Saturday, December 22, 2018

The Twelve Days of Christmas


To many the Twelve Days of Christmas is just one of the many Christmas songs that are played on radio and has no further significance.   Contrary to popular belief, the Twelve Days of Christmas begins on Christmas Day, December 25th and not before Christmas and also has a fun and important history.

The Twelve Days of Christmas actually refers to the days between December 25th, Christmas Day (celebrated originally in the Western-Latin churches) and January 6th, the Epiphany (celebrated originally in the Eastern-Greek churches).  Today, Christmas is one of the longest-celebrated holidays as it begins for the shoppers on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, and for many of the faithful, officially includes Advent, embracing the four Sundays prior to the 25th of December. While the Epiphany was originally celebrated by the Greek churches as multiple revelations of God in Christ to the world, today it is primarily remembered as the celebration of the visit of the three wise men (or kings) to the baby Jesus.   

The origin of the 12 Days according to many sources was an attempted reconciliation between the Latin and Greek churches in the 6th century as a fitting celebration of the birth of Christ.  Bill Federer, bestselling author and president of Amerisearch Inc. and producer of “Faith in History” tells the story that in 567 AD, at the Council of Tours, the church tried to reconcile the dispute between East and West by defining the days between December 25th and January 6th as officially and inclusively as the 12 Days of Christmas.   Bill Federer goes on to say that these 12 days were declared to all be “holy days” so when someone wishes you happy holidays, they are just using the new pronunciation of holy days as ‘holidays’!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Getting Unstuck





All of us have had the experience of getting stuck. Recently we experienced that in simply assembling a puzzle.  It started off just fine putting together the borders and then we separated some of the colors. We were excited when we found that there were a specific colors and designs that quickly fit together. But then we got stuck. 
Some are up to a challenge of a 5,000-piece puzzle but for others, it’s just too much of a challenge and we find ourselves stuck, We start wondering if we should continue or just put it all back in the box.
Sometimes getting stuck is a bigger issue. Perhaps it’s financial….We lose a job and the next thing we know we are about to lose our car or our home. We go to the doctor for a checkup and he says, “oh oh”….What do you mean oh-oh? Those are words we don’t want our physicians to say.
Perhaps some find themselves in a bad marriage, a bad job, or a bad neighborhood.  God wants us to have peace in these situations and can give us that peace.  Regardless of our situation, the scriptures remind us that we can be content for God has said, "I will never leave you, nor forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5)
But sometimes being stuck ends up becoming a true crisis.  How are we to find peace in the midst of a crisis? The Apostle Paul tells us that first of all, we need to focus on God instead of the situation. That's easier said than done, but that's what Paul means when he says, "Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I will say rejoice" (Philippians 4:4). Paul's not saying that we're happy about what we're going through; he's not even saying to rejoice in our difficulties. He's saying rejoice in the Lord, and that's something altogether different.
It’s possible to have joy in our lives not only when we are stuck but even in the midst of a crisis. True joy is the knowledge that God is in control of our circumstances and allows only that which He permits into our lives.  That's why the Apostle and brother of the Lord, James says to consider it joy when a trial comes our way. (James 1:2) 
It's not that the trial brings joy. Instead, it is what God is doing for us and in us through the trial. He is involved in our lives and is working through these situations. When we truly believe that God is involved, we will consider the trial joy and can find peace and rest in the Lord. In truth, our joy is in the Lord and is completely independent of our circumstances. That is why even in the midst of the worst situations we still worship God. That's what Job did when he lost his possessions and his family; he said, "Blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21)

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Joyful in the midst of struggles

“Joyful Joyful” is a hymn written by Henry van Dyke, a US born, Presbyterian minister from Pennsylvania.  Van Dyke was born in 1852 and during his lifetime he was considered by many to be one of the leading Presbyterian preachers and religious leaders in the country.  
In addition to achieving fame as a preacher, he was a professor of literature at Princeton University, became a Navy chaplain during World War 1, and represented his country as an ambassador to Holland and Luxembourg under an appointment by President Wilson. He was a prolific writer of devotional material with many of his books being best sellers.
The hymn, “Joyful Joyful,” written by van Dyke was written to Ludwig van Beethoven’s, Ninth Symphony for the song called “Ode to Joy.” It was Beethoven's last symphony, took him six years to complete and is generally considered to be his greatest.
Many know that Beethoven by thirty years of age, had become completely deaf. It’s amazing to think that this Ninth Symphony and many others were written without his access to hearing what he composed.  A story is told that when the audience erupted with applause at the conclusion of the initial performance of the Ninth Symphony in Vienna, Austria, the singers on the stage had to turn Beethoven around so that he could see the audience standing and applauding.
Joyful Joyful is the best-known of van Dyke's hymns. The Hymn is based on Psalm 71.  The key verse is Psalm 71:23 which reads:

My lips will shout for joy
when I sing praise to You
because You have redeemed me. (HCSB)
I like to look at the context of the verse before I begin to teach.  In Psalm 71, the psalmist (David) is looking for deliverance.  While he is waiting for God to answer him, he reflects on the wonder of God and then shouts for Joy.
I wonder if this song was being written today it could be called  “Happy, happy, we adore thee?”
Today, people will want you to believe the words “joy” and “happy” are interchangeable, when in fact, they are not.
We may not always be happy, which is subject to my emotions and external stimuli; but, as believers, if we have faith in God, we can always be joyful in the Lord.
Here are some distinct differences:

  1. Happiness is a feeling, but joy is not.
  2. Happiness is fleeting, but joy is everlasting.
  3. Happiness depends on circumstances or other people, but joy is a gift from God.
  4. ‘Happiness’ comes from the root word that we get ‘happening’, as from the circumstances.  Joy is from the Greek GAIO meaning to ‘rejoice.’
  5. Joy is internal. Happiness is external. You may have a happy time at Disneyworld however when you leave you may lose that happiness.

The Bible answers the question of how we may have joy despite what is going on in our lives.
The Apostle Paul faced some very unhappy circumstances. However, in the midst of his struggles he wrote (Phil. 1:18b)“…I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice.”
Paul wrote this to the believers in Philippi while Paul was locked up in prison and facing an uncertain future.   The previous four years of Paul’s life were miserable. He spent two years in prison in Caesarea, and then he was put on a ship to go to Rome to appear before Nero (aka, the Caesar known for his cruelty against Christians).
On the way to Rome Paul is shipwrecked, stranded on an island, bitten by a poisonous snake, survived the winter there, continued on to Rome and spent another two years in prison awaiting trial to be executed.
Yet in spite of all of these situations, Paul says in Phil. 1:18b “…I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice.”
What was Paul's secret? How did Paul remain so positive in prison, riding above his troubles, and being joyful in spite of the fact that everything has not turned out the way he planned it?
The secret I believe was that Paul knew not only knew who he was but more importantly he knew whose he was …..He was loved by God, called to be an Apostle, a messenger, an Ambassador of God.
Do you know whose you are?   You are called to be a child of God.  Because of God, because of whose we are, the Bible says that we are to consider even our trials to be joyful.
James, the brother of the Lord, wrote in James 1:2-4 Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.
As we persevere through trials, with God’s help, our faith strengthens and matures. By God’s grace we can be happy despite our circumstances.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

This is Amazing Grace



Most of you are familiar with the song, Amazing Grace. You may have heard as well a little about the song writer.  His name was John Newton.

John was born in 1725, his dad was ship captain and his mom died when he was very young.  While still a very young man, his dad had him became a sailor, serving as just a deck hand but later he became the captain of the ship.  This was not a military vessel, part of the British Navy but a cargo ship.  It had all kids of cargo including loads of human cargo, these were slaves, captured, separated from their families and put in shackles and traded, sold in various ports in South American, North America and England.   

John’s life was a mess, it is reported that at times he was so drunk and destitute that even his crew was disgusted with him.  You have likely heard the phrase, he (or she) cussed like a sailor;  it could easily have been named after John. In fact, it was said of John that he actually created new words, new profanity that exceeded the limits of verbal debauchery.

Once while piloting the ship, for several months with a load of lumber, livestock and beeswax, a big storm blew up, threatening the ship, everyone thought they were going to die.  So severe was the storm that the otherwise seaworthy vessel was in danger of sinking.  A huge wave crashed over the ship and his only friend, who was standing right next to him, got blown off the ship, never to be seen again. John thought his life is over, and he found himself in the moment of his greatest trial and his deepest fear crying out to God, the God that he blasphemed, he called on and said, Lord, have mercy on us all.

Despite much damage to the ship, when they finally reached a port in Ireland, John began a sincere effort to become right with God.

And so this man, named John Newton, started reading scripture, and was transformed by the grace of God. And he put pen to paper and wrote the lyrics in 1772, to the hymn that we now know as Amazing Grace.

So, let’s pause for a moment on the story of the man behind the hymn, Amazing grace and turn our attention to the scriptures, Ephesians chapter two, and this is where Paul pens these passionate verses about the Amazing grace of God:

And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience,  among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),  and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,  not of works, lest anyone should boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:1-10)
Paul is saying something that is actually quite intuitive.   Everyone has a PAST and Paul addresses that in the very first verses of Ephesians 2

And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world,

Before you became a follower of Christ, You WERE something you ARE not today.  Can you follow that?  

These verses are a little easier to understand with a more modern translation like the New Living Translation

Paul says, “You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world.  He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God.  All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature.”

Sometime people are in denial.   They even deny that they are sinners….following their passionate desires of the flesh.

This is what Paul is talking about. We WERE dead in our trespasses and sins, We were just like the rest of the world, we followed the evil desires of our heart.  That’s who we were.

What about John Newton?

John Newton, former sea captain, slave trader, the man with the foul mouth knew who he WAS.   Before we become a believer, it’s important to know who were ARE

It’s said that it’s difficult so save a man from a burning house when he doesn’t smell the smoke or feel the heat

And Paul says there is a “BUT” coming

But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ

The key here are the words, “BUT GOD” You were dead in your sins BUT GOD.   You were lost, you saw no way out BUT GOD, Your marriage was in trouble, your life was a mess, you couldn’t kick the habit that was destroying your life BUT GOD

Let me tell you why PAUL is using this type of language.  Why Paul says, “BUT GOD”.  This is PAUL, formerly SAUL who before he was follower of Christ hated CHRISTIANS so much that he got papers from those in authority, so he could kill them.  

SAUL fortunately had a BUT GOD moment.   He was on the way to Damascus to go and kill some Christians when suddenly Jesus comes to him as a bright light, and it knocks Saul off his horse.  He is blinded and hears Jesus speak to him and say, “SAUL SAUL, why do you persecute ME”

Saul, also called PAUL is then baptized and begins to preach Jesus.  Suddenly Paul understands for the first time the true meaning of all of the Old Testament traditions, the yearly sacrifices, the feat of the Passover…they all pointed to JESUS.

Paul was lost, BUT GOD….Rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made Paul, made US alive together with Christ

John Newton not only had the BUT GOD moment, but John Newton went on and became a preacher.

And he penned the words:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.

Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed

Through many dangers toils and snares
I have already come
'Tis grace has brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home

When we've been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we've first begun 

 





 



Monday, September 24, 2018

“Joyful Joyful" – Ode to Joy


“Joyful Joyful” is a hymn written by Henry van Dyke, a US born, Presbyterian minister from Pennsylvania.   Van Dyke was born in 1852 and during his lifetime he was considered by many to be one of the leading Presbyterian preachers and religious leaders in the country.  

In addition to achieving fame as a preacher, he was a professor of literature at Princeton University, became a Navy chaplain during World War 1, and represented his country as an ambassador to Holland and Luxembourg under an appointment by President Wilson. He was a prolific writer of devotional material with many of his books being best sellers.

The hymn, “Joyful Joyful,” written by van Dyke was written to Ludwig van Beethoven’s, Ninth Symphony for the song called “Ode to Joy.” It was Beethoven's last symphony, took him six years to complete and is generally considered to be his greatest.

Many know that Beethoven by thirty years of age, had become completely deaf. It’s amazing to think that this Ninth Symphony and many others were written without his access to hearing what he composed.  A story is told that when the audience erupted with applause at the conclusion of the initial performance of the Ninth Symphony in Vienna, Austria, the singers on the stage had to turn Beethoven around so that he could see the audience standing and applauding.

Joyful Joyful is the best-known of van Dyke's hymns. The Hymn is based on Psalm 71.  The key verse is Psalm 71:23 which reads:

My lips will shout for joy
when I sing praise to You
because You have redeemed me. (HCSB)

I like to look at the context of the verse before I begin to teach.  In Psalm 71, the psalmist (David) is looking for deliverance.  While he is waiting for God to answer him, he reflects on the wonder of God and then shouts for Joy.

I wonder if this song was being written today it could be called  “Happy, happy, we adore thee?”

Today, people will want you to believe the words “joy” and “happy” are interchangeable, when in fact, they are not.

We may not always be happy, which is subject to my emotions and external stimuli; but, as believers, if we have faith in God, we can always be joyful in the Lord.

Here are some distinct differences:

1) Happiness is a feeling, but joy is not.
2) Happiness is fleeting, but joy is everlasting.
3) Happiness depends on circumstances or other people, but joy is a gift from God.
4) ‘Happiness’ comes from the root word that we get ‘happening’, as from the circumstances.  Joy is from the Greek GAIO meaning to ‘rejoice.’
5) Joy is internal. Happiness is external. You may have a happy time at Disneyworld however when you leave you may lose that happiness.

The Bible answers the question of how we may have joy despite what is going on in our lives.

The Apostle Paul faced some very unhappy circumstances. However, in the midst of his struggles he wrote (Phil. 1:18b) “…I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice.”

Paul wrote this to the believers in Philippi while Paul was locked up in prison and facing an uncertain future.   The previous four years of Paul’s life were miserable. He spent two years in prison in Caesarea, and then he was put on a ship to go to Rome to appear before Nero (aka, the Caesar known for his cruelty against Christians).

On the way to Rome Paul is shipwrecked, stranded on an island, bitten by a poisonous snake, survived the winter there, continued on to Rome and spent another two years in prison awaiting trial to be executed.

Yet in spite of all of these situations, Paul says in Phil. 1:18b “…I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice.”

What was Paul's secret? How did Paul remain so positive in prison, riding above his troubles, and being joyful in spite of the fact that everything has not turned out the way he planned it?

The secret I believe was that Paul knew not only knew who he was but more importantly he knew whose he was …..He was loved by God, called to be an Apostle, a messenger, an Ambassador of God.

Do you know whose you are?   You are called to be a child of God.  Because of God, because of whose we are, the Bible says that we are to consider even our trials to be joyful.

James, the brother of the Lord, wrote in James 1:2-4

Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.

As we persevere through trials, with God’s help, our faith strengthens and matures. By God’s grace we can be happy despite our circumstances.

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