Welcome to the Future

Welcome to the Future
Vol: 159 Issue: 31 Wednesday, December 31, 2014

I was thinking about all the technological wonders that we had envisioned for the 21st century back in the 1960’s; stuff like death-rays, videophones and flying cars.

(Cell phones weren’t expected until the 24th century, when Captain James T. Kirk uses one to call Scottie aboard the Starship Enterprise. But flying cars and videophones were due around the Year 2000.)

Videophones do exist, but they’re not all that popular. (Back in the 60’s we never dreamed hardly anybody would WANT a videophone.)

And while we could build flying cars, we still haven’t mastered driving the ones on wheels safely.

(It turned out it isn’t the building of cars that fly that was the problem. It’s the idiots that would be driving them while they’re up there.)

But all in all, the future is really much more interesting than even I had daydreamed it would be when I was a kid in the 1960’s.

Who, in the age of LPs and two-song 45 rpm records, could have envisioned a 4G iPod the size of a matchbox that could hold a radio station’s entire library?

While we imagined death-rays (and, indeed, they exist) who would have thought that the first war of the 21st century would instead be fought using high-tech rocks?

(Remember the GPS-guided cement warheads used against the tanks that Saddam parked nears schools and hospitals to minimize collateral damage?)

In 1968, a typical office consisted mainly of a desk and a telephone, some notepads, a typewriter and some filing cabinets.

Who would have dreamed that just four decades later it could all be packed into a laptop computer the size of a clipboard?

Or that an office filing room could be replaced by a “pen” drive smaller that a Bic lighter?

Or that I could sit in this ordinary room in my ordinary house and instantly communicate with thousands of people located on every continent in the world — by hitting the “send” button at the bottom of this page?

In the 1970’s, I was assigned as a computer operator in the Data Processing Department at the Marine Corps Base at Cherry Point, NC.

The computer was housed in a climate-controlled 4000 square foot room kept precisely at a chilly 68 degrees. It had rows and rows of tape drive banks, each the size of a refrigerator.

One of our jobs was printing out payroll checks for the base’s military and civilian employees.

It involved: 1) programmers writing the code; 2) keypunchers to input it onto keypunch cards; 3) a sorter to operate the EAM sorting machine and box them up; 4) an operator to hang the tape on the drive, input the keypunch cards in a big hopper, transfer it to tape, and then; 5) another computer operator to tell the mainframe where to look for the data.

The entire process tied up the whole department for five days, twice a month, using equipment that costs millions and took up a small city block.

Today, I could do it all on my MacBook (which cost less than my first microwave oven did) using Quicken and my laser printer — in two hours or less.

Wirelessly. While watching TV in a little corner of my computer screen.

In 1899, as the 19th century was drawing to a close, US Commissioner of Patents Charles H. Duell solemnly pronounced that, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”

When Duell was born, transportation, communications and trade moved at the same speed as it had since the Greeks discovered hemlock was a poor choice for a cocktail beverage.

In his lifetime, he’d seen the invention of the railway, the steamship, the telegraph and the automobile. What else could be left to invent?

But Duell wasn’t the only one suffering from a lack of vision.

In 1922, Thomas Edison declared, “the radio craze . . . will die out in time.”

In 1943, Thomas J. Watson, who was at the time the chairman of IBM, gave this business forecast: “I think there is a world market for about five computers.”

In 1977, Ken Olsen, president of Digital Equipment Corporation declared, “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.”

And in 1981, Bill Gates opined; “640K ought to be enough for anybody.”

Assessment:

As we’ve seen, predicting the future is no simple task. One of the problems with trying to forecast the future is that the future is a conspiracy of unknown and seemingly unrelated events that must work together exactly for the prediction to be accurate.

IBM failed to see a computer hardware market, Digital Equipment failed to see the demand, and Bill Gates failed to see its potential.

All their predictions failed — and laughably so — within a matter of decades or mere years of their prognostications. And they were the world’s leading experts in those particular fields!

But the Apostle John predicted, not over a period of years or decades or even centuries, but across two millennia, the rise of a centralized global economic system that would come into existence over the space of single generation, somewhere in time.

Such a system wasn’t possible until the invention of computers, in this generation.

The Prophet Ezekiel predicted the rise of a Russian/Persian Islamic alliance that would come into existence in “the latter years” at the same period in history when there was again a nation called “Israel.”

Ezekiel spoke across two and a half millennia, from a point in history when Israel and Judah had both been invaded and destroyed and the survivors taken as foreign slaves.

And from Ezekiel’s day until May 14, 1948, there was no such place on earth as ‘Israel’ (and no Russian/Islamic alliance, either)

The Prophet Daniel, from the same perspective in history, predicted the rise and fall of Babylon, Medo-Persia and Alexander the Great’s Greece.

Daniel also predicted the rise of the Roman Empire, its decline and fall, AND he prophesied its revival, concurrent with the restoration of Israel.

The Hebrew prophets weren’t forecasting the immediate future of a particular industry in which they were the leading actors.

They were forecasting world events, geopolitical alliances, wars, and social and technological changes so profound there were no words in their vocabulary with which to describe them.

And unlike technological ‘prophets’ like Charles Duell, Ken Olsen or even Bill Gates, the Bible prophets have proved themselves 100% accurate, 100% of the time, even when they admittedly didn’t know what they were talking about!

The Prophet Daniel didn’t have a clue as to what he was seeing and hearing:

“And I heard, but I understood not: then said I, O my Lord, what shall be the end of these things?” (Daniel 12:8)

And for centuries, neither did anybody else. Until only recently, Daniel’s words were sealed.

From the Reformation until the middle of the 20th century, the Book of Daniel was the least studied, least understood and least preached Book in the Bible.

Martin Luther questioned whether or not Daniel even belonged in the canon of Scripture, and John Calvin omitted Daniel altogether when he wrote his commentaries on the Bible.

Without the existence of a literal place called ‘Israel’ Daniel’s prophecies made little sense.

But once Israel was restored to the land, what had previously seemed to be a collection of symbolic heads, horns and beasts began to take on a literal meaning.

Especially in the context of the revealing angel’s charge to Daniel:

“But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.” (Daniel 12:4)

Duell, Olsen, Gates, etc., couldn’t begin to imagine the wonders that would exist by 2008, even as they were in the process of working to bring them about.

The Bible prophets, under the inspiration of God, could imagine them, but they couldn’t find the words to describe them.

But Jesus brings it all into perspective, speaking across the ages and addressing us directly, saying;

“And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.” (Luke 21:28)

As 2015 dawns, may our God richly bless and keep you all, until He comes.

Maybe this year?

Featured Commentary: The Bridegroom is Coming ~ Lea Sylvester

The Third Element

The Third Element
Vol: 159 Issue: 30 Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The body is only one third of what God created in the Garden of Eden.  God created the body out of the dust of the earth.  The body is the first element of man.  It is a physical shell.

Then God breathed into his nostrils, and man became a living soul.  The soul is the second element of man.  That’s the part that makes you ‘you’. 

The Third Element is mentioned in Genesis 1:26 when God says,

“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. . . ” 

What does God look like?

“No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” (John 1:18)

“God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24)

“And He said, Thou canst not see My face: for there shall no man see Me, and live. . . And it shall come to pass, while My glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover thee with My hand while I pass by: And I will take away Mine hand, and thou shalt see My back parts: but My face shall not be seen.” (Exodus 33:20,22-23)

But we are in His likeness.  His likeness is the third element — the spirit.  That is the component of man to which God was referring in the Garden when He said, “for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Genesis 2:17) On that day, Adam’s spirit ‘died’. 

What does it mean to say an immortal, eternal spirit ‘dies’?  If it is eternal, how can it die?  We use the phrase, ‘a fate worse than death’ as a modifier for something so horrible as to be humanly unimaginable.

Because truth be known, it is impossible for the human mind to conceive of a fate worse than death. 

Death is unknown, so it is impossible to measure something known against it.  That’s why we use it to describe something unimaginably horrible.  That is the sense in which spiritual death is understood.  It is a fate worse than death.  Death is an ending. 

Spiritual death is eternal torment, eternal separation from God, eternal nothingness. . . you are written off as dead by God.  You wrote Him off as dead in this life.  You aren’t separated from God at death — you were never joined to Him in the first place. 

You had your chance.  You made your choice.  You will never hear from Him again.  There is no reprieve, no appeal.  But you continue to exist.  Eternally. 

I’ve always loved Larkin’s charts.  Larkin was a man truly gifted with both a double measure of understanding and double measure of the gift of teaching. 

Larkin beautifully illustrates the three parts of man.The Threefold Nature of Man 

The outer ring is the body.  This is the physical part, the part that dies.  But while we are here, the body serves as the sensory input to the soul.  Larkin labels the senses as the “Eyegate” “Eargate” “Nosegate” etc because those are the gateways to the soul — for both good and evil. 

Because that is our only sensory input, that is all we have to work with. 

In Larkin’s center ring is our soul, wherein dwells the natural man.  The soul consists of the mind, will and emotions.  It is the ‘ghost’ in the machine. 

It is the part of you that makes all the other parts yours.  It is uniquely yours.  It is God-breathed.  It will continue to exist after your body dies, whether you are saved or not. 

Now, look at the inner circle.  This is the Third Element.  This is your spirit.  Notice that Larkin’s drawing is of a new creature — indwelling Larkin’s spirit-man is the Holy Spirit of God. 

Let me summarize this all before going on.  I want you to really see this. 

The body is in the outer ring and it is the sensory gate that feeds the soul.  The spirit is in the center and it is the sensory gate through which the Holy Spirit communicates with us.

“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:” (Romans 8:16)

When we die, the soul and spirit separate from the body and the body’s sensory input.  The Bible tells us that our soul doesn’t sleep, but remains conscious; Paul tells us that; 

“Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (for we walk by faith and not by sight:) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” (2nd Corinthians 5:6-8)

I want you to see all that this teaches.  The first is the most obvious since it is most often-quoted; ‘absent from the body, present with the Lord’ but see the Bigger Picture as well.  When in the body, we are absent from the Lord.  Our sensory inputs are limited to the five gates of the carnal body. 

Most of us are spiritually blind.  We hear the phrase often enough.  Think of what it means.  It refers to the sensory input we get from the center of our being, from the center of Larkin’s inner circle, where our spirit is. 

At the center of the natural man’s the spirit is dark.  It is totally blind to the things of God.  The natural man can be spiritual; the world is filled with spiritual people who are in communication with the spirit world.  But they are not in communication with the Spirit of God. 

“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1st Corinthians 2:14)

The natural man can thrash about trying make a spiritual connection, but he is just thrashing about blindly hoping to latch on to any spiritual passersby. 

Understand the function of your spirit.  It is your sensory input to the things of the spirit.  The quickened, or regenerated spirit is in contact and communion with the Spirit of God.  Absent the body, the spirit becomes the eyes and ears of the soul. 

When we die, the body’s sensory gates close, but the spirit’s sensory gates swing wide-open.  We (that is, the soul, the part that makes you ‘you’) remain aware of what is going on.  (Absent from the body, etc. . .) 

So when you die, the spirit functions much as the body did, as the primary sensory gateway into the soul. 

Look at Larkin’s chart again.  First, your middle ring was being fed from the outer ring.  Now it is being supplied with sensory input from the inner, spiritual ring where the Holy Spirit sits. 

Or not.  If the spirit is dark, then the soul has no source of sensory input.  The spiritual, but lost person who was thrashing about blindly in this life?  We’ll come back to him momentarily. 

We are half blind in this world.  Our souls only know what they can learn from the sensory input of our carnal, physical bodies.  Our spirits are capable of just enough faith to invite the Holy Spirit in, which then quickens us and opens up our spiritual ‘eyes’. 

When we get our resurrection bodies, we will receive sensory input from both sides.  Both the physical and the spiritual.  The reason that at the Rapture, the dead in Christ rise first, is that they’ve been waiting half-blind for theirs. 

Right now, Paul says, “we see through a glass darkly. . but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (1st Corinthians 13:12)

Imagine at the Rapture, when we who are alive and remain suddenly start getting unrestricted sensory input from both our resurrection bodies and our eyes-wide open quickened spirits!  It is a spectacular thought. 

Back to the less-spectacular thought of the soul who dies without the quickening of the Spirit.  His soul has lost its physical sensory input.  His spirit is dark, dead, and incapable of getting any spiritual input.  But at the Great White Throne, that soul will also receive a resurrection body. 

Remember the function of the body and spirit.  They are the gateways to the soul. 

That lost soul will have his physical sensory input restored to him just before being cast alive into the Lake of Fire.  There, he will be deprived of spiritual comfort, since his spirit is dead, but his resurrection body will be eternally alive. 

And his soul, the part that makes him who he is, will spend eternity thinking about how he blew his chance to escape his fate while his spirit aches to see the God he rejected. 

The body is not what its cracked up to be.  It’s really only a temporary life support system and communications center that connects the soul to this physical world.  The part that makes you ‘you’ is the part that makes the body work. 

The body isn’t life to the soul.  The soul is life to the body. 

“But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.” (1st Thessalonians 4:13)

“I will praise Thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are Thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well” (Psalms 139:14)

Featured Commentary: A Tale of Two Churches ~ Wendy Wippel

”The Horse Doesn’t Eat Cucumber Salad”

”The Horse Doesn’t Eat Cucumber Salad”
Vol: 159 Issue: 29 Monday, December 29, 2014

Nobody knows who invented the first postal system – it was probably the same guy who inventing writing: “Hey! I just invented writing.  Come on over and I’ll tell you what this letter says!” The first postman was probably that guy’s slave.

Early postal systems were developed by Hammurabi, Sargon II, King Cyrus the Great and Darius of Persia.  But they weren’t designed to deliver mail so much as they were designed to gather intelligence.

(But that was before postal unions.  Since then, all intelligence has been banned from the postal service. For example, to address public complaints about slow service inside post offices, the USPS removed all the clocks.)  

Until the invention of the telephone, the postal service represented the only option for communication across long distances.  A person in New York might write a letter to a person in San Francisco and might receive a reply in less than two months.  

In 1860 Johan Phillip Reis produced a device that could transmit musical notes and on some occasions, intelligible speech.  The Reis transmitter was difficult to operate, but since it could transmit human voices over distances, it could be called a “telephone” – even if nobody could use it except Reis.

Later, Thomas Edison tested the Reis equipment and found it capable of transmitting human speech, including “the inflections of the voice, the modulations of interrogation, wonder, command, etc.” 

Alexander Graham Bell is credited with having invented the telephone in 1876, but it was actually invented much earlier, in 1832, by an Italian inventor named Antonio Meucci.

Meucci patented his teletofono in 1871, but, Meucci, who frequently lived on public assistance, did not renew it after 1874 because he was short ten bucks.

Indeed, in 2002 the US House of Representatives passed a resolution that recognized Meucci’s pioneering work on the telephone, saying;

“if Meucci had been able to pay the $10 fee to maintain the caveat after 1874, no patent could have been issued to Bell.”

But since Meucci didn’t renew, Canadian Alexander Graham Bell was first to get to the patent office with his own telephone invention, barely beating Chicago inventor Elisha Gray, who tried to patent his telephone device on the very same day.

Which in retrospect, I think, may have been a good thing.  Somehow, “Gray Telephone” doesn’t have the same ring to it as does “Bell Telephone” – it sounds like a telephone service for spies.

And “Meucci Teletefono” — it just doesn’t seem to roll off the tongue. (In fact, it tends to make it hurt).

History tells us that the first words ever spoken over a telephone were uttered by Alexander Graham Bell; “Watson, come here! I want to see you!”  That is sort of true. 

They were the first words ever spoken in English over a telephone.

In reality, Johann Reis was the first person to ever transmit human speech over the airwaves via an electronic device, sixteen years before Bell used his to phone Watson.

Maybe if Reis were calling someone to do something useful, like ‘come here’ or “pick up a loaf of bread and two quarts of milk” then Johann Reis might be history’s Alexander Graham Bell.

That could have changed history.  When Bell Telephone’s monopoly was broken up into regional phone companies, they were immediately nicknamed “Baby Bells.”

If Reis had been the official inventor of the telephone, then the breakup into regional phone companies would probably have been nicknamed, “Reis’s Pieces” — and then how could ET phone home? 

In any event, it was Johann Reis, not Alexander Graham Bell, who uttered the immortal words that made up the first sentence ever transmitted by telephone:

Das Pferd frisst keinen Gurkensalat.”

It means, “The horse doesn’t eat cucumber salad.”

Assessment:

In summary, then, the history of communications goes like this.  First, somebody invented writing.  Then he wrote a message and sent it via somebody else, thereby inventing the postal service. 

But by 1860, so many people were trying to feed cucumber salads to their horses that it necessitated the invention of the telephone.

One can instantly see the advantages of a telephone over the Pony Express.  Once they stopped feeding their horses cucumber salads, the Pony Express could get a message across the country in a matter of weeks. 

With the advent of the telephone, the same message could be transmitted instantly.

(“Das Pferd frisst keinen Gurkensalat.”  It DOESN’T? Gee, thanks.) 

But telephones were bulky, expensive gizmos tied to telephone poles by wires on one end and bolted to the wall of your house on the other.  In 1973, Dr. Martin Cooper of Motorola figured out a way to transmit telephone service over a radio link, creating the first mobile phone. 

In 1983, the first commercially available cellular phones were hard-wired into vehicles.  By 1990, there were 12.4 million cell phones worldwide.  By 2010, there were 4.6 billion mobile phones — at which point we stopped talking on them.   

The first text message was sent from a computer to a mobile phone in December 1992. The message, “Merry Christmas” unintentionally threw human civilization back to the days when horses ate cucumber salads.

We have gone from the invention of writing to the invention of mail to the invention of the telephone to the invention of the mobile communications device that we use to write letters instead of talking. And according to a recent study conducted by Pew Research Group, that’s the way we like it.

According to Pew, some 83% of Americans own cell phones and three fourths of them send and receive text messages on their phones.  Of those that use texting, the majority would prefer sending or receiving a text to making or receiving a phone call.

Text users send or receive an average of 41.5 messages per day and more than half of them would rather you texted instead of phoning them.  Those that don’t text make or receive an average of twelve phone calls per day.

I enjoy the irony of having come full circle from the invention of writing as a method of communication five thousand years ago, to the rediscovery of writing as a preferred means of communication by the most technologically advanced among us.

Having discovered texting only recently, I am surprised to discover that I concur with the majority – I would rather receive a text that I can read at my leisure and reply to only if necessary to having to subordinate all my other activities to answering the telephone.

What does it all mean?  I am not entirely sure when it comes to humans.  But thanks to the advances of technology, entire generations of horses have never experienced the delights of a cucumber salad.

Featured Commentary: Eschatology 101 ~ Pete Garcia

Christmas Pie

Christmas Pie
Vol: 159 Issue: 25 Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas at my house is always a busy time of year. As the kids grew older, it got even busier. Our family tradition was something started by my maternal grandfather.

Granddad had five daughters, and he realized he was going have to compete with five sons-in-law if he hoped to continue his own Christmas tradition. Granddad adopted the English Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) as HIS Christmas celebration.

They called it the ‘Christmas Pie’. The ‘Christmas Pie’ was an old refrigerator shipping box filled with presents for all the parents and grandchildren. We’d all gather, the day after our individual Christmas celebration, for an extended Christmas.

All the time I was growing up, I thought that Granddad did it all for us grandkids, something that I thought odd in light of the fact that the rest of the year, he was a very proper English grandfather. But at Christmas, all that British reserve would evaporate.

It wasn’t until my kids had kids that I realized what a brilliant man Granddad really was. The Christmas Pie was NEVER about us, but WE never knew it.

It was really about my Granddad and his daughters never losing their own special Christmas traditions.

Granddad headed off any competition with the outlaws about who went to whose house last year — whenever some young fella married into the family, it was firmly understood at the outset that Christmas was for them — but Boxing Day was Granddad’s.

I share my grandfather’s love of Christmas and could not imagine not having my day with my kids.  So when Mike and Kari got married, I sat down with Mike and told him that he could have Kari for eleven of the twelve days of Christmas, but that Boxing Day was MINE.

Or he’d have to find himself another girl.

At our house, Christmas is a two-day affair.  Christmas Day is for Gayle and her mother and I.  We read the Christmas Story from Luke, remember the Greatest Christmas Gift of all — eternity — and have a traditional American Christmas.

Then, we spend the rest of the day preparing for today’s Main Event.

Mike and Kari and Hannah and Mikie and Sarah; Johnny; Ricky and Nikki (we call them the “Ickeys”) and Jacob and Bradley and Carlie; Mike and Kerilyn and Tristan and Natasha; Charlyn and Taya;  sometimes Jessica and Bailey and Lori– all together and at home with us — for one glorious day.

Lots of food, a Christmas ‘Pie’ and a chance for the parents to take a day off to be kids again.

Our Christmas wish for you is that you are surrounded by a family that loves you.  We wish you laughter and love and fun and joy. 

We pray our Lord Jesus Christ will envelope your family with an unspeakable love for one another — and for Him. 

We wish you a merry, merry Christmas.  And may you be truly blessed. 

With much love, from all of us, to all of you.

Note: Most of you will recognize today’s OL as Jack’s favorite retread — he ran it nearly every year.  We hope nobody minds. Thank you for being on this journey through the “Times of the Signs“. Please remember those in our OL family who are enduring trials this season in prayer.  This weekend we are going to enjoy the festitivies with family and friends.  We will resume publication of the OL on Monday, December 29, 2014.   And until that glorious day; may God Bless us, everyone!

Featured Commentary: Stille Nacht ~ J.L. Robb

The Most Ironic Story Ever Told

The Most Ironic Story Ever Told
Vol: 159 Issue: 24 Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The story of the Virgin Birth, sinless life and blameless death of Jesus Christ, an itinerant Jewish preacher from the Judean village of Nazareth is often and rightly called “the Greatest Story Ever Told.”

What makes it great is its theme.  A Child born to a young Jewish virgin and (as was supposed) a Jewish laborer of low estate Whose birth is announced by angels.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)

The Child is the Son of God, come to bear the sins of the world.  He grows to maturity, living low as a laborer in Nazareth until He is called to ministry during His baptism in the Jordan by His cousin John.  

Jesus preaches repentance and the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven.  He teaches love of God and to love one’s neighbor.  He lives a blameless and perfect life, is condemned as the King of the Jews and crucified for the sins of the world.

Three days after His execution, He rises from the dead to announce that the hereditary penalty for sin imposed on all men since Adam had been paid.   In evidence, He offers His own Body, showing the nail scars and the side wound.

“This is the price paid on your behalf for sins.  Believe in Me, and Him that sent me, and thou shalt be saved.”  

THAT is why it is the greatest story ever told.  But what makes it ironic is the WAY that it is told – as a Christian story.  The story actually begins way back in the Book of Genesis.   

Abram was the son of an idol maker named Terah who lived in the great city of Ur in modern-day Iraq. The Bible relates that Abram was called by God to a new land that God would show him. 

By faith Abram undertook the journey.Genesis 15:6 says;

 “And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.”

But Abram wanted a guarantee, nonetheless. 

“And he [Abram] said, LORD God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?” (Genesis 15:8) 

It was then that God proposed a blood covenant after the manner of the Chaldeans

“And He [God] said unto him, [Abram] Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 

Abram knew what to do next, since this was something he was familiar with.

“And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not.”

The blood covenant worked this way. The animals were slaughtered and cut up. The pieces were intermingled and then carefully arranged to form a kind of aisle through which the two parties to the covenant would walk together, hands joined. 

The principle of a blood covenant, and the symbolism of the animal parts was clearly understood to Abram. Whoever broke the covenant would end up like those piles of animals.

A blood covenant was, by common custom, a joining of 2 or more persons, families, clans, tribes, or nations, where the participants agree to do or refrain from doing certain acts.

What God proposed was a patriarchal covenant. The patriarchal form of covenant is a self-imposed obligation of a superior party, to the benefit of an inferior party.  Something like adoption by agreement.

In this form, the terms the parties use to refer to each other are: father and son.  And God’s proposal included not only Abram, but extended to Abram’s seed forever.  Abram’s seed, as we learn in Galatians 3:29, are the Jews and Christians that are “heirs according to the Promise.” 

What promise?  The one made by God to Abram and to his heirs and guaranteed by a Chaldean blood covenant.  

Abram waited, driving away the carrion eaters from his grisly creation, waiting for God Himself to come down, join hands with Abram and together, they would swear a blood oath. God would be the Father of Abram and his descendents, who would then be required behave as sons of the covenant.

Genesis 15:12 records that as Abram waited for God, a deep sleep fell upon him. During that deep sleep,

“it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces. In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:” (Genesis 15:17-18)

Abram didn’t join with God in passing through the aisle.  The Bible says that God took TWO forms that Abram saw as a “smoking furnace” and “a burning lamp” to symbolize that the covenant was “signed” the requisite two times – but both times by God.

By passing through the aisle alone, God signed the contract — alone — for both sides, binding Himself to keeping both parts. 

And THIS is where the Christmas story begins.  Of the covenant that God signed on behalf of Abraham, Paul explains,

“Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto.” (Galatians 3:15)

The covenant could only be confirmed when the price demanded for its violation was paid in full.

When the Law was given to Moses four centuries later, it was assumed by the Jews that to break it was to break the Abrahamic Covenant, for which the penalty was death. Remember, somebody had to die.

But God signed on behalf of Abraham, and Paul pointed out the blood penalty required of the covenant was paid in full.

“And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.”

The covenant demanded satisfactory payment for its violation and no one guilty of violating it was qualified to stand in full payment except those that signed it.  The penalty for its violation was death. 

Justice required that someone keep the provisions of the original covenant and be a true Son as it demanded.

So Abraham could not pay the penalty on behalf of his seed.   Abraham was already under penalty of death.  But somebody had to die for justice to be satisfied and the only signer was God.  

The terms of the Abrahamic covenant required God Himself to step out of eternity and into space and time where He could be subject to the death penalty justice demanded.   

Two thousand years after the first covenant, an angel announced that “unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)

Unto WHO was born a Saviour?   Unto the Jews of Israel, first. And then to the Gentiles

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew FIRST, and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16)

That is what makes it the Most Ironic Story Ever Told.  Christmas is the most Jewish of all holy days.  It is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant whereby the terms demanded were satisfied. 

But to most observant Jews, Christmas is a Christian holiday that celebrates something to do with the Christian God.  

That is the irony of the story.  It is a day that celebrates the birth of a Jew from Nazareth, born unto them in the city of David, which is Christ the Lord.  

So this Christmas, pray for the peace of Jerusalem. And pray for His Chosen People that they will receive Him as their King.  And may our God richly bless you and yours, until He comes.

Shalom.  And Merry Christmas.

Featured Commentary: Setting the Captives Free ~ Lea Sylvester

How DID ”Christ” Get Into ”Christmas” Anyway?

How DID ”Christ” Get Into ”Christmas” Anyway?
Vol: 159 Issue: 23 Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Every year at this time, the war on Christmas heats up with one side freaking out about Santa Claus violating the alleged ‘separation clause’ and the other side bearing signs saying, “Remember to keep the “Christ” in Christmas.”

Well, much as I hate being a bubble buster, let us dispose of the main issues first.

“Santa Claus” is not a religious figure.  Neither is he necessarily a Christian.  Indeed, Christians are more likely to use the nickname “Satan Claws” to refer to the jolly old elf than they are to mistake him for a religious icon.

America’s Santa Claus is really a Dutchman.  New York City was originally settled by the Dutch, who named it “New Amsterdam”.  It was originally founded as a Dutch fur trading settlement in what is now Manhattan.

In 1664, the English conquered the area and renamed it “New York” after the Duke of York and Albany.  The Dutch briefly regained it in 1673, renaming the city “New Orange”, before permanently ceding the colony of New Netherland to the English for what is now Suriname in November 1674.

Some area names are still reminiscent of the Dutch period, most notably Flushing (Dutch town of Vlissingen), Harlem (Dutch town of Haarlem) and Brooklyn (Dutch town of Breukelen).  The Dutch also brought Sinterklass, a mythical figure modeled after the Dutch patron saint of Amsterdam, St. Nicholas.

Before moving forward, let’s set the WayBack Machine to the 4th century Roman Empire, led by the Emperor Constantine, to provide some historical context and background. 

Legend says that Constantine saw a vision of a cross  in the sky on the eve of battle, together with the words, “in this sign conquer”. 

Constantine ordered his soldiers to paint crosses on their shields, and when the battle was over, Constantine’s forces held the field.  Constantine then converted to Christianity, and in 313 he issued the Edict of Milan, declaring Christianity the state religion of Rome.

The problem facing Constantine was that the Romans already had a pantheon of gods, with temples in every city in the Empire.  Constantine could not afford to put down a religious rebellion, so instead he worked out a religious compromise.

Roman coins minted for almost a decade after the Battle of Milvian Bridge still bore the images of Roman gods and goddesses.  Then Constantine began to incorporate the pagan temples and symbols and trappings into the Roman state version of  Christianity.

Gradually, these gods and goddesses were incorporated into Constantine’s new religion, reinvented as Christian ‘patron saints’. 

The statues of Babylonian gods Nimrod, Semiramus and Tammuz became statues of Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus.  Statues of Ishtar, the Babylonian goddess of love, became statues of Mary, Queen of Heaven.

The Mesopotamians, who believed in many gods, held a festival in support of their chief god, Marduk, because they believed that he battled the monsters of chaos at the beginning of each winter.

The Babylonians celebrated each new year with a 12-day festival, called Zagmuth.  It is from this festival that the 12 days of Christmas is believed to have originated.

The date of December 25th comes from Rome and was a celebration of the god, Saturn, and the rebirth of the sun god.  

The feast of Saturnalia was cause for much wild excitement and celebration. Gift giving and merriment filled the temples of ancient Rome, as sacred priests of Saturn, called dendrophori, carried wreaths of evergreen boughs in procession.

In pre-Christian Germany, the evergreen tree was used in worship and celebration of the yule god, also in observance of the resurrected sun god.

The evergreen tree was a symbol of the essence of life and was regarded as a phallic symbol in fertility worship.  During the winter in ancient Scandinavia there would be a certain amount of days where the sun would not shine. 

Upon the return of the first sunlight, the Scandinavians would hold a festival called the Yuletide. 

A Yule log would be burned in a special fire, and everyone would gather around the fire and hold a great feast.  To remind themselves that the spring and summer would surely return again, people in some areas of Scandinavia would tie apples to tree branches.

Both holly and mistletoe were hung in doorways of temples and homes to invoke powers of fertility in those who stood beneath and kissed, causing the spirits of the god and goddess to enter them.  The holly wood was used by witches to make wands.

The legend of St Nicholas, or Sinterklass, parallels the pre-Christian worship of the Germanic god, Odin.  Odin and Sinterklass shared a number of attributes, such as traveling through the air astride a mythical horse, together with a staff of mischievous elves that help Sinterklass in his annual visits.

During the Reformation, Protestants renamed the bringer of gifts from Sinterklass to the Christ Child, or Christkindl — which was corrupted into the English,  “Kris Kringle”.

In 1821, the book “A New-year’s present, to the little ones from five to twelve” was published in New York.  It contained Old Santeclaus, an anonymous poem describing an old man on a reindeer sleigh, bringing presents to children.

It was followed up by the 1823 poem, “The Night Before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore. An 1863 Harper’s Weekly reprint featured a drawing of a fat man with a long white beard by cartoonist Thomas Nast. 

Clement Clarke Moore invented the eight tiny reindeer and named them in his poem.  The ninth, Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer was invented in a 1939 booklet written by Robert May and published by Montgomery Ward. 

The story is owned by The Rudolph Company, L.P. and, despite its popularity, it is not in the public domain, but is under license owned by the company.  The song was written by May’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, and became a hit for cowboy singer Gene Autry in 1949.

Department store Santas were invented in Massachusetts in the 1890’s. 

In the 1930’s, the Coca Cola company adopted “Santa Claus” as its trademark, creating the image of the modern American Santa Claus that morons like the ACLU now claim is a “religious” figure.  

In the Left’s knee-jerk, blind hatred of all things Christian, it now insists on banning Santa Claus as a religious figure in most schools.

Not because Santa Claus is a fraud, but because in their confusion, they think that he is a Christian icon.

Assessment:

Before you get all angry at Santa Claus and start tearing down your tree, tinsel and decorations in order to return to the true meaning of Christmas, there IS no true meaning of Christmas.

As noted, Christmas has nothing to do with Christ’s birth — Jesus was most probably born in the spring or fall, based on the Bible’s identification of the shepherds tending their sheep atop a hilltop, rather than down in a valley where they would normally be during the winter.

The Bible mentions the birth of Christ because the babe in the manger would grow up to become the Savior of the world.  But it wasn’t His birth that saves us.  He was born a helpless baby, like the rest of us.

At His birth, He had not made a Name for Himself.  He had done no mighty works.  What the Bible celebrates at His birth is what He would accomplish with His death.

“A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth.” (Ecclesiastes 7:1)

If there is a true meaning of Christmas, it is that it began the process that would culminate thirty-three years later with His death and Resurrection. 

In the most literal sense, the true meaning of Christmas is that it is the beginning of Easter.

Historically speaking, Jesus wasn’t the reason for the season. The reason for the season was Roman politics.  So, what do we do about Christmas? 

Should Christians celebrate it?  I can find no reason why they shouldn’t. 

Even though Christmas is a Roman invention and Santa is a Dutchman reinvented as a pitchman for Coke, the world sees them both as representatives of Christianity.

They aren’t representative of Christianity at all, but the enemy (and his idiot minions) think that they are.  And anything that bothers the enemy is ok by me.

In recent years, there has erupted a war on Christmas. Why it that?  Because while Jesus was never the reason for the season historically, for Christians, He is the reason for the season now

So at Christmas, everybody hears about Jesus in some form or another, thanks to the war on Christmas, and Satan hates that.  

His invention of Santa Claus backfired — Santa was supposed to become the reason for the season, crowding Jesus out of the picture, but instead, even his own minions equate Santa Claus with Jesus Christ.

Instead of kids forgetting all about Jesus and focusing on Santa and Rudolf and presents Christmas trees and all the trappings, every year at about this time, a war erupts over Christmas and Santa Claus and Rudolf. 

Once again, Satan’s reach has exceeded his grasp.  Instead of it being exclusively dedicated to greed and selfishness and capitalism, every year a battle erupts over the “reason for the season” — which always takes the focus off of Satan Claws and his minions and puts it back on Jesus.

The harder Satan tries to remove Jesus from the picture, the more central He becomes, which is not only as it should be, but also very instructive.  Satan made the same mistake two thousand years ago.

“Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (1 Corinthians 2:8)

So in essence, the war on Christmas is a war between Satan and his minions, not a war between the forces of secularism and the forces of Christ. 

So should Christians celebrate Christmas?  What does the Bible say?

“He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.” (Romans 14:6)

The war on Christmas is intended to side-track Christians but instead, it just keeps rolling back over on the secularists.  The more that the ACLU tries to turn Santa Claus into a religious icon, the more ridiculous and desperate the enemy appears to be.

“For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence. It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.” (Romas 14:20)

There is no sin in celebrating Christmas as the Lord’s birthday.  If one is regarding it to the Lord, then one is honoring the Lord and there is no sin in that. 

Christians celebrating Christmas makes the enemy very angry, or he would not be fighting against it so hard.  So this year, I’m going to celebrate it as hard as I can. 

Thank You, Jesus, for stepping out of eternity and into space and time to take on the form of a mortal man.  This Christmas, I will reflect on the kind of love that took, knowing that He knew what awaited Him at the end, before it ever began.

And, knowing how mad it makes the enemy, I’m going to enjoy it even more than usual.

Don’t let the enemy steal the liberty procured for you at the Cross.  Be happy before God this Christmas, knowing that He wants you to be.

“Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. “(Romans 14:22)

And may God bless us, every one!

Originally Published: December 21, 2011

Featured Commentary: Born of the Virgin Mary? ~ Wendy Wippel

The Greatest Mystery: Unlocked

The Greatest Mystery: Unlocked
Vol: 159 Issue: 22 Monday, December 22, 2014

During His First Advent, the Lord Jesus unlocked many mysteries for the Church, not the least of which is what happens when we die.  The Old Testament doesn’t provide a lot in terms of specifics, since OT believers operated under the terms of a different Dispensation.

During the Dispensation of the Law, believers were not immediately whisked into the presence of the Lord at the moment of death.   The blood of bullocks and lambs was insufficient to cover their sin. 

Old Testament believers expected to stand in the Resurrection at the Last Day, but had no expectation of eternal life in the sense that the Church understands it.

“As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away: so he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more.” (Job 7:9)

“For in death there is no remembrance of Thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?” (Psalms 6:5)

“For the grave cannot praise Thee, death can not celebrate Thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for Thy truth.” (Isaiah 38:18)

Until Jesus defeated death at His resurrection, death was still pretty much a mystery. The general understanding was that first a man dies, and then he awaits the resurrection of the dead at the last day.

The Book of Job, chronologically the oldest book in the Bible, spoke of the resurrection of the dead even before the time of Abraham, confidently saying;

“. . . all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. . . ” Job awaited the call of the trumpet at the Rapture, thousands of years before it was generally known as doctrine. “Thou shalt call . . .” (Job 14:14-15)

“For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.” (Job 19:25-27)

The Lord Jesus filled in the missing details about death and the grave under the Dispensation of the Law when He told the story of the rich man and Lazarus.    I want you to note that Jesus did NOT say, “learn the parable of the rich man.”   He began with a definite statement of fact: “There was a certain rich man. . . ”

And Jesus says that there was a “certain” beggar named Lazarus.  The rich man and Lazarus were real people; this is not a parable or Jesus would have identified it as such.   

“And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried.  And in hell, he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.”

 Let’s stop there for a second and examine this newly-revealed truth.   Until now, OT believers thought that when they died, they stayed in the grave until the Resurrection.   They had no expectation of continued consciousness – until Jesus revealed the truth to His Disciples.

Jesus told them that the rich man went immediately to hell.  Lazarus was immediately carried by the angels into a place called “Abraham’s bosom.”

 This was a totally new revelation.   The Lord revealed that hell was divided – there was a place of comfort for the righteous dead with Abraham on one side. 

In the middle was a great gulf or chasm, and on the other side was hell, a place of flames and torment and loneliness.  Moreover, the Lord reveals that those in hell could see across to Paradise. 

There are several other things we learn from Jesus about hell, and about those who are condemned to it. First, the rich man has no name, whereas Lazarus is addressed by name throughout the passage. The rich man needs no name. Nobody will ever call it again.

He is eternally separated from God; to all intents and purposes, he is ‘dead’ to God, and to everyone who ever knew him. He is only alive to himself. But the rich man is cognizant of his life, how he ended up in hell, and those he left behind. His memories of his earthly life are intact:

“Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” (Luke 16:22-28)

Jesus teaches us that those condemned to hell are; a) in fiery torment, b) are self-aware, c) are nameless and without hope of reprieve, d) are conscious of their situation, and, e) their memories of their earthly lives are intact.

The Book of the Revelation teaches that what we call ‘hell’ is more analogous to a county jail, where prisoners are held pending trial and conviction. Once a county jail inmate is convicted, he is transferred to a state penitentiary to serve out his sentence.

“And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” (Revelation 20:13-14)

When John describes the judgment against the devil, he writes: “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”

Note two things. First, the beast and false prophet ‘are’ – present tense — in the lake of fire. They were not consumed. Secondly, it is a ‘lake of fire and brimstone’ and its inhabitants ‘shall be tormented day and night forever and ever’.

Thus is the fate of those we fail to reach in our effort to discharge our Great Commission.  It’s a sobering thought.

Jesus taught specifically and incontrovertibly that, when the moment of death comes, our conscious spirit lives on, AWAITING the resurrection of the dead, which is when our spirit is united with our new and improved physical bodies.

At the Cross, Jesus told the repentant thief, “Verily I say unto thee, TODAY shalt thou be with Me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

When Jesus descended into hell after His Crucifixion, He went to Paradise to “lead captivity captive”, the Scriptures say.   He went to Paradise to preach the Gospel and to present Himself as Savior and bring them from Paradise to Heaven.

Our spirits exist and have substance, and they are not only conscious after death, they are completely self-aware.  Death is not the end of our existence. 

Death does not, evidently, even impair our consciousness. 

Assessment:

During the Dispensation of the Church, the Apostle Paul noted that for believers to be ‘absent from the body’ meant to be ‘present with the Lord.

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” (2nd Corinthians 5:10)

The Apostle Paul wrote of physical death as it pertains to believers, saying; “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.” (1st Thessalonians 4:13)

But yet we do sorrow when a loved one dies. Even when we know that our loved one is now safely resting in the arms of Jesus.  We know that our loved one’s race is run and their burdens have been lifted. 

They are now where we all wish to be – but that does little to dry our tears. It is one of the conundrums of Christianity – everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.

Why do we sorrow when we know the truth?  Would we be sad if our loved one had won the lottery?  Of course not.  But Heaven is the ultimate winning ticket.   When your number comes up, you win. 

And all your family and friends cry. 

Why is that?  Does that mean that their faith is weak?   Are they really secret doubters?   Paul intended to offer words of comfort  — indeed, the chapter closes; “Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”

Paul offers words of comfort because of the sorrow that comes with losing a loved one.  Being sorrowful at the loss of the loved one is not evidence of a lack of faith.   If you think about it, your sorrow isn’t because you have any doubt that your loved one is safe in the arms of Jesus.

You haven’t betrayed the faith.  You sorrow because they aren’t here.  Our loved ones are a gift from God given to us to make our sojourn on the Big Blue Marble bearable.   The gift is deliberately temporary, which is what gives it its value. 

When a loved one dies, we lose the gift of their companionship.  Even though we know loss is also temporary, which mitigates the tragedy – it does little to ease the pain of loss in this life. 

Our sorrow is not for our loved one – it is for ourselves. Their gain is our loss.  It’s just that simple.  

There’s nothing selfish in that – if one of my children got a fabulous job on the other side of the world I would be very happy for him – but personally devastated by the loss of his companionship. 

The fact that I know I would see him again would mitigate the sense of loss. But it wouldn’t keep me from missing him while he was gone.  Or wishing he was still here.  (Or make me feel guilty because I did.)

Death comes to us all – we know that.  But death doesn’t come to us once.  It comes to us all the time – death is the one certain part of this existence.   Our own death is simply the last one we have to endure. 

At the Rapture, some believers will not yet have experienced death. They will be instantly changed into their incorruptible bodies. Those who have experienced physical death will be reunited with their bodies, which will be raised and changed.

But their spirits and consciousness are already awake and alive and in the presence of the Lord. Those who are ‘asleep’ in Christ are those who have experienced PHYSICAL, but not conscious death.

At the Rapture, the “Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise (physically incorruptible) first: Then we which are (physically) alive and remain (in our natural bodies) shall be caught up together with them (changed and incorruptible) in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” (1st Thessalonians 4:16-17)

Our loved ones who have gone home to the Lord are ALREADY in His Presence, enjoying Heaven and its unimaginable joy and riches. They are NOT mouldering the grave, unconsciously awaiting the call of the Trumpet.

They are alive and aware and eagerly anticipating the opportunity to meet with us in the air and embrace us once more.   We will see them again.   We will recognize them and they will recognize us.

“. . .  and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore, comfort one another with these words.” (1st Thessalonians 4:18)

Originally Published: July 31, 2010

Featured Commentary: Things to Come ~ Pete Garcia