When Was Jesus Really Born?

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A typical Christmas card depicts Mary on a donkey with Joseph at her side, or “wise men” following the Bethlehem star, or angels appearing to shepherds in the field, or the traditional baby-in-a-manger scene.  What do these cards have in common?  All too often the answer is “snow.”

Was Jesus really born on December 25 in the dead of winter, or did the Roman church pick and sanitize that time-frame to compete with Saturnalia, the Roman holiday honoring the god Saturn?

According to Rabbi Jonathan Cahn, Luke 2: 8 provides a clue as bold as a neon sign concerning the actual date of the Messiah’s birth.  “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.”

Hint:  When and why would shepherds watch over their flock by night?  Click here to find out.

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GODSPELL: Movie Review

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These are the ruins of the Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem.  In GODSPELL, John baptizes Jesus and his followers in New York City’s Bethesda Fountain named after the Pool of Bethesda.

GODSPELL was produced as a play in 1971 and as a film in 1973.  I have never seen the play, but since “Day by Day” is one of my favorite songs, I decided to rent the film and see the story behind the music.  The story is based on the Gospel of Matthew.  If you’re unfamiliar with GODSPELL, but plan to watch the film, be prepared. This is not your typical orthodox presentation of the Gospel–far from it; but it is the Gospel, nonetheless.

The story takes in New York City.  “John the Baptist” (played by David Haskell, who also plays “Judas”) is a magician.  Sounding the shofar and shouting “prepare ye the way of the Lord,” he walks through the city appearing supernaturally to eight ordinary people, including a waitress, a taxi driver, a parking attendant, a college student, a window shopper, and a ballet dancer.  All of them leave their jobs and/or activities to follow John the Baptist to the Bethesda Fountain where he baptizes them–and Jesus (played by Victor Garber).

Replacing their city clothes with colorful, hippie-like garb, Jesus’ rag-tag followers listen closely as he teaches them about the importance of the Law of Moses and the commandments from the Sermon on the Mount.  Much of the film is devoted to the parables. As Jesus tells the parables, the cast acts them out through a clownish but clever combination of mime and vaudeville.

The most engaging parable is the Prodigal Son.  The cast not only uses mime and vaudeville to illustrate the parable, they also use clips from silent films–mostly slapstick.  Silent film fans will have fun sorting out which clip belongs to which film.   While the film clips are playing on screen, “Jerry” (played by Jerry Sroka) gives a hilarious impersonation of a cowboy.

Despite the comical way in which some of the parables are presented , the doctrines of heaven, hell, and the divinity of Christ and his role as the Messiah are not compromised. The most sobering parable is that of the sheep and goats, which stresses that only the true followers of Jesus–the ones with whom he has a relationship–will inherit eternal life.

Jesus and his followers are filled with joy and frivolity as they parade through empty streets, stop at landmarks (such as Times Square), and sing on rooftops.  In light of 9/11, it is jarring to see the cast singing “All the Best” on top of one of the Twin Towers.

The 10 member cast is made up of five men and five women, most of whom sing a solo.  “Day by Day” (sung by Robin Lamont) is not the only song that highlights the intimate relationship the group enjoys with Jesus.  Lynne Thigpen gives a hearty rendition of “Bless the Lord,” and young, innocent Merrell Jackson praises God with “All Good Gifts” (James 1: 17).

Joanne Jonas singing “Turn Back, O Man” is a show stopper.  The words added to the hymn are sassy and suggestive.  Her style, resembling Mae West‘s, is supposed to taken entirely as a joke. While one or two lines may raise some eyebrows (including mine), the solo showcases Jonas’ incredible talent.

The story takes a somber turn when Jesus encounters the authorities.  The Pharisees try to bait him, but Jesus sees through their schemes and hypocrisy.  After this, Judas  conspires to betray him.

My favorite scene is the Last Supper.  Never mind that it takes place in a junk yard with disciples drinking out of a paper cup.  The jewel in the crown is Jesus saying the blessing over the bread and wine in Hebrew.

Near the end of the film, Jesus entreats each of his followers to look in the mirror.  One of them proclaims, “I look like you!”  And that’s the point of the sequence.  By following his teaching, Jesus followers have taken on his character, and they will take the Gospel to the world.

The original play was the brainchild of John-Michael Tebelak, who wrote GODSPELL for his master’s thesis at Carnegie-Mellon University in 1971.  He co-wrote the film version with David Green.  Stephen Schwartz composed the music.

Click here to watch Robin Lamont sing “Day by Day.”  Its appeal is timeless.

 

Book Review: “Top 20 Dreams”

TOP 20 DREAMS: What the Most Common Dreams Are Telling You, by John Paul Jackson, is short but packed with information about dream interpretation. You can read the book in half an hour. Despite its brevity, the book is the most comprehensive work I’ve ever read on dreams. I use the book as a reference guide. Whenever I have a dream worth remembering but don’t know the meaning of it, I consult TOP 20 DREAMS.

For example, I dreamed that all of my teeth fell out at once.  The dream made no sense– until I read the first chapter entitled “Teeth.” I often dream about houses and vehicles, and sure enough there’s a chapter on each. Just about every dream you can imagine falls into one of the 20 categories spelled out in the book.

John Paul Jackson uses a Biblical model for interpreting dreams. Although God speaks to us primarily through his Word, He sometimes uses dreams to get our attention–just as did with Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, the Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Pilate’s wife, and others.

Not everyone has a gift of interpreting dreams, but with the help of TOP 20 CATEGORIES, anyone can find meaning in his or her nighttime narratives. Dreams can be life changing. Anyone looking for a deeper understanding of dreams and a closer relationship with God can benefit from this book.

Old Hymnbook is a Time Capsule

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Recently, I  found an antiquarian Methodist hymnbook, dated 1849, among my parents’ belongings.  It is not a typical hymnbook in that it does not contain a single musical note, only the words to 1144 songs.  Though surprisingly small, the 3 x 5 book is thick with 735 numbered pages.

MethodistHymnsAlthough the title of the book is METHODIST HYMNS, the first page reads, “Hymns for the use of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Revised Edition.”  These are not hymns that you are likely to find in today’s Methodist hymnals (with the exception of the doxology “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow”).  The book belonged to a nineteenth century woman with the surname Hinman.  Her name is engraved on the cover.

The hymnbook is a time capsule.  Hidden within its pages, darkened with time, are a sentimental poem called “Woman’s Smile” and an obituary of a Miss Ida J. Fox, who died on “Sunday, July 13, after a short illness, aged 16.”  The obituary continues, “She was a pupil of  Albemarle Female Institute . . . was taken sick with typhoid fever, which terminated her life.  Her death was a very sad one.  She was a young lady of rare attractions, and made everyone a friend by her amiable and attractive manners.”

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I was intrigued by the reference to Albemarle Female Institute, so I looked it up.  The school was founded in the 1850’s, was renamed in 1910, moved to another location in Charlottesville in 1939, and eventually merged with another school.  Today it is known as St. Anne’s-Belfield School.

Below is Hymn 777 from METHODIST HYMNS (1849, Lane & Scott).

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Signs in the Heavens

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Fourth Day of Creation (Holy Bible, 1910)

A WAKE UP CALL

The solar eclipse witnessed across the United States on August 21, 2017, has sparked a lot of discussion among Bible believers–especially those familiar with the blood moons that occurred on Passover and Sukkot in 2014 and 2015.  One of the ways in which God communicates with human beings is through signs in the heavens.  (See Genesis 1: 14; Joel 2: 30-31; Amos 8: 9; Luke 23: 44.)  In the month since the eclipse, we have witnessed a chilling number of earthquakes, fires, and category 5 hurricanes.  In fact, the intensity and rapid succession of these  “natural disasters” is reminiscent of the “birth pangs” recorded in Matthew 24: 8.

God is trying to get our attention, and He’s not whispering.  He is shouting.  If you don’t have a Hebrew calendar, get one.  September 21 was the Feast of Trumpets, one of “God’s Appointed Times,” described in Leviticus 23: 23-25.  On the Biblical calendar, the Feast of Trumpets falls on the first of Tishri.  Tishri is preceded by the month of Elul, a time of repenting.

WHO NEEDS TO REPENT?

Although everyone needs to repent, repentance begins in the house of God (1 Peter 4: 17).  We need to repent for individual sins as well as the sins of the nation.  (See I Corinthians 6: 9 for a list of individual sins and keep in mind that Paul is talking to believers.)  National sins include–but are not limited to–abortion and redefining marriage.

THE APPLE OF GOD’S EYE

Other than the sins listed above, what is God’s benchmark for judging the nations?

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all of the families of the earth shall be blessed (Genesis 12: 1-3, ESV).

For the day of the LORD is near upon all the nations.  As you have done [to Israel], it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head (Obadiah verse 15, ESV).

THE DAY OF THE LORD

September 21 not only commemorated the Feast of Tabernacles.  September 21 also marked the United Nations’ International Day of Peace, with an emphasis on “human dignity,” “peace,” and “safety.”  These are comforting words except in the context of 1 Thessalonians 5: 1-3, which describes the Day of the Lord.

Now as to the times and epochs, brethren, you have no  need of anything to be written to you.  For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night.  While they are saying “peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape ( NASB).

THE GREAT TRIBULATION

Where are we on God’s timeline?  Is the Great Tribulation–referenced in Matthew 24: 1-28, Mark 13: 3-23,  Luke 21: 10-34, and Daniel 12: 1–a future event?  Or has it begun?

And there will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world.  For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near (Luke 21: 25-28, ESV).

 

The Day that No Man Knoweth

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Miniature Ram’s Horn

Most Christians are familiar with the phrase, “the day that no man knoweth.” But how many know that this is a Hebrew idiom referring to the Feast of Trumpets? The Feast of Trumpets, a.k.a Yom Teruah, is one of the seven feasts outlined in Leviticus 23.  But it is the only feast with no explanation whatsoever.

This is what Leviticus 23: 24-25 says about the Feast of Trumpets. “Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘In the seventh month on the first of the month, you shall have a rest, a reminder by blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall hot do any laborious work, but you shall present an offering by fire to the LORD'”(NASB).

Today, September 21, 2017, is Yom Teruah. Yom Teruah began yesterday at sundown and ends today at sundown. On the Hebrew calendar, today is Tishrei 1. Tishrei is the seventh month on the Biblical calendar. The new moon rises on Tishrei 1 or Tishrei 2. “No man knows the day or hour.”

The “trumpet” is a shofar, a ram’s horn. What does the New Testament say about the trumpet?”

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality (I Corinthians 15: 51-53, ESV).

The Spring Feasts (Passover, Feast of Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, and Shavuot) were fulfilled with the First Coming of Jesus Christ. The Fall Feasts relate to the Second Coming. Opinions vary. Some view Yom Kipper as the Judgement and the Feast of Tabernacles as the wedding Feast of the Lamb followed by the Millennium.

Yom Teruah may very well refer to the initial return of Christ.  In fact, another name for Feast of Trumpets is “Day of the Shout.”

For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:  Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord (I Thessalonians 4: 16-17, KJV).

 

Note: Many celebrate Rosh Hashanah, or New Year’s, on Yom Teruah.   The celebration is linked to Babylonian influences during the Babylonian Captivity (a.k.a. Babylonian Exile).

 

Signs

When I was growing up, I was told that people who paid attention to eclipses and the like were superstitious, but I’ve had to rethink that position by going back to “the beginning.”

Then God said, “let lights in the expanse of the sky be for separating the day from the night. They will be for signs and for seasons and for days and years.”

Signs. The eclipse recorded in Amos 8: 9 reminds me of the spectacular eclipse witnessed August 21, 2017. “It will be in that day,” declares my Lord Adonai–“I will make the sun go down at noon, yes, I will darken the earth in daylight” (TLV).

The most notable eclipse in human history occurred around 33 AD. “It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun died out. And the curtain of the Temple was torn in two” (Luke 23: 44, TLV).

Are we a nation under judgment? [Please read Deuteronomy 28.] After 9/11 the churches were filled with people worshipping God, but the “return to God” movement was short-lived. As we approach the sixteenth anniversary of 9/11, let us repent and return to God.

December 25: Christmas and the First Day of Hanukkah

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Christmas is celebrated December 25 on the Gregorian calendar.  The first day of Hanukkah is celebrated Kislev 25 on the Hebrew calendar.  This year December 25 and Kislev 25 coincide, which is unusual.  Hanukkah, an eight-day celebration, will end January 1, 2017.

HANUKKAH IS IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

You won’t find the celebration of Hanukkah or the term Feast of Dedication (the other name for Hanukkah) in the Old Testament.  It’s in the New Testament.  It’s prophesied in the Book of Daniel but occurred between the writing of the Old and New Testaments.

Did Jesus celebrate Hanukkah?  Yes.  John 10: 22-24 gives an account of Jesus celebrating Hanukkah, a.k.a. the Feast of Dedication.

And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter, and Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch (King James Version).

Then came Hanukkah; it was winter in Jerusalem.  Yeshua was walking in the Temple around Solomon’s Colonnade (TLV–Tree of Life Version).

WHAT IS HANUKKAH OR THE FEAST OF DEDICATION?

The events that led to the Feast of Dedication are found in the Books of Maccabees and prophesied in the Book of Daniel.  “The king of the north” in Daniel 11: 9, is not named.   However, “the king of the north” appears to be Antiochus IV Epiphanes (215-164 B.C.), Seleucid ruler of the Syrian Kingdom, who persecuted the Jews and turned the temple of God into a pagan temple.

Antiochus tried to stamp out the Jewish religion and culture by forbidding circumcision, worshipping on the Sabbath, reading the Torah, etc.  He desecrated the temple by erecting a statue of Zeus and sacrificing a pig on the altar.  The Maccabees, a Jewish family, led the military revolt that defeated Antiochus.

With Antiochus out of way, the temple had to be cleansed and rededicated to God, hence the Feast of Dedication.  The priests had enough oil to keep the mennorrah burning for one day only, but the oil lasted for eight according to legend.

ANTIOCHUS IV FORESHADOWS THE ANTI-CHRIST

Antiochus IV is a prototype of the anti-christ.  Below is a description of “the king of the north.”

“His forces will rise up and profane the fortified Temple; they will stop the daily offering and set up the abomination of desolation  With smooth words he will seduce those who act wickedly against the covenant, but the people who know their God will stand strong and prevail” (Daniel 11: 31-32, TIV).

“So the king will do as he pleases, exalting and magnifying himself above every god.  He will even speak outrageous things against the God of gods.  He will prosper until the time of wrath is completed, for what has been decided will be done” (Daniel 11: 36, TIV).

When speaking of the anti-christ, Jesus referred to the Book of Daniel.  “Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains; let him who is on the housetop not go down to get the things out that are in his house; and let him who is in the field not turn back to get his cloak” (Matthew 24: 15-18, NASB).

HANUKKAH AND THE BIRTH OF CHRIST

Although Jesus was not born on *December 25 but probably in the spring, his birth is linked to Feast of Dedication.  The cleansing of the temple set the stage for the coming of the Messiah.  Both are linked to eschatology.  The Messiah will return as King of Kings to defeat the anti-christ and rule the earth (Daniel 7: 1-14; Revelation 19: 11-16).

 

*Suggested reading:

STORIES BEHIND THE GREAT TRADITIONS OF CHRISTMAS by Ace Collins (Zondervan, 2003).

ALL ABOUT CHRISTMAS by Maymie R. Krythe (Harper & Brothers, New York, 1954).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where is Heaven?

My mother passed away a year ago.  I say “passed away” because I’m not at the point where I can say “died.”  Jesus and the Apostle Paul used the term “asleep.”  In I Thessalonians 4: 13-14, Paul wrote, “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow no, even as others which have no hope. For if we beleive that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him” (KJV).

My mother loved to play the piano, but the last few years of her life, she narrowed down her favorite pieces to two or three songs.  The one she played the most was “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.”  She played it in every key.  Mom would say to me, “How old am I?”  I would tell her and she would say, “I can’t live much longer.”  (She lived to be 97.)

14238336_1041597289242172_8174105174478014484_n-1Mom loved to ask questions–especially questions that are hard or impossible to answer. Many times she would ask, “Where is heaven?”  I would say something like, “I don’t know.  I guess it’s another dimension.”  Actually, Mom wasn’t that interested in my answer; she just enjoy asking the question.

My mother told me that she wanted a graveside service, not a funeral.  She gave me specific scriptures to be read and songs to sing at the service.  The songs were “O God Our Help in Ages Past” and “Amazing Grace.”  I added one more:  “He Ransomed Me,” a song she wrote herself.

Her favorite Bible verse was James 4: 14.  “For what is your life?  It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.”  I wasn’t fond of the quote.  I would say, “Mom, lets put the verse in context.”  If I tried to read the verses after it, Mom would say, “I don’t want to hear it in context.  I like it the way it is.”

Mom passed away December 8, 2015, and was cremated per her instructions.  Her graveside service was held in Lynchburg, VA, the following April.  Friends and relatives were given the opportunity to share their memories of my mother.  I knew I had to say something, but what?

I had no idea what to say except that I idolized her.  She was beautiful, a gifted pianist and painter, a wonderful mother, and a helpmate to my father, a Methodist minister.  The night before the service, I was rummaging through her writings and drawings looking for inspiration when suddenly I came across a drawing of a staircase that appeared to be suspended in air.   I gaped at Mom’s drawing.  Now I knew what to say at her graveside service.

The preacher (my son-in-law) conducted the service, using the hymns and verses that Mom had requested and sharing his thoughts.  When he asked if people would like to share their memories of Mom, I waited my turn.

I started by sharing Mom’s favorite verse then attempted to answer her question: “Where is Heaven?”   The staircase she had drawn said it all.  I read from Genesis 28: 10-17:

Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran.  And  he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set.  Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that palce to sleep.  And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven.  And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!  And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac.  The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring.  Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in  you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.  Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to the land.  For I will not leave you unti I have done what I have promised you.”  Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.”  And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place!  This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

Isn’t it interesting that Jacob called Bethel the house of God and the gate of heaven?  Bethel means “house of God.”

I suspect that Jacob’s ladder was more like a spiral staircase than a modern-day ladder.   The Bible has a lot to say about heaven, a subject I’d like to explore in depth in a future post.  Meanwhile, suffice it to say that heaven is where God is.  And today my Mother is celebrating her first birthday in heaven.

A few days before my mother “fell asleep,” she saw Jesus and let me know it.   Around 4 p.m. on the 8th of December, during the Feast of Dedication or Festival of Lights (John 10: 22-28), her spirit left her body and she climbed the spiral staircase.

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William Blake [Public Domain]

 

 

 

 

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