They say that nothing is sure in this world, except death and taxes. Well, currently, I am starting my taxes, so naturally my mind drifts to death. I hope that I do not die from the pain of taxes. I do not know anyone who has, but there is always a first. Just in case, I should make sure everything is in order, if only as an excuse to delay my taxes.
I invite you to join me in this.
Funeral planning should be like voting in Chicago. Early and often. We never know when the unfortunate event is going to happen, so, for the sake of our loved ones, we should have our will and our funeral plans up to date. This way, they can grieve without the pressure of hurried planning.
There are many things to consider as one plans his funeral. The big decision is what one wants done with his body: cremation or burial. Cremation is gaining popularity in recent years because it cuts costs and saves room. But, there is still some controversy around it. Many Christians are uncomfortable with this act. Some go so far as to insist that it is unbiblical, and could affect one’s eternal state, as in Heaven or Hell. Is this true?
Before I continue, I must establish some common ground. Whether one is cremated or buried, one’s body is just a body that will turn to dust either way.
So, with that said, what does the Bible say about cremation?
Frankly, not much.
Starting with the Old Testament and the Law, God did not give any commandments about correct burial. However, he did give burning as punishment for sexual sin, as found in Leviticus 20:14; 21:9. Those who committed certain sexual sins, such as prostitution and marrying both a mother and a daughter were to be burned alive. Not the most pleasant of punishments, and not really applicable to our discussion of cremation.
In the story of Israel coming into the Promised Land, we have the first mention of cremation. As Israel conquered the land of Canaan, certain cities, like Jericho, were to be totally destroyed. The Israelites were not to keep any souvenir. If anyone did keep something, the item kept and the body of the keeper were to be burned, both as a punishment and as a symbol of purifying the nation of Israel of the sin. Fire is a frequently used physical symbol for purification. When God commanded this, I am sure that no one wanted this punishment to actually happen. However, a man named Achan got greedy and kept some of the treasure of Jericho for himself. He was consequently stoned to death and his body was burned.
In 1 Samuel 31, the men of Jabesh-Gilead took the bones of Saul and his sons and burned them. They probably did this to protect Saul’s body from being desecrated by the Philitines. In 2 Kings 23, Josiah burned human bones on the high place altars to desecrate them and ensure that no worship would be done on them again. In Amos 6, people in a city under siege would be burning the bodies of the dead, a normal practice to stop the spread of disease in a close area.
None of these passages condemn the practice of cremation, nor do they condemn the body of the one cremated to eternal punishment. In the instance of Achan, he was condemned before he was stoned. Cremation had no effect on his eternal state.
The only passage that might speak to God’s view on the practice of cremation is Amos 2:1. Moab was punished because they burned the body of Edom’s king. However, the Moabites did this during a raid into Edom. They opened up the graves of the royalty and burned the bodies. This was not a simple cremation. This was an act against the dignity of Edom and the dignity of those who had died. Moab was not punished because of cremation, but because of their slanderous act against the image of God.
That all said, the Israelites had very strong opinions about burial. They believed in the dignity of the body. This is seen in how they would carefully bury all the dead that they could, either in above-ground tombs, or in deep graves. Why? Because each body should be treated with respect as the image of God, because they wanted the bodies to rest peacefully with their fathers, and because one day each body would be resurrected.
The early Christians, being converted Jews, carried this practice with them. In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul writes that our bodies are the temple of God. Many people point to this verse as proof for burial being the “Christian way”. We should treat the body with respect, right? However, Paul’s context is sexual sin. Be careful of how you unite physically with sin, for God dwells in you. This verse does not refer to a dead body. Does God dwell in the dead?
The Bottom Line
What happens to a dead body? Well, as I began this discussion, whether a body is burned or buried, or any other method of disposing, the body ultimately decomposes and turns to dust, as God said in Genesis 3, “For dust you are and to dust you will return.” At death one’s spirit leaves the body, to be with God and await the resurrection, and the body decays. Why would God dwell in this dead body, if the spirit is with him, awaiting the resurrection?
This resurrection will be an amazing thing. All bodies, from all times, through all modes of death and decay, will be resurrected. The Bible is clear that no method of death or disposal will inhibit God from resurrecting each body. 1 Corinthians 15:42-43 states, “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” Our physical body is perishable, and as such, will perish. However, when God raises our body, from whatever state of decay, he will transform it into a spiritual body which will not decay.
Revelation 20 refers to this glorious day of resurrection. “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done.” Each person, no matter how they died, no matter how their body decayed, will stand before the judgment seat of God. They will be judged according to their works. However, the reason they will enter Heaven or Hell is based upon whether their name is in the Book of Life, whether they trusted in Christ alone for their salvation. The reason for their death, the disposal of their body, does not matter in that day.
Have you trusted in Christ alone. If you are planning for a funeral, I hope you have. That is the most important preparation you can do for the end of life.
Well, I need to get back to my taxes. Happy funeral planning!
The heart of America has been bleeding since 1776. Though the Declaration of Independence promised the equality of mankind, that promise has not fully been realized. All humanity in the United States have felt like they are not equal, or in the language of popular culture, that their lives do not matter. How do we solve this problem?
Wayne Gordon and John Perkins bring a unique and refreshing perspective to the heated emotions and rhetoric in the past year. While admitting that both sides in the Black Lives Matter debate are right and both sides are wrong, they call the Church to step up and be a force of reconciliation. Christ showed us how to love, as only He can. We need to use this love to break down the barriers of difference and seek to understand, to empathize, and to unify with all people, no matter the race, socioeconomic condition, or gender.
If you are part of the Black Lives Matter movement, or if you are cynical about the movement, read this book to gain a perspective you may not have. Allow it to challenge you and to spur you to be like Christ.
I received a free copy of this book for review.
Recently I had the privilege of reading Shalom in Psalms, a psalm-by-psalm devotional from a Messianic Jewish perspective. This was a fascinating and enlightening read.
All poetry is tied to the culture in which it is written. The Psalms are no exception. The imagery throughout the Psalms is based upon a Hebrew culture and worldview. To understand each psalm more fully, one needs to understand the culture and worldview of the writer. Jeffrey Seif, Glenn Blank, and Paul Wilbur, from their Messianic Jewish perspective, bring a fresh light to each psalm, exploring the culture and worldview of the original writers. They also weave a narrative of Shalom, peace, throughout the book, tying concepts presented by the writers of the Psalms with the true giver of peace, Yeshua, Jesus.
One drawback of the devotional is their use of Messianic Jewish titles of God and Jesus. Those who are not used to reading Hebrew names for God will need to learn them fast, or they will quickly get confused on who is referred to.
I received a free copy of this book for review.
We live in a society that is accelerating away from God. Each generation, from the Greatest Generation to the most recent, is becoming more atheistic in its beliefs and practices. In order to fulfill the Great Commission, we cannot use the same strategies that were used in the Greatest Generation to reach the most recent generation, Generation Z.
James Every White does an excellent job exploring the culture of Generation Z, and he provides good insight in how we as the church need to rethink our strategy in reaching this generation. This includes becoming the church again and rekindling our prophetic voice. This is definitely a good resource for anyone who has a heart for this newest generation.
I received a free copy of this book for review.
At this time of year, every four years, the president submits his Cabinet appointments to Congress for approval. This is an important tradition. The Cabinet was designed to be the president’s advisors. They were not to make his decisions or his laws, but they were to provide the president with wisdom in their areas of expertise. Very important roles. The Congress has the job of making sure each cabinet member will provide good advice and will uphold the Constitution. Also important.
President-Elect Trump has submitted his cabinet picks to Congress as the 44 presidents before him did. He has done his best to pick a cabinet that will provide him good recommendations for the four years ahead. I commend him for his and his team’s efforts, though I don’t necessarily agree with all of his choices.
Picking a group of advisors is important, as I have repeated. We all need to surround ourselves with wise people, men and women, who will help us make good decisions. Without a community around us, we are bound to make bad choices. Proverbs makes this quite clear:
Plans fail for lack of counsel,
but with many advisers they succeed. (Proverbs 15:22)
For lack of guidance a nation falls,
but victory is won through many advisers. (Proverbs 11:14)
Surely you need guidance to wage war,
and victory is won through many advisers. (Proverbs 24:6)
However, it is not enough to have many people whispering in our ear, we need to make sure those people are wise and will speak truth, even when it hurts.
Kings take pleasure in honest lips;
they value the one who speaks what is right. (Proverbs 16:13)
Once we have surrounded ourselves with these truth-tellers, we need to listen to them, even when we don’t want to.
King Rehoboam learned this lesson the hard way, by having his kingdom disintegrate because of his decisions. In 1 Kings 12, we read:
Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had gone there to make him king…. The whole assembly of Israel went to Rehoboam and said to him: “Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you.”
Rehoboam answered, “Go away for three days and then come back to me.” So the people went away.
Then King Rehoboam consulted the elders who had served his father Solomon during his lifetime. “How would you advise me to answer these people?” he asked.
They replied, “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.”
But Rehoboam rejected the advice the elders gave him and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and were serving him. He asked them, “What is your advice? How should we answer these people who say to me, ‘Lighten the yoke your father put on us’?”
The young men who had grown up with him replied, “These people have said to you, ‘Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but make our yoke lighter.’ Now tell them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.’ ”
You can guess what happened next. The people of Israel were not happy. The majority of the kingdom split off and appointed a new king. Rehoboam was left with a meager one-fifth of his original nation.
Rehoboam had some wise advisors. However, he did not listen to them. Instead, he listened to men who were not wise but who gave him the answer he wanted. We all have this tendency.
Mr. Trump, take care to choose men who will tell you the truth, even when it hurts. And, when they do, listen to them. Do not make the same mistake as Rehoboam.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison enjoys trying new things. They pride themselves as being “a catalyst for the extraordinary” (according to their website). Their guiding principle is that “education should influence people’s lives beyond the boundaries of the classroom” (again from the website). In keeping with this principle, they have tried to influence their students thinking on how cultures relate to each other, taking stands against violence, rape, and racism. Some of their programs have been lauded. Others have been ridiculed.
Last fall, they began a new program, building on the foundation of these values and influences. They called this program, “Men’s Project”, answering the question “What is masculinity”. You can find information at https://www.uhs.wisc.edu/news/campus/mens-project/. They hope to explore all the many expressions and types of masculinity. Sam Johnson of UW says, “We know that men are underrepresented on campus when it comes to campus leadership roles and getting needed medical and mental health services. They’re also overrepresented in acts of violence and use of drugs and alcohol. With this program, we want to find out why this is and how we can change that culture campus-wide to encourage healthier expressions of masculinities.” She insists that there is no rule of how a man is supposed to be. Therefore, the cohort will explore each other’s experience to create awareness about unhealthy interaction and how perceptions of masculinity “impact the student experience, including gender-based violence on campus, alcohol, vulnerability, media sexuality, and relationships.”
I applaud the University of Wisconsin for trying to change culture for the better. They see needs all around them, and they do what they can. However, their efforts are misguided and could produce more harm than they think.
What is masculinity? According to Merriam-Webster, it is the “qualities appropriate or usually associated with a man.”
Well, this doesn’t help us much. What are these “qualities appropriate” to a man? What makes a man masculine? The answer to this question has changed over the years. In the past, a man was someone who was strong, authoritative, who was a provider, who didn’t show unnecessary emotions. He led his home and his country, but didn’t mind taking some time to smoke and drink with his peers. Later, men were asked to become more in-touch with their emotions, but they were derided as not able to be good leaders in home and society. They were “all that is wrong in this world.” They were playboys, not able to keep their desires in check. They were irrational, not able to make good decisions about children and education. They got in the way of advancement.
Both past and present cultural expectations were wrong. Now, universities around the US, including the University of Wisconsin, are calling for masculinity studies to counter the harm that has been done in cultural expectations.
Unfortunately, each program insists that there are no rules for what is masculinity, but everyone who identifies as male can build their own masculine legacy, as long as they are not violent and they make good citizens. This is false.
There is a standard for masculinity. There is a rule for the “qualities appropriate” for a man.
This rule is found in the Bible.
The Bible is very clear on masculinity and femininity. There are standards that must be kept for a man to be appropriate. Unfortunately, there are too many to be discussed in a short blog post. So, the list has been drastically shortened.
Micah 6:8 (NIV)
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah bemoans the fact that of his sin, that he has nothing to offer God for his past life or for the sins of his nation. There is nothing that God would accept, because they have not acted as men and women should. The standard God has across the board, not just for women, but for men too, is that all would have a relationship with him and that this relationship would affect all aspects of their lives. By humbling ourselves before the Creator of the Universe, admitting our need for Him (through the blood of Christ), we enter into an amazing relationship, that shows us how to act with justice in all situations, and to love extending mercy to all that we can.
A man is one who walks with God, and allows this relationship to make him strongly principled, and tenderly merciful.
1 Peter 3:7 (NIV)
Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.
I am not going to touch the concept of wives as “the weaker partner”, except for this: God made men and women different, in order that they would fill needed roles in society and in family. Men need to realize that women are different, and they need to interact with their wives according to that fact, with consideration and respect.
Paul, in Ephesians 5, compares the man to Christ in the marriage relationship. As Christ has loved the church and died for the church. The husband is supposed to give himself for his wife, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This is a high calling. Women don’t have this calling. Only men.
A man is one who dies to himself that his wife might live, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, realizing that she has been designed by God as different than him.
Ephesians 6:4 (NIV)
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Men have a duty to train their children to walk with God and to have that relationship affect their lives, according to Micah 6:8. Unfortunately, all men, even those walking with God, have a propensity to mess up. One big way is to “exasperate” their children. In our zeal to teach truth and justice, we forget to “love mercy”. And, we drive our children away from ourselves and our faith.
A man is one who actively passes on his faith, both in knowledge and application, to his children, taking care to treat them with love, mercy, and understanding.
Though the last two verses seem to be only applicable to married men, all are useful as one, whether single or married, seeks to have “qualities appropriate” for a man. These qualities do not come naturally, but must be practiced continually.
Well, University of Wisconsin, will you add these standards to your program?
Recently, I met Bernard Wilson. Those who live in my area may recognize him as the author of The Book of Life. He knows that I do not agree with him or with his book. However, he graciously gave me a copy of his book to read. I read it and wrote this review, which I will be giving him.
Bernard Wilson has seen a lot of life. He has seen the world change in his lifetime. He grew up in the depression and saw his dad lose his farm during that financial crisis. Later, Wilson joined the US military during WWII. There, he experienced the effects of war and seemed to ponder the causes. He married during the war and raised two girls afterwards. After sixty years of marriage, his wife died. The cause is not listed in the book. Throughout the book, he seems to be yearning for the life of his youth, before the pain of war and the pain of life had touched him. He asks, “Why is it we never see the bright blue sky or feel the pure fresh air… as it was in the 1930’s?” (page 66). Whether the reader believes the thesis of the book, one cannot deny the experiences Wilson has gone through, making him want to recreate his childhood and to guard against pains he experienced early on. Unfortunately, to do this, Wilson twists Scripture and denies the foundation of Christianity throughout this book.
Wilson insists that due to humanity’s misuse of the earth and each other, the earth will soon be destroyed by global warming. The only way to stop this catastrophe would be humanity’s acceptance of the Lord’s plan, as related by Wilson, the self-proclaimed Messiah and special messenger of God. This plan of the Lord is the abolition of money. With a money-free society, all economic and environmental problems would be solved, along with the extinction of immorality, crime, war, and poverty. This is the salvation of the world, resulting in eternal life as humanity works together to heal all diseases.
There are many problems with these claims. The first and biggest problem is his view on the Bible and inspiration. He does quote 2 Timothy 3:16 (though he misspells the reference as Timothy 1:3), “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” He admits that “all scriptures are true” (page 4). However, he does not accept the fact that God inspired the entire Bible as a cohesive unit. He believes that the Bible was not meant to be read consecutively, but “here a little, there a little” (page 4). He quotes Isaiah 28:10 for proof. However, this verse relates the people of Ephraim mocking the teaching of God. The result of their mocking is judgment by God through confusion. Not really the best verse to use as the instruction of God for how to read Scripture.
Wilson doesn’t stop there. Not only does he believe that Scripture should be read in piece-meal, but he believes that only the one who has been led by the Spirit of Truth can know how to arrange the puzzle pieces of the Bible into the plan of the Lord. He believes that the Lord, even though He inspired the writers of Scripture, actually hid the truths of Scripture from all of humanity since Creation (Page 61). Only Wilson, the chosen of the Lord, taught by “the Spirit of Truth” (which was never defined), knows divine knowledge.
Wilson claims that he is the only one who knows the Spirit of Truth (page 61); that he is the chosen Angel, as seen in Revelation (page 4); that he is Elijah (Elias) (page 4); that he has lived 6000 years (page 66); that he is the brother of Jesus (page 47); and that he is the Messiah (page 17). How can he claim all these things? Sometime in the mid 1990’s, a women appeared to him in the middle of the night, looked at him without saying anything, and then disappeared. This was the sign of him being chosen as the vessel of the Spirit of Truth. He verifies his knowledge with three main predictions: 1) a major earthquake would hit the world around 2012, causing a major catastrophe like the volcano in the Canary Islands to fall into the sea (page 13); 2) Wilson would start looking younger, beginning with growing a full head of hair (page 47); and 3) That he will be raptured before the rest of the world as a sign for the truth of this book (page 48).
Unfortunately, for any prophet, the proof of their veracity is if what they say comes to pass. So far, all three of Wilson’s predictions have not come true. The Bible is clear, if a prophet predicts something that does not happen, he should not be believed. He is a false prophet (Deuteronomy 13:1-5).
If Wilson was a prophet, having special knowledge from the Spirit of Truth, he would speak consistently from what has already been revealed. Wilson admitted that all Scripture is true (page 4). However, he contradicts Scripture in the name of the Spirit of Truth.
Wilson claims that God is only human (page 7). However, this contradicts Jesus who stated “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Wilson claims that Jesus was not the Messiah, though He did come to earth, die and rise again. He even states the Jesus is part of the Trinity (page 62). If Jesus was not the Messiah, why did He come to earth and why did He die? What was the purpose?
Matthew 1:1 says that Jesus is the Messiah. He came so that we might have life in His name (John 20:31). Wilson claims that the problem with society is money (page 7). If all of society moved to a money-less system, all crime, immorality, global warming, poverty, greed, wars would end. Life would be peaceful. However, Wilson chooses not to believe Romans 3:23, which states that all are sinners, to the depths of our person. Even if money were taken out of the equation, humanity would still be proud, greedy, angry, immoral. We need more than a check on our actions, more than a band-aid for this Earth. We need a savior for our souls.
Wilson claims that salvation for the Earth is a communist system with no money. Everyone shares everything in common and everything we need, from food to vacation, is free. We’ll be able to solve our own problems of global warming and disease by pooling our resources without compensation (pages 40-42).
This is not the salvation the Bible speaks of. Paul was asked: “What must I do to be saved?” He answered, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:30-31). Humanity needs saving from their sins and their desire to sin, apart from money. Jesus came to earth so that he would die, taking the penalty for our sins. Everyone who believes in Him will be saved. Upon believing in Christ, the believer receives the Spirit of Truth, so that each will be able to know God and Scripture (1 Cor 12:13).
Once someone places their faith in Christ, their names are written in the Book of Life. Wilson claims that the only places “Book of Life” is found is in Revelation 20:12,15 (page 3). However, the phrase is also found in Psalm 69:28; Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; Revelation 13:8; Revelation 17:8; and Revelation 21:27. Each of those passages refers to a believer’s name being written in the Book of Life. This book, according to Scripture, is the list of those who can enter into Paradise with God, through the saving work of Jesus Christ. This is directly opposite of what Wilson teaches in his Book of Life.
I can see that Wilson is responding to pain in his life and that he has a desire to restore that which he has lost. However, if Wilson truly believes that Scripture is true, He would not contradict Scripture so much. Unless Wilson accepts the gift of Jesus Christ, aligning his beliefs with the Bible, his name will not be written in the true Book of Life, and he will be doomed to an eternity apart from God. At that point, all he wishes to keep will be lost. I pray that he will accept Christ.
Last week, a legend died. John Glenn, the first man to orbit the earth in a space craft. He orbited three times. I sometimes wonder what it was like, to be the first and to see what he saw. Was he afraid of what might happen? Did he expect to not see his wife again(They were married a total of 73 years)? Did he have time to enjoy the sights? Or was he too busy fixing all that went wrong that flight? Would traveling around the earth change his view of the origins of the universe? There is a big debate between science and the Bible. After seeing space and the full earth, which side won in his mind? No matter the answer to my questions, John Glenn must have loved space, for he opted to fly again, when he was 77. He became the oldest man to enter space. Did I mention that he was a hero of mine?
John Glenn was a strong Presbyterian. His trips into space merely strengthen his already solid faith. He said: "To look out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible." He did not believe that there was a contradiction between the Bible and science.
Other astronauts say the same thing. I've had the privilege to hear several astronauts and NASA engineers talk about their experiences. Most that I have met insist that space and creation validates the existence of God. They also claim that Christians don't have to fear science, for there is no disagreement.
Creation does show the existence of God. "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the works of his hands" (Psalm 19:1). Since God created the world, like any good artist, he left his signature all over it. Romans 1:20, "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made." There are many who try to turn a blind eye at the existence of the evidence of God in creation. Unfortunately, to do this, they have to deny scientific laws and rules of logic.
Science and faith are not irreconcilable, for science shows the glory of God. The intricacy of the atom, the complications of the eye or the reproductive system, and others, all scream an intelligent designer. This world is so detailed, but it is limited. It needed an eternal, all-powerful, non-material Cause to have jump-started its existence. That Cause, that Intelligent Designer, is my God.
John Glenn tried to share his experiences with others and let them know that science strengthened his faith. Instead of shying away from science, may we embrace the story that it tells of our God. Instead of embracing science as against the way of God, let us use it to proclaim His glory.
On Monday, November 28, we read the brutal story of an eighteen year old college student who used his car and his knife to wreak havoc on the campus of Ohio State University. We don't know why this student chose to spend his Monday after Thanksgiving in this way. We don't know why he chose to seek to kill those students, teachers, and policemen. All we know is that he acted, and that his action is not alone.
He is now part of a statistic. A statistic which relates a story of school shootings, police killings, riots, and senseless murder. Week after week, for the past multiple years, with increasing frequency, our eyes have been bombarded with the stories of these atrocities. Many of us are confused. Some are angry. All are saddened by the wanton misuse of human life. We do not understand how someone could willingly do these things. These emotions often bring hopelessness.
When looking at the world, an observer might deduce that violence is getting more and more prevalent. Is this really true? I don't know. The author of Ecclesiastes wrote, "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." The methods have changed over time as humanity moved from clubs, to swords, to arrows, to guns, to explosives, to whatever the next generation will invent. With the spread of information, we know more about each event that happens around the world, than any other generation knew. Is violence more prevalent, or do we just know more that is happening? I don't know.
What I do know is that violence, hatred, pain, anger, and hopelessness have been staples in humanity's existence since Adam and Eve left the garden. The perfection that was at the beginning was lost when sin entered the world. Relationships were broken. Miscommunications abounded. Jealousy grew. The broken emotions festered, and then boiled over as Cain committed the first murder, showing that humanity had the ability to take the life that God graciously had made. This is seen as the depth of man's depravity. That first murder was joined by a second and a third, and innumerable more. Because of broken relationships, humanity does not have the ability in themselves to break this cycle, to live in peace.
We seek peace, but that peace is no where to be found, because we seek it in the wrong places. We look to each other, hoping that some man or woman could teach us how better to live. Unfortunately, no teaching of humanity can change who we are or our brokenness. We look to someone or something to give peace to our situation, but there is no peace to be had. Before we can have peace in our world, we need peace in our hearts. Only one person can change us.
True peace is found in Christ. Israel sought a savior that would bring peace to their situation. They lived in the middle of violence and riots, under an oppressive, racist government that cared more about lining its pockets than actually helping the poor and weak. In the middle of this chaos, Christ came as the one who would usher in a new regime, one of love, care, and equality. One of peace. But he ushered in this regime by dying. And, before he died, he promised that we wouldn't have peace on this earth.
How does Christ bring peace?
Where is this peace?
As Christ was at the Last Supper, he said, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." While we live on this earth, we will be surrounded by trouble, because humanity is still suffering from sin and broken relationships. We have hope though. Christ promised that He has overcome the world, and one day that promise will be realized. He will come again and bring justice to those who have not followed Him. And, He will bring an eternity of peace to those who have trusted in Him.
Though we will keep getting more reports of violence, and though it feels like the world is spinning out of control, one day, in the Day of the Lord, we will finally have peace. This gives us hope in the midst of pain around us.
The day before Thanksgiving, my wife and I were watching one of our favorite television shows. One of the characters made the observation that all across the United States, on Thanksgiving, families were gathering to spend an awkward time around their table. In this country, this is the day where family differences are supposed to be set-aside, so that we can all celebrate ways that we have been blessed, while gorging ourselves on turkey. Unfortunately, the modern day of Thanksgiving is much different from the original day. Our celebrations of Thanksgiving have lost their spiritual fervor over the years.
History of Thanksgiving
In 1620, one hundred Brits stepped off a small ship, not knowing what their future held, and ill-prepared for whatever this new world and life would throw at them. They received a rude awaking that winter. Half of their number died of cold, sickness, and starvation. They didn't have enough provision for everyone, nor did they have adequate shelter from the cold and storms. In the spring, those left who were strong enough began to plant crops, as they knew how. However, their skills were not enough for this new world. Thankfully, by God's sovereignty, a local Native American knew English and had compassion on these settlers. He convinced the tribe he was living with to "adopt" these Brits. They taught the English how to plant native crops, how to fish, and how to hunt. That Fall, they had a harvest that would last them through the winter. They wouldn't have the mass death again.
After harvest they invited the Native Americans to celebrate how much God had blessed them. Ninety from the tribe showed up, bringing five deer. In addition to the deer, they had plenty of corn, fowl, fish, and other provisions. They feasted for three days, talking and playing games with the family and friends who had not died, and with the new friends that God had provided. God had been merciful, and they wanted to celebrate that.
Two years later, in 1623, the Brits celebrated Thanksgiving again, as ordered by their Governor William Bradford. They had been experiencing a drought. They had fasted, asking God for rain, which he sent. After fourteen days of rain, the governor called for a day of Thanksgiving, making this the first civil recognition for a day of Thanksgiving in the New World. They wanted to celebrate God's mercy in the midst of suffering. Later, many other colonies adopted yearly celebrations of Thanksgiving, giving thanks for all that God had carried them through that year.
In 1789, Washington called for a day of Thanksgiving, the first nationally recognized holiday under the Constitution. He called on the nation to give thanks to God for his mercy to them throughout the previous war and for his guidance in building a new government. The nation eagerly followed Washington's lead.
In 1863, Lincoln called for a day of Thanksgiving, in the midst of the horrific Civil War. He acknowledged that God had been merciful to them, even in all the bloodshed. He had shown compassion to many injured, he had supplied crops, he had built peace with other nations, he had allowed for babies to be born. In the words of the proclamation: "No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy."
God gives blessings and shows mercy in the midst of tragedy. The American Thanksgiving was built on this amazing truth.
Paul taught about Thanksgiving. He said, "Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Life rarely goes as we plan. In spite of our best efforts, we experience loss, grief, tragedy. However, in the midst of that suffering, we see God's mercy surrounding us in so many different ways. If we open our eyes, we can see it in all circumstances.
In Psalm 9, David tells about his enemies who are trying to destroy him. But, he begins by reciting all that God has done. He acknowledges God's mercy in this midst of his trouble. This is the hope that carries him through.
David's and Paul's perspective is not easy. It is not natural for us. However, with practice, we can rejoice and give thanks to God for His mercies in our tragedies. Let us go back to the original intent of Thanksgiving: Blatantly acknowledging all God's mercies that can be seen in our suffering.
So, as you think about Thanksgiving and plan for next year's, take some time to share with your guests the real reason you are thankful. If the gathering is already awkward, go ahead and make it more so.