Wednesday, December 3, 2014
When I was ordained into the ministry, I began the process of collecting books of all kinds that are commonly used by preachers in preparation of sermons, lessons and Bible studies. Now, some 43 years later I have amassed quite a collection of ministry related books, magazines, and lesson materials. Though I haven't counted the individual books in my library, I have nearly 140 linear feet of shelf space in my office for books and an additional 50 linear feet in bookshelves at home. That's a pretty good collection of books, and it represents years of ministry related expenses probably representing thousands of dollars in purchases.
Now that I am nearing the end of my time in pastoral ministry, I am becoming increasingly aware of changes in attitudes among ministers about maintaining large libraries of books. My younger cohorts at our church tend to cull their shelves of books on a regular basis. Occasionally, they give some of them to me, and I appreciate that gesture, but I also wonder why it is that the love I have for paper books doesn't seem to be shared by some younger ministers.
Naturally, I am aware that these days books are available in electronic formats on various brands of e-readers. I have my own first generation iPad with 5 different electronic readers loaded on it. I also have dozens of books not taking up shelf space anywhere. Furthermore, I've noticed that electronic books are cheaper than buying paper versions of the same book. But on the other hand, it is not as easy to loan out an electronic book purchased on line unless you share a certain brand of reader with another family member.
More recently, I've heard sad stories of retired ministers who can't give away their books to anyone and are forced to throw them away or donate them to charities. While I don't mind others inheriting my books, I admit to a sad realization that others may not be so likely to place the same value on my books that I have had over the years. Especially, the books I collected over 40 years ago are now looked upon in some literary circles as dated and out of touch with ministry issues of today.
So, what should I do? My wife has already warned me not to even consider bringing all those books home to take up space in our house. I must come up with a different plan than turning rooms in our home into storage shelves for old books. So then, what about this idea? In our church we have a couple of boys who aspire to enter the ministry. One of them is a junior in Bible college, and the other one will soon go to another preacher training school from which I graduated so long ago. I have asked the boy's parents If I could begin donating my books, a box at a time, to these boys so they can start out with ministry libraries of books I have found useful through the years. Thinking back to my Bible college training days, I know I would have been thrilled with such literary largesse. I love to read, and I plan to keep reading as long as my eyes can make out the words on the page. I remember hearing John Maxwell say, "Five years from now, You'll be the same as you are now except for the people you meet and the books you read." I plan to enrich my life on both counts and to do all I can to share my library with others who can see the treasure between the covers and reap the benefits of reading excellent and timeless books.
Monday, December 1, 2014
THE MAGI AND THE STAR OF CHRISTMAS
The Gospel of Mark has nothing at all about the birth of Jesus. The Gospel of John describes the birth in symbol—“word” and “light” entering the world. Luke’s Gospel has the story of the angels and the shepherds. But only Matthew writes about the Magi and the star.
Several questions arise from Matthew’s record: 1) Where were the wise men from? 2) How could they know that the star meant a king was born? 3) What was the star? 4) When did the star appear?
The word “Magos” (singular of “Magi”) comes from an Iranian word for “great one.” Magi were an upper caste in the Middle East—both Persia and Babylonia—for many centuries. They were the scholars who studied the stars and struggled to discern how events in the heavens might impact the earth. But they were not the first who saw the star of Christmas.
Chinese star-gazers saw it first. For millennia the Chinese had kept close watch on comets and other heavenly phenomena. According to ancient Chinese records a spectacular comet with a very long tail appeared in 5 BC and was visible to them for over 70 days. This comet is the only celestial phenomenon recorded between the period 20 BC and AD 10, according to ancient Chinese records. This comet fits uniquely with the birth of Christ, because Luke 2:2 reveals that Quirinius was governor of Syria when Jesus was born. Quirinius was governor of Syria the first time from 6 BC to 4 BC. After the Chinese had tracked the movements of the comet, the Magi would have been able to see it, too, since it began its journey "in the east," just as Matthew said.
This one obvious astronomical object, and the only one, fits with the account of the star of Bethlehem that Matthew 2:9 records—a comet with a long tail. Comets are known to appear suddenly and to seem to travel slowly across the night sky at a typical rate of 1-2 degrees per day. Matthew says that the star "stood over" the place where the baby Jesus lay. A long-tail comet with its head pointing downward can seem to point to a place on earth. This would dramatically fit with the description in Matthew of the star. The Magi would have arrived several weeks after the birth of Jesus—at the house where the holy family then resided (Matthew 2:11).
Several cities and villages in Persia (today’s Iraq and Iran) claim that the wise men came from there. We don’t know exactly where they were from or even how many of them there were.
Could those eastern wise men have known of Balaam’s fourth oracle back in Numbers 24? He predicted that “…a star will rise out of Jacob; a ruler’s scepter will rise from Israel.” Perhaps when Balaam returned to the Middle East, that story was spread, and the Magi may have heard of it. Tradition has given these Magi special names and even numbered them as three, since there were three gifts—gold, frankincense and myrrh. They have been called “three kings,” but there is no evidence for this. Also interesting is the fact that these gifts were unique. Gold is from the earth; frankincense is of the heavens, a symbol of prayer in the Bible. And myrrh is for the burial of the body, used in ancient times in Egypt and learned of by the Jews. Jesus was like these gifts—from heaven, from earth and would be buried, briefly.
Joseph was warned in a dream to leave Bethlehem and go to Egypt to escape the slaughter of the innocents. The three gifts are how the holy family was able to survive economically in an Egyptian city among other Jews. Then at the death of Herod the Great in 4 BC, the holy family returned to Israel, but being warned in a fourth dream, Joseph removed the family to Nazareth of Galilee. And so Jesus would be called a Nazarene.
Either way, Jesus’ birth was actually in 5 BC, making our calendar, which was invented later on, inaccurate. This New Year would actually be 2018, rather than 2013, if it were based in the birth of Jesus the Messiah.
Saturday, November 29, 2014
Our Spiritual Walk is now available in several e-book formats on Smashwords.com for $1.99 per copy. Soon, Smashwords will distribute the e-book versions to several other e-book distributors including Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Kindle, and others. Smashwords also provides a trial copy of the book so that interested readers can download a portion of the book at no cost.
Here is the link to Smashwords.
Here is the link to Smashwords.
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Romans 14:17-18 states, "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing God and approved by men." When the Apostle Paul wrote those words he was teaching about disputes between stronger and weaker brothers in the faith concerning the eating of meat that had been offered to idols. Verse 17 is a general axiom about the nature of the kingdom of God. Though some wanted to focus on disputes over what to eat and drink, Paul said the focus of God's kingdom is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. So, what's so important about these three aspects of the kingdom?
Righteousness: The kingdom of God is a righteous kingdom because God himself is righteous (Romans 1:17). It is also true that God demands righteousness of those who stand before Him (Psalm 1:5-6). But the best news is that God provided that needed righteousness in the finished work of Christ on the cross (1 Peter 3:8). Furthermore, God preaches righteousness in the gospel message (2 Corinthians 5:20), and He bestows righteousness on those who trust in Christ for salvation (Romans 3:22, 5:17). Not only is righteousness a central quality in the Kingdom of God, but it is also conspicuous in its absence from any other kingdom other than God's kingdom. Those who observe the kingdom of God can't help but notice the profound difference between what is godly and what is worldly. It is because of Christ, that our inheritance of righteousness becomes real in our daily lives, both now and for eternity.
Peace: This quality is related to righteousness in that one naturally follows after the other. The peace Paul wrote about was much like the kind of peace attached to the Hebrew word "shalom". This is not just an absence of strife, but it also includes the perfect well-being that comes from being reconciled to God. Because we dwell in a kingdom of righteousness, and because we have been declared righteous ourselves, we are able to be at peace with God and our fellow believers. Peace encompasses both a God-ward and a man-ward dimension that creates great blessing within the church.
Joy in the Holy Spirit: Once again, there is a naturally sequential relationship between righteousness, peace, and joy. The first two qualities are such delightful characteristics that they cannot help but result in joy. But notice that this is not just any kind of joy nor is it the same thing as common happiness. Joy in the Holy Spirit is not produced in the world, nor can it be received by the world in normal physical ways. This kind of joy is not related to circumstance. It is, however, a natural fruit of the Holy Spirit's presence.
These three qualities are not created by human effort. Furthermore, these fine qualities are unselfish in nature. They are not individualistic, but rather interdependent, and especially so since the kingdom of God is the domain of the church. Jesus didn't die on the cross solely for the sake of individual sinners. He gave himself as a sacrifice for the church, to bring her to himself as a bride without spot or wrinkle (Ephesians 5:25-27) Therefore, the kingdom qualities we have just addressed are the same qualities God intends for the world to find dwelling in the life of the Church, not just in the heavenly hereafter, but in the here and now.
(This article is a condensation of Chapter 11, Life in the Kingdom, from Ed Skidmore's book, Our Spiritual Inheritance, )