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Lessons I Learned from a Bird

In Job 35:11 (NASB) we read, “Who teaches us more than the beasts of the earth and makes us wiser than the birds of the heavens?”  Could God use a bird to deliver a spiritual lesson to us?  My husband, Russell Bafford, had a chance to experience this very thing and I invited him to share it with us today on my blog:
Several years ago, I had this encounter with a bird….
While walking along the Ohio River at Paducah, Kentucky one sunny morning I saw a bird standing still at the edge of the river.  He had long, skinny legs and a long, narrow beak … probably a heron of some kind.  He remained motionless for the longest time.  I became mesmerized at the sight of him standing there, and focused on him wondering what was going to happen.  Then, all of a sudden, bam!  He poked his long beak down into the water just a few inches in front of his legs, and he came up with a small fish which he promptly swallowed.  Shortly after that he flew off.  After reflecting on what I had just seen, here are the nine things I learned from that episode.
1. This bird knew where to go to find what he needed.  Not to a junkyard… not to a barnyard…not to a desert…not to a mountaintop … not to a mall parking lot … not to a football field … not to a rooftop … but rather to the river.  Are you looking for a job in the wrong place?  There aren’t many cowboy jobs in downtown New York.  If you want to make surfboards, you better not look for a job in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  If you are looking for a Christian companion, go to where those Christians hang out … probably not to the local taverns and bars.  (He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.   Prov. 13:20)
2. He had to leave his resting place to find what he needed.  This took some effort on his part.  It would have been easier for him to stay in his bed, and hope the food would come to him.  But even this bird, with his bird brain, knew better than that.  He knew he had to go out and look for himself.  Do you wish you had a job, but wish someone would come to your door to offer you one?  Do you wish you had more friends, and wish they would come to your door offering to befriend you?  Get a bird brain … go look for what you desire!
3. He didn’t know the exact location of where his food would appear, but he did know the general vicinity of where it was most likely to appear.  Even though the river is about a mile wide, he only went to the river’s edge.  A fish that was 20 feet beneath the surface wouldn’t do him much good; he had to have something just a few inches down.  A 50 pound fish would be too much for him to handle, but a one ounce fish was just about the right size.  Could you really handle a million dollars right now if it was dumped into your lap?  Would a thousand dollars be easier for you to manage?  Our Lord told us to pray for our DAILY bread … not a year’s supply!  There must be a reason for that.
4. He looked for his needs using the physical characteristics, senses, skills, and attributes with which God had endowed him.  Those skinny legs look an awful lot like another reed growing up out of the water’s edge.  His eyes were several inches above the water giving him a pretty wide view of the water around him.  Be real with yourself.  God gave you much more than a bird’s brain!  Make a serious assessment of your skills, talents, attributes, and interests keeping in mind they are a gift from God proportioned to you in just the right amount according to His divine will.  Don’t be surprised if others don’t have the same exact mix of attributes … that’s because God made you unique!
5. He had patience… he stayed at it until his needs were met … he never gave up.  This took time.  He was willing to spend the time needed.  How long are you willing to wait on an answer to prayer from the Lord?  Look at some examples we have from scripture … when Moses went up Mount Sinai to seek the Lord, he was more than just a new believer.  He was more than a neophyte in spiritual things.  After leaving Egypt the first time, he spent 40 years biding his time in a foreign land most likely gaining some maturity in his spiritual life.  Then God finally told him to go back to Egypt, and bring His people out.  Moses saw and participated in some mind-boggling miracles brought about by God’s own hand.  And now this giant of the faith was summoned by God himself to ascend Mount Sinai for further instructions.  But once he was up there he waited … one hour … two hours … three hours … then one day … then two days … then three days … still no response from God … (How patient are you when you pray?  If we were really spiritual, we would all get an immediate response from God, right?) … Moses waited another day … then another … then after seven days had past, God finally spoke to him.  If this spiritual giant of the faith had to wait a full week before God answered him, how long should we be prepared to wait on our sovereign Lord?
6. He was focused on the task at hand … not distracted by other things going on around him.  There was a lot of background noise around him.  There was a lot of other activity by animals and people going on around him while he was trying to stay focused.  These other distractions did not care about his needs; they were unconcerned about his goals and objectives.  The distractive influences had their own agendas that were different from his.  Do you start with good intentions only to take your eye off the ball when the first distraction comes along?  Then, once distracted, do you go back to the task you started?  Did you ever begin a discipline of regular prayer & devotion time only to be distracted?  Did you go back to resume the practice?  There is a reason they are called DISCIPLES … because it involves discipline.   Let us learn from this bird and resolve to emulate his focus and his discipline.
7. He recognized what he needed when he saw it.  He had a pretty good idea of what his goal looked like.  Things that did not match his goal were ignored.  It has been said, “If you don’t know where you are going, then any road will get you there.”  People often struggle for years to get a goal established in their lives.  Most Christians want to know what God’s will is for their lives.  This is a good place to remember Romans 12:2 which says: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (NIV)  Are you looking to the celebrities in America’s popular culture for advice and direction?  Look somewhere else.  The key to knowing God’s will is to renew our minds to think His thoughts, to look at things the way He sees them, to respond the way our Lord would respond, to embrace and exercise the same value system our Lord has demonstrated for us.  This is not easy, but it is something to which each serious Christian should aspire.
8. He took what he needed when it got within his reach.  Even if he spotted a perfect fish 10 feet away it wouldn’t do him much good because it was beyond his reach.  It had to be within his reach.  Is it a surprise to you when God provides that for which you have prayed?  Should it be a surprise?  It should be a cause for rejoicing and thanksgiving, but should it really be a surprise to us when God answers our prayers?
9. When his need was met, he went on to something else … as if he was confident God would meet that same need again on another day in a similar way.  Remember how Jesus told us to pray   “… give us this day our daily bread …”
I really learned a lot from that bird.  How about you?

Why Do We Praise the Lord?

Rebecca playing at First BaptistHave you ever wondered why people  talk about “praising the Lord” and “I just feel like giving praise to God!” and other such terms?  Is this merely a part of their creed or religious ritual or is there truly more to this than is often expressed?

I did a word study of the word “praise” and one definition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is the following:  “To glorify (a god or saint) especially by the attribution of perfections”.  The Book of Psalms, which contains 150 such song/poems mostly written by the Psalmist David, tells us hundreds of times to “praise the Lord” and “let everything that has breath praise the Lord”!  Truly our God is perfect and deserves to be praised!

Why does God want to be praised?  Are there any benefits for us as human beings for praising Him?

The answer to the first question is simple:  He created us, is perfect in every way, and longs for His creation to give back to Him in some way, communicating gratitude and thanksgiving.  He knows we don’t have to do this; in fact Luke 19:40 tells of Jesus answering those who were upset with the people blessing him and crying out to Him as He rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (ESV)   This verse proves that although God can command inanimate objects or creatures to praise Him, He chooses not to force human beings to do so.  That is exactly the reason our praises to Him bring so much joy to the heart of God…because we do not have to do so!

The blessings as a result of praising God are innumerable!  When we give praise even in trying situations, it releases the hand of the Almighty to work on our behalf.  It frees our innermost spirit being from the hatred or anger because of circumstances, often beyond our control, to joy and forgiveness, because one cannot praise the Lord and be bitter at another person or upset about some event in our lives!  If we truly praise God with grateful hearts just because of who He is, we then can place each situation into His capable hands, trusting Him to work on our behalf.  By truly being grateful, thanking and praising Him, and then obeying His voice, He will then lead us to the next step and each day with Him will truly be an adventure.  Taking matters into our own hands, blaming God instead of praising Him, and trying to work out the situation by our own strength is really futile and counter-productive.  True praise gives the situation to God and trusts Him to bring about the outcome that will be most glorifying to Him!

The famous songwriter of yesteryear, Fanny J. Crosby, though blind from birth, still  penned literally thousands of songs of praise and worship to God in her lifetime, many of which we still sing today!  One of my favorites is “Praise Him! Praise Him!”    If she could praise Him, why can’t I do that?  Please listen to my arrangement of this hymn in a jazz style arrangement I did some years ago, along with a few friends.  I hope you will enjoy it!  And remember, “Always be a worshipper, because He loves to hear your praises!”

 

The Royal Wedding

In just a few days over two billion people around the world will watch with rapt attention and awe as Prince Harry of Great Britain takes a wife, the American actress Meghan Markle.  The pomp, ceremony and pageantry portrayed by the British monarchy for this event will most likely rival anything most of us have ever envisioned or witnessed before.  With many centuries of tradition rich in colorful displays of grandeur, the royals know how to throw a grandiose party!

 

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

 

Not that this is the first time we have seen such majestic displays of royal splendor!  I remember vividly getting up at 2:00 AM to watch the grand wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana!  It was a fairy tale wedding if there ever was one, but sadly the fairy tale did not last, as we are all too well aware of.  Then a few years ago, I also enjoyed watching Prince William wed Princess Kate, once again playing splendidly to the world’s stage via satellite TV.

What is the tremendous fascination we have with the royals?  No doubt their seemingly charmed lives with not a care in the world, including financial worries, captivates us, allowing us to fantasize about what being a prince or princess, king or queen might be like.  But, in reality, as has been pointed out numerous times, many of them disdain the limelight, the fishbowl existence where every word and action, both good and bad, can be flashed around the world in seconds with the aid of social media.  The lack of privacy and the ability to come and go as one wants, precludes the ability in some instances to really enjoy life and the freedom we all desire!

But, a more compelling reason for us to watch Prince Harry marry the woman he loves is that we have watched him grow up; we remember his birth, the adorable little boy he was, his sadness when his mother was tragically killed when he was still a boy, his attempts at growing up, with some embarrassing moments, and now his hopefully finding true love!  The same is true for his brother William, Duke of Cambridge.

Whatever the reason, the entire world will be watching as a man and woman in love say their “I do’s” and vow to live together til “death do us part”.  Did you know there will be another event, culminating in a marriage, that will be watched by even more people than the royal wedding?  The Bible says in Revelation 1:7, “Behold, He (Jesus) is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him….”  (NKJV)  In I Thessalonians 4:16 we read, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And thus we shall always be with the Lord.” (NKJV)

This is the promise and blessed hope for all who have trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior!  What a wonderful day that will be!  Not only will we be reunited with our loved ones who have gone on in death before us, but we will see Jesus in all of His splendor and glory and worship the King of Kings forever and ever!  This will certainly dwarf any spectacle that royals on earth can create!  The Bible goes on to detail another marriage, one that will last for Eternity!  In Revelation 19:7, John the Revelator writes, “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb (Jesus) has come, and His wife has made herself ready.”  Most theologians agree that the “wife” he is referring to here is the true Church of Jesus Christ, the born again believers who will be married for eternity to Christ, and rule and reign with Him in royal spendor, far exceeding any pomp and pageantry we can ever imagine here on earth!

So, as you view the Royal Wedding, with all of its beauty and glamour, enjoy it and celebrate with the prince and princess!  But, never forget, that another marriage, one which will last for all eternity, is coming for those who have trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior from sin and made Him Lord of their lives.  That is the marriage I am looking forward to! As the majestic hymn states:

All hail the power of Jesus’ Name!  Let angels prostrate fall;

Bring forth the royal diadem, and crown Him Lord of all;

Let every kindred, every tribe, on this terrestrial ball;

To Him all majesty ascribe, and crown Him Lord of all;

O that with yonder sacred throng we at His feet may fall;

We’ll join the everlasting song, and crown Him Lord of all!

(Words by Edward Perronet, 1779 and John Rippon, 1787)

There is coming a day when every eye shall behold the King of Kings in His splendor and glory and worship at His feet.  That is the Royal Wedding I want to be a part of!  Are you ready if Christ should come back today?  You can make Him Lord of your life this very moment….He is waiting for you to open the door to your heart!  Will you do it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

How God Worked in Handel’s Life

Do you sometimes feel discouraged as a musician or composer?  Do you perhaps feel that no one really wants to hear your “stuff”, but it is just an uphill battle to get something noticed, let alone published?  Of course, this could apply to other areas of life, as well, not just in the musical realm, but musicians are notoriously “melancholy” in temperament (look it up if you are unfamilar with this word!) and can be on  the proverbial “Cloud 9” one day and down in the dumps, lower than the ground, the next!  Often their moods depend on external situations, for they tend to overemphasize the negative in a given situation.

In the music realm (because this blog is primarily about music matters), it is true that countless great, talented musicians go largely unnoticed while seemingly less-talented people “make it” in the music scene because they were “discovered” byt the right person or label.  Sometimes this can be disheartening.  I have a friend in Texas who is a very successful writer of contemporary praise and worship songs.  If I mentioned his name, you would no doubt be familiar with his songs, which are sung all over the world in most churches.  However, there was a time when he was a “nobody” and a worship leader at a small church close to where I lived.  He had written a song that got “picked up” by one of the hottest contemporary singers on the planet; a well-known publisher of praise and worship songs took notice, and the rest is history!  Now everything he writes turns to “gold” in the business, as they say.  Were his previous songs not any good?  Did this mean he was a better writer than many, many other Christian songwriters?  Or, was it, perhaps, God’s time for his ministry to come forth?  As he and I talked, we both agreed that was the case!  God has a timing for each musician to come forth and fulfill the destiny He has planned for them…if we will be patient!

     Now here is an amazing story that I’ll bet you didn’t know; it’s about the great composer George Frederick Handel, who wrote the music to Messiah which debuted in Dublin, Ireland in 1742.  Just a few years ago a unique video of mall “shoppers” (who were really musicians planted in the crowd) singing this wonderful oratorio’s (a sacred opera) signature piece, “The Hallelujah Chorus”,  went viral and has now been seen by nearly 50 million people around the world!  I am sure you are familiar with the Messiah because at Christmas it is presented countless times in locations worldwide.  What you probably didn’t know is “the rest of the story” about Handel, an amazing example of God’s love and timing!

Born in Germany in 1685, he always had an aptitude for music.  Although his father wanted him to study law, he was more interested in music.  His mother bought him a harpsichord which they secretly kept in the attic away from his father.  Handel wrote his first work at the age of twelve and studied music at the University of Halle in his hometown in Germany.  In 1712 he moved to England where he experienced some success with his various compositions, including operas, concertos and other instrumental works, but ultimately was faced with financial failure which threatened to overwhelm him.  His occasional commercial successes soon met with financial disaster and as he drove himself relentlessly to recover from one failure after another, his health also began to fail.  By 1741 he was swimming in debt and it seemed certain he would land in debtors’ prison.

But, God had not forgotten George Frederick Handel!  That same year became the turning point for him when his close friend, Charles Jennens, gave him a libretto (a text) for a sacred work.  It was exclusively 73 Bible verses focusing on the prophecies concerning the foretelling and coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, both from the Old and New Testaments.  A charity in Dublin, called the Foundling Hospital, which was an institution caring for newborn infants abandoned by their unknown, poverty-stricken parents, who were sometimes in prison, was putting on its annual benefit, and paid him to write something for the performance.

For 24 days, in August and September of 1741, Handel barely ate as he worked almost constantly composing this beautiful work we know as Messiah!  In fact, he told a friend he could barely keep up with the notation as the melodies and ideas flowed from within, directly from God Himself!  At one point, the composer had tears in his eyes and cried out to his servant, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself!”  He had just finished writing the “Hallelujah” chorus.   Every word was from the Bible, 42 verses from the Old Testament and 31 from the New Testament.  Finally, the day Handel had waited for arrived and Messiah was first performed in Dublin on April 13, 1742!  It was very successful, the proceeds of which, it is said, freed 142 men from debtors’ prison!  The Foundling Hospital became Handel’s favorite charity, to which he gave liberally, up until his death in 1759.  He is today still revered as one of the greatest composers to ever live and is buried in Westminster Abbey in London.

So, out of this genius’s pain and despair, seemingly the low point of his life, came a work of beauty and praise to his Creator, the likes of which have never been surpassed!  Handel could never have dreamed how this beautiful work would continue to uplift and bless millions of people the world over for centuries to come.  One man put it this way:  “Handel was a relentless optimist whose faith in God sustained him through every difficulty.”  Remember, God has a perfect time for everything, including bringing your ministry forth at a time when He will gain the most glory!  Be encouraged this day, my friend!

Some Things Should Never Change!

images[5]In my last blog post I mentioned a number of negative things I believe are going on in the church world when it comes to music, which do not lend themselves to a productive worship experience for many people.  Today, I would like to take a positive approach to worship by sharing a couple of scriptures from the New Testament, written through the hand of the Apostle Paul, about what, ideally, our corporate worship should look like.  The Bible says “in the mouth of two or three witnesses a thing shall be established”, so I have chosen two verses which say nearly the same thing.

The first is found in Ephesians 5:19 and 20, “Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (ESV)

The second verse is in Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (ESV)

It is pretty clear from these verses that the Early Church used this pattern of worship in its services.  Psalms have been used since the time of David as poetic themes from the Word of God set to various musical patterns.  Many churches, as well as synagogues, use these to this day.  Some use them exclusively in worship.  Psalms are simply passages of scripture dedicated to praise and worship of our Father which, when set to various melodies, can be extremely conducive to entering into His presence in the corporate worship setting.

Last night I attended a choir rehearsal of a world-famous and highly renowned choir.  They were rehearsing the familiar old tune from the 1800’s, “The Lord’s My Shepherd”, which is a musical adaptation of Psalm 23.  The associate choir director, a young man in his 30’s, related the story of how four years ago he had been experiencing severe trials in his life which had led him into a sort of depressed state.  One Sunday, as he walked into church, he heard the choir sing the words from this psalm,

“My table thou hast furnished

In presence of my foes;

My head thou dost with oil anoint,

And my cup overflows.”

He said that immediately a peace came over him and his whole outlook and attitude changed as he thought about our Lord who gives us so many blessings that our cups overflow with them!  It was a major turning point in his life that he never forgot.  God used a simple hymn to transform the life of a young man from feelings of depression to victory!

The second form of musical worship mentioned in the above verses is “hymns”.  These anointed works containing much scripture, worship of God and theologically sound doctrinal themes, have been penned by men and women for centuries as expressions of their love for their Lord, often mentioning the omnipotence and majesty of God, as well as the themes of crowning Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, now and in Eternity!  I could go on and on, naming such great hymns as “Holy, Holy, Holy”, “Crown Him With Many Crowns”, “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”, and “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” and so on.  To omit these mighty works, which have endured in the church for literally centuries, from our modern repertoire in favor of some light, fluffy tunes with words that copy current pop or rock lyrics, simply substituting the word “Jesus” for “you, my lover” is missing a sacred opportunity to enter into the presence of the Holy One!

The last type of music mentioned by the Apostle Paul is the term, “spiritual songs”.  I think we all are aware of what “spirituals” are…the African American people learned hundreds of songs by rote, which we still sing, as they were working in hard labor in the cotton fields and wherever they happened to be.  No doubt these songs were a great comfort to them in their physically agonizing times of stress and strain and probably “got them through” much pain and suffering.

Even if we today are not enduring the trials of the American slaves of old, we still have trials and tribulations that cause us to turn to our Creator for peace and help.  This is where many “spiritual songs” have sustained men and women, boys and girls for centuries.  These are “testimony” songs about God’s sustaining grace and power to deliver in time of need; songs about how God rescued us from the pit of despair and put us on the path to Eternal Life; testimonies and praise to Him in upbeat, as well as quiet and worshipful, tunes; and songs simply expressing our heartfelt love and gratitude to the One who has changed our lives!

I believe the Church collectively would do well to consider including music from each of these three categories in our worship services.  Surely this admonition from the New Testament is just as important for us to observe today as it was back when it was written.  Some things are not meant to change!

 

 

A Word About Worship

Worship[1]Perhaps all of us have memories of walking in a forest or looking up at the stars on a clear night while worshipping and praising God for His creation!  However, how many times have we sat in a church pew on Sunday morning being critical, apathetic or “just there” physically, while our minds wandered to other subjects?

Even ministers, experts, and worship leaders have admitted they have had this experience, so should the rest of us be surprised if we also have trouble worshipping at times?  We face many obstacles in today’s active lifestyle and, in addition, Satan does his best to distract us and obstruct our true worship.  His desire to receive our worship instead of God results in his best efforts to distract and stop us from truly worshipping our Lord!  If successful, he has won half the battle. (Isaiah 14:12-14)

In 1961, the late A. W. Tozer rebuked evangelicals of his generation for their inadequate worship, in his book “Worship:  The Missing Jewel of the Evangelical Church”.  In 1982, Ronald Allen and Gordon Borror published a response in “Worship:  Rediscovering the Missing Jewel”.  They wrote, “The jewel is still missing, but at least now many of us know it, and miss it, and want to find it.”

For years some churches have prided themselves on free and spontaneous worship, while others have been equally proud of their staid and reverent attitude towards it.  Perhaps both have a point.  Could the ideal worship encompass both ends of the spectrum?  God is a God of balance and symmetry, and yet we as human beings tend to be off-balance on many issues, swaying first to the right and then to the left, when God is saying that somewhere in the middle we often find the ideal!

In a 1996 issue of “Moody” Magazine, published by Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, Bruce Shelley wrote an article titled, “Then and Now:  How Have Cultural Changes Altered our Expectations in Worship?”  In his informative article, Mr. Shelley details the explosive issues faced by churches attempting to change musical styles in their worship in order to improve their worship experience.  Although the need to do this was basically acknowledged by most, making it a non-controversial issue of the time, the difference of opinion as to how this should be accomplished was considerable.  In addressing the feelings that stir older members when churches change music styles, he told of the sanctified outrage he met with when he mentioned having drums in a service…”like a match dropped on a haystack!”  The room erupted in a corporate groan, followed by an outburst of laughter.  Remember, this article was written nearly twenty years ago when the changes in contemporary church worship were in their infancy.  Shelley went on to elaborate that churches across the country are “torn between the tug of tradition and the pull of style”.  Seniors want harmony; boomers want beat.  “What can be done to relieve this tension?” he asked.

Today, nearly twenty years later,  the “boomers” are the seniors in churches and the “millennials” have undertaken an even more radical approach to worship, shunning nearly all inferences to traditional church hymns or music of any sort, and imitating only the latest songs from the top “Christian” rock bands of the day or trendy pseudo-pop artists.  No matter that the music is absolutely “unsingable” to the average congregation (it sounds great on the radio where thousands of dollars have been spent to sync, digitize, loop and process each song); the lyrics trite and shallow; not to mention that the keys are pitched for high-voiced rock singers, not your average housewife or “man on the street” with zero musical ability.  Is it any wonder that when a person chances to look around the congregation, most of the audience is standing in silence, not even trying to sing?  Is this the way those attempting to come into God’s presence through corporate worship are encouraged to participate?

It is a fact that “loud cymbals” and “high sounding cymbals” are mentioned as a part of worship in Psalm 150:5 and elsewhere in the Psalms.  However, many other musical instruments used in praise and worship to God are mentioned, as well, such as the harp, lyre and ten-stringed instruments.  Should these be toned down and smothered in favor of the cymbals?  Could there be a musical balance that is pleasing to God that makes way for many instruments and styles of music?  Does the Psalmist speak about jubilant shouting in one psalm, as well as “waiting on God” and the “stillness of His presence” in another?  Are some of the anointed older hymns and songs of the past being shunned in favor of trendy fluff  with little or no theological or Bible-based soundness… not to mention, being poorly written from a musical standpoint, generally limited to three chords?  Who decided this appalling trend in music?

Perhaps, as “boomers” reach old age and “millennials” mature into middle age, there will be another generation that will emerge, seeking balance and wondering whatever happened to the hymns of old or the worship songs anointed of the Holy Spirit to bring people into a place of worship not readily experienced anymore.  Will they, then, return to the “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” mentioned in Colossians 3:16?  I pray they will!

He Is Risen!

musicnote[1]One of my favorite hymns is “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”, whose words were written by Charles Wesley, brother of the founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley.  The Wesley brothers were both involved in active ministry and faithful followers of Christ.  Charles lived from 1707-1788 and wrote hundreds of hymns during his lifetime.  It seems no Resurrection Sunday service is complete without singing this beautiful hymn!

But, with all of the fanfare and excitement surrounding this holiday celebrated annually each spring, it is important to look at some facts concerning Easter.  First of all, the holiday as celebrated today, has pagan origins, not always pleasant to look at.  The name is derived from “Eostre”, an Anglo-Saxon goddess who was celebrated at a pagan spring festival celebrating the vernal equinox.  She was the “dawn goddess”.  Going even further back in history, the roots of the celebration can be traced all the way back to Nimrod, grandson of Noah, and his wife Semiramis, who is also known as “Ishtar”.  The Feast of Ishtar was started thousands of years ago by Nimrod, who wanted to be worshipped as the “Sun God”, and his wife, known as the “moon goddess”, goddess of spring and fertility, and the Queen of Heaven. This feast celebrated the rebirth or reincarnation of nature and the goddess of nature. Nimrod built the city of Babel, where God confounded the languages at the Tower of Babel.  Their wickedness was known throughout the earth!.

Jesus Christ’s (Yeshua, the Messiah) resurrection occurred just after Passover, on the Jewish Feast of First Fruits, celebrated the first Sunday morning after Passover.  For centuries Christians celebrated on this day, but in AD325, Roman Emperor Constantine, presiding over the large council at Nicea, set the date of the celebration of Christ’s resurrection as the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox (explaining the wide difference in dates for Easter each year), and in seeking to “Christianize” the pagans and the entire world, decided to give new names and meanings to the old pagan festival celebrating fertility in order to keep people happy who were already celebrating these events.  Thus, the celebration of Christ’s resurrection was combined with a pagan fertility festival and renamed Easter!  All of these facts are readily available online if you care to do the research.

The truth is, the Early Church did not celebrate Easter, but rather the Passover; rabbits and eggs have nothing to do with Christ’s resurrection, but rather are symbols of the ancient pagan fertility rites; sunrise services looking to the East are based on pagan customs (Ezekiel 8:15-18) and Good Friday and Lent are manmade events. Jesus predicted that He would be in the ground “three days and three nights”, so the math just does not work if you believe he was crucified on Good Friday. The truth is, he was more than likely crucified on Thursday morning, embalmed and laid in the tomb before sundown on Thursday, as the Jews were prohibited from working on the Passover, which was Friday (a day on the Jewish calendar is from sundown to sundown); Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with his twelve disciples probably on Wednesday evening, a night earlier, as he knew he would be dead by the next evening when Passover was to be celebrated. Then, the regular Sabbath was Saturday, and the biblical Feast of First Fruits was celebrated on that Sunday following the first Sabbath after Passover. Jesus arose from the dead at the dawning of the first day, Sunday, thus becoming the “first fruits of them that slept” (I Corinthians 15:20-23). He not only fulfilled His promise to rise again after three days and three nights (the math works here!), but He fulfilled the Sabbath and the Feast of First Fruits! He became our Passover Lamb with His atonement for our sins, as well. When the veil of the temple was torn in two at Jesus’ crucifixion, God was giving us a sign that Christ had indeed fulfilled the requirements of the Law, becoming our sin offering so we might have Eternal Life!

So, knowing all of the pagan origins of this holiday and the fact that even many churches today continue to combine the pagan with the spiritual, perhaps in ignorance, should we refuse to observe this Resurrection Sunday? Emphatically not! This day celebrates the greatest event in history…the resurrection and eventual ascension to Heaven of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, sent down to us by our Heavenly Father to show us the way to God by giving His life for us and providing His blood as atonement for our sins! It is a final work, a once-and-for all event, spoken by our Lord when He uttered the words, “It Is Finished!” By accepting His finished work, we enter into salvation from our sins and Eternal Life is assured! We do not have to work for our salvation; it is a free gift, provided through Christ’s death, burial and resurrection!

So, how shall we celebrate this day? On Resurrection Sunday, let us join with millions around the world in singing Charles Wesley’s song, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”, knowing that we are not celebrating a mixture of pagan symbols and man-made ceremonies that are not in the Word of God, but a risen Savior!  Let us rejoice out of a deep sense of awe and gratitude for what our Lord did for us on Calvary and through His resurrection, providing salvation through Jesus Christ, the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”!

 

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