Monday, December 19, 2016

Does Hanukkah have anything to do with us?

There was a period of time between the events of the Old and New Testaments, that a successor of Alexander the Great decided it was time to annihilate the nation of Israel and the Jewish people. Interesting how century after century, bloodthirsty despots have been filled with the same hatred for God’s people – from the Amalekite terrorist attack on Moses as he led the Hebrews to the Promised Land, to the Philistines led by Goliath, to the Midianites that Gideon’s 300 fought, to the Babylonian invasion, the Roman persecution, the Catholic Inquisition, the Nazi Holocaust, and even today, the many enemies of Israel who openly declare their desire to kill all Jews. This is a visible image of the devil’s hatred for any who are chosen by God. But, back to the story…

History tells us this Greek emperor was Antiochus Epiphanes, who believed himself to be a god incarnate. Not any god, but Zeus himself, or Jupiter according to the Romans, or Mithris according to the Persians, Osiris by the Egyptians, and various other names depending on the culture – different names, same demon. He was the sun god who was said to have been born of a virgin on the 25th of December. In his hatred for the Jews and the God of Israel, Antiochus Epiphanes invaded Jerusalem and took possession of the Temple, where he killed the High Priest, erected a temple to Zeus on the Temple grounds, and sacrificed the blood of pigs on the altar of God to defile God’s House. This was a horrific event. The Jews who had not fought in any wars since the Babylonian exile, gathered their inexperienced men in a revolt against the Greek (Selucid) army, what historians call the Maccabean Revolt.  Though the Bible doesn’t explain this event, it is foretold in the book of Daniel.

But God, as always, is faithful to His promises. The men of Israel, led by Judas Maccabes, a son of the High Priest, fought a three-year battle to take back their land and their Temple. God miraculously gave them victory as they smashed the altar of Zeus, purified the altar of God, and relit the menorah with holy oil to symbolize that God’s presence was still with them, and rededicated the Temple. Ironically, that victory happened on December 25th, the supposed birthday of that false god. 

“But that’s just a Jewish holiday, it has nothing to do with us,” say some Christians. “It’s a commercialized celebration just like Christmas.” Whenever God gives victory to His people, it has everything to do with us. But more than that, ask yourself: why did Jesus celebrate Hanukkah? Bible translators refer to Jesus coming to the Temple for the Feast of Dedication in the winter. But the word “dedication” in Hebrew, is “hanukkah.” That was the day Jesus proclaimed that the Father was in Him, and He was in the Father. He clearly announced that He was God, standing in His own Temple, but the Pharisees were enraged and wanted to stone Him to death for blasphemy.

This snippet of history that few Christians even know about, explains a few points of why our church doesn’t put much stock in honoring December 25th as the birthday of Jesus (the Bible seems to indicate that Jesus was born during lambing season which is in the spring).  And these points are why I plan to celebrate Hanukkah this year with my family: 

  1. The daily mindset of a Christian has to be one of revolt, keeping our “holy of holies” pure and renewed. Ruthlessness against the devil is non-negotiable.
  2. Our daily desire is to keep the light of God shining inside of us, the Holy Spirit who protects and guides us.
  3. Our awareness that an “abomination of desolation” is coming soon, according to Jesus’ warnings – a demonic image will be erected on the Temple Mount when Jesus’ return is imminent. This is the time for radical faith.
  4. As the spirit of the antichrist is so clearly on the rise today, why celebrate the birthdate of his representative who defiled God’s Temple? Why celebrate a pagan holiday that was later “Christianized?”
  5. If Jesus celebrated the rededication of God’s Temple, why not celebrate a rededication of our temples to Him as well?

The Jewish calendar marks the week of Hanukkah for 2016, as beginning on December 24th, and ending New Years Day. My family and I plan to be extra thankful to God, make special prayers of revolt against anything the devil is trying to defile in the lives of those we minister to, and trust that His light is shining bright in us day and night. No better follow-up to the Israel Challenge than that!

The Feast of the Dedication was at Jerusalem, and it was winter.  Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s Porch. Then the Jews surrounded Him, saying, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you did not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name bear witness of Me.  But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you.  My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.  I give them eternal life. They shall never perish, nor shall anyone snatch them from My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all. No one is able to snatch them from My Father’s hand. My Father and I are one.”  (John 10:22-30 MEV)

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Are you a Blabbermouth or a Listener?

Have you ever noticed that some people can’t wait for you to finish a sentence before they barge in to add their own comments? They’re sure that they already know what you want to say, and have no patience to hear the rest since what they have to add is so much more interesting! There have been so many times when the person who interrupted me totally misunderstood my train of thought – sometimes even assuming that I was saying the opposite of what I really meant. They’re frustrating, and require a lot of patience to keep trying until they finally hear me out. Usually their restless minds change the subject, and my idea gets completely lost. I make a mental note to not get involved in conversation with them again if at all possible.

But then there are others who really care about what you have to say, and follow you as you explain your thoughts. They ask questions based on what you said, and you can tell that they’re reasoning through your words. Even if what you say sounds unconventional or even crazy, they’ll try to understand where you’re coming from, instead of dismissing you outright. They’re willing to consider that they may be learning something valuable and new, and that kind of consideration is the greatest form of respect. Conversations like these are a pleasure, and cause you to walk away feeling encouraged to treat others with that same level of respect. Rational, careful listening is always present in any healthy relationship of any sort.

Generally speaking, however, 21st century Christians are bad at listening to God. So many pray repetitive prayers, shout, cry and raise their hands as they feel obliged to do, and walk away from their time with God just as empty and uncertain as when they began. Of course, it would be easier if we could see God in front of us and hear His audible voice, but that’s not possible right now. We have to believe, listen to and trust in a God that’s invisible. But our restless selves get distracted, frustrated and bored when we don’t hear His immediate responses. When we treat God this way we become that same irritating blabbermouth who doesn’t know how to listen. And what’s worse, we can easily assume He’s saying the opposite of what He really means!

God speaks through His word, and through our meditation of His word. He speaks when we know what He would do if He were in our place. He speaks when the Holy Spirit inside of us confirms that those tough words, or those scary challenges, or those mundane and unglamorous promptings are really Him telling us to go, do and be what He says. Even nature speaks about Him, His character, His Spirit. He’s trying to communicate with us all the time, but so few have developed the discipline to listen more, and interrupt less.

Of course we need to open our mouths and speak to God, to pour out our hearts and souls to Him, to ask and keep asking, knock and keep knocking. But when we don’t take the time to quiet our spirits and just listen, we can turn into noisemakers. The greatest thing God desires is a real and personal relationship with each of us. He wants us to know Him as a friend, a Father, our Lord and God. When we show Him the respect of a true friend who listens, considers, and treats all that He says with care and interest, we build a relationship with Him with deep roots that lasts forever. One thing we can count on, is that He will challenge us with ideas that seem crazy, that feel uncomfortable, and that our flesh just won’t want to do. But when we’re quick to listen, we recognize that He’s teaching us something new and of great value. We can be a pleasure for God to communicate with. Our ears can be trained to listen and hear all He has to say. Remember how Adam and Eve walked and spoke freely with God in the Garden? Remember how Moses spoke with God face-to-face as a friend? God hasn’t changed. Let’s start listening to Him today.  

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.  James 1:19-21 NLT

Friday, December 9, 2016

Are you seeing post-traumatic growth?

“Mad Dog” James Mattis is his name, a retired four-star general who fought in three wars (Iraq, Afghanistan and Iraq a second time), a former Commander of the US Central Command, and newly nominated to become the Secretary of Defense in the new US administration. He is loved and admired because of his honesty, integrity, intelligence and courage under fire, and his devotion to the soldiers he serves with. In a recent interview, General Mattis spoke about the serious problem of soldiers returning from combat who struggle with the horrific effects of war and death (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). I was inspired by what he said:

“I would just say there is one misperception of our veterans, and that is they are somehow damaged goods. I don’t buy it. There is also something called post-traumatic growth. Going to war always causes stress. It’s inevitable, but it doesn’t have to cause damage, a disorder or syndrome. You don’t have to come out of it from a position of illness, you can come out of it from a position of wellness, of growth as a human being. I’ve seen people come out of this better – better husbands, fathers, kinder, more compassionate.” 

That’s exactly what we see in our spiritual battle. When we fight God’s way, we always come through it better and stronger. In fact, spiritual warfare can only go two ways. Either you fight confidently with intelligence and faith, taking the hits to your weak areas by re-strategizing and fighting smarter, or you fight haphazardly with discouragement and disappointment at unanswered prayers.  

People can endure years of haphazard fighting against the devil, but when they don’t learn to fight with intelligence, discouragement will lower their defenses and weaken their attacks. It leads to battle wounds and shellshock, and could potentially lead to totally give up on faith. Just like the general says, going to war always causes stress. It’s inevitable. Living for God is not easy, but how we choose to react makes all the difference. Instead of being wounded, we are purified and refined by God in the process. How? By determining these four non-negotiable points, and holding on to them until the end:

  1. God is our champion. We are guaranteed to win if we fight with Him at our side, even if it takes time and the end result seems so far away. 
  2. God is rooting for us. His love and mercy is so amazing that even when we make a mistake, He doesn’t slap us down or humiliate us, He picks us up the very moment we repent, and He’s eager to put us right back on track. He wants us to win more that we do!
  3. What may feel like annoying, useless battles could actually be important and strategic. God sees the bigger picture and knows where we need to be strengthened, so don’t resist His guidance. If He allows you to go through an unpleasant battle (are there ever pleasant battles?), fighting means discovering what He wants you to do, think and be. The sooner you overcome, the sooner you can move on to better things.
  4. Our final goal: ultimate annihilation of the enemy. Even when the devil keeps coming back at you with new attacks, even when you feel like you deserve a break, even when emotions try to cloud your judgment. This has to be our default setting if we want to obey Jesus’ command to persevere until the end.  

If you’re going through post-traumatic stress because of the many defeats in your spiritual battle, it’s time to re-strategize, to look deeper and discover how you can fight smarter. All the apostles ended their lives fighting the good fight, stronger, more joyful, and more certain that every battle was worth it. And look at how much they continue to impact the world 2000 years later. That’s the power we all need to be fighting in! 

For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, pleasing to all, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God, strengthened with all might according to His glorious power, enduring everything with perseverance and patience joyfully, giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled us to be partakers in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and has transferred us into the kingdom of His dear Son, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.  Colossians 1:9-13 MEV