The Greatest Gift

Greatest-Gift

God is a giver, not a taker. Throughout Scripture, we find evidence of His great generosity towards His creation. From the beginning of time as we know it, when He called forth Creation — when He gave existence to things that had never before existed — we can see the true heart of God. He literally gave of Himself to make each one of us. “The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7).

The very nature of God is to give, to create, and to bless His creation. Unfortunately, many of us are so self-absorbed and greedy for gain that we do not even have the eyes to see the countless gifts that God has already worked into our lives. Yet, God wants us to be givers too. He created us to be like Him – to pour of ourselves into other people, and to reciprocate His love for us. God created us with the power to be able to give back to Him! When I really stop and think about this, it truly amazes me – that God – the sum of ALL good things, who holds ALL power and authority, would humble Himself in this way.

He didn’t make himself entirely independent of His creation, or set Himself up as a mere casual observer of humankind, though He certainly had the power to do so. Instead, He allowed Himself to love us to the point where our returned love would be a blessing to Him. Each one of us, little and insignificant as we are, has been given the profound gift of the ability to bring joy to the heart of God. It is extremely humbling to me, when I stop and consider that God has thus set the laws of His creation into motion. That the One who is Love personified, would actually be blessed by the love that I could offer Him. This is the greatest gift of all, and it is given to every human being who has ever lived or will live–the ability to give of ourselves to God and to each other. Without this gift, life would be very empty indeed.

Bible Says Christmas Is Time of Blessing

In the mad rush of the holiday season, the true meaning of giving is often forgotten. What is meant to be a time of blessing and joy becomes instead, a time of stress and depression. Recently, as I was praying for the church and the nations of the world, a great sorrow began to rise up inside of me. God has placed so many gifts within His church. Each member of the Body of Christ has been given strategic giftings and a unique place that none other can fulfill in quite the same way. Yet, so many are not moving into their rightful place. They are afraid to use their gifts, or they think their gifts are insignificant. Many are secretly hurt and angry at God because they feel they haven’t been given anything remarkable. They mistake God’s anointing and talent in certain individuals as a sign of God’s approval of those people, and they assume their “lack” is a sign that God doesn’t love them as much as He loves others…that God is somehow “prouder” of other people than He is of them. Because of this fear and resentment, they are crippled in taking their proper place in God’s kingdom, falling short of the gift they were created to be.

Others are busily using their gifts, and by their own efforts are successful in the eyes of the world. Maybe they have a thriving ministry. Maybe they are making good money. Maybe they have the respect and admiration of those around them. This doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that their actions are a blessing to the heart of God, or that they are even obeying what God has told them to do. Ecclesiastes 4:4 says, “4 Again, I saw that for all toil and every skillful work a man is envied by his neighbor. This also is vanity and grasping for the wind.” Many are so busy creating their own kingdoms, that the kingdom of God suffers a great lack. Their pride and busy occupations have blocked the measure of their true worth in God’s kingdom.

19 “For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.” (Romans 8:19-22). There is so much work to be done, and so few who are willing to do it. John 4:35-36 says, “Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! 36 And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.” God intends both the sower and the reaper to share the same joy of the harvest. There should be no competition among God’s faithful servants, no jostling each other for the “prime” positions, no envy or personal ambition. If we truly love the Lord, our only goal should be to bless Him, to serve Him, and to advance His kingdom.

As I was praying, I saw a vision of the Lord, manifested in the person of someone I love very much. In the vision, I saw this person laying in bed, exhausted after a hard day’s work. The Lord said to me “What do you think she would like right now? How could you bless her?” I could instantly see that a cup of hot tea and a home-cooked meal would be just as much, if not more of a blessing to her than whatever big, distant work I could conjure up to show her my love. Immediately, I could see what God was trying to show me. We are created like Him. If we appreciate a “small” gift given in love more than the fanfare of a “big” gift given in insincerity, how much more does God?

As the vision continued, I could see Jesus sitting alone by a road with people running up and down it. They were all very busy. Some were stopping and chatting with Him for a moment here and there, but as I overheard their conversations, they were mostly to inform Jesus of what they wanted from Him, or what they were going to do for Him. One man in particular ran up to Him. “Oh, Jesus, I’m so excited,” he cried. “I’m off to tell the world all about you!” Quickly he ran off before Jesus could say anything at all. My heart broke, as I saw Him there, sitting by Himself. Yes, He wanted to bless those people with things beyond their wildest imagination. Yes, He wanted them to find fulfillment in serving Him. But what He really wanted most of all was for those people to come and sit with Him and talk awhile…to hold His hand and look deep into His eyes…to share their dreams and sorrows, and to hear His joys and sorrows…to let Him simply give His love to them. In all their mad rush to give and get, they missed the greatest treasure of all, sitting right in front of them.

So much of what we do for God is with mixed motives for our own personal fulfillment. We all want to have a purpose and reason for living. We all hope that if we were to die tomorrow, we would leave a legacy of some kind behind us. Yet for most of us, this becomes the end to which we live. Sadly, when we make anything other than God our reason for living, that thing will become an idol in our lives. Even if it is a good thing, like a ministry or a mate, it can still never fulfill us because it wasn’t designed to. It simply can’t! It doesn’t even have the ability to fulfill. In fact, those idols will begin to work against us, and cause us to suffer spiritual barrenness. They will put us on a treadmill until we become broken-hearted and exhausted trying to keep it all alive. On the other hand, if we receive them simply as the gifts they are and continue to love God first in our lives, we will be given the ability to enjoy them, for this too is a gift. Ecclesiastes. 3:13 says, “13… and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor—it is the gift of God.” The key is simply too: “33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33).

When all is said and done, only those things which were done “as unto the Lord” will count for anything. In God’s eyes, there are no “big” or “small” things done for His Kingdom. All He asks of us is to obey Him in what He tells us to do. Let us follow through and obey Him, whether His commands seem great or small. After all, it is Jesus we are talking about here! The One who left His home in glory to bleed and die a humiliating and painful death for each one of us – the One who made Himself vulnerable to us, by giving us the ability to bless Him or hurt Him. As we obey Him, we bring such joy to His heart! Then His joy, which is a strength to the spirit of man, becomes our joy as well. God is not impressed, nor is He blessed by the best of our works done in self. He is only impressed by the attitude of our hearts.

As we look around the world this holiday season, let us stop and consider Who’s birthday we are celebrating. Let us not forget to offer sincere thanks to our precious, precious Lord for His many blessings in our lives. And let us show our thankfulness by our actions! Let us offer the same mercy that God has given us to those around us. Let us press deeper into the heart of God, that we may have something to offer this world besides the same old cycle of greed, pride and rebellion. Let us not be ashamed to become the servant of all, showing our love for God by laying down our rights, our plans, our time and money for the sake of others. Let us demonstrate our love to God by giving Him the very things we are afraid to lay down, trusting that He has the best plan for our lives and would never use or abuse us. Let us truly fulfill the greatest commandment, which is to “Love the Lord our God with all our mind, soul, and strength; and to love our neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). Each of us is destined to make a profound difference in the world. Let us not fall short of our destinies! Let us give the greatest Christmas gift that we have been afforded to give; one that we can give year-round – to bless the heart of God!

If you do not know God the way you want to, you can receive the gift of knowing Him right now. Simply pray to Him from your heart and ask Him to forgive you for your sins and turning your back on Him. Romans 10:9: “8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): 9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Ask Him to come into your life and make you a new person, born of His spirit. You can give to Him a gift He considers more dear than anything else in the world – yourself. In return, you will receive eternal life with Him, which begins the moment you are born again. May God bless all of you richly as you seek to give unto Him your all.

If you just prayed to ask God into your heart, or you would like to know more about becoming a Christian, please visit the link on becoming born again.

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The Plain Truth About Christmas

The Plain Truth About Christmas

I don’t want to seem like a Grinch, but what bothers me about this time of year is how we (the human race) celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Instead of celebrating His birth, we are too busy celebrating a pagan holiday, not the truth.

So, where did we get Christmas? . . . from the Bible, or paganism?

Here are the astonishing facts which may shock you! Test yourself. How much do you know of the origin of the Christmas tree—of “Santa Claus”—of the mistletoe—holly wreath—of the custom of exchanging gifts?

WHEN I was a very little boy, I was taught to hang up my stockings on Christmas eve. When I was awakened the next morning, they were filled with small toys and sacks or little boxes of candy and nuts. And beside the mantle, from which my stockings hung, a Christmas tree has suddenly appeared, decorated with shiny tinsel. And on it hung presents. Other presents for us children were piled on the floor underneath. I was told Santa Claus had come down the chimney during the night and left all these things.

But did I question what my parents told me? Of course not. I accepted it—took it all for granted. Didn’t you?

Stop and think a moment! Very few have ever reflected on why they believe what they do—why they follow the customs they do, or from where those customs came. We were born into a world filled with customs. We grew up accepting them without question.

Why? Sheep instinct? Well, not exactly.

But by nature we do tend to follow the crowd, whether right or wrong. Sheep follow others to the slaughter. Humans ought to check up where they are going.

How—when did Christmas originate?

Does Christmas really celebrate the birthday of Christ? Was Jesus born on December 25th?

Did the original apostles, who knew Jesus personally and were taught by Him, celebrate His birthday on December 25th? Did they celebrate it at all?

If Christmas is the chief of the Christian holidays, why do so many non-Christians observe it? Do you know?

Why do people exchange presents with family members, friends, relatives at Christmas time? Was it because the wise men presented gifts to the Christ-child? The answer may surprise you.

Most people have “supposed” a lot of things about Christmas that are not true. But let’s quit “supposing” and get the facts!

What Encyclopedias Say

The word “Christmas” means “Mass of Christ,” or, as it came to be shortened, “Christ–Mass.” It came to non-Christians and Protestants from the Roman Catholic Church. And where did they get it? NOT from the New Testament—NOT from the Bible—NOT from the original apostles who were personally instructed from Christ—but it gravitated in the fourth century into the Roman Church from paganism.

Since the celebration of Christmas has come to the world from the Roman Catholic Church, and has no authority but that of the Roman Catholic Church, let us examine the Catholic Encyclopedia, 1911 edition, published by that church. Under the heading “Christmas,” you will find:

“Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church . . . the first evidence of the feast is from Egypt.” “Pagan customs centering around the January calends gravitated to Christmas.”

And in the same encyclopedia, under the heading “Natal Day,” we find that the early Catholic father, Origen, acknowledged this truth: “. . . In the Scriptures, no one is recorded to have kept a feast or held a great banquet on his birthday. It is only sinners [like Pharaoh and Herod] who make great rejoicings over the day in which they were born into this world” (emphasis mine).

Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1946 edition, has this: “Christmas (i.e., the Mass of Christ). . . . Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the church. . . .” It was not instituted by Christ or the apostles, or by Bible authority. It was picked up afterward from paganism.

The Encyclopedia Americana, 1944 edition, says: “Christmas. . . . It was, according to many authorities, not celebrated in the first centuries of the Christian church, as the Christian usage in general was to celebrate the death of remarkable persons rather than their birth. . . .” (The “Communion,” which is instituted by New Testament Bible authority, is a memorial of the death of Christ.) “. . . A feast was established in memory of this event [Christ’s birth] in the fourth century. In the fifth century the Western Church ordered it to be celebrated forever on the day of the old Roman feast of the birth of Sol, as no certain knowledge of the day of Christ’s birth existed.”

Now notice! These recognized historical authorities show Christmas was not observed by Christians for the first two or three hundred years—a period longer than the entire history of the United States as a nation! It got into the Western, or Roman Church, by the fourth century AD. It was not until the fifth century that the Roman Church ordered it to be celebrated as an official Christian festival!

Jesus Not Born December 25th

Jesus was not even born in the winter season! When the Christ-child was born “8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night,” (Luke 2:8). This could never have occurred in Judaea in the month of December. The shepherds always brought their flocks from the mountainsides and fields and corralled them not later than October 15, to protect them from the cold, rainy season that followed that date. Notice that the Bible itself proves, in Song of Solomon 2:11 and Ezra 10:9, 13, that winter was a rainy season not permitting shepherds to abide in open fields at night.

Song of Solomon 2:11 (NKJV)
11 For lo, the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone.

Ezra 10:9 (NKJV)
9 So all the men of Judah and Benjamin gathered at Jerusalem within three days. It was the ninth month, on the twentieth of the month; and all the people sat in the open square of the house of God, trembling because of this matter and because of heavy rain.

Ezra 10:13 (NKJV)
13 But there are many people; it is the season for heavy rain, and we are not able to stand outside. Nor is this the work of one or two days, for there are many of us who have transgressed in this matter.

“It was ancient custom among Jews of those days to send out their sheep to the fields and deserts about the Passover (early spring), and bring them home at commencement of the first rain,” says the Adam Clarke Commentary (Vol. 5, page 370, New York ed.)

Continuing, this authority states: “During the time they were out, the shepherds watched them night and day. As . . . the first rain began early in the month of Marchesvan, which answers to part of our October and November [begins sometime in October], we find that the sheep were kept out in the open country during the whole summer. And, as these shepherds had not yet brought home their flocks, it is a presumptive argument that October had not yet commenced, and that, consequently, our Lord was not born on the 25th of December, when no flocks were out in the fields; nor could He have been born later than September, as the flocks were still in the fields by night. On this very ground, the nativity in December should be given up. The feeding of the flocks by night in the fields is a chronological fact. . . . See the quotations from the Talmudists in Lightfoot.”

Any encyclopedia, or any other authority, will tell you that Christ was not born on December 25. The Catholic Encyclopedia frankly states this fact.

The exact date of Jesus’ birth is entirely unknown, as all authorities acknowledge—though if I had space in this blog I could show you Scriptures which at least strongly indicate that it was in the early fall—probably September—approximately six months after Passover.

If God had wished us to observe and celebrate Christ’s birthday, He would not have so completely hidden the exact date.

How This Pagan Custom Got into the Church

Then how did this pagan custom creep into the Western Christian world?

The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge explains clearly, in its article on “Christmas”: “How much the date of the festival depended upon the pagan Brumalia (Dec. 25) following the Saturnalia (Dec. 17-24), and celebrating the shortest day in the year and the ‘new sun,’ . . . cannot be accurately determined. The pagan Saturnalia and Brumalia were too deeply entrenched in popular custom to be set aside by Christian influence. . . . The pagan festival with its riot and merrymaking was so popular that Christians were glad of an excuse to continue its celebration with little change in spirit and in manner. Christian preachers of the West and the Near East protested against the unseemly frivolity with which Christ’s birthday was celebrated, while Christians of Mesopotamia accused their Western brethren of idolatry and sun worship for adopting as Christian this pagan festival.”

Remember, the Roman world had been pagan. Prior to the fourth century, Christians were few in number, though increasing, and were persecuted by the government and by pagans. But, with the advent of Constantine as emperor, who made his profession of Christianity in the fourth century, placing Christianity on an equal footing with paganism, people of the Roman world began to accept this now-popular Christianity by the hundreds of thousands.

But remember, these people had grown up in pagan customs, chief of which was this idolatrous festival of December 25th. It was a festival of merrymaking, with its special spirit. They enjoyed it! They didn’t want to give it up! Now this same article in the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge explains how the recognition by Constantine of Sunday, which had been the day of pagan sun worship, and how the influence of the pagan Manichaeism, which identified the SON of God with the physical SUN, gave these pagans of the fourth century, now turning over wholesale to “Christianity,” their excuse for calling their pagan-festival date of December 25th (birthday of the SUN-god) the birthday of the SON of God.

And that is how “Christmas” became fastened on our Western world! We may call it by another name, but it’s the same old pagan sun-worshipping festival still! The only change is in what we call it! You can call a rabbit a “lion,” but it’s still a rabbit, just the same.

Again from the Encyclopaedia Britannica: “Certain Latins, as early as 354, may have transferred the birthday from January 6th to December 25, which was then a Mithraic feast, the birthday of the unconquered SUN . . . The Syrians and Armenians, who clung to January 6th, accused the Romans of sun worship and idolatry, contending . . . that the feast of December 25th, had been invented by disciples of Cerinthus. . . .”

The Real Origin of Christmas

But if we got Christmas from the Roman Catholics, and they got it from paganism, where did the pagans get it? Where, when, and what was its real origin?

It is a chief custom of the corrupt system denounced all through Bible prophecies and teachings under the name of Babylon. And it started and originated in the original Babylon of ancient Nimrod! Yes, it stems from roots whose beginning was shortly this side of the Flood!

Nimrod, grandson of Ham, son of Noah, was the real founder of the Babylonish system that has gripped the world ever since—the system of organized competition—of man-ruled governments and empires, based upon the competitive and profit-making economic system. Nimrod built the tower of Babel, the original Babylon, ancient Nineveh, many other cities. He organized the world’s first kingdom. The name Nimrod, in Hebrew, is derived from “Marad,” meaning “he rebelled.”

From many ancient writings, considerable is learned of this man, who started the great organized worldly apostasy from God that has dominated this world until now. Nimrod was so evil, it is said he married his own mother, whose name was Semiramis. After Nimrod’s untimely death, his so-called mother-wife, Semiramis, propagated the evil doctrine of the survival of Nimrod as a spirit being. She claimed a full-grown evergreen tree sprang overnight from a dead tree stump, which symbolized the springing forth unto new life of the dead Nimrod. On each anniversary of his birth, she claimed, Nimrod would visit the evergreen tree and leave gifts upon it. December 25th was the birthday of Nimrod. This is the real origin of the Christmas tree.

Through her scheming and designing, Semiramis became the Babylonian “Queen of Heaven,” and Nimrod, under various names, became the “divine son of heaven.” Through the generations, in this idolatrous worship, Nimrod became the false Messiah, son of Baal the Sun-god. In this false Babylonish system, the “Mother and Child,” (Semiramis and Nimrod reborn), became chief objects of worship. This worship of “Mother and Child” spread over the world. The names varied in different countries and languages. In Egypt, it was Isis and Osiris. In Asia, Cybele and Deoius. In Pagan Rome, Fortuna and Jupiterpuer. Even in Greece, China, Japan, Tibet is to be found the counterpart of the Madonna, long before the birth of Christ!

Thus, during the fourth and fifth centuries, when the pagans of the Roman world were “accepting” the new popular “Christianity” by hundreds of thousands, carrying their old pagan customs and beliefs along with them, merely cloaking them with Christian-sounding names, the Madonna and “Mother and Child” idea also became popularized, especially at Christmas time. Every Christmas season you’ll hear sung and chanted dozens of times the hymn “Silent Night, Holy Night,” with its familiar “Mother and Child” theme. We, who have been born in such a babylonish world, reared and steeped in these things all our lives, have been taught to revere these things as holy, and sacred. We never questioned to see where they came from—whether they came from the Bible, or from pagan idolatry!

We are shocked to learn the truth—some, unfortunately, take offense at the plain truth! But God commands His faithful ministers, ” Cry aloud, spare not; Lift up your voice like a trumpet; Tell My people their transgression, And the house of Jacob their sins.” (Isaiah 58:1) Shocking as these facts are, they are the plain facts of history and the Bible!

The real origin of Christmas goes back to the ancient Babylon. It is bound up in the organized apostasy with which Satan has gripped a deceived world these many centuries! In Egypt, it was always believed that the son of Isis (Egyptian name for “Queen of Heaven”) was born December 25th. Paganism celebrated this famous birthday over most of the known world for centuries before the birth of Christ.

December 25th is not the birthday of Jesus the true Christ! The apostles and early
true Church never celebrated Christ’s birthday at any time. There is no command or instruction to celebrate it in the Bible—rather, the celebrating of birthdays is a pagan, not a Christian custom, believe it or not!

Thus the ancient idolatrous “Chaldean Mysteries,” founded by this wife of Nimrod, have been handed down through the pagan religions under new Christian-sounding names.

Origin of Holly Wreath, Mistletoe, Yule Log

Now, where did we get this mistletoe custom? Among the ancient pagans the mistletoe was used at this festival of the winter solstice because it was considered sacred to the sun, because of its supposed miraculous healing power. The pagan custom of kissing under the mistletoe was an early step in the night of revelry and drunken debauchery—celebrating the death of the “old sun” and the birth of the new at the winter solstice. Mistletoe, sacred in pagan festivals, is a PARASITE!

Holly berries were also considered sacred to the sun-god. The Yule log is in reality the “sun log.” “Yule” means “wheel,” a pagan symbol of the sun. Yet today professing Christians speak of the “sacred yule-tide season!”

Even the lighting of fires and candles as a Christmas ceremony is merely a continuation of the pagan custom, encouraging the waning sun-god as he reached the lowest place in the southern skies!

The Encyclopedia Americana says: “The holly, the mistletoe, the Yule log . . . are relics of pre-Christian times.” Of paganism!

The book Answers to Questions, compiled by Frederick J. Haskins, found in public libraries, says: “The use of Christmas wreaths is believed by authorities to be traceable to the pagan customs of decorating buildings and places of worship at the feast which took place at the same time as Christmas. The Christmas tree is from Egypt, and its origin dates from a period long anterior to the Christian Era.”

What About Santa Claus?

Surely dear old Santa Claus is not a creature of pagan birth? But he is, and his real character is not so benevolent and holy as many suppose!

The name “Santa Claus” is a corruption of the name “St. Nicholas,” a Roman Catholic bishop who lived in the 5th century. Look in the Encyclopedia Britannica, volume 19, pages 648-649, where you’ll read: “St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra, a saint honored by the Greeks and Latins on the sixth of December. . . . A legend of his surreptitious bestowal of dowries on the three daughters of an impoverished citizen . . . is said to have originated the old custom of giving presents in secret on the eve of St. Nicholas [Dec. 6], subsequently transferred to Christmas day. Hence the association of Christmas with Santa Claus. . . .”

Through the year, parents punish their children for telling falsehoods. Then, at Christmas time, they themselves tell their little children this “Santa Claus” lie! Is it any wonder many of them, when they grow up and learn the truth, begin to believe God is a myth, too?

Is it Christian to teach children myths and falsehoods? God says 16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16) It may seem right, and be justified by human reason, but God says “12 There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.” (Proverbs 14:12) “Old Nick” also is a term for the devil! Is there a connection? Satan appears as an “angel of light,” to deceive! (II Corinthians 11:14; Revelation 12:9)

2 Corinthians 11:14 (NKJV)
14 And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.

Revelation 12:9 (NKJV)
9 So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

And so when we examine the facts, we are astonished to learn that the practice of observing Christmas is not, after all, a true Christian practice, but a Pagan custom—one of the ways of Babylon our people have fallen into!

What the Bible Says About the Christmas Tree

But if the Bible is silent about telling us to observe Christmas, or recording any such observance by the apostles or early true Church, it does have something to say about the Christmas tree!

This will come as a real surprise to many. But here it is:

Jeremiah 10:2-6, “2 Thus says the Lord, Do not learn the way of the Gentiles. . . . For the customs of the peoples are futile; . . . For one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails and hammers so that it will not topple.”

There is a perfect description of the Christmas tree, termed by the Eternal as “the way of the heathen—the custom of the people.” We are commanded not to learn that way or follow it! It is also viewed in this passage as idolatry. The fifth verse shows that these trees cannot speak—cannot walk—must be carried. “Do not be afraid of them, for they [the trees] cannot do evil, nor can they do any good.” They are not gods to be feared. Some people misread this to make it say there is no harm in having a Christmas tree, but that is not what it says.

Is Exchanging Gifts Scriptural?

But when it comes to the most important part of all in this Christmas observance—the Christmas SHOPPING season—the buying and exchanging of gifts—many will exclaim triumphantly, “Well, at least the Bible tells us to do that! Didn’t the wise men give gifts, when Christ was born?”

Again, we are due for some surprises, when we learn the plain truth. First, let’s look at the historic origin of trading gifts back and forth, then see exactly what the Bible does say about it.

From the Bibliotheca Sacra, volume 12, pages 153-155, we quote, “The interchange of
presents between friends is alike characteristic of Christmas and the Saturnalia, and must have been adopted by Christians from the Pagans, as the admonition of Tertullian plainly shows.”

The fact is, this custom fastened upon people of exchanging gifts with friends and relatives at the Christmas season has not a single trace of Christianity about it, strange though that may seem! This does not celebrate Christ’s birthday or honor it or Him! Suppose someone you love has a birthday. You want to honor that person on his or her birthday. Would you lavishly buy gifts for everyone else, trading gifts back and forth with all your other friends and loved ones, but ignore completely any gift for the one whose birthday you are honoring? Rather absurd, when viewed in that light, isn’t it?

Yet this is exactly what people the world over are doing! They honor a day that is not Christ’s birthday by spending every dime they can scrape together in buying presents to trade back and forth among friends and relatives. But I can say by years of experience that when the month of December rolls around, almost all professing Christians forget to give gifts to Christ and His cause almost altogether! December always is the most difficult month to keep Christ’s work from dying! People are too busy trading gifts back and forth among themselves to think of Him and His Work, it seems. Then, in January and even into February it seems they have to catch up from what they spent for Christmas, so they seldom get back to normal in supporting Christ and His Work before March!

Now consider what the Bible says about giving gifts when Christ was born. It is in Matthew 2:1-11. “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews?’ . . . And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary His mother, and fell down, and worshipped Him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto Him gifts; gold and frankincense, and myrrh.”

Matthew 2:1-11 (NKJV)
Wise Men from the East
2 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”

3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

5 So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:

6 ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
For out of you shall come a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.’ ”

7 Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”

9 When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.

10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Why Gifts Presented to Christ

Notice, they inquired for the child Jesus, who was born KING of the Jews! Now why did they present gifts to Him? Because it was His birthday? Not at all, because they came several days or weeks after the date of His birth! Was it to set an example for us, today, to trade gifts back and forth among ourselves? No, notice carefully! They did not exchange gifts among themselves, but “they presented unto HIM gifts.” They gave their gifts to Christ, not to their friends, relatives, or one another!

Why? Let me quote from the Adam Clarke Commentary, volume 5, page 46: “Verse 11. (They presented unto Him gifts.) The people of the east never approach the presence of kings and great personages, without a present in their hands. The custom is often noticed in the Old Testament, and still prevails in the east, and in some of the newly discovered South Sea Islands.”

There it is! They were not instituting a new Christian custom of exchanging gifts with friends to honor Christ’s birthday. They were following an old and ancient eastern custom of presenting gifts to a king when they come into his presence. They were approaching Him, born KING of the Jews, in person. Therefore custom required they present gifts—even as the Queen of Sheba brought gifts to Solomon—even as many people today take a gift along when they visit the White House for an appointment with the President.

No, the custom of trading GIFTS back and forth does not stem from this scriptural incident at all, but rather, as quoted from history above, it is the continuance of an ancient pagan custom. Instead of honoring Christ, it invariably retards His Work, often sets it back, at the Christmas season every year.

Does It Really Honor Christ?

There are two arguments often used to justify Christmas observance.

1) Many will reason this way: “But, even though the exact date of Jesus’ birth is unknown, should we not select some date to celebrate as His birthday?” The answer is positively NO! Did you not notice the statement quoted from the Catholic Encyclopedia: “Sinners alone, not saints, celebrate their birthdays.” The celebration of birthdays is not a Christian, but a pagan custom, observed by sinners!

2) But, many still reason, “Even so—even though Christmas was a pagan custom, honoring the false sun-god, we don’t observe it to honor the false god, we observe it to honor Christ.”

But how does GOD answer in His Word? “30 Take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them [the pagans in their customs] after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’ 31 You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way; for every abomination to the Lord which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.” (Deuteronomy 12:30-31 NKJV).

God says plainly in His Instruction Book to us, that He will not accept that kind of worship, even though intended in His honor. To Him, He says, it is offering what is abominable to Him, and therefore it honors, not Him, but false pagan gods. GOD says we must not worship Him according to the “dictates of our own conscience”—a term we often hear. But Jesus says plainly, “God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). And what is truth? God’s Word—the Holy Bible—said Jesus is truth (John 17:17); and the Bible says God will not accept worship when people take a pagan custom or manner of worship and try to honor Christ with it.

John 17:17 (NKJV)
17 Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.

Again, Jesus said: ” 9 And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15:9). Christmas observance is a tradition of men, and the commandments of God, as quoted, forbid it. Jesus said, further, ” 9 He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition..” (Mark 7:9)

That is precisely what the millions are doing today. They ignore the commandment of God. He commands, regarding taking the customs of the pagans and using them to honor or worship God: ” 31 You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way.” (Deuteronomy 12:31) Still, most people today take that command of God lightly, or as having no validity whatsoever, and follow the tradition of men in observing Christmas.

Make no mistake! God will allow you to defy and disobey Him. He will allow you to follow the crowd and the traditions of men. He will allow you to sin. But He also says there is a day of reckoning coming. As you sow, so shall you reap! Jesus was the living Word of God in Person, and the Bible is the written Word of God. And we shall be judged, for eternity, by these words! They should not be taken lightly or ignored.

We’re in Babylon, and Haven’t Known It

Christmas has become a commercial season. It’s sponsored, kept alive, by the heaviest retail advertising campaigns of the year. You see a masqueraded “Santa Claus” in many stores. Ads keep us deluded and deceived about the “beautiful Christmas spirit.” The newspapers, who sell the ads, print flowery editorials exalting and eulogizing the pagan season, and its “spirit.” A gullible people has become so inoculated, many take offense when told the truth. But the “Christmas spirit” is created each year, not to honor Christ, but to sell merchandise! Like all Satan’s delusions, it appears as an “angel of light,” is made to appear good. Billions of dollars are spent in this merchandising spree every year, while the cause of Christ must suffer! It’s part of the economic system of Babylon!

We have professed to be Christian nations, but we’re in Babylon, as Bible prophecy foretold, and we don’t know it! “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.”—now soon to fall—is the warning of  Revelation 18:4.

Revelation 18:4 (NKJV)
4 And I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.

This year, instead of gift trading, why not put that money into God’s Work?

HO, HO, HO, MERRY CHRISTMAS! Or is It?

Nigeria - Left for DeadNigeria: Left for Dead
8 May 2015
Shot in the face and left for dead for refusing to deny Christ, Habila has made an incredible recovery. His love for his attackers is no less extraordinary. ‘My prayer is that they will know the truth and be saved,’ he says. ‘I love them.’

 

Below you are about to experience the truth concerning Christian persecution and martyrdom around the world including here in the U.S. This is not fiction, but fact from an organization that has supported martyrs and families of martyrs for almost 5 decades.

Voice of the Martyrs Australia was founded in 1969 and is part of a global partnership of independent missions started through the influence of Pastor Richard Wurmbrand.

Richard Wurmbrand was imprisoned and tortured by communist authorities in his native Romania for 14 years, including three years in solitary confinement. He envisioned a ministry that would focus on the persecuted church, raise a voice on its behalf and provide encouragement and assistance to persecuted Christians.

In 1967, Richard wrote Tortured for Christ, a firsthand account of the brutality he and other Christians suffered under communism. It opened the eyes and hearts of Christians in Western countries who had never heard of the terrible persecution happening to believers living in communist nations. He wrote:

“The message I bring from the underground church is:
‘Don’t abandon us! Don’t forget us! Don’t write us off!
Give us the tools we need! We will pay the price for using them!’”

Richard’s call to ‘remember the persecuted’ led to the establishment of an international ministry to persecuted Christians.

Voice of the Martyrs

Voice of the Martyrs

Throughout the world today, millions of Christians are experiencing persecution for the sake of Christ. Pastors are imprisoned or killed for proclaiming the Gospel in their churches and villages. Young people flee for their lives when their families discover they have converted to Christianity. Believers are beaten, tortured, pursued.

They are falsely accused, threatened, abused, starved, maimed and harassed.

Their homes and churches are burnt down, their Bibles and Christian material confiscated, and their businesses destroyed.

They are expelled from school and college, fired from their jobs, treated as criminals and rebels, forbidden to evangelize, and forced to meet and worship in secret.

What is Christian Persecution?

Wherever Christians go, they experience opposition. But in certain countries, this persecution is particularly severe.

Government policy or practice in some nations prevents Christians from obtaining Bibles and meeting together. Anti-Christian laws lead to harassment or imprisonment of believers for their witness.

Christians in other areas are routinely persecuted by family, neighbours or rebel groups despite the protection the government provides.

In countries such as Colombia and Nigeria, civil wars and other conflicts result in Christians facing opposition for their faith.

Hinduism
Majority-Hindu nations enforce anti-conversion laws, attempting to force new Christians to revert to Hinduism. Evangelists who supposedly perform forced conversions to Christianity are prosecuted. Political groups wanting to establish a purely Hindu nation, such as in India or Nepal, sometimes use violent tactics to try to eradicate Christians from the area.

Communism
Communist governments want control. But they can’t control the rapid growth of Christianity in countries like Vietnam and China. Government restrictions make Christian life and ministry very difficult. Pastors and leaders are arrested, interrogated and imprisoned in an attempt to stop the Church.

Islam
According to more radical streams of Islam, apostasy (rejecting your religion) is a crime that demands the death penalty. When a Muslim converts from Islam to Christianity, they bring shame on their family. They are abandoning their heritage, their very identity. Muslim background believers often face harsh opposition from the government, their family and friends.

The Real Reason for Persecution

Persecution should not surprise us. Jesus tells us that persecution from the world is part of what it means to follow Him.

Jesus says: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you… If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. John 15:18, 20.

Paul writes to Timothy that “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. 2 Timothy 3:12.

Just as Jesus went to the cross, He said, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny
himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the Gospel’s will save it. Mark 8:34-35.

Christians in more hostile nations may live far from us, but as believers we know that we are one with them in Christ’s body. We cannot ignore their suffering. Voice of the Martyrs works to help, love and encourage persecuted Christians in partnership with the church in Australia.

Why are Christians persecuted?

Wherever Christians go, they experience opposition. But in certain countries, this persecution is particularly severe.

Government policy or practice in some nations prevents Christians from obtaining Bibles and meeting together. Anti-Christian laws lead to harassment or imprisonment of believers for their witness.

Christians in other areas are routinely persecuted by family, neighbours or rebel groups despite the protection the government provides.

In countries such as Colombia and Nigeria, civil wars and other conflicts result in Christians facing opposition for their faith.

Hinduism
Majority-Hindu nations enforce anti-conversion laws, attempting to force new Christians to revert to Hinduism. Evangelists who supposedly perform forced conversions to Christianity are prosecuted. Political groups wanting to establish a purely Hindu nation, such as in India or Nepal, sometimes use violent tactics to try to eradicate Christians from the area.

Communism
Communist governments want control. But they can’t control the rapid growth of Christianity in countries like Vietnam and China. Government restrictions make Christian life and ministry very difficult. Pastors and leaders are arrested, interrogated and imprisoned in an attempt to stop the Church.

Islam
According to more radical streams of Islam, apostasy (rejecting your religion) is a crime that demands the death penalty. When a Muslim converts from Islam to Christianity, they bring shame on their family. They are abandoning their heritage, their very identity. Muslim background believers often face harsh opposition from the government, their family and friends.

The Real Reason for Persecution

Persecution should not surprise us. Jesus tells us that persecution from the world is part of what it means to follow Him.

Jesus says: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you… If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. John 15:18, 20.

Paul writes to Timothy that “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. 2 Timothy 3:12.

Just as Jesus went to the cross, He said, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the Gospel’s will save it. Mark 8:34-35.

Christians in more hostile nations may live far from us, but as believers we know that we are one with them in Christ’s body. We cannot ignore their suffering. Voice of the Martyrs works to help, love and encourage persecuted Christians in partnership with the church in Australia.

GET INVOLVED

“Remember the prisoners as if chained with them, those who are mistreated, since you yourselves are in the body also” Hebrews 13:3.

The Lord’s command to remember those in prison is more than mental recollection – it is a call to prayer and action.

FIVE MAIN AIMS

Our Voice of the Martyrs ministry is based on Hebrews 13:3

1. To encourage and empower Christians to fulfil the Great Commission in areas of the world where they are persecuted for sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
2. To provide practical relief and spiritual support to the families of Christian martyrs.
3. To equip persecuted Christians to love and win to Christ those who are opposed to the Gospel in their part of the world.
4. To undertake projects of encouragement, helping believers rebuild their lives and Christian witness in countries where they have formerly suffered oppression.
5. To promote the fellowship of all believers by informing the world of the faith and courage of persecuted Christians, thereby inspiring believers to a deeper level of commitment to Christ and involvement in His Great Commission.

For further information, contact VOM at or go to their website at: https://vom.com.au/

Contact Voice of the Martyrs Australia

Voice of the Martyrs Australia
PO Box 250
Lawson NSW 2783
p: 02 4759 7000
e: info@vom.com.au

In partnership with Christians throughout Australia, Voice of the Martyrs is working to meet the spiritual and material needs of persecuted Christians.

Get involved with us! Find out how you can keep informed, pray, and write to Christian prisoners in this section.

Subscribe Prayer Write to Prisoners Videos Invite a Speaker Volunteer Donate

Voice of the Martyrs

What Are the Seventy Weeks of Daniel?

The “seventy weeks” prophecy is one of the most significant and detailed Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. It is found in Daniel 9. The chapter begins with Daniel praying for Israel, acknowledging the nation’s sins against God and asking for God’s mercy. As Daniel prayed, the angel Gabriel appeared to him and gave him a vision of Israel’s future.

The Divisions of the 70 Weeks

In verse 24, Gabriel says, “Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city.” Almost all commentators agree that the seventy “sevens” should be understood as seventy “weeks” of years, in other words, a period of 490 years. These verses provide a sort of “clock” that gives an idea of when the Messiah would come and some of the events that would accompany His appearance.

The prophecy goes on to divide the 490 years into three smaller units: one of 49 years, one of 434 years, and one 7 years. The final “week” of 7 years is further divided in half. Verse 25 says, “From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’” Seven “sevens” is 49 years, and sixty-two “sevens” is another 434 years:

49 years + 434 years = 483 years

The Purpose of the 70 Weeks
The prophecy contains a statement concerning God’s six-fold purpose in bringing these events to pass. Verse 24 says this purpose is 1) “to finish transgression,” 2) “to put an end to sin,” 3) “to atone for wickedness,” 4) “to bring in everlasting righteousness,” 5) “to seal up vision and prophecy,” and 6) “to anoint the most holy.”

Notice that these results concern the total eradication of sin and the establishing of righteousness. The prophecy of the 70 weeks summarizes what happens before Jesus sets up His millennial kingdom. Of special note is the third in the list of results: “to atone for wickedness.” Jesus accomplished the atonement for sin by His death on the cross (Romans 3:25Hebrews 2:17).

The Fulfillment of the 70 Weeks
Gabriel said the prophetic clock would start at the time that a decree was issued to rebuild Jerusalem. From the date of that decree to the time of the Messiah would be 483 years. We know from history that the command to “restore and rebuild Jerusalem” was given by King Artaxerxes of Persia c. 445 B.C. (see Nehemiah 2:1-8).

The first unit of 49 years (seven “sevens”) covers the time that it took to rebuild Jerusalem, “with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble” (Daniel 9:25). This rebuilding is chronicled in the book of Nehemiah.

Using the Jewish custom of a 360-day year, 483 years after 445 B.C. places us at A.D. 30, which would coincide with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-9). The prophecy in Daniel 9 specifies that after the completion of the 483 years, “the Anointed One will be cut off” (verse 26). This was fulfilled when Jesus was crucified.

Daniel 9:26 continues with a prediction that, after the Messiah is killed, “the people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary.” This was fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The “ruler who will come” is a reference to the Antichrist, who, it seems, will have some connection with Rome, since it was the Romans who destroyed Jerusalem.

The Final Week of the 70 Weeks
Of the 70 “sevens,” 69 have been fulfilled in history. This leaves one more “seven” yet to be fulfilled. Most scholars believe that we are now living in a huge gap between the 69th week and the 70th week. The prophetic clock has been paused, as it were. The final “seven” of Daniel is what we usually call the tribulation period.

Daniel’s prophecy reveals some of the actions of the Antichrist, the “ruler who will come.” Verse 27 says, “He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’” However, “in the middle of the ‘seven,’ . . . he will set up an abomination that causes desolation” in the temple. Jesus warned of this event in Matthew 24:15. After the Antichrist breaks the covenant with Israel, a time of “great tribulation” begins (Matthew 24:21, NKJV).

Daniel also predicts that the Antichrist will face judgment. He only rules “until the end that is decreed is poured out on him” (Daniel 9:27). God will only allow evil to go so far, and the judgment the Antichrist will face has already been planned out.

Conclusion
The prophecy of the 70 weeks is complex and amazingly detailed, and much has been written about it. Of course, there are various interpretations, but what we have presented here is the dispensational, premillennial view. One thing is certain: God has a time table, and He is keeping things on schedule. He knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10), and we should always be looking for the triumphant return of our Lord (Revelation 22:7).

Recommended Resource: Daniel: The John Walvoord Prophecy Commentary by Walvoord & Dyer

Related Topics:

What are the seventy sevens in Daniel 9:24-27?

What is going to happen according to end times prophecy?

Who Needs God With Andy Stanley

Who Needs God Episode 1: “Atheist 2.0”

INTRODUCTION

Americans are migrating away from religion, particularly Christianity, at an unprecedented rate. Once upon a time, Americans believed religion offered solutions. Today, religion is viewed by many as the problem.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. What kind of faith or religion was a part of your upbringing, if any? What has been your experience as an adult with what you were taught as a child to embrace?
  2. Do you agree with the idea that when we move away from something, we are in essence moving toward something else? If so, when it comes to faith, what do you feel  you are moving away from? And as a result, what do you feel you are moving toward?
  3. Andy stated that just because something is unsettling doesn’t mean it isn’t true. What about Christianity unsettles you the most? What about atheism unsettles you the  most?
  4. Do you believe the process of walking away from faith or religion is more personal or more intellectual? Explain.

BOTTOM LINE

Walking away from something moves us in the direction of something else.

Who Needs God Episode 2: “Gods of the No Testament”

INTRODUCTION

Typically, people who don’t believe in God don’t believe in a particular version of God. But what if they have the wrong version? What if you have the wrong version? If you’ve walked away from faith or religion, it could be that your version of god never existed in the first place.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. Where did your view of God originate?
  2. Did you inherit any of the following “growing up gods”? If so, which one(s)?

        Bodyguard god: prevents bad things from happening

On-demand god: honors fair and selfless requests

Boyfriend god: makes its presence known

Guilt god: controls through guilt and fear

Anti-science god: forces trade of the undeniable for the unreliable

Gap god: becomes the explanation for the unexplainable

  1. If at any point in life you decided to walk away from faith or religion, would you say that any of these “growing up gods” contributed to that decision?
  2. To what extent do you associate religion with guilt?
  3. During this episode, Andy said the choice between God and science is a false alternative and that, “If everything were explained and explainable, it would not explain away God.” Do you agree? Why or why not?

BOTTOM LINE

Walking away from a god that never existed doesn’t mean there isn’t one that does.

Who Needs God Episode 3: “The Bible Told Me So”

INTRODUCTION

If the Bible is the foundation of the Christian faith, then as the Bible goes, so goes the legitimacy of Christianity. But what if the Bible shouldn’t hold that much weight in the debate? In this episode, Andy explains that Christianity doesn’t exist because of the Bible any more than you exist because of your birth certificate.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. In the stories you’ve heard from others about their decision to walk away from Christianity, or perhaps in your own story, what have been the reasons? Do any of those reasons  stem from what they’ve been told is true about God or the Bible?
  2. Describe one question or concern you have about something you’ve read or heard about in the Bible. Do you believe it must be resolved in order to further consider Christianity?
  3. How do you think 1st, 2nd, and 3rd century Christians managed to endure significant hardship and effect change in the political landscape of their time without access to a  Bible? What do you think inspired or compelled them forward?
  4. If debates about Christianity no longer centered around Is the Bible true? but shifted to Who is Jesus?, how might the conversation change?

BOTTOM LINE

Christianity doesn’t exist because of the Bible; Christianity exists because of something that happened.

Who Needs God Episode 4: “The God of Jesus”

INTRODUCTION

It’s easy to get caught between doubt and despair when we’ve always assumed God to be bodyguard god, on-demand god, guilt god, etc. If God has lost his appeal because we’ve mixed him up with a gaggle of gods that don’t exist, then how can we know what God is really like?

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. What is your reaction to the conclusion that Christianity isn’t rooted in blind faith, but in observable evidence? Do you agree with Andy that Christianity never would have made it out of the first century otherwise?
  2. Given the evidence for the viability of Christianity as it’s been presented so far in the series, do you think what Jesus had to say about the nature of God is worth considering?
  3. God is Spirit. In your opinion, is it plausible that God as “spaceless, timeless, and immaterial” could be the “first cause” that science is looking for?
  4. God is Father. Is it difficult for you to view God as a perfect father? Why or why not? What is one thing in your life that could change if God became that personal to you?
  5. God is Love. Much like in Andy’s analogy of shade requiring sun in order to exist, do you agree that evil requires good? If so, does that help to explain how God, in his essence,  could be love, despite the existence of evil in the world? What are the holes in that  idea?

BOTTOM LINE

The God of Jesus is Spirit. The God of Jesus is Father. The God of Jesus is Love.

Who Needs God Episode 5: “In-Justice For All”

INTRODUCTION

We all want to rid the world of injustice. But we can only recognize injustice if we know what justice is to begin with. We don’t always agree about what is just. So, who gets to define justice?

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. When have you seen injustice in your world? How did it influence the way you see God?
  2. Do you believe there is an objective standard of “dignity and justice for all”? If so, where do you believe it came from? Do you think it varies from one culture or society to the next?
  3. During the message, Andy said, “When we reject God because of injustice, we don’t solve injustice. We lose the definition.” Do you agree with that statement? Why or why not?
  4. Is it easier to regard pain and suffering in the world as an argument against the existence of God or as a reminder of our need for God? Explain.
  5. Does it make sense why God provided a way to save humanity from its shortcomings instead of choosing to judge humanity for them? Are you glad that God went that route? Why or  why not?

BOTTOM LINE

When we reject God because of injustice in the world, we don’t solve injustice. We lose the definition.

Who Needs God Episode 6: “I Do”

INTRODUCTION

We all want to be masters of our own destinies. We all want to feel in control of our lives. The idea of autonomy is attractive; it makes life feel ordered and predictable. One of the biggest barriers to belief in God’s existence is that we don’t want to need God. But what if autonomy is an illusion?

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. Talk about a time when you admitted you were wrong about something. How difficult was it for you to change your mind? What happened to cause that change?
  2. “People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.” Be honest with yourself: how does this quote by Blaise Pascal  apply to your belief in or rejection of the existence of God?
  3. Assume for a moment that God does exist. What is your reaction to that notion, and how does it make you feel? As Andy describes in the episode, can you relate to feeling guilty,  accountable, or wrong?
  4. If unaccountable people make regretful decisions, to whom would you say you are ultimately accountable?
  5. What if the existence of God brings forgiveness, relationship, and truth? What is attractive or unattractive about each of those ideas?

BOTTOM LINE

Humility makes us wiser, smarter, and open to growth. Humility is the way forward.

The Way of the Cross

14-Carl-Heinrich-Bloch_The-Burial-of-Christ

“We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”

We brought Jesus’ body to a tomb
and I arranged it there myself,
silently weeping, silently rejoicing.
I took one more look at my loving son,                and then walked out.
They closed the tomb
and before I left, I thought,
I knew this had to be…
it had to be for you!
I would wait in faith silently.

Yes, my Lord,
this had to be
because you loved me, and for no other reason.
All you ask is that I live a good life.
You never said such a life would be easy.
I am willing to leave sin behind
and live for you alone,
in my brothers and sisters.

___________________________________

At the cross her station keeping,                                                                                                stood the mournful mother weeping,                                                                                        Close to Jesus to the last.                                                                                                        Through her heart, is sorrow sharing,                                                                                           all His bitter anguish bearing.                                                                                                    Now at length the sword has passed.

The First Station:

 Jesus is condemned to death

(kneel)

All: We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You, because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

(rise)

Reader 1: 14 Now it was the Preparation Day of the Passover, and about the sixth hour. And Pilate said to the Jews, “Behold your King!”

15 But they cried out, “Away with Him, away with HimCrucify Him!”                            Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?”                                                                       The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar!”

16 Then he delivered Him to them to be crucified. Then they took Jesus and led Him away.

John 19:14-16 New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus: Since we left the Garden last night, I’ve been accused by the scribes and elders. I’ve been brought before the High Priest in an illegal trial. I’ve been dragged to Herod’s palace. I’ve been mocked and spat upon by the soldiers. They want Me to die. Pilate had asked what to do with their king and the crowd answered ‘Crucify Him!’

Reader 2: Christ suffered for me. He gave me an example to follow, so I should do as He did. He did not sin, He never lied, people teased Him but He did not tease them in return.

Prayer: My Jesus, it was not Pilate, but my sins that condemned You to die. Help me to accept my own death at the time and in whatever way it comes.

O, how sad and sore distressed                                                                                                     was that mother, highly blessed,                                                                                                    of the sole Begotten One.

The Second Station:

Jesus takes up His cross.

(kneel)

All: We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You, because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

(rise)

Reader 1: 16 Then he delivered Him to them to be crucified. Then they took Jesus and led Him away. The King on a Cross

17 And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha,

John 19:16-17 New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus: When he brought Me in front of the crowd, Pilate said: ‘Ecce Homo!’: ‘Look what you have done to this Man!’ But there seems to be another voice speaking as well. The voice seems to say: ‘Look what you have done to this man, to your God.’

Reader 2: Christ carried my sins in His body on the cross. He did this so that I might stop living for sin, and do what is right. I am healed because of His wounds.

Prayer: My beloved Jesus, I thank you for all the things You have planned for me until my death, even those things that will be hard for me. The road is narrow, but I know it leads to heaven and I know You will be with me, as You promised, until the end of time.

Christ above in torment hangs.                                                                                                     She beneath beholds the pangs                                                                                                       of her dying, glorious Son.

The Third Station:

Jesus falls the first time.

(kneel)

All: We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You, because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

(rise)

Reader 1: 51 And suddenly, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword, struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear.

52 But Jesus said to him, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53 Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels? 54 How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?”

Matthew 26:51-54 New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus: The cross beam is so heavy and painful. Am I so weak from the beatings I received, or is the burden too heavy for me to bear? As I stumble beneath its weight, do you think I might feel an urge to call out to you for help? But I do not call for help, because God’s love for humanity commanded this sacrifice. I obey Him because I, too, love you so dearly.

Reader 2: When I am punished for doing wrong, there is no reason to praise me for bearing the punishment. If  I suffer for doing good, and I am patient, that pleases God.

Prayer: My beloved Jesus, not the weight of the cross, but my sins made You suffer so much pain. And Your love for me gives You the strength to go on.

Is there one who would not weep,                                                                                    ‘whelmed in miseries so deep                                                                                                 Christ’s dear Mother to behold.

The Fourth Station:

Jesus meets His mother.

(kneel)

All: We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You, because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

(rise)

Reader 1: 34 Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against 35 (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

Luke 2:34-35 New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus: I meet My mother along the way of the cross. I can tell from the look in her eyes that My cross has become her cross. My humiliation becomes her humiliation. Perhaps she remembers the words of Simeon when I was dedicated in the Temple according to the Law.

Reader 2: I see Mary in the midst of the Passion. She was closest to Jesus on earth. How often she must have gone over the events of His life in her thoughts. She felt what Jesus was feeling more than anyone else. It must have been like she was crucified with Him. How much she loves Jesus, and how much she must also love us to observe His pain and torment without protest. I look to her for help to grow closer to Jesus.

Prayer: My most loving Jesus, by the sorrow You experienced in this meeting, grant me the grace of a truly devoted love for Your most holy mother. Allow me to see You through her eyes of love.

Can the human heart refrain                                                                                                      from partaking in her pain–                                                                                                             in that mother’s pain untold?

The Fifth Station:

Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus.

(kneel)

All: We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You, because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

(rise)

Reader 1: 21 Then they compelled a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus, as he was coming out of the country and passing by, to bear His cross.

Mark 15:21 New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus: I am getting weaker and weaker, so Simon of Cyrene is pulled out of the crowd to help carry the cross because the soldiers were afraid I would not make it to Calvary. In the confusion, Simon of Cyrene appears at My side as if it were you.

Reader 2: When I see someone who needs help, even if I don’t know them, let me think about what Simon did. His family was rewarded because of what he did. His sons, Rufus and Alexander, knew what their father had done and they believed in Jesus. Later they became leaders in the church.

Prayer: My beloved Jesus, I will not refuse my cross. I will take it and thank You. Give me the strength and compassion to help others in their time of need and bring them to know about Your mercy.

Bruised, derided, cursed, defiled,                                                                                                  she beheld her tender Child                                                                                                             all with bloody scourges rent.

The Sixth Station:

Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.

(kneel)

All: We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You, because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

(rise)

Reader 1: 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink;I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

Matthew 25:34-40 New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus: The steep, narrow streets are hot and dusty. The dust kicked up from the street gets in My eyes and nose. I can taste the dirt. But I keep going. A lady pushes past the soldiers and wipes My face with a cold wet towel.

Reader 2: There are times when I am afraid to reach out to others. I do nothing when I should act. I say nothing when I should speak. I need deeper and more courageous faith to trust that God is with me. In fact, Jesus leaves His image on every single act of love like He did for Veronica.

Prayer: My dear Jesus, Your face was lovely before You began this journey, but it no longer appears beautiful just as the beauty of my soul is soiled by my sins.

For the sins of His own nation                                                                                                      saw Him hang in desolation                                                                                                            till His Spirit forth He sent.

The Seventh Station:

Jesus falls the second time.

(kneel)

All: We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You, because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

(rise)

Reader 1: 35 And the people stood looking on. But even the rulers with them sneered, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God.”

36 The soldiers also mocked Him, coming and offering Him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.”

Luke 23:35-37 New King James Version (NKJV)

All those who see Me ridicule Me;
They showed contempt with their mouth, they shake the head, saying,

“He trusted in the Lord, let Him rescue Him;
Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!”

But You are He who took Me out of the womb;
You made Me trust while on My mother’s breasts.

Psalm 22:7-9 New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus: Since My first fall, I have met some–you, My mother, Simon, and Veronica–who have supported and comforted Me. In spite of their refreshing care, I stumble and the taunts of the crowd start again. But I get up and go on because I love you, and them, so dearly.

Reader 2: If God is with me, then no one can defeat me, no matter how much they tease and make fun of me. Even God’s own Son suffered for me.

Prayer: My most gentle Jesus, how many times You have forgiven me, how many times I have fallen again and begun again offended You? Give me grace so that in all my temptations, I will always turn to You. I love You Jesus with all my heart. I am sorry that I have offended You.

O sweet mother! fount of love,                                                                                                  touch my spirit from above                                                                                                        make my heart with yours accord.

The Eighth Station:

Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem.

(kneel)

All: We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You, because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

(rise)

Reader 1: 27 And a great multitude of the people followed Him, and women who also mourned and lamented Him. 28 But Jesus, turning to them, said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.

Luke 23:27-28 New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus: I see you weeping for Me. Let Me ask you: Do you feel guilty or do you feel pity for Me? What I want is not these, but your heart, your mind, and your life. Show Me your love by loving others more than yourself.

Reader 2: Jesus stopped to comfort others even when He was suffering so much. Could I reach out to someome else even when I am hurting or in trouble? I feel sorry and selfish when I think of the way He loves. I need to pour out my love and be filled with His love.

Prayer: My Jesus, weighed down with sorrows, I weep for the sins which I have committed against You, because of the punishment which I deserve for them, but even more so because of the displeasure they have caused You who has loved me with infinite love.

Make me feel as you have felt                                                                                                    make my soul to glow and melt                                                                                                   with the love of Christ, my Lord.

The Ninth Station:

Jesus falls the third time.

(kneel)

All: We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You, because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

(rise)

Reader 1: 38 Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.”

39 He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.

40 Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? 41 Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Matthew 26:38-41 New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus: For the third time, I fall to the ground. My sweat, blood and tears blend with the dust of the earth just as they did last night in the Garden of Gethsemani. I know how weak human flesh can be. It takes all of My strength and will to go on, but I do because I love you so very much.

Reader 2: Who is this Who has fallen? I don’t expect God to act this way, but There is so much in Jesus’ life and teachings that is not as I expect God to be. He has chosen to go through it all for me!

Prayer: My Jesus, by the weakness You suffered going to Calvary, give me enough strength to ignore other people’s opinions and my own weaknesses which have led me away from Your friendship.

Holy mother, pierce me through,                                                                                                    in my heart each pain renew                                                                                                            of my Savior crucified.

The Tenth Station:

Jesus is stripped of his clothes.

(kneel)

All: We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You, because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

(rise)

Reader 1: 23 Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments and made four parts, to each soldier a part, and also the tunic. Now the tunic was without seam, woven from the top in one piece. 24 They said therefore among themselves, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be,” that the Scripture might be fulfilled which says:

“They divided My garments among them,
And for My clothing they cast lots.”

Therefore the soldiers did these things.

John 19:23-24 New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus: The soldiers ripped off the clothes they threw on Me after they beat Me at Pilate’s palace. All My wounds are torn open again. As I hang naked on the cross, little did they know that I was about to perform the greatest miracle of all time–the salvation of the world.

Reader 2: As Jesus is stripped of His clothes, I know I need to always be aware that I must keep my body and soul pure and clean. I must work to stay pure in my thoughts, words, and actions rather than give in to the world’s view of things which encourages vanity and giving in to all our desires no matter how sinful they may be.

Prayer: My innocent Jesus, by the torments You endured by being stripped of Your garments, help me to strip myself of my attachment toward the things of earth so that I may place all my love in You Who are most worthy of my love.

Let me share with you His pain,                                                                                                 Who for all our sins was slain,                                                                                                   Who for me in torments died.

The Eleventh Station:

Jesus is nailed to the cross.

(kneel)

All: We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You, because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

(rise)

Reader 1: 33 And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father,forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

And they divided His garments and cast lots.

Luke 23:33-34 New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus: The nails piercing My hands and feet as I hang on the cross become My only means of support. Your hands support Me in this final hour when you reach out to help others and when you forgive those who have hurt you.

Reader 2: I can never doubt Jesus’ great love for me when I see Him crucified. I know He gave His life freely for my salvation. He forgave the soldiers even before they had finished their vile work, and even though they did not ask for it. How much more is He willing to forgive me when I am truly sorry for offending Him?

Prayer: My despised Jesus, nail my heart, mind, and soul to the cross. May I always be there to love You and never leave You again.

Let me mingle tears with thee                                                                                              mourning Him who mourned for me,                                                                                           all the days that I may live.

The Twelfth Station:

Jesus dies on the cross.

(kneel)

All: We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You, because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

(rise)

Reader 1: 33 Now when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

35 Some of those who stood by, when they heard that, said, “Look, He is calling for Elijah!” 36 Then someone ran and filled a sponge full of sour wine, put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink, saying, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to take Him down.”

37 And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and thus breathed His last.

38 Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 So when the centurion, who stood opposite Him, saw that He cried out like this and thus breathed His last, he said, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!”

Mark 15:33-39 New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus: As I hang suspended between heaven and earth My eyes and mind clear for one final look at My creation. I see My Mother; whom I love with a special love. I see the disciple whom I love, I ask you take care of My mother. Recall how I said that anyone who does the will of My Father is mother, and brother, and sister to Me. I see each of you; I love you with an everlasting love. Remember that I love you even to My death on the cross.

Reader 2:  Do you remember to take some time each day to think about what Jesus did for you and to thank Him for His wonderful love? Take some time right now to speak to Jesus in your own words. Tell Him of your love for Him (pause for a few moments) . . . . . .

Prayer: My dying Jesus, I deserve, because of my sins, a terrible death, but Your death is my hope. May I die embracing Your cross, burning with love for You, no matter what it costs.

By the Cross with you to stay,                                                                                                     there with you to weep and pray,                                                                                                this I ask of you to give.

The Thirteenth Station:

Jesus is taken down from the cross.

(kneel)

All: We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You, because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

(rise)

Reader 1: 31 Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. 32 Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. 35 And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe. 36 For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, “Not one of His bones shall be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced.”

38 After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus. 39 And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds. 40 Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury.

John 19:31-40 New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus: I was roughly put on the cross. Now I am gently removed from it and placed, for one last time, in My mother’s arms. Perhaps she thinks of those times when she tenderly held Me as a Baby. Perhaps she thinks about the terrible work of the sins of mankind and of the Trinity’s infinite love for human beings.

Reader 2: If only I can learn to see all the good things about people while they are alive. I need to care for them and see that they are happy while they are alive.

Prayer: Jesus my Redeemer, since You died for me, allow me to love You, for I desire only You and nothing more.

Virgin of all virgins blest!                                                                                                          Listen to my fond request:                                                                                                              Let me share your grief divine.

The Fourteenth Station:

Jesus is laid in the tomb.

(kneel)

All: We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You, because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

(rise)

Reader 1: 57 Now when evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. 58 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be given to him. 59 When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed.

Matthew 27:57-60 New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus: At last My place of rest is reached. You have kindly wrapped My body in a cloth and placed it in Joseph’s tomb. But you know this is not the end of the story. I came to bring you hope, not despair.

So, Do not stand at my grave and weep

I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond that glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.

([(c) Mary Elizabeth Frye])

Reader 2: I cannot bury my hope in Jesus’ grave. No matter how hard things seem to be, they could not be more difficult than what Jesus faced in His life. Despite all His suffering, it came out all right–more than all right: He won the greatest victory ever!

Prayer: Oh, my buried Jesus, I am sad while You are in the tomb, but I know that You have left us with hope.

Christ, when You shall call me hence,                                                                                            be Your mother my defense,                                                                                                            be Your cross my victory.                                                                                                           While my body here decays,                                                                                                        may my soul Your goodness praise                                                                                              safe in heaven eternally.

_____________________________________

Death, be not proud, though the whole world fear you
Mighty and dreadful you may seem
but death, be not proud, for your pride has failed you
You will not kill me.

Though you may dwell in plague and poison,
you’re a slave to fate and desperate men;
So death, if your sleep be the gate to heaven,
Why your confidence—
when you will be no more?
You will be no more, you will be no more;
even death will die.

Death, be not proud.
Even death will die.

([(c) 2014 Audrey Assad])

Amen.

The Fifteenth Station:

The Resurrection.

(kneel)

All: We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You, because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

(rise)

Reader 1: 24 Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb. Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. And it happened, as they were greatly perplexed about this, that behold, two men stood by them in shining garments. Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’ ”

And they remembered His words. Then they returned from the tomb and told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.

Luke 24:1-9 New King James Version (NKJV)

Prayer: My risen Jesus, I know that You rose in glory on the third day. I beg You, by Your resurrection that I may rise gloriously to be united with You in heaven; to praise You and love You forever.

——————————————————————-

MY THOUGHTS OF YOU — keithgarrettpoetry

MY THOUGHTS OF YOU The hours that I spend alone are lonely, It is true but they are always bearable because I think of you. They can not be the same as when I look into your eyes, And yet they help to lift my soul and brighten all the skies. There is no thought […]

via MY THOUGHTS OF YOU — keithgarrettpoetry

The Ideal Woman

Let us examine the portrait of an ideal woman designed by God and revealed some 3,000 years ago in Solomon’s book of Proverbs.

It seems that women are very much in the news these days:

  • Leading marches in order to demonstrate their political power and influence.
  • Standing up to and denouncing predators and abusers.
  • Championing the rights of woman to compete fairly in every area of business, politics, sports, entertainment, etc.

On the face of it, it would be hard to find fault with any of these individual initiatives and objectives. Women’s vote should be considered crucial by politicians and women should be judged on their skills and training and not their gender when it comes to employment and opportunity for advancement in any area of endeavor. And we, as a society, should never enable, ignore or defend predators or abusers, no matter how rich or famous or talented they are.

All these issues are logical and just but I can’t help but think that the ultimate goal of these and other movements headed up by women is to erase any difference there may exist between the sexes.

I would go one step further and suggest that there may be some that are hoping that the women’s movement will ultimately lead to a society where women dominate men. I have no idea of exactly how this would work but I am fairly confident that if dominance is the goal, women will eventually be guilted of the same kind of cruel and unjust actions that abusive men have made who sought the same kind of power.

In today’s society it seems that men are encouraged to become more like women and women are demanding to be treated more like men. In addition to this, young people are told that they can explore every shade of gender identity until they find a sexual personification that they feel comfortable with. And we wonder why, according to Psychology Today, the suicide rate among young adults (millennials) has tripled since the 1950’s. And suicide is the second most cause of death among college students.

In answer to this worrying trend and confusion over what is male and female the Bible makes a clear and defining statement: “God created man in His own image, male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). There are only two sexes, they are different and they are meant to be different. As the French say concerning men and women, “vivre la différence!” (long live the difference).

Since I began this lesson referring mainly to women, I’d like to focus on the female gender in defining some of the important characteristics that defines, not just a women, but what defines a Godly women. You see, there is nothing wrong with a women who desires political and economic opportunity, and refuses to be victimized by some abuser. These are all well and good – it’s just that these goals belong to the world and are appreciated only here below.

What I desire for women is that they aim higher, for goals that are above, that belong to the Kingdom of God, not the kingdom of darkness here below. For this reason, I’d like to share with you the portrait of an ideal woman designed by God and revealed some 3,000 years ago in Solomon’s book of Proverbs. In this passage, Solomon indicates some of the qualities possessed by the ideal women who is pleasing to God.

Description of an Ideal Woman – Proverbs 31:10-31

At the end of the book of Proverbs there is a beautiful acrostic poem extolling the virtues of the ideal woman. Acrostic poems are those where each line of poetry begins with subsequent letters of the alphabet. In this poem the writer begins his description by saying one thing about the virtuous woman – She is rare.

10 A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.

Not every woman is like this, he says; just like not every piece of jewelry is precious – pearls are precious because they are rare and hard to find (all jewelry shines but not all are valuable).

A virtuous woman (inner strength) is hard to find, even harder to find than precious Jewels.

What makes her so valuable? – vs.11-12

11 Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.

The writer summarizes her value in describing her relationship to her husband – she is trustworthy. The author tells us that the innate quality that this woman possesses is her trustworthiness. Not just to her husband but as an essential quality that she has as a person (with or without a husband, she is trustworthy).

When you have found a woman like this, you have found a precious stone.

Outward Signs of Inward Qualities – vs. 13-24

In the following verses the author goes on to describe the outward signs that reveal that precious inward quality of trustworthiness.

 She is a good manager and hard worker

13 She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still night;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her female servants.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
And supplies belts to the tradesmen.

The author gives several examples of her hard work and good management.

  • 13 – Cheerful in her work. She doesn’t complain or see her work as a burden.
  • 14 – She uses imagination in preparing food and is a wise shopper, careful with her money.
  • 15 – Manages her responsibilities well in her home. She is “on top” of the situation concerning her affairs.
  • 16; 24 – She has good business sense and knows how to turn a profit. Without sacrificing her home, she is able to use her business talents to the advantage of her home. She doesn’t ruin her home with outside work She builds it up.
  • 17-19 – She is not afraid of hard work and does not waste her time at home. This is a woman who knows the difference between leisure and laziness. She demonstrates that a well-managed home is a profitable enterprise. She understands that “time” is “money” even for the woman who is at home and uses her time at home profitably. A well-managed home is like a second income.
  • 21-23 – By her work at home she contributes to her family’s and her husband’s reputation in the community. Her children are clean, well fed and mannered, as is her husband and this is a reflection of their home, of which she is the manager.

If marriage is a partnership the woman that the author describes here is a good partner to have. So in describing the outward signs that point to the inward quality of the ideal woman the author begins by describing the things that make her a good manger and hard worker.

Good Character and Reputation – vs. 25-27

25 Strength and dignity are her clothing,
And she smiles at the future.
26 She opens her mouth in wisdom,
And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
27 She looks well to the ways of her household,
And does not eat the bread of idleness.

The second outward sign that reveals this trustworthiness is her good character and reputation within her community. Says 4 things about her character:

  • 25 – Kind and generous. James tells us that benevolence to the poor and homeless is the sign of true piety (James 1: 27). She is truly a spiritual woman with a Godly character. She has confidence. She is not afraid of the future (near or far) because her faith and good works cover her with honor and power. She is a person who is at ease in her conscience because her heart and hands are busy doing what is right. She is not guilt ridden or depressed because she is busy giving herself away to others she loves.
  • 26 – She is wise. Her tongue is not for gossip but rather for edification. This is one of my own mother’s qualities and one I have also found in my wife. Both never use their words to destroy always to build others up beginning with myself and our children and then others. This is wisdom from above and the woman of the poem demonstrates that she has this.
  • 27 – She is concerned, but her first and primary concern is her home and family. It is not that she isn’t concerned with the problems of her society (She does help the poor etc.) but the concerns of her home are first. When we take care of our own home first there are usually less problems in the world. She is aware of the needs of her family and the community and concerned about fulfilling them using all of her skills and qualities refined through years of service and practice.

Paul says in I Corinthians 11:3 that the man is the head of woman and consequently the head of the home but Lemuel, the writer of this material, balances out this picture by showing us that the woman is the heart of the home. When the head and the heart are in union with Christ as the Lord of the home, what a wonderful place that home is.

The Rewards of the Ideal Woman – vs. 28-31

In the last few verses the author describes the rewards awaiting such a person and clear signs that she is a virtuous woman. She has this trustworthiness demonstrated by Good stewardship of her home and a Godly character and these bring her rewards:

  1. Her family praises her

28 Her children rise up and bless her;
Her husband also, and he praises her, saying:
29 “Many daughters have done nobly,
But you excel them all.”

Her children are thankful that they have a mother like her – what a reward for a mother, grateful children. Her husband sees her as the best of all women. Suggest his absolute fidelity and devotion.

  1. Her community praises her

Her neighbors, friends and community see her as a woman of value and character.

In the end the author summarizes the true essence of the value of this person.

30 Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain,
But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.
31 Give her the product of her hands,
And let her works praise her in the gates.

Her motivating factors are not beauty or charm (social acclaim) She is a person that fears (respects /obeys) the Lord – this is what motivates her. Her desire to work well, to serve others, to develop a good character are inspired by her basic faith and desire to obey God, who wants all of his daughters to become women of value.

Summary

Notice some of the things that were not mentioned here:

  1. Her looks (skin, hair, weight, height, figure)
  2. Her independence (Not even a question for her)
  3. Her knowledge / education

These were not mentioned not because they are not in themselves important but rather because they did not make her more valuable one way or another.

Notice however what was mentioned as important:

  1. Her work concerning her responsibility towards her husband, family, community (N.T. times = church)
  2. Her attitude of kindness and wisdom
  3. Her confidence and lack of guilt
  4. Her reward of praise from the three groups that she serves: Family / Community

And of course God Himself praises her because she serves Him and He wrote this poem in her honor.

Exhortation

We have extremes in recognizing woman in or society. Either we have a day that honors only those women that have children (Mother’s Day) or the various organizations that promote those women who see themselves as feminists.

I want to encourage those women who work hard in raising children but I want to include all those women who are striving to become women of valor in our society, regardless of their status. – and who are these women in our day?

Women who are resisting the pressure from the Media and society to work only on the outward beauty but through patient obedience to Jesus Christ are creating a beautiful inward person.

Women who, in a thousand ways, every day serve their husbands and / or families, church and school and community and do so with a smile, sincerity and diligence.

Women whose strongest desire is not to be free and independent but rather desire to be useful, kind, and generous to those who are in need.

Women who are keeping themselves pure and ready for the return of Jesus Christ.

For these women, whether they are married or widowed or single; with or without children – I pray that God will bless you as true women of valor. I also pray that as the precious jewels that you are, you will shine forth among all others and receive the reward of praise that you so richly deserve.

Invitation

For those women who want to become the virtuous women spoken of here:

First step is to give your life to Jesus in repentance and baptism. In so doing you become pure again, no matter what you’ve done and special in Gods sight.

If you’ve gone away from Him and not been the kind of woman God wants you to be, repent and come back to him for forgiveness and restoration.

Proverbs 31 Woman (3).jpg

Giving Thanks for Every Name of God

It’s easier for me to be thankful for some of God’s names and attributes more than others. It’s effortless for me to rejoice in God’s attributes of love and faithfulness. I savor His forgiveness and provision. It’s easy for me to be thankful He is my Savior and Healer.

However, I don’t delight as easily in some of God’s other characteristics. How can I understand a God whose nature is incomprehensible? Where is the joy in descriptions of God the Father as a Consuming Fire and Jesus as a Man of Sorrows? And I struggle to be thankful that God is a holy and jealous God.

All That He Is

But being selective about which names and attributes we praise God for produces a problem. In effect, we create our own god by worshiping the attributes we want Him to have instead of worshiping all that He is.

For example, some focus only on God’s characteristics of love and mercy. They don’t want to think about His holiness, righteousness, and judgment. Problem is, they end up with an anything-goes god who tolerates sin.

Others may focus on God’s holiness and judgment to the exclusion of all His other characteristics. They create a fire-and-brimstone god who is unloving, unmerciful, and uncompassionate.

God is love and He is holy. He is merciful and He is just. He is righteous and He is compassionate. He is all these things and more. To truly know Him, we must learn all that He is—not just a few characteristics that appeal to who we want Him to be.

Think of the facets of a diamond that combine to reflect its brilliance. The names and attributes of God combine in a similar way to reveal the transcendence of His nature and the glory of His ways.

So, let’s spend a few minutes addressing several names and attributes that don’t seem to generate as much of our attention . . .

“I AM”

I decided to look in my Bible for every place where God says “I AM.” Before I show you what I found, I want to warn you that it’s a long and impressive list. If you’re like me, you have a tendency to gloss over information when it comes to you in bulk, but let me encourage you to take your time. Read and re-read. Think about all the things God says about himself with the simple introduction, “I AM.”

I AM . . . your shield (Gen. 15:1-3).
I AM . . . God Almighty (Gen. 17:135:11).
I AM . . . compassionate (Ex. 22:27).
I AM . . . holy (Lev. 11:44).
I AM . . . your portion and your inheritance (Num. 18:20).
I AM . . . your salvation (Ps. 35:3).
I AM . . . with you (Isa. 41:1043:5Jer. 1:19,15:20Hag. 1:132:4Matt. 28:20).
I AM . . . the Lord, besides me there is no salvation (Isa. 43:11).
I AM . . . the first and the last (Isa. 44:6Rev. 1:17).
I AM . . . he who comforts (Isa. 5:12).
I AM . . . merciful (Jer. 3:12).
I AM . . . a father (Jer. 31:9).
I AM . . . their inheritance (Ezek. 44:28).
I AM . . . gentle and lowly of heart (Matt. 11:29).
I AM . . . the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob (Matt. 22:32).
I AM . . . the Christ (Mark 14:61-63).
I AM . . . the bread of life (John 6:48).
I AM . . . the light of the world (John 8:12).
I AM . . . not of this world (John 8:24).
I AM . . . the Good Shepherd (John 10:1).
I AM . . . the door (John 10:9).
I AM . . . the son of God (John 10:36).
I AM . . . the resurrection and the life (John 11:25).
I AM . . . teacher and lord (John 13:13).
I AM . . . the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:1).
I AM . . . the true vine (John 15:1).
I AM . . . the Alpha and Omega (Rev. 1:8).
I AM . . . alive forevermore (Rev. 1:18).
I AM . . . coming soon (Rev. 3:11).
I AM . . . the bright morning star (Rev. 22:16).
I AM . . . the LORD your God (this one is stated so many times throughout the Bible that I lost count).

An impressive list, isn’t it?

God called Moses to go to Egypt and demand that Pharaoh release God’s people from slavery. Moses wrestles with the idea of such a monumental task and finally asks, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Ex. 3:13).

Before Moses goes to the most powerful man in the world, he wants to know the name of the God who sends him. Seems reasonable to me.

God answers Moses’ question this way, “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex. 3:14).

Then, He repeats Himself, but doesn’t offer Moses much clarity.

“And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, I AM has sent me to you'” (Ex. 3:14).

There isn’t an English teacher in the world that wouldn’t mark all over that sentence with her red pen.

Imagine the same sentence in a different context. You are introduced to a new visitor at church. You say, “Hi, my name is Erin. What’s your name?”

“I am . . . ” is their reply.

I am who? I am what? Simply leaving it at “I am” seems like bad grammar and bad manners.

But that’s what God said when Moses asked His name.

“I AM WHO I AM.” “I AM has sent me.”

Don’t you imagine that Moses was perched on the very edge of his seat? Waiting for more information. He knew he would be pressed by Pharaoh and by the people he was called to free for more information. I am who? I am what? But “I AM” seemed to be all the information God was going to give at that moment.

Fortunately for all of us, it’s not all He ever said on the subject.

So why didn’t God just dictate it to Moses so that Moses could pass it along to Pharaoh?

Why leave the dots unconnected?

Because we learn the names of God best when we see for ourselves who He is, not when we simply hear about Him.

The answer to Moses’ question, “What is his name?” would be given to Pharaoh soon enough. The purpose of the plagues God sent upon Egypt was to put the power and character of God on full display.

Sooner or later, we all mumble Moses’ question under our breath, “Who are you, God?” We follow it up with “How will you prove who you are in my life?” We’ve got the benefit of a hard copy of His answer in the Word. From Genesis to Revelation the Lord speaks often of who He is. But the proof is also in the pudding, isn’t it? If you will take a minute to reflect on your own life you will see that His descriptions of Himself are spot on. I know He’s been everything on that list in my own life (compassionate, salvation, merciful . . . ) Who has He been in yours?

Certainly, the qualities of God are vast and impressive, but they become even more so when we get serious about who we really are.

Who are you?

It’s a simple question that almost always has a complex answer. If I asked you, “Who are you?” I bet you’d start with the good stuff (we all do). You might tell me about your beautiful family or your great job or all the ways you volunteer in your church or community. We like to polish our identity up to a high shine, but that’s not the whole story is it?

David has a way of writing with a brand of brutal honesty that I am drawn to in the Psalms. He finishes the sentence I am . . . in a way that checks my spirit. Here’s what he wrote.

I am . . . fleeting (Ps. 39:4).
I am . . . poor and needy (Ps. 86:1109:22).
I am . . . languishing (Ps. 6:2).
I am . . . lonely and afflicted (Ps. 25:16).
I am . . . afraid (Ps. 56:3).
I am . . . afflicted and in pain (Ps. 69:29).
I am . . . helpless (Ps. 88:15).

Are you ready for a confession? I am all of those things, too. As important as my life seems to me, the Bible describes it like a vapor (James 4:14). That’s what David meant when he called himself “fleeting.” I often find myself needy, lonely, afraid, and in pain, just like David did. I am helpless in the face of most of the problems I face. I can’t change my own heart, mold myself into Christ’s image, or keep all that scares me at bay.

While the news about who we are at our core is bad, the news about who God is couldn’t get any better.

And that’s not the worst of it. In Psalm 51:4, David described a personal attribute that I’d like to gloss over.

I am a sinner

Paul answered the “I am . . .” question by describing himself as the foremost of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). Some days it feels like I’m giving him a run for his money.

When we line the reality of who we are with the beauty of who God is, our heart can choose from one of two options.

  1. We can wilt under the weight of our failings, and settle in with the feeling that we will never measure up.
  2. We can let the beauty of the gospel—that a God so big and powerful and good would extend grace and love toward us despite the fact that we are so desperately undeserving—make up for our slack. We can spend our days in gratitude instead of defeat because God is big, and we are small, and He loves us anyway.

From time to time it does us good to peel back the good stuff of who we are and smell the gunk underneath. But don’t dwell there. While the news about who we are at our core is bad, the news about who God is even better.

In light of what God’s done for you, how would you finish the sentence “I am . . .”?

Leave a comment below.

Christianity and Judaism: What’s the Difference?

Do you know the differences between these two similar faiths?

What defines a Christian as opposed to a Jewish person? What are the differences between them? Do they have anything in common? What are their beliefs? Where did they originate from? Do they believe in Jesus, the Son of God?

I can go on forever with questions as to the differences and commonalities between to two religions. But instead, I’ll let you decide. Read on and at the end, you tell me what you think about Judaism vs. Christianity. Christianity & Judaism (8)

Of all the world’s unique religions, Christianity and Judaism bear, perhaps, the most similarity. This is because they come from the same beginnings, with both religions having similar conceptions of the nature of God, recognizing some of the same sacred texts, and having many of the same basic beliefs concerning the creation of the world, as well as ideas about heaven, hell, and the necessity of atonement for sin.

Without Judaism, in fact, we would not have Christianity—they share the same root. The Jewish people were one of the first to engage in the worship of a single God who was not only all-powerful and all-knowing, but also perfectly just, loving, and good. This set God apart from pagan deities, who had many of the same flaws as human beings. The God of Judaism and the God of Christianity are the certainly the same being, and both Christianity and Judaism began with the covenantal relationship between God and Abraham, and the subsequent spread of these beliefs through the next generations.

The differences, though, in the stories of these two world religions begin to appear in the Bible that each uses. Each of these faiths has a different version of scripture, with Judaism only recognizing the Old Testament—the Hebrew Scriptures—as the inspired word of God. They know these books as the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. This part of the Bible documents the history, culture, and theology of the Jewish people, but goes no further.

It is here the split from Judaism to Christianity occurs. The Jews believed that God would, one day, send a powerful messenger—the Messiah—to deliver Israel from oppressors and bring in a new era of peace, and even today, believe that this is an event that has yet to occur. For Christians, that promised Messiah came in the form of Jesus Christ—the central difference Christianity and Judaism.

Judaism does not accept Christ as the Son of God, or as the chosen Messiah foretold in the Old Testament. Jews regard Jesus as an excellent teacher, and at most, a prophet. This is, at times, a great source of contention between these two similar faiths as Jews accuse Christians of corrupting the image of the one, true God, and Christians accuse Jews of dismissing the very Son of God.

Christianity began with the teachings of Christ. After the death of Jesus on the cross, His disciples went out into the world, establishing churches. It wasn’t long before this splintered sect of Judaism began to take on its own character, becoming an entirely separate religion, with Christianity teaching that the only path to God—and thus, to heaven—lies in accepting Jesus Christ as one’s personal savior. This is reiterated throughout the New Testament and is of central importance for every Christian denomination.

As a result of this disbelief in Christ as an aspect of God, Judaism differs from Christianity in that it considers God to be perfectly “one,” rather than existing in the Trinity—the idea that the one God also exists as God, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Jews often see the Christian Trinity as being inherently polytheistic, in fact.

Aside from these main differences, there are also traditions, ceremonies, and norms which are unique to each faith. While examining the enormous scope of Jewish customs is beyond the scope of this article, Judaism has its own unique holidays such a Hanukkah, Yom Kippur, and Passover, and has its own unique clothing, symbols, and festivals. Worship practices, too, are different, with Jews attending synagogues or temples, which are often the centers of Jewish communities, social activity, and charity work. Religious leaders, in Judaism, are called Rabbis, while Christian religious leaders are often called priests or ministers.

In general, the Christian traditions can seem less complex because, in the Christian tradition, Christ abolished the need for things like dietary laws, feast days, and many other religious norms that are still practiced in Judaism. But despite this, there is no equal in Judaism for Christianity’s multitude of denominations and variance of beliefs. Both religions, in their own ways, are startlingly complex.
These two faiths also differ in the ultimate goal of life: Judaism focuses on living a good life through right conduct as prescribed in the Mosaic Covenant, while Christians focus more on being good through correct beliefs, as illustrated by Christ.

Christians are much more focused on spreading those beliefs and readily accept new converts. Jesus commands Christians to “make disciples of all nations,” going out into the world and spreading the Word of God, and so, for many Christians, this is an incredibly important part of religious life.

Judaism, on the other hand, is not a proselytizing religion, and accept converts only after they expend a great amount of effort studying Jewish laws and customs for several years. This is a very involved process, with those wishing to become a Jew undertaking a rigorous period of supervised work. Since Jews believe that an individual does not need to be a Jew in order to come to God, they see little need to convert non-Jews.

Interestingly, there is an offshoot of Judaism that combines both faiths—this is Messianic Judaism. This is a movement that combines ideas from both faiths, merging Jewish tradition with the idea that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, and that both the Old and New Testaments are authoritative and inspired by God. Salvation, for Messianic Jews, is attained through the acceptance of Christ. Messianic Jews retain their Jewish lifestyle, culture, and identities, and continue to celebrate their own festivals and feast days, but do so in a way that honors Christ.

Despite the differences, however, these two religions are more alike than not, and share a rich history of interactions with God, as well as a long list of challenges, failures, and triumphs. Both faiths, when followed closely, help inform their adherents’ morality and provide a framework in which people can be moral and good.

Together, these two religions change lives just as much as they have changed history.