Archive for January, 2013

Proof of Heaven?

January 31, 2013

Title: Proof of Heaven?

Text: Ecclesiastes 3:21, John 14:2-3, Luke 16:22-23, 1 Thessalonians 5:21

Time: January 29th, 2013

 

I just got a copy of the New York Times best selling book, “Proof of Heaven” by Dr. Eban Alexander for Christmas, which I recently finished reading. If you aren’t familiar with this popular book, it’s about a doctor, a surgeon, who suddenly became ill, was rushed to the hospital, and actually died – was technically brain dead. Yet he survived this NDE (Near Death Experience) to live to tell about it in the book. The unique thing about this NDE is that he was hooked up on equipment that monitored his brainwave activity during the whole time, and while his brain was inactive he was still having his Near Death Experience. The book goes into detail about what Dr. Eban experienced while his brain was technically dead. Most people who report NDEs still have some brain wave activity, so then the easy explanation is that they are undergoing something within the brain due to some malfunction, such as lack of blood circulation or not enough oxygen, for example. Their experiences can be explained by abnormal brain activity that occurs during the process of death, only for some reason they are revived before they actually die. Their heart may stop beating but their brain still has some kind of activity, although some kind of abnormal activity – and this is usually the best explanation given why they report strange experiences, such as seeing a blinding like, and so forth. But in the case of Dr. Alexander, this typical NDE explanation doesn’t apply because as recorded by the equipment monitoring his brain, there was no brain wave activity; his brain was technically “dead.” So then some other explanation must account for the quality and the quantity of experiences he reports during this time. In the book, he claims he experienced traveling in and out of different other worldly places and encountered mysterious presences. He interprets these as encounters with God in heaven, among other things. Now as Christians, we welcome any conversations about the after life or life after death, because for so long our secular culture has dismissed such conversations as wishful thinking. Especially since Psychologist Sigmund Freud wrote about the workings of the mind, our culture has taken on a skeptical attitude towards serious discussions about life after death. With the rise of modern science, many people now feel that it’s impossible to talk about the continued existence of the soul after death in any factual way, although it’s possible to believe in it religiously or spiritually. But “Proof of Heaven” presents factual evidence by a respected medical researcher for life after death that cannot be easily dismissed by skeptics. The book does in fact present a powerful argument for the continued existence of the soul after death, although I’d like to point out some problems with the Dr.’s interpretation of his experiences of life after death. As Christians we must always go back to God’s Word, the Bible, and not rely on human testimony exclusively. Wherever these two sources of knowledge harmonize, then we are free to accept them both; but whenever human testimony departs from the biblical revelation, we must believe the Bible and dismiss the testimony. That’s the problem I have with parts of “Proof of Heaven” – some parts seem to contradict the Bible. Therefore, I would recommend that we be cautious about the author’s conclusions, especially the specific interpretations he brings to them; while at the same time I believe we can accept his general observations about life after death, because, of course, that’s what the Bible teaches also. Let me explain further what I mean. (more…)

40th Anniversary of Row v. Wade

January 31, 2013

Title: 40th Anniversary of Row v. Wade

Text: Daniel 3:16-18

Time: January 26th, 2013

 

A couple of weeks ago I submitted this article for publication in the local newspaper here in New York:

40th Anniversary of Row v. Wade

Time magazine recently ran a most ridiculous cover story entitled, “40 years ago, abortion rights activists won an epic victory with Roe v. Wade – They’ve been losing ever since.” It’s ridiculous because abortion is still permitted in all 50 states for virtually any reason at all. Abortion activists today talk about the threat to so-called “reproductive rights,” but this phrase is nonsensical. Who is trying to deny anyone a right to reproduce? A real example of denying a bona fide “reproductive right” is in China, with it’s one child policy or forced sterilization campaigns. But in the United States there is no threat to the right to reproduce, despite what abortion rights activists would tell us. What they mean is a woman’s right to an abortion, a right to kill an unborn child, a right to pre-birth infanticide. This has nothing to do with the right to reproduce. When two people consent to sex they de facto consent to reproduce; they are exercising their right to reproduce, even if they don’t have that in mind. But what abortion rights activists actually want is the right to kill, yes, murder the child that results from the natural act of procreation. So when abortion activists talk about “reproductive rights” they are speaking falsely. On the other hands, when pro-life activists speak of fighting for the right to life of unborn babies, they are speaking truthfully. There really is a “right to life” issue at stake. It’s bad enough that millions upon multiple millions of unborn babies have been killed through abortion, let’s not let abortion activists now try to play the victim by claiming their “reproductive rights” are being threatened. There is no threat to reproductive rights. Abortion isn’t a reproductive right – it’s murder, period.

 

The reason I decided to address this issue now is because every year around January 22nd to mark the anniversary of the infamous Supreme Court abortion decision, I always try to say at least something about this tragic situation. I figure that at least I can continue to speak out against baby killing even if our politicians won’t do anything about it. At least I can continue to remind people that abortion is murder, that it has killed millions of babies, and that it must be stopped. My attitude is that whether abortion can be outlawed or not, we must continue to oppose it on principles. That’s what I’d like to speak on today – opposing abortion on principle, using the biblical example of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego found in Daniel 3:1-30 (read).  (more…)

Questions and Answers About Christmas 3

January 29, 2013

Title: Questions and Answers About Christmas 3 – Is the Christmas Incarnation Possible?

Text: 2 Kings 5:7, John 1:1-2, 14, Philippians 2:6-8

Time: January 15th, 2013

 

This past December I submitted this article for publication in the local newspaper here in New York:

 

Is the Christmas Incarnation Plausible?

Christmas is the celebration by Christians of the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, the babe born in Bethlehem two thousands years ago. It marks the entrance of God in human form into the world of mankind. But is this incarnation, this divine/human existence, even plausible not only in theory but in fact? To begin with, Christian theologians explaining the biblical Christmas account don’t claim that a man – Jesus of Nazareth – became God, but rather the very opposite, that God became human. To say that a finite, mortal man became God is definitely implausible, if not impossible. Why? Because by definition, a human is finite and limited. As members of the human race, we all begin our human journey at a finite point in time, we live with relatively limited human abilities on earth during our lifetime, and we die. But God is eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing and all-present. So then it’s rather obvious that finite man cannot become infinite God. It’s totally implausible to even entertain the thought. But the reverse, that God became man, isn’t implausible at all. It would involve an eternal being becoming, for a time, temporal. That’s a possibility. It would also mean an all-present (omnipresent) being becoming, for a time, limited and fixed to one specific spot on earth as in a human body. It would also involve an all-knowing (omniscient) being limiting himself to the confines of a human mind and an all-powerful (omnipotent) being limiting himself to the ability of a member of the human race. This is what Christians believe happened in Jesus Christ, starting with his birth, which we celebrate every December 25th. There is nothing illogical or contradictory about saying that God temporarily became man in Jesus Christ. We could think of the Christmas incarnation with God as an extremely clever computer programmer who decides to enter into his super sophisticated interactive software program and become one of the characters! He wants to experience what it’s like from start to finish to live in the program. Or put another way, something goes wrong with his interactive software program, so he decides to enter the program to fix it. That’s what God was doing in Jesus Christ – rescuing us from ourselves, from our sins, in order to ultimately save us from destruction. The Incarnation is plausible. Let’s reflect this Christmas on it’s meaning.

 

The reason I tackled this subject this year is that I’ve noticed that our culture generally speaking is losing the very essence of Christmas by being led astray by all kinds of other issues and activities in the holiday season. I wanted to address what is really at the heart of Christmas – the Incarnation of Christ. Let me spell out what I mean on this last message on the topic of Christmas for this holiday season. (more…)

Questions and Answers About Christmas 2

January 29, 2013

Title: Questions and Answers About Christmas 2

Text: Matthew 1:21, Luke 2:13-14, Romans 1:18-19, 21

Time: January 7th, 2013

 

Today is Christmas day for Easter Orthodox Christians, so instead of winding things down and taking down Christmas decorations as we do in the West, the Eastern church members are ramping up the Christmas celebrations! I’ve been to Orthodox churches before and attended their services, but never around Christmastime. I’m sure it’s not as elaborate as we in the West organize around the holidays, although I’m sure the actual church service itself – if it’s typical of Orthodox holiday church services – is extra long! Some of their special services have been known to last over three hours! And this is done in a church tradition where people stand the whole time! I don’t know for sure whether Christmas services follow the extended-length format, but I’m pretty sure they’re longer than usual.  But anyway, we’re today continuing to answer questions about Christmas that modern, secular culture asks. We can’t automatically assume any more that people know even the most basic answers to questions about the Christian faith. More and more there is ignorance and misunderstanding about all things Christian. This is because more and more people are skipping church, or rejecting all forms of organized Christianity. The category “non-religious” is growing each year, according to the latest census statistics. The trend today is for people to come up with their own personal faith or “make it up as they go along” religion, instead of studying and learning biblical faith. Consequently, Christmas and the true meaning of Christmas is becoming less and less understood in its original form. What is Christmas and why do we even celebrate it? What did the first Christmas, or the Nativity, actually accomplish? What didn’t Christmas accomplish? Why do most people today ignore or neglect the true celebration of Christmas? I’d like to answer these questions this morning. As Christians we need to get into the habit of continually reviewing, examining and learning about our faith. As far as Christmas is concerned, we need to learn a little bit more about the true meaning of Christmas each year. I hope I learn something new each year about Christmas, and I hope you do too as well. We can grow in our understanding and appreciation of Christmas by reflecting on its profound meaning again and again each Christmas holiday season. In fact, that should be one of our major goals in celebrating the Christmas holiday – to appreciate it ever more. We won’t ever get to the point where we can truly say we grasp everything about it. But that’s ok. We shouldn’t worry about that. We’ve got a whole lifetime to explore it, since it comes around each year. So let’s now turn to some more questions about Christmas, and hopefully finding helpful answers. (more…)

Questions and Answers About Christmas 1

January 29, 2013

Title: Questions and Answers About Christmas 1

Text: Luke 1:30-31, 34-35, 37, 2:11, Matthew 1:20-21

Time: January 6th, 2013

 

For the Eastern Orthodox church today is Christmas Eve; tomorrow they celebrate Christmas day in their Christian tradition, because they follow the so-called Julian calendar, whereas we in the West do not.  It’s kind of nice to have a couple of extra weeks to hang on to the Christmas season, although I’m not sure many people in America even know about the Eastern Orthodox tradition of Christmas. Many people now turn the page on Christmas a few days after December 25th, and by the end of the first week in January most people have already deposited their Christmas tree outside. But many Christian churches in the West, for example Lutheran churches, continue to participate in the so-called Twelve Days of Christmas, so they are still singing Christmas hymns and preaching Christmas sermons even after Christmas is over in what is called by the historical church, the Epiphany season – which represents the “appearing” of Christ,” as the Greek word epiphania means. I like the custom of carrying Christmas beyond December 25th, although most churches in the evangelical world turn the page rather quickly once Christmas day arrives. It’s a sad thing, I believe, because we may as well dwell on important themes as long as possible. I’ve always done that in my teaching and preaching in the churches I’ve pastored over the years. I very rarely stopped talking about the Nativity until after the New Year; and even so, I’ve often carried Christmas as far as the middle of January, if that seemed appropriate at the time. We’ve a long, cold winter here in the northern states, may as well carry the Christmas warmth well into the season. But today, after examining and reviewing the biblical quotations in Handel’s Messiah, I’d like to finish up on the Christmas theme with a couple of messages on Questions and Answers concerning Christmas. As the Christian faith fades gradually from the forefront of most people’s minds in Western culture, we find that different questions are generated in respect to Christmas. Whereas in times past most people learned Christian theology in Sunday school or church; today, this cannot be assumed. In fact, presently, most people do not attend church, and an even smaller percentage attends Sunday school. Even children today are rarely in Sunday school; their parents usually don’t bother to see that they participate, nor do they worry very much about educating their children in the teachings of Christianity. So we find ourselves in a cultural situation where there’s a lot of ignorance and misunderstanding concerning Christianity in general, and Christmas in particular. So today, I’d like to take a few minutes and address a few issues that come up once in a while. (more…)

Handel’s Messiah Christmas 6

January 26, 2013

Title: Biblical Passages in Handel’s Messiah 6

Text: Isaiah 25:5,6, 40:11, Matthew 11:30

Time: January 4th, 2013

 

This is the sixth and final sermon in the Handel’s Messiah message series. I’ve decided this year to try something I’ve never done before – parse the famous and popular classical Christmas musical verse-by-verse. I got the idea for this a few years ago when it was pointed out to me that Handel’s masterpiece uses only scriptural quotations throughout the entire work, from start to finish. I hadn’t realized that, even though I’ve been to a couple of performances of Messiah and heard it countless times on CD. I was very familiar with it, although I have to admit that I hadn’t realized that it was so entirely biblical. That got me thinking that one day I’d like to go through it and explain the meaning of the verses. Well, I’ve finally gotten around to doing it, only I’m not covering the entire Messiah but only the first section, the Nativity Christmas part.  Handel divided his work into three parts; all related to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ the Messiah. The first part deals with Christ’s birth, so it naturally fits in well with the Christmas holiday season. I plan on completing the rest of Messiah around Easter time. But for now, today, I’ll finish up the Nativity section of it. I hope that by going through Handel’s first section of Messiah we’ve all grown to appreciate the Christmas holiday celebration a little better. There are forces at work in our secular society today that seek to strip every holiday – every “holy day” – of its original spiritual meaning. Christmas is no longer all about the birth of Christ, and thus a type of “Christ Mass” – a reference to the church’s celebration of the birth of Christ; but instead, Christmas today is about so many other things as well. For example, it’s about shopping and gift-giving, it’s about Santa Clause and reindeer, it’s about Christmas trees and decorations, it’s about social gatherings and seasonal activities, and so forth. Buried underneath it all is the original meaning of the holiday somewhere. The same thing is happening with the Easter holiday, with the Easter bunny and candy. Now in the midst of this spread of secularism and the de-spiritualizing of society, it does the soul good to return to the true spiritual meaning of holiday. When we examine something like Handel’s Messiah we are returning to the true meaning and purpose of Christmas, because it tells the true story – the real story – of the Nativity by centering on Jesus’ birth. Like I’ve said before, the true spirit of Christmas is safe as long as Handel’s Messiah remains popular during the holiday season. If we ever reach the point in our culture where Handel’s Messiah falls out of favor, then we can know we are truly in trouble. Hopefully, that will never happen. So with that in the way of introduction, let’s finish our review of Handel’s first section of Messiah. (more…)

Handel’s Messiah Christmas 5

January 26, 2013

Title: Biblical Passages in Handel’s Messiah 5

Text: Luke 2:8, Luke 2:13, Luke 2:14, Zechariah 9:9, 10

Time: January 3rd, 2013

 

Continuing on in our message series on Handel’s Messiah, we’re now into the fifth sermon of six total. Next week will be our last, but we’ve come a long way already. We’ll only do the first section, the Nativity account, and leave the rest of Messiah for another time; maybe Easter or some other special holiday. But we can see now why Messiah is such a favorite around the Christmas holiday – because it spends so much time talking about the coming of Christ, or in the words of the historic church, the Advent of Christ, as well as the circumstances surrounding the birth. That’s what we’ll look at today, the circumstances of Christ’s birth, namely the angelic announcement. Last time we got as far as the shepherds out abiding in the fields and the one angel appearing to them. Today, we’ll hear what the angel says and then see him joined by a multitude of angels rejoicing. Now notice how Handel weaves the Old and New Testaments together into a seamless web.  That’s really how they are meant to be taken, although today the tendency among scholars is to separate them radically. But that wasn’t the attitude of the early Christians and the early church. Yes, there were heretics in the early years, such as the false teacher Marcion, who tried to lead people to reject the Old Testament and all the parts of the New Testament that borrowed from the Old; but his teachings were successfully refuted by most church leaders. Yet even today, there still persists the mistaken idea that the New Testament is the Christian Bible while the Old Testament is the Jewish Bible – but that’s false. The whole Bible is the Christian Bible, even though it’s broken into two parts, the old and the new. Handel got it right because he didn’t make a radical break between the two parts, but used verses from each to present the life of Jesus the Messiah. Handel’s famous masterpiece is correctly categorized as a sustained reflection on the life of Messiah Jesus; that’s true. And the only way to accurately think about Jesus is by including the Old Testament prophecies to serve as the foundation for later descriptions found in the New Testament. Well, today we are in the New Testament, in more familiar territory, examining more well known scenes. The shepherds encounter the angels who proclaim to them the good news of Jesus Christ. No, not the fullness of the gospel or good news, but the beginning of it starting with the birth of Christ. Let’s think again about these familiar themes, keeping in mind the foundation of the Old Testament verses we’ve already reviewed. (more…)

Handel’s Messiah Christmas 4

January 26, 2013

Title: Biblical Passages in Handel’s Messiah 4

Text: Isaiah 9:2, 6, Luke 2:8

Time: January 2nd, 2013

 

We’re officially past the Christmas season, but that isn’t entirely so, because there is the tradition of the twelve days of Christmas that begins on Christmas day and continue, well, twelve days; and then, of course, there’s the Eastern Orthodox church’s celebration of Christmas that doesn’t even start until into January of the new year. So I’m still on safe grounds for talking about Christmas even after Christmas. We’re continuing our examination of Handel’s Messiah by looking at each of the verses he uses in his opera or oratorio. We are going through every verse from the Bible found in Messiah, only the first section, or the Nativity section. Handel divided his work up into three sections, but we’re only interested in the first section because it deals with the Christmas theme. I’ve already pointed out that instead of emphasizing the standard biblical texts concerning the birth of Christ, Handel dwells on the more obscure verses in order to give us a new and fresh perspective – and a greater appreciation for the prophecies leading up to Christ’s birth. From my own experience, upon reading through the verses Handel uses in his Messiah musical, I must say that a few of them I’ve never seen connected with Christmas at all. I don’t think most people have ever connected them with Christ’s Nativity, although I’m sure a few have. In all my studies I haven’t seen the commentaries link them up with the birth of Jesus, although upon reflection I can see why Handel does associate them with Christ’s birth and life. Something else we should know is that it wasn’t Handel himself who gathered all the different verses together for use in the Messiah; it was a clergy friend Charles Jennings who selected the biblical texts and delivered them to Handel for his masterpiece. So we shouldn’t credit Handel alone for the verses that are used throughout, but also others who helped him put it all together. But of course, the final decision was Handel’s as to which verses to use and how to use them. There must have been some reason why he used the Bible passages the way he did; although we just don’t know for certain. Personally, I’m rather happy he did pick the passages he did, because like I said before, it makes things interesting. So today we continue in examining the Messiah’s biblical quotations. We’re up to numbers ten, eleven and twelve on the list – “The people that walked in darkness” from Isaiah 9:2 and “For unto us a Child is born,” from Isaiah 9:6, and “There were shepherds abiding in the field,” from Luke 2:8. (more…)

Handel’s Messiah Christmas 3

January 26, 2013

Title: Biblical Passages in Handel’s Messiah 3

Text: Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 40:9, 60:1-3

Time: January 1st, 2013

 

We’re continuing in our examination of the biblical passages found in the world famous Handel’s Messiah – that’s the opera, or more correctly, the oratorio, dealing with a musical description of Jesus as Messiah. It’s technically an opera without any dramatic acting. In other words, it’s just like an opera, it’s sung musically in the style of opera, although there are no dramatic acting parts; it’s all singing and music. I noted before how Handel chose to put to music many of the more obscure prophetic passages of the Old Testament in dealing with the birth of the Messiah Jesus, rather than dwell on the more popular and familiar passages. This gives us a little different perspective on Christmas as we reflect on the events leading up to and including the Nativity. For a little history of the Messiah as an opera performance, Handel wrote it in the first half of the 18th century and it became popular even during his lifetime, but it really took off in popularity after his death as others adapted and experimented with different instruments and arrangements of it. Today, it’s probably the most popular classical musical performance of any. It’s certainly the most familiar operatic work. Handel was himself German, but he became a British citizen later in his life after taking up England as his home. He wrote many other musical pieces, but the Messiah is what made him most famous. At the end of writing Messiah, which only took him some twenty-two days to create, he penned the initials, “G.B.T.G.” – “Glory be to God.” He had written it for the glory of God, and from the looks of things God has indeed been glorified in the many hundreds and thousands, perhaps millions, of performances of Messiah all over the world during the last nearly three hundred years. But what is the appeal of Handel’s Messiah to so wide an audience? How can it be that even non-believers, skeptics, even atheists can attend a performance and walk away inspired? Could it be that God’s Word when set to music and simply sung can move people spiritually at a deeper level than the mere spoken word of a sermon? Perhaps. But it might be the combination of God’s Word and God’s Spirit working through the inspired musical composition of a man whose goal was to create a work “to the glory of God.” We can definitely say that Messiah has been a powerful witness through the centuries; and we can guess it will continue to inspire audiences of all kind in the future. So without further adieu, let’s continue on in explaining each of the verses Handel uses in the first part, or Christmas section, of the Messiah. I pray you are inspired as we learn about God’s Word put to song. (more…)

Handel’s Messiah Christmas 2

January 26, 2013

Title: Biblical Passages in Handel’s Messiah 2

Text: Haggai 2:6-7, Malachi 3:1-3

Time: December 31sth, 2012

 

I’m continuing today in explaining the meaning of the different biblical verses found in Handel’s Messiah, the first section that deals with the coming of Jesus.  I’ve already covered the first three verses, so today I’ll cover the next three – “Thus saith the Lord” from Haggai 2:6,7, “But who may abide the Day of His Coming?” from Malachi 3:2, and “And He shall Purify” from Malachi 3:3. As I mentioned last time, few people realize that the entire Handel’s Messiah is made up exclusively of biblical passages. I had heard the Messiah off and on throughout my life, but only came to the realization that it was totally scriptural in the last few years. Someone showed me a program bulletin from a live performance of Handel’s Messiah and I noticed that each separate musical movement was accompanied by a biblical verse. I looked closer and realized that the entire musical score was quotations from the Bible, that there wasn’t a single word of human commentary in it! That was surprising. It got me interested enough to decide that someday I would like to give a message series on Handel’s Messiah using just the verses that the musical uses. Well, I’m not going to give a message series on the entire music, but since it’s the Christmas season I thought I’d at least try to outline the first section that deals with the prophecy and birth of Jesus the Messiah. Our family has attended a couple of performances of Messiah in Ann Arbor, Michigan at the annual Christmas holiday performance in Pease Auditorium. It’s an amazing sight to see a large crowd of a mixture of spiritual and non-spiritual people join together at the end to sing the closing “hallelujah, “ because it’s amazing that such a crowd could sing it together. But even non-Christians, non-religious people seem to enjoy singing what is essentially praise to God – although they may not realize they are singing a praise song. It’s as if the beauty of the music tricks everyone into giving praise to God whether they would naturally do so or not. But it’s not just the musical end of the Messiah that appeals to everyone, it’s also the beginning – the section we are coving today. Why is the Messiah traditionally performed around the Christmas holiday? Probably because the whole first section deals with the birth of Jesus the Messiah, and so much of the entire music deals with this theme. It’s a great way to get into the Christmas spirit. It really puts things into proper perspective, especially in our modern, secular society that needs every help it can get in keeping a proper perspective on Christmas. So let’s jump back into Handel’s Messiah and examine the next three verses. Hopefully it will underscore for us once again the true meaning and purpose of the Christmas season. (more…)