Saturday, December 27, 2008

28 December 2008: 1st Sunday after Christmas

Beloved in Christ, once again, our reflection is not quite on the Tanach, but in this case the First Book of Maccabees. For those of you who celebrate Hanukkah, we find the incident in I Maccabees.

Roughly, the First Book of Maccabees talks about the war between Antiochus Epiphanes and the Jewish people lead by Judas Maccabeus and later his sons. The miracle here is not so much in oil for one day lasting for seven (or the miraculaous fire in II Maccabees), but in that the Jews conquered the Greek Empire, no small accomplishment. I Maccabees tells in graphic detail how some Jews refused to submit to the Greeks who were trying to force them to eat pork and to leave the children uncircumcised, and in general to abandon the Jewish religion. It is a story of great courage, but it is also a story of how God stands with his people.

One of the great inspirations for Judas Maccabee and his sons were the stories they read from the scriptures, how David defeated Goliath, how Jonathan and his armor bearer conquered a troop of Phillistines and many more. Friends are you down. Do you have ten thousand soldiers agains your group of four hundred. We need to know, God has won the war. We still have the battle, but God is with us, he has conquered the enemy. Our part is to learn to walk with him, and to obey him. To obey and walk with him is victory. When David went against Goliath, he didn't see a giant, he saw a man that the Lord God had already defeated.

We have a real problem in the church today. Most Christians are leading defeated lives. Those few who are living victorious lives, most often are suffering, but putting God first. They know they have the victory. Go look at the icons. Are there any fat Christians among them? These guys knew how to deny themselves for the Lord. Fasting and praying were regular parts of their disciplines (we find this with Judas Maccabeus as well). They were willing to give up things for the common good.

Is it not time we learned from our Christian and Jewish forbears? ARe we willing to give up THINGS and MONEY for God. The church is too much a captive of society today. The Bishop of Rome has stated that greed is the main force behind our economic meltdown, and I agree with him. But has any politician said, "We need to live a simpler lifestyle"? Has any politician in the last 36 years said, "It is an act of patriotism for us to learn to live with less gasoline"? No, they are encouraging people to spend and buy, as if either of those items can really help.

Real joy comes from truly knowing Jesus as Lord and Saviour, and by walking truly with him.
I know, my secular work seems to be drying up (surprise three week unpaid vacation for Christmas), but I also know the Lord will provide, if I am with Him.

Shalom to all,

Mar Michael Abportus, OSL

Saturday, December 20, 2008

21 December 2008

Instead of concentrating on the Tanach for this week, I would like to throw out different ideas which are floating in my head. First, as it is approaching the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord, many discussion lists turn to the date of Christmas, and many comments were made one way or another.

There are currently three schools of thought on the date of the Nativity. The first school is that the Nativity was in the spring, with a possibility of the Messiah being born on or near Passover. Some reasons behind this theory have to do with ideas as to when shepherds would be out with their sheep (the idea that December would be too cold). After studying the habits of sheep and shepherds in Israel and the surrounding areas, I have to discount this idea.

The second school of thought holds that Jesus was born in September or October. There are several reasons for this, the most important of which is that some people take the language of the Gospel of John as suggesting that Jesus was born on the feast of the tabernacles. This is an appealing idea from the Gospel, and of course would relate well to the high holy days. In addition there are several star and planetary formations which suggest this time of year.

The third school of thought was that Jesus was born on or about December 25th, and the date was decided on because of some older feasts such as the Annunciation of the Angel to the Virgin Mary (nine months before Christmas). We note in passing that some people have speculated in the past that Christmas was celebrated on the 25th of December to take the place of the celebration of the invincible sun. Recent and some ancient scholarship suggest though that the feast of the invincible sun was moved to December 25th in order to repaganise the Roman Empire. I would not that no less a personage as Benedict, the current Bishop of Rome goes along with this idea.

To give credence to the latter two times, lambing season begins in October and continues several months. In addition there are winter rains, that would encourage the growth of grass and brush, so more than likely the shepherds would be out with their sheep (and in fact studies show that shepherds were out with their sheep 365 days per year). An interesting additional point, is that the shepherds around Bethlehem were more than likely Levitical shepherds. These were the guys who raise the sheep which were Kashrut (Kosher) for sacrifice. In other words, they were the ones who certified that the newborn lambs were without blemish. Do you see where this is going. To me it is marvelous. Why did the angels apprear to the shepherds? They were to certify that the new born lamb (Jesus) was without blemish, which only a levitical shepherd or priest could do. How great is our heavenly Father, who used Levitical Priest to guarantee that the sacrifice for our sins was without blemish. How great is he who made the things of the universe come out this way.

In addition, tonight we begin the celebration of Chanukah. As you may know, the kingdom of Israel was overund by Greeks under the leadership of Antiochus Epiphanes, who tried to destroy the Hebrew religion. He was not very succesful, and a revolt aros under the leadership of Judas Macabeus and his sons. The Greeks ( apowerful nation in those days) were defeated (a miracle in and of itself demonstrating God's hand and keeping the path open for Messiah), and the temple was cleansed and purified. There was only enough oil to fill the Menorah for one day, but through a great miracle, the oil lasted for eight days, the length of time for dedicating the temple. Chanukkah is very much a festival of light, and is a wonderful celebration of how the light of the world came into the world, and to remind us, that our lights should shine bright, that many could come to know Jesus through our witness.

Shalom b'Yehsua haMoshiach

Mar Michael Abportus, OSA

Saturday, December 13, 2008

14 December 2008

Deuteronomy 12:1-28

Once again, we are told, that these are the laws God is giving to his people, and the first mentioned here is to destroy anything which has to do with the worship of other (specifically the Canaanite gods). Once they are destroyed, we are told emphatically that we must not worship the one true God in the way the Canannites did. At this point we are not reminded, but we should keep it in mind, that one of the reasons that God commanded the Israelites to wipe out the Canaanites was because of their many sins, many of which had to do with their religion. I'll not go into any great detail, but among other things, the Canaanites sacrificed their children and practiced ritual prostitution, both heterosexual and homosexual.

Now at the time the Israelites entered the land, the current idea is that each god had his place, and that is where that God was to be worshipped. The Israelites living among the Egyptians probably picked up some of their religious ideas, and we recall that when Samaria was taken over by Assyria, the Assyrian king sent back for Israelis to teach the new Samaritans how to worship God, and in the Psalms, we here the question, "how may we praise the Lord in a strange land. " Of course the answer to this was that there is one an only one true God, and we worship him in spirit and truth, whereever on or off earth we may be.

Now we can see that the high places were a tempation to the Israelis. There God was a God of deliverence, but maybe they needed the local gods for help in agriculture. The worship of God wa limited to one, place but the worship of the Canaanite gods was not. Great tempation. God knew what he was doing when he commanded that the high places be destroed. Unfortunately, they were not destroyed for many years. We know that Solomon went the the high places to worship.

Two ideas are adressed here. The first is that of syncrotism. Syncretism is the mixing of relitions. There is a great temptation today in the US and the west to syncretise religions. Many say that all religions will lead us to God. A Buddhist or Hindu or Satanist are all going to heaven because all religions lead to God. this is not what the Bible tells us. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Jesus states very clearly, he is THE way, THE light and THE truth. Noone may come to the Father except by him. It doesn't sound fair to western ears, but in fact it is the Kingdom of Heaven, and not the democratic republic of heaven. The King is THE king, not a puppet king limited by parliamentary procedures. If we want to go to heaven, we must go on his terms, or we face the alternative, which is Hell. Let us not follow those who would introduce the idea that all are going to heaven, or that all relgions are equal, it is not so.

The second idea is false worship. Worship can be false in two ways. First, we do not truly love whom we are worshipping. Yeshua told us clearly, we cannot be the slaves of two masters. We must have only one, and therefor should analyse our lives. What do we spend our time, money and effort on. Except in the case of the poorest who are barely surviving the answer to this question will tell us where our hearts are. Our time and money and effort should be spend on the kingdom. If if is not, then what we give our time money and effort to is our God. This could be sports, house, children. It could be something handy like being a volunteer fireman, but that cannot be our God either. Either the Lord is Lord of All or HE is not Lord at all.

The second way that worship can be false is by worshipping something that is not God. Many try to subvert God into something else, the common subconsious, or the Great Spirit, Brahman, etc. But none of those is God. God has revealed himself in Holy Scriptures, and through Jesus Christ. Anything else is not God. Even the Muslim Alah is not god. They are monotheistic, but the concept of Allah is completely different from our heavenly Father.

So let us ask ourselves this week, do we know who the God of the Bible is? If not, we should come to know him. Second question, do we give our time, money and effort to God, or is something else truly our God?

May the Lord richly bless you,

Shalom b'yeshua haMoshiach

Mar Michael Abportus, O.S.L

Sunday, December 7, 2008

7 December 2998

Deuteronomy 11:1-32

Today's lesson is very much a continuation of last week's lesson. We are told, "love the Lord your god and keep his requirements." This commandment is not done to try and to gain God's favour, but an act of thanksgiving. As the Israelites had seen all the wonders the Lord, they were to walk in obedience for thanksgiving, and they were to obey the Lord, so as to have the strength and ability to do as he commanded them.

In fact, from this lesson, we see how very much Jesus saving actions on the cross are reflected in the Passover. We as Christians are to obey Christ for two reasons. The first is because we are thanking him for what he has done and because we love him. Not a very hard concept. We owe God our obedience not to gain salvation, but because he has already saved us. Secondly we obey God so as to have power to fullfill his commandmenst here on earth. These commandments to love God, to love our neighbour, to proclaim the Gospel are not really very hard if we truly love God. He will give us the power.

An example: Many years ago, I used to use snuss. I really had gotten into it bad, using two to three cans per day. I had promissed myself that I would quite when it hit $1.00 per can. Well $1.00 came and went, but I was still using it. Oddly enough, no-one challenged me on this sad to say. At the same time I was one of the adult helpers with the church youth group. One night, one of the kids asked me for a dip,and I told him he shouldn't have any as it was bad for him (no rules against giving it or selling it to people uder 18 in those days). He asked me then, if it was so bad, why was I using it. As I went home, I considered several things. First, since my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, I shouln't be polluting it. Secondly, as an adult helper in the youth group, I needed to set a good Christian example I loved the kids enough to know that I had to do something, so I did. I went back to church (it was never locked in those days), carried my snuss to the altar, kneeled down and prayed something to the effect, "Dear Lord, this is a bad habit, and I am addicted to tobacco. This is a bad example for the kids at church. Lord, you are bigger than a can of snuss. Please take the desrire away from me." I left the church a free man and have never touched any since.

When we truly thank God, he give us the power, the power to be free from sin of whatever type. We who are mature Christians have events in our lives demonstrating the power of Jesus Christ. I regularly share the above even with people who are addicted to cigarettes, so they will know that Jesus can set them free. That too, is part of the lesson today. We who have experienced the living God in our lives are to tell kids, adults, anyone who will listen what God has done for us. He has set me free from tobacco and several other sever addicitons. If he can set me free, he can set you free, and those whom the Lord has freed are free indeed if they want to be.

So let us share the good news. Halleluiah, Jesus is risen, He has freed me from sin, and mean it. God's love gives us the power to even move mountains, if we truly follow him.

So let Jesus free you to conquer sin and deth.

Shalom b'Yeshua haMoshiach,

Mar Michael Abportus