Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christ and Christmas - A Biblical Perspective - Part II



It is quite clear, the facts are indisputable – the origins of what we call “Christmas” are from both pagan and apostate sources.  Ironies of ironies – the most “holy” day (holiday) in so-called “Christendom” is Christmas (“Christ-Mass”), a celebration unauthorized by Christ in the New Testament while clear instructions Christ gave “in remembrance of me” are the most IGNORED in our society!  The more things change, the more they stay the same – “there is nothing new under the sun,” people embrace SPECULATION and ignore REVELATION! Having said that, almost no one alive today associates Christmas with its REAL history.  Instead, over the centuries, the meaning of “Christmas” has morphed into something quite positive – CULTURALLY.  Though concocting some kind of “Christmas Service” in a congregational setting would be a flagrant addition to God’s inspired Word, the celebration of this holiday in America is generally a very positive thing - CULTURALLY.

Who can deny Christmas brings happiness and glee to the children?  Who can deny that Christmas has inspired some of the most beautiful music ever composed such as Handel’s Messiah?  Who can not be inspired by “It’s a Wonderful Life,” or entertained by “A Christmas Story?”  Who cannot be moved by Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol?”  Who cannot bring up multiple wonderful memories of Christmas’ past?  Who can deny the delight of seeing a relatives eyes light up when opening a special gift?  Who can deny the warmth of hearth and family this time of year?  Who can deny the excitement of choosing and putting up the Christmas tree?  Who can deny that the many kindnesses extended to one another around Christmas are not a very good thing?  Who can deny that Christmas is uniquely American?!  Who can deny that we all wish for a white Christmas every year?  Who can deny that it is a very good thing that more people are open to discuss Jesus Christ around Christmas than at any other time of the year?

I’ll admit it – I LOVE Christmas and celebrate it with gusto!  I do not celebrate Christmas, though, as a matter of faith.  I don’t believe for a minute that Christ was born on December 25 or, if he was, that it would matter in any way.  Why?  Christ did not command such a celebration, in fact He never even mentioned it!  The Apostles did not celebrate it nor did they ever mention it!  In fact Christmas was not celebrated at all until over 400 years AFTER Christ!  I celebrate Christmas because it is so American and I am an American by the grace of God!  I also, with the same enthusiasm, celebrate both the 4th of July and Thanksgiving.  Why?  Simply this, Christmas, the 4th of July and Thanksgiving are “as American as apple pie and George Washington!”

Finally, I celebrate Christmas because I, as an individual, am free to do so in Christ!  In Romans 14.5, Paul by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, makes it very clear that Christians are free to celebrate “special days” as long as they don’t judge other Christians who don’t and don’t attempt to impose their views on other Christians – either for or against such celebrations.  “One person considers a certain day as more sacred than other days, while another person considers every day alike. Let each be fully persuaded in his own mind. He who regards a day highly does so for the Lord…” (The Everlasting Gospel translation (EGT) by bro. Hugo McCordThe single caveat, one must do all things with a clear conscience before God, “for anything not of conviction is sin.” (Romans 14.23.b EGT)


NOTE: Wren Building photo courtesy: The College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christ and Christmas - A Biblical Perspective - Part I



Repouss√© silver disc of Sol Invictus, Roman, 3rd century, found at Pessinus(British Museum) - Courtesy Wikipedia

It was about this time of year in 1974.  I was a key punch operator for Amfac Wholesale and Drug Supply Company in Oklahoma City.  My job was to prepare invoices for billing.  The key punch fields were limited and so instead of saying “Merry Christmas!” it said “Merry Xmas!”[1]  One of the employees, a ministerial student with the Christian Church, came running into my office very angry at me.  “How dare you take Christ out of Christmas!” he adamantly shouted.  No matter how I tried to explain my quandary, he just got even madder.  He was convinced that I had diabolically conspired to take Christ out of Christmas!

Seriously, was Christ ever IN Christmas to begin with!?  In short, no, Christ never was in Christmas.  There is no biblical reference to any kind of celebration of such a day anywhere in the New Testament.  Our Lord never commanded or even insinuated that such a celebration would be necessary or even allowed as a doctrinal requirement or a doctrinal option in collective worship.  Not only that, there is no apostolic command, no apostolic example nor any inference (necessary or otherwise) anywhere even remotely suggesting such a celebration.   Frankly, any congregation that adds such a doctrinal component to biblical worship will be in violation of the biblical pattern of “neither adding to nor taking away” from the Holy Spirit led New Testament directive.  This is a very serious matter for Paul told Timothy to “Follow the pattern of sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 2.15 ESV)  Any formal and collective worship outside of the pattern is an addition to that pattern.  Similar additions to God’s pattern have had disastrous results, just ask Nadab and Abihu, King Saul, etc.  Paul never celebrated Christmas, never asked anyone else to or even ever heard of such a practice!  At best the practice is extra-biblical and at worst…UN biblical.  In a formal worship setting, the celebration of Christmas is speculative, emotional and presumptive…and clearly outside of the “pattern of sound words.”

How did the celebration of Christmas ever even get started?  The 2nd century theologian Origen taught that Scripture has multiple meanings and individual interpretations.  This “allowed” the apostate church to eisegete (read into) fictional (allegorical) “meanings” into any and every passage.  With that false and presumptive foundation, the apostate church felt free to add, delete, change or modify any and every biblical passage it wanted to.  This suited it’s self-serving and pragmatic collective goals.  There is no evidence whatsoever that there was ever any observance of the presumptive day of Christ’s birth for nearly 400 years after the resurrection!  Everett Ferguson observes:

There were various…speculations about the day of Jesus’ birth, centering mainly on the spring, but for the first three centuries the church realized the day of Jesus birth was unknown and attached no theological importance to it.  There are accounts in the East of both the birth and baptism of Jesus remembered on January 5 – 6.  Christmas was a Western feast, first celebrated in Rome in the second quarter of the fourth century.  The date of December 25 was influenced by the sun cult, which was promoted by third-century emperors and continued to be recognized by Constantine.[2]

The cult to which bro. Ferguson refers is the cult of sol ivictus – “son un-conquered.”  The cult celebrated the supposed birth of the so-called “sun-god” on December 25, the day the Roman calendar was at the vernal equinox.  The apostate church began to celebrate the birthday of Christ on that same day due to a complicated formula.  Here it is:

  1. Christ died on March 25, according to apostate allegorical calculations
  2. In order for the life of Christ to be “complete” allegorically, the date of his conception and the day of his death had to be the same date, March 25
  3. “IF” Christ was conceived on March 25, nine months later would be December 25, the supposed date of his birth[3]
Whether or not the apostate church purposely chose December 25 to co-opt this pagan celebration into a “Christian” celebration cannot be precisely determined.  However, people who lived later would claim such.  Allegorical interpretation will always lead to presumptive conclusions with the “tail wagging the dog.”  Despite the facts as we know them pointing to a spring or fall birth, the Vatican chose December 25 to fit it’s allegorical puzzle, a classic case of round pegs being pounded into square holes.  TO BE CONCLUDED NEXT WEEK! - RM



[1] NOTE: The Greek letter “X” is pronounced “chi” and is the first letter in “Christ,” hence “X” is used to abbreviate “Christ” in “Christmas” (Xmas) and “Christian” (Xian). 
[2] Ferguson, Everett (Church History Vol. 1 – From Christ to Pre-Reformation, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2005) pg. 252  (Emphasis added – RM)

Monday, October 24, 2011

They Prayed for WHAT?!



Most Christians know that prayer is central to one’s spiritual existence both in private and public expressions.  Most are familiar with the what we call the “Lord’s Prayer.”  Few are familiar, though, with the “Apostles Prayer” of Acts 4.  It is to our extreme benefit to study and learn from this apostolic example for what the apostles prayed for and what we typically pray for are in stark contrast most of the time.

After appearing before the Jewish supreme court, the Sanhedrin, the apostles were “charged …not to speak or teach at all in the Name of Jesus.”  [Acts 4.18]   In brave civil disobedience, Peter and John replied; “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”  [Acts 4.19 – 20]  They were then further threatened and let go.

Peter and John then entered into prayer with the entire church.  That prayer is preserved for us by the Holy Spirit by the hand of Luke in Acts 4. 24b – 30.  While our prayers are often reactive to our circumstances, the apostles prayer in contrast, is proactive – not to get them “out of trouble” but to bolster them for MORE trouble!  Their prayer was not at the time of their arrest but at the time of their release.  They prayed for God’s help for strength to return to the battle, not to be taken out of the battle.  Therein is the lesson for us.

In observing the text we see it in four parts; there is a NEED for prayer, there is a DELIVERY of the prayer, there are RESULTS of the prayer and there, finally, are CONSEQUENCES of the prayer.

In 4.23 – 24a we see that the NEED of prayer was evident because their release was conditional; that they would cease speaking out in the Name of Jesus Christ.  The need for prayer was predicated on the fact that such a surrender was not an option and that Divine intervention was very much needed.

The DELIVERY of the prayer is given to us in 4.24b – 30.  The form, the content, the purpose and the mindset should be prototypically instructive to us in the 21st century.  The church of Christ faces existential madness and Islamic extremism from the outside and interpretive apostasy from the inside.  

Powerful prayer is needed more than at almost anytime since the 1st century for it was our Lord who asked the rhetorical question; “When the Son of Man returns will He find faith on the earth?”  [Luke 18.8]  Friends, if we neglect powerful prayer we may just answer Jesus’ question in the negative.  Nothing would be more tragic!  Let us observe the details of the apostles prayerful delivery:

·         God is addressed as both Sovereign and all powerful
·         The prayer is based on Scripture [Psalms 2] which is quoted
·         It is acknowledged that opposition to the gospel is in God’s plan
·         God actually predestines certain events (though not individuals)
·         The persecution is NOT asked to be taken away
·         Three things ARE asked of God:
1.      That they will be able to SPEAK God’s Word
2.      That they speak this Word with “all boldness” (ESV)
a.      The phrase rendered “all boldness” is translated from the Greek word parrhesia which, according to Strong’s means “all out-spokeness, frankness, blunt, assured and plain (speaking).”
3.      That the Word “spoken boldly” will be confirmed by “healings, signs and wonders performed through the Name of You holy servant Jesus.” [4.30]  This was promised by Christ in Mark 16.20.  Today, as the Word is now complete, our confirmation is through that revealed Word.  Those who hear it from us can either accept it or reject it.  The miracle of preserved revelation IS our confirmation!

This powerful prayer had immediate RESULTS.  In 4.31 we see those immediate results;

·         The place was shaken
·         They were all filled with the Holy Spirit
·         They continued to speak the Word of God
·         That continuance was with BOLDNESS!

Not only were there immediate results, in 4.32 – 37, we see long term positive consequences:

·         The entire congregation was of one heart and soul
·         They had all things in common
·         The Apostles continued to give their testimony of the resurrection of Jesus Christ
·         Great grace was on them all
·         There was not a needy person among them
·         Land owners sold their land and gave the proceeds to the church
·         The Apostles distributed these funds according to the various needs in the congregation
·         God rose up Barnabas as an encourager

We can positively conclude that in our spiritually perilous times that we should pray for the ability to SPEAK God’s Word, to speak it OUTSPOKENLY, FRANKLY, BLUNTLY, ASSSURADLEY, AND PLAINLY, AND for God to confirm our words by the Scriptures rightly divided.  May our prayers be as the Apostles!

NOTE: Picture is a free public domain image of the "Jerusalem Cross"

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

David's Lamentation


We are studying through II Samuel at the Archdale church of Christ right now.  Last Sunday night our lesson covered the tragic death of King David's son, Absalom.  Though a pitiful and ruthless man who sought his father's death, David loved his son and lamented his demise in chapter 18, vs. 32; "And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!"  We are reminded that, as was Absalom, we are worthless and rebellious towards our God, a loving and forgiving Father who loves us despite who we are.  David was willing to die in the place of his son but could not.  God was willing to die in our stead and DID!  Moved by this Scripture, the great American composer, William Billings, produced in 1778 this great hymn entitled simply; "David's Lamentation."  The attached video show how this song was sung on the great American frontier in what is called the "Sacred Harp" style.  It was, as in the New Testament time, sung a-capella (Latin for "as in church") without instrumental intervention.  The time is kept by the raising that lowering of the elbow to hand.  The tune is sung first and then the words in this video as this is how the music was learned on the frontier.  Thanks to one of our sisters at Archdale for sending me the link for the video.  Enjoy and reflect on the Christ who died for you and me though we were in rebellion!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjxaUEyvifU&feature=related

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What Part of ONE Don't People Want to Understand?



WARNING!  This post contains TRUTH, though spoken in LOVE,  which "may" if not accepted,  cause severe anger, physical reactions of high blood pressure, upset stomach and head ache.  If you experience any of these physical reactions, consult and obey the New Testament passages noted until the symptoms pass.  DO NOT consult any denominational doctrines of men, creeds, dogmas, traditions or public opinion as your symptoms will only increase in number and severity.

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” – Acts 4.12 (ESV)

There is a growing divide among God's people.  This divide concerns this question; "Is the church of Christ just another denomination among many or is the church of Christ the singular Body of Christ spoken of in the New Testament as the singular and narrow way of salvation excluding all others?"   "IF" we have "ears to hear," the answer is plain, obvious and clear.  The divide comes from the fact that many among us no longer look to the ancient words of Christ preserved for us in written form by the Holy Spirit for all time and eternity without change.  Granted, many continue to hold that truth is static, understandable and obtainable through the Words of the New Testament.  Sadly, many others have grasped the existential view of truth, that it evolves over time, constantly changes, is at best elusive and is interpreted individually based upon each persons life experiences, stories and perspective.  Which is it?


In Matthew 16.18 Jesus promised to build His church.  Singular.  Not plural, singular.  There were not and are not multiple churches.  There is only one gospel, all others are accursed according to Paul in Galatians 1.6fl.  “IF” there are multiple churches, multiple gospels and multiple ways for salvation, the reason and purpose for the church of Christ vanishes.  “IF” we are just “one among many,” all is lost as a reason to exist.
 
This is a very hard message.  Many today in the Lord’s church are talking about “unity” with “other Christians.”  We must ask the question, “IF” there are “other Christians,” how did they become such and to what church were they added?  In Acts 4, Peter asserts in a detailed and redundant way that there is only “ONE name under heaven by which we must be saved.” 

·         In 4.2 he asserts that there is only:
-      ONE teaching
-      ONE proclamation
-      ONE resurrection
·         In 4.7 he asserts that there is only:
-      ONE power
-      ONE name
·         In 4.10 he asserts that there is only:
-      ONE name
-      ONE crucifixion
-      ONE resurrection
-      ONE man
·         In 4.11 he asserts that there is only:
-      ONE name
-      ONE stone
-      ONE cornerstone

In verses 12 – 20, Peter concludes his assertion of the one way of salvation.  Salvation is found in no one else.  In fact, “IF” there are other ways to salvation other than “repentance and baptism in the Name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins,” (Acts 2.38) then, in contradiction to Peter then there MUST also be: 1) More than one teaching, 2) More than one proclamation, 3) More than one resurrection, 4) More than one power, 5) More than one name, 6) More than one crucifixion, 7) More than just one man, 8) More than just one stone, and, 9) More than just one cornerstone.  By default then we must also conclude that Christ Himself was mistaken when he promised to build just one church.  By default then we must also conclude that Paul was in error when he asserted that there was but one gospel and that other gospels were accursed!  The exclusion of other names given for salvation is 100%.  


The singular gospel of salvation cannot be denied though it very often is rejected along with the proclaimers of that gospel.  The opponents of this singular name, this singular gospel, this singular salvation want this gospel to spread no further and  be spoken and taught no more.  Whether or not this singular gospel is to be spread, be spoken about or taught is for others to judge but we must continue to preach, proclaim and teach this narrow and exclusive gospel message of Jesus Christ!

“What part of ONE don’t people want to understand?”

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Fewer, The Better!


Not many people remember but after Sarah died Abraham married again and fathered 5 sons by Keturah, legally a woman of only concubine status.  One of those 5 sons was a man called Midian.  Midian, in turn,  had 5 sons who became the 5 progenitors of a “people of the east” known as the Midianites.  The Midianites were a nomadic people and lived at times in southeastern Palestine, in the Sinai Desert and southwest Israel alongside the Moabites.

Our first brush with Midian is positive.  Jethro, the father in law of Moses, was a priest of God and was from Midian. Apparently, there were very few God fearers among them, most were idolators.  When it becomes clear that Israel is going to enter Canaan and sweep the land clean of it’s inhabitants, Midian allied herself with Moab and began to militarily confront Israel.  Midian was out to play hardball, a move they would soon live to regret.  In Numbers 25 we learn that the Midianites infiltrated the camp of Israel, seduced both men and women to worship the false god Baal-Peor  which triggered the wrath of God.  A plague ensued upon the people and 24,000 died before the Lord until the plague was stopped by a man known as Phineas.  Phineas was a priest.  In fact he was not just any priest, he was the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron.  When Phineas observed that an Israelite man was taking a Midianite woman into his family circle, he arose and killed both the man and the woman with a spear.  The anger of the Lord was abated and Phineas was rewarded by God with a “covenant of peace” and a “covenant of perpetual priesthood” because he was “jealous for his God and made atonement for the sons of Israel.”  Phineas became the warrior-priest for Israel.  God used him to strike a heavy blow to Midian. 

In Numbers 31, on instructions from God, Moses assembles an army of 12,000 men, 1,000 from each tribe in order to “execute the Lord’s vengeance on Midian.”  This army was led by none other than Phineas.  The Bible says that “every male” was killed from among them including the 5 kings of the five Midianite clans.  Baalam also died, the man who pushed the infiltration idea to start with.  This all took place “on the plains of Moab, across the Jordan, opposite Jericho.  Why, then, some 200 years later are the Midianites again a threat to Israel, now in the land of promise? 

History tells us that the Midianites not only were divided up among 5 tribes, some lived in fortified cities and some lived as roaming nomads in the wilderness.  The city dwellers were the warriors and defenders of their land so the nomadic portion of the people could sustain everyone with their shepherding and trading endeavors.  The nomads survived the slaughter for they were not present at the battle on the plains of Moab.  Over time, the Midianites rebuilt their powerbase and became so strong as to not only threaten Israel once more, they actually conquered Israel and held them under subjection for some 7 years

According to Judges 5, Israel “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and he gave them into the hands of Midian seven years.” (6.1 NASB)  Midian allied themselves with the dreaded and hated Amalekites and suppressed Israel in ways that are hard to imagine.  Israel was suppressed to such an extent that they abandoned their property and lived in caves while the enemy ravaged the land.  They cried out to God for deliverance and He heard them.  God sent them a deliverer, a man called Gideon whose name means “mighty warrior” or “faller of trees.”  How he delivered Israel is very instructive for us for it shows us an insight into the mind of God as He protects His people and sets them on a path to growth and faithfulness.

About fifty miles southwest of the Sea of Galilee is a place known as the Valley of Jezreel.  It is large and flat, very suitable for large armies of men to gather and fight.  Gideon set up camp overlooking the valley above a place known as “The Spring (or well) of Harod” that gives a continuous source of cold, clear and clean water that flows south and east into the Jordan River.  Today it is known as the “Springs of Gideon” and water STILL flows as it did many thousands of years ago.  Gideon had raised a small army, without weapons by the way, of 32,000 men.[1]  The enemy down in the valley numbered approx. 135,000![2]   Outnumbered nearly 4 to 1, the odds looked “mighty long,” especially in the light of the fact that the enemy was a fully trained and equipped professional military force.  That being the case, God now tells Gideon something spectacular, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, for Israel would become boastful, saying, “My own power has delivered me.” (7.2 NASB)

God first tells all the men who are afraid to just go on home, 22,000 do so.  That leaves 10,000.  God tells Gideon that He is going to “test them.”  Gideon, at Gods direction, brings the men to the Springs of Harod and tests them as to just how they drink the water.  Only those who lie down prostrate and “lap the water up like dogs” are chosen.  All those who knelt down and scooped the water up with their hands were sent home.  This number turned out to be 9,700 leaving a force of 300 men!  NOW God was ready!

We all know what happens next, the 300 men at God’s direction under Gideon blow their trumpets, crash their lamp jars, hold up their torches and cry out at once, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!”   Panic ensues in the ranks of the enemy so as they all flee their camps.  Gideon summons men from Naphtali, Asher and Manasseh and the enemy is pursued and killed, including their two field commander kings, Oreb and Zeeb.  The defeat was massive, 120,000 of the enemy were killed as they fled before Gideon.  In addition, Ephriam is summoned to secure a broad area, cutting off any possibility of retreat .  Later Ephriam routs the remaining whole army of 15,000.   The Bible says in Judges 8.28 that “…Midian was subdued before the sons of Israel, and they did not lift up their heads anymore.” (NASB)  Midian disappears from history.  God delivered Israel from the enemy with only Gideon and 300 men!

This is far more than just very interesting history, it gives us an insight into the mind of God as to what He will do for His Names Sake when he people are threatened or suppressed.  From His ranks he will purge the fearful and the faint hearted leaving only a faithful remnant with whom He will gain a great victory!

By application, when God delivers a congregation of His people who cry out to Him for deliverance, He may choose to separate His people into 3 camps, the Fearful, the Faint-Hearted and the Faithful.  We MUST take heed to make sure we are in the 3rd group, a distinct and tiny minority – a remnant!  As we have just discovered, only less than 1% were ultimately selected to remain in God’s army to attack Midian.  That means that 99% of those called by Gideon failed to make the cut.

·         The Fearful will not inherit a reward in Heaven – Revelation 21:8.  Those Christians that
bury their talents in the ground and refuse to confess Christ before men are fearful and will not gain their inheritance!
·         The Faint-Hearted  - James 4:8 – The fainthearted Christian is one that is apart from God, being a sinner and having an un-pure heart.  He in enjoined to “draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”  Elijah asked the faint hearted Jews on Mt. Carmel; “How long will you halt between two opinions?”  (I Kings 18.21)  The faint-hearted will not be used by God until they repent and return to God.
·         The Faithful – Matthew 25:21 – The faithful servant who has been faithful over a few things will be made ruler over many things! 

Let us all strive to be FAITHFUL in all things so that we will be in “God’s 1% remnant!” as was Gideon and his 300 men!  Those faithful will be used by God to save our congregation so that God can grow His church here in Charlotte!  The remnant will prevail in the struggle!


[1] This according to Judges 7.3
[2] This according to Judges 8.10
NOTE: Picture courtesy of: http://gardenofpraise.com/bibl12s.htm, a publication of the La Vista church of Christ

Thursday, September 22, 2011

"End Times" or the "End of Time?"


The 2nd Temple circa 30 A.D.


A Continuing Exposition of Matthew 24 & Luke 21


As we continue to explore the singular meaning of the Matthew 24 / Luke 21 Mount Olive discourse regarding the two apostolic questions; “When will the Temple be destroyed?” and “What are the signs of your (2nd) coming and the end of the world?” we will fail in our exegesis unless we grasp the fact that this discourse is neither chronological nor sequential in the 21st century mindset.  Christ does not put everything in exact “time sequence” and “chronological” order.  To our way of thinking, He jumps around and gets things “out of order.”  In fact, such chronological and sequential concepts are foreign to the 1st century Jewish way of thinking.  Though many, if not most, of the dialogue is in what we would call “proper sequence,” it is by no means 100% so.  Frankly, such concepts as time, chronology and sequence were not important to the writers of Jewish literature, inspired or otherwise.  What was important was the impact of certain people, places and events in order of importance to God’s long term plan for mankind.  In other words, “correct” chronological and sequential order has little, if nothing, to do with how God communicated His Holy Word to the Jewish people.  As the Littman Co. © says;

The comprehensive study of time, time reckoning, and chronology in ancient Jewish sources demonstrates that the concept of time as an entity or a continuum was entirely absent from ancient Judaism.  Reality and change were conceived in terms of concrete processes.  This stands in contrast with the world view of Greco-Roman culture and its pervasive concept of chronos[1]

This, of course, is not to say that viewing history chronologically is in any way right, wrong or indifferent.  It is to say, however, that the 1st century Jew did not communicate discourse and dialogue in the same way we do 21 centuries later.  Now back to our text(s).

The Jewish revolt that resulted in the complete destruction of the 2nd Temple and the city of Jerusalem in 70 A. D. began in 66 A. D. when 3,000 Romans were lost in battle with the Jews.  The Romans withdrew for a time and then returned with a massive army of 60,000 men made up of the combined forces of the 5th and 10th Legions.  The combined force was commanded by Vespasian moving the 10th southward out of Syria and his son, Titus, pressed north from Egypt with the 5th.  Rome was determined to put down Jewish uprisings for all time and eternity.  When it was all over, the only thing left of Jerusalem was a small Roman garrison camped on top of Mt. Zion where the Temple once stood.  Josephus records a detailed history and archeology has un-earthed a Roman marker dedicating the victory to “Imperial Caesar Vespasian…”  Vespasian led the army to a rout of Jewish opposition in Israel, pushing Jewish forces gradually into Jerusalem which he then began to besiege.  However, he was called back to Rome by his supporters where he was installed as the imperial emperor on 21 December 69 A. D.[2]  In his absence, the siege was temporality lifted and people were able to leave Jerusalem.  Shortly, in the new year, the siege was begun anew under the new commander, Titus.  Titus, on behalf of Vespasian, destroyed the Temple, conquered Jerusalem, killed 1.1 million persons in there, defeated the remnant Jewish garrison at Masada, and ended the revolt.  The events of 70 A. D. had consequences that last until this very day.  Not since the destruction of the Temple have the Jewish people been able to prove what tribe they are from, no person(s) of Levitical linage ancestry are identifiable thus completely destroying the Mosaical sacrificial system.  Everything near and dear to the Jewish mindset and identity as a people was swept away forever.  In fact Jesus said that “…Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled…” – Luke 21:24b (KJV).  Thus it is so, Jerusalem has been fought over and trampled by Gentile peoples from that day until this very day.  As we speak Gentile Arabs possess and control the very Temple Mount that was swept clean of the Temple of God by Titus.  Gentile peoples will continue to fight over this mount until the last trumpet sounds.  The seed of Abraham is now living in Spiritual Israel, the hearts of Christian men and women and His law is no longer written in stone but on the hearts of every faithful Christian!  - TO BE CONTINUED



[1] From the on-line intro to the book Time and Process in Ancient Judaism by Sacha Stern.  See: http://www.littman.co.uk/cat/stern-time.html
[2]  69 A. D. is known as "The Year of the Four Emperors."  Vespasian was proclaimed emperor only after 3 other men temporarily held the Imperial Seat. Nero committed suicide in 68 A. D. In 69 A. D. Galba was assassinated in the Forum by the Praetorian Guard, Otho committed suicide, thirdly, Vitellius was killed by Vespasian's soldiers as they overran Rome.  Interestingly, as his son would do a year later in Jerusalem, Vespasian burned down the Temple of Jupiter which was associated with Vitellius.  The fourth emperor that year, Vespasian, was proclaimed emperor just before years end.
NOTE: For a detailed history of "The War of the Jews" see: http://www.historynet.com/first-jewish-roman-war-siege-of-jerusalem.htm

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

"Popular Religion"



We live in retail times.  Everything is for sale, including religion.  The 12th century Roman Catholic monk, Thomas Aquinas, taught that one's primary access to God was one's own senses - including, according to Thomas, one's own imagination!  How American!  "If you can dream it, you can make it reality!"  We might call this approach, "Popular Religion."   In these days of American jobs being shipped overseas, "popular religion" is one of the last things manufactured here in the states...and boy do we turn out the product!  The message of "popular religion?"  "Come just as I am and leave just as I am!"  No repentance, no confession, no acknowledgement, no baptism, no changed life...God just pats me on the head and tells me "you're o. k., you're not as evil as all those other people!"

The most "popular" church in America today is Joel Osteen's "Lakewood Church" in Houston, TX.  Lakewood boasts a membership of just north of 43,000 people![1]  Just how popular is Joel Osteen?  Popular enough to "put the show on the road!"  People are so wanting to hear Joel's "popular religion" of no change and no obligation that they are willing to pay big bucks just to hear it!  Here’s an advertisement on ticketsnow.com:

Charismatic Lakewood Church pastor and best selling author Joel Osteen is sharing his message with capacity crowds at arenas across the nation.  Fans drive in droves to see Joel Osteen and hear his popular sermons!  Join one of the most famous televangelists for a special night of encouragement, inspiration, and worship!  Buy your Joel Osteen tickets now!(2)

But...what does GOD think of "popular religion?"  Does He endorse it?  Does He accept it?  More importantly, will it SAVE you?  Paul says that "the things written aforetime were written for our learning."  (Romans 15:4)  One of those "aforetimes writings" takes place in I Kings 22 where we get an insight as to the validity of "popular religion" with God.

Due to an un-scriptural marriage (I Kings 8:18) between Judah's King Jehosophat's son, Jehoram, with the daughter, Athalia,  of the pagan queen of Israel, Queen Jezebel, and her lap-dog husband, King Ahab, Jehosophat found himself in a military pact with evil.  This obligated Jehosophat to militarily support whatever military adventure Ahab could dream up.  "I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses." (22:4b ESV)  Thus the two kings decided to attack the Syrians at Ramoth-Gilead.

King Jehosophat, being skeptical of that old fox Ahab, in 22:5; "Inquire first for the word of the Lord."  He wanted God's stamp of approval before he and Ahab started a war.  Ahab, being the pragmatist that he was, was actively seeking a way to fend off such pesky requests.

We think "opinion polls" are new but King Ahab knew all about them.  Not only that, he knew how to manipulate them!  (Imagine, politicians manipulating polling data?!)   In 22:6, the Bible says, that Ahab took an "opinion poll" of "about 400 men" who (here’s a shocker!) ALL told the king that he would succeed!  They universally proclaimed to the king, "Go up, for the Lord will give it into the hand of the king."

This is "popular religion" at it's best, or should we say, at it's worst!  We can almost hear the people say, "Tell the king what he wants to hear and all will go well with you!"  They claimed to be speaking for God (22:11) but Jehosophat was still skeptical!  "Is there not here another prophet of the LORD of whom we may inquire?"  Finally, the reluctant Ahab fesses up!  "There is yet on man by whom we may inquire of the LORD, Micaiah the son of Imlah, but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but evil." (22:8. emphasis mine - RM)  You reckon!?  No wonder Ahab did not include him in the first batch!  He knew what was the likely prophesy to come out of all of this!

As it turns out, the 400 "prophets" were wrong and the lone Micaiah was right!  The combined army of Ahab and Jehosophat was to be defeated by the Syrians.  Not only that, the evil Ahab was killed at Ramoth-Gilead and Jehosophat barely escaped with his life to rule over a devastated and ruined country.  "Popular religion" did not fly on that day nor will it in our day!   Every Sunday in Charlotte, 400 +/- denominational preachers tell their listeners to say the "sinners prayer and receive Christ as their personal savior."[3]  They tell people what they want to hear while entertaining them with instrumental music, art, dance and drama...all without a "word from the LORD!"  What was it that Paul told the Galatians?  "But though we or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed." (Galatians 1:8 (KJV)  "Popular Religion" IS "another gospel!"  It is accursed!

Yes, King Ahab died for his embrace of "popular religion" and will face God one day in judgment still clutching onto it.  WILL YOU?                    



[2] Upcoming Osteen event tickets for a November 4, 2011 event in Cincinnati are priced from $25.00 - $109.00 each!  Via: http://www.ticketsnow.com/joel-osteen-tickets/ 
[3] There is no such thing as the “sinner’s prayer” in Scripture.  For more Bible on this, go to: http://sinners-prayer.info
NOTE: Picture courtesy of: http://en.wikipedia.org

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Let The Lower Lights Be Burning!




S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald, 1958 - 1975[1]
10 November 1975 was a dark, cold and stormy night on Lake Superior just off Cleveland.  As sometimes is the case, 80 mile per hour winds and 30 foot waves sprung up without warning.  The now iconic ship S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald sunk just short of reaching harbor.  All 29 crew were lost without a trace with the cause of the wreck unknown until this day.  She lies in 530 feet of water just 15 nautical miles from the safety of Whitefish Bay.  In her day she was the largest ship ever to sail the Great Lakes. The maritime tragedy, is memorialized by Gordon Lightfoot in his moving 1976 ballad, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.[2]  Such losses of men and ships are nothing new off Whitefish Point.  In fact, from 1816 until 1975 some 240 ships perished![3]  One such loss in the middle of the 19th century moved song writer and missionary singer, Philip Bliss (1838 – 1876) to write a moving hymn; Let the Lower Lights be Burning.  While in Chicago, Bliss heard a preacher tell of a similar tragedy that took place on Whitefish Bay off Cleveland more than a 100 years before.  The preacher told of a ship in a violent storm one stormy night trying to make Cleveland. 
As he drew near, (the captain) shouted to the lighthouse keeper, “Is this Cleveland?”  The lighthouse keeper shouted back, “Quite true, sir!”  The captain asked, “Where are the lower lights?”  The lighthouse keeper said, “They have gone out.  Can you make the harbor?”  The captain replied, “We must, or we will perish!”  With that he sailed his ship into the harbor, passed the lighthouse, missed the channel, and was dashed against the rocks.  It was a terrible tragedy.  Many people were killed.  The preacher brought the story home with these words; “Brothers and sisters, the Master will take care of the lighthouse.  Let US keep the lower lights burning!”[4]    
The prospect of a shipwreck due to extreme weather and darkness is clearly revealed to us in Acts 27:39 – 44.  Life knows few terrors more desperate than a shipwreck in the dark of night.  We can easily visualize such trauma by remembering the opening scenes of the Disney classic Swiss Family Robinson.  The Edmund Fitzgerald had radar and she knew her heading but the storm was just too great to overcome. In years past, before the advent of radar and sonar, ships had to rely on lighthouses at the harbor entries for direction.  These lighthouses had both upper and lower lights.  The upper light is what we normally think of when we think about lighthouses.  It is that light up top of the large brick structure that shines several miles out to sea.  It gave general direction to ships seeking harbor.  However, the upper lights by themselves became useless when the ships drew close.  They would be blind without the “lower lights burning.”
Just what are the “lower lights?”  The “lower lights are those lights in those buildings surrounding the harbor illuminating the narrow channel and entrance to the safety of the harbor, where the wind and the waves subside, eliminating the terror and danger of the open sea.  Without the “lower lights burning,” the helmsman is blind and in grave danger.  “Light” is biblically linked to safety and salvation.  It is the singular most visible attribute of God Himself!  It is our duty and privilege as Christians to carry the light of God’s saving gospel to a lost and dying world, much like those who bravely man the “lower lights along the shore.”  As the upper light and the lower lights strive together to bring the lost and stranded sailor to the safety of the harbor, so it is with God and His children.
In Scripture, the primary Hebrew word for “light” is or which means “illumination in every sense including lightning, happiness, bright, clear, day, morning, sun.” [5] [See Exodus 10:23, Psalms 27:1 et. al.]
The primary Greek word for “light” is phos which means to “shine or make clear by rays, fire or light.”[6]  [See I john 1:5, John 8:12, Matthew 5:14 et. al.]
Metaphorically speaking, God provides the “upper light” of salvation which we then carry to a lost and dying world as His “lower lights.”  The essence of these thoughts are all covered by Paul’s wonderful words in II Corinthians 4:4 – 7 where Paul uses “light” to describe both the glory and the Word of God, God Himself and the Light of knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ, light that is then distributed by jars of clay!  My friend, you and I are “lower lights” housed in “jars of clay” lining the harbor of God’s salvation!
Jesus Christ, the (upper) Light of the World, gives us the His gospel through the light of the knowledge of His Word & then gives us (lower lights) “…all authority to speak, exhort, rebuke and to be disregarded by no one!”  (Titus 2:15 (ESV)  “Let the lower lights be burning, send a gleam across the wave.  Some poor fainting, struggling seaman, you may rescue, you may save!”                          
[The gospel of Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 15) is the fact that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins, that He was buried, that He rose on the 3rd day and appeared to over 500 witnesses.  The free gift of God's salvation through Jesus Christ is available to all who HEAR the Word of God (Romans 10:17), who BELIEVE that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God (John 8:24), who REPENT of all sin (Luke 13:3, Acts 2:38), who CONFESS that Jesus is the Son of God before witnesses (Matthew 10:32), who are BAPTIZIED in the Name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38) and who LIVE FAITHFULLY from that point forward until death (I John 1:7).]




[1] Photo from the Minnesota Historical Society via: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Edmund_Fitzgerald




[4] http://ussboston.org/shore.html


[5] According to Strong’s via http://e-sword.com


[6] Ibid.

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