"Be Thou My Vision" by Selah.
Friday, December 30, 2011
"Be Thou My Vision" by Selah.
Thursday, December 29, 2011
This is the story of how we have come to celebrate Christmas today. The story starts with the birth of Jesus of Nazareth either in the year 6 BC or 6 AD. Both dates have pros and cons. The earlier one would have the baby Jesus born during King Herod’s lifetime (Matthew 2:1), before his death in 3 BC. Jesus would also be in his thirties (Luke 3:23) during the time Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judea, from 26 AD to 36 AD. In 6 BC there was a conjunction of planets that could have been what the Magi saw (Matthew 2: 1-2). However, there was no census (Luke 2:1) that we know of taken in Palestine in 6 BC. We do know that there was a census taken in 6 AD while Quirinius was governor of Syria (Luke 2:1). However if Jesus were born in 6 AD he would not have begun his ministry in his thirties and still face Pilate at a trial. Another date to consider would be 3 BC, but this date has problems too. All we really know is that Jesus didn’t say what year he was born in or what day. In fact, Jesus probably didn’t want anyone to make a fuss, and so he kept quiet about it. And this silence left the door wide open for people to make Christmas into whatever they wanted.
The earliest celebration of the birth of Jesus was called the Theophany or manifestation of God. Today we call it Epiphany and it is celebrated on January 6th, which was the beginning of the year in the days of the early church. The celebration included more than Jesus’ birth, it included the concept of God being with us always. This celebration was split into two holidays in the 4th century AD. At that time the Christmas celebration competed with the pagan celebration of the birth of the Unconquered Son which was placed on the winter solstice (the calendar in those days was off by four days). When the Roman Empire became Christian, December 25th became Jesus’ birthday. Epiphany was then considered the day Jesus was baptized and the Holy Spirit became manifest to all (Matt. 3:16). And Advent came about as a civil law that required all citizens to be in church for forty days before Epiphany! For over a thousand years Christmas was a midwinter religious celebration. But it changes dramatically in the last several hundred years.
Our modern celebration begins in the fourth century AD in the Turkish town of Myra. Bishop Nicholas was known for his generosity and kindness to children and after his death was canonized as Saint Nicholas. The day of his death, December 6th became a major holiday around Europe and people celebrated it by exchanging gifts. Protestants in the 16th century banned the celebration of saint’s days and so people moved the day of celebration to Christmas. German traditions have Nicholas giving gifts to children and a ghost-like Christ child hovering around him called Christkindl (Kris Kringle). Dutch settlers in New York brought with them the story of Sinter Klaas (Santa Claus) who was plump and smoked a pipe. And in the early eighteen hundreds in America Clement Clarke Moore wrote the words, “‘Twas the night before Christmas…” which cemented the story of Santa in the minds of every American. In his story St. Nick rides a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer, is a jolly old elf and delivers toys to children through the chimney. Our modern Santa is dressed in red and white because in the 1930’s Coca-Cola used him to sell soda in the winter. And so there you have it - the story of how the birth of our savior and a kindly saint became tied up with gift giving and soda pop!
Isn’t this an amazing story! Isn’t it astonishing how St. Nick became Santa and was thrust into the Christmas story? I hope you can see that many of our Christmas traditions have very little to do with Jesus of Nazareth. Fortunately the core message of the religious celebration still survives in our churches today. And that is the message of God becoming manifest to people in a very real way. God came to our world, as a real living person to show us how much He loves us. And He lived His life as an example of how to serve our Father in Heaven as well as serve other people. This is the real message of Christmas. And the message is more important than all of the gifts and all of the celebrating in the entire world. It is my hope that as we are opening presents and drinking soda, we keep in mind a child in a manger who came to give us the gift of light and life.
Blessings, Pastor Bill
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
A terrible storm struck the Philippines before Christmas leaving a thousand people dead and tens of thousands homeless. Please pray for the people of the Philippines today.
President Benigno Aquino of the Philippines declared a state of national calamity on Tuesday after visiting areas in the south of the country that were devastated by a tropical storm over the weekend.
The death toll continued to rise from Tropical Storm Washi, which has left tens of thousands of people homeless as aid agencies struggle to deal with a growing humanitarian crisis.
Read the rest of the Story…
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
A recent story caught my attention this week. A German Muslim student has been banned from praying in the hall corridors of his public school.
Here is the Link.
I am curious about your comments to this story. Stories like this one are popping up all of the time. What do you think? Should he be allowed to pray in public or not?
Keep in mind these two stories from the life of Jesus.
- And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6:5-6 (Jesus saying not to publicly make a fuss)
- On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’ Mark 11:15-17 (Jesus very publicly making a fuss)
Monday, December 26, 2011
( A Poem by Ted Zendarski)
If it's your will, am I to be seen
And if that's so, will anyone look
But it's out of my hands
Please give me a chance
But not as I will
If it's your will, am I to be heard
and if that's so, will anyone listen
But it's out of my hands
Please give me a chance
But not as I will
If it's your will, am I to be touched
And if that's so, will anyone feel
But it's out of my hands
Please give me a chance
But not as I will
If it's your will, am I to be fed
And if that's so, will anyone feed
But it's out of my hands
Please give me a chance
But not as I will
If it's your will, am I to be held
And if that's so, will anyone hold
But it's out of my hands
Please give me a chance
But not as I will
If it's your will, am I to be loved
And if that's so, will you love me
But it's out of my hands
Please give me a chance
But not as I will
If it's your will, am I to be
And if that's so, do you really want me
But it's out of my hands
Please give me a chance
But not as I will
It was her will, and given free
And so long ago, she accepted it to be
But now it's in your hands
Please give me a chance
As Mary did He
Friday, December 23, 2011
Thursday, December 22, 2011
This Christmas Eve there will be candles burning. Lots and lots of candles burning. Our church turns off the lights at the end of the service and we light our candles and sing Silent Night. The more traditional churches like the Roman Catholic Church probably have enough burning candles in them to outshine New York City on New Year’s Eve. Some contemporary churches will have their congregants holding battery powered electric candles. Safer, but not very cool. All throughout the world this week there will be praises, prayers, singing and burning candles. This is how we Christians worship during the Christmas season. However, this is not religion.
That last statement has probably gotten some of you to shake your heads or wrinkle your noses. If our celebration of Christmas is not religion then what is? It depends on how you define the term, as opposed to how I define the term. Most people define it in a very broad sense. If a person is worshipping something whether it is God in Heaven or a dandelion, then that person is practicing religion. I do not define religion in this way. In my definition it is not enough to worship God or whatever it is you believe in. It is not enough to light a candle and sing a song. It is not enough to believe in something. These aspects are all a part of how we express our religious belief, desires and feelings. However, they are only a very small part of what religion is.
When asked “which is the greatest commandment”, Jesus responded; “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40). Notice that neither of these are in the 10 Commandments. Instead Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. The Deuteronomy passage is part of the Shema, the foundation of the Law of Moses: “Here O Israel; the Lord our God, the Lord is One”. The worship practices cited above would fall under this commandment. Religious people are to worship God with everything they have and everything they are. And so those of us who have faith in God do just that, at church services, synagogue services, etc… For Jesus, this commandment is not enough.
His second command is to love your neighbor. This comes from Leviticus and is surrounded by a host of laws some of which we wouldn’t consider too important today. “Do not mate different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material” (Lev. 19:19). I think I’m in trouble with The Lord because of my cotton/polyester blend sweater. And yet, Jesus lifts up loving your neighbor as the second most important law besides loving God. And though I have said that these two commandments are not in the 10 Commandments, they are the foundation of the 10. The first 5 commandments are all concerned with loving and honoring God. The second 5, are concerned with loving and honoring people. I hope that you can see, being a religious person is more than being a devote worshiper. It is also about treating each other with dignity, love and respect.
Whether you agree with me or not, my definition of religion is; Loving God and Loving People. It’s as simple as that. A so called religious person is not religious if he/she do not place both of these concepts at the foundation of their life. All of the candles, all of the prayers and praises, all of the religious practices in all of the world do not amount to a hill of beans if the people involved do not love their neighbors. You can pray to a dandelion all you want, and it can make you feel good, but if you treat the people around you like garbage, your prayers and your good feelings will disappear like your godlike weed when the winter sets in.
So when you light your candles and sing your songs this Christmas, just remember as you step outside into the cold. Love God and Love People, religion hangs on these two commandments.
God bless you and Happy Christmas,
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Of course, it didn’t work out the way they had planned. There was no royal birth in the family of King Herod the great of Judea in the spring of 6 BC. This was a catastrophe for the Magi. They had invested a ton of money into the enterprise and so far they had nothing to show for it. What does an ancient astrologer do in a crises like this? They consulted their star charts and astrology tables for the answer.
What they saw there was Jupiter entering retrograde motion in the house of Taurus on August 23rd. Retrograde motion of the outer planets is a wonderful optical illusion. The Earth’s orbit is shorter and faster than Jupiter’s, and so every so often we catch up to Jupiter and pass it. When that happens, Jupiter appears to stop against the background of stars for a week. Then the big planet moves in the opposite direction than it normally does for several months. It then stops a second time for a week and proceeds on its merry way. A modern astronomer knows that Jupiter never stops and also knows that retrograde motion is due to the different speeds of the planets and the changing angle of view. However, to an ancient astrologer, planetary retrograde motion was an amazing phenomenon that portended great things. The meaning they assigned to this event was that it enhanced greatly whatever qualities the portents were predicting. In other words, if I was born under a sign that foretold I would be a leader, and Jupiter was in retrograde motion at the same time, the portent would mean that I would be a great leader. Thus when the Magi looked at their tables, they saw that Jupiter would move backwards out of Taurus and back into Ares and stop for a week on December 19th. They would have interpreted this to mean that the royal birth would happen in the winter of 6 BC rather than the spring. They were back in the hunt.
I would also like to point out that during planetary retrograde motion, the wandering star, in this case Jupiter, stops in the sky. “And, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was” (Matthew 2:9). The planet (wandering star) was “moving before them”, which meant that it was moving against the background of stars. The language used in these quotes is exactly the same language ancient astrologers used to describe retrograde motion.
How did the Magi find Jesus? At the time there were several prophets proclaiming the coming of the Messiah in the Jerusalem Temple. Simeon (Luke 2:25-35) and Anna (Luke 2:36-38) were probably typical of the people who came to the temple and prophesied in the outer courts. Word may have reached the Magi of their preaching and they went to speak with them. Both Simeon and Anna were aware of Mary and Joseph and so they could have sent the Magi to Bethlehem. Of course this common couple and their new born were not what the Magi expected. But what the heck? Prophets had proclaimed Jesus the King of the Jews, and that meant the Magi could return home and proclaim victory. And of course, cash in.
One last detail before I wrap up our Christmas story. Why would a good Jewish boy like Matthew associate the worst of sinners, astrologers, with the coming of the Jewish Messiah? Deuteronomy 18:10 condemns anyone who practices divination or reads omens, which is what astrologers did. No good God fearing 1st century Jew would have anything to do with someone who cast horoscopes. So why would Matthew write this story? Because it is true. As strange as it sounds, the more unlikely a story is the more likely it is to have happened. For the simple reason that if Matthew was to make up a story about the birth of God’s anointed King, he would follow the OT tradition of miraculous birth announcements, like Sarah and Abraham in chapters 17 and 18 of the book of Genesis. Instead Matthew tells his mostly Jewish audience that the birth of Jesus was predicted by sinful Babylonian diviners. It’s so crazy it must be true.
So, next time someone brings up the question of The Star of Bethlehem, you can say; why it was Jupiter in retrograde motion, of course.
I hope you have enjoyed this brief explanation. If you wish to know more, I heartily recommend the books I listed in the beginning of this narrative.
God bless you,
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
(Above, the great conjunction of April 17th, 6 BC)
And now a quick explanation of what the ancient art of astrology is all about. The stars move across the sky at night because the earth rotates creating a 24 hour day. The stars shift position from night to night because the earth revolves around the sun in a 365 day year which changes what part of the sky we can see. But moving across this slowly changing background are the wandering stars, the planets. Across the background of stars they move at their own pace through the constellations. Ancient scientists realized the planets and the sun follow a line across the sky called the ecliptic. Today we know it as the plane of our Solar System. Because the planets constantly changed positions compared to the stars and each other people created meaning in the movements. They saw portents in the sky that foretold events on earth.
There is a trick to this whole astrology thing. The movement of the planets through the ecliptic has to match the calendar. The twelve month calendar is based upon the 28 day moon cycle. That cycle creates an imperfect 12 month year (it took until the 1600’s to fix the European calendar). The ancients needed 12 constellations along the ecliptic to match the months, but there are actually 13 constellations, and their boundaries are not evenly spaced. So, astrologers just changed the organization of the celestial sky to suit their purposes. The boundaries were shifted into 12 equally spaced zodiac signs that matched the calendar and Ophiuchus the thirteenth constellation was dropped from the list. Ophiuchus is the Serpent Bearer, and I don’t like snakes, so I’m good with this. What is important to understand is that people 2,000 years ago derived great meaning from this system. It doesn’t matter whether the system makes sense to us. What matters is what the Magi saw in the sky and the meaning they derived from it.
What they saw coming up was a major conjunction of the planets in the House of Ares in March and April of 6 BC. Not only was it major, it was a portent of a royal birth in the land of Judea. And if they could be the only astrologers to claim to have predicted it, they could really cash in. As the sun moved through a zodiac house, it meant that the portents the planets pointed had a great effect on the people born while the sun was in that sign. The House of Ares was associated with the Kingdom of Judea. From March to April Jupiter rose ahead of the Sun, which is what the phrase “we have seen his star in the east” meant to the Magi. Jupiter was associated with royalty, and was surrounded by the other planets. The other planets became the attendants in a royal procession. At the same time the Moon occulted, or passed in front of, Jupiter on March 20th and April 17th. The occultation of Jupiter was seen as a portent of a royal birth. All of these signs pointed to a royal birth happening in Judea in the spring of 6 BC. Upon seeing this in their tables, it was time for the Magi to hit the road.
Traveling in the ancient world was a dangerous and expensive proposition. It meant hiring security and servants to accompany the group. It meant spending more money on food and sleeping arrangements. And it meant losing potential income while on the move. The Magi could set up shop in a friendly community once they arrived in Palestine. A friendly town would have lots of Greeks, Persians and Romans in it. The Jewish community of the time period considered astrology a pagan practice and thus a terrible sin. Another cost was the gifts they had brought to present to the Judean King when the royal announcement was made. One always brought gifts to a King. However, they also hoped to receive gifts in return as a reward for successfully predicting the birth. These gifts would be further proof of their success back in Babylon. I hope you can see the motivation for this long and expensive trip. Predicting this birth was a home run for the Magi, and they hoped to parlay it into a big reward.
Tomorrow, catastrophe strikes when there is no royal birth. Jupiter goes into retrograde motion and they find the baby Jesus.
God bless you,
Monday, December 19, 2011
This is a long post so I’m going to chop it up into several pieces. The Astronomy and Astrology research comes from “The Star of Bethlehem” by Michael R. Molnar a retired Rutgers professor. Some of the historical and biblical research comes from “The Birth of the Messiah” by Raymond E. Brown one of the most amazing biblical scholars of our time. And some of the historical, cultural and biblical research comes from me. I tried not to make it too technical, but if you have questions, please contact me and I’ll fill you in as best I can. Enjoy, Pastor Bill.
I’m sure at some point you have wondered what the Star of Bethlehem could have been. I’m sure you have heard many possible explanations. Most of those explanations haven’t panned out. This week, I’m going to give you a plausible explanation that makes the most sense within the Biblical, historical, cultural and astronomical information we have available. To answer the question in one sentence, The Star of Bethlehem is Jupiter in retrograde motion. Now that the cat is out of the bag I’m sure you’re wondering what the heck is he talking about? And so it is time to plunge into the ancient biblical and astrological world in search of The Star of Bethlehem.
Our story starts with attempting to establish the year in which Jesus was born. There are two dates that best match the biblical story, 6 BC or 6 AD. Both dates have pros and cons. The earlier one would have the baby Jesus born during King Herod’s lifetime (Matthew 2:1), before his death in 3 BC. Jesus would also be in his thirties (Luke 3:23) during the time Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judea, from 26 AD to 36 AD. In 6 BC there was a conjunction of planets that could have been what the Magi saw (Matthew 2: 1-2). However, there was no census (Luke 2:1) that we know of taken in Palestine in 6 BC. We do know that there was a census taken in 6 AD while Quirinius was governor of Syria (Luke 2:1). However if Jesus were born in 6 AD he would not have begun his ministry in his thirties and still face Pilate at a trial. The 6 BC date matches more of the story than the 6 AD date. Plus there is a possibility that there was a census in Palestine in 6 BC. Roman records show that there was an Empire wide census in 8 BC. However Palestine was exempt. It could be that the Romans took a census of Palestine after the census was completed in the rest of the empire. Most biblical scholars feel that Jesus was born sometime in the year 6 BC.
The next important question in our story is, who were the Magi and why did they travel to Bethlehem? The Magi were astrologers; they studied the stars to predict a person’s fortune. The Magi followed a very ancient tradition of star gazing in the Middle East. The oldest astrological records come from Babylon and list the appearances and conjunctions of the planet Venus. Records of the planets and constellations spread into Persia, India, Egypt and Greece. The movement of the planets against the background of stars was recorded for hundreds of years. These records were compiled into tables which predicted the movements into the future. Astrologers studied the tables and interpreted them for their paying customers. Ptolemy, a Greek astrologer from the second century BC instructed his readers on how to do this, which is why we know so much about this practice today.
For the Magi, this was a business. They needed to make money, and the meaning they derived from the movement of the heavens was their trade. To advertise they sent their servants out into the busy streets to shout out their masters accomplishments. The better their accomplishments the more they stood out from their competitors and the more money they made. A home run prediction for a Babylonian astrologer was predicting the birth of the future king. If a Magi could send his servant out to announce that, he would have customers standing in line. So when our Babylonian Magi looked at their celestial tables several months into the future, they saw something that got their hearts racing.
Tomorrow, how ancient astrology works and what the Magi interpreted from the movement of the spheres.
Saturday, December 17, 2011
The latest news from paralyzed Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand is very good. He says he can sit up in a chair without support for an extended period of time. Eric sends out progress reports on his Twitter feed; @BigE52_RU. Little by little Eric is making amazing strides. Keep praying that God will make the day come when Eric walks again!!!
Thursday, December 15, 2011
WHAT IS ADVENT?
Advent is the season that begins the liturgical year. It consists of four Sundays starting with the Sunday closest to November 30th. The word advent is derived from the Latin adventus, which means "coming" or "arrival." In the societies of the Roman Empire, the word adventus referred to the arrival of a person of dignity and great power -- a king, emperor, or even one of the gods. For Christians, Advent is the time when the church patiently prepares for the coming of the King of Kings, Jesus Christ.
WHAT IS THE CHURCH'S FOCUS DURING ADVENT?
Advent is the first part of a larger liturgical season that includes Christmas and Epiphany and continues until the beginning of Lent. Even though Advent occurs in the month of December and is usually considered to be a prelude to Christmas, it is not simply about waiting for the birth of Christ. Advent is as much about preparing for Christ's return on Judgment Day. Indeed, the Advent season focuses on Christ's threefold coming -- past, present, and future. First, we remember the Lord's humble first coming in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. Second, we give thanks for His present and continual coming to us through Word and Sacrament. Finally, we look forward with hope and longing to His second coming in glory to judge the living and the dead on the Last Day.
WHAT IS THE LITURGICAL COLOR FOR ADVENT?
Purple is the traditional color for the season of Advent. Purple was the most costly dye in ancient times and was therefore used by kings to indicate their royal status. Purple also signifies the repentance of God's people as they patiently await the arrival of their Lord. In more recent times, some churches have adopted blue as the color for Advent. Blue represents hope, expectation, and heaven. It is also the color associated with the Blessed Virgin Mary in art and iconography.
WHAT IS AN ADVENT WREATH?
The Advent wreath is one of the most popular symbols used by Christians during the season of Advent. These wreaths, consisting of a circle of evergreen branches set around four candles, are used in both churches and Christian homes. The evergreen circle stands for the eternal life that Christ has won for all believers. The burning candles represent the coming of Christ as the light of the world (John 1:4-9). The colors of the Advent candles can vary. Traditionally, three purple candles and one rose-colored or pink candle are used. The purple signifies that Advent is a season of repentance as well as expectation. Many churches use blue candles in place of purple ones to emphasize the hopeful anticipation of the season. A candle is lit on the first Sunday of Advent, with another one lit on each succeeding Sunday. The joyfully colored pink candle is reserved for the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete, which means "rejoice" in Latin, is the opening word of the Introit for that Sunday: Rejoice!… the Lord is near. (Philippians 4:4).
Some Christians attach a specific interpretation to the four Advent candles. The first candle, or the Prophet Candle, symbolizes the hope and anticipation of Christ's coming in the flesh as prophesied so many places in the Old Testament. The second candle recalls how Christ appeared in the flesh in humble manner, being born of a virgin in the insignificant village of Bethlehem. This is why this candle is often referred to as the Bethlehem Candle. The third candle is known as the Shepherds' Candle. It recalls the rejoicing of the shepherds when they departed after having seen the Christ-child in the stable. The fourth candle is the Angels' Candle. It reminds us of the heavenly host that announced the good news of our Savior's birth.
In addition to the four Advent candles, some Advent wreaths have a white candle in the center called the Christ candle. This candle is lit on Christmas Eve and throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas.
WHY IS ADVENT SUCH AN IMPORTANT SEASON IN THE LIFE OF THE CHURCH?
While the rest of secular society is already caught up in the frantic rush of shopping, decorations, parties, and other distractions, the church takes pause during Advent to contemplate the wonder of God's underserved mercy and love in Jesus Christ. Christians approach the Advent season much as expectant parents approach the months before a child is born. There are feelings of exhilaration, uneasiness, longing, and awe as the day of arrival approaches. Just as parents do everything they can to get ready and put things into good order, God's people prepare themselves at home and at church for the coming of the Lord by exercising the disciplines of Advent: confession and repentance, fervent prayer, immersion in Scripture, fasting, and the singing of seasonal hymns and anthems.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called on Iran to release a Christian pastor facing death due to his faith in Jesus.
Nearly 200,000 Americans have signed a petition for the US government to intervene and help gain freedom for Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani.
In calling for Nadarkhani’s unconditional release, Clinton said Saturday, “Today, we call on every government to release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally, including Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani.”
Read the rest of the story…
Please pray for Pastor Nadarkhani, his family and all persecuted Christians around the world.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Few headlines about network television make me giddy. Fewer still make me hopeful that all is good in the world. But back in August of 2010, I read the following headline from the media pages with great excitement: “Charlie Brown Is Here to Stay: ABC Picks Up ‘Peanuts’ Specials Through 2015.” The first of these to be made, the famous Christmas special, was an instant classic when it was created by Charles Schulz on a shoestring budget back in 1965, and thanks to some smart television executives, it will be around for at least another five years for all of us to see and enjoy.
What people don’t know is that the Christmas special almost didn’t happen, because some not-so-smart television executives almost didn’t let it air. You see, Charles Schulz had some ideas that challenged the way of thinking of those executives 46 years ago, and one of them had to do with the inclusion in his Christmas cartoon of a reading from the King James Bible’s version of the Gospel of Luke.
The more things change, the more things stay the same.
Continue Reading the story…
Monday, December 12, 2011
Rahway HS band director Robert Van Wyke and six of his students performed at Rockefeller Center yesterday. Listen to what 582 Tubas sound like.
Friday, December 9, 2011
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Another Mega-Church pastor goes down. Facing charges of sex with young men, Bishop Eddie Long stops preaching at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, the church he built into one of the biggest in the USA. It’s been a year since this scandal broke, and in that time I’ve been wondering what kind of meaning I can derive from this and other scandals that have rocked the church world. I have often dreamed of building a mega-church like New Birth. I guess that hasn’t happened, seeing that my church is struggling to pay the bills, struggling to keep the building from falling apart, struggling to do relevant mission in our community, struggling, struggling, struggling, etc… So as the pastors that I used to envy climb the ladder of ministerial success, only to come crashing down, I ask myself what have I learned? The answer; our definition of success is wrong.
We, meaning good church going folk, think success is bodies in the pews and dollars in the plate. When we use that as our guide, Eddie Long was a tremendous success having 8,000 people in his church every weekend. But that kind of success appears to be fleeting, as we have seen with The Crystal Cathedral in Anaheim, CA. No pastoral malfeasance, just declining membership has put them into bankruptcy. They still have lots of bodies in the pews and dollars in the plate. But their definition of success changed for the worse and they are in a downward spiral they can’t seem to get out of. When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, hundreds, possibly thousands cheered him. A week later the crowd cried out “crucify him”. It seems that the bodies in the pews can be very fickle, to say the least.
The story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) is wonderful in so many ways. Jesus risks the anger of a large crowd pressing around him, by showing kindness and mercy to a despised tax collector. In general people hate tax collectors. But in Jesus’ day tax collectors were seen as terrible sinners because they worked with the occupying Romans, and because the Roman protection, they could cheat people without worry of retribution. Touching a tax collector or entering his home was seen as a terrible sin. Thus Jesus risks alienating his audience by spending time with Zacchaeus. And despite Zacchaeus’ pledge to give to the poor, Jesus also risks a decline in long term donations to his cause. These two issues never seem to bother him. Instead, Jesus is always interested in the person right in front of him. He follows the guiding principle of his ministry; Love God and Love People. This simple concept always overrides the numbers.
So what does any of this mean to you and me? After all we are just trying to survive and be successful with work, friends and family. If you wish to be like Jesus and put God and people first in your life, then beware of the traps inherent in the pursuit of success. What the big numbers invariably do is boost our egos. A promotion and more money at work makes us feel great. A standing room only audience at church puts us on top of the world. The problem comes in when we put that ego boost ahead of loving God and loving people. If the charges against Eddie Long are true, then the ego boost he received from his success convinced him to act on urges that should have been buried under his desire to seek God’s will for his life. Success and its pursuit, can cloud our judgment because we allow it to.
I speak from personal experience. My own pursuit of success in ministry has hurt me a great deal. Now I try to focus on doing God’s work and let the numbers take care of themselves. It’s not easy because the realities of our world demand a certain amount of success. But Jesus pulled it off, and I hope to do the same. I hope and pray that we will all find that balance between success in this world, and success in the Kingdom of Heaven.
God bless you,
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
The picture above is an ongoing project for Greater Plainfield Habitat for Humanity. It is located in Plainfield, NJ. A small group of people in Rahway are hoping to do the same thing in our town. Habitat builds simple, new, affordable homes for middle class families who can’t afford to buy a home in their area. In NJ, a family of four cannot afford their own home if they make under $70,000 per year. Amazing! That number alone tells us of the need for this kind of mission.
Myself and several other residents of Rahway are looking for a property that we can purchase and build upon. We are working with Greater Plainfield Habitat for Humanity because they know how to get it done. Please say a prayer today that God will lead us to the right property so that we can bless a middle class family in our wonderful town.
God bless you,
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
(This is an interesting take on the dilemma that has become our biggest holiday of the year. From USA Today)
Instead of engaging in a battle to reclaim Christmas, I propose an alternative. Let's take Christ out of Christmas. I know what you're thinking: What about "the reason for the season"? But that's precisely my point. Do Christians really want to think of the son of God as the reason for reduced-price waffle-makers and winter wonderland scenes at the local mall?
Read the rest of the article…
Monday, December 5, 2011
Friday, December 2, 2011
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Monday, November 28, 2011
Congo is a big country! By vehicle, motorcycle, airplane, and ferry boat, we have recently traveled from end to end of the Baptist areas of Congo, visiting hospitals in the mission network. One trip we took to the hospital at Sala, one of the most difficult to reach because you have to cross the Kwilu river by one of several ferries, and it’s sometimes a gamble to know which ferry is working!
We’d heard that lightning struck the solar light system at the hospital in Sala, we decided to make fixing that our project. Sala is the eastern most hospital in the Baptist area of Congo, a distance similar to Philadelphia from Pittsburgh only via challenging paved and sandy roads, no gas stations, and 17 rivers to cross; a long “explore” at best, into remote Congo.
Once our trip plans became known, others pitched-in to help out. Dr. Bill Clemmer (then still in Congo) had funds to purchase two replacement solar system batteries. Dr. Friedhelm, at Vanga, offered two solar controllers, one 15 amp, the other 30 amp to replace the failed 45 amp unit until a replacement from the US could be found, along with 10 new “LED” fluorescent-type lights he had on hand.
Preparations took a week. We organized buying batteries, cables, and kerosene (for refrigeration), and packed tools, water and other necessities for the trip. Tuesday, here in Kinshasa, the staff at our mission purchasing service loaded every free inch of space in the Landcruiser with freight for the work at Sala, the Vanga hospital, and the missionaries there because you get to Sala by way of Vanga. Wednesday we made the 350 mile trek to Vanga in 11 hours, the last 90 miles on dirt roads.
The next morning we headed 30 miles down the Kwilu river to Mikwi, where we hoped to find the ferry working. Sala should have only been another 3 hour drive from there, but we were delayed by a sand pit that even our 4 wheel drive could not manage.
Wayne and John, our driver, tried every tactic they knew, but the Landcruiser just dug deeper into the sand. We began to wonder if we would spend the night there. Out of what looked like nowhere, another jeep suddenly appeared, coming towards us. It turned out to be Mrs. Lala, former president of the Congo Baptist women, visiting churches in her native area around Sala. She was as surprised to see us as we were to see her. Her traveling companions wasted no time pitching in to help. In a few short minutes, using copper ground wire as an improvised rope, they pull us out . God works in awesome ways when you are doing God’s work. We do everything we know to prepare adequately, yet in the end, trust God’s providence and rejoice when God provides. That remote stretch of road probably has a vehicle pass once a week.
We received a royal welcome when we finally arrived. A huge crowd appeared singing and dancing to the music of a bamboo flute and elephant tusk horn band, traditional instruments in that area. Later that evening, while enjoying delicious food and the gracious hospitality of Dr. Miche’s and his wife Jeanty, we learned that the Sala hospital had received the gift of a new generator, but it leaked oil and would not run. That perked John’s curiosity. He does mechanics at Vanga, and only one month before received special training in Kinshasa for maintenance of this type of generator.
The next day, with different members of the hospital staff, we divided into work teams. Katherine did “medical supervision” (discussing problems, looking at records, giving encouragement), Wayne worked on the solar system and John eagerly put his knowledge and skills to work on the diesel generator. By noon Wayne had the solar system repaired with lights shining, John had the generator running, and Katherine had a good visit with the hospital team. Complete success!
The Mikwi ferry does not run after dark, giving us a 2 pm departure deadline. After a hearty but hasty meal and a final debriefing with community leaders, we headed back to Vanga, recognizing how much had been accomplished because God provided. But the story doesn’t end there. Three weeks later, a visiting pastor (Raymond Bunn) brought a new 45 amp controller. So Wayne and John made a follow up visit, this time by motorcycle, crossing the river at Vanga in canoes. The 6 hour trip by vehicle takes just two by motorcycle because you follow more direct foot paths. Upon arrival, while Wayne installed the replacement controller, John, pleased to see they’d kept the generator running, gave the staff a second lesson in generator maintenance,. By three pm, and another successful trip, they started back to Vanga. Canoes also stop crossing the river at dark.
Without prayers and support, we could not be in Congo to travel, encourage, come beside, and problem solve for the sake of the God’s Kingdom. You could be a partner for the next trip!
Written by Katherine Niles, American Baptist Missionary in the D.R. Congo
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Friends, a brick apartment house across from the church was on fire last night. Betsy and I saw the flames shooting above the building. We don't know how bad it is, or if anyone was hurt. I'll know more later in the day.
Please pray for our neighbors. This is not a happy Thanksgiving for them.
Peace, Pastor Bill
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
It turns out that the leaders of the Occupy Wall Street movement are anarchists. I recommend this article from The New Yorker if you wish to find out who they are and what they are all about. The anarchist movement does not have a good history in this country. An anarchist killed President McKinley. Anarchists want to tear down the institutions of our nation. They have a vague picture of the people running the country, but I’ve not been able to figure out how they plan to do this without any organizational structure. Anarchists also want to get rid of capitalism. Good luck on that one. The Communists tried the same thing, and now they are the greediest capitalists on the planet. Oh well, it turns out that I am not one of the ’99 percent’. I wish to build up our world, not tear it down.
Jesus preached revolution. “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). But Jesus’ revolution was very different to the message preached by today’s revolutionaries. First, he did not support the tearing down of government institutions; “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21). He was not interested in reorganizing society. Jesus was interested in reorganizing people’s hearts. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Jesus wants to create a loving and supportive relationship with God in the hearts of everyone. Jesus wants to build us up with God at the center of our lives. And this process of building up does not happen in the world around us, it happens within us; “Nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). And so Jesus came to change the world by changing us. The change starts inside of us and then spreads outward. Tearing down the structures of the world will not save the world. Building up the hearts of everyone with God’s love will.
The last few years I have felt a lot of anger towards our country’s institutions. And so the Occupy movement appeared very attractive at first. But now I’ve seen the bankruptcy of it. Only God’s love can save the world. Only God’s grace can repair the brokenness. Only God can build up all of the things that we have foolishly torn down.
God bless you,
Monday, November 21, 2011
My hobby is astronomy. I love to be outside feeling the wind on my face, listening to the night sounds and looking at God’s creation overhead. Of course, the looking at God’s creation part is difficult because of NJ light pollution. The light dome from the metropolitan area prevents me from seeing fainter objects like galaxies. So I have become a variable star astronomer. Because stars are focused points of light, rather than larger and more diffuse areas of light like galaxies, faint stars cut through the light pollution. I look at these faint little dots and guess their magnitude. Since they are variable stars, the magnitude changes all of the time, and I submit my guesswork to an organization that collects the data. Magnitude estimates from amateur astronomers worldwide are used to create light curves, which are studied by professional astronomers who look for patterns in the data. It’s all very mundane work, but it gets me outside and looking at the night sky. It also has me studying the evolution of stars and how these magnificent creations glorify God.
T Tauri stars are called eruptive variable stars. If our Sun is considered middle aged, these sun-like stars are pre-teens. They have not developed the convection currents that the Sun has to regulate heat throughout the gas envelope. They are also surrounded by clouds of gas and dust called accretion disks that help the stars gain in size. All of these conditions create extreme volatility in T Tauri stars. The heat builds up inside the star without a proper way of regulating it and they explode. The explosions are not big enough to destroy the star, but they are big enough to affect the surrounding accretion disk. If there is a planet in orbit with the beginnings of life on it, those creatures would be destroyed. The environment surrounding a T Tauri star is extremely hostile and so living things would have to wait until the star starts up the convection currents, gobbles up most of the accretion disk and settles down into a more mature phase, called the Main Sequence. Our Sun went through a T Tauri phase, and now we live in a nice quiet place in the universe where we can happily look through our telescopes and watch the fireworks happen in other parts of the cosmos.
Most scientists believe that it has taken 5 billion years to reach this nice quiet point in our Sun’s lifetime. Many Bible scholars can’t reconcile that timeline with the one found in the Old Testament. I say that we are too concerned about time. We are limited to living within a timeline, but God is not. “The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD is enthroned as King forever” (Psalm 29:10). God is eternal and God has no limits, “Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit” (Psalm 147:5). Since God is not limited by anything, God is not limited by time.
Because time is so important to us, we become blinded by it and cannot see the big picture. The famous passage from Ecclesiastes chapter 3:1 says; “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” The universe is created and shaped in God’s time. If God decrees that the Sun lives for 10 billion years, then that is the right amount of time for the Sun to exist. God sees and understands the big picture; we struggle to comprehend tiny pieces of it. Therefore, God knows what is best. It is often difficult for us to understand that.
The stars I measure, some of which are T Tauri stars, change over long periods of time. Variable star observation requires a lot of patience. But every once in a while, one of these stars erupt without any warning. Suddenly a star that can be barely seen in a telescope is bright enough to see without one. That is what makes the T Tauri stars magical. “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1) and they do this in God’s good time.
Friday, November 18, 2011
Thursday, November 17, 2011
I was reading an article in The Atlantic about the Oprah Winfry phenomenon. The article sketched out her rise from extreme poverty to queen of the cable TV world. One thing that jumped out at me was the author saying that her biggest theme was “Finding Your Voice”. The author says that telling your story is a powerful and effective tool in anyone’s arsenal. Today, I’d like to spend some time exploring this idea.
With the advent of mass communication, this idea of sharing our story with others has become huge. Books, Internet and Cable TV have created an industry that is making ordinary people with extraordinary stories into stars. We believe in a person who can tell a highly emotional real life story. There is something very compelling about the story actually occurring. Oprah has made a career of it and lots of people are trying to emulate her.
But I am not an expert on Oprah and the story telling phenomenon. I am an expert on the Bible. And I was interested in whether the Bible has anything to say about telling our personal stories. There are many powerful stories about the lives of real people in the Bible; Abraham, Moses, Joseph, Ruth, Esther, Jesus and Paul to name just a few. But Oprah promotes individuals sharing their stories. Does the Bible have first person accounts in it? Yes it does. Moses writes in the first person a few times. Jeremiah and Daniel write about their lives as well. But the most prolific biographical writer is the apostle Paul. His letters are chock full of personal details. Because his letters are addressed to whole groups of people in his churches, he must have had a good reason to put them in.
Like all of us, Paul has personal reasons for including personal details. That sounds obvious, but it needs to be said. He defends himself against attacks for receiving financial support (1 Cor. 9). He complains of people causing him grief (2 Cor. 1:12-24). He sends personal messages to friends and supporters (1 Cor. 16:5-18). These few examples make it obvious that Paul uses his letters to address strictly personal concerns that have a little or nothing to do with theology. But he also uses biographical material to lift up the ultimate goal of his life.
Paul uses his life stories to lift up God in the letters to his churches. One example of this is Paul giving a brief description of his call and telling us that it was by God’s grace he became a missionary, not by anything that he had done (1 Cor. 15:9-11). Paul talks about his sufferings and then points to God’s deliverance from those sufferings (2 Cor. 1:3-11). Paul says that through his faith in Jesus Christ, anything is possible in his life (Phil 4:13). Paul is like all of us, he talks about the things that weigh on his mind. But he wants us to focus on what is most important, our faith in God and the way God uses our faith to change us and to change the world.
The primary focus of Paul’s letters is upon our faith in God and upon God’s grace. Paul uses His Story to turn our hearts and minds to The Lord. I don’t believe that the modern concept of telling My Story to the masses is anywhere near the same thing. I think Oprah would say that she has a higher purpose for telling Her Story. She says that her purpose is to lift up women and to help them live a better life. However, since so much of Oprah’s story telling is connected to enriching her pocketbook, I think an argument can be made that the sharing of Her Story is purely for commercial reasons. In the modern world of book selling and cable TV, it’s hard to tell where vision stops and consumerism starts.
Conversely, a true vision from God is not interested in numbers of viewers or dollars in the cash register. We serve God by serving God’s children. And we do this without thought of earthly reward. “What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge” (1 Cor. 9:18). Our efforts, whatever they may be, should be done to glorify God, our ultimate goal. So sharing your story is a good thing. Just make sure you do it for the right reason.
God Bless You,
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
I visited with my Father the other day. Alzheimer’s is causing his personality to fade away. It’s been a long sad journey. He barely remembers me, and he doesn’t remember his grandchildren anymore. He does remember toy trains. He has been an avid collector of Lionel trains for his whole life. I sat and looked at pictures of trains with him during the visit. The next time I see him I’ll bring a fishing magazine. Fishing was his other passion. We’ll see if what he remembers about that.
Please pray for the victims and their families of Alzheimer’s. Pray that a cure will come soon.
Peace, Pastor Bill.
(Above a picture of my Dad, Donald Whitehead and my son Richard in better days)
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Monday, November 14, 2011
There are two things we're all about: Jesus and community.
Let's start with community. Being alone stinks. Everyone on the planet knows what it's like to be alone, and no one likes it. Sometimes even worse than being truly alone though, is being around a whole lot of people and still being alone. Ever been to a party where everyone was talking about the weather, the latest movies, or what they do on the weekends, but no one really cared about the people they were talking to? That's why at Cru we call ourselves
a real community.We don't want to fake it. We want to get into each other's lives — to really know, challenge, and help each other as friends. And we want to have a ton of fun doing it!
Friday, November 11, 2011
Which Thou has made by Thine almighty Word
And how the webb of life Thy wisdom guideth
And all creation feedeth at Thy board.
Then doth my soul burst forth in song of praise
Oh, great God
Oh, great God.
After serving in the Armed Forces, Mr. Hine was called to the mission field. For many years he served in Poland and Czechoslovakia. It was during missionary work in these countries that Mr. Hine composed many of the songs for which he’s well-known today.
Stuart K. Hine died in 1989.
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
I didn't think big storms hit Alaska. I know they have bad weather, but its the first time I have heard of a hurricane striking way up there. Pray for the people in the way of this gigantic storm.
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Tim Tebow continues to receive praise and complaints about his profession of faith in Jesus Christ. Before he was the lightning rod for NFL Christians, there was Kurt Warner. He got a lot of press, good and bad, when he thanked Jesus after winning the Superbowl. Listen to his testimony in the video above.
Here is a link to yet another story on Tim Tebow and his faith. I wish people would lay off the guy.
Monday, November 7, 2011
Christ Church is the oldest Protestant Church in the Middle East. It was completed in Jerusalem in 1849 and soon after became known as the "Jewish Protestant Church."
Christ Church is indeed unique. It was built for numerous reasons, but the foremost was that the founders of CMJ had a great love and concern for the Jewish people and wanted to share with them the Good News of Messiah Jesus. They also anticipated the Jewish return to the Land of Israel in fulfillment of what was understood to be Bible prophecy (long before the advent of Zionism) and wanted to be in a position to help that process. From the beginning, the message of CMJ has been to remind Christians of the great spiritual debt owed to the Jewish people. The Jewish symbols and Hebrew texts found in the church are reminders that our faith is built upon the foundation of God's promises to the Hebrew patriarchs and prophets and that His covenant purposes for Israel have not been canceled (Rom. 11).
Thursday, November 3, 2011
I know nothing about the Kardashian’s, except their names. And I don’t know anything about the recent events in their family, with the exception of the now infamous divorce. A Fairytale Wedding and 72 days later the marriage ends? What can I say; I hope they don’t try to sell marriage advice books.
Betsy and I have been married for 25 years and we are still very much in love and very happy. We have disagreements, but never had a knock down drag out fight. We apologize and patch things up quickly. And we like to spend time with each other and our children. So, I guess this is what a happy marriage looks like. There may be other couples who are happy for different reasons, but it works for us.
I have always wished that I could bottle our secret ingredient to a successful and long lasting relationship and sell it. I would feel a sense of satisfaction having helped millions of couples. I would also make a ton of cash, which doesn’t make a person unhappy. But I just haven’t been able to pin it down. Just what is the secret to a truly fairytale marriage?
Being a preacher means I am in the marrying people business. I get out my pony and ride up and down the circuit blessing nuptials and eating a lot of white frosted cake. I have given a lot of advice to couples and therefore I have prepared myself by reading lots of books on the subject. I have found them helpful, but lacking. There always seems to be something missing. Communication is good between couples, but it depends on the type of communication. Screaming matches don’t help. Loving gestures are great, but don’t do much to settle disputes. Problem solving and other strategies are all well and good, but there always seems to be something missing. My main problem is that even after the advice and counseling, people still break up. Sometimes the counseling works, and sometimes it doesn’t. I know too many couples who have dug in their heels and let their irreconcilable differences tear them apart.
All of these unhappy couples have caused me to consider once again what it is about my relationship with Betsy that has made us so successful. I think it comes down to our willingness to sacrifice for each other. The marriage vows say; “in sickness and in health”. Standing by our spouse when a disaster strikes is something that we all would agree upon. However, I think what is crucial is the willingness to sacrifice for the sake of our spouses every day, not just when something bad happens like a untimely illness.
Betsy and I have sacrificed for each other over and over again in our life together. She knows that when she needs something she can count on me. I know that I can count on her as well. Neither of us have given up our unique personalities or our little quirks. Instead, we have realized that making our spouse happy is just as important as making ourselves happy. And so we compromise a little here, and give a little there. Sometimes Betsy gets what she wants, sometimes I do. But we are both secure in the knowledge that we can count on the other no matter what. And that makes our relationship very secure.
I don’t know what wrecked the Kardashian marriage. It certainly isn’t my business to know. I do know this; happiness does not come from getting what I want all of the time. Happiness comes from giving as much as getting.
God bless you,
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Betsy and I have been married for 25 years. We have three children. We are happy, and our kids are happy. We have managed to be happy through a life of selfless commitment, endless compromises and occasional sacrifice. Living for others is a life worth living. I pray that everyone will find this kind of happiness. Pastor Bill.
Read more on the Meaning of Marriage…
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Today is All Saints Day, a traditional Christian holiday that remembers the great people who have left our world. Today we remember that remarkable Christian, Martin Luther.
Martin Luther was an Augustinian Monk and professor at Wittenberg College in 1400’s Germany. He became fed up with the abuses occurring within the Catholic Church at that time. His main complaint was the practice of Papal Indulgences, the idea that the good deeds of the saints could be exchanged for cash as a guarantee of a heavenly afterlife. Luther argued that only through the grace and mercy of God can we reach the heavenly throne. For his efforts he was excommunicated and given a death sentence. Fortunately for him a supportive German prince protected him and he continued to teach at Wittenberg until his death.
By the way, Papal Indulgences still exist. Read more here…
Monday, October 31, 2011
Rahway was hit this weekend by a nasty winter storm. It knocked tree limbs down all over town. This is a picture from this morning, a street several blocks from my house. A tree limb took down the power line. Many people have been without electricity since Saturday.
What a strange year it has been. Blizzards in January, a Hurricane in August, an Earthquake in September and how this. Are the End Times upon us? Or, is it just our turn to get hammered by God's creation. I wish you all peace on All Hallow's Eve. Pastor Bill.
Friday, October 28, 2011
O Store Gud, was originally a Swedish folk song. Here is a version by a Swedish singer who sounds like he just got off a plane from Nashville. I especially love his shirt and the design on his guitar. He sings well and its interesting to hear the song in the original language. Enjoy.
Thursday, October 27, 2011
I used to get really mad when I was lost while driving. My poor wife has had to suffer through several of my ‘which way do I go’ meltdowns. I really hate the feelings of fear and confusion that wash over me when I don’t know where I am and which direction I should be going in. But I have found a way to defeat these feelings. I try to replace them by filling up my head with the idea that I am on an adventure. Instead of cursing myself and the world, I try and think about how I’ve never been to this place before and the houses are really interesting and maybe we’ll stumble onto a new and wonderful place that we may want to return to again and again. Strangely enough this strategy has worked. I am much calmer when we are wandering around. We are not lost, we are experiencing an adventure. The thing is, by their very nature, adventures can be very stressful.
The story of Joseph in Genesis chapters 37-50 is one huge adventure. It is such a compelling story it was made into a Broadway show and Movie. I call the Joseph story an adventure because it has all of the classic elements of one. It has heroes and villains. It features the suffering and possible death of the innocent. It has God coming to the rescue of our troubled hero just in the nick of time. The guilty are brought to justice and then forgiven. It all ends in a wonderfully happy ending. Who could ask for more?
The story of Joseph and his fabulous coat does point out to us some sobering aspects of the adventurous life. Joseph is left to die in a well. Joseph is left to rot in prison. Joseph suffers in anguish over his family reunion. It’s not all a bed of roses for the man is it? Most adventure stories in the Bible are the same way. Ruth’s faithfulness causes her to face poverty, Jeremiah’s preaching causes him to be thrown into a cistern, and Daniel’s stubbornness gets him a date with some pretty big kitty cats. The apostle Paul was thrown into prison so many times he could have written a cookbook on Jailhouse Cuisine. And don’t assume that adventures end happily. Jeremiah was forced into exile in Egypt; Stephen the evangelist was stoned to death and the last we see of Paul, he is under house arrest awaiting a death sentence. No happy endings in any of these stories.
The problem I see is that many people demand and/or expect that the adventure of faith never have any downside and always has a happy ending. Joel Osteen has a new book out; “Every Day a Friday, How to be Happier 7 Days a Week”. What a bunch of baloney. There is nothing in the Bible that promises the faithful 24-hour-7-day-a-week happiness in this lifetime. Instead, the Bible promises those of us who are willing to take the leap of faith that God will be with us as we struggle through a life of adventurous ups and downs.
Consider the words of Jesus;
The upside: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28
The downside: Be on your guard against men; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. Matthew 10:21-22
More upside: Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. John 14:1
More downside: If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. John 15:18
Get the picture?
Like Joseph we are on an adventure of faith. Also like Joseph, it is not going to be easy. The only promise of happiness and victory is when we leave this world and enter the next. In the meantime the faith that God gives us will help us to face the ups and downs of this life. That same faith gives us the surety that no matter what we face, God is with us in the struggle.
So the next time you feel like you are lost, just embrace the adventure.
God bless you,