People in many countries observe various customs on Valentine’s Day, February 14, although, in a few areas, it’s celebrated in July. Valentine’s Day is not an official holiday in any country, but it is certainly a cultural holiday.
Saint Valentine’s Day originated as a Christian observance in honor of a saint (or saints) named Valentinus in the third century. It may have been an effort of early Christians to purify a pagan Roman holiday called Lupercalia, which celebrated fertility and occurred around February 14.
In the fourteenth century, Valentine’s Day came to be associated with romantic love. Today it has become highly commercialized due to merchants taking advantage of the giving of gifts to loved ones. Many legends about this day have come down concerning its origin and reason and, many countries have their own customs on Valentine’s Day. One thing is sure—we need more love in the world. I am not talking about romantic love, but the kind of love that is meant by the ancient Greek word “agape.” The Apostle Paul used that Greek word in his letter to the church in Corinth in the first century. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). Whether on Valentines’s Day or any other day, we can never get too much of that kind of love.
All of us have known or read about people we can take as role models. For some, it’s a fictional superhero, and for others, it is a historical figure like Abraham Lincoln or Madam Curie. Christians tend to hold up biblical characters like Moses or Esther or Peter or Mary, the mother of Jesus. Holding on to any of those is a ticket to discouragement. That’s because most of us don’t have the tools or opportunity to be an Abraham, Paul, or Peter. However, in the New Testament, we can find biblical role models for us ordinary people to emulate. Here are some examples:
MARY MAGDALENE. This woman had been cured of her disease by Jesus (Luke 8:2), and her association with Christ completely changed her life. Luke 8:1-3 tells us that she and several other women handled the logistics of Christ and the disciples. They funded the group as they traveled, spreading the message. We can enable the spread of the message of Christ through our giving and logistical support.
BARNABAS. We meet Barnabas in Acts 4:36-37, where he sells some property to help needy people. In Acts 9:27, it is Barnabas who brings Paul to the congregation in Jerusalem. Barnabas had to convince the church that Paul had been converted, and they should not be afraid of him. Barnabas was a helper to Paul in his missionary journeys (Acts 11-15). We can be encouragers and help support missionary efforts.
ANDREW. Peter’s brother Andrew brought Peter to Christ (John 1:41-42). When some Greeks sought to see Jesus, it was Andrew who brought them to Him (John 12:20-22). Andrew brought the boy with five barley loaves and two fish to Christ so that He could feed the five thousand. We can bring people to Christ by sharing what He has done for us.
Most of us cannot preach, teach, or be the mother of the Savior. But all of us can do what these “behind the scenes” biblical role models did. We can introduce others to Christ, and we can fund mission works. We can do what Jesus described in Matthew 25:34-40:
“I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink. I was a wandering stranger, and you took me in. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.”
Paul wrote in Galatians 6:10, “As much as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” This is real Christianity, it is something we can all do, and we have biblical role models to follow.
One of the interesting things going on in the world today is how we use our money. The sale of a T. rex fossil is one example. The skeleton of a massive dinosaur can bring huge profits to the owner. Recently a 13-foot tall Tyrannosaurus rex fossil known as “Stan” was sold at Christie’s Auction House for $32,000,000. Most of us would wonder why anyone would spend that kind of money on a fossil? Sarah Rose Sharp gave a possible answer in Hyperallergic.com:
“And honestly, can we find a more contemporary symbol than a tyrant king who stomps on all other living things with no regard for propriety, before witnessing the extinction of his species based on natural science beyond his control?”
Daily we see reports of leaders in politics, media, and technology raking in vast amounts of money no matter who gets hurt in the process.Jesus dealt with this mindset in His day. The parable Jesus told in Luke 12:16-21 is a picture of what is happening today. We should heed His follow-up teaching in verses 22-34. The words of Jesus in Matthew 6:19-21 tell us what we should hold as important. Luke 18:10-14 demonstrates the attitude we should have.
The sale of a dinosaur fossil for massive amounts of money is just one more illustration of how we use our money and where we place our priorities.
Typically we review books that deal with apologetics. However, sometimes a book comes to our attention that we believe meets a need even though it does not primarily involve evidence for God and the Bible. We want to share one such book with you here— So You Have Cancer: Now What? By Glen Goree.
I have read many books on cancer and books that deal with grieving when you lose a loved one to cancer. This book was written by a man who has terminal cancer of the liver and a short time to live. I did a lectureship with a congregation in Texas many years ago, where Glenn was the preacher for ten years. He has also been a missionary in Africa and has had a long career as a counselor. Glenn has had a large share of illnesses, including two heart attacks, hepatitis C, diabetes, including having five toes removed, and neuropathy.
The purpose of this book is to help Christians who know their life is about to end. Glenn is candid, outspoken, honest, and fair in what he says. He talks about being angry with God and being outraged. He deals with fear and depression. He discusses God’s grace, forgiveness (including forgiving God), and mercy. He does this by describing his own feelings and then going to the Bible to get help when knowing you are about to die.
Every reader will profit by reading this book since every one of us is terminal. Goree’s approach to grace and God’s mercy alone makes it worth reading.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many hardships for people of all economic levels, but children have been hit especially hard with child hunger becoming a national problem. Last year in Michigan, over 67,000 children faced hunger. In 2020, that number has increased to almost 118,000. Right now, one in six families in Michigan is struggling to have enough food. The challenge of feeding the hungry is being met, and there is a lesson in who is meeting it.
Feeding America is an organization that gathers and distributes food to relieve hunger in West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. They do this by donations of money and food from various companies and relying on volunteer labor.
The Does God Exist? ministry is dedicated to showing evidence that there is a God and that the Bible is His Word. Although the evidence for God’s existence is vast, perhaps more convincing is Christianity’s effect on people’s lives. Recently, the Feeding America truck came to our small congregation, where we unloaded food and distributed it to 103 families that don’t have enough to eat in our area. Our small operation reflected what is happening all over America. In 2019, Feeding America distributed almost 28-million pounds of food.
Our point here is who is meeting the challenge of feeding the hungry? Are atheist and skeptic groups involved? In 2019, volunteers turned three-and-a-half-million pounds of food into almost three-million meals for people in Western Michigan. Who were the volunteers making this possible? Four of the five groups were churches, and the other one was a Kiwanis Club. Feeding America lists agency partners for Michigan, and of the 20 partners listed, 13 were churches.
When churches feud or a minister is involved in a scandal, it frequently becomes front-page news. Atheist magazines like The Skeptical Inquirer and Skeptic publish stories in nearly every issue about a church or religious leader involved in some scam or mismanagement of money. Not making the headlines are the people of faith who meet the challenge of feeding the hungry. They are the ones who manage the food pantries and are the primary workers in programs like Feeding America.
No matter what political party you support, you have to admit that it is a difficult time in America and the world. The issues today are complicated and dangerous. Dealing with racial differences has been a weak spot in American history. COVID-19 has taxed our medical establishment. Abuse of the Earth has to be a concern to all of us as our air, water, and oceans become polluted.
Is there any hope for our country and our world? We need to look at the belief system on which America is based. There were differences among political leaders in the past, but they had a common foundation from which they operated. What is happening now is that “survival of the fittest” and looking out for their own interests are our politicians’ primary goals. We think that those are not the beliefs and operational methods that most Americans believe in.
You can take” In God we Trust” off our currency, but you cannot take it out of our hearts. Extremists can bad-mouth the Bible and abuse the teachings of Jesus Christ, but periodically Christian actions surface in the common people. The food banks, homeless shelters, and medical establishments built and maintained by common people show us that Christ’s teachings are still alive and well in America.
When Jesus taught how to recognize His followers, He never referred to political figures or governments. He talked about those who served others. Passages like Matthew 25:31-46 and the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 5-7 make it clear. Rather than marching or doing physical or financial harm to anyone, we need to express our allegiance to Christ by our service and devotion to others. In doing that, we will ultimately save America and the world.
Here are some facts you should know about medicine in Bible times:
*The Old Testament does not contain a single reference to a doctor or medicine used to heal the sick.
*There are references in the Talmud and Mishnah. The Talmud and Mishnah are two sets of writings about Jewish civil and ceremonial law. The Mishnah was oral tradition and makes up the first part of the Talmud. These writings are not part of the Bible, and they were written by Jewish scholars as late as the 5th century AD. The Talmud and Mishnah references are not complementary to doctors calling physicians “the trades of robbers.” This reminds us of Mark 5:25-26, which describes a woman with a blood disorder who had “suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all she had, and was nothing bettered but grew worse.” Another statement in the Talmud says that physicians are destined for Gehenna, a place of torment, or hell.
*Rabbis counted 248 “limbs” in the human body and 365 “sinews.” This corresponds to the 248 positive commandments in the Old Testament and the 365 negative ones.
*Egypt had an extensive medical system with dentists, doctors of the eyes, doctors of the abdomen, and doctors of the anus. They had no brain doctors and referred to the brain as “stuffing for the head.”
*In the New Testament, Paul refers to Luke as “the beloved physician” in Colossians 4:14. Luke was not Jewish, and he did not use medical vocabulary in his gospel or the book of Acts.
*In New Testament times, people used frankincense and myrrh as medicines. *Laodicea was famous for eye ointments and prominent eye doctors. In Revelation 3:18, Jesus counsels the Laodicean church to get “salve to put on your eyes, so you can see” referring to their spiritual blindness.
“Real men don’t play it safe” so many males, including world leaders, don’t accept wearing a mask and social distancing. That is the basic idea of an article by Peter Glick in the August issue of Scientific American. He says that many male leaders are more concerned about projecting a tough-guy image than protecting the common good. He mentions Brazilain leader Jair Bolsonaro, U.K. leader Boris Johnson, and Donald Trump and Mike Pence. When Captain Brett Cozier of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt didn’t radiate the tough-guy image, he was relieved of his command. Meanwhile, female leaders in Germany and New Zealand have had better success in the pandemic than their male counterparts.
This is one more example of how “survival of the fittest” produces competition, promotion of self, and struggles for dominance rather than compassion, empathy, and promoting the common good. It is also why women appear to tend to be more capable promoters of Christianity. As women start competing with males, they tend to demonstrate a great many of the same weaknesses.
Any weakling can turn their back on the needs of the “weak and unfit.” Our experience as the parents of a multiply-handicapped child is dominated by compassionate women who had great empathy and a servant mentality. The number of males who were able to give of themselves to promote disabled adults was pathetically small. As society has rejected the teachings of Christ and embraced a value system based on evolutionary theory, our cliches show our values: “show no weakness,” “I can fix it,” “dog eat dog,” “watch your back.”
It takes incredible strength to be a committed, active Christian. When you read Matthew 25:34-40, you see Jesus commending people not because they were the strongest or the most attractive or successful. He commended them for doing things that an evolutionist would reject, such as giving food and drink rather than using it as a control device. Christ commends them for taking in a stranger, visiting the sick, and clothing the naked. The whole notion of turning the other cheek, going the second mile, and loving your enemies (Matthew 5:38-48) opposes “survival of the fittest” mentality. Are we strong enough to be Christians, or are we trying to earn the title of “real men?”
By definition, we establish a memorial to help us remember certain essential things. Memorials are very much a part of Christianity and of the history of Israel. Members of different denominations have instituted all kinds of special days and given them spiritual significance. In reality, those days are not found in the Bible, and there is no biblical command to observe them. Perhaps God knew that humans would corrupt special days and forget their significance and message. Christmas is an example of that.
In Exodus 3:15, God told Moses that the exodus from Egypt would be a “memorial to all generations.” Jesus spoke in Mathew 26:13 of a memorial for the woman who anointed him for burial. In Luke 22:19-20, Jesus gave His followers the one special memorial to observe. Early Christians met on the first day of every week to remember Christ’s body “which is given for you” as they ate the bread and drank the fruit of the vine–“the new testament in my blood which is shed for you.” Even though Jesus gave us this memorial to help us remember, it was very quickly corrupted. In 1 Corinthians 11:20-34, we read that it had become a drunken feast in the Corinthian church. The memorial’s purpose was lost because they were “not discerning the Lord’s body” (verse 29). Paul goes on in this description to say, “this is why many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep” (verse 30).
Today in the United States, we celebrate Memorial Day. The last Monday in May was made a national holiday in 1971 to honor the memory of those who died to defend America from those who would try to destroy us. It seems that each year there is more emphasis on this day being the “unofficial first day of summer” with little emphasis on its intended meaning. Like the words of 1 Corinthians 11, this day has become a drunken feast for many, and our population is weak and sickly as a result. Many of us are more concerned with Memorial Day sales and, in 2020, how to celebrate without getting the virus than with pausing to give thanks for America and for those who died to preserve it.
As Christians, we have one special memorial to help us remember the sacrifice Jesus made. Even as we stop every week to remember what Jesus did for us, we must develop an attitude of gratitude. As we thank God who sent His Son to die for our salvation, we should also remember those who died to keep us free to worship in this country.
One of the challenges atheists frequently raise to belief in God is the question of evil. The argument is that if God exists and if God is good and all-powerful, why does evil exist? If there is evil, according to the atheist view, then that God does not exist. The truth is that the existence of evil challenges atheism.
The presence of evil is a bigger problem for atheists than it is for Christians. From a Christian perspective, evil is a product of the rejection of God. The Bible portrays human existence is as a battleground between good and evil, between God and the forces of Satan. The book of Job is the clearest example, but the Bible covers this theme again and again.
The existence of evil challenges atheism as the famous philosopher Alan Plantinga describes:
“Could there really be any such thing as horrifying wickedness if there were no God and we just evolved? I don’t see how. There can be such a thing only if there is a way that rational creatures are supposed to live, obliged to live… A secular way of looking at the world has no place for genuine moral obligation of any sort … and thus no way there is such a thing as genuine and appalling wickedness. Accordingly, if you think there really is such a thing as horrifying wickedness and not just an illusion of some sort, then you have a powerful argument for the reality of God.” (From Timothy Keller’s book The Reason for God pages 26-27)
Atheism has no way of giving a purpose for human existence. That leads atheists like Richard Dawkins to maintain that there is no such thing as good or evil (see Dawkin’s book River Out of Eden, page 133). If an atheist rationally believes that evil does not exist, they negate their challenge to belief in God. Therefore, the existence of evil challenges atheism.