Thursday, December 31, 2020

Christmas break day 4

Rarely do we find a hymn or carol that so perfectly encapsulates the entire gospel of our Lord as this one does. Relax, listen reverently to "O Holy Night."

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Christmas break day 3

It was all in God's plan . . . and the spiritual from many years ago tells the story of God's love.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Christmas break day 2

The plaintive cry of a captive people.

Waiting for the Messiah.

"O come, O come, Emmanuel -- 

And ransom captive Israel that mourns in lowly exile here, until the Son of God appear."

Monday, December 28, 2020

Christmas break day 1

 Since we studied the words and meaning of this song, it seemed appropriate to post the Twelve Days of Christmas!

Friday, December 25, 2020

Merry Christmas to everyone!


Christmas is such a special time, on several levels.

There’s the superficial level of the hustle and bustle of activities, choosing and wrapping gifts, attending services and parties, twinkling lights, laughter, and the lovely smell of evergreen boughs.

There’s also a deeper level of thought. There’s quiet times, introspection, and the inevitable question, “Why are we here?”

I believe the purpose of life is to be happy (not a momentary high, but contentment) and to enjoy and glorify God, while telling others about Him.

In my own life, that happiness comes from following the teachings of Jesus Christ, holding family close, and loving others more than myself.

It’s not always easy.

But it’s worth it.

And Christmas weaves all of this together.

In the carols. In the candles. In the hugs.

And in our humble thankfulness for God’s gift to us: His Son, Jesus Christ.

Enjoy this celebration of Christ's birth -- I intend to take a short break and rejoin you in the new year! It's always good to have a chance to recharge my batteries! 

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Twelve days - twelve drummers

Our Twelve Days of Christmas song ends on a triumphant note, as so many Christian songs do, and as many of the Psalms do, as well. The twelve drummers drumming are the twelve points of the Apostles' Creed.

In case you are not familiar with the Creed, it is a statement of faith that is still used today in many churches around the world; Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant churches use the statement. It's actually been in use since the fourth century, and lists twelve important points of our Christian faith, which are all found in our New Testament.

Here is how it reads:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
      creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to hell. The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty. From there he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Pretty concise, no? There's a lot packed in there, so let's look at it carefully.

The first sentence tells us so much about God the Father; He's not only powerful but He is also caring. We have confidence in the power of God because all of the creatures and people on earth are dependent upon Him for their existence. We also have confidence in the love of God, since nothing can separate us from this faithful Father.

The second point reminds us that we are not our own. We belong to Jesus Who redeemed us! Each and every Christian should be willing (and eager) to echo the words of Thomas humbly, "My Lord and My God!" Whether we as humans acknowledge His lordship or not, Paul tells us that:
 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:10-11)

What this part of the Creed brings home to us is that Christ's redemption and lordship over us will topple every other idol -- He will rule supreme in our hearts because He saved us from the bondage of sin. We belong to Him.

Third point - Jesus was miraculously conceived by the Holy Spirit through Mary. Since He was born and lived like us in every respect, yet without sin, He is able to redeem us from the curse of God's Law. (Hebrews 4:15) From the moment that the angel Gabriel appeared to a startled Mary, down to today, the virgin birth and the Incarnation have mystified human beings. It's hard to wrap our heads around it all. But it's true, and it's part of our faith. An important part. And it's why we celebrate at Christmas.

In the fourth point, we find a "short and sweet" synopsis of Jesus' death. My grandma used to say that a lot when she wanted someone to come to the point. The point of this section of the Creed is that Jesus lived a perfect life -- yet He died the death that we deserved in order to save us from the wrath of God at sin. It is sweet because it tells us of His powerful love that allowed Him to stay on that cross and purchase our salvation. We are reminded by the mention of Pontius Pilate that our faith is an historic one - Pilate was an obscure Roman governor whose rule we can point to in history texts and archives. Our faith is no myth; it's founded on facts.

Next in the Creed we say that He was resurrected. Glory to God! He conquered death and made us children of God. We, too, will be raised from the dead and spend eternity with our Father.

The sixth point affirms that Jesus ascended into heaven and is exalted; He is now our advocate in heaven before our Father and intercedes on our behalf.  When He ascended, Jesus also poured out His Spirit on us, gifting us with a small idea of what is to come.

Next, we see that Jesus will return in judgment. That's really a great comfort to us who are suffering and to those who are enduring persecution. Jesus will take care of every wrong, and His war will end all wars. Then His people will enter into glory and have everlasting joy.

The eighth point asserts that the Holy Spirit is a person of the Trinity. He is part of the Godhead, just as the Son is God and the Father is God. It may be more than we can comprehend, but we will know more when we join Him in heaven! It's the Holy Spirit Who unites us with Christ and makes us more and more like Him each day as we endeavor to become more Christ-like.

The ninth point was a little confusing to me when I was a student, until my teacher mentioned that the word "catholic" was with a lower case "c." It means "relating the church universal." (Merriam Webster) It simply means that God's church is universal - since the beginning of time, God has always gathered, defended, and preserved His church. It spans all ages and eras, and it spans the globe: all Christians belong to this church.

The "communion of saints" is sometimes lumped together with the previous phrase about the church, but I'm going to be a bit of a maverick here and separate it. I will push the last two phrases together, since I think that's a good way to organize things. (I know, I'm just a wild thing.) This point is simply telling us about the fellowship of believers across time and place - we not only belong to Jesus Christ, but we also belong to one another. This is true of all of who share the name "Christian" and call on the name of Christ in prayer. 
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; (Romans 12:10)
So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. (Galatians 6:10)

Since we belong to one another and since the Bible exhorts us to do so, we should readily share our gifts and any abundance we have with those in need - this will bless and further Christ's church here on earth.

The forgiveness of sins! Oh, believer, shout out in praise for point eleven! This is the triumphant message of this wonderful time of year - because of what Jesus has done for us in His birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension, God will no longer remember our sins. For all of us who believe in Christ alone, there is no longer any condemnation.

Therefore there is now no condemnation at all for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1, NASB)

For the twelfth point, as I warned you, I'm putting together the last two phrases. We will live again, and heaven is real - and eternal. The Creed finishes with a strong emphasis on the reality of our resurrection. It is a great comfort to realize that in Christ, we soon will be in total possession of perfect blessedness . . . such that  no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined. Heaven is for real. We will be with Him.

For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:40)

So, we have finished our study of the song, The Twelve Days of Christmas. I hope that it has been meaningful to you; I know I have learned a lot! I didn't realize all of the different phrases "hidden" meanings when we began. Our "true love," God, certainly has given us such wonderful gifts. We are in the midst of the Christmas season now . . . . what gifts have we chosen and given to our Father? Have we given the gift of our finances, to help a mission effort or another believer who needs our assistance? Have we given the gift of tolerance or of long-suffering as we deal with unbelievers and those who seek to persecute us? Have we offered Him the gift of our lovingkindness to other believers and unsaved alike, as we look for ways to serve God by serving humankind? Have we offered Him a heart humbled by our sin and washed clean by Jesus' precious blood? Far more important than the gifts we present to family and friends, these gifts to God are of eternal importance! 

Merry Christmas Eve, my friends!

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Twelve days - lords and pipers

The Twelve Days of Christmas . . . we are almost at the end!

Scholars who have researched this song and its use as a memory aid for children learning their catechism tell us that the ten lords a-leaping are the Ten Commandments.

Some folks may think that the Ten Commandments are not relevant today. 

I beg to differ. (Grin)

It's true that the Ten Commandments were God's Law and part of the system of sacrificial atonement which Jesus ultimately fulfilled forever, for all of us, as God's Messiah. But the Bible in many places tells us to be certain that we are obeying the commandments of God. And these are some of His commandments. 

If we look at the Commandments, we will see what Christians are supposed to look like. They give us a value system - a foundation for life. 

Let me explain . . . 
The first four commandments could be looked at as a vertical line between us and God. They talk about our relationship with God. 
First, there is only one God, and His name is Jehovah. We should worship Him.
Second, no idols. Yeah, I know, in today's world, I don't think any Christian will be tempted to grab a piece of wood and a whittling knife to create an idol and then worship it. But do we allow things in our lives to take first place? To shove our relationship with God aside? Then, those are idols.
Third, don't take His name in vain. Sure, this covers the fact that we are not to curse and swear. But it also means that when we tell people we are Christians, there is an expectation then . . . if we don't behave as Christ-like people, it's His name that is at stake.
Fourth, to keep the Sabbath is now to honor God by following His example. It benefits our health and it gives us opportunity to worship when we work for six days and rest on the seventh.

The next six commandments move out from us; horizontally from us to others in this world. 
Honor father and mother - establishing and nurturing a godly family.
Value life - number six shows us that God esteems very highly the life He gives, unborn life included.
Sexual purity - the seventh tells us that moral purity is high priority for God's people.
No stealing - the rights of ownership by individuals
No false witness - truthfulness in individual lives as well as in court
No coveting what belongs to others - keep greed and jealousy out of our hearts.

Put the first four (vertical) with the other six (horizontal) and we have a picture of the cross.  Because of the cross, these values can fill our lives, and as we acknowledge the lordship of Christ, we can receive forgiveness of sin and obey Him. 

The next verse of our song is for eleven pipers piping -- these represent the eleven faithful disciples.
Now it was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer with God. And when day came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles: (Luke 6:12-13, NASB)
Twelve men responded to His call. He had planned to train them to carry on His work, but one would fall and betray Him.  The eleven faithful were: Simon (Peter), Andrew his brother, James and John the sons of Zebedee, Philip, Bartholomew (Nathanael), Thomas, Matthew the tax collector, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddeus (Judas, son of James), and Simon the Zealot.  Of course, Judas Isacariot was the one who betrayed Jesus, so he is not listed in the faithful eleven.

It is remarkable about our Savior that He chose ordinary and unrefined, fairly uneducated men. They were what their world considered common folk. They were from rural areas, often farmers or fishermen. Jesus purposely passed over the aristocratic, the elitist, and haughty men of society and chose men of humble surroundings. That's God's way. He exalts the humble and lays low those who are prideful. 

The eleven faithful disciples are each great encouragements to us because they are examples of how common people with typical failings and personalities can be used by God in remarkable ways!

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Twelve days - maids and ladies


The Twelve Days of Christmas . . . what a fun song! And, as we have seen, it's a teaching song, as well. Be sure to check out the other posts in this series to get the full history! 

We are day eight now: eight maids a-milking.

Scholars tell us that these industrious ladies stand for the Beatitudes. By remembering this verse of the song, the children could easily recall the eight different traits and their results . . . 

Blessed are the poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3). Be humble, not arrogant; remember that we are the people we are because God has willed it. "Theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

Blessed are they that mourn (5:4). When a loved one dies, it's okay to mourn. It may be quite a while, but we will be reunited in heaven. It's okay to mourn for others, as well, since it shows compassion. We will receive our eternal comfort in heaven.

Blessed are the meek (5:5). To be kind, and to be gentle, is to be meek. This is translated "power under control" -- gentleness is not weakness, but power that is contained by God's Spirit. The meek? The earth will be theirs.

Blessed are they that hunger for righteousness (5:6). Put simply, to desire justice and to seek to be righteous in our dealings with other people. When it is a basic need of our lives, like hunger and thirst, we will seek His righteousness and "be filled."

Blessed are the merciful (5:7). Pretty straightforward, no? Be merciful and forgiving and the same will be returned to you. None of us are perfect; sometimes we need to be forgiven a transgression, and sometimes we need to forgive someone else. 

Blessed are the pure in heart (5:8). Today? That's a tough one for a lot of people. There's so much "stuff" out there that people want, and crave, and it's not good, either. It's a difficult thing to guard our hearts against impure thoughts, and guard our lives from impure actions, and to be free of selfishness. But what a reward - we will see God!

Blessed are the peacemakers (5:9). We need to be a "peaceable" people, not only with how we treat ourselves, but how we treat others. Squash that temper! And sometimes we may need to tactfully avoid people who are just bent on creating strife and conflict . . .  just sayin'.

Blessed are the persecuted (5:10). Today in the Middle East and in Asia and Africa, Christians are dying for their faith. Would we be able to do the same, if we were threatened? Something to think about. 

Now, those are the eight maids a-milking -- how about those ladies dancing?
The nine ladies dancing are the nine different "fruits" of the Holy Spirit:

 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23, NASB)


I "get" that these are attributes in our character that God will develop in us, if we are walking guided by the Holy Spirit each day. But I wonder why it says the "fruit" of the Spirit? There are nine of 'em there! 

I guess this is the easiest way for me to understand it . . . . I hope it works for you: I love Granny Smith apples. How would I describe this one in my hand? Firm. Bright green. Crisp. Juicy. Tart. Oh, yeah, tart. (Grin) Now, I am talking about one apple at this time, the one apple in my hand. It's one apple with all of those qualities. Just like the fruit of the Spirit, which is love, joy, peace, etc., but still one fruit. Only one way to get it. 

Does that make sense? As Christians, the fruit of the Spirit that we bear tells how much we are being led by the Holy Spirit, instead of being led by our own fleshly desires and tempers. No matter how much we tell people about how good Jesus is, they won't think much of us unless our lives show the fruit of the Spirit! If, however, we are led by the Spirit, and we bear the nine fruit in our lives, people will see Jesus through us. 

Are we led by the Spirit? Some Christians get a little hung up on the gifts of the Spirit but don't submit to the Spirit to live a pure and holy life. I think we can get it straight if we remember Jesus' words:

 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided to you. (Matthew 6:33)

God's will for our lives is for us to bear fruit. To be branches of the Vine. Then He can produce these godly qualities in our lives.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Twelve days - six geese and seven swans

The twelve days of Christmas . . . let's see, the next gifts from "my true love" were six geese a-laying and seven swans a-swimming. They're sort of built the same, right? So let's take these birds together today!

The six geese are the six days of creation; He brought plants, animals, and other organisms into life and formed them for six days, and then on the seventh day, He paused. 

On day one, He created outer space and made the earth, though it was not "formed," yet. He divided the light from the darkness.  Day two saw the creation of the sky, or atmosphere. God called it "heaven." On day three, He created the dry land and named it "earth," and gathered the waters into what He named "seas." He also created all of the plants this day.

I really think that creating all of those plants would have been so interesting; the more I study the science of God's creation, the more amazed I become!  Now, let's see, on day four He created all of the stars and heavenly bodies - we would say, I guess, that He made the galaxies that day, both the one we live in and all of those beyond. Day five was when God created all of the creatures who live in the sea, and also all of the vast species of birds. On day six, God created all of the creatures that live on dry land, and also created man, as well. 

So, at the end of the sixth day, God's creative work is done and He rests on the seventh day. Did He need the rest? Was He tired? Well, I kinda think that flies in the face of our faith in an all-powerful, always faithful God, no? I believe that He rested to set an example for humans:

Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. (Exodus 20:9-10)

For six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, holy to the Lord.  (Exodus 31:15a)

God felt it was so important to set aside one day that it is noted in verse after verse as well as having punishments described. Why?

Rest is important - even crucial - to our wellbeing. God was making a statement by pausing on day seven. He was setting an example for humankind to follow! God knew that some of us humans would make work our idol. That others would suffer sleep deprivation because we are misguided and think we must "do it all." He can meet us in that place of rest; He can refresh us, rejuvenate us, prepare us for the coming week.

What about those seven swans?

Those swans the children sang about were the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Catholic Church took note of Isaiah 11, a prophecy of the Messiah, and chose seven gifts for each believer to aspire to:

The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD— 
 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; 
 but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. 
Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. (Isaiah 11:2-5)
The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church says it this way: "The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit....are: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, fear of the Lord."  In the New Testament, the Spirit is described as giving gifts that equip the believer for the work of the Lord. You can check those out in Romans 12, in Corinthians (12-14), and in Ephesians 4 and I Peter 4. In those verses, the "gifts" are noted as prophecy, ministry, teaching, etc.  
I don't feel it's something to argue or fuss over.....haven't we all used memory aids at one point or another? To memorize the Beatitudes, to commit to memory other significant portions of our faith . . . these were to inculcate the faith and behavior of the Christian life. 

I will point out one important thing: the gifts of the Spirit are not limited to these! The Holy Spirit in our hearts will produce many other effects - meekness, chastity, truth, holiness, and sobriety. We probably would have a difficult time listing all of the gifts that God bestows upon us! The truth is that our God comes to us with arms full of blessings for our lives -- He is well supplied with gifts, and wants us to live life ABUNDANTLY!

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10, NASB)

“And the Lord will continually guide you,
And satisfy your desire in scorched places,
And give strength to your bones;
And you will be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. (Isaiah 58:11)

For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Our twelve days of Christmas posts will continue tomorrow . . . 

Friday, December 18, 2020

Friday caroling


As we prepare our hearts for Christmas, when we celebrate the gift of God's only Son to save us from our sins, listen prayerfully to this beloved carol . . . if the images are distracting, simply set it to play and turn away from your device. 

Listen, truly listen to the words. 

I believe they will lift our hearts and warm our souls. Praise God! He sent His Son! Gloria!!

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Twelve days - five gold rings

As the children repeated (sang) their catechism (without anyone really being much the wiser) in the days when the Catholic Church was not well-received, this was the next part of the song: five golden rings. I find that each day as I write these posts, the song continues to go 'round and 'round in my head, and I'm enjoying a newfound appreciation for it!

The five golden rings stood for the first five books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These are also called the Pentateuch.

In the Pentateuch, we find the revelation of God beginning with the story of creation, the fall of humankind, redemption, the Law, and the covenant between God and His people. Each book has its own unique purpose, but as a whole, the Pentateuch offers a way for us to understand the origins of our faith - and that helps us better understand the New Testament, too. These five books are the foundation, so to speak. In school, it's WAY more difficult to understand and conquer advanced courses until you take the foundational courses first, right?  Well, the Bible is the same situation: if we know what happened in the beginning, we can better understand what happens later.

Let's take a look at one passage that is both significant and helpful:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, NIV)

This is, for our Jewish friends, the great "Shema." It is a prayer that is uttered several times daily; it is a confession of the Jewish faith; it is often the first passage of scripture that a Jewish child memorizes. It sets out God's expectations for His people. In the fifth chapter, we read of Moses delivering the commandments to the people, and God explained that it was He Who brought them out of Egypt, and He expects the people to worship and serve only Him. In chapter six, God is trying to get them to understand what that means!
It's not that they were stupid.
It's that they were used to seeing other people worship from fear, or from obligation. To God, worship is built on love and trust. He wanted them to know (and He wants us to know, as well) that He is the one and only God. The reason for not worshiping idols is that there are none before Him. Since He is Lord alone, He is totally unique and totally different from the other gods. And this is an argument against the other gods who were mere wood or stone, created or set up by human hands. It was unfortunate, but the children of Israel often found other gods attractive. . . . the one and only God demanded their devotion and their loyalty. God expects the same from us. We need to live with this knowledge of Who God is.

Verse five is about our relationship, our love for God. Unlike the idols of old who were perceived as demanding and as meting out punishment, God wants our love, our devotion, and our obedience.  Verse five shows the depth of that love. All your heart, all your soul, all your strength. It's not an emotional experience all the time, every day; but a love which inhabits every fiber of our beings. Have we ever been so passionate about something that it's all we can talk about? All we can think about? The last thing on our mind when we drop off to sleep, and the first thing we think about when we wake? This is what God had in mind for the Israelites, and what He has in mind for us, too. That we are consumed in His love.

Verses six and seven talk about how we should live . . . since obedience comes from our hearts, these verses tell us to internalize His commandments. What better way to have His Word in our hearts than to memorize it, talk about it, and teach it! God desired His law to be close to His people; He wanted it to be in their minds, their hands, and their actions. The encouragement to repeat the words meant to talk to their children and instruct them about God. "When you walk along the road," means that our testimony should extend outside of our homes. "When you lie down and when you get up," is a way of saying when we are asleep and when awake - in other words, the whole day! 

Verses eight through nine encourage us to live our love for God "out loud." The Jewish people took these verses literally, by writing verses on tiny pieces of parchment and placing them in little boxes, strapping them to the forehead and arm. In the New Testament, these are called phylacteries. I kinda think that God was looking for something internal, don't you? He has always wanted us to love from the heart. Surrounding ourselves with His Word is not a bad thing, though! Having verses posted where we can work on committing them to memory; having verses or passages beautifully framed or displayed in our home; all of the ways that we can surround ourselves with His Word will surround us in His love. 

In the Pentateuch, and in the entire Bible, God has shown Himself to be motivated and driven by love. 
Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, (Deuteronomy 7:9, RSV)
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16, NKJV) 

The Pentateuch, the "five golden rings," show us God's holiness, His faithfulness to us His people, and His work as Creator and Redeemer. In response, and as we prepare for the celebrations of Christmas, let's build on that foundation and live our love for God "out loud." Let's ask Him to bless us with more faith and more assurance each day. And let's offer Him the love flowing from our hearts in response to His great love.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Twelve days - calling birds


When I was a small child, I always wondered what "calling birds" were . . . that's what most people think comes next. Researchers tell us that the original words were "colly birds."

Well, that's not really helpful. What's a colly bird? (Grin)

Actually, the researchers have an answer for that, as well. Colly is Old English slang for coal, or black-as-coal. So, colly birds are blackbirds!

Now, in our song The Twelve Days of Christmas, the four colly birds are the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Down through the years, skeptics have frustrated Christians by pointing out what they feel are contradictions and errors in the Bible. Chief among these points of contention are the differences we read in the four gospels. It's my opinion that there are differences . . . not contradictions or discrepancies. 

Let me explain.
In the business that puts food on the table for hubby and me, we are rewarded for our ability to "market" the services of manufacturing companies. Let's say that this week we are focused on Company A. The first thing we do, before we ever contact a customer who may need Company A's manufacturing capabilities, is to tailor our words to the specific customer we hope to reach. One customer may be in dire straits because they need product made FAST. For them, we would highlight Company A's ability to push finished product out the door quickly. Another customer may be in hot water because their current supplier is providing poor quality. For them, we would focus on Company A's superior quality process and reliability.

In other words, we craft our message in ways that resonate with each customer we talk to!
The four Gospel writers were no different - they each had a story to tell, a message to share -- but they also each had a certain audience for whom the message was intended.

Matthew is the "most Jewish" of the four Gospels. It was written to tell the story of Jesus Christ to a distinctively Jewish audience.  His purpose in writing was to convince devoted Hebrews that Jesus was the promised Messiah, sent from God.

Mark wrote a motivational call to action - it was full of action and not concerned so much with details. Mark focused on the personal choice to act; his Gospel was a dramatic, powerful story that challenged his readers and asked what they will do with what they know about Jesus.

Luke's Gospel was intended to appeal to educated Greeks; his account of the life of Jesus was for people who were a generation removed from the life and ministry of Christ. Luke wrote a conclusive argument for the logic-loving Greeks who wanted to hear support for the validity of Jesus as the Christ.

Lastly, John's Gospel is totally different; it's not presented to convert people to Christianity from other religious traditions, but is written to devoted, committed believers in the church that John led. These Christians were struggling to understand the challenges of faith and fidelity in a world that was hostile to their beliefs (sound familiar?). John wrote to encourage the Christians in the validity of their decision to believe in Jesus Christ.

Each of the Gospels presents a slightly different view of Jesus: Matthew introduced his readers to the promised Messiah, Who called people to a "new" law and a new covenant with God. Mark presented Jesus as a healer, miracle worker, and teacher who was misunderstood by most of the people around Him. Luke showed Jesus as a merciful, compassionate, prayerful teacher Whose special concerns were for women, the poor, and non-Jews (Gentiles). John's Jesus was noble, powerful, and divine, fully in control of His own destiny.

The folks who want to try to poke holes in Christians' faith point out what they see as discrepancies in timing, location, and even words said by Jesus Christ and His disciples. I believe they are simple differences in style. 
For example, Mark tells his readers about Peter's denial in chapter fourteen, but it's in two sections. Wedged in between these two parts is the story of Jesus' trial. 
Luke? He completes the entire account of Peter's denial before saying much about Jesus' trial. These are just two distinctly different ways of telling the same stories. Mark was prone to use the stylistic technique of "sandwiching" the trial between the two halves of the story of Peter's betrayal. Luke treats the two stories completely separately.
As each gospel writer tells the story of Jesus' life, they use different approaches and many times this helps us to clarify and understand things. When seen in this light, "discrepancies" are seen as "differences," and I believe that is the truth! 

Each gospel writer "marketed" God's good news about His Son as necessary in order to convey the message effectively. Far from contradicting each other, their gospels show a distinctiveness that is nothing more than God reaching out to very diverse people with His message of unconditional love.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Twelve days of Christmas - French hens


We are working our way through the lovely old carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas, which apparently was used by folks in the Catholic church to help their children learn the catechism. I think there are some things here that help focus our thoughts on all of the gifts that God has given us. 

And Christmas is a great time to focus on those blessings!

Next in the lineup is "three French hens," and they stand for the three virtues of faith, hope, and charity. 

What is faith?
Do you have a good definition?
The catechism the children learned probably said something like, "faith is the virtue by which we firmly believe all the truths that God has revealed."
I've heard it said that there are three types of faith. There is knowing faith, showing faith, and saving faith. 
Here's what I mean . . . almost anyone can have an example of "knowing" faith. We know who the leader of our country is. We know what gravity is. We can say we know Who God is. But so can the demons, right?
You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. (James 2:19)
So what is "showing" faith? Showing faith is when we show our faith by the things we do and the lives we live.
and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their bodywhat use is that? 
Even so faithif it has no works, is dead, being by itself. (James 2:16-17)
Then, there's "saving" faith. 
 "For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day." (John 6:40) 

The second "hen" is hope. . . . certainly we believers have a blessed hope!

to whom God willed to make known what the wealth of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles is, the mystery that is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)

in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised [a]long ages ago, (Titus 1:2)

Hope is not wishful thinking . . . it's not us saying, "Well, I don't know but I hope it happens." Christian hope is when God has promised that something is going to happen and we put our trust in that promise. It's a confidence that something will come to pass because God says so. If our future is secured and satisfied by God, then we will not waste time with fear or with thinking about ourselves and our future. We won't be preoccupied with those things, so we can take care of and care about other people.

In other words, hope is the birthplace of charity - Christian, self-sacrificing love. We let God take care of us, and we are able to be there for other people.
Charity refers to the love that we have toward other people. Paul stressed it:
Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother....
 For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. (Romans 14:13,15, ESV)
And Paul also praised the Thessalonians for it: 

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. (II Thessalonians 1:3)

John encouraged the believers to show charity toward strangers, as well as to fellow-Christians:

Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, 
who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. (III John 1:5-6)

Three French hens . . . we can remember the virtues of faith, hope, and charity.

Monday, December 14, 2020

The Twelve Days of Christmas

I've always been intrigued by history and the "history of things." The old carol "The Twelve Days of Christmas" has fascinated me and has been endless fun with our three kiddos when they were small. Like some other songs, hymns, carols, and such, the song has an interesting backstory. As I have read about it, I've been impressed by the fact that the meaning depends on who you are and where you live!

The twelve days of Christmas are also called Twelvetide in some places, and Christmastide in others. The very first day of Twelvetide is December 25, and it's all about celebrating the birth of Christ. During these twelve days, there are all kinds of celebrations: some religious, some secular.  This period of time has been celebrated in Europe since before the middle ages, and it's always been a period of great festivities. Twelvetide officially finishes on January 5th, the traditional day for taking down the Christmas decorations. Twelfth night is also known as the Eve of Ephiphany, and is distinguished by feasts and festivities that call attention to the arrival of the three kings to see the Holy Child.

I was able to find lists of the twelve days of Christmas that honored saints. Some folks simply sing it as a fun song. In Victorian times, it may have been one of the popular "memory and forfeit" songs that people would sing with their guests in the parlor, with lots of laughter and fun. Still others believe that it was written as a kind of memory aid for children studying the Catholic catechism - that there's a deeper meaning, a code, if you will, within the lyrics. These folks feel that the gifts on each day of Twelvetide, or Christmastide, represent significant parts of our faith.  Here's the reason why: from 1558 to 1829, Roman Catholics were forbidden from practicing their faith openly. So the song was created as a sneakier way to teach the kids their catechism!

I'd like to explore that final theory, and look at the gifts in the song as a lead-up to our celebrations of the birth of Jesus Christ. 
Are ya with me?
Let's dive in!

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me . . . a partridge in a pear tree. 
Why a partridge? This represents Jesus, the Son of God. The "true love" in the song is God, and Christ is symbolically represented as a mother partridge . . . a partridge will feign injury to draw a predator away from her young. Pretending that her wing or other part of her body is hurt, she pretends to be an "easy meal," and the predator will follow her -- she's a decoy so that her babies can hide or run away. She will even give up her own life for her little ones. 
Jesus came as the babe in the manger; He came quietly into the world to offer full forgiveness and restoration with Father God. By offering Himself on the cross:
he will rescue you from the trap of the hunter and from the plague of calamities; 
 he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his truth is a shield and protection. (Psalm 91:3-4, CJB)
Just as our Bibles begin and end with Jesus, and the gospel we want to share starts and finishes with Him, so too the song -- each verse repeats all the way down to "partridge in a pear tree" each time! And the pear tree is the cross itself. There was a time in King David's career when he sought the Lord's help in delivering his people from the scourge of the Philistines . . . the Lord told him:
 And when thou shalt hear the sound of one going in the tops of the pear trees, then shalt thou join battle: for then will the Lord go out before thy face to strike the army of the Philistines. (II Samuel 5:24, RHE)
The cross, like the pear trees for David, was instrumental in the plan God made. His plan made it possible for us to prevail over sin as David prevailed over the Philistines. Jesus' blood, shed on the cross, cleanses us from our sins and allows us to be called the children of God!
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, (John 1:12, NASB)
Whether or not this folk song taught children about their faith, it CAN teach all of us to pause and consider the gifts we have been given as children of God! And one gift stands above them all: our Savior, Jesus Christ. 

What's that next verse? 
On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me . . .  two turtledoves.
These two birds represent the Old and New Testaments. In this gift, we see the complete story of our faith and God's plan for the world. The two turtledoves are a roadmap (or a GPS system, for today's vernacular!) that is available to everyone. The Bible may be old, but it still has meaning for us today. In our human families, we often share stories to help us remember specific people and traditions; the Bible helps us to remember our heritage in the faith, and the truths that our faith is grounded upon.

The gospel of Luke tells us the story of Mary and Joseph presenting the baby Jesus in the temple. This was done in accordance with the law of Moses. Luke mentions that they would sacrifice "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons."
and to offer a sacrifice according to what has been stated in the Law of the Lord: “pair of turtledoves or two young doves.” (Luke 2:24)
Now, the primary gift of sacrifice from a new mom "should" have been a yearling lamb. However:
But if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two young doves, the one as a burnt offering and the other as a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for her, and she will be clean.’” (Leviticus 12:8, NASB)
Because Mary and Joseph were poor, they couldn't afford to bring a lamb.
Except that they did. 
They did bring a lamb.
They brought with them the Lamb of God AND the two turtledoves. This, then, was a symbol of the Hebrew scriptures and the gospel of the New Testament meeting. 
The newborn babe would fulfill the old law and would form a new covenant with mankind.

Yes, Jesus is the gift that we celebrate this Christmas season. In Him, alone we find hope, everlasting love, joy, peace, and new life. Let's sing praises to our true love, our Father God, and to His Son Jesus this Christmas!