Monthly Archives: December 2012

It’s A New Year … Again!

mayan-calendar

 

Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest. (Joshua 1:9)

Well, the Mayans let us down, and the world did not end as predicted on December 21, 2012.  Now we have 2013 for which to look forward, and if any credence can be given to the media, the prospects are not too promising.  As I write this, Congress has yet to arrive on a budget agreement that will keep the nation from going over the fiscal cliff.  The real unemployment rate is hovering around 17%, the housing market is in the tank, and it looks like we are headed for another recession.  The European Union is on the verge of financial collapse.  The Middle East is on fire.  Israel fights for its existence as Hamas rains down rockets on the Israeli population.  Iran is bent on developing atomic weapons for the sole purpose of destroying Israel.  North Korea continues test firing rockets that will have the potential of reaching our shores.  Russia continues to supply Iran with the raw materials and technology to develop their atomic weapons.  Meanwhile their nuclear ballistic missile submarines are patrolling our coastal waters as an act of defiance to the perceived impotence of our governmental and military leadership.  Happy New Year!

On the surface, there seems to be little hope.  Even so, the prospect of a new year always comes with the glimmer of hope that things can be better.  The New Year is a step forward into the unknown.  There is no way of knowing what is up ahead; there is only hope.  In our passage above, the Children of Israel had completed their 40-year sojourn in the wilderness and were preparing to enter the Promise Land.  Moses, who had been the only leader they had ever known, was dead.  In his place, Joshua had been commissioned to lead the people in the conquest of their new homeland.  Forty years before, he had been one of two of the twelve spies that returned with a good report about the land God had given them.  The other ten only saw the strength of the enemy and their own weakness and were fearful of taking on the challenge.  Now, they were once again at the frontier of the Promise Land.  The enemy they had feared forty years earlier was still in the land; nothing had changed.  They would still have to enter, fight for and conquer the land.  Even if their circumstances had not changed, neither had the promise of God changed.  “And I will bring you in unto the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for an heritage: I am the LORD” (Exodus 6:8).  It had always been so; the inheritance was theirs for the taking, but they had to take it, and God was their guarantee.  So here they were once again at the precipice of the unknown, but they carried with them the promise of God: “the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest” (Joshua 1:9).

So, we are faced with another new year with an uncertain future.  No matter what that future may hold, we can rest on that same promise that the LORD our God is with us wherever we go and in whatever circumstances we may find ourselves.  We can trust that “they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).  We can know that God is always at our side and “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

God’s blessings on you and yours in the coming new year; may you have a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

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Miracle of the Incarnation*

Baby Jesus in Manger

 

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth”

(John 1:14).

At Christmastime many of us take time to reflect on the birth of Christ and the miracle of His incarnation; but His birth was not a miracle.  Jesus came into this world like billions of babies before Him and like billions of babies after Him.  Yes, the angels announced His birth to humble “shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night” (Luke 2:8), and some magi saw “His star in the east” and came “to worship Him” (Matthew 2:2); but His birth, as special as it was, was no miracle.  A line in a favorite Christmas carol says, “The cattle are lowing, the dear baby wakes; but little Lord Jesus no crying He makes.” That is a sweet sentiment, but it is completely false.  Jesus cried at His birth just like any other baby.  He wet and soiled his diapers, just like any other baby.  He took nourishment from Mary’s breasts as any baby would from its mother.  There was nothing miraculous in any of that.

The miracle was not in His birth, but in His incarnation as a zygote in a virgin’s womb.  Skeptics challenge this on the impossibility of a virgin conceiving without the natural function of a man, but the impossibility of such a thing is what qualifies it as a “miracle.”  Mary expressed the same concerns when the angel relayed the news of her impending pregnancy.  The angel assured her that “with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37).  This was in keeping with and in the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy saying “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).  Critics will point out that the Hebrew word translated “virgin” here is ‘almā, which strictly translated means “young woman.”  However, the translators of the Septuagint translated the same Hebrew word into the Greek parthenos, which has no other meaning than “virgin.”  This is the same Greek word that Matthew uses when he points to the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “Behold, a virgin [parthenos] shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” (Matthew 1:23).

Another problem arises with Jesus’ lineage.  He was prophesied to be in the line of David the king (2 Samuel 7:12-13, 16).  This promise was confirmed to Mary by the angel Gabriel: “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David” (Luke 1:32).  Matthew presents an ancestral line (Matthew 1:1-17) that disagrees with the ancestral line presented by Luke (Luke 3:23-38).  Matthew traces Jesus’ genealogy through Joseph, His adoptive father.  This line is the “legal” line to the throne of David; however, this line had been cursed by God at the time of Jehoiachin (Coniah) shortly before Judah fell to the Babylonian empire.  Jeremiah records: “Thus saith the LORD, Write ye this man [Coniah] childless, a man that shall not prosper in his days: for no man of his seed shall prosper, sitting upon the throne of David, and ruling any more in Judah” (Jeremiah 22:30).  Luke, on the other hand, records Jesus’ genealogy through Mary who takes a branch through Nathan, another son of David.  This line escaped the curse.

That resolves the legality issue of Jesus’ right to David’s throne, but now we have another problem.  Since the conception was “parthenogenetic,” that would imply that Jesus received at least part of His genes (His DNA) from Mary.  Mary, being human, is under the curse of original sin, as we all are.  That being the case, Jesus could not be the sinless sacrifice required to atone for our sin.  The Roman Catholic Church recognized this dilemma early on and attempted to resolve the problem by proclaiming Mary sinless.  To achieve this status, they further proclaimed that she was immaculately conceived, i.e., she too was virgin-born.  That begs the question then, how was Mary immaculately conceived, if her mother had a sin nature?  And what about her grandmother, and her great-grandmother, etc.  If one follows that line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, one comes to Eve in the Garden of Eden, and it is generally accepted that Eve sinned.  The solution cannot be in Mary’s sinless nature, for she, herself, was in need of a Savior.  “And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour” (Luke 1:46-47).

The truth is, that if one of Mary’s ova was used in the conception, Jesus would have inherited our sin nature.  Even half of a sin nature is full of sin for “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (Galatians 5:9).   In his book, The Chemistry of the Blood (Zondervan, 1943), Dr. M. R. DeHann attempted to resolve this problem based on the idea that it is the blood that makes atonement for sin (Hebrews 9:22).  He concluded that since the embryo develops its own blood, and since there is no blood exchanged between the embryo and its mother, therefore Jesus’ blood was sinless.  At first sight, this may look like a good solution, however, the embryo develops its own blood based on the genes that it gets from its parents.  There is no DNA in red blood cells, but there is DNA in an ovum, and Mary’s ova were contaminated.

The only reasonable solution that remains is that Jesus’ earthly body was a wholly (and yes, “holy”) and unique creation without the inherited sin nature of any human parent.  Understandably, the objection immediately arises that He, therefore, could not really be considered fully human.  To answer that objection, we must recall the creation of the “first Adam” (Genesis 1:27; 2:7).  God created man from the dust of the ground, including his DNA.  There was no human agent required for this process.  It should not be a stretch, therefore, to accept that God created an entirely new body for the “Second Adam.”  It should also not stretch the imagination, in our technological age, to understand that this new creation was implanted into Mary’s womb to be carried to term.  Mary was the “surrogate” mother of Jesus.  She contributed none of her DNA to give Him life, and therefore she contributed none of her sin nature.  Mary’s little lamb was truly “without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:19).  Conceived in this way He was “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners” (Hebrews 7:26), and because He developed in the womb from a zygote, He was “made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17).  Jesus understood this. Once …

While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him.  Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee.  But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?  And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren!  For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother (Matthew 12:46-50)

There is substantial scriptural support for the argument that Jesus’ body was an entirely new creation.  He “was made in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7).  Before His condescension, in conversation with His Father “he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me” (Hebrews 10:5).  It was the Divine plan from the beginning that the Savior “Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:20) would come to be the ransom for our sin.  Paul tells us that “The first man [Adam] is of the earth, earthy: the second man [Jesus] is the Lord from heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:47).  John tells us that “The Word was made flesh” (John 1:14).  This is as it should be “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).

The miracle was the incarnation, not the birth.  It is an awesome thing to consider that the Creator of heaven and earth, would prepare for Himself a body of the same kind as His creation, begin life as a single human cell, go through the process of development in the womb of a virgin girl, pass through the birth canal, gasp for His first breath, grow up as a child and experience all the bumps and bruises of growing up, grow into manhood, only to give His life in the place of His fallen creation, so that we might experience life eternal with Him.  Who could conceive such a plan except a loving God!  It is too marvelous for words.

Merry Christmas!

*NOTE: This article was inspired by my Sunday school teacher and friend, Henry M. Morris III, D.Min., in a lesson he presented to our class on December 16, 2012.  Dr. Morris is CEO of the Institute for Creation Research, Dallas, Texas.

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Bah! Humbug!

Scrooge

Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? … He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? (Micah 6:6,8)

 At the risk of being labeled a Scrooge, I feel compelled to express my growing disillusion with the Christmas season and all the trappings associated with it.  Don’t get me wrong; I love Christmas, or at least I love what Christmas is supposed to signify – the condescension of the Creator God to take on the human form of His creation embodied in a helpless baby.  The thought is too awesome for words!  Yet that idea is all but lost in the midst of the tumult that has become “the holiday season.”

Beginning in October, even before the celebration of death (Halloween), which God calls the enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26) and Thanksgiving, which has become more a ritual of gluttony and football than a time to seriously pause to give thanks to God for all of His provision, the Christmas mass-marketing scheme is in full force.  This year on Thanksgiving Day the tryptophan was not even out of our systems when stores opened late to get a jump on the Black Friday spending spree.

The saying that “Christmas is for children” is meaningless these days.  Marketeers cleverly target the growing avarice in our society by creating the illusion that their product will bring genuine happiness or fill some sort of desperate need.  Mercedes-Benz has Santa loading up cars on delivery trucks – one line of red cars for his “naughty” list and white for his “nice” list.  So, even if you are “naughty” Santa will still get you what you want.  Buick has a commercial where a young man is presenting his wife (I hope) a new car for Christmas, when a brand new Buick Enclave drives by and the young woman loses interest in the car her husband (I hope) has given her as she stares lustfully after the Enclave.  Lexus, Cadillac, Nissan, etc. all have ads tempting the viewer through “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16).  Car manufacturers are not the only culprits.  Rosetta Stone has a cute commercial where a little boy is brought to Santa.  Santa addresses the boy in English, the boy responds in German, so Santa instantly switches to speaking German because Santa learned to speak German by using the Rosetta Stone language learning software.  The list could go on and on.

I hear Christians lament the commercialization of Christmas, but we are just as guilty as the secular world of going overboard on spending just because “it’s the season of giving.”  We bemoan the “war on Christmas” but our Christian radio stations are just as likely to play “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” as “Oh Come All Ye Faithful.”  Big mega church productions of Christmas pageants typically devote the first half of the program to secular music and dancing (choreography for Baptists) and reserve the best for last – the true Christmas story.  What I am saying is that we are guilty of accommodating at best, or assimilating with, at worst, the secular world.  Then we whine because the world is losing the real meaning of Christmas!  Well, I have news! Christmas, although not called by that name, has always been a pagan celebration.  We stole their celebration, put a Christian spin on it, and now we are complaining because they are taking it back!

Without going into great detail that you can “Google” on your own, Christmas was not observed in the early Christian church until around the mid fourth century when Pope Julius I (A.D. 337-352) sanctioned the celebration of the Nativity to coincide with the Roman celebration of the winter solstice called Saturnalia.  Santa Claus originated from a third century bishop by the name of Nicholas of Myra (in Turkey) who was renowned for his generosity, which, by the way, was not limited to December 25th.  We can thank Clement C. Moore (1779 – 1863) for the red suit and the “miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.”

The Christmas tree is considered by some as Christianisation [sic] of pagan tradition and ritual surrounding the Winter Solstice, which included the use of evergreen boughs, and an adaptation of pagan tree worship; according to eighth-century biographer Æddi Stephanus, Saint Boniface (634–709), who was a missionary in Germany, took an axe to an oak tree dedicated to Thor and pointed out a fir tree, which he stated was a more fitting object of reverence because it pointed to heaven and it had a triangular shape, which he said was symbolic of the Trinity. (Wikipedia)

As Christians, we should know that Jesus was not born on December 25th, but most likely sometime in late August or September.  When you think about it, God probably kept the date of His birth a secret precisely so that we would not turn it into the circus it has become.  He is not interested in our participation in meaningless rituals, but rather our genuine devotion to Him at all times.  What would happen if Christians stopped shopping for Christmas gifts for one another and instead gave that money spent to the Lord?  Would we be any less blessed?  My guess is that God would bless us even more!  What would happen to the commercialism of Christmas if Christians stopped buying?  Maybe the commercialization would become less overt. What if we practiced our generosity all year round and not reserve it just for Christmas?  What if we celebrated Christ’s advent all year round instead of just once a year?  What difference does December 25th make?  What is important is that God came into this world as a baby, to experience the same aches and pains we experience, to be faced with the same temptations we face, and then to willingly take our place on the cross to pay the death penalty we owed.  Our gifts should be presented to the One who saves, not to the ones He died to save.  That God took on human form in order to redeem us unto Himself is a significant event worthy of remembrance, but perhaps in a way that honors Him, not our own hubris.

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Prayer With Action!

Rebuilding the Walls

 

Nevertheless we made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch against them day and night, because of them.  (Nehemiah 4:9)

Nehemiah faced opposition to the refortification of Jerusalem in many forms.  At first he and the Jews were laughed at (2:19) by their enemies, to which Nehemiah responded, “The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build” (2:20).  When marginalizing the efforts of the Jews had no effect, their enemies resorted to ridicule and mocking.  Nehemiah turned the matter over to God:  “Hear O our God; for we are despised: and turn their reproach upon their own head, and give them for a prey in the land of captivity: And cover not their iniquity, and let not their sin be blotted out from before thee: for they have provoked thee to anger before the builders” (4:4-5), but the work went on.  Seeing that their vitriol was feckless, “they were very wroth, and conspired all of them together to come and to fight against Jerusalem, and to hinder it” (v. 8).

The threat of violence failed to hinder the progress.  Again, Nehemiah gave the matter over to God, but he did not stop there.  He “set a watch against them day and night because of them” (v. 9).  Furthermore, he motivated the people to defend the part of the wall that directly protected their families: “I even set the people after their families with their swords, and their bows” (v.13).  He also made preparations in case of a realized attack:  “And I said unto the nobles, and to the rulers, and to the rest of the people, The work is great and large, and we are separated upon the wall, one far from another.  In what place therefore ye hear the sound of the trumpet, resort ye thither unto us: our God shall fight for us” (vv. 19-20).

Nehemiah is an example of prayer with action.  Sometimes we ask God to intervene on our behalf and are disappointed when it appears that God has not answered our prayer.  The problem is that we fail to take personal responsibility in the resolution to our problems.  While it is true that some of our requests can only be accomplished by God’s miraculous intervention, more often than not, we are able to resolve our own issues with His help.  He provides the resources, the intellect and the abilities, but we need to be motivated to defend our section of the wall.  Jesus illustrated this with God’s provision for the ravens (Luke 12:24).  God provides for the needs of the birds, but the birds still have to leave the nest and search for the food God has provided.  Pray with action!

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