Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A New Year's Crystal Ball

We are nearing the end of another year. Where did 2010 go? As one looks back over the past year there are so many things to remember with fondness, and so many things that one hopes will quickly be forgotten in the recesses of our minds. Oh for the opportunity of doing some things over again - for a second chance, but alas, that never happens. One can only hope that better judgments will prevail in the coming year.

As one looks ahead to the coming year, one asks "What will the year hold for us?" Of course the correct answer is "We do not know, only God knows that." But it is fun to do some crystal-balling. So, here is my list of what MIGHT happen in the coming year.

1. I believe there will be some very strange political posturing in the coming year. In Washington, Republicans will control the spending as they control the House of Representatives. The question is: will they hold to their fiscal conservatism - the banner under which most of them were elected this past November? How will the President respond to this change in ideology? The politics in Washington will be very interesting, to say the least.

2. Then there is the question of Iran. According to a report in the December 29 issue of, Israel's Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon said that "we are talking in terms of three years before the Islamic Republic of Iran can achieve its presumed aim of producing a nuclear weapon." The recent damage from the Stuxnet virus on the Iranian computers has been more severe than first indicated. Furthermore, reports from inside Iran indicate that the sanctions are beginning to have an affect upon the common people, leading some analysts to state that an Iranian revolution might be at hand. I know that Iran will keep the world guessing in the coming year. (So, also, I might add, will North Korea).

3. The Middle East seems poised on the verge of a tremendous explosion in the coming year. Although he will deny reports, PA President Abbas seems to be moving ahead with having the United Nation make a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood sometime in late summer of 2011. Later this week, Abbas will lay the cornerstone for a Palestinian embassy in Brazil, which, along with Argentina, Paraguay, and Bolivia have announced the recognition of a Palestinian State. If such a declaration is forthcoming, it will only lead to war. What will happen to the nearly half million Israelis now living inside what the Palestinians claim will be their State? You remember that the Palestinians have already declared that there will be no Jews living in Palestine. What about the possibilities of Hamas taking over the West Bank and creating another terrorist camp? I am glad that I am leading a group to Israel in the Spring - the summer might get very hot, in more ways than one.

4. I believe that attacks upon Christians around the world will increase significantly. And, I believe that American believers will be persecuted, and even imprisoned, for their faith. This has not happened on American soil in many years. It is time for the Church to begin preparing their members on how to respond to this coming persecution: to have a resolve as did Daniel.

5. Finally, I believe that 2011 will see the continued separation of churches from the truths of the Word of God. Many have already started down that pathway. More will yet follow. The goal will be to become relevant and tolerant to culture. In the process truth will be cast aside and the Word of God will become just another book. Oh to remain biblical in these days! It is going to be increasingly more difficult to do.

There you have five items I am keeping my eyes upon as we enter 2011. Friends, it is time to focus upon Jesus. He is coming! Will it be in 2011? I don't know! I had hoped for His return in 2010, but the "fullness of time" is not yet. So, as we wait and watch for His return, we need to be at work because the fields are white unto harvest.

I do want to wish you a blessed New Year filled with the special favor of God.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Of Angels and Advents

That first Christmas so long ago an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared to a group of shepherds who were tending their sheep on the hillsides near Bethlehem. Later this angel was joined by a multitude of angels in a rapturous anthem.

On Christmas Eve I will be preaching on the actions and attitudes of the shepherds, those to whom the angel appeared. But, in my reflections and preparations, I noticed something startling about the proclamation(s) of the angel(s). I share these with you as my Christmas greeting.

First, the angel of the Lord quieted the hearts of these fear-filled men, and then spoke these words to them: "do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger" (Luke 2:10-12 NASB). This was the strong message of the First Advent. A Savior had come! One had arrived on the world scene who would take upon Himself the only way that sinful man could be successfully reconciled to a holy God. The message encompassed an announcement of a manger (immediate) and of a cross (future: Savior - the term itself implied a sacrifice). That angelic proclamation is still the message of Christmas now two millennias removed. Jesus was born to die so that you and I might live. It is the message that should quiet our fearful hearts.

Then the angel was joined by a multitude of other angels who, in turn, proclaimed another anthem: "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased" (Luke 2:14 NASB). Although this angelic anthem has become such an integral part of the Christmas story, I would like to believe that the message this angelic host proclaimed was not centered on the First Advent but the Second. Jesus Christ did not come to bring peace on earth. He Himself said that He came to bring the sword. But the day is coming when His peace will be upon men with whom He is pleased. It will be that day when He returns to reign from the throne of His father, David, in the city of the great King, Jerusalem.

So, friends, the entire story of Christ is presented to the shepherds that first Christmas so long ago. Did those shepherds truly understand the entire story? I am not convinced they did. But they believed enough that they were convinced and then eagerly told others about what they had heard and seen. Their example should become our passion.

I want to wish you a very Merry Christmas. Listen carefully to the message of the angels and you will hear them say, "He is coming soon!" Amen!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

An Ancient Rabbi, Tevet, and Christmas

I want to write about something entirely different for most of us - The Tenth of Tevet. I know what you are saying, "What is a Tevet?" Tevet is the fourth month of the Jewish Civil Calender. (You need to remember that there are two calendars our Jewish friends follow: the civil calendar which begins with Rosh Hashana in the fall, and the religious calendar which begins with Passover in the spring).

I know you are really scratching your head now: What significant event happened on the Tenth of Tevet? Great question. The answer is that it was on that date that King Nebuchadnezzar began his siege of Jerusalem which would eventuate in the destruction of the city and the Temple. Because it was just the first day of the siege very little damage was done and no one was killed that we know about. So, why is it celebrated? It is because of the eventuality that the siege caused: the Temple's destruction and the exile of the Jewish people into captivity in Babylon.

What intrigued me as I read about this fast-day was the story of one of the rabbis of those days. His name was Rav Chiyah. The story is told that he knew the impending outcome of the siege. So he killed a deer, tanned its hide and made one copy of each of the five books of the Torah. He then gave one book to each of five children he had selected. He taught each child that book which they had received. Then he instructed them to teach one another what they had been taught. He believed that you could only teach what you yourself had been taught.

As I read this story, the truth hit me that I have a responsibility to share with others what I have learned. I cannot share what I do not know - that would be perpetuating ignorance, and this world has more than enough ignorance. I was reminded of the words of Peter and John as they approached the Temple and saw the beggar on the steps begging alms. You remember what Peter said: "Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk" (Acts 3:6). "What I have I give to you." What I have been taught is what I can share with others. What I have mined of God's Word for myself is what I can share with another.

O the wisdom of Rav Chiyah. He taught each child one book. They, in turn, taught that one book to the other four. Then those five could teach another five children those five books. And so the multiplication begins.

Here at Village Schools this truth energizes us. What you learn you are to share with others. What you experience is yours, not just to keep, but to share.

This Christmas Season, let me ask you, what are you sharing? What are you imparting to others? What special memories of Christmas can you relate to others?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Christmas Carol

One of the greatest story-writers of all time wrote one of the best-known Christmas stories of all time. Of course I am referring to Charles Dickens, who in December 1843 published a 66-page novella titled originally, "A Christmas Carol in Prose: Being a Ghost Story of Christmas." The title has been shorted to just "A Christmas Carol." Since its publication in 1843, this little story has never been out of print - a remarkable feat, when you come to think of it.

The story has been adapted for both stage and screen. Perhaps the classic adaptation is the 1951 screen version starring Alastair Sims. According to critics, he portrays the Ebenezer Scrooge that would have met with Dickens' approval. My Christmas Season is not complete until I have watched this masterpiece. A strong rival would be the 1984 adaptation for television starring George C. Scott as Scrooge. He does a remarkable job with the role. Either film clearly portrays the heart of Dickens as he wrote in the fall of 1843.

That was the time the Industrial Revolution was radically changing the landscape of England. What gripped Dickens heart was the forced labor many of England's children endured. He himself had experienced this early in his life when his father was imprisoned for several months. Historians tell us that Dickens, from that time on, had a love-hate relationship with his father. The character of Scrooge portrayed both those relationship.

Of course we best remember Scrooge for his "Christmas! Bah-humbug!" statement. Haven't we all felt that way once or twice? Come on. You know what I mean. Another program to attend. Another trip to the mall to buy another gift. Another card to send. I don't know about you, but there are times when Christmas can become a "Bah-humbug!" I want to hurry through get it over with. That is the way Ebenezer Scrooge looked at Christmas.

What caused the change in his heart? Was it the three spirits who visited him? I am sure the very presence of a ghost would cause alarm. But I think it was what the spirits showed him. As you read the story or view the filmed adaptations, the focus is upon family. There is hardly a mention of gifts being exchanged. The only gifts were the ones being raised by a few businessmen to provide food and drink for the poor. The great scene at Mr. Fezziwig's party focuses upon family and friends. There is the Christmas morning scene at the Cratchetts as the goose is cooking and the pudding is singing in the copper. Its about family.

As I have reflected upon that first Christmas carol, recorded in Luke 2, it was an invitation to become part of a family - the family of God. So when the spirit of "Bah-humbug" creeps into your heart, focus on family, beginning with your relationship with Jesus Christ. Perhaps then everything else will come into a proper focus. Then you and I can sing with Tiny Tim, "God bless us, everyone!"

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Happy Hanukkah!

Happy Hanukkah! Yes, that very special Jewish celebration known as "the festival of lights" begins tonight at sundown. It will conclude at sundown on December 9. Just what is Hanukkah and why should I care? Among Jewish celebrations, Hanukkah is a relatively recent addition. Its history goes back to the second century BC during the times of the Maccabees. In the year 168 BC, the Syrian King, Antiochus IV Epiphanes sacked the city of Jerusalem. He was sort of ticked off because he had lost a battle with the Egyptians and on his way home he was feeling very ugly. Jerusalem stood in the way. He had strong feelings against the Jews so why not stop and bolster his fractured ego with taking Jerusalem. After killing many of the inhabitants, he went into the temple, erected an image of his god Zeus and then offered a pig upon the altar where sacrifices were made. This act came to be known as the "abomination of desolation."

Now enter into the story an aged priest by the name of Mattathias. He lived in the little village of Modiin, a few miles northwest of Jerusalem. A Greek officer and some soldiers gathered all the people of that village together and demanded that they bow to an idol and eat the flesh of a pig (perhaps a ham sandwich!). Mattathias refused to take part, but another villager stepped forward to initiate the required sacrifice. Mattithias drew his sword, killed the villager and also the Greek officer. He and his five sons, along with many of the villagers escaped to the hills. There an army was assembled, under the leadership of Mattathias' son - Judas Maccabeaus (Judas "The Hammer"). This revolt, known as the Maccabean revolt, eventuated in the recapture of the city of Jerusalem in December 165 BC. The temple was in complete disarray so the cleansing began. Enough oil was found to light the menorah for one day, but miraculously the menorah stayed lit for eight days.

Hanukkah commemorates this miracle of the oil. It celebrates the freedom of the Jewish people from the enslavement to the Syrians and their Greek culture. It is a time of great festivities that last for eight days. One important part of Hanukkah is the lighting of the Menorah. The Hanukkah Menorah has eight branches and one servant or host branch. This host is lit and then one of the eight branches is lit on each of the succeeding days of Hanukkah. These menorahs come in many shapes and sizes, but the flames of the lamps must not look too big and resemble a pagan bonfire.

Among the popular foods for Hanukkah are latkes. These pancakes are made from grated potatoes mixed with eggs, onions, and flour, then fried in vegetable oil. Served hot, they are topped with either sour cream or appleasauce. Another very popular food for Hanukkah is known as sufganiyot. These are jelly-filled donuts without a hole. They are fried in oil, then covered with either powdered sugar or cinnamon. I am getting hungry just describing these.

Another strong tradition of Hanukkah is the dreidel. This is a four-sided spinning top with a Hebrew letter inscribed on each of the sides. It is very popular among children. The children spin the top and then bet on which letter will appear when the top stops. Betting is made with chocolate coins covered in foil, or other pieces of candy, nuts, or other goodies. If the one who spins the top has the top land with the letter nun - which means "nothing" - then the spinner does nothing; he gets nothing, nor does it cost him anything. If, however, the top lands with the letter gimmel - which means "everything" - then the spinner gets all the candy that is in the pot. If the top lands on the letter hey - which means "half" - the spinner then gets only half of the pot. finally, if the top lands on the letter shin - which means "Put in" - then the spinner must add one piece to the pot. Sounds like a game for those who have a sweet tooth.

So, now you know about Hanukkah. And I want to wish you and your family a very happy celebration, even if are not Jewish. Perhaps you can use these special days to say a prayer for Israel and for the people there. Especially pray that God would send them rain. This has been an historically dry winter so far. They desperately need the rains and the snows. Pray that God would bless their Hanukkah Season with abundant rains.