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Archive for November, 2009

The Manhattan Declaration

Al Mohler discusses why he signed the Manhattan Declaration on his blog. The Pyromaniancs ask questions of those who signed it on theirs. Please read both with an open mind and ear.

Thoughts?

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Christmas Questions

The following are a few Christmas questions (and my answers) I have received over the years. Just a little something to get the season started.

Question #1—Since Christ was not born on December 25 (Scripture says shepherds were in the fields watching over their flocks, which would be highly unlikely in December), is it wrong for Christians to celebrate His birth on this special day?

Answer #1—Since the first century church celebrated the resurrection of Christ, but not His birth (it wasn’t until 336 that Emperor Constantine declared Christ’s day of birth an official Roman holiday and the church didn’t observe December 25 as the date for celebrating His birth until the mid-fifth century as a way of countering the pagan celebration of the winter solstice) and due to a variety of pagan practices being mingled with Christmas customs (i.e. the Christmas tree, the Yule Log, etc.), many Puritans and other Christians through the centuries have deliberately worked on December 25 to show their disdain for the Christmas holiday. However, celebrating the birth of Christ on a specific day is not a question of right or wrong (Romans 14:5-6). The central issue is whether we observe it in a way that honors the Lord or whether we seek to fulfill our own self-gratification. Christmas is an excellent opportunity for exalting Christ provided we don’t get too caught up in the world’s commercialization of the holiday.

Question #2—How did the idea for Christmas trees originate?

Answer #2—The Roman practice of decorating temples with greenery and candles during the celebration of Saturnalia ( a week of revelry when they observed the birthday of the sun, which began on the winter solstice, December 19, when the days in the northern hemisphere start getting longer), the Druids worship of mistletoe and the Saxons use of holly and ivy in religious ceremonies were all practices that eventually worked their way into the observance of Christmas after Christianity spread through the Roman Empire. However, legend has it that in the 7th century a monk from Crediton, Devonshire, went to Germany to teach as a missionary and used the triangular shape of the Fir Tree to describe the Holy Trinity of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The converted people began to revere the Fir tree as God’s Tree, as they had previously revered the oak. By the 12th century it was being hung, upside-down, from ceilings at Christmastime in Central Europe, as a symbol of Christianity. The first decorated tree was at Riga in Latvia, in 1510. In the early 16th century, Martin Luther is said to have decorated a small Christmas Tree with candles, to show his children how the stars twinkled through the dark night. He is said to have used Isaiah 60:13 as biblical authority for doing so.

Question #3—What about Yule Log celebrations?

Answer #3— Yuletide is a pagan festival of fire. The earliest known burning of a Yule-style log was in ancient Egypt in about 5000 B.C. to honor Horus, their sun god. The original Yule Log Ceremony was a festival celebrating the sun during the winter solstice, which occurs close to the time we celebrate Christmas today. Originally, the Yule Log was burned in honor of the gods and to bring good luck in the coming year. Modern Druids, pagans and Wiccans still adhere to this mid-winter celebration. In about the 4th century AD, the early Christians who celebrated Christmas began burning a log to symbolize the end of the world’s darkness and the birth of Christ as the light of the world. In 1340 AD, after its foundation, Queens College, Oxford added songs and literary readings to a festival began in Norman, England where the burning of the log came to symbolize the Christian vision of good versus evil and Christ’s triumph over sin. As a result, the Yule Log became a traditional part of Christmas celebrations in English manor houses. In 1888 AD, Dr. Tibbits, an Episcopal rector, established the festival in colonial New York. Then, in 1940, Christ Church, in Cincinnati, Ohio adopted the festival for the church praising of Christ. Carols were sung as the log was brought into the church and a prayer of blessing was offered. A good question to ask is, “Which tradition are we celebrating or symbolizing with our Yule Log Celebration?”

Question #4—How did Santa Claus originate?

Answer #4— Nicholas was a bishop in Lycia in the fourth century. During the Middle Ages when it became popular to verate saints, legends about him giving bags of gold to the daughters of a poor man so they would not have to earn their dowries through prostitution began to flourish, making him a giver of generous gifts and the patron saint of children. In Holland, children would place their wooden shoes by the fireplace to be filled by Nicholas the Sinterklaas (or Santa Claus). Clement Moore, an American poet, wrote “A Visit from St. Nicholas” in 1822, which begins, “Twas the night before Christmas.” When it was published in the New York Sentinel, it was immediately popular. Later, a political cartoonist, Thomas Nast, who created the G.O.P. Elephant and popularized the Democratic Donkey, was the first to portray Santa Claus as the jolly, rotund, red-nosed character familiar to us today.

Question #5—Where did the term Xmas originate?

Answer #5—The familiar abbreviation for Christmas originated with the Greeks. X is the first letter of the Greek word for Christ, Xristos. By the sixteenth century, “Xmas” was popular throughout Europe. Early Christians understood that the term merely was Greek for “Christ’s mass,” but later Christians, unfamiliar with the Greek reference, mistook the X as a sign of disrespect and an attempt by non-Christians to rid Christmas of its central meaning. For several hundred years, Christians disapproved of the use of the term. Some still do.

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New Music for Sunday

“There is Life” (Listen here)

There is life for a look at the crucified One;
There is life at this moment for thee;
So look weary sinner, unto Him and be saved–
Unto Him who was nailed to the tree.
It is not by thy tears of repentance or prayers
But His blood that atones for the soul
On Him, then, who shed it, believing at once
Thy weight of iniquities roll.

(Chorus)
There is life in Jesus–
Life for all who thirst.
There is life in His precious blood
So in Jesus alone place your trust.

Have you seen all His anguish of soul on the cross?
And His cry of distress have you heard?
Then why, if the terrors of wrath He endured
Should pardon to thee be deferred?)
We are healed by His stripes– would you add to the Word?
And in Christ is our righteousness made
The best robe of heaven He bids thee put on
Oh! couldst thou be better arrayed?

Sinner, doubt not thy welcome, since God has declared,
There remains no more work to be done.
He has promised to come at the end of the age
And to finish redemption begun.
So receive with rejoicing, from Jesus at once
Of the life everlasting He gives
And know with assurance at judgment you’ll stand
For the Savior, your righteousness lives.

Songwriter David L. Ward /Original Author Amelia Matilda Hull
Copyright © 2009 ReformedPraise.org
Found in Hymnal
Our Own Hymn-Book (#538)

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The following, and much more, was found here.

The celebration we now popularly regard as the “First Thanksgiving” was the Pilgrims’ three-day feast celebrated in early November of 1621 (although a day of thanks in America was observed in Virginia at Cape Henry in 1607). The first Thanksgiving to God in the Calvinist tradition in Plymouth Colony was actually celebrated during the summer of 1623, when the colonists declared a Thanksgiving holiday after their crops were saved by much-needed rainfall.

The Pilgrims left Plymouth, England, on September 6, 1620, sailing for a new world that offered the promise of both civil and religious liberty. The Pilgrims had earlier left England in 1608, as the Church of England had curtailed their freedom to worship according to their individual consciences.

The Pilgrims had settled in Holland for twelve years, where they found spiritual liberty in the midst of a disjointed economy (which failed to provide adequate compensation for their labors) and a dissolute, degraded, corrupt culture (which tempted their children to stray from faith). For almost three months, 102 seafarers braved harsh elements to arrive off the coast of what is now Massachusetts, in late November of 1620. On December 11, prior to disembarking at Plymouth Rock, they signed the “Mayflower Compact,” America’s original document of civil government and the first to introduce self-government. While still anchored at Provincetown harbor, their Pastor John Robinson counseled, “You are become a body politic … and are to have only them for your… governors which yourselves shall make choice of.”

The Pilgrims were Separatists, America’s Calvinist Protestants, who rejected the institutional Church of England. They believed that the worship of God must originate in the inner man, and that corporate forms of worship prescribed by man interfered with the establishment of a true relationship with God. The Separatists used the term “church” to refer to the people, the Body of Christ, not to a building or institution. As their Pastor John Robinson said, “[When two or three are] gathered in the name of Christ by a covenant made to walk in all the way of God known unto them as a church .”

Upon landing in America, the Pilgrims conducted a prayer service, then quickly turned to building shelters. Starvation and sickness during the ensuing New England winter killed almost half their population, but through prayer and hard work, with the assistance of their Indian friends, the Pilgrims reaped a rich harvest in the summer of 1621. Most of what we know about the Pilgrim Thanksgiving of 1621 comes from original accounts of the young colony’s leaders, Governor William Bradford and Master Edward Winslow, in their own hand. “They begane now to gather in ye small harvest they had, and to fitte up their houses and dwellings against winter, being well recovered in health & strenght, and had all things in good plenty; for some were thus imployed in affairs abroad, others were excersised in fishing, aboute codd, & bass, & other fish, of which yey tooke good store, of which every family had their portion. All ye somer ther was no wante. And now begane to come in store of foule, as winter aproached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degree). And besids water foule, ther was great store of wild Turkies, of which they took many, besids venison, &c. Besids they had aboute a peck a meale a weeke to a person, or now since harvest, Indean corne to yt proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largly of their plenty hear to their freinds in England, which were not fained, but true reports.” W.B. (William Bradford)

“Our Corne did proue well, & God be praysed, we had a good increase of Indian Corne, and our Barly indifferent good, but our Pease not worth the gathering, for we feared they were too late sowne, they came vp very well, and blossomed, but the Sunne parched them in the blossome; our harvest being gotten in, our Governour sent foure men on fowling, that so we might after a more speciall manner reioyce together, after we had gathered the fruit of our labors; they foure in one day killed as much fowle, as with a little helpe beside, served the Company almost a weeke, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Armes, many of the Indians coming amongst vs, and among the rest their greatest King Massasoyt, with some nintie men, whom for three dayes we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed fiue Deere, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed upon our Governour, and upon the Captaine, and others. And although it be not alwayes so plentifull, as it was at this time with vs, yet by the goodneses of God, we are so farre from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.” E.W. (Edward Winslow) Plymouth, in New England, this 11th of December, 1621.

The feast included foods suitable for a head table of honored guests, such as the chief men of the colony and Native leaders Massasoit (“Great Leader” also known as Ousamequin “Yellow Feather”), the sachem (chief) of Pokanoket (Pokanoket is the area at the head of Narragansett Bay). Venison, wild fowl, turkeys and Indian corn were the staples of the meal, which likely also included other food items known to have been aboard the Mayflower or available in Plymouth, such as spices, Dutch cheese, wild grapes, lobster, cod, native melons, pumpkin (pompion) and rabbit.

By the mid-17th century, the custom of autumnal Thanksgivings was established throughout New England. Observance of Thanksgiving Festivals began to spread southward during the American Revolution, as the newly established Congress officially recognized the need to celebrate this holy day.

The first Thanksgiving Proclamation was issued by the revolutionary Continental Congress on November 1, 1777. Authored by Samuel Adams, it was one sentence of 360 words, which read in part: “Forasmuch as it is the indispensable duty of all men to adore the superintending providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with gratitude their obligation to him for benefits received…together with penitent confession of their sins, whereby they had forfeited every favor; and their humble and earnest supplications that it may please God through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of remembrance…it is therefore recommended…to set apart Thursday the eighteenth day of December next, for solemn thanksgiving and praise, that with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feeling of their hearts and consecrate themselves to the service of their Divine Benefactor…acknowledging with gratitude their obligations to Him for benefits received….To prosper the means of religion, for the promotion and enlargement of that kingdom which consisteth ‘in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost’.”

It was one-hundred and eighty years after the first day of thanksgiving in America, that our Founding Fathers officially recognized the day by proclamation of the Constitutional government. Soon after adopting the Bill of Rights, a motion in Congress to initiate the proclamation of a national day of thanksgiving was approved.

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“O God the Rock of Ages” (Listen here)

O God, the Rock of Ages who evermore has been;
What time the tempest rages, our dwelling place serene.
Before Thy first creations O Lord the same as now;
To endless generations, the everlasting Thou,
the everlasting Thou.

Our years are like the shadows on sunny hills that lie,
or grasses in the meadow that blossom but to die.
A sleep, a dream, a story by strangers quickly told;
an unremaining glory of things that soon are old,
of things that soon are old.

O Thou who canst not slumber whose light grows never pale,
teach us aright to number our years before they fail;
On us Thy mercy lighten, on us Thy goodness rest,
and let Thy Spirit brighten the hearts thyself has blessed,
the hearts thyself has blessed.

Lord, crown our faith’s endeavor with beauty and with grace,
Till clothed in light forever we see Thee face to face.
A joy no language measures, a fountain brimming o’er
an endless flow of pleasures, an ocean without shore,
an ocean without shore.

(c) 2007 Ryan Dean Music
http://www.ryandeanmusic.com

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New Song to Learn

FAITH IS THE BRIGHTEST EVIDENCE

Faith is the brightest evidence
Of things beyond our sight
It pierces through the veil of sense
And dwells in heav’nly light.

It sets time past in present view
Brings distant prospects home
Of things a thousand years ago
Or thousand years to come

By faith we know the world was made
By God’s almighty word
We know the heav’ns and earth shall fade
And be again restored

Abrah’m obeyed the Lord’s command
From his own country driven
By faith he sought a promised land
But found his rest in heav’n

Thus through life’s pilgrimage we stray
The promise in our eye
By faith we walk the narrow way
That leads to joy on high.

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