1391) A Complete History of the Human Race

Image result for great king images

            A great king once asked all of his best scholars to compile a history of the human race.  After many years of work, the scholars came to him with the results of their work– 500 thick volumes, carried by a caravan of mules.  It was the most comprehensive history ever written.

            But the king was displeased, and said to the chief scholar, “This is too much; you must condense it.” 

            The old scholar replied: “Sir, if you desire, all of these volumes can be reduced to a single sentence.  With only eight words I can summarize for you the whole history of humanity: They were born, they suffered and they died.  That is the story of every person who ever lived, and thus, it tells the story of the entire human race.  It is your story and it is my story.  We are born, we suffer, and we die.”

            This certainly is what we see of it, and a sad story it is.  Billions of individual persons, each one, a miracle of life; but here only for a moment and then gone forever.  Yet strangely, many people are indifferent to such a hopeless prospect, giving it little or no thought. 

            But, one might say, “Facts are facts, and if that is all there is to it, there is no reason to add to the misery by dwelling upon it; so let’s just eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die.”  Why ruin the little bit of time we have by thinking about how sad and pointless it all is?

            Unless, that is, there is more to the story.  And if there is more to the story, one would think all would be eager to hear about it.  In fact, if there was even a possibility of more, it would only be reasonable that everyone would be on the alert for any sign of hope, paying close attention, yearning for any bit of good news that would suggest a different ending to our story.

            The Bible does tell a bigger story, revealing to us that there is more to life than being born, suffering, and dying.  Knowing what God tells us in that book about our lives changes everything, now and forever.

            C. S. Lewis once compared the history of the world to a great play, many acts long. He said that each one of us makes our short appearance as a character in just one small part, in just one scene, of one of the many acts of this grand play.  This is our only appearance, and that is all we see of the play.  We may hear about some of what happened in the earlier acts, but we play our part not knowing anything of the rest of the play.  We don’t even know if our part is in the beginning, middle, or near the end of the play, nor do we (on our own) know anything of how the play turns out.  We live our lives and we play our parts, but we don’t know nearly enough from the little bit we see and hear about to evaluate the play.  Many things will not make any sense to us– but that is what one would expect if seeing only small part of a long play.  We don’t even know if it is a comedy or a tragedy or a farce. 

     This illustrates our plight.  But we are not in a play, we are living a real life, and it would be most interesting, and perhaps even of crucial importance, to know how the play turns out.  

            The Bible reveals to us much more of the play.  Most importantly, it tells us how the play turns out, and how we can best play our part.  The Bible itself is primarily a story.  Its pages are filled with stories, all of which are a part of, and point to, the main story.  This is how Abraham Heschel describes the main story:  “All of human history as seen by the Bible is the history of God in search of man;” every man and every woman.  And so we find the rest of our story in the Bible.  We find out how we got here, and what our part is in the play, and how the play will end, and even whether or not we will make another appearance.  And we also find out that how we play our part now makes all the difference.

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Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

–William Shakespeare, Macbeth

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James 4:14b  —  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

Ecclesiastes 3:11b  —  …No one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

Luke 12:19-20  —  (The man in Jesus parable said to himself), “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years.  Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”  But God said to him, “You fool!  This very night your life will be demanded from you.  Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”

John 3:16  —  (Jesus said), “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

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Lord Jesus Christ, we are seekers after a city not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, in that better Country of Life which is the home of the soul.  Be Thou our Guide, through the darkness in the Valley of Shadows, to the beautiful shore in that land of peace and rest.  Here we live so small a part of our life; here we are strangers and pilgrims.  Be Thou our Savior and help us so that we lose not the way to the Father’s house.  Prepare a room in our hearts that we may one day inherit a room in that place where God himself shall wipe away all tears and where shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, nor pain; forever and ever.  Amen.  

–Author unknown

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936) Martin Luther and the Reformation

Martin Luther  (1483-1546)

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      The husband and wife team of Will and Ariel Durant made it their life’s work to write the history of the whole world, from life in the caves to life in skyscrapers, from crude markings on the sides of cliffs to the age of the computer.  The result of that effort, which the Durants worked on for over fifty years, was eleven huge volumes, each containing 800 to 1,000 pages.  They both died in 1981, their work unfinished, having gotten only as far as the early 1800’s.  The title of this monumental work is The Story of Civilization, and each volume tells the story of an important era in human history.  There is a volume on the Greek civilization and one on the Oriental cultures and one on the Roman empire and the beginnings of the early Christian Church, and so on.  Volume Six of that set is entitled The Reformation, indicating the Durants’ view that the Reformation of the church was one of the eleven most significant and influential time periods in all of human history.

     On October 31, 1517, 498 years ago last Saturday, this world changing Reformation began with a single bold act by a chubby little monk in the small, remote city of Wittenberg, Germany.

     When Martin Luther nailed the 95 thesis to the church door in Wittenberg, he had no idea that the results of that act would reach around the world, and in four centuries, merit an entire volume in The Story of Civilization.  He was simply doing what scholars in that university town often did, posting their opinions in that very public place to invite discussion and debate.  The closest thing to this practice today would be the writing of letters to the editor of the local newspaper to inform, and to invite the opinions of others.

     Luther certainly received the discussion and debate that he was after.  The challenges he made were theological and scholarly, but they went to the heart of much of what the medieval church had come to stand for.  And since church and state were so interwoven in those days, anything that threatened the way the church did business, also threatened the way the state did business.  And the kinds of things Luther was talking about changing, could, and would, lead to the unraveling of the whole business, the whole medieval way of life.  Many people in the church and in politics were more than ready for just such an unraveling.  Luther provided the spark that ignited a cultural revolution that changed everything:  from dividing the one catholic church into dozens of denominations, to separating church and state, to redefining the sources of authority in society, to leading (eventually) to the establishment of individual rights, to providing the Bible in the language of the common person.  Many things that we take for granted in our church, and in our whole society, were unheard of before the Reformation, but were well on their way to becoming a part of life by the time of Luther’s death 28 years later.

     I did an internet search of the most influential people of the last thousand years.  I found four lists.  Martin Luther was in third place on all four lists.  This is not just religious leaders.  This is out of everyone, in every area, in the whole world, for a thousand years.  Only two people were considered to be more influential than Martin Luther.

     Luther was by far the most influential reformer, but only the first of many.  Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, Philip Melanchthon, and many more were to follow; and so were their writings.  The Reformation brought forth a flood of books and sermons and other writings, as all of theology was rethought and presented in new and more Gospel-centered ways.  “The truth shall set you free,” said Jesus in John 8:32, and it was that freedom of the Gospel that Luther rediscovered and the Reformers never tired of proclaiming.  The whole church, indeed, the whole world and all of life would be seen from a new perspective.  Page after page poured forth– 120 volumes by Luther alone.

     Much of that tremendous output is as not nearly as important now as it was when it was first written.  Every age has its own unique challenges, and important writings in one age will not necessarily be important or even meaningful in another time and place.  Luther himself had hoped that none of his writings would be saved.  It was, he believed, the work of every new generation to proclaim the Gospel in their own way in their own time.  Luther’s writings have been preserved, though half of it has not been translated into English; and most of the 54 volumes that have been translated into English are read only by scholars, some by pastors, and a few have a bit wider audience.

     But one piece of Luther’s work is still read by millions– his Small Catechism.  Luther would have approved of this wide and continued usage.  He considered this little pamphlet his favorite and most important work.

     This is because along with being a courageous leader and world-changing reformer, Luther was primarily a pastor and a teacher.  He was therefore concerned about the spiritual well-being of his people; and his ‘people,’ or sphere of influence, soon included all of Germany, and then, all of Europe.  When he started looking around at the church outside his life in Wittenberg, he was appalled at what he found.  Out in the country the churches were in horrible shape.  In his preface to the Small Catechism, he wrote that most people did not even know the simplest things, like the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, or the Ten Commandments, and they had no understanding at all of the Gospel of God’s grace and gift of salvation.  The clergy were often of little help.  Many of them, he found, did not know the Lord’s Prayer or the Creed either.

     So Martin Luther, who was used to writing mostly long and deep and complex theological treatises, went to work on something short and simple.  In the Spring of 1529 the Small Catechism was published, and this little book has been the primary text for the Christian education of Lutheran young people ever since.

     The catechism has five parts, what Luther considered the five basics of the Christian faith that everyone should know something about.  Part One is the Ten Commandments, outlining how God wants us to live.  Part Two is the Apostle’s Creed, a summary of what we believe.  Part Three is the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer Jesus himself taught us to pray, and the best example of how we should speak to God in prayer.  Parts Four and Five describe the two Sacraments; the Sacrament of Baptism, by which God gives us his eternal promise, and the Sacrament of Holy Communion, in which God repeats his promise, forgives our sins, and reminds us of Christ’s sacrifice for us.  In the Small Catechism, the common person was instructed in what God’s Word said about how to live a Christian life, and how to die with hope in the promises of God.

     Another of Luther’s great accomplishments was the translation of the Bible into German, so that everyone could read it.  We take for granted that we can read the Bible in our own language, but in Luther’s time, that was a radical, even illegal, innovation.  Luther had to go into hiding in order to do this work.  He was a hunted man with a price on his head, so he grew a beard, disguised himself as a soldier, and worked in an upper room in the Wartburg castle for two years to get it done.

     Everything Luther did was centered on the Bible and the message of grace that he found there.  The battle cry of the Reformation was the phrase, “Word Alone, Christ Alone, Grace Alone.”  Most of all Luther wanted to teach the message of God’s love and forgiveness and gift of salvation won for us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  The book of Romans became a central text for Luther, with its clear descriptions of salvation by God’s grace alone through Christ Jesus.  In chapter three Paul wrote, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Christ Jesus to all who believe, for there is no difference; all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and we are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus….”, and then in verse 28, “So we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from observing the Law.”

     These were the very words that changed Martin Luther’s whole understanding of Scripture, and then through him, God changed the church.  The message of this passage led Luther back to the central message of God’s freely given grace.  In his desperate search for peace with God, he found in this passage that he could take comfort in God, instead of God being the primary cause of his discomfort and fear and despair.  For the rest of his life, he proclaimed that Good News in whatever way he could, and he was a man of great energy and many talents.  As a Biblical scholar, he argued convincingly for the truth of this understanding of the Gospel.  As a historian and theologian, he showed the Roman Catholic church that this had indeed been their own theology for many centuries, but over time had been obscured.  As a linguist, he translated the Bible into the language of the people, so they could read the Good News for themselves.  As a musician he wrote hymns, produced a hymnal, and introduced congregational singing to the worship service.  And as a powerful preacher, he proclaimed the Law and the Gospel to everyone, from kings on down to the lowest servants.

     Luther proclaimed the Gospel most clearly in his explanation to the second article of the Apostle’s Creed where he wrote:  “At great cost, Jesus has saved and redeemed me, a lost and condemned person.  He has freed me from sin, death, and the power of the devil, not with silver and gold, but with his holy and precious blood and his innocent sufferings and death.  All of this he has done so that I might be his own and live with him in his Kingdom, and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.”  Our salvation is through Christ Alone, said Luther, based on the Bible, the Word Alone.  And how do we get in on this salvation? By Grace Alone, he said in his explanation to the third article of the creed where he wrote:  “I believe I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him.  But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”  And then that second part of the Small Catechism concludes with God’s eternal promise, or, as Luther describes it in these words:  “On the last day, God will raise up me and all the dead, and give me and all believers in Christ eternal life.  This is most certainly true.”

Martin Luther Signature.svg

903) The Catacombs

 

By Stephen Nichols at:

http://5minutesinchurchhistory.com/

     Under the city of Rome lies a vast system of catacombs.  The ancient Romans built these catacombs because they feared death and didn’t want to think about it.  They wanted to push death out onto the margins, out of sight, deep beneath the city.

     These catacombs played an interesting role in the history of Christianity.  In the first few centuries after Christ, Christianity was at odds with the empire and Christians were marginalized, ostracized, and persecuted.  Despite the opposition they faced, they found that they could worship freely in the catacombs.  The Romans wouldn’t go down there, but would send slaves to dig out the catacombs and bury their dead.  So, the Christians were relatively free to worship there.  They even sometimes built seats into the walls of these catacombs and also left behind paintings on the walls.

     Another testimony to the practice of worshiping in the catacombs is the wonderful early Christian hymn called “O Gladsome Light”:

O gladsome light, O grace
Of God the Father’s face,
The eternal splendor wearing;
Celestial, holy, blest,
Our Savior Jesus Christ,
Joyful in thine appearing.

     This early Christian hymn goes on to say that “the day falls quiet and we see the evening light.”  Can you see it in your mind?  The Christians are gathering; they have a light in the catacombs; and they gather around the light to worship together and to sing their hymns of praise.

Christians worshiping in the catacombs

     After Christianity was legalized, catacombs became not only a place where Christians could meet; they also became the place were Christians would bury their own dead.  We can learn about the lives of early Christians from the epitaphs that were left at a number of these catacombs.  One of them simply says, “Here lies Quintilian, a man of God, a firm believer in the Trinity, who rejected the allurements of the world.”

     Another epitaph belongs to someone named Domitilla.  It says, “Who believed in Jesus Christ, together with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”  Many of these early catacomb epitaphs reference the Christian belief in the Trinity.  It shows how important that doctrine was to the early church.

     Another of these epitaphs reads, “Here I rest, free from all anxiety, what I awaited has happened; when the coming of Christ occurs I shall rise in peace.”  This is a wonderful testimony to resting in Christ.

     One of these epitaphs addresses the person directly.  Her name was Aproniana, and she was only five years and five months old when she died.  Her epitaph says, “Aproniana you believed in God, you will live in Christ.”  This is a beautiful testimony to the hope of our salvation and the eternal life that we have in Christ.

     Another of these epitaphs reads, “Now that I have received divine grace I shall be welcomed in peace.”  This particular text is preceded by the early Christian symbol, the fish.  Another epitaph simply says, “This person was a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

     These epitaphs provide a beautiful witness to the lives and beliefs of early Christians.

Catacomb epitaph

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Isaiah 26:19  —  But your dead will live, Lordtheir bodies will rise— let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy— your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.

Daniel 12:2, 13  —  Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake:  some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt…  As for you, go your way till the end.  You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance.

I Thessalonians 4:13-14  —  Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.  For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.

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PRAYER FOR DEPARTED LOVED ONES:

We give back to you, O God, those whom you gave to us.  You did not lose them when you gave them to us, and we do not lose them by their return to you.  Your dear Son has taught us that life is eternal and love cannot die.  So death is only an horizon, and an horizon is only the limit of our sight.  Open our eyes to see more clearly, and draw us closer to you, and then we may be nearer to our loved ones who are with you.  You have told us that you are preparing a place for us.  Prepare us also for that happy place, that where you are, we also may be; O dear Lord of life and death.  Amen.

–William Penn  (1644-1718)

628) Blaming the Crusades for Jihad

by Ryan Mauro, September 23, 2013, Front Page magazine

     The cultural relativists on the Left and apologists for radical Islam like to blame the Crusades for almost everything.  “The Muslim extremists are only responding to the deeds of Christian extremists,” the argument goes.  In his new book, Sir Walter Scott’s Crusades and Other Fantasies, former Muslim Ibn Warraq takes on this misleading theme intended to blame the West for the Muslim world’s troubles.

     The claim that the Crusades are the starting point of Islamic jihad is basically the political application of, “For every action, there is an equal but opposite reaction.”  It equates the Christian beliefs driving the Crusades with the Islamic beliefs driving jihad.

     Ibn Warraq’s book tackles this misconception.  Islamic atrocities were not provoked by the Crusaders’ own reprehensible acts, but preceded them.  Islamic jihad was not triggered by the Crusades; it preceded them.

     In fact, as explained by Warraq, (and in books like The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and What’s So Great About Christianity), the Christian world was reduced to about one-third of what it was by the sword of jihad.  The Crusades were launched with the objective of, without any exaggeration, saving Europe and Western civilization from Sharia.

     My personal experience in school is that the opposite was taught.  The Crusaders were framed as offensive and the jihads as defensive.  The Crusaders were depicted as barbarians, particularly to Jews.  I cannot recall hearing about a single Islamic atrocity before or during these wars.

     This is a common phenomenon, Warraq explains, and it’s part of an overall trend when it comes to education about the history of Islam.

     “What are seen as positive aspects of Islamic Civilization are ecstatically praised, even exaggerated, and all the negative aspects are imputed to the arrival of the Westerners, and where the Arabs, Persians and Muslims in general are seen as passive victims,” Warraq said in an interview.

     As proof, Warraq, and the other authors, mention the countless mass killings and persecutions of Christians and Jews before the Crusades.  The destruction of over 30,000 churches during a 10-year period starting in 1004 AD is little-known.  So is the burning of crosses, the beheading of converts to Christianity from Islam, the destruction of Christian holy sites like the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the forced tax for non-Muslims, and the list goes on and on…

      As Dinesh D’Souza explains, “The Crusades can be seen as a belated, clumsy, and unsuccessful effort to defeat Islamic imperialism.”

     One of the most interesting claims made in Waraq’s book is that the Crusades did not have a permanent impact on the Muslim psychology.  Part of the reason is because the Muslim world viewed the wars as an overall victory.

     “Many believe that modern Muslims have inherited from their medieval ancestors memories of crusader violence and destruction.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  By the fourteenth century, in the Islamic world the Crusades had almost passed out of mind,” Warraq said.

     So what revived the relevancy of the Crusades in how the Muslim world views the West?  Warraq says that the Crusades were reentered into the discourse by Europe.  Imperialism was purposely framed as a continuation of the Crusades; something particularly agitating for the growing Arab nationalist movement.

     “Nineteenth, and even early twentieth century Europeans unashamedly used crusader rhetoric and a tendentious reading of crusader history to justify their imperial dreams of conquest,” according to Warraq…

     The Arab world’s insecurities over its falling behind were blamed on the European colonists that were viewed as Crusaders.  This theme “eases the guilty consciences of the Arabs themselves: their failures are not their fault,” is the argument, but “are all the fault of the Crusaders.”  In addition, attributing the backwardness of the Muslim world to the “Crusaders” allowed Sharia Law to escape responsibility…

        However, Warraq emphasizes that his point isn’t to blame the West for its use of Crusader rhetoric.  The jihad existed before the Crusades and during the period when they “had almost passed out of mind” in the Muslim world.

     “My point is that Islamic jihad did not end with the defeat of the Crusaders.  On the contrary, in Islamic doctrine all the later Islamic conquests were seen as a part of the religious duty of carrying out jihad until the entire world submits to Islam,” he said.

     Blaming everything on the Christians in the Crusades is a way of denying the Islamic supremacist ideology that has driven the conflict from the beginning.

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Were the Christians without blame in the Crusades?  Of course not.  Terrible atrocities were committed by both sides.  But the way the story is often told today, even by many Christians, is an outrageous fallacy.  Centuries of violent Islamic aggression preceded the Crusades, and  it did not end with the Crusades.

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The use of violent force in Islam goes back to its very beginning and to its founder.  No one would deny that Mohammed himself was a warrior.  But everyone knows that Jesus willingly submitted to death on the cross, refusing to respond with any violence.  Jesus even told Peter to put his sword away when Peter attempted to prevent his arrest; and then Jesus healed the man Peter had wounded.  

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Matthew 26:50-54  —  Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.”  Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him.  With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.  “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.  Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?  But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”

Luke 22:49-51  —  When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?”  And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.  But Jesus answered, “No more of this!”  And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.

Christ Healing the Ear of Malchus, James Tissot  (1836-1902)

Matthew 5:9  —  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

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Lord Jesus, when you came among us as a man, you bore the name Prince of Peace.   Guide us in the way of peace.  May peace reign in our hearts, and may we be witnesses to the peace you give to all the world.  Amen.