Category Archives: Teaching

Deliver Us From Evil

In the Bible’s Old Testament book of Judges, the leaders for whom the book is named were actually deliverers who saved Israel from foreign domination. There were 12 Judges. They were imperfect, sometimes immoral, leaders, but each one was used by God to save the people of Israel during a period of lawlessness and idolatry. The theme of Judges could be the theme of our nation today: “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes” (17:6, 21:25). The leadership of Donald Trump parallels that of the Judges: imperfect, insecure, offensive, yet chosen by God for a purpose. Here are some examples of the Judges.

Ehud, the second Judge, delivered Israel by subterfuge and murder. He went to meet with Eglon the king of Moab under guise of peace. Ehud requested a private audience with the king, then stabbed him in the stomach with a concealed short sword.

Deborah was a respected judge who rendered decisions for Israel, and she was an unexpected deliverer during a period of patriarchal leadership.  Deborah encouraged and advised Barak in his march against the Canaanite king, Jabin. However, Barak didn’t get the glory for his defeat, nor did Deborah. Instead a woman named Jael decieved Jabin and shrewdly murdered him by driving a tent peg through is skull.

Gideon was visited by an angel as he threshed wheat while hiding in a wine press. During this time Midianite raiders would enter Israel during harvest and steal their grain, as well as their livestock. The angel complemented and encouraged Gideon: “The LORD is with you, valiant warrior!” Gideon’s response was not one of faith, however. “O my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his miracles…” Nonetheless Gideon was willing and obedient, even though he showed fear and doubt, needing to see signs, then requiring even further confirmation after that. God chose Gideon and used him to miraculously deliver Israel with only 300 men.

Jephthah was recognized as a valiant warrior, but he the son of a prostitute. His brothers rejected him and ran him out of their territory. However, when Israel was oppressed by Ammon those same brothers begged Jephthah to return and lead an army to deliver them.  Jephthah made them promise to make him their leader upon the successful defeat of Ammon. They agreed. In order to secure favor from the Lord, Jephthah made a rash and tragic vow to God, “if You will indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand, then it shall be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon it shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering” (11:30-31). To prove how foolish this faithless vow was, the first thing to come out the door of Jephthah’s house was his daughter. In pride Jephthah carried out the vow.

The last judge we’ll look at is Samson. He was a miracle baby. His parents were infertile. An angel promised that God would give them a baby, but he must be a Nazirite from birth. This meant: 1) he was never to cut his hair, 2) never to drink wine or even touch grapes, 3) and never to touch a dead body. Samson is known, not for his great leadership, or wisdom, but for his physical strength. He was sexually promiscuous, a vindictive schemer, given to outbursts of rage, and he pushed the limits of his Nazirite vow by touching the carcass of a lion, and eventually telling his lover that his strength came from his long hair. Each time Samson defeated the Philistines it was for selfish reasons. This culminated in his final suicide mission wherein he literally brought the house down on his head by toppling the central pillars of a large structure, killing 3000 Philistines who were present to worship their god and mock Samson. “So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he killed in his life. Except for the fact that Samson achieved several minor victories against the Philistines it is difficult to understand why he is considered a Judge, until we recognize that God chose to use this imperfect strongman to achieve His purpose.

Donald Trump is a lightening rod; people either love him or hate him. Today the U.S. House of Representatives impeached him for abusing the power of his office, and obstructing congress. Predictably the vote followed party lines. The Senate will hold a trial, and if they concur he will be removed from office. Most people doubt this will happen because the Senate is controlled by Trump’s party. Whether one loves or hates him, I would make the case that God chose to put this imperfect leader in place for a purpose. In fact, I will be bold (and appear to be partisan) by stating unequivocally that God has used Trump to stave off the relentless march of godless social and political policy in the same way the Old Testament Judges delivered Israel from foreign oppression. For the time being God has used an imperfect leader to deliver this nation from the evil it is bringing upon itself.

I. The evil of religious intolerance. The United States is imperfect, but it was established by those who fled religious intolerance. Now we face a political party that rejects First Amendment freedoms of speech and religion if either of those freedoms threaten their agenda.

II. The evil of abortion on demand. The Democrat party has pushed abortion as a signature issue. At one time leadership in the party stated that abortions should be safe and rare. Now, they wholeheartedly support Planned Parenthood, an organization that has been caught trafficking in aborted baby body parts. They not only support late term abortions– taking the life of a fetus that is viable, a baby that could be born alive–but this political group supports letting a breathing baby die. This is evil.

III. The eventual evil of Socialism. I say eventual evil because Socialism is a step in the direction of Marxism, which is inherently atheistic and intolerant of any opinion that doesn’t align with its radical economic and social viewpoint. We often hear of the evil of Nazism. Under Hitler 11 million undesirables were exterminated. This pales in comparison to the wholesale slaughter perpetrated by Socialist and Communist leaders in the 20th Century. Russia’s Stalin starved and murdered over 20 million of his people. China’s Chairman Mau exterminated more than 45 million who disagreed, Pol Pot murdered nearly two million in Cambodia. Some estimates put the murders perpetrated by Marxist ideology at more than 100 million. Yes, Socialism may well result in great evil.

I did not vote for Donald Trump in 2016. I was almost deceived into voting for Hillary Clinton, but declined to do so. In the wake of the Trump Presidency what I feared has not come to pass. Trump is offensive, narcissistic, vindictive, but has proven to be a foil against those who will destroy our nation. He has supported the right of the unborn to life. He has supported religious liberty. He has opposed Socialism. I don’t agree with other positions he holds. However, he is not evil, nor is he bad for this country. However, his presidency has clearly shown us who is. I will vote Trump in 2020 if that is possible. I cannot in good conscience vote for any Democrat.

Thy Kingdom come, Lord Jesus,

Thy will be done, Father,

on earth as it is in heaven.

 

When Was Jesus Born?

Possible Years

Circa 6BC (Blomberg, New American Commentary),

As early as 12BC (Vardaman, who looks to Josephus mention of Jesus’ ministry as occurring circa AD 15-19).

Original estimate by Dionysius Exiguus in 525 AD to reset the calendar around the Advent was inaccurate. The present calendar is predicated on Jesus birth being Dec. 25th and his circumcision/presentation in the Temple fell on January 1st, which begins the anno dominus. This lines up with the early celebration of Christmas on Dec. 25th.

Herod the Great died in 4 BC, so Jesus had to be born prior to that.

The Star of Bethlehem is another possible way to date Jesus’ birth. Star newly appeared and at a specific time. travelled slowly, moved from east to south It was unusual or the Magi wouldn’t have come all the way from Persia to inquire about the birth of the King of the Jews. Magi- a priestly group in Persia, according to Herodotus (1:101) 6th C BC, associated with astronomy and astrology, which was a core educational subject in the ancient world (see Plato’s Republic, 529). Also Philo stated a belief that the stars offer “timely signs of coming events” because “the stars were made for signs” (ie. Genesis 1:14).

There is also a tradition that the Magi came from Arabia (Justin Martyr, AD 160). Clement of Rome (c. AD96) considered frankincense and myrrh to have originated near Arabia. Magi visiting kings was a regular practice in the ancient world. There are numerous references in literature of the time. Ie. Tiridates, King of Armenia, led Magi to pay homage to Nero in AD 66.

Time for Journey:

It would have taken them 1-2 months for the journey. A fully loaded camel can travel 50 miles in a day comfortably. It is 900 miles from Babylon to Jerusalem, going around the Arabian desert, thus a journey of 18 days without stopping, which they surely did.

Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in 7 BC, a theory dating back to Masha’allah AD 8th century.

Star as a comet. Comet seen on it’s way toward earth, or moving away. Perihelion is the point at which the comet’s orbit is closest to the sun. So, could the Magi have seen a comet on the way toward perihelion, which led them to Jerusalem, then lost sight of it in the sun, which led them to inquire of Herod, and regained sight as the comet came back into view.

Dio Cassius, a Roman historian, reveals a comet appeared in 12 BC (Roman History 54-29) and seemed to stand over the city of Rome. This was likely Halley’s comet. This timing would agree with Vardaman’s unique earlier chronology of Jesus life (mentioned above)

AD 1303 Halley’s comet appeared and Giotto pained a nativity with it pointing to Mary and Jesus, and leading the Magi to the creche. If the tail of the comet is vertical, then it would appear to point toward something on earth. Origen (c. 2nd C AD in Contra Celsum 1.58) states, “The star that was seen in the east we consider to be a new star… partaking of the nature of those celestial bodies which appear at times such as comets… If then at the commencement of new dynasties or on the occasion of other important events there arises a comet… why should it be a matter of wonder that at the birth of Him who was to introduce a new doctrine… a star should have arisen?”

Halley’s comet appeared on Aug. 26 of 12 BC for 56 days.

A comet appeared in 5 BC from March 9 – April 6

Another appeared in 4 BC April

The 5 BC Comet

“In March/April… this particular comet would have been first seen rising in the East in the morning sky….. the Magi first saw the comet soon after perihelion… travelled to Jerusalem, a journey time of 1-2 months, then saw the comet in the south in the morning sky as they travelled from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.

The conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in 7 BC could well have contributed to the expectation of the Magi that something portentous was about to occur. Saturn represented the divine father and Jupiter his son. The conjunction took place in the constellation Pisces which was associated with Israel. The conjunction happened three times in May, October and December of 7BC. The message they interpreted was this: “a Messiah-king will be born in Israel.” As if to provide more confirmation Mars joined the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in 6 BC; Mars represented war so the coming king would be a mighty one.

Magi Arrival

If Jesus was born in March/April of 5 BC, then the Magi could have travelled to Jerusalem by the summer. If they spoke to Herod about the constellation of Jupiter and Saturn they had seen in 7 BC, it would have caused him to err on the side of caution and kill all of the babies from two years and younger.

“Jesus would not have been born less than six weeks before the visit of the Magi… the most probable sequence of events in Matthew and Luke is: birth, visit of shepherds, presentation in Temple, return to Bethlehem to stay in house, visit of Magi. Stable/House: Since Jesus was likely born in the stable attached to a house, the house being too full of guests for either comfort or privacy, the family may have simply moved into a guest room of the house some time after Jesus was born.

Comet Hypothesis

Jesus was born in March or April of 5 BC, at earliest March 9th, and the latest May 4th. Birth around Passover: the census would have been spread over a long period, so Bethlehem being filled with people would fit the Passover time.

The Census

5th century historian Orosius (Adv. Pag. VI.22.7, VII.2.16) indicates Augustus ordered a census be taken of each province primarily to prove allegiance to Caesar Augustus. “This is the earliest and most public acknowledgement which marked Christ as the first of all men and the Romans as lords of the world… since in this one name of Caesar all the peoples of the great nations took oath, and through participation in the census, were made part of one society.’

Birth of Jesus

Earliest mention of December 25 is in the Philocalian calendar representing Roman practice of the year AD 336, which states “natus Christus in Betleem Judeae.…during the consulship of (Augustus) Cæsar and Paulus Our Lord Jesus Christ was born on the eighth before the calends of January (25 December), a Friday, the fourteenth day of the moon.”

Christmas occurs in a Roman calendar Chronographus Anni CCCLIV (AD 354), Sol Invictus was on that day and Christmas replaced it. However, since Mithraism and Sol Invictus was introduced after the birth of Jesus (no earlier than AD 90), it may well have been the other way around originally.

Independence and Freedom

I was privileged to start a new church 20 years ago today. We held our first worship service at 111 Ranch in Garland, Texas on a hot July 4th evening in 1999. I chose the date with auspicious intent. 

Today is Independence Day, the day the the Continental Congress officially approved the Declaration of Independence affirming freedom for all people and rejecting British rule. It is the day we became United States of America. It took many more years for that freedom to become a reality for slaves, but the truths stated therein supported the abolition of slavery, and the civil rights movement. 

WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Individuals and nations have the right to separate themselves from tyranny and to establish independence, in order to be free to pursue the life God created. 

Separation

Over the years I have been involved in several great churches, and for the denomination and its agencies that assisted in the launch of our church I have the highest regard. However, anyone who has been involved in church on more than a surface level can likely give examples of legalistic and judgmental attitudes among leadership and people. In fact, I must admit, as much as I dislike those attitudes, I’ve been judgmental too! If I am going to love people the way Jesus does, I must stop judging them.

Back then our name was City of Refuge, another symbol intended to help us turn away from being judgmental. In the Old Testament the Cities of Refuge were established to protect those who were accused of murder. Here they could run to safety from the avenger of blood, and here they would receive a fair trial. In this city the accused could continue to live without fear or shame as the result of their past mistakes or misfortunes. 

Too often, down to our day, an accusation is enough to destroy the reputation of the accused. People believe what they want to. Anyone may say anything about anyone else, publicize it via the press or social media, and many people will assume the worst, refusing to change closed minds, even when facts contradict the accusation. What happened to the presumption of innocence? Instead there is a de facto assumption of guilt toward anyone accused.  In my observation judgmental attitudes rule our culture today, from bottom to top. So, a church that suspends judgment, whether moral, social, or political, would be a welcome contrast.

Twenty years later we are called Lifewell Church, but I hope we continue to be a refuge for the oppressed and accused.  I pray we continue to be a source of acceptance and a dispenser of God’s grace to people who have been rejected. As the pastor, I seek to root out any source of sanctimony and judgment in our midst, beginning with myself!

I also wanted us to separate ourselves from all of the pretense and presumption I experienced in the institutional church. Enter some churches and you can feel the fakery. Oh, they may have orthodox theology, but the heart is not there. Concerning such people Jesus quoted Isaiah, “These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me” (Matthew 15:8, Isaiah 29:13). This may be seen in high church ritual, the slick Sunday production of a mega church, or the well worn routine of any church in between. 

Independence

I just wanted everyone to be real. When it concerns individuals that means stop hiding, no more “fake it until you make it.” Be the same person in church as you are at home, at work, at school. We can’t get well if we keep hiding the fact that we’re sick. Worse, we may be flaunting in the world the sickness we hide while we’re at church. The theme passage for City of Refuge came from Matthew 9:12-13: 

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”” (Matthew 9:12–13, NIV)

Sadly, some (too many!) abused this grace and simply continued in their sin. Establishing a church that accepts people as they are without judgment doesn’t mean people should continue living unchanged by God’s amazing grace. Too quickly our City of Refuge became for some a Den of Thieves! “How can we who died to sin live any longer in it!” (Romans 6:1)

When I am exposed to the truth of God’s Word and inhabited by His Holy Spirit, I am changed and become more like Jesus. When you offer grace it is always possible for people to abuse it and use it as tacit acceptance for their bad attitudes and bad behaviors. No judgment doesn’t mean, no evaluation, no appraisal of right and wrong. What it means is I’m not the judge, and neither are you! We’re not even on the jury. I don’t determine your guilt or the punishment for what you may have done.

In reality, I’m here to be a physician’s assistant and Jesus is the doctor. First, I need to get well, then I need to be concerned and compassionate about bringing you to life and health. Jesus said this clearly, and it is intimately part of the same teaching about not judging.

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1–5, NIV)

I hope and pray that we’ve not lost sight of this as Lifewell Church. It is the reason we came into existence 20 years ago. It’s part of our spiritual DNA. Acceptance and repentance are both essential to being made well by Christ. I cannot live life well when I am sick with sin. I will never come to Christ if I believe I’m too bad, too dirty, or too sick. So, we must accept people as they are, not as we wish they were. We must speak the truth in love and seek to lead people to receive the transforming spiritual life of Jesus Christ. We accept them as Jesus has accepted each of us, and we offer them the living water that will become a life well leaping up from their hearts to eternal life!

but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”” (John 4:14, NIV)

Freedom

The result of this is genuine freedom, and that may be what most people associate with July 4th. The natural understanding of freedom is, I can do whatever I want. What irony, we think that we’re free when we do what we want when all the time the will is deceived, enslaved to bad habits and destructive desires. What I want falls short of God’s design. “For all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23). Although sin seems like freedom, it is inextricably tied to death. “The soul that sins will surely die…. For the wages of sin is death” (Ezekiel 18:4, Romans 6:23). The Apostle Paul calls this principle the law of sin and death. Jesus taught emphatically that those who sin are slaves to sin (John 8:34). 

Real freedom is not unlimited choice. I am not free when I choose to be something God didn’t design or command. There is a way things, and people, are supposed to be, and that’s not some arbitrary demand superimposed by an autocratic almighty God. There are laws of physics, the universe is fine tuned to an exquisite degree. God created it this way. The same God established what we would call moral laws as well. He gave us a conscience. He revealed a moral code to Moses. He paved the pathway to life through Jesus Christ. Now, the person who comes to Christ fulfills the law and is set free by the Spirit.

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:2, NIV84)

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17, NIV84)

This is important to understand, to fully realize, and I sought to teach it in those early years, but some failed or refused to receive it. They left preferring a deluded lifestyle, which has resulted in destructive consequences for those who failed to have a change of heart. Once again, I hope and pray that Lifewell receives this truth and lives in God’s intended freedom.

July 4th is an auspicious date, even 20 years later. Lifewell remains a church committed to separation from sanctimonious judgment, bureaucratic religion, empty ritual, and fake faith. We are not independent from our founding denomination, although we have a strong non-denominational outreach. We are committed to the principle of priesthood of the believer, which means that each person is privileged and responsible to relate to God and read the Bible anticipating the Holy Spirit will teach them. This doesn’t mean the individual is independent from the community, rather we are mutually reliant and recognize the gifts and callings of the members of the body. I am a teacher and the overseer of our community of faith. People follow my leadership and teaching as I follow Christ. Finally, we are free! Free to worship in a manner that allows us to speak and be spoken to by God in Spirit and in Truth. We are free to follow our consciences in debatable matters, eating and drinking and dressing and entertainment. We are free from sin and it’s awful consequence: death. Praise God! Happy July 4th Lifewell Church! 

No Fear!

for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:3–7, ESV)

The word translated fear may mean cowardice, and it is the opposite of faith (ie. confidence).

It is possible that this was Timothy’s weakness. In the natural he was a timid soul. The Apostle was reminding his son in the faith that he was not alone (even apart from Paul’s presence) the Spirit of Almighty God lived within the young man.

There may a tendency to think of Christians as weak, fearful of conflict, having Father Mulcahey (MASH) or Ned Flanders (Simpsons) temperaments. What my natural temperament is, is irrelevant when I’m filled with the Holy Spirit. He makes me confident.

Paul was imprisoned in Rome. Things were not going smoothly in Ephesus, where Timothy pastored. There was opposition to the Gospel, false teaching, persecution from the pagans and the Jews. If Timothy was to survive, he needed to be filled with the Spirit to have the courage to face all of that stress and difficulty. 

When we’re overwhelmed we don’t feel as though we will overcome. I feel like giving in and giving up. Yet I’m called to conquer (Revelation 2-3). In fact, we are promised that we will “overwhelmingly overcome through Christ who loved us” (Romans 8:37)!

The Holy Spirit makes me secure as a child of the Father. A good earthly father imparts strength and confidence to his children. Security and confidence makes me bold and drives away all fear. I know who has my back, He has given me the right to call him Dad.

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”” (Romans 8:15, TNIV)

Many are afraid today. The media and those in political power are stirring up hostility and fear. Panic attacks have become commonplace. Many are on medication, use alcohol, or marijuana to keep from being overwhelmed by fear and dread. This is not what a Spirit filled Christian needs or does. 

The devil is the original terrorist. Realize, Satan is a paper tiger, a toothless lion, a defeated foe. Like the defeated Saruman standing in the window of his lofty tower before Gandalf in Tolkien’s LOTR, so our enemy has been defeated by the Lord Jesus Christ, and yet the devil may still speak with an alluring voice and employ enticing lies. We must recognize his schemes and send him away in the name of Jesus Christ.

We are facing an increasingly hostile world. People are rejecting the Bible, and seeking to stop biblical Christians from speaking out. Sharing the Gospel is not seen as Good News by increasing numbers of people in this country. In the midst of this God is calling you and I to be bold: to grow up and speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), then deal with the consequences. When the Holy Spirit has control you will be courageous. Fear God and you will not fear anything or anyone else (Isaiah 8:13).

Don’t be a coward when you are called upon to defend the truth or the name of Jesus. Don’t go along with the crowd: they are moved by the spirit of anti-Christ. You are not of the same sort, not if you genuinely believe and call on Jesus as your Lord. You are not alone, friend. Jesus promised, “I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.” That is a reality when you are indwelt and endowed with the Holy Spirit of Christ.

Power, love, self-control.

These are not natural attributes that I work up: the Holy Spirit infuses me with all three when He fills me. 

Power.

I need power to resist temptation, which weakens me. power to persevere through personal suffering and through persecution from a world that has turned from Christ, power to maintain sanity and stability in a dark, dangerous, unpredictable world.  Much of what we see today is people seeking power through money, politics and popularity.

People are insecure, and this may be true even though someone is arrogant (the latter is a mask for the former). There’s too much big talk in an effort to gain support, to win, to get money. Yet there is no real power behind the constant boasting and bickering. We want to see something really. Also, I must have power to do the work of ministry effectively. I cannot perform miracles or change people’s lives on my own.

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power” (1 Corinthians 4:20). 

I need power to preach the Gospel. The Holy Spirit must anoint and ordain and speak through me or I waste my time and yours. This is why we always give people the opportunity to respond to the message on Sunday. Don’t just sit there and evaluate. Decide. Move. Do.

Love.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out all fear” (1 John 4:18). When I know I’m loved, I am secure. When I know that God will not allow anything to happen to destroy me, even though I may hurt at times, then I can stand up against anything.

We all need love. Self-love is a surrogate. Love extends away from the self; it doesn’t bend inward. In order to have love I must receive love. Most importantly, I must trust the Father’s love for me. This is the love “God has poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 5:5). Jesus new command gives a new basis for loving others: His sacrificial love for us.

“A new commandment I give to you that you love one another, even as I have loved you” (John 13:34). Christ’s love gives us the example, motivation and strength to love others rather than ignore or fight them.

Self-control. 

This is a special word in Greek, and a much needed character trait.

Barclay writes:

“There was self-discipline. The word is sōphronismos, one of these great untranslatable Greek words. It has been defined as ‘the sanity of saintliness’. In his book on The Pastorals, Sir Robert Falconer defines it as ‘control of oneself in face of panic or of passion’. It is Christ alone who can give us that command of self which will keep us both from being swept away and from running away.

No one can ever rule others without having complete self-control. Sōphronismos is that divinely given control of self which makes people great rulers of others because they are first of all the servants of Christ and in complete control of themselves.”

I really need self-control. Too often I fly off the handle, become enraged on the road, show impatience with my own apparent incompetence and inadequacy. Holy Spirit fill me and grant me this quality! If I cannot or will not lead myself, I cannot lead anyone else. Pray for your pastor in this regard. I need peace and patience, calm confidence and selfless forbearance toward people and situations that irritate and annoy my flesh. I must account the flesh dead and myself reborn in Christ.

Which brings us to today, Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent. This is the perfect time to practice self-control, which fundamentally is the ability to say no to my natural self and yes to the Holy Spirit’s leadership

Why Fast?

For thousands of years people in many different religious traditions have practiced fasting. Consider the following examples of people who fasted: Confucius, Plato, Aristotle and Hippocrates (father of medicine).  In the Bible we find Moses, David, Elijah, Daniel and Esther fasting in the Old Testament. In the Mosaic Law 

Israel is commanded to fast once per year on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:27). In the New Testament Paul the apostle and Jesus fasted. Such eminent Christian leaders as Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards also fasted. Why?

There are many reasons and benefits, some of which I’ve listed below. I have observed the following truth. Fasting teaches me to say, “no” to me. It is denying something that I need, usually food, in order to focus on what I need more: God and his truth. Jesus was tempted by the devil to end his 40 day inaugural fast miraculously by turning rocks into loaves of bread. The Lord quoted Deuteronomy: “Man does not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4 & Deut. 8:3). There is something, or rather Someone, more important in life than me. 

Eating is essential for physical life to continue. Unlike air, or even water, food is something I can limit or go without for an extended period of time without serious health risks. In fact, if done correctly and not recklessly, fasting may actually be healthy for the body. For example, recent studies done with both animals and humans indicate that eating 30% fewer calories results in a longer and healthier life. 

Fasting doesn’t have to be limited to food, however. Scripture records this interesting fast of the prophet Daniel during a period of serious prayer and mourning: “I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks” (Daniel 10:3, ESV). So, Daniel kept himself from self indulgence during this time. Later in the passage we see that he had chosen this kind of fast as a way of humbling himself before God to seek understanding into the future plight of his people Israel (ibid. 10:12). The Apostle Paul observed that married couples might abstain from sexual activity in order to focus on prayer. However, he encourages such couples to come back together after a limited time to avoid temptations, which may result from a lack of self-control (see 1 Corinthians 7:5). During the Christian season of Lent some people come up with an activity or indulgence in their lives to give up, which is a kind of fasting.

Jesus fasted. The Lord expected that his followers would fast (Matt. 6:16-18, Mark 2;20). There is no law that tells is we must fast. It is rather an impulse, a response to great need. Our bodies will naturally fast when we are sick. Spiritually, the response is similar….

 The following are eight reasons for fasting.

1. DEMONSTRATION of Repentance- In the prophetic book of Joel—an important quotation from which is contained in Peter’s first Gospel sermon (see Acts 2:17-21)—God warns the people of impending judgment due to their sin and consequently calls them to repentance. The primary demonstration of this repentance is fasting. ““Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning….’” “Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly.” (Joel 2:12, 15 TNIV). Jonah the prophet preaches (unwillingly) to Ninevah about God’s imminent judgment for their wickedness. The response of their king is to call the entire city to an absolute fast for three days. God’s response to their sincerity is to withhold his intended destruction. 

Are you sick and tired of being sick and tired? I must repent and come to an end of myself if I want to be filled with God’s Holy Spirit. I must realize how truly sinful I am, and how depraved I will become without God’s helpI’ve got to take my sin seriously & cry out to God in repentance.

2. DESPERATION. Fast as an Act of Desperation- When my world is falling apart, when I need to hear from God at all costs I fast and pray. Daniel 10 spent 21 days of prayer for his nation (Daniel 10). David cried out desperately for the healing of his 1st child by Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:16). Our nation and is filled with rebellion, perversion and lawlessness. How many more tragedies must occur until we realize the need to return to the Lord in heart and mind and body? Are you desperate for change to occur? Is there an overwhelming need in your life. Fast and pray.

3. DEDICATION. Fast as an Act of Dedication (Matthew 4:1-2) –  After his baptism, Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit where he fasted for 40 days to prepare for entry into his ministry. During this time Jesus was tested by the devil. Perhaps fasting gave Jesus clarity as he intensely focused on His Father. The time of testing provided confirmation that He was the Son of God who had come to save the world. You may fast as an act of dedication to the Lord, and to seek confirmation about his calling in your life.

4. DISCIPLINE. Fast as an Exercise of Self-Discipline (Matthew 4:3-4) –  Learn to say no to yourself. All of the temptations Jesus endured were aimed at getting him to act egotistically and expediently. If the Lord had given in it would not have been an exercise of faith, but an effort at overcoming self-doubt with presumption. Our consumer culture is about self-indulgence, not self-discipline. It is about pursuing passion, pleasure and satisfying desire. This is why we’re overweight and in debt. It is important to set limits for our time, money, eating and drinking. Fasting is a good tool to discipline yourself so that you may also say no in areas other than food.

5. DEPENDENCE. Fast as an Affirmation of Dependence upon God-  Learn to rely on the power of God. Jesus’ first statement in response to Satan’s temptation demonstrates this. “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8:3 as quoted in Matthew 4:4, also John 4:34). When I give up something I truly want, I will need God’s help to persevere. The third affirmation of the AA 12 Steps recognizes our need to do this. “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God…” This is essential if I am to overcome a particularly stubborn habit or addiction. “This kind only comes out by prayer and fasting” (Mark 12:29). We need a deep faith, which relies entirely upon God, and fasting may help promote such faith.

6. DETERMINATION. Fast to Establish Determination-  Believing is not a feeling. It is an act of the will. Believing genuinely means I am willing to do something about it. Additionally, faith must endure or it’s worthless. Learn to have a tenacious and unshakeable faith. Jesus’ disciples encountered a boy whom they could not help. When Jesus cast out the spirit that afflicted the child, his disciples asked him why they were powerless. Jesus replied, “This kind can only come out by prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29, Matthew 17:21). Not everything happens instantly. In fact, many issues require determination and tenacity to overcome. Remember, although faith is an act of the will, it is not about willpower. It is about trust. I must be determined to continue to trust God, no matter the circumstances. This is fasting for a breakthrough. Nothing is helping. Nothing is changing. I can give up and give in, or I can resolve to focus all my attention on God and persevere in asking and seeking and knocking. This is the parable of the importunate widow, who kept coming to the judge until he gave here justice (Luke 18:1-8). In the end I will find it is not God who is withholding my right, but a lack of faith on my part. Fasting helps me to break through.

7. DETOXIFICATION. Fast as a means of Detoxification (Daniel 1:8-16) – Because of constant exposure to an impure environment your body collects all sorts of toxic and destructive substances. Consider Daniel and his friends who would not eat the meat and rich food offered them by their Babylonian overlords. Instead they ate only vegetables and drank only water. They were healthier as a result. They asked to be tested for 10 days. You can do the same test on yourself: Eat only vegetables and drink only water for 10 days and discover a healthier you. A vegan or even vegetarian diet that allows only organic foods is a healthy way to rid your body of toxins. When you abstain from food altogether, drinking only water, especially for longer periods, the digestive system and liver and kidneys can be cleansed of accumulated poison. Additional benefits have been discovered recently. I recommend author Jason Fung, an MD who claims that Type 2 Diabetes can be cured using a fasting regimen. The Diabetes Code and the Obesity Code are the two books I recommend.

The detoxification principle applies to your mind. When you remove TV, movies, video games, godless music, social media, you give your mind the opportunity to rest. Replace these things with worship and saturation in Scripture.

8. DIET. Fast regularly to Diet- Limiting the amount of food you eat is a means of controlling calorie intake. Most of us eat too much. We take in more calories than we burn, so we gain unneeded fat. Periodic fasting, (ie. one day per week), if done in moderation and balanced with a healthy, calorie controlled diet, is an effective tool in losing fat and maintaining a lean body. Increasingly, medical and dietary professionals are recommending a practice known as intermittent fasting, wherein you schedule eating in shorter windows of time. It is intermittent because you only do it several times per week. Common intermittent fasts are the 13 hour sundown to sunrise fast, which I’d recommend we all practice consistently, the 16-8 fast, the 18-6, and the OMAD (one meal a day). All of these may be used as a way to control your weight and become healthier. What is important with intermittent fasting is to eat nothing, and drink nothing other than water, black coffee or unsweetened tea. Almost everything you put in your mouth will cause an insulin response, which ruins the benefit of the fast. So, don’t snack. Don’t even chew gum during the fasting period. Additionally, dietary fasting is easier and works better if you are on a low carb diet. Many people are seeing significant fat loss by coupling intermittent fasting with a keto diet. My purpose here is not to describe these diets and practices in detail, but to motivate you to seriously consider fasting.

Suggested fasts

A) Fast and pray for a day.

Rise before 6 AM and eat a light breakfast.
From 6 AM until 6 PM drink only water. Drink at least 8 oz. every hour.
After 6 PM eat a healthy dinner with plenty of vegetables.

B) Intermittent fast over a period of time

Schedule eating and fasting several days per week.
Minimally, stop eating at sunset and fast until sunrise (12-13 hour fast)
Narrow your eating window by pushing the first meal of the day until noon (18 hour fast).
Do a 24 hour fast by eating shortly before sunset, then waiting until the next day at sunset to eat again. You’ll only skip two meals, by fast an entire day.

C) Daniel Fast for 10 days.

Eat only vegetables and a little fruit for 10 days. Focus on leafy greens and cruciferous (broccoli & cauliflower) vegetables, prefer organic.
Drink only water for 10 days. No soda, coffee, or tea. Vegetable or fruit juice is acceptable if it is 100% pure.
NO SUGAR
Once the 10 day test is done, you may decide to go to 21 or even 40 days. For longer fasts be sure to include beans, brown rice, pea or other vegan protein sources. Pastor D supplemented using Garden of Life Raw Organic Protein powder in water or almond milk.

D) Juice Fast for anywhere from one to ten days.

Do not do this for more than one day until you have done “A” above and prayed.
Try it for one day, then break, then three before you go longer.
Drink 90% vegetable juices made with a juice extractor ($50 – 100 appliance).
Drink juice every two hours and water in the hours between.
Again, no coffee or tea, and NO SUGAR or other sweeteners.
Organic vegetables are preferred.

Whatever you decide to do, remember the following principles.
• Be consistent. Discipline requires consistency to take hold and be effective.
• Giving up what you shouldn’t be doing to begin with is not fasting, it’s obedience.
• If you make a commitment to God, keep it. Better not to vow than to vow and not keep it.
• It is not a good idea to make promises to God, better to rely on his promises for you. So, you aren’t fasting to get God to do something for you. Trust him to help you through.

I Am a Single Pastor

I just finished a book by author Preston Sprinkle titled People to Be Loved. The concluding chapter was very affirming to me as a never-married single. There is an often unspoken assumption that if you are single, well, you’re incomplete. In fact, it is an assumption held by many single people themselves. To this Sprinkle replies:

“But if you think marriage is the only way to say yes to life, yes to love, and yes to happiness, then you’ll not only be disappointed if you get married, but you will also forgo the cruciform joy that his possible in your singleness.”

Cruciform joy. Huh? Sprinkle is a Christian pastor and scholar. He is referring to the follower of Jesus identifying with Christ’s suffering and death on the cross. Joy? The joy comes when I endure suffering together with the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit. Sprinkle continues:

“The Gospel never promises happiness to married folk. It does promise joy for those who pick up their crosses and die with Jesus.”

Overwhelming joy follows when I identify with Jesus on the cross and thereby overcome sin and death as I continue to see myself in Christ’s resurrection. “For you have died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). I am enabled to begin to experiencing eternal life (the Kingdom of God) now, even before I pass beyond this vale of tears to live forever with God.

I a single man, which is not uncommon. In fact, there are currently more single men and women in the United States than ever before, Further, the percentage of the population who are unmarried is on the increase. Where I am very different is in my occupation as a single. I am a pastor. I’ve never met another single senior pastor, although I’m sure there are others. I’ve considered that this could be keeping my church from growing numerically. Why, you might ask? Well, the expectation is that the pastor should be a family man. In fact, I wouldn’t be hired by the overwhelming majority of churches with pastoral positions open due to this expectation, and due to a misreading and misunderstanding of the requirements for a pastor listed in 1st Timothy and Titus (I’ll not cover the interpretive issue here).

So, are you asking yourself, “Hmm, what’s wrong with that guy?” Well, that’s how I feel sometimes, even though nobody who attends my church talks or acts like that. I do suspect most people I know would be relieved if I got married. And I suspect my church would grow numerically. Trouble is, I’ve never found anyone with whom I want to spend the rest of my life, and to whom I would surrender and sacrifice. Is that selfish? I won’t deny that I’m selfish. Aren’t you? However, that’s not the issue. I really believe that God has a specific will and purpose for every individual, and every married couple. I’ve believed and taught my entire adult life that if God wants you to be married, then there is an Eve for every Adam: God created the two for each other. I’ve simply never found someone like that, and never felt compelled by God to marry anyone. And I’m not compromising.

So, you may ask, “Well are you looking? Do you date?” I pray and keep my eyes open. I’ve been on a Christian oriented dating site on and off for quite sometime. I’ve been matched with literally thousands of women and met a few of them. No one has been God’s match for me.

Will I remain single the rest of my life? I don’t know, but I’m okay with that if it is God’s will. You see, that’s what I want. That’s what Jesus taught his students to pray for: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” I’d like to have an intimate partner. I’d like to have kids. I think I’d make a great father and husband. However, I want to do whatever my Father in heaven wants, and he hasn’t shown me that is what he wants for my life.

The reason I share this is because I believe many single people feel like they are missing out, or like they are incomplete without a mate. Fellow single person, we are only incomplete if we have no relationship with God. A man or woman is a poor substitute and cannot fill your need for intimacy. It has been said that there is God shaped hole in everyone, which only God can fill.

God has a purpose for each of us. God has a purpose for me as a single pastor. I believe our church is perfect. I don’t mean we are without flaws. I am the chief of sinners (see 1 Timothy 1:15), so that’s not possible. What I mean is our church is perfect for those whom God has called to be part of us. We have an amazing Teaching Pastor, who is married and has four wonderful kids. Our church has families with children and I’m certain they feel comforted and strengthened by his leadership and example. We also have a number of older single adults in our church, and I hope they feel they are not second class members. Perhaps they are comforted and strengthened because their pastor is single too.

You see, a church is a family, or it should be. We are the family of God, brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus warned his followers that they needed to be willing to lose natural friends and family and even their own lives for his sake and that of the Kingdom of God (see Luke 14:26). However, the Lord also promised better and greater relationships will replace that loss.

“’Yes, Jesus replied, ‘and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life.’” (Mark 10:29–30, NLT)

I’ve thought our church might grow numerically if I were to get married. However, I believe I am who, and what, and where God has willed me to be, and I seek to become more like his Son. Our church is my family. I’m like a grandpa to all of these wonderful kids. I’m open to meeting someone, but it is unnecessary. That won’t fulfill me, or even give me more happiness, if it is not God’s leading and will.

History of Christmas

The word for Christmas in late Old English is Cristes Maesse, the Mass of Christ, first found in 1038 (newadvent.org) The present calendar is predicated on Jesus birth being Dec. 25th and his circumcision/ presentation in the Temple 8 days later falling on January 1st, which begins the anno dominus. This lines up with the early celebration of Christmas on Dec. 25th.

Birth of Christ at first not celebrated.

“Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church. Irenaeus and Tertullian omit it from their lists of feasts; Origen, glancing perhaps at the discreditable imperial Natalitia, asserts (in Lev. Hom. viii in Migne, P.G., XII, 495) that in the Scriptures sinners alone, not saints, celebrate their birthday” (newadvent.org)

Epiphany/Nativity

Then combined with Epiphany on January 6th, which is the celebration of the appearance or manifestation of Christ to the world at his baptism. Thus, January 6th was observed to be both Jesus’ baptism and birthday. “Epiphany… on the 6th of January… is mentioned by Clement of Alexandria (c. 155-220).” Later when the birth was changed to Dec. 25th, a special feast was added to Jan. 6th in celebration of the coming of the Three Kings (Magi) and a concurrent observance of gentile missions. (Schaff, History of the Christian Church)

Early mention of Jesus’ birth by Clement of Alexandria on May 20th. “The first evidence of the feast is from Egypt. About A.D. 200, Clement of Alexandria (Stromata I. 21) says that certain Egyptian theologians “over curiously” assign, not the year alone, but the day of Christ’s birth, placing it on 25 Pachon (20 May) in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus.” (newadvent.org)

December 25th

Earliest mention of December 25 is in the Philocalian calendar representing Roman practice of the year AD 336, which states “natus Christus in Betleem Judeae.” “…during the consulship of (Augustus) Cæsar and Paulus Our Lord Jesus Christ was born on the eighth before the calends of January (25 December), a Friday, the fourteenth day of the moon.” Cyril of Jerusalem wrote to Pope Julius I (337-352) and asked for an authoritative judgment based upon census documents brought from Jerusalem to Rome by Titus after the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. Julius assigned Dec. 25th according to this correspondence, which may not be legitimate “At Rome, then, the Nativity was celebrated on 25 December before 354; in the East, at Constantinople, not before 379.” (newadvent.org )

Gregory Nazanzian (known for his defense of the two natures but single personhood of Christ) sought to initiate December 25th c. 379 or 380. This date could have been chosen to challenge the celebration of Natalis Solis Invicti or The Invincible Sun, (Oxford Dictionary of Christian Church) which was associated also with Mithra. That celebration was established by Emperor Domitian (reign AD 81-96) in the 90’s and affirmed by Trajan (reign AD 98-117). It reached the climax of popularity under Aurelian in 274 (newadvent.org).

It would seem that the church chose to celebrate the birth of Christ, who was prophesied to be “the Sun of Righteousness with Healing in His wings” (Malachi 4:2) to prove to the world that Jesus is the Son of God who conquered death and is the true invincible Son. “But Our Lord, too, is born in the month of December . . . the eight before the calends of January [25 December] . . ., But they call it the ‘Birthday of the Unconquered’. Who indeed is so unconquered as Our Lord . . .? -Cyprian (4th century)

Additionally, there were other winter celebrations in Rome around this time: Saturnalia, Sigillaria, Junenalia, Brumalia. The traditions connected to these festivals continue to influence our celebration of Christmas today: giving of presents to children, Christmas trees, lighting of candles, and the many excesses we attribute to contemporary culture of consumerism are actually ancient and never detached from Christmas. “while it also betrays the origin of the many excesses in which the unbelieving world indulges at this season, in wanton perversion of the true Christmas mirth” (Schaff). This, in spite of the fact the the church sought to create a somber season of reflection and repentance during Advent.

March 25 

There is an early tradition that dates the birth of Christ from his Annunciation by the Angel Gabriel, which was celebrated on March 25. There is a tradition also, that Jesus was conceived and crucified on the same day (March 25).

Dec. 25th Western Rite.

“The day is celebrated in the Western Rite by three Masses, of the night (normally said at midnight), of the dawn, and of the day, which have been held to symbolize the threefold birth of Christ, eternally in the bosom of the Father, from the womb of the Virgin Mary, and mystically in the soul of the faithful.” (Ox Dict. Chr Chur)