Monday, December 7, 2015

How Chanukah Made the World Safe for Christmas

After Alexander the Great died, his kingdom was divided between four dynasties, one eventually leading to Antiochus IV. Wanting to continue Alexander’s dream of one-world culture, and feeling particularly cranky because he had been ordered by Rome to stop fighting Egypt, Antiochus decided to wipe out Judaism.

Antiochus enforced these laws in Israel:
·            Don’t circumcise your sons.
·            Don’t celebrate Sabbath and other Jewish holy days.
·            Don’t read or even own a Torah scroll.
·            Build altars to Zeus and sacrifice pigs.
·            Worship other Greek gods.

On the 25th day of the Hebrew month Kislev, 168 B.C., Antiochus IV invaded the Temple in Jerusalem, set up an image of Zeus on the bronze altar, and sacrificed a pig to Zeus.

How did the Jews react?

Some caved. They obeyed the new laws and embraced Greek culture. They took Greek names, studied Greek literature and philosophy, and participated in nude sporting events at the new Greek gymnasium in Jerusalem. Some Jewish athletes even had surgeries to hide their circumcisions.

Other Jews resisted and were tortured and murdered. Thousands died.

Mattathias, a resister, and his five sons escaped to the hills around Modin, a village northwest of Jerusalem. He gathered other rebels and for a year they attacked Syrian outposts, and destroyed pagan altars and idols.

Before his death a year later, Mattathias put his son, Judah Maccabeus, in charge of the rebel army. By the end of two more years, the Maccabees had defeated the immensely larger Syrian army and occupied Jerusalem.

The rebel soldiers cleaned up the desecrated Temple and built new furnishings:  the lampstand, showbread table, and incense altar. They also built new doors and replaced the altar of burnt offering.

Exactly three years after Antiochus IV’s desecration, the Temple was re-dedicated to the God who had promised Abraham, "...all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."  (Genesis 12:3) Thanks to the Maccabees, the practice of Judaism and worship of the one true God were restored in Israel.

So a young carpenter, Joseph, could be described as “faithful to the Law.” (Matthew 1:18)

So his betrothed, Mary, could say to an angel, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:38) 

So the promised Messiah could be born. “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Luke 1:21)

Thanks, Maccabees!

Some information was adapted from Hanukkah, The Festival of Lights, written by Bruce Scott and published by the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

U is for the Uther Woman

     Yes, I know “uther” should be spelled “other.” Sometimes I choose to spell things incorrectly like the rest of my fellow Americans.

This is not my telephone.
     Rachel* started calling my home over a month ago. “Is Gene there?” She sounded young.

     “No. Can I take a message?”

     “Tell him I need to see him.” She gave me a number. I didn’t write it down. 

     After that, she called frequently. My sons talked to her. I don’t think they wrote down her number, either. I know they never gave it to their dad.

     Rachel left numerous messages on our answering machine. She left her number. No problem there. My husband rarely listens to the machine. 

This is not Rachel's letter.
     She sent my husband a letter. He muttered about it and mentioned he needed to meet with her so she’d leave him alone.

     I slept in this morning and finally wandered downstairs around 8:30, wrapped in my fuzzy fuchsia bathrobe, to find a strange woman standing alone at the kitchen island. 


     Her long, silky dark hair cascaded over the back of her white lab coat, and a stethoscope graced her slender neck. Startled, I stared speechlessly at her for several seconds.
This is not Rachel. This is a model pretending to be a nurse. Rachel is a real nurse.

     She answered my unasked question, “He’s in the bathroom getting me a urine specimen. I’m Rachel from the insurance company. I’ve already taken his blood.” She held up a test tube.

     My husband entered the room carrying a little cup. He handed it to Rachel and she placed it on my kitchen island. Eww. She carefully poured the contents into a test tube which she held over my kitchen island. Eww.

     “Do you want me to take your blood pressure while I’m here?” 

I certainly hope so.
     While Rachel positioned the cuff around Gene's arm, I remembered why I’d come downstairs and turned on the Keurig. Then I handed my husband a container of disinfectant wipes, thinking of the Clorox commercial, “Of all the things that happen on your kitchen counters…”

     I took my coffee upstairs, fairly certain I’d seen the last of Rachel.

     *Rachel is her real name. She has nothing to hide.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

T is for Too Much Stuff

My young friend Tori commented on two scripture verses about stuff. As soon as I saw her Facebook post, I knew T would stand for Too Much Stuff. Because I have Too Much Stuff. She has given permission to use her words.

Tori wrote:

This verse reminds me of a friend of mine doing an estate sale of her parents’ property. The family was completely crushed under the weight, not only of the grief, but of needing to rid themselves of so many material things. Selling them for almost nothing just to get rid of all of the things her mom had accumulated during a lifetime. 

These are the kinds of things that we labor for, we press forward in working and earning money for items that will be thrown out or sold for pennies when we die. Put your energy into things that have eternal value. Put your energy into loving people, in changing lives. It's the only thing that will still be valued when we come to the end of our time in this life. The way we spent our time, the way we spent our love, and the times we spent our money on others in an act of love.

     Here are the verses that prompted Tori’s insights. I’ve chosen to use the New Living Translation.

We are merely moving shadows, and all our busy rushing ends in nothing. We heap up wealth, not knowing who will spend it. And so, Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in you. Psalm 39:6 – 7, NLT

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. Matthew 6:19 – 21, NLT

I made this meme a few months ago with PicMonkey.
Then last week, a friend spoke of the challenge of moving from a big farmhouse into her compact new home. She said she had to face her own materialism. It was a reminder to me that I intended to write about Too Much Stuff.

I’m not a hoarder. (I think.) But I do have a hard time parting with items that have emotional significance for me. Even if I’m never going to use them again. Or have never used them at all. 

I have some useless wedding gifts that I have never used in forty years and will probably not use in the next forty. (Hence the logical designation “useless.”) I don’t even know who gave them to me. Like this set of four glass plates with four glass cups that sit in indentations on the plates. They’re textured, shiny, and iridescent. (Wow, I spelled that right on the first try!) They’re very pretty. But they’re too dainty and the cups don’t hold enough liquid to even start a caffeine buzz. Do you want them? If you’re willing to pay for shipping, I’ll send them to you. If you’re the person who gave them to me, I apologize for never using them. I’m a terrible human being. You don’t have to pay shipping.
I did not take this picture, but these are the exact same plates!

Part of my problem is that when I have gotten rid of things, I’ve regretted it. I had boxes of all the letters and cards my mother ever sent me while I was away at college, then later while I was far away in a foreign nation called Texas, and later still while I was  away in a closer foreign nation called Pennsylvania. I decided to pare down the collection and I probably threw out more letters and cards than I saved. Then my mom up and died of ovarian cancer and I really wish I still had those letters. 

Not all of the Too Much Stuff is mine. Much of the Too Much Stuff belongs to my husband. Too many theology books and Bible commentaries. Too many horns. Too many neckties. Too many belts. Too many shirts. Too many pairs of shoes, but Gubin’s in Northumberland was going out of business, and what dapper man is going to resist buying leather dress shoes for $5 a pair? I have to share a closet with this man.

Most of our Too Much Stuff has very little financial value. I buy my clothes on sale or at thrift stores. I’m sure my wardrobe will be donated back to the thrift stores when my time ends.

I can never have too many Christmas bears.
I realize I have written Too Many Words about Too Much Stuff, and I haven’t solved my problem. In fact, I’ve made things worse. Since I started writing this post—a week ago—I have acquired more stuff. Friday night I bought a print book, something I usually don't do since I have my Kindle. And just a few minutes ago, I returned from a peaceful walk in the October sunshine, but since I resist walking without a destination, I ended up at the Salvation Army. And there I found two bears who wanted to come home and celebrate Christmas at my house with all of the other bears who hibernate in plastic tubs all year.

Tell you what:  When I die—not to be morbid, but death is in my future—put my favorite bear in my coffin. (You know which one I mean, the one I call Lucky because he stays in bed all day.) Bring all the other bears to the church, and after the memorial service, everyone adopt a bear. 

Give it away. Or keep it if you’re a hoarder. Which I’m not. (I think.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

“S” is for Song

Yesterday was rough, even for a Monday. Rotten days result from problems, people, or my perception of problems and people. 

I realize what I consider a bad day would be a dream-come-true for someone else. I experienced my bad day as an employed person in a climate controlled workplace with free coffee. A purple PT Cruiser that I don’t have to share with anyone else transported me to different locations on my bad day. My closet is overstuffed with stylish clothing I can wear while I’m in turmoil. (Yes, you’re supposed to laugh if you’ve seen my wardrobe.)

Legal, non-prescription drugs
Having said all that, yesterday was rough, even for a Monday. I would have cried, had I had the energy to do so. When I got home, I prayed and read my Bible and the study book I’m using. I asked my praying friends to pray for me. Later on, I texted a request for chocolate to my son who was shopping at the Lycoming Mall. He brought three bars of Gertrude Hawk home, and I self-medicated with the peanut butter filled dark chocolate before falling asleep watching Castle.

As I left for work this morning, I wondered if a miserable Monday would birth a terrible Tuesday. I often listen to Fox & Friends on Sirius XM as I drive to school; it makes up for having to turn off my TV and get dressed in the morning. But today I figured I probably needed some encouragement from Christian radio, hoping they wouldn’t discuss the Appalachian Trail for ten minutes. 

Thanks, guys!
And that is why “S” is for song, though it took a long time for me to get here. I heard two songs during my commute which were exactly what I needed to hear. Being of declining memory, I can only write about one of them. I believe it was performed by Finding Favour (who must be British since they don’t know how to spell favor). The other one had a lot of “w” words in it; sorry, that’s all I got.

A few weeks ago, a college and FB friend shared an article by a worship leader explaining why he no longer cares for contemporary Christian music. One of his criticisms was the endless repetition of lyrics in the songs. I immediately thought of Psalm 136, where the phrase “his love endures forever” appears sixteen times. Written about 3000 years ago, it's not exactly contemporary…

“Cast My Cares” almost reaches biblical proportions by repeating “I will cast my cares on you” fifteen times. I needed to hear every one of them. I needed to sing along to affirm my faith and respond to the apostle’s words, “Cast all your care upon Him, because He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7 

The feared terrible Tuesday never materialized. I thank God, his Word, my praying friends, my son, Gertrude Hawk, WGRC, Finding Favour, and St. Peter. I suspect I’ll have other bad days, and when I do, I hope to remember God cares for me in the midst of the muddle.
A tasty alternative to CVS