Christmas, Easter & Remembrance
by Jeff Pohlman
© 22 December, 2005
Just to give you some idea of how the Lord inspires me, this whole discovery and teaching stems from my walking with Him on December 22nd, 2005. In His usual still small voice, He was encouraging me with John 15:13's, "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends." And, I was singing the passage over and over in my spirit-mind, as I meditated on what it was that Jesus was-and-is saying to me. He drummed it deeply within my spirit that this is the essence of all holidays we celebrate, despite the stray paths that have developed. It is against this scriptural backdrop that I found myself measuring all "holidays" which are being observed. So, what you have here is the beginning-to-end search into that measuring, and the ultimate joyful ending (despite the middle parts, which look at mankind's murky ways).
Let's start out with a foundational scripture...
John 8 : 32You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.
(New American Standard Version [NASV]- AMG Publishers - Spiros Zodhiates, Th.D. Greek Study Bible)
At the time of year that I am writing this, we are full swing into a season known by my clan as Christmas. If you are used to my searching and writing, you know I can be lengthy, but I try to get to the bottom of the truth, as John 8:32 suggests we do. That is, unless you don't desire to be free of serious, silly or superstitious encumbrances of the spiritual variety. The search for truth can be exasperating, if it is not founded in the only truth-giver, Jesus. Even when certain fellows have been well-grounded in Jesus, the search for truth has been a difficult passage. For me, truth (or as the Latins call it veritas) is not the all-encompassing journey, but a life with Jesus in me and through me as me - IS; and that journey most certainly includes joy on a daily, if not hourly and moment-by-moment basis. So, let's look at the celebrating of the year-end variety, and keep in mind that I am looking for Him, His life, and joy, quickly looking to shun anything that isn't His joy.
We have celebrated this time of year here in the United States, since 1492, or so, with great verve. Chris Columbus (thought to be of Hebrew lineage) set sail from the Spain/ Portugal provincial Mediterranean area due to an anti-Semitic edict from the reigning authorities that was to annihilate all regional Jews starting the day after he left.
Hatred against Jews has been no new thing in all of history, and Columbus' escape is just another in the long line. Unfortunately, hatred amongst Jews and Christians alike has also been a strong and long part of history, although at times, there is also a shared kindredness. I am going to wade through quite a bit of this historical muck in order to get to the true joy which awaits us in this season, and for every day we are alive on this side of eternity.
Since the United States became united in the mid-1700s, things haven't changed a whole lot. Tension still exists between all "faiths," while Christianity (in the most generic sense of the word) holds the most dominant celebration, worldwide - Christmas. As we have fully rounded the bend heading into this 21st century, we now have an uprising of some proportions, where other "religions" (besides pagan wicca, Judaism and Christianity) and seemingly non-religious groups want to celebrate around the end of the month of December. Could it be that the tenets of Christianist "gift-giving" and "sharing love" are cracking the veneer of even the most stalwart of hostile religions - jihadist radical fundamental islam, as well as other more benign race-related groups? To be sure, we'll take a look at their true intents.
I find it most interesting when considering the islamists. Certainly they are not reacting out of jealousy, as a retort that's supporting their rhetorical hatred for Judaism and Christianism? Normally, when fundamentalist islamic rhetoric flares up, they get even more entrenched in their self-denial, hatred, and self inflicted pain and abasement. To change and try the "giving and love" tactic really puts a rub on the old-line fundamentalists, I can just hear the situation-ethic rationalizing going on within the walls of their masjids, IF it's true that they're really changing. Hold on, let's look at the truth.
As you follow the red-letter headings, I am first going to outline the three religious scenarios which are most popular at this time of year. Then I'll look at the two historically-recent contestants in the end-of-year celebration fracas.
I wonder openly why the American Indians aren't involved with trying to gain recognition for their version of animistic religion and their Power of Four (earth, wind, fire and water), with its lunar celebration, at this time of year?
Thank the Lord that our United Kingdom, Canadian and Australian friends aren't making a big stink over their Boxing Day!!! J Wouldn't it be just like the Brits, with their own version of oddly-syncopated, dry wit humor, to want equal-time and get all excited about putting away the wrapping papers, trash and boxes, the day after Christmas?
Anyway, hold on to your hat, and watch what unfolds on this journey of discovering truth, for those who think that wishing "Happy Holidays" is appropriate for all situations...
Ihope you are not one to be alarmed, nor surprised, when you see what goes on in other camps. When it comes to the machinations of satan's camp and his unholy race (pagan wicca), the Winter Solstice Bacchanalia (somewhere around December 21st or 22nd) is once again a festival (if it can be called that) centered around drunken reverie over worshipping perverted sexual practices. The basis of their religion should not surprise any of us, because they do not hide it. At least they are to be applauded for not acting out of sneaky denial, which cannot be said of all religious people-groups.
Pagan wicca does not have the foundation necessary to have a palatable religion that carries into all of eternity, however. Whereas in true Christ-centered-life, the foundation piece is one of spirit-relationship, where we have an opportunity to have the Creator of the Universe living in us and through us as us - this is not so in paganist wicca. So, their offered-substitute, one that they think comes close enough to be a likable and suitable substitute, one that springs directly from the father-of-lies, is that of sexual practices, centered around the recognition of base earthy seasonal changes. Nothing spiritual about it - it's all earthly, physical, seasonal change mixed with human genitalia worship. Yuck.
Again, hopefully that does not alarm you. It's the truth. It is what our surrounding pagans are reveling in. More than anything, I hope this gives you compassion for these who have chosen a second-or-third-best substitute (truly a counterfeit). I hope this gives you the impetus of Christ-centered compassion, where you can-and-do reach out with the true strength of the love of God in a way that breaks through and shatters the carnal nature of their perverse sexual practices, causing them to see what true love (not lust or sex) really is, and drawing them into Christ's Kingdom. This in itself is a missionary calling on all of our lives - to touch the spirit and soul of those marching straight into hell, all the while rescuing those who choose to reverse the course of their hell-bound eternal lives, reaching out with all compassion and loving concern - not judgment.
Just a little bit of light-but-interesting history here. Our Hebrew friends have a lunar calendar that dates back some 6,000+ years. The Hebrew new year starts somewhere in our Gregorian calendar's month of October (the exact date can't be pinned down due to the Hebrew calendar-base in the lunar and the Gregorian calendar-base in the solar). In the Hebrew third month of Kislev, day-25 begins an annually-held eight-day celebration of dedication (the Hebrew word for dedication is Hanukkah). Interesting history went on, some 168 years before Jesus' arrival on the Earth.
On Kislev 25th, 3592 (also referred to as 168 b.c.), Antiochus IV Epiphanes, king of Syria and overlord of Palestine set up a pagan altar to Zeus Olympus (can you say paganism?) in place of the high altar of the Hebrew temple in Jerusalem. He ordered dedicated perverse worship to Zeus in all of the land and especially in the whole Temple of Jerusalem. Does it surprise you that the modern day Syrian islamics want this place back again (property is property - they are not interested in things of the Spirit), even though they have a different religion these days?
Anyway, within Hebrew history is a family with the surname of Maccabee, a very long line of strong men of God. One of them was a very powerful and influential general in the Israeli Army, which stood strongly against the Syrian and Roman onslaughts. Exactly three years later, to the day, on Kislev 25th, 3595, Judas Maccabee recaptured Jerusalem from Antiochus, had the Temple purged of all Zeus Olympian sexual paganism, and rededicated it to the point of having a totally new altar reinstalled in place of the old desecrated one. This is one reason the celebration is also called The Feast Of The Maccabees.
The dedication (hanukkah) festivities lasted eight days - for a reason. Only one cruse bottle (sealed by a previous high-priest) of the Talmudic Orthodox requisite-oil, necessary for rededication, could be found in all the land. Miraculously, that little bottle burned for eight days, and that's how long the present-day dedication festival still lasts. Hence, this is also referred to as The Festival Of Lights, for the lighting of candles on all eight days.
Amongst the people who follow the teachings of Christ, is the very popular celebration of Christmas. Elsewhere on this site, you can find varied discussions about the Emperor Constantine declaring Christianity to be the state-approved religion in the fourth century A.D. (Latin - anno Domini - English - year of our Lord). This quickly corralled many of the band of Christ's believers, simply known as Christians, the movement called The Way, and loosely referred to in all of scripture as the called out ones (Greek word - ekklesia, Latin word - ecclesia). This was a handy move by Constantine, because it funneled monetary funding more carefully, albeit under the watchful and greedy eye of government officials. The blending and blurring of government and ekklesia administrative roles developed, tending more toward the institutional state-approved titles than functional-"doing"-roles of Christendom, and government officials (as supposed-representative-heads of Christ's ekklesia) were soon creating and dictating sacramental (English meaning - ritual) meeting times, places, and reasons. This soon developed into all sorts of superstitious events, having little or nothing to do with true Christianity. Hence, I use the word Christianism. The people have a core of well-meaning, but the outworking is superstitious religion and practices that aren't substantiated by our Lord's directives (or those of His entrusted following apostles).
In this context, Christ's birth became revered, and in the context of the day, a mass meeting (simply a mass) was declared to be in order. The motivation might be one where they wanted to counter paganism's meeting in that December time period, who knows? The fact is, they wanted a time to celebrate, and what better than to exult over Jesus' immaculately conceived birth (meaning he was born of a virgin who had not had sexual relations with a man).
Even the least language-oriented person can see the linguistic connection, The Christ Mass eventually becomes Christmas.
Truth be told, Christ wasn't born on December 25th, nor on the equivalent of Kislev 25th, 3760, but a different time of that year. I am not going to go into all of those factual details, most of which stem from the Bible itself. Let's just say that whenever Christ was born, in Hebrew it would have been called Mashiyach Yalad, or in Greek would be called Kristos Genesia - not Christ Mass. But, as you know, His real day-or-moment-of-birth event was not heralded in the world, and in fact, it was the cause for the abortion of many Hebrew baby boys at the order of King Herod. Much of the world missed it. Once He was of age, and even after He had been crucified and resurrected, he never told us to celebrate His birthday.
Mind you, I am not putting it down as a practice (the celebration of Christ's birth event - which isn't really known, regarding which day it truly was). For the overarching intent of Christendom and Christianism is to be in the spirit of giving at this time of year, in the style of the love of God given to us, represented in Jesus' very birth as the beginning of a long and wonderful gift to humanity. This is a very good attitude to have - where it should go on throughout all of each year - but it was NOT given to us as a sacramental command, and I am only clearing up any misconceptions that may have arisen in people's minds.
If you search, you will find a strict adherence within the Christianist sect, who call themselves Seventh Day Adventists, whereas doctrinally, they don't celebrate any holidays (you'll also find this as an even stronger doctrine within the Jehovah's Witnesses cult). Some are so staunch as to not celebrate any individual's birthday. Reasons? Too showy. Not founded in Christ's commands. Most current-day celebrations are based in paganism so let's not join in their fray by watering down our branded franchise of Christianism with pagan sexual ritual, thus perverting Christ. The Adventist brethren have a good strong point. Many within Christianism would halt their accusational onslaught by counter-claiming where we, as Christians, should exercise grace and mercy, relax a little, and enjoy. Adventists would counter-counter-claim that that is compromise, situation-ethics, a move toward bastardizing the pure ethical truth of who Jesus is, and what His true intents are for us.
I'll simply point out that while the Adventist brothers do have good points, they also have other error within their ranks. Many denominational franchises of Christianism do have segments of truth, in each and every one of them. The problem has developed where they have all become fractional, divisive, as if they have THE truth, and all others are lost to hell. The world looks at franchised Christianism and judges rightly, where they think that the hatred and division are a hypocritical display, when our very own teachings tell us to be the opposite, united in love and truth, through Jesus. The reconciliation of the matter will happen at the hands of none other than Jesus, because He has already prophesied His coming for His Bride (His ekklesia) who will be spotless, without wrinkle, blemish or any such thing. Until then, we are to look to being assembled within the maturity and unity He prayed and declared for us in John's 17th chapter.
Along the lines of this discussion, looking at another endearing season in Christianism, see my discussion about The Feast Of Ishtar (easter) www.pohlman.info/hideandseek2.htm, scrolling down under the headings of Idols, Hidden Idols, and Hidden Paganism (within the "church" and Judaism).
It is enough here for me to say that it is insidious how so many of us are on-the-one-hand doing what we think is "right," nobly, and yet we have the foundational underpinnings of pagan sexual worship practices. That we are largely duped and blinded by satan should not surprise us. But at the same time, once we see the revelation of Jesus' truth, we must not choose a path of self-inflicted ignorance (ignoring), and we must choose a path of standing firm rightly, and doing what is right in Jesus' eyes, according to His clear directives. Have strength, and pray for the same in the brethren you fellowship with, extending to the whole Body of Christ, His true ekklesia.
Now for the newer "celebrations" that are vying for equal time at the end of the year...
Back in 1966 A.D., there had been a Black Freedom Movement going on for some time. The slang word for Negro-people-groups was being shown the back door in our collective spoken language. It was deemed that these people were no longer to be called "colored," and Black-Afro-Americans were on their way to being recognized as legitimate citizens, far from the horrors of slavery that had entrenched them for too long, in this country particularly.
[As an aside - it is ironic that there is a recent move to eschew the word "black," since most truly aren't really black, but of many dark brown colors - and they are going back to desiring being called "people of color," a push that is said to stem from one Rev. Jesse Jackson of all people. I don't understand the fact, where there are no people who are truly white either (a color in the light spectrum that includes all colors) and why there is no uprising to call those folks pink, cream, peach, or mauve? Aren't we all "of color"? Just curious.]
In that year of 1966, one Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor in the Department of Black Studies at California State University in Long Beach, originally invented Kwanza (the correct spelling back then). In time, he was role playing one day with seven children, demonstrating what is known as The Seven Principles (or - The Nguzo Saba) and they discovered that he had an extra performing child, or, not enough letters in "Kwanza" to go around. So, he added another "a" so the last child could fit in on their impromptu stage, and the name has been Kwanzaa ever since then. Isn't legend and lore wonderful!
The word "kwanzaa" is derived, as I have just shown, from the Pan-African Swahili language, and a phrase "matunda ya kwanza," which we are told means "first fruits."
This whole discussion ties in the earliest of continental African nations of Egypt and Nubia, where this celebration is said to stem from originally, so they tell us it is both an ancient and modern celebration. While Dr. Karenga and the Kwanzaaist adherents are quick to point out that this celebration is not religious, I will point out that the symbology and the origin, admittedly from Egytian and Nubian heritage, means that it can't possibly be totally devoid of those pagan foundational religious practices and beliefs (centered around seasonal changes and sexual worship practices). In defense of modern-day 1966 Karengan's Kwanzaa, there are no current attempts to tie in the sexual practices of the seasonal celebrations so prevalent in the earlier pagan celebrations. However, again, the icons and symbology currently used is not devoid of the Egyptian roots, and although the current Kwanzaaists might think they are innocently NOT practicing paganism, just like many Roman Catholics and other Christianists think the same of their religions, the root and base symbology and iconography IS there. I'll not go into it here, but it is obvious to anyone knowing how to detect paganistic symbology and iconography. Historically, Christians hoped that the movie "The Wizard Of Oz" would not bring a wholesale shift toward pagan wicca white witchcraft in its day, in the USA, and we again certainly hope that Kwanzaa will not revert to the earlier paganistic practices that Kwanzaaists are basing their rituals upon.
To me it looks like a slow slippery slide for the Kwanzaaists. Their web pages discuss how to keep capitalistic commercialization away, with views of money-mongering held in disdain. I fully understand. At the same time, knowing the center of mankind, all I can say is, you're fighting a losing battle. Christianism didn't try to foster commercialism either.
From the Christian side I would say this, when you are encouraged by your Leader to be "in the world but not of the world," you're going to head straight into the machinery that will try to exploit you at every step of the way, because you cannot retreat into hermit-ism. The best you can do is recognize the exploitation for what it is, teach your children well, stand strong on the side of right-Christianity, and pray. This is the basis for another discussion I will write about, long debated in the circles of Jesus' called out ones over the ages, called orthodoxy AND orthopraxy (right thinking AND right actions).
Dr. Karenga is a noble person. His motives are to try and develop a sense of respect for the crop yield and a gathering in of the family-as-a-unit, to affirm each other and celebrate this crop yield. The language of the celebration revolves around "core values focus," and as anyone who has had to battle these words in the public education arena knows, this is a humanistic fight as well. So again, I see another slippery slope facing the Karenga Kwanzaaists. Some of what I read on Dr. Karenga's own web site suggests a type of racial prejudice that is oh-so-subtle, where the outward words are of "reaffirming and restoring culture," meanwhile, the CONTROL of the inner circle meetings, etc. are to be very carefully guarded by the select and few "blacks." Elitism has been long railed against that took place within the white community, by blacks and others alike, and for good reason. The kwanzaaist brand of selective elitism might plunk them into a difficult reverse debate some day, from what "whites" found themselves in, during the years that Dr. Karenga started his Kwanza.
While Karenga encourages celebrating family, community and culture, the writings smack of a style that is also found in Bahaist writings, trying to absolve all mankind, bringing in an altruistic "oneness," while trying to encourage ever-so-slight individuality. This is a difficult road to walk. In reflection I would say this. I could go back and trace my wife's and my family's genetic genealogical heritage all the way back to Noah (although I think it would be difficult). In the "short term" over the last 500 or so years, we'd find quite a huge mixture of folks. THE FACTS are, I was born in the USA. So was my wife. So have been our children. So what? We are who we are, based upon our names being written in Jesus' Book of Life, and we are living out these days on this side of eternity in some square mileage called the north Texas region. In my brief 50+ years, the regions have changed a few times. Region-ality might change again. I am who I am, based in Jesus, and I am a working member of the society where I find myself planted. What I bring with me as baggage CAN get in the way, and if it rubs some of the surrounding folk the wrong way, I don't keep rubbing it in their faces. I don't force them to adopt my language, my customs, nor my rituals (which are very few). The apostle Paul spoke very interesting words, first about our attitude of temporary-ness, next about figuratively being a Roman to Romans, a Jew to Jews and so forth, as the setting saw fit. That doesn't square very easily with nationalistic thinkers. Sorry. Being a productive tentmaker might not be what others have in mind these days, when they wax belligerent about stubbornly maintaining their traditional roots to the point of trying to force society to change to their ways. This isn't the prevailing attitude of Pan-African-Americanism, but it is prevalent in other cultures as they sift into USA territory.
Before I exit this section on Pan-African-Americanism, let's look at the actual Nguzo Saba (the seven principles of Dr. Maulana Karenga's invention), in no particular order, but directly from Karenga's invented "Official" Kwanzaa web site.
Mind you, these are directives for Pan-African-Americanist people to adhere to, so Karenga hopes.
Unity (umoja) - strive to maintain unity in family, community, nation and race.
Self-determination (kujichagulia) - define yourself, name yourself, create yourself, speak for yourself.
Collective work and responsibility (ujima) - build and maintain your black community as a group, make your brother's & sister's (however they are defined?) problems your own and solve them together.
Cooperative economics (ujamaa) - build and maintain your own stores, shops, other businesses and profit from them together.
Purpose (nia) - Make your collective vocation the building and developing of OUR black community in order to restore OUR black people to their traditional greatness.
Creativity (kuumba) - Always do as much as you can, as part of WE, the way we can, in order to leave OUR black community more beautiful and beneficial than when WE inherited it.
Faith (imani) - believe in all of your heart in OUR people, parents, teachers, leaders, AND THE RIGHTEOUSNESS & VICTORY OF OUR STRUGGLE.
Just a slight interjection, I didn't include the symbols or relics that go with those seven principles. Four of the seven are such that I can see the direct ties to ancient Egyptian paganism, and the subject matter dances around a form of communism that is innocent at the start, which we all hope stays innocent in execution for all time. I'm sure you can tell by the words. I'd love to be altruistic and hope that this is a social move of innocence, so I continue on in my hope.
But wait, there's more. Dr. Karenga has been waxing prolific as the years march on, and he finds more directives as time passes by, in each and every annual "Founder's Message."
Now days there are seven more Kwanzaa symbols, with two supplemental ones, to add to the fray (watch carefully and you'll see that their math is a little messed up) - plus, it appears that Dr. Karenga adds whatever he likes, whenever the mood moves him. There seems to be a pattern of him setting up a legacy and legend for himself. Sometimes, legends loom larger-than-life, and that is what most presidents hope for, when they are at the end of their terms, looking to later years, with nostalgia in their spiritual veins. Karenga certainly hopes that Kwanzaa continues long after he's gone, but without the necessary infusion of supportive cash that has come by way of oil wells for the next group that will be talked about. Without cash backing and a huge heart-throb-attraction of a "cause," such movements tend to taper off into lost memory, within 200 years. Anyway, here are some further Karenga-approved augmentations.
Each symbol is intended to specifically reflect African-Americanist culture, with the hope of pointing toward overall contribution to African-Americanist community building, reinforcement, values and concepts. As above, the words in parentheses are from the Pan-African language of Swahili.
The crops (mazao) - celebrate the rewards of productive collective labor.
The mat (mkeka) - celebrate the foundation of tradition and history.
The candle holder (kinara) - celebrate the roots of parents, continental Africans.
The corn (muhindi) - celebrate the future in symbol, corn as children.
The seven candles (mishumaa saba) - representative of the nguzo saba poster, the minimum set of values which African-Americanists are urged to live by in order to rescue and reconstruct their lives in their own image and according to their own needs (what about Jesus' image and needs, just curious?).
The unity cup (kikombe cha umoja) - celebrate foundational unity which makes all else possible.
The gifts (zawadi) - celebrate the labor and love of parents, and commitments made by children.
Two supplemental symbols (not sure why they are called supplemental) supposedly are...
The flag (bendera) - celebrate the Kwanzaa flag, colors given for African people throughout the world, black for the people, red for struggle, green for future and hope that comes from struggle.
[As an aside - I understand the meaning, and the hope, but it also sounds to me like the words spoken over Jacob as he came out of the womb, while his parents declared that he would struggle all of his days with his brother Esau. It's one thing to have those words spoken over you in spirit by someone else, it's quite another to take them on, on purpose, as if they are a blessing and positive charge to move forward with. I don't know that I would want to be labeled a "struggler" on purpose. But I suppose someone thinks it's okay.]
The poster of seven principles (nguzo saba) - although the poster is a singular item (the seven principles are described above), it's representations are seven more items to adhere to. There seems to be a little running around and around, but I understand the intent is to push for unity of a people-group.
The last day of Kwanzaa is January 1st every year. How opportune. To place one's celebration time between December 25th and January 1st is a wonderful choice, seeing as it has developed into a natural time of winding down. The business community naturally recognizes this, and many large companies recognize that productivity is absolutely at its lowest during this week, so they just give the week off for everyone. There is a physical principle within human metabolism which requires times of rest. Even the atheists have discovered this, and the cycle appears to be where one rest-day in a seven-day week is necessary for good mental balance; one rest-week in fifty-two is good for mental balance; and I know it's hard to believe, but the dirt even needs to rest, and one rest-year, in every seven years is a good measure.
For the Kwanzaaists, January 1st is called a day of meditation (siku ya taamuli). Sober assessment for deeds past and future. Reflection on the life and future of the African-Americanists. Then one asks the three mystical questions. Who am I? Am I really who I say I am? Am I all I ought to be? Befitting of January 1st, then they recommit to the highest ideals of being an African and a human.
I understand their desire and drive. One difficulty we deal with is an accusation which flies about freely, that of possibly being prejudiced. The issue is one where you could possibly pre-judge a person for a peripheral item you might see, when the deeper person is much deeper than your incorrect initial judgment. As Christians, we are supposed to be free of judgement, pre-judgement and so on, seeing as Jesus is willing to take us in, in whatever state we are in, and that includes our skin color. I know that that is an ideal, and being the imperfect people we are, even Christians make a mess of being prejudiced. The fact is, we shouldn't be, and the more we move toward maturity, we should be learning to not sift people from our relationships based upon skin color.
The other side of the issue is an individual's self esteem, self confidence, and such, and it is important whether that is truly based upon self, or based upon your "self" as rooted and grounded in Jesus. As I have stated, if I were to try and get all worked up over my lineage supposedly being Germanic, Dutch, Norse, Scandinavian, some English thrown in somewhere, and who knows what else, I'd be all wrapped around an axle.
It's a bit of a distraction when my self confidence-in-Jesus is based upon the fact that I happen to truly be from eternity, sharing a little space with a few other folks in the north Dallas area of Texas, USA at the turn of the 21st century. If I came from somewhere else, or lived somewhere else (and I certainly have), then so be it. However, this is where I am, while my spirit emanates from somewhere else, and my lineage has little-if-anything to do with where I am going (eternity calls), except that I was created in the Father's eyes, long before my earthly parents ever even thought of me. My place is with any humans whom the Lord puts me near, no matter the color of their skin - I love them all. That's not a euphemism (distracting double-speak), nor a high-philosophical statement, with no basis of truth in it. It is the directive He gave us, and it IS to be worked out in our daily lives.
The self-proclaimed prophet Muhammad (570-632 A.D.) assembled a religion in much the same manner as another self-proclaimed prophet, Joseph Smith did (1805-1844 A.D.). Muhammad's islamism and Smith's mormonism are religious amalgams of their personalized likings (sifting out their personal dislikes) from other mystical religions that happened to surround them in their respective eras, along with a few embellishments. Muhammad, the inventor and creator of a religion called truth (Arabic - islam) has described an annual pilgrimage (Arabic - hajj) that all islamist followers (Arabic - muslims) are supposed to try and take part in, to Mecca (Arabic - Makkah), to slaughter a sheep, cow or camel. Whether the islamist follower makes the journey or not, there are alternate ways of participating in this slaughtering. This activity is commonly known by its short name, Eid. The more full English version of a name is Eid al-Adha, or more properly Eid ul-Adha (Arabic: عيد الأضحى ), and however you see it expressed, it is supposed to mean The Annual Feast Of Sacrifice.
Now for the folklore story, no matter how confused it is in the telling (and I must tell you, everyone I know who has read the koran (Arabic: qur'an), or followed the islamist teachings of Muhammad, they will tell you that it is confusing - hmmm, who's the author of confusion?).
Islamist muslims insist that the spelling of their spiritual father's name is Ibraham, right here there is a clue to the difference between islamism and christianism. Christianists and the general press corps spell it Abraham, much the same as they casually translate allah as "God," an incorrect translation. Many items are different or twisted on purpose, and an informed observer needs to pay attention, the differences are there, on purpose, because Muhammad wanted it that way, similar but definitely not the same thing. Ibraham is not Abraham of Judaism/ Christianism, allah is not God the Creator of the Universe. Some islamist adherents might think the similarity means they are the same, but they just haven't dug deep enough and been instructed by their respective Imam (leader of their local masjid [temple] ).
Regarding Ibraham, most writers have a mystical superstitious manner of always including a parenthetical phrase of "(peace be upon him)" after every reference when talking about their religion's seeming patriarchal prophets/ leaders. This alone makes the reading a chore. Anyway, the story goes that their prophet Ibraham only had one son, Ishmael. Again, Muhammad had severe revisionist tendencies, and his invented-religion is based upon a different set of people altogether, from the folks whom Christians know in their Bibles.
The islamist muslim lore says that their Ibraham was commanded by allah (not the same person as God, the Creator of the universe) to sacrifice his only son, Ishmael, as a test of Ibraham's obedience to allah. At the last moment, a voice (presumably from "heaven") told him he had been obedient enough, and there was a sheep provided in Ishmael's stead, as a sacrifice (some versions say it was a sheep, some say it was a ram goat - still more confusion). Hence, they annually celebrate this sacrifice, by slaughtering sheep, rams, camels, or cows, as a reenactment exercise to repeat what Ibraham did. They hope to do it in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, but there are other substitute ways they can reenact the event. Some writings claim that their sacrifice isn't legitimate unless it's done in Mecca, others placate the situation where they know that all islamists can't "hajj" to be in Mecca every year.
They further solidify their obedience by giving a third of the meat to the priests, a third to the poor, and they take the other third home. Once the slaughter is completed with supposedly great joy, the males in the house repeat this phrase, from qur'an 6:162,
"Truly, my prayer and my service of sacrifice, my life and my death, are all for Allah, the Cherisher of the Worlds."
Believe me, I have read several accounts of this situation alone, and each one has wording that could directly contradict everything I have written here. One might say a sheep, another might say a ram-goat. They each claim differing miraculous situations. Sometimes they alternately say a third is given to friends, sometimes they say a third of the meat is eaten immediately by the family making the sacrifice, thirds become sixths - in my math book. The whole situation could be totally contorted - on this, an islamist muslim's most important festival of the year. So, I have tried to present the truth, as difficult as that is.
Some folks may be wondering what I mean, so here are two passages describing Ibraham from their own Koran. I hope your spiritual-discernment is turned up as you read, so you can see that they are certainly not talking about the same Abraham who is described in the Hebrew Talmud or Christian Bible. I'll not interject, just to say that the wording is waste.
"Surely Ibraham (peace be upon him) was an example, obedient to Allah, by nature upright, and he was not of the polytheists. He was grateful for Our bounties. We chose him and guided him unto a right path. We gave him good in this world, and in the next he will most surely be among the righteous."(Qur'an 16:120-121)
"We made Ibraham (peace be upon him) pure in this world and in the hereafter; he is most surely among the righteous. When his Lord said to him, 'Submit,' he said, 'I submit myself to the Lord of the Worlds.'"(Qur'an 2:130-131)
Here's a piece from one of their own writings, describing the import and impact of this most sacred event of slaughtering sacrifice.
عيد الأضحى(English: Eid ul-Adha) Feast of Sacrifice is the most important feast of the Muslim's calendar. It concludes The Pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca. Eid ul-Adha lasts for three days and commemorates Ibraham's willingness to obey God by sacrificing his son. Our act of participation in the slaughter of an animal symbolizes our willingness to give up things that are of benefit to us, or close to our hearts, in order to follow Allah's commands. It also symbolizes our willingness to give up some of our own bounties, in order to strengthen ties of friendship and help those who are in need. We recognize that all blessings come from Allah, and we should open our hearts and share with others.
It is very important to understand that the sacrifice itself, as practiced by Muslims, has nothing to do with atoning for our sins or using the blood to wash ourselves from sin. This is a misunderstanding by those of previous generations: "It is not their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah; it is your piety that reaches Him." (Surah Al-Hajj 22:37)
The symbolism is in the attitude - a willingness to make sacrifices in our lives in order to stay on the Straight Path. Each of us makes small sacrifices, giving up things that are fun or important to us. A true Muslim, one who submits his or herself completely to the Lord, is willing to follow Allah's commands completely and obediently. It is this strength of heart, purity in faith, and willing obedience that our Lord desires from us.
So, I hope you see that what they are about is animal sacrifice, as an act of attaining their version of salvation-by-seemingly-good-works done in the here-and-now (the Straight Path). None of this squares with Judaism nor Christianism. Though some words are similar, the accounts are dissimilar enough that there is no connection, and islam is a hostile religion of literal blood-sacrificial works at times. For the Christian, this is untenable, seeing as Jesus paid the final blood sacrifice necessary.
Let us choose to continue our forward-motion in this discussion, instead of the paganist, pan-african-americanist and the islamist backward-motion discussions, which seem to center around fleshly, dour or negative aspects of humanistic focus on seemingly good deeds apart from the atonement which Jesus provided.
We want-and-choose to focus and move forward instead, with the exciting joyful Spirit Life in Jesus. So, let's start to bring this topic together in the positive sense of what this season holds for true Christians. Gleaning from what we've unfolded so far, here are some accented key words you may want to come back to, as we do proceed.
Christ's Birth (Greek - Kristos Genesia), not Christ mass
Christ's Resurrection (Greek - Kristos Anastis), not Ishtar-Easter
Christ Remembrance (Greek - Kristos Anamnesis), no longer a once-a-year Passover Feast
John 15 : 13Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.
(New American Standard Version [NASV]- AMG Publishers - Spiros Zodhiates, Th.D. Greek Study Bible)
In the 60's and 70's there was a bumper sticker which read, "God Loves You." I worked with a group in Wichita Falls, Texas back then, called God Is Love Ministries. It was a popular theme, maybe overdone in its day, but still popular.
Here we are reviewing seasonal celebrations, and this bumper sticker should be a key slogan for those in the Christian camps, God Loves You. Over in the Jewish camps we'd see Yhwh Loves You.
When's the last time you saw the islamic bumper sticker Allah Loves You? Or for the pagan wicca crowd, Satan Loves You? Seen any Buddha Loves You bumper stickers lately? And not to leave the Bahaist people out of the fray, there's Abdul Baha Loves You? If you know those religions, you know those phrases are impossibilities to utter by their adherents.
The truth is that no man-made religion supports the fact (forget concepts) of the Creator of the universe loving each of us so much that He did what it takes to have His Holy Spirit living in us and through us as us. That act was that He sent His only Son, as a gift to humans, to shed His blood for our sins as a ransom purchase. Neither allah nor satan can love you. That chubby little buddha rock can't love you. Abdul Baha is dead, and he can't love you. BUT, God IS alive, and He still is in the business of loving you.
When you hear people grouse over this season of the year, forget the timing or intermixing with paganism issues, for a moment, and just remember about what has made the season so entrenched in all of the world's humanity. The concept of God loving us, and giving us His greatest gift, that's what. THAT will get your mind off the distractions.
The miracle of Christ's birth-time-of-year is not that He was born, albeit in a miraculous manner. If He had lived a normal life and died a typical old-age-death, we'd be no better off. There had to be more than an immaculately conceived birth to make Him the Savior, Redeemer, Christ child, of-and-for the world.
The miracle of Christ's resurrection-time-of-year is hollow (as horridly ugly as His crucifixion was, and as miraculous as his anastasis-resurrection is) unless He did it with an eternal binding affect upon all of humanity. Could it be that these two events point toward something deeply binding, and not capable of being turned into a sacramental ritual or statuary icon? Something we cannot possibly pervert, if done correctly?
Hallelujah - yes!!!
The linchpin in the axle that keeps this wonderful wheel of "a birth-event and a resurrection-event" on the axle and spinning, in all of this celebrating, is the second of the (only) two sacraments that He instructed us to be about, regularly. Do remember that the word sacrament means ritual, or repeated behavior, something done religiously. While the baptism (He instructed us to definitely take part in) is of tremendous importance, where it signifies to the world a believer's full intentions to live free of encumbering sins, the second sacrament of His Remembrance Feast is the seal on the package, so to speak. It IS what rounds out His Birth Event, with His Death & Resurrection Event. It IS what we carry going forward, until The Day He truly returns to end this sin-age.
1- We don't re-baptize over and over. Likewise, He doesn't instruct us to get all wallowed in a pit of despair over whether 2- His birth-day; or 3- His death-and-resurrection-days are celebrated on particular days correctly, or at all !!! Look for it, you won't find it as a command from Him or His apostles. (Wow, that will get me the Left Boot of Fellowship from a few "churches" today, and probably have the pulpit itself thrown at me in anger.) No sir or ma'am - you won't find those directives anywhere in scripture. BUT, you WILL find the stern-yet-joyful admonition to practice His remembrance feast, Kristos Anamnesis, with very frequent regularity. Why?
Luke 22:19And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it, and gave it to them saying "This is My Body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me." 20- And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood."
(New American Standard Version [NASV]- AMG Publishers - Spiros Zodhiates, Th.D. Greek Study Bible)
Paul gives the same instructions to the Christians at Corinth, Greece in 1 Corinthians 11:24-25.
To continue answering the question "Why?" above...
The remembrance feast of Jesus is one where we are partaking in a meal that involves the whole gathering of the fellowship folks in any particular place, most likely (scripture encourages such an event - so I am not being heretical here, nor exercising poetic license). Then we stop to recognize the central fact of who He is, and how we are to see Him, in the most plain of metaphors that humans can "see." Again, why?
Because there are not too many things that we can see, which we don't end up grabbing hold of and perverting into a religious ritual, or twisting into our own personal gimme-lists, to want-want-want from Him.
The remembrance feast of Jesus, Kristos Anamnesis, entails symbolic-sinless (yeast-free) bread, and symbolic-sinless (alcohol-yeast-free) new wine taken in by every individual as a proclamation and metaphorical representation of having Him living in us and through us as us!!!
The bread and the wine are metaphors, an allegory, figurative, a type shadow and figure to show us something that is actually only real in spirit. When we partake of the types (or the purest of man-fashioned bread and the wine) we are not repeatedly eating His literal flesh and drinking His literal blood. We are repeatedly partaking of Him IN SPIRIT. We do it in the physical to remind ourselves in the spirit, of the spiritual. He truly IS doing it IN SPIRIT. Is that Good News or what?
That is THE essence of our lives, for all eternity. That is why we don't need a lot of sacramental rituals anymore. And we certainly don't need to turn that one Kristos Anamnesis-event into a bogus boring ritualistic ceremony. It truly is a celebration, an all-encompassing, full-circle capstone on what He accomplished through His birth, death and resurrection. All we need to do is frequently remind our insensitive flesh that we actually have His eternally-alive-Spirit living in us and through us as us. So, I used the title of Christmas, Easter & Remembrance for this article, but it actually is rightly, Christ Birth, Christ Resurrection, and Christ Remembrance, or Kristos Genesia, Kristos Anastis, and Kristos Anamnesis.
MAKING IT PERSONAL
Now back to the John 15:13 scripture: Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. I want you to think about that for a while. This is a season called by many names. Season of joy, a time of giving, a time to reflect on the love and laughter from throughout the year, the time when Christ our ONLY savior was born, and so forth. Now look at the scripture again.
In the verse before that one you see in red, Jesus told us His commandment, almost like it was His only commandment, that we must love one another just as He loves us. Same way. It has never stopped. Still in the present tense. Love each other as He has loved us.
In the verses after the one you see above in red, He tells us that we are those friends He laid His life down for, IF we do what He commands. There are modern "Christian" philosophers who tell us that Jesus' way has no conditional strings attached, that the way is easy and the path is broad for following Him, and we can also do what we want - unbound grace and freedom. This passage doesn't support that modern-day theology of help-yourself-ism. Jesus continues by saying that we are not called servant-slaves, but friends, that He chose us first, He continues to choose us first, and He gives us a simple direction-manual to go with the choosing. DIRECTIONS: Bear everlasting fruit, born out of loving one another, by way of laying down your life for one another.
Okay. Go back and reread that red verse above, one more time - indulge me.
Now let's establish a list, real close to your spirit-heart, for you. I have mine, let's work on one for you too. Here's what they call, "The Spirit of Christmas," without our wrangling over the word meanings.
1- If you are married, think of that person whom the Lord has you attached to in spirit and in truth. That person has needs. Are there some which are not seen by any or many, which only you know of? The needs tend to run deeper, the longer you stay together and you eventually notice them with more clarity, emphasis and care. They don't have to be cataclysmic, even though they sometimes are. Each of us has needs. That one you are married to; how much laying down of your life goes on to satisfy those needs (instead of your own)? If you're like most humans, you may retort under your breath, "But..." Or even, "You don't understand..." I think that since Father is listening, you'll find that He does understand. And, He's not even ugly about it, when He replies about how His Son gave of His life, first. So to start out with, greater love has no person that if he or she lays down his or her life for his or her spouse. Be real. Make the list. Lovingly attend to it.
2- Next, there are your close family and friends. Sometimes when you are the closest, you also end up becoming transparent to each other. Not that you are transparent from the obvious-divulging-sense, with your problems, but that your problems don't get noticed because the camouflage of everyday life hides the problems. You're too close to see the proverbial forest for the individual up-close trees. We can easily exhibit pride so much so that we don't let down our guards, even to those closest to us. "I'll get by, I don't have to tell so-and-so my most personal details." When you do find out the nitty-gritty details of the problems which your nearest and dearest friends and family are working through, how do you handle it? Gossip in the name of a prayer meeting? Chatter with everyone else, but not with the person who needs the spoken support? Affirmation is a very strong tool for all of us - how do you affirm your friends-in-need? Do you LAY DOWN your very life? Do you give up what is rightfully yours for them, unselfishly without grumbling, or thoughts of getting even?
3- Broadening the circle a little more (I hope you're being personal and making at least a good mental list, if not a real written one), who is it who surrounds you in your day-to-day walk? Are there people who brush right by you, and you miss seeing them in spirit all together? They don't have to be total outcasts in society, although we tend to miss those folks very easily. The tough lessons are the folks whom we tend to dislike, as we would say, "naturally." When the Lord puts His finger on one of those, we tend to squirm and come up with all sorts of reasons why we "can't" find it in our spirit-hearts to love that person (hoping they are not Christians, so we can reason away our actions just a little bit easier). Are you caught up in the plague-of-the-century, "I'm too busy?" Or, are you desirous of practicing The Greatest Love, or the more selfish love? Do you take the time to see them and their needs, in spirit? Maybe it's easier to just lump them all into one category of "needy" in your mind's eye, and write out one annual tax-deductible check to the needy-organization of YOUR choosing? To quote a British phrase, "Good form!" Giving AND placating the tax authorities, what a stroke of genius! What if He wants you to focus in a little closer, to see the real person, with the real needs, requiring your real empathetic consistent response, personally?
The Lord does not give you my trials, nor me yours. He has customized experiences all lined up for each one of us to go through. There are folks a plenty, right here, for me to figure out how it is that He wants me to lay down my life for. It is not an easy task at all. I am selfish. I have all sorts of reasons why not - and none of them are good ones, which makes me cry about my own stupidity and selfishness. It is my daily walk, and I continually hear Him whispering in my spirit-ear, "Look. Right there. He needs your quiet, unselfish, unseen hand to help him. Don't grandstand. Forget the applause. Just do it. Get in there, do the right work, get out, and try not to be noticed."
Yup. You won't find that in the book of 2 Apostles 3:16, but certainly He calls me by His real-life-Spirit to be an undercover covert ops-man for Him. The less someone notices me the better. Do you think that's easy for a clown extrovert like myself? No way. I love all of the attention I can grab, and a few laughs along the way. HOWEVER, when the rubber hits the proverbial road, He is constantly calling me to love my wife, kids, grandkids, friends in close ekklesia fellowship, the Christian people who are ugly toward me (you don't think they exist?), my world of business people and customers who can get angry with me, and He makes the lessons stick, in my spirit-heart, daily.
The questions continue daily - do I love? The way He loved and loves? Or, do I have my perverted selfish definition and list of excuses?
We had a Ford dealership here that Troy Aikman, the Dallas Cowboy quarterback, bought. Their slogan used to be "The Best Never Rest." In the world of "laying down one's life for his or her friends," that slogan feels true. Jesus doesn't need rest, and He is constant in His loving encouragement of us. Even in my meditations and dreams, the Lord is constantly encouraging me to lay down my life for those people who surround me.
We're not talking about Him being a pest. He's a gentleman. We're not talking about Him going against our will, nor about Him coercing us. We're talking about Him having shown the way, FIRST, and from that point on, having given us the instruction manual in John 15:13 we talked about above.
Oh yes (using a military allegory), you can bail out during Basic Training. You can even come back, try it again, and then drop out in the middle of Flight School. You can graduate from the world-acclaimed Technical Training School, and flop after graduation. You can matriculate, carry out the mission of an undercover agent of God's who is laying down your life for your friends, for a few years, then cave in, mid-career, give up the covert, and "go-selfish," completely. But the fact remains, He doesn't stop the command. You will always hear, "If you love me, you will keep my... " And then to sense the ringing in your ears which plays like the greatest of symphony orchestras, where the words proclaim, "Greater love has no man than this... "
ONE LAST SHIFT OF THE GEARS
The old testament scripture of the story where the Lord asks, "Is this not the fast that I have chosen? " (I'll let you find it and look it up, for your own edification and exercise in finding scripture J HINT - it's in Isaiah), and the Lord gives detailed instructions where the subtle-but-inclusive point is that there is more to His fasting, than just avoiding showing off the fact that you are denying the inputting of something, that your body needs. Fasting stops the stranglehold of the inescapable yoke of wickedness around your neck (the exercise isn't spelled out for someone else, it's spelled out for you and me personally). Fasting sets those (oppressed by such grinding sin) into their very freedom from the sin, a good thing. But there is more, in the completeness of His design. MOST OF ALL, in this fast...
- when you give up the constant feeding rhythm of food to the face,
- when you give up the comfortable lushness of constant indulging in your plush home,
- when you give up the security of constant encapsulation in the finest of fashionable clothing,
... you also at the same time give the food to someone who is truly hungry; you house the homeless; you clothe the poor threadbare people. Oh yes - that is in His design.
- Instead of just skipping a meal, or a day's worth of meals and storing it in the fridge for another day,
- Instead of sitting in a house like a dour complaining stationary-statue,
- Instead of wearing something dull or plain for the day and storing the other fancy clothing in the closet for another day,
... you give it away as well as go without it for yourself.
Okay, maybe you don't believe me, and I need to give you the proof text so you can go see if I'm pulling your leg. Isaiah 58:3-12
THAT my dear friends is the sort of LAYING DOWN OF ONE'S LIFE which Christ is talking about in John 15:13. He did it as an example for us to follow.
We here in the United States have several "more interesting" examples which are a common thread all through our history. You can easily stumble upon case after case where people have suffered and others have rallied in support, not just with money but with time - even with their very lives sacrificed. You can see the selfless acts of numerous volunteers like The Red Cross, and our unified military folks, over the entire historical course of this nation, where they have given, truly laid down their lives. Some of the most bleak examples are the battle at Gettysburg, the World War II invasion at the beach at Normandy, and the World Trade Center bombing of September 11th, 2001. There are countless many others. If you are real in your investigation, the sacrifice is harrowing, and we are humbled to be alive because they gave.
This country has a history of giving like none other in all recorded history. Some people say that that is one reason why the Lord's hand of judgement is temporarily stayed, because of a cause-and-effect grace or mercy exhibited toward us due to how we give so selflessly as a nation. I don't know whether that is true or not, but I can say that we have been extraordinary in our giving, although Jesus' gift is far greater in magnitude. As a most-extreme comparison, it's hard to imagine middle eastern countries giving like the U.S.A. has, especially when we've seen recent examples like Saddam Hussein killing his own people, or the pouting exiled Saudi prince Osama binLaden instigating nothing short of a worldwide blood bath. All taking-taking-taking, sucking the very life out of their kinsmen and others, and not an ounce of "love and selfless giving" in their rhetoric or actions.
Meanwhile, other countries have similar acts of giving, with some "Christian" threads in their historical backgrounds. I am not being myopic in thinking that the USA is the only nation exhibiting "Christian" ideals. We see the same intents expressed from The United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, many of the European and South American nations, but none are as strong in their giving as the USA has portrayed in its entire history. Giving of love and one's very life has been a backbone of our history, despite an undercurrent of some selfish ones calling for a stop.
Nonetheless, He keeps asking us to give even more. Satan's allah would have us annihilate ourselves, or permit the jihadist islamic followers to annihilate us. Some of the rest of the world would love for us to be in poverty, mostly out of jealousy. However, in November, we start with a season of giving thanks, and it keeps going right through and spills over into the start of every new year. Some times we get to celebrate in wild reverie, other times we end up laying down our very lives. This is a call to be obedient to the Lord, irrespective of pagan and religious trappings, lay down your life for those whom He calls you to love, whom He loved first.
I sincerely hope you have a wonderful continual season of giving. Share His love with all of those around you, selflessly, the way He designed you to be giving His love.
© 2005 Permission to copy or reprint granted only if full version is quoted and proper notation of authorship recognition is given.
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