Dec 14, 2014

He Was Born In A Manger

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A Historical Perspective Of Chanukah

Chanukah is the wintertime Jewish Festival of Lights, a holiday that celebrates religious freedom and national independence. The story of Chanukah dates back more than 2,000 year ago, to the land of Judea, where the Jewish people were being ruled by Greek kings. One particularly brutal king was Antiochus, who forced the Jews to turn their backs on their monotheistic faith and worship instead the Greek gods.

Antiochus forbade the Jews from practicing their customs and forced them to convert to paganism. In the Jews' Holy Temple in Jerusalem, Antiochus erected an idol of the Greek god Zeus and placed it on the holiest alter.

Antiochus' religious oppression evoked the indignation of all the Jewish people, and most especially of Judah Maccabee, a Jew who was living in foothills surrounding Jerusalem. Judah Maccabee banned together with his brothers to form a resistance militia that fought Antiochus' oppression and paganism. They were known as the Maccabees.

The story of Chanukah, as retold in the Book of Maccabees, is replete with miraculous battles won by the vastly outnumbered Maccabees, strengthened only by their unwavering tenacity and faith in G-d. After three years of brutal fighting, the Maccabbees, against all odds, drove the Greco-Syrians out of Judea. They reclaimed their Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which had been defiled with the statues of Zeus and other Greek gods.

On the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kisleve, 164 BCE, the Maccabees finished cleaning out the Temple and wanted to rededicate this holy structure by relighting the Temple's menorah. Tradition teaches that there was only enough pure oil to burn for one night, but a miracle occurred and the Menorah burned for eight nights, at which point, more oil had been pressed and purified.

Thanks to this eight-day miracle, the Jewish people today celebrate an eight-day Festival of Light called Chanukah. In fact, the word Chanukah means dedication or consecration, evoking the Maccabees decision to rededicate the Temple and experiencing the miracle of the long-lasting oil.

Even today, in the depths of the dark winter, Chanukah reminds people of the illuminating light that comes from their faith in [God] and from singular dedication to religious freedom. The holiday's over-arching themes of national independence also make Chanukah a particularly popular holiday in Israel, the modern-day national homeland for the Jewish people. In fact, many sports teams and one of the country's major health insurance carriers are all named after the Maccabees!

Dec 7, 2014

Locally Speaking

Pope Francis To Make 1st U.S. Trip In 2015

Pope Francis confirmed that he intends to make his first papal trip to the U.S. next year. “I wish to confirm, according to the wishes of the Lord, that in September of 2015, I will go to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families,” the pope said in a speech Monday. The World Meeting of Families, which is held every three years, is considered the largest gathering of Catholic families. The pope’s three-day visit will include Sunday Mass on the Ben Franklin Parkway, and as many as two million people could attend. Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, who is organizing the event, said he “applauded loudest” when the pope confirmed he would attend. –The Daily Beast

Our Nation’s Thanksgiving

Our Nation’s first Thanksgiving Day took place on November 26, 1789. It was a religious event.

To the chagrin of the anti-religionists among us today, on September 25, 1789, the first act of Congress after framing the Bill of Rights, which prohibited an establishment of religion, was to pass a resolution requesting that the President of the United States recommend to the people a “Day of Public Thanksgiving and Prayer.”

This Resolution is clear evidence that our Founding Fathers never imagined that the language of the Establishment Clause they had just adopted in the Bill of Rights would someday be interpreted by the Supreme Court as creating a “wall of separation between church and state” and used to ban God from the public square.

Washington enthusiastically agreed to the Resolution of both Houses of Congress. In his Proclamation dated October 3, 1789, he began: “Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; …”

Nowadays, Thanksgiving in America is a joyful celebration; a day to spend with family and friends; a day to eat turkey; a day to watch football and Thanksgiving Day parades. But at this time of great turmoil around the world, and in our own nation, it is important that we reflect on the reasons for our Nation’s First Thanksgiving.

On this Thanksgiving Day, please, take time to thank God for the many blessings we enjoy in this amazing land of ours ...

... And implore God’s protection, over the men and women serving in our Armed Forces, standing the lonely guard, in rough and faraway places, so that we may openly thank God this Thanksgiving Day far from the sounds of war.

Below is the first National Thanksgiving proclamation issued by President Washington. Please take a moment to read it. Click here to see the actual Proclamation.


General Thanksgiving
 By the PRESIDENT of the United States Of America

WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me "to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY OF PUBLICK THANKSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:"

NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend and assign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed;-- for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish Constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted;-- for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge;-- and, in general, for all the great and various favours which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also, that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions;-- to enable us all, whether in publick or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us); and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

GIVEN under my hand, at the city of New-York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine.

George Washington

Smell-O-Vision Is Coming To An iPhone Near You

Ever look at one of the hundreds of brunch, cupcake, or flower Instagram photos on your iPhone and wished you could get a whiff? No? Well, whether you want it or not, the time has officially come — a company has developed an app (called oNotes) that allows you and your friends to text photos with scents attached to them. So, the next time you're taking a beachside snap, you can actually add the smell of the ocean to it.

The idea is cool in theory, albeit kind of excessive, but there are definitely some hurdles to jump before you fall into scratch-and-sniff bliss. These fragrances aren't just emitted right from your phone — you've got to visit an oPhone hot spot. There, you plug in your phone and download your notes, and they'll be pumped out of an oPhone, which looks like a cylinder with a button on top.

That's all well and good, but it seems like a lot of work just to get a whiff of a digital cookie — I'd rather just go to the bakery and grab one myself. But, it's not all pics of pastries: The brand is looking to expand beyond this initial send-a-scent application. oNotes hopes to eventually create immersive experiences for all types of media, from television to books to movies. So, instead of a commercial in which you merely see a woman pulling a turkey out of the oven, you can actually smell the home cooking, too.

While that may seem like an interesting new frontier, we've got to wonder if this could be the start of a slippery slope. Immersive realities could lead to alternate realities, where people become so wrapped up in virtual smells and sights that they might opt out of experiencing the world around them as it is. Is this a direction we really want to go in? Is it wholly necessary to have everything be so incredibly immersive? For now, I think I'll just keep my cookie photo as a cookie photo — no smells necessary. –Contributed by Ralph-Refinery

Is Being Gay A Gift Of God?

Apple CEO Tim Cook recently announced, "I'm proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me."

Why would he consider homosexuality a gift from God?  I can find nothing about his religious beliefs online, so I don't know if he's making the theological argument that God makes some people LGBT and endorses such sexual identity.  From what he wrote in making his announcement, it seems that his reasoning is more practical than theological:

"Being gay has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be in the minority and provided a window into the challenges that people in other minority groups deal with every day.  It's made me more empathetic, which has led to a richer life.  It's been tough and uncomfortable at times, but it has given me the confidence to be myself, to follow my own path, and to rise above adversity and bigotry.  It's also given me the skin of a rhinoceros, which comes in handy when you're the CEO of Apple."

Cook makes a compelling argument, doesn't he?  So many of the traits that have enabled him to succeed in life and at Apple, he attributes to his sexual identity.  We can see why he might think that being gay is a gift of God.  And why others who endorse homosexuality would adopt his reasoning as theirs.

So let's ask: can he be right?

Absolutely not, for one critical reason: God never contradicts his word.  Every time Scripture addresses homosexual activity, it forbids it.  The first time God's word describes humanity, it says that God made us "male and female" (Genesis 1:27).  Genesis 2 adds that God made woman to be a "helper" to man (v. 18) so that the two would live together in marriage (v. 23-24).  Jesus cited these facts in endorsing heterosexual marriage (Matthew 19:5-6).  Not a single verse in Scripture supports homosexuality as a sexual identity or as a lifestyle.

As an aside, let's also note that homosexuality is not the unpardonable sin.  When the Bible addresses this issue, it always includes it among other sins that God equally forbids.  For instance, Paul warns in 1 Corinthians 6 about theft, greed, drunkenness, and swindling as well as "men who practice homosexuality" (vs. 9-10).  God loves LGBT people as much as he loves heterosexuals.  Jesus died for us all, and is willing to forgive every sin and restore every sinner.

Returning to Tim Cook's announcement, many claim that they did not choose their sexual identity, so God must have made them the way they are.  Sexual identity is a very complex issue, part nature and part nurture.  Environment plays an enormous role in our makeup and character.  And we live in a fallen world.  It's impossible to say what contributed to Tim Cook's homosexuality—the Fall, his life experiences, and/or his own psychosexual makeup.

But the origins of his sexual identity are not my point.  Rather, it is his claim to know that God gave this identity to him.  He reasons that the good which has come from being gay means that being gay must have come from God.  Such an experiential approach to defining God's will is extremely popular today.

Over the years I have encountered this method in a variety of contexts.  A couple who has the spiritual gift of tongues once tried to convince me that I should pray for this gift as well.  They believed that everyone who is "filled with the Spirit" (Ephesians 5:18) would speak in tongues, since they did.  It's easy to find preachers on television who promise us that we will be rewarded financially by God if we donate to their ministry, since others have been so blessed (they claim).  When we read Scripture through the lens of our experience, the Bible usually says what we believe.

The right way to seek God's will is to ask first what Scripture intends to say, then apply that intended meaning to our context.  Since Scripture teaches that not all speak in tongues (1 Corinthians 12:30, where "do all speak with tongues?" requires the negative answer in the Greek), we can know that tongues are not a guaranteed proof of the Spirit's work.  Since Scripture nowhere guarantees financial rewards for obedience (and in fact warns that "in this world you will have tribulation," John 16:33), we can know that such assurances are not from God.  Since the Bible teaches that homosexuality is not God's will, we can know that it is not God's gift.

My point is not to criticize Tim Cook.  Were I to do so, I am required by Scripture to speak to him before I speak about him (Matthew 18:15).  Rather, it is to discuss the important theological question his announcement raises.  To know God's will, first consult his word.  And never endorse what it forbids, or forbid what it endorses.

It's been said: "God said it, I believe it, and that settles it."  Here's a better approach: "God said it and that settles it, whether I believe it or not." -Denison Forum

Third Day - I Need a Miracle (Official Music Video) - Music Videos

Church Member Denied Funeral Due To Non-Payment Of Tithes

'All they care about is getting money, money, money, money, money,' grieving daughter says.
A grieving daughter was devastated to learn that her deceased mother would not be buried in her home church because of lack of tithe payment.

Olivia Blair, 93, was a member of Fourth Missionary Baptist Church in Houston for 50 years, but had not attended services in years due to illness.

Blair's daughter, Barbara Day, reported that when her mother died over a week ago, she wanted Fourth Missionary pastor Walter Houston to officiate the funeral, but he refused.

"She had not 'paid her dues,' and she had not attended the church in recent years," Houston allegedly told Day.

Blair had been sick for ten years, and was in a coma in the final months of her life.

"For the last two years my mother has either been in a nursing home, or she's been in a hospital," Day told FOX 26.

"There's no explanation for anybody who has been paying dues at a church for that long, for him to make me have to roll my mother's body around town, and somebody finally picks her up and say, 'Yeah, we'll do the best we can.'"

Although part of Fourth Missionary's mission is to "to show love one for another that others may know that we are the Lord's Disciples," Ms. Day said that Pastor Houston fell far short of that.

"They knew she was ill. They don't care," she exclaimed. "All they care about is getting money, money, money, money, money. Even retail stores give people more respect than that.

"I don't understand why we've become so commercialised with religion," Day continued.

"What does this have to do with God? Why can't I give my mother her last wish, to be funeralised in the church that she loved so much?"

Tyrone Jacques of watchdog group said he contacted Pastor Houston, and pleaded with him to reconsider his decision not to officiate Mrs. Blair's funeral.

"If the family cared so much, why didn't they at least send a dollar per week?" Houston allegedly replied.

Jacques also reportedly offered to pay for the funeral, but was denied because "membership has its privileges." -Christianity Today