A CHRISTIAN RESPONSE TO SUICIDE

(I recently conducted the funeral of a Christian who in the darkness of deep depression took their life. What to say at such times is never easy. The remarks that follow are for the most part what I said at the funeral. I have had so many people tell me that they were greatly helped by the message, that I asked permission of the family if I could share the remarks. With consent of the family I send these words forth in hopes they may be used of the Lord as He sees fit. The tenth leading cause of death in the USA is suicide and amid our questions we must approach the subject with the utmost Christian compassion and sympathy.)

The tragic loss of a loved one brings us together today. Death makes all brothers and sisters. The love we have shared with those who have passed on never wanes. Solomon reassures us that many waters cannot quench love (Song of Solomon 8:7). As we gather today there stands at the end of our tears a rainbow of hope and that hope is found in Jesus Christ who said, “I am the resurrection and the life He who believes in me though he were dead yet shall he live. He thatfacingdifficult1 believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25).

We grapple for words to express our grief today. We grasp for answers in the midst of our questions. We seek understanding in the midst of our confusion. We seek peace in the midst of unspeakable sorrow and hurt. We seek to awake from what surely we hope is a bad dream. I am at a loss for words myself as we grapple for answers for that which is unexplainable. We seek firm footing for feet that are shaken.

The hymnist William Cowper wrote these words in 1773:

God moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the seas, and rides upon the storm.  Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace;  behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face. You fearful saints, fresh courage take, the clouds you so much dread, are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head. His purpose will ripen fast, unfolding every hour; the bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flower. Blind unbelief is sure to err, and scan his word in vain; God is his own interpreter and He will someday make it plain.

Cowper, who was a Christian, wrote many Christian hymns, but he was a man given to bouts of deep depression who on many occasions attempted to take his own life. He died in 1800 in a mental hospital after suffering years of mental torment from the dreadful throes of depression. Cowper knew firsthand the words to the song that has these lines, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, Prone to leave the God I Love.”

We must all confess we feel like that at times. You may feel like that this afternoon. In this hour of sorrow and uncertainty we look to the Scriptures to give us a measure of reassurance. Isaiah 54:8-10 reads, “With everlasting kindness I will have mercy on thee, says the LORD the Redeemer.…For though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my kindness shall not depart from you, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, say the LORD that has mercy on thee.”

This afternoon you may feel like the very foundation of your soul has been shaken. There is often time an enormous strangeness and total mystery in life beyond our finite understanding. We look for some insights that will help guide us through these troubled times and we seek these insights through prayer and the Word of God. Let me share some insights gleaned from the Word of God and prayer that hopefully will give us some comfort in our hour of deep sorrow.

 First, the most important question we can ask today is not Why? But Who?  We all in our finite minds want to ask why. But we are asking a question to which we will not on this earth ever be able to answer. And if we did know the reason to “why?” it would not change anything, it would not lessen our hurt and grief, and it would not stop our flow of tears.

Job asked for answers to the question of why? in the loss of his children, health, and possessions, but he never received any answers from the Lord. But he did say, “Though God slay me yet will I trust him” (Job 13:15). John the Baptist had questions as he found himself in prison (Matthew 11), but he never received any answers either. However, in the midst of his “whys?”  he took his questions to Jesus.

We must do the same as Job and John the Baptist. We learn from Job and John the Baptist that the question we need to ask is not “why” but it is Who?. Who are we going to turn to in our times of questions, in our grief, in our sorrow, in our hurts? Who are we going to turn to sustain us? We turn to Jesus who wept through human eyes (John 11:35), who weeps with us and hurts with us. He is the one who gives us strength when we are weak. He is the one we turn to when we have no answers. He is the one we turn to for comfort when we are hurting beyond measure. He is the one we cry out to when we have not the words to speak. He is the one we turn to when tears flood our eyes

Who this afternoon are we going to trust? We trust the Lord who made heaven and earth and who made us. Jesus said, “In this world you shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). It is Christ alone who gives us peace in the midst of dark storms of life when answers to our questions are not forthcoming.

Second, we must refrain from passing judgment, but be quick to claim God’s mercy. We are not in the position to make hasty judgments on someone who takes their life, because ones physiological condition is too hidden from us by the person themselves. Unless we have walked in their path which has descended into  the dark valley of severe depression we are not in the position to pass judgment. We do not know what is going on in the psyche of a person who makes such a decision. It is impossible for us to know the kind of darkness a person in the grips of deep depression is suffering that result in such a decision.  It can be burdens and struggles about which we had no knowledge or overwhelming anxiety which we never suspected, a sense of past failures, a sense desperate loneliness, or relentless attacks from our adversary the devil. It can be a chemical imbalance that resulted in one losing sound judgment. We must not be judgmental, but be compassionate in our grief knowing if whatever factors were present that resulted in them taking their life, if those factors were not present our loved one would not have taken their life. We must realize that we are all so much more fragile and weak than we know because what we feel and do can hardly be understood apart from factors we often keep hidden from others. We must all keep in mind, “If not for the grace of God, there go I.” Let us not be hasty to judge, but be quick to claim God’s abundant mercy even amidst our questions and grief over this distressing and complex heartache. His grace and mercy is sufficient to sustain us in our weakness. For Christ is our strength in our time of weakness.

 Third, we must not point fingers in blame, but realize death occurred because of the sometimes fatal and horrible illness of depression. When someone takes their life we are quick to point fingers of blame even at ourselves. We ask, “What could I have done different?” Such a question is only normal. There are two options that confront us: we either have to accept that we will never have any real answers to our question or we can encompass ourselves with blame and harbor guilt of what we think we could have done different or someone else could have done. May I lovingly say, death has not occurred because anyone here failed, your loved one died because of the awful and terrible sometimes fatal illness called depression that on this occasion took them further than they had ever been before.  They did not die because anyone present today failed, they died because of the horrible darkness the illness of depression took them. There are times when the sometimes fatal illness of depression changes how a person thinks and turns rational logic into an irrational decision. Blaming isn’t fair to us or to others. He didn’t die because anyone here didn’t do enough, but because depression and dark demons of torment did their worst. While this sometimes fatal illness of depression leaves us with more questions than answers, when we begin to blame ourselves or others it changes nothing and will eventually either immobilize us or make us bitter. We need to remember that depression at its worst can sometimes be fatal for those who suffer with it. Those who have never experienced the depths of depressions dark valley don’t fully understand. The task of those left behind is to love, encourage, strengthen one another and help one another and be there for one another.

 Fourth, the grace, mercy and forgiveness of God cover all our sins. A question that has been asked down through the ages is, “When a Christian takes their life have they forfeited their place in heaven?” Would we ask that question if one died of a heart attack? Would we ask that question if one died of cancer, or drowned, or perished in a car wreck? NO, we would not.

Then why do we ask such a question when one whose mind has been ravaged by the illness of the darkness of severe depression? The mind can become ill just as the body can. One who is a Christian is not exempt from the possibility of the mind become ill as well as the body.   When the mind becomes ill there are times it results in one doing what they would otherwise never have done. And when one who has placed their trust in Jesus Christ there is no single sin, not even the taking of one’s life as the result of illness of the mind, forfeits a person from the Savior’s arms in heaven. The Bible says in Romans 9 that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. All our sins are covered by the precious and powerful blood of Christ. Our eternal destiny is based on our decision for Jesus Christ who died for our sins. And while a person or sin can destroy the body when in the throes of deep depression or disease, it cannot destroy the spirit which goes to be with their Lord. One truth is certain, if God is anything He is a forgiving God. Grace is greater than all our sins. The Gospel if anything tells us that it is powerful and  sufficient to cover all our sins and failures. As we gather today it is an opportunity to demonstrate how the gospel is an anchor for us in the worst storms of life.

I opened with the words of William Cowper and I want to close with those same words:

God moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the seas, and rides upon the storm.  Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace;  behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face. You fearful saints, fresh courage take, the clouds you so much dread, are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head. His purpose will ripen fast, unfolding every hour; the bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flower. Blind unbelief is sure to err, and scan his word in vain; God is his own interpreter and He will someday make it plain.

Paul even makes it even clearer to us  in Romans 8:35-39:

“35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. 37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. 38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Let us bow in prayer and seek the Lord’s comfort and strength, knowing that the sun shall shine again.

Blessings,

Dr. Dan

 

 

THERE IS A DIFFERENCE

religion-vs-christianitySomeone asked me recently in a sarcastic tone, “Well, just what is the difference between Christianity and other religions; what differentiates Christianity from other religions?” Their insinuation was  Christianity and other religions are all the same. Is there a difference?

The answer is not complex: Christianity is God coming down to man in Jesus Christ to atone for the sins of humanity; while in other religions the focus is upon man’s vain attempt to lift himself up to God by his own bootstraps.

In Christianity our transcendent God came down to man and enters our souls to regenerate, remake and remodel us; religion is man seeking to lift himself up to God and is so doing remake himself.

Christianity is God taking the initiative to redeem man; religion is man‘s initiative to in some way to redeem himself.

Christianity is the Holy coming to walk amongst the unholy; religion is the unholy seeking to come into the presence of He who is Holy.

Christianity is Christ enduring the whole penalty of man’s guilt and sin; religion is man attempting do something himself to eradicate the sin and guilt that haunts him.

Christianity is an Infinite Being taking upon Himself the likeness of the finite; religion is finite beings trying to achieve the likeness of the Infinite.

Christianity is God seeking man; religion is man seeking God.

Christianity is Christ who was rich becoming poor that we who are spiritually poor might become spiritually rich; religion is man who is spiritually poor seeking to be spiritually rich out of the depths of his own spiritual poverty.

Christianity is a relationship with a Resurrected Savior; religion is adherence to the dusty dogma of a deceased personage.

Christianity is heaven proclaiming salvation is finished and complete in Christ; religion is man asking what he must do to earn salvation.

Christianity finds the ladder to heaven’s gate in Jesus Christ; religion finds man constructing his own ladder.

Christianity says redemption is done, religion says for redemption you must do.

Christianity is the self-sacrificing holy-love of God in Christ providing man with the perfect righteousness needed to stand before a Holy God; religion contends man has the ability within himself to provide the righteousness needed to stand before a Holy God.

Christianity declares I have favor with God by faith in Christ; religion seeks favor with God by human works.

And the Good News is, it is through faith in the Christ of the Cross, the Living Redeemer, the self-sacrificing Savior, the victorious Liberator, He becomes ours!!!

Yes, there is a big difference between Christianity and other religions

Blessings,

Dr. Dan

THE GOODNESS OF GOD, THE ETHIC OF LOVE, AND THE EXISTENCE OF EVIL

A question I was recently asked and have been asked many times over the years is, “How can evil exist in a world created by an all-knowing, all-powerful and benevolent Creator?” All of us have probably mulled over the question, “Howgodevil can God’s divine goodness co-exist with evil that plagues all humanity?” Trying to satisfactorily address such a weighty subject in a short blog is impossible, but from years of studying Scripture, reading men more brilliant than myself, philosophical observations, and living in a world where evil and good, love and hate are diametrically opposed, I will attempt to tackle the question hoping to shed some light.

The Bible teaches that the supreme ethic that God has given us is love: love for Him and love for our fellowman. Jesus was once conversing with the Pharisees and the Sadducees when He was asked what the greatest commandment of all was. Jesus responded, “You shall 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 unto it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:35-40). Jesus taught that we cannot truly love our fellowman until our love is first anchored in the One who lived the supreme ethic and demonstrated such love in His life. Jesus taught that our love for our fellowman must first flow from our love for God, whose nature of holy-love is moral not amoral.

Now even those who deny God’s existence will embrace Jesus’ words that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. In doing so even the atheist is contending that the ultimate ethic is love. The late atheist Christopher Hitchens stated that man has an innate awareness that we are to love one another, but he had no idea where that innate realization came from. Well, it stands to reason this innate awareness of love as the supreme ethic points to the existence of a Divine Lover who created man and planted it in his heart. So for one to say there is evil in the world is acknowledging that evil is known and measured against a standard or ethic of love. And it is love which places worth on other persons as being of value and something which must be valued and treasured.

Love for our fellowman, which flows from a love for God, is the pinnacle of all spiritual, intellectual and emotional attainment in the honoring of human worth and dignity. However, it is not really love where it is not freely given. That which is compelled is not love, for love must be freely expressed by choice. There can be no true love without an inherent weaving into the fabric of ones being the freedom to willingly give and receive love. You cannot have love without the freedom of the will. If we are forced to love it is not love but a mechanical compliance. If one was made to comply with the ethic of love then one would never be able to willingly express or experience the emotion of love by free choice. If we are forced to love then we would never choose willingly the supreme ethic. Our response would be robotic not free.

The story is told of Alexander the Great once commanding one of his generals to love him. The general replied, “I honor you, I respect you, I fear you, I will follow you into battle, but you cannot command me to love you.” Love must be freely given, it must be a choice for it to be love or otherwise it would be emotionless conformity. Love is not real unless we have the ability to not love.

Now the choice not to love also allows for the potential for evil to occur. So if love is the supreme ethic and freewill is indispensible to loving God and man, and God’s goal is for His creatures to freely love Him and our neighbor, then if God intervened to suspend the possibility of evil He would be violating our freewill which is a necessary component for love to truly exist and be experienced. Yet if we ask God to suspend that which we see as evil then the Lord must violate and suspend the one necessary element which is essential for love to be expressed willingly – freewill. Otherwise, it would not be love but force. In essence we are asking the Lord to suspend the one fundamental intrinsic dynamic that allows us to love – freewill. When love for God and one’s fellowman is embraced as the supreme ethic and free will to choose or reject that ethic then that helps shed light on why contrary consequences result when making the choice to reject love, which, again, includes the possibility of evil. But love cannot reign supreme if it cannot be chosen.

When one chooses to love the Lord and their fellowman in spite of witnessing evil consequences that can occur when one rejects the ethic of love, it is then one truly appreciates and experiences the emotions and sentiments that are enjoyed when one willingly embraces such an ethic. When we ask God to suspend the potential of evil we are asking Him to deny our free will, to deny our ability to choose love for the sake of love. Again, to force us to love is not love but compliance to that which is of a mechanical and robotic nature. It is during times of the rejection of love that we see the horridness of evil, but in contrast the magnificent overcoming power of love. It is in our capacity of the freedom to choose that the contrast between the two is clearly distinguishable.

And one truth that remains and reigns supreme, “We love Him because He first loved us…and He demonstrated His love for us that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (I Jh 4:19; Romans 5:8).  It is from that truth the ultimate ethic of love must first flow.

Blessings,

Dr. Dan

 

 

 

 

OPEN AND CLOSED DOORS IN THE NEW YEAR

dooropenOne truth I have learned over the years is that the Lord opens doors of opportunities, service and blessings for us to walk through. But He also closes doors…and if He closes one door He will eventually open another one. As 2016 comes to a close and 2017 looms upon the horizon, no doubt many doors have been swung open throughout the year as well as doors having been closed. While waiting for a new door to open we must be patient when one shuts to not try and pry it open again while we wait for the new one to open. As a New Year approaches let us pray for the wisdom to know the difference.

Whether it be a door of opportunity, a door of service, a door of relationship, a door of fruitfulness, a door of usefulness, a door of friendship, a door of faith, or a door of a new beginning we need to pray that the Lord will give us the wisdom to know when to go through a door and the wisdom to know when He has closed a door. And when He shuts a door may we submit to His will until He opens a new one. The Good Lord opens doors for a reason and He, as well, shuts a door for a reason. Some doors are not meant to stay open forever, but only for a season.

As a New Year rises like the sun on a new morning, may the Lord give each of us new open doors to walk through which will bring our way new and fresh blessings, new beginnings, and new opportunities to be an effective servant for Christ.  And if the Lord closes a certain door let us not be disheartened, just start patiently looking for the door that He has planned to open for us.  Now we can push and shove as hard as we can against a door the Lord has closed hoping it will open again for us, and in the process miss the new open  door that awaits us. Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, once stated, “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”door-open-closed

If we do experience closed doors in our journey of faith the Book of  Hosea encourages us, “And I will give her vineyards from thence, and the valley of Achor (lit. trouble or turmoil)  for a door of hope” (Hosea 2:15).  The verse speaks of the Lord opening a door of fruitfulness and hope in the midst of the valley of despair, disappointment, and discouragement that often occurs when we confront closed doors. May the Lord give us patience and open our eyes to see the new one He places before us.

If we are truly trusting the Lord He will in His timing open the doors which need to be opened and close the ones that need to be closed. Again, let us pray for wisdom to know the difference. So let us as we face the New Year trust the Lord to open the right doors and close the doors that would be for our determent realizing He closed it for our protection and good, and He opens new doors for His service and our blessing.

Revelation 3:8 reads, “I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it.” My prayer is that we will walk close to the Lord so our spiritual eyes will recognize such doors and the courage to walk through them.

Blessings in the New Year,

Dr. Dan

WAS THE ANGEL GABRIEL RIGHT?

The angel Gabriel appeared unto an unsuspecting teenager named Marangelmaryy. He informed her she would be the vessel through whom God would fulfill His long-expected promise of bringing a Savior into the world. Stunned at heaven’s message to her, she was filled with bewilderment and trembling-wonder how this can be seeing she had never known a man. Yet she yields herself as a willing vessel, being told that the child being formed in her womb shall be called Emmanuel, meaning “God with us.” Was Mary delusional or was the angel right? Time would tell.

Not long after Jesus’ birth Herod is found giving the command to have all male children two years of age and under slaughtered to make sure he eliminates this one who some were calling the King of the Jews. Mary and Joseph have to flee to Egypt for safety. If this Child is to be “God with us,” why such a travesty following His birth? Was the angel wrong?

This Child that was to be “God with us” is found rebuking Mary when she seeks for Him to display who the angel promised Him to be. In public and in a tone that probably tore at her heart, He tells her at a wedding, “Woman, what have I to do with thee?” (John 2) and in Matthew 12 when she seeks to talk with Him Jesus responds, “Who is my mother or brother but those who do the will of God.” No doubt Mary thought, “If Jesus is ‘God with us’ why does He seem so distant? Why does He even seem harsh to me at times? Could the angel have been wrong?”

Throughout His ministry Mary witnesses, in spite of Jesus’ miraculous deeds, the many hurtful remarks made about Him and hears of the many plots to kill the One to whom she gave birth. If He is “God with us” why is He not being accepted? And horror of horrors, she finally stands at the foot of a cruel cross and watches in agony as her son is crucified like a common criminal. He heart is broken and torn, as only a mother can fully feel and understand, tearfully watching her Son die. Whatever happened to the promise of the angel that He would be Emmanuel, “God with us?”

Could the angel have been wrong? Mary got her answer to that question three days later as an angel announced at the open tomb, “He is not here. He is risen.” Excited women and startled disciples were running around echoing the angel’s message, “He is risen.” The angel Gabriel had not been wrong, Mary had only misunderstood. The resurrection of her Son made it possible for Him to fulfill what the angel had originally promised Mary, “He shall be God with us.” His resurrection proved Christ was who the angel had promised; now alive for evermore it is possible for His presence to be with us in every situation and circumstance of our lives.

Like Mary, we may ask, “If Jesus is ‘God with us’ why does He seem distant at times? Why does life seem at times harsh? Why does my heart still become broken by sorrow and heartache?” No, the angel was not wrong, but, like Mary, we have a misunderstanding about the message of Christmas.

The Christmas story doesn’t mean there will be no more trials or problems, but because of Emmanuel, “God with us,” we have a new way to approach them.

The Christmas story doesn’t mean we don’t still fail and sin, but because of Emmanuel, “God with us,” we can find in Him forgiveness for all our sins.

The Christmas story doesn’t mean all our burdens are taken away, but because of Emmanuel, “God with us,” we are given an enabling strength to carry on.

The Christmas story doesn’t mean we will not have sorrow, but because of Emmanuel, “God with us,” He is there to comfort us and see us through to brighter days.

The Christmas story doesn’t mean loneliness will not sometimes visit us, but because of Emmanuel, “God with us,” we have the promise that He is always with us by our sides never leaving us alone.

The Christmas story doesn’t mean the world has changed, but because of Emmanuel, “God with us,” we have changed.

The Christmas story doesn’t mean our dreams and plans are not sometimes shattered, but because of Emmanuel, “God with us,” He gives us give new dreams, hopes and purposes that have eternal value.

The Christmas story doesn’t mean that sickness, disease and death will not eventually come to us, but because of Emmanuel, “God with us,” we find He is the resurrection and the life and those who believe in Him shall inherit eternal life.

The angel was right after all. The Christmas story means God in Christ is with us at all times. The Christmas story means it is possible to have a relationship with the promised Christ that is not subject to time, place or circumstances. Christmas means that we can say, “God with us” has birthed His presence into whatever circumstances and situations we go through.

The angel was right, Emmanuel is with us. That being true, the Christmas story can be experienced every day, all the year through.

Merry Christmas,

Dr. Dan

 

 

 

 

 

 

IT IS NOT ABOUT WHEN CHRIST WAS BORN BUT THAT HE WAS

the-birth-of-jesus-christJesus Christ was born. Now that is worth celebrating!! There are some, though,  within Christendom who oppose celebrating Christmas because as they contend, “Jesus was not actually born on December 25 and the early Christmas celebrations coincided with the pagan winter solstice feast in honor of Mithra, the unconquered sun-god.” The “first” celebration of Christmas (meaning “coming of Christ”) was observed in 336 AD, some twenty-four years after  Constantine, the Roman Emperor, declared Christianity the religion of the empire. Pope Julius I sought to replace the pagan feast with a new feast honoring and celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, the “Sun of Righteousness” (Malachi 4:2). In the years that followed the Christmas celebration slowly spread throughout Christendom.

I would not spend a minute arguing with someone who wants to object to celebrating Christmas because of its early origin. I personally don’t know anyone who seeks to celebrate the sun-god Mithra, but there are millions and millions of people at Christmastime who exalt Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Savior. If one fails to celebrate the birth of Christ who is the foundational reason behind Christmas then one truly misses out on experiencing the most wonderful time of the year. It is not important when Jesus was born, but that He was born…and that is worth celebrating whenever we choose to celebrate!

Now the question that I have had asked me many times over the years is, “If Jesus was not born on December 25, when was He born?” Without being dogmatic, let us see if we can deduce an approximate time of Christ’s birth by examining the Biblical record.

If it can be ascertained when Elizabeth conceived John the Baptist, then we can arrive at an estimated calculation for Christ’s birth. The Bible records that Zacharias, Elizabeth’s husband, was informed by the angel Gabriel that his wife would give birth to a child who would be the forerunner of the Messiah. Zacharias, a priest, was ministering in the Temple when the angel visited him (Luke 1:8, 24-26). Luke 1:5 tells us that Zacharias was a priest of the division of Abijah. It is discovered from First Chronicles 24,  the Talmud, Mishnah, and other Jewish sources that the division of Abijah served the second half of the fourth month of the Jewish religious calendar, which began in March with the Passover. This then would have been in mid to late June when Elizabeth conceived John the Baptist.

Luke goes on to record that it was six months after Elizabeth became pregnant with John the Baptist (June) that Mary was informed by the angel Gabriel that she had been chosen to give birth to the Christ Child (Luke 1:31, 36-39). So six months later would have been near the end of December when Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary and when she visited the home of Elizabeth to inform her that she had been chosen to be the mother of the Messiah (Luke 1:36).

So  fifteen (15) months after the conception of John the Baptist, Jesus would have been born. That would have been in the seventh month of the Jewish religious calendar, which would have been in late September. Such a time for the arrival of Christ would have been perfect timing with the most joyous of Jewish feasts, as the end of September was the beginning of the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles. It would only be appropriate that Christ be born at a time that would coincide with such a feast of thanksgiving and joyous reliance upon God’s grace and watchcare. Did John give us a hint of the time of Christ’s birth?  John 1:14 tells us that the Word (Christ) was made flesh and “dwelt” among us. The Greek word translated “dwelt” literally means He “tabernacled” or “pitched his tent” among us. Jesus came to tabernacle with man. So did Christ’s birth coincide with the Feast of Tabernacles? If so, it would have been a most fitting time. While this timeline some would consider speculation it seems to fit with the biblical record.

Again, the exact time when Christ was born is not important, what is important is that He was born. And in the birth of Jesus Christ the Creator took upon Himself the form of a servant and clothed Himself in human flesh to “tabernacle” among us. His destiny went beyond a wooden manger filled with straw, but a rough wooden cross where He as humanity’s Substitute was nailed… it was there He paid a sin debt that He did not owe but that you and I could never pay.

To the heart that has by grace been awakened to the amazing and marvelous truth of Christ’s finished work on the cross, the joy of Christmas dwells in one’s soul every day. While there was no room in the inn for Christ on the night of His birth, those who have experienced His birth in the inn of their heart can celebrate Christmas daily. While there are those who like to wrangle over the exact time when Christ was born, this I know…He was born and to those who know Him as Savior the joy of the Christmas season can dwell in one’s heart 365 days out of the year!!!

Blessings,

Dr. Dan

 

 

SING JOYFULLY – THE ANGELS DO

A few years ago I had a question asked of me that I have never had asked me before or since! It was a good question to ask, it being the Christmas season. The question was, “Does the Bible say that angels sing?”  The person asking me the question was under the impression angels sing, but someone had told them there is no place in the Bible where it says angels sing. Must we abandon our singing of, “Hark The Herald Aangels-singingjpgngels Sing”?!?!

I think there is Biblical evidence that angels do sing. One truth is for sure, the Bible does not say they don’t sing!

Job 38:7 seems to clearly indicate that the angels sang at the creation of the world. “The Lord answered Job out of the storm. He said…’Who marked off its dimensions?…who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set or who laid its cornerstone – while the morning stars sang together and all the angles shouted for joy?’” (Job 38:1-7).   In this passage the words “morning stars” is another term for angels and is an example of Hebrew parallelism, where the second line of Hebrew poetry repeats the same idea as the first line in different words yet they have the same meaning. In other words, the “morning stars” (angels) sang and shouted for joy at creation.

Whether angels sang or not was never a question with the Jews. Found in Jewish tradition is the belief that in order for angelic songs of praise and worship to be heard before the throne of God at all times the angels sang in shifts.  In the Midrash, which is a collection of Jewish teachings as found in the Torah, is recorded that when Moses spent his forty days with God that he knew what time it was by the angels changing singing shifts.

When it comes to the Christmas story it reads, “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly host praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men’” (Luke 2:13-14). Some will point out that the word “saying” is used not “singing.” However, to focus only on the word “saying” is too narrow of a focus. It also says the “heavenly host” (angels) were “praising God.” Doesn’t praise imply singing as well? Just what is praise? Praise according the dictionary is “the offering of grateful homage in word or song, as an act of worship, a hymn of praise to God.”

The word praise points us to singing. Praising the Lord and singing are inexorably connected. Praising the Lord on such a joyous occasion as the birth of Christ how could such praise not lead to singing? The announcement of Christ’s birth was not sterile and mechanical. It would be unimaginable to think the angels didn’t sing at the birth of our Savior.  It would be unimaginable to think that whatever the angles had to “say” their praise naturally flowed into in joyous singing.  To say otherwise is to rob the Christmas story of its wonder, joy, and heavenly excitement.

The eloquent British preacher, Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892), in a Christmas sermon entitled The First Christmas Carol, preached on December 20, 1857, said of the angels, “They sang the story out, for they could not stay to tell it in heavy prose. They sang, ‘Glory to God on high, and on earth peace, good will towards men.’ Methinks they sang it with gladness in their eyes; with their hearts burning with love, and with breasts as full of joy as if the good news to man had been good news to themselves.”    To Spurgeon’s words I say, “Amen.”

The angels sang at creation and at Christ’s birth, and we find angels singing in the book of Revelation. Throughout Revelation chapters four and five are filled with reference to “angels,” “living creatures,” “the four beasts,” “twenty-four elders,” and “every creature which is in heaven” (5:13), worshiping, saying, singing, and praising He who sits on the throne. It is obvious the terms are used interchangeably to speak of singing as the meaning, not just speaking. Revelation 5:8-10  reads that the four beasts and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb (Christ), “having every one of them harps and golden vials full of odors, which are the prayers of saints, and they sung a new song, saying….”

While the four beasts and twenty-four angels were singing the next verse says the angels joined in with them. When speaking of the angels, Revelation 5:11-12  declares, “And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing.’”  While the term “saying” is used, it is most clear the terms sung (v. 10) and saying (vs.10-11) are used synonymously as, again, verse 9 reads, “and they sung a new song, saying…” With chapters four and five of Revelation bathed in song, praise and worship, it is rather obvious that singing is implied and is the meaning, not just speaking.

Do angels sing? I think the answer is obvious. God has created “every creature which is in heaven and on the earth” (Rev. 5:13), with an inner propensity for singing and exhorts us to sing and make melody in our hearts to Him (Eph. 5:19). At Christmas time if you listen closely you can hear angels singing all around us of the Good News that a Savior has come to dwell with us.

This Christmas let us lift our voices in song with the chorus of angels who on that first Christmas night sang joyfully of our Savior’s birth. This Christmas let us raise our voices in praise and joyful song for our great God who came to walk amongst us. As we sing of the Christmas story we continue that crescendo of praise heard on that first Christmas night and that has continued to echo down through the ages.  Sing joyfully. The angels do.

Blessings,

Dr. Dan

I AM THANKFUL I LIVE IN SURRY COUNTY

I am thankful I live in Surry County, North Carolina. The population is a little over 72,000. Much of the county is covered with gently rolling hills and valleys.  Located in the Appalachian Mountain region of western North Carolina,  the wthankrulestern third of the county lies within the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and, as well, found within the county is the western end of the Sauratown Mountain range.  The mountainous and rolling terrain, coupled with the many rivers and streams that flow throughout the county, can make for breathtaking scenery.

As beautiful as the scenery is throughout the county, that is not the main reason I am thankful I live in Surry County. When I watch the news and see all the unrest taking place in many parts of the nation because of disagreements over an election, I am thankful I live in a county, that while people may not always agree on politics, and even religion, they still remain on speaking terms with their neighbor. They still throw up a hand and wave when you drive by.  They are able to put differences aside to aid a neighbor in need.

While I have friends that voted different than I did, neither of us have organized a protest march, looted, trashed a car or burned down a building. It is wonderful to live in a county where people are still friendly to one another even though they may not all embrace the same political ideology. It is good to live in a place where people are still civil, considerate, courteous, respectful, and agree to disagree without harming their neighbors over the outcome of an election. It is  good to live in a place where people know how to move on with their lives. You see, people in Surry County have bigger issues to contend with  than who won or lost an election. Many are too busy trying to make ends meet, feeding their family, paying their bills to worry about marching in the streets over petty politics.

Some who live in metropolitan or urban areas may consider those who live in counties like Surry County, to be a bucolic area where people enjoy riding four-wheelers in the mud, hunting, driving pick-up trucks with a rifle hanging on a gun rack attached to the rear glass, having every once in awhile to dodge a cow in the road, and looking for a place to pass a tractor while driving on a country road. Yes, people in Surry County have a southern accent and still consider using the word “ain’t” to be proper English. Of course such people are stereotyped as being unsophisticated, uneducated, and back-woodsy. I believe the news media calls us Rednecks.

And of course, these same “Rednecks” grab their KJV Bibles and rush off to church on Sunday mornings to worship with those who they may disagree with on politics. While at church those same people who disagree on various issues, shake one another’s hands, hug one another, asking how the others family is doing, sit beside one another and sing hymns, pray together, laugh and cry together, and before departing from one another say, “If you need me for anything let me know.”  And they mean it, too.

Surry County is place that proves you can disagree with people and still be friends, that you can disagree and still be civil, you can disagree and still respect one another, you can disagree and still lend a helping hand to a neighbor in need. You see, you don’t have to agree with someone on every issue to be their friend. You don’t have to agree with someone on every issue to be kind and respectful. You don’t have to agree with someone on every issue to treat them like a Christian ought to treat others. You just have to follow the words of Jesus, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

I am most thankful to live in Surry County where it seems the people I encounter throughout the county, either consciously or unconsciously, live by the Golden Rule. Just as the rolling hills are part of the county, I have found the Golden Rule the unwritten rule that seems embedded in its citizenry. Those who don’t understand can call us back-woodsy, they can call us Rednecks, but I don’t know of another place I would rather live.

You may not live in Surry County, but if you live in a similar place where people still respect one another regardless of whether they agree or disagree on every issue, then count your blessings and give thanks you live in such a place.

As Thanksgiving approaches I for one am thankful I live in a place like Surry County.

Blessings,

Dr. Dan

 

 

 

 

 

THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE

As Election Day is fast approaching my head is hurting from listening to all the “experts” give their analysis of who will win. Some “experts” say Hillary has it locked up and Trump has no chance. Other “experts” predict Trump will capture a narrow victory. Who is right?

There is only One who knows with certainty how it will all turn out…the Good Lord. No matter who is elected it will not take the Lord by surprise. He is not sitancientdaysting in the heavens wringing His hands wondering who will win. He will not have to tune-in to FOX News or CNN to see who won. I have one vote and I will exercise my right to cast it. After casting my vote, no matter who wins I am confident and I believe as a Christian that whoever is elected President the Lord in His sovereignty has a divine purpose in it all.

From reading the biblical history of Israel the Lord (1) placed (allowed) leaders in power to use them to give the nation a reprieve to repent from their self-destructive ways resulting in spiritual revival, or (2) He allowed the wayward nation to receive the kind of leader they deserved and placed such leaders in power to use them as instruments to bring about just-judgment upon a society that had become saturated in sin as the result of turning their backs on the Moral Lawgiver. There are occasions judgment upon sin is giving a nation or an individual over to more sin. This is clearly seen in Romans chapter one as Paul declares the Lord at times gives man over to his own self-destructive ways. Such judgment is the inevitable consequence and reaction of God’s holiness to the sin which opposes it.

From a Christian perspective judgment upon sin transcends the purpose of vindictiveness, but vindicates the Lord’s nature of holy-love. The ultimate goal of judgment is for the purpose of the destruction of sin (which is self-destructive) and the establishment of God’s holiness and love wherein is found life and liberty. This is clearly seen in the cross, as there the sin of humanity was dealt with in holy-love. And the march of history is the working out of what was accomplished in Christ upon the cross, as there He dealt with sin, His holiness was satisfied and vindicated, and it was made possible for humanity to experience restored communion with the Creator. The cross ever towers over the wrecks of time as a reminder to a forgetful world that there is a holy God who reigns over all creation and lovingly seeks to bring man back (reconciles) into communion with Him.

The fact that God invaded time in the person of Jesus Christ reveals He not only is involved in history, but that He is Lord of history. The cross of Christ and His subsequent resurrection reveals man cannot thwart the ultimate restorative purposes of God for His creation and His creatures. The book of Daniel clearly teaches that God raises monarchs to the throne and He sinks them as He pleases. History has shown kingdoms come and kingdoms go, but He who is called the Ancient of Days ( Daniel 7:22) not only transcends history but invades history with His presence in Jesus Christ.

God is sovereign in his rule over the final outcome of history, but He does not deny the freedom of man to make his own decisions even to his own destruction. Pharaoh thought he was standing against the Lord and stopping His purpose, but he found out in the end he was simply a pawn in the hands of an all-wise and omnipotent Creator. In spite of Pharaoh’s evil ways they were directed by He who is Lord over history to contribute to the deliverance of the Hebrew people from bondage in Egypt. While my desire and prayer is to see this nation avoid being led further away from the Judeo-Christian ethic and sinking deeper into a cesspool of moral self-destruction, I place my trust in a sovereign Lord whose desired ultimate will shall not be thwarted by any person  no matter how powerful or evil they may appear to be. Even though  the Lord often allows nations to walk in their own ways (Acts 14:18), the Lord is above and over history and will have the final say as to its unfolding.

Therein lies the Christian hope that the Lord rules in the affairs of man even when it appears darkness is extinguishing the Light  The Master Chessman is always behind the scenes making moves not always visible to the physical eyes.  If the world is not ruled by a Heavenly Governor, then the affairs of man are left to impersonal laws of relativism…which invariably leads to wholesale materialism and plunges humanity into the darkness and hopelessness of atheism.

So be assured my Christian friend, regardless of who is elected President they will be a vessel in the Hands of a sovereign God who will direct the leader’s ways to bring about the unfolding of His desired purposes. I will tend to my responsibility and vote, and then leave the working out of the results to the One in whom I trust and know holds the past, present and future in His hands.

Blessings,

Dr. Dan

 

A HERO OF THE EVERYDAY MAN

I was filled with sadness when I learned of the death of Arnold Palmer. He was 87 years old. He was one of those figures you thought would live forever. My eyes welled up with tears as I watched news reports informing viewers of his passing. The man was an icon. He was a man who was larger than life. He defined the word “legend.” He was a hero of the everyday man.

My father being an avid golfer, I grew up watching Palmer play golf on TV. My father did not have many heroes, buarnold-palmert Arnold Palmer was one of them. For my father all the world stopped when the King was playing golf. He was the honored guest in our home each weekend.

Palmer  was a man’s man. His passion was contagious. People drew inspiration from his accomplishments. He captivated his fans with his amazing shots. You cheered when he was triumphant and heartbroken when he lost.  He was not only a great golfer, but  he was a great gentleman. Joyous in victory, he was always gracious in defeat.

Back in the mid-1990s when the Senior Tour came to Tanglewood in Winston-Salem I went to watch him play. For some four hours I was part of Arnie‘s Army. There were times that day I came within a few feet of him. I was in awe watching him swing a golf club. I was in awe of him period. I don’t remember what he shot that day. I didn’t care, for I was part of Arnie’s Army. I remember his broad shoulders and massive forearms. He was a Popeye come to life. Oh my how he could crush a drive. He possessed an air of confidence that was mixed with genuine humility. When he made a good shot the crowd would roar and he would acknowledge appreciation to his army with that trademark swashbuckling smile of his and an appreciative nod. I will forever be grateful I got to watch him at least once play golf.

Palmer reflected values and a character that many sport “stars” of today seem to be lacking. Unlike some of the selfish and spoiled-brat  “stars” of today, Palmer realized golf would not be what it was without the fans, and he always sought to gratefully show his appreciation to them. He never lorded his greatness over others but made his fans feel they were responsible for and shared in whatever greatness he might have obtained. His charismatic  personality endeared him to people of all walks of life. He was a man who could dine with queens and presidents, but was more at home with the common man. He never forgot his own humble beginnings, and  identified with those who cheered for him on every swing.

Arnold Palmer transcended golf. His philanthropy was well known, as he gave to many charitable causes without fanfare and never for the sake of notoriety, but for the purpose of helping others who were less fortunate. He earned much and received much, but he, as well, gave much, much more back.  It was said at the death of Julius Caesar, “We shall never see his like again.” That can be said of Arnold Palmer. He most certainly was the King who wore his crown well.

Another hero of the masses has gone to his reward. While those who grew up watching his memorable swing are saddened at his passing, there is thanksgiving in the heart for the privilege of having watched a giant of a man walk amongst us.

Blessings,

Dr. Dan