t believe in hidden messages in so-called Bible Codes, but it is interesting.

     From the Gnostics in Jesus’ time who prided themselves for possessing hidden knowledge, to the Rosicrucian’s who held to “esoteric truths of the ancient past concealed from the average man”, to Sir Isaac Newton who predicted that the world would NOT end before 2060, to Dan Brown’s novel “The Da Vinci Code”, the concept of hidden knowledge in the Bible has attracted world-wide interest. The original Bible Code was known as the Torah Code.

     There is a Jewish tradition about “hidden text” in the Pentateuch (the Torah, first five Books in the Bible), consisting of words or phrases expressed in the form of Equidistant Letter Sequences (ELS’s); that is, selecting sequences of equally spaced letters in the text. Since this tradition was passed on orally, not much is really understood of the early legends. Rabbi H.M.D. Weissmandel was the first modern scholar to try to show the possibility of such a “hidden text” in 1958 by finding patterns consisting of ELS’s. This concept has been described as “a method by which specific letters from the text can be selected to reveal an otherwise obscured message.”

     Using the ELS system, I’ve been told every 50th letter of the Book of Genesis (in Hebrew) starting with the first taw (“T”), the Hebrew word “torah” is spelled out. The same may happen in the Book of Exodus. Computers have been used to search for similar patterns and more complex variants. Bible code proponents usually use a Hebrew Bible, and most Jewish proponents use only the Pentateuch. The Jewish group Aish-HaTorah uses Bible Codes in their Discovery Seminars to persuade secular Jews of the divinity of the Torah, and to encourage them to trust in its traditional Orthodox teachings.

     The general public learned of Bible codes due to Michael Drosnin’s book titled “The Bible Code.” Instead of reading the words of a text normally, hidden words are found by picking every 2nd, 3rd, or 4th, (etc.) letters, skipping over the letters in between. This can become very complex, and a skip pattern can be over 8,000 letters. Using pre-programmed spacing, computers are used to look for matches for selected names or words, and the skip spacing is adjusted until the programmer “discovers” what he/she wants. This produces self-fulfilled predictions. Not good, but interesting.

     Dr. Dave Thomas, physicist and mathematician, wrote in 1997, “Hidden messages can be found anywhere, provided you’re willing to invest time and effort to harvest the vast field of probability. All you need is the power of chance combined with the brute force of computers.” And he proved it by applying code programming to Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” finding many words, names, and predictions “imbedded” therein.

     The theologian Grant Jeffrey said, “Hebrew codes do not contain any hidden theological or doctrinal messages. There are no secret sentences, detailed messages, or sentences about theology in the [supposedly] encoded words. God’s message of salvation and His commandments for holy living to humankind are found only in the open words of the Scriptures.” And I say, “Amen!”

     Those who favor Bible codes ask, “How could words and “messages” be a product of random chance?” But I ask, “With a computer, imagination, and innumerable attempts, how can we NOT find them?”

     As mentioned above, I do not believe in so-called “Bible Codes” because we also find numerous negative concepts. If “Bible Codes” are really inspired by God, then how do we account for the following “codes” which have all been found in the Torah?  ‘Jesus is Satan”; “Please drive out Jesus”; “God is not YHWH”; “There is no God”; “Jehovah is a liar”; and many others. 

     We must get back to what the Bible is, and its purpose. Second Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”

     And Jesus said in John 14:26, “But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.” Jesus does not want anything to be hidden.

     Let’s invest our limited time in studying the revealed word of God, not in self-generated revelations.