Friday, December 28, 2012

Can You Be Deceived?

Matthew 24:4  -  Jesus answered, “Watch out that no one deceives you.”

Holy Bible
These last several weeks I have been doing a lot of reading and what I found was many people who were expressing their opinions about what the Bible says, but not backing it up with Biblical quotes.  Some were expressing confusion and opinion and this is fine, as long as no one accepts what they say as fact.  Some were openly saying that the Bible or Jesus says this or that without citing chapter and verse where it is said.  Without chapter and verse there is no way of knowing what was actually said.  I also found some who were giving chapter and verse, but the quote was not correct because they were using a translation that did not come directly from the original Greek.  With all this going on it becomes very easy to be deceived.  So what can we do about all this?

The answer is easy and difficult at the same time.  We must learn all we can about God, Jesus, the Bible, and Christianity.  We are told that if we ask God for his help in gaining this knowledge that he will help us.  James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”  If we do not have a thorough knowledge of what the Bible says, it becomes very easy for someone to deceive us and Jesus clearly said in Matthew 24:4, “Watch out that no one deceives you.”

My suggestion is that we all need to read our Bibles daily.  Make sure that you have a translation that comes directly from the original Greek and Hebrew.  Also stay active in Bible Studies.  There are many that can be done at church with others and at home alone or with family members.  Finally, a pursuit of reading and writing Biblical Greek and Hebrew would be a worthwhile goal to reach for.  After all, if you cannot go to the source, how can you be sure you are not being deceived?  Always seek Jesus first.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas, 1659

I recently discovered this article among my books and believe it is worth sharing.  It was written by Paul Gerhardt, deacon at the Nikolaikirche in Berlin.  He wrote a detailed description of the Christmas morning service held there in 1659.

German Cathederal
The church is cold.  Candles are being lighted.  The people are coming and taking their places.  A group of schoolboys is at one side of the gallery and a choir of mixed voices at the other side.  Below the pulpit we see a Collegium Musicum, a voluntary musical society composed of tradesmen and craftsmen, who perform on violins and wood-wind instruments, gathered around a small movable organ.  Then there is a male quartet, also a military band with trumpets, kettledrums and drums.

After the organ prelude a chorale (Lutheran hymn) is sung….Now three clergymen with white clergymen’s bands and black robes have appeared at the altar.  The entire liturgy is sung in Latin (the use of Latin or German varied from place to place) by the choirs and the schoolchildren.  Next a college student, dressed as an angel with large white wings, sings from the pulpit an Old Testament prophecy, accompanied by the Collegium Musicum below.

More chanting from the altar, and then the principal door of the church opens, and in comes a procession of girls, headed by the teacher, all dressed as angels.  They proceed to the high altar, where the teacher sings the first verse of  ‘Vom Himmel boch’ and the second verse is sung by the girls in two-part counterpoint.  The third verse is taken by the organ and the choir in the gallery as a beautiful five-part motet.  While the procession has been marching down the aisle, one of the ministers chants a ‘Gloria’ answered by the electoral court-and-field trumpeters with fanfares and drumrolls.

After the sermon there is more chanting by the liturgist, and the instrumentalists play a boisterous ‘Te Deum’.  Then follows another Latin anthem by the school-children.

Things now begin to happen in the organ loft: over the railing is raised a cradle with a doll, while some boys with incessant mooing imitate the animals in the Bethlehem stable.  The choir and congregation sing a hymn, and at this point high up on the organ fa├žade a Bethlehem star, illuminated and supplied with small bells, is turned round and round, operated by an organ stop.  Three wooden images, representing the three Wise Men, with their traditional attributes, solemnly move forward and bow before the doll in the cradle.  At the same time we notice two puppets, representing Moors, standing on each side of the central group.  One blows a trumpet, and the other beats a drum.  Throughout this scene on the gallery railing the Collegium Musicum plays a ritornello (an instrumental refrain).

A boy soprano intones ‘In Dulci Jubilo’, which is continued by male voices, accompanied by shawms and bombards.  The song is scarcely over before a sight exceedingly beloved of the children appears in the centre aisle.  It is old Father Christmas himself in his white beard, with pointed cap on his head and a large sack on his back, soon surrounded by ‘angels’ and children, who vie with each other for the good things that are to be given out.  When the large sack is empty and Old Father Christmas has disappeared behind the sacristy door, then is sung as the closing chorale ‘Puer natus est Bethlehem’.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas Geese

Geese and goslings
One possible answer as to why God would want to become human.

There was once a man who didn’t believe in God, and he didn’t hesitate to let others know how he felt about religion and religious holidays, like Christmas.  His wife, however, did believe, and she raised their children to also have faith in God and Jesus, despite his disparaging comments.

One snowy Christmas Eve, his wife was taking their children to a Christmas Eve service in the farm community in which they lived.  She asked him to come, but he refused.  “That story is nonsense!” he said.  “Why would God lower Himself to come to Earth as a man?  That’s ridiculous!”  So she and the children left, and he stayed home.

A while later, the winds grew stronger and the snow turned into a blizzard.  As the man looked out the window, all he saw was a blinding snowstorm.  He sat down to relax before the fire for the evening.  Then he heard a loud thump.  Something had hit the window.  Then another thump.  He looked out, but couldn’t see more than a few feet.  When the snow let up a little, he ventured outside to see what could have been beating on his window.  In the field near his house he saw a flock of wild geese.  Apparently they had been flying south for the winter when they got caught in the snowstorm and couldn’t go on.  They were lost and stranded on his farm, with no food or shelter.  They just flapped their wings and flew around the field in low circles, blindly and aimlessly.  A couple of them had flown into his window, it seemed.

The man felt sorry for the geese and wanted to help them.  The barn would be a great place for them to stay, he thought.  It’s warm and safe, surely they could spend the night and wait out the storm.  So he walked over to the barn and opened the doors wide, then watched and waited, hoping they would notice the open barn and go inside.  But the geese just fluttered around aimlessly and didn’t seem to notice the barn or realize what it could mean for them.  The man tried to get their attention, but that just seemed to scare them and they moved further away.  He went into the house and came with some bread, broke it up, and made a breadcrumb trail leading to the barn.  They still didn’t catch on.

Now he was getting frustrated.  He got behind them and tried to shoo them toward the barn, but they only got more scared and scattered in every direction except toward the barn.  Nothing he did could get them to go into the barn where they would be warm and safe.  “Why don’t they follow me?!”  he exclaimed.  “Can’t they see this is the only place where they can survive the storm?”  He thought for a moment and realized that they just wouldn’t follow a human.  “If only I were a goose, then I could save them,” he said out loud.

Then he had an idea.  He went into the barn, got one of his own geese, and carried it in his arms as he circled around behind the flock of wild geese.  He then released it.  His goose flew through the flock and straight into the barn – and one by one the other geese followed it to safety.

He stood silently for a moment as the words he had spoken a few minutes earlier replayed in his mind:  “If only I were a goose, then I could save them!”  Then he thought about what he had said to his wife earlier.  “Why would God want to be like us?  That’s ridiculous!”

Suddenly it all made sense.  That is what God had done.  We were like the geese—blind, lost, perishing.  God had His Son become like us so He could show us the way and save us.  That was the meaning of Christmas, he realized.  As the winds and blinding snow died down, his soul became quiet and pondered this wonderful thought.  Suddenly he understood what Christmas was all about, why Christ had come.

Years of doubt and disbelief vanished like the passing storm.  He fell to his knees in the snow, and prayed his first prayer: “Thank You, God, for coming in human form to get me out of the storm!”

Friday, December 7, 2012

When Will Jesus Come Again?

Second Coming
As we prepare for Christmas during this season of Advent, I felt the need to spend some time looking at the second coming of our Lord.  The term “second coming” is never mentioned in the Bible, but the reference to our Lord’s return occurs over 300 times in the New Testament.  Jesus told his disciples that he would return in the same manner that they had seen him go.

Jesus talks about the end times in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21.  He repeatedly warns us to watch and be on guard.  In Matthew 24:4 Jesus says, “Watch out that no one deceives you.”  Paul follows in 2 Timothy 4:3 and says, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”  Again the words of Jesus, “Watch out that no one deceives you.”  Jesus also says in Matthew 24:36, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, not the Son, but only the Father.”  Again Jesus’ words, “Be on guard.”

So how can we prepare for this second coming?  What can we do, since Jesus clearly says that it could happen today, next year, or at some other time in the future.  What should we do?

2 Peter 3:9-13 gives us some very good advice in this area.  Here Peter says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.  But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.  The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.  Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be:  You ought to live holy and Godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.  That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.  But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.”

While we do not know when our Lord will return, as Christians we are assured that He will come again in all power and glory and we look forward to that glorious day, just as people 2000 years ago watched and waited for that baby born in a manger in Bethlehem.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Was There a Bethlehem Star? What Do You Think?

There are many today who sincerely doubt the authenticity of the Bible, especially those stories about Jesus.  It is with that in mind that I want to share this information.

In 1856 an American minister, W D Mahan, was given access to the Vatican Library.  He chose eleven documents and had them translated from the original Greek or Aramaic.  In 1887 he published his findings in a book titled “The Archko Volume.”  Today this book is known as “The Acts of Pilate.”

One of the stories told involves the Star of Bethlehem.  The story tells about an inquiry made by the Sanhedrin High Council.  They sent their own investigator, Jonathan, son of Heziel.  The following is what Jonathan reported back to the High Council.

Bethlehem Star
I met with two men, who said they were shepherds, and were watching their flocks near Bethlehem.  They told me that while attending to their sheep, the night being cold and chilly, some of them had made fires to warm themselves, and some of them had laid down and were asleep; that they were awakened by those who were keeping watch with the question, “What does all this mean?  Behold, how light it is!”; that when they were aroused it was light as day.  But they knew it was not daylight, for it was only the third watch.  All at once the air seemed to be filled with human voices, saying, “Glory! Glory! Glory to the most High God!”  And “Happy art thou, Bethlehem, for God hath fulfilled his promise to the fathers; for in thy chambers is born the King that shall rule in righteousness.

I asked him how they felt, if they were not afraid; they said at first they were; but after awhile it seemed to calm their spirits, and so fill their hearts with love and tranquility that they felt more like giving thanks than anything else.  They said it was around the whole city, and some of the people were almost scared to death.  Some said the world was on fire; some said the gods were coming down to destroy them; others said a star had fallen; until Melker the priest [from Bethlehem] came out shouting and clapping his hands, seeming to be frantic with joy.

Unfortunately, the Vatican Library is now closed and we cannot access the tremendous wealth of information that it contains.  I am certain, however, that when we are allowed to read these volumes, we will find that many writers told the same stories that are found in the Bible.