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Category Archives: Culture

Seasons

I love the sight, sound and smell of spring

The taste of summer

And the feeling of fall and winter

–also see A Sweet Savour

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2016 in Culture, Uncategorized

 

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The Fellowship of Believers and the Breaking of Bread

Bread1

Pentecost signifies the giving of the Holy Spirit and the founding of the Church, also known as the body of Christ. The below passage records the result of the Pentecost kept after Christ’s ascension:

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.

And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.

–Acts 2:38-42

Did you notice what it said happened after so many were baptized? The newborn church continued to meet together, fellowship together and eat together. Why is this even important?

It is important because brethren not only worship together – they talk, they pray for each other, and they eat side by side. Growing up, brothers and sisters eat and talk together at their parents’ table. Hopefully they pray together at the same table. This is the way it should be. There is inherent equality in this. Whomever we meet in our congregation, it is implied that that person is our brother or sister. We should attempt not to treat anyone differently, or to show partiality to any.

More than just the church that was created and given the Holy Spirit at Pentecost – it is obvious that Jesus had the common practice of breaking bread with many people. When the risen Christ walked with two men he formerly knew on the road to Emmaus, there was a single thing that gave his identity away to the two men who were still in shock about recent events. This came after the two men invited Jesus to eat with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

–Luke 24: 30-35

Interesting. Perhaps Jesus did something that the Pharisees did not do. He broke bread with common people that you might meet.

You might even say that Christ’s disciples enjoyed each other’s company. They did not even need a special occasion to get together and learn about God. Paul obviously followed Christ’s example in breaking bread with many, and on a certain occasion there was a miracle performed after a mishap during a very long fellowship session. Read about it in Acts 20:7-12.

The breaking of Unleavened bread represented Christ’s sinless self and pure sacrifice. This is commemorated in the Passover observance. The leavened bread represents God’s church, not specifically for the attribute of sin, but the leavened bread represents the growth and love of the church. Passover itself is supposed to be a time of humility for the followers of Christ. Christ freely gave and served us, so are we to humble ourselves and serve each other.

“And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them.” – Luke 24:30

And finally, we have the miraculous story of the feeding of the 5,000. Jesus and the disciples were going to a remote place to rest and eat, and yet the multitudes followed them. Jesus taught them “many things” and also healed them (Luke 9:11). But as the Good Shepherd – it was against his nature to send them away without food. Read the account below.

And the apostles gathered themselves together unto Jesus, and told him all things, both what they had done, and what they had taught. And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. And they departed into a desert place by ship privately.

And the people saw them departing, and many knew him, and ran afoot thither out of all cities, and outwent them, and came together unto him. And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things. And when the day was now far spent, his disciples came unto him, and said, This is a desert place, and now the time is far passed: Send them away, that they may go into the country round about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread: for they have nothing to eat. He answered and said unto them, Give ye them to eat. And they say unto him, Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread, and give them to eat? He saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? go and see. And when they knew, they say, Five, and two fishes. And he commanded them to make all sit down by companies upon the green grass. And they sat down in ranks, by hundreds, and by fifties. And when he had taken the five loaves and the two fishes, he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and brake the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before them; and the two fishes divided he among them all. And they did all eat, and were filled. And they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments, and of the fishes. And they that did eat of the loaves were about five thousand men.

–Mark 6:30-44

Jesus Christ himself takes joy in providing for us, eating at the same table with us, and fellowshipping with us. Since He is our standard in all things, this is very important!

More to come on this later, God willing.

 

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What are the Origins of Hallowe’en?

Do we love God enough to give up what He hates?

“But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate me love death.” — Proverbs 8:36

 
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Posted by on October 29, 2015 in Culture, Faith, The Bible

 

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A young Jewish woman, 300 Spartan fighting men, and God’s preservation of His People

Not only does the Bible contain the words of life, but it is a reliable historical document spanning the entire period from creation through much of the first century AD. The Bible is a very useful tool to compare with secular history – and its very accuracy is bolstered by harsh penalties to any who would falsify it (Rev. 22:18-19). And God’s Word contains predictive prophecy as well. One of the most referred to prophecies in the Bible is King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream found in Daniel 2 that is about a statue with a head of gold, breast and arms of silver, waist and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet and toes of iron and clay.

Daniel himself interpreted to King Nebuchadnezzar that his kingdom of Babylon was the head of gold, and we commonly recognize the other successive kingdoms to be those dominated by Media-Persia, Greece, Rome and an end-time kingdom. A topic that we will examine concerns the kingdom that followed Babylon – identified by the breast and arms of silver – which is widely recognized to be the Medo-Persian empire which spanned the period from approximately 539 – 331 BC. And the Biblical book to be analyzed is the book of Esther.

Xerxes on a relief of Darius I the Great. Originally at the north stairs of the apadana of Persepolis, now in the National Archaeological Museum, Tehran (Iran)

Xerxes I (from Livius.org)

The Book of Esther

We should first observe that in the book of Esther, words for ‘God’ and ‘prayer’ are notably absent. There are many theories about this – including that the words are chosen carefully because of the power structure in place. Appendix 60 of the “The Companion Bible” based on the authorized King James Version Bible explains how God’s name is found five times in acrostic in the book and put there with such precision and symmetry that it could only be intentional.

The story of Esther is set in the city of Susa (or Shushan), the site of the throne of the Media-Persian Empire shortly following the Babylonian captivity. Cyrus the Great had conquered Babylon and had liberated the Jews and allowed many of them to return to their homeland, but only about one-third of the population had done so. (http://www.dangoor.com/74034.html) Even though the Jews had more freedom than before, the empire itself still wielded much power over all of the people within it.

The book of Esther begins this way:

This is what happened during the time of Xerxes, the Xerxes who ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush: At that time King Xerxes reigned from his royal throne in the citadel of Susa, and in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his nobles and officials. The military leaders of Persia and Media, the princes, and the nobles of the provinces were present.” —Esther 1:1-3 (NIV)

The Greek historian Herodotus corroborated this grand feast and conference held by Xerxes in the 3rd year of his reign preceding his military campaigns into mainland Greece. The banquet –  featuring much wine and excess  – celebrated the splendor of the kingdom and rallied the military leaders for a future campaign. The party lasted for a startling180 days – or about six months. (Esther 1:4)

The famous story of Esther continues with the Persian Queen Vashti refusing a request of King Xerxes [his name is interchangeable in different Bible versions as Ahasuerus and Xerxes] to appear in the great assembly mentioned above. This affront to the powerful Xerxes resulted in her being deposed as queen.

The reach of the Persian Empire

Chapter 2 begins with the words “After these things….” In the “Defender’s Study Bible” compiled by Dr. Henry M. Morris, he has a note about Esther 2:1 that the time passage referred to between the two chapters was after the military invasions into Greece including the military naval battles of Thermopylae and Salamis. While Xerxes had won some of the battles into Greece, he had been unsuccessful in trying to overthrow the nation because of the tactical resistance and fierce opposition that he found from the most powerful city-states of Athens and Sparta. The first attempt of Persia to subdue Greece had been about ten years prior in 490BC, in which Xerxes’ father Darius had his force defeated in the Battle of Marathon when the Athenians chose the moment to attack before the superior Persian cavalry could arrive. Chapter 2 of Esther is the aftermath of the mixed results of Xerxes’ land and naval engagements in 480 – 479BC.

The book of Esther centers on the Jewish family of Mordecai and Hadassah (Esther). As her cousin, Mordecai was the guardian of Esther, whose mother and father had died. When king Xerxes sought a wife and queen to replace the dismissive Vashti, Esther was one of those unmarried women in the contest for the king’s favor.

Mordecai is an interesting figure and may well have been the writer of the book. The book of Esther itself is considered to be very sophisticated in its language and literary value for the time period. Mordecai was someone with a leadership position – sitting in the king’s gate (Esther 2:19). We get the impression that he is not someone who just casually goes through life, but one who sees the wider picture and looks for true meaning and the hand of God. His listening ability (audibly, intuitively and spiritually) was probably the attribute that enabled him to foil a plot to assassinate the king (Esther 2:21-22).

When Esther was in the contest to be queen and wife to the king and emperor Xerxes, Mordecai did not want her to reveal her Jewish identity. Mordecai must have palpably felt the murderous hatred of the Jews from certain groups within the empire. His encouragement of Esther to aspire to such a position was not part of a social climbing agenda – the motivation to encourage her seemed to come more from his deep nature and ability to discern the will of God and his own place in it.

Mordecai and Esther – Discerning God’s Will When He is Silent

“The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD.” —Proverbs 16:33


Architectural detail from the Persian capital in Susa

Because of the encoded treasure of the book of Esther, this book is worth some extra time to study. In Old Testament writings, we typically expect overt pronunciations, direct commands and miraculous events like the parting of the Red Sea or God providing water out of a rock in the desert. Instead in Esther, we have to look for the hidden hand of God. There is no indication that God ever appeared to Mordecai or Esther, Old Testament style, telling them what to do like when he instructed and gave the specs for Noah and his sons to build an ark or when he appeared to Abraham, telling him to “walk before me, and be thou perfect” (Genesis 17:1). But this is the intriguing and beautiful aspect of the story.

It is hard for many Christians to grapple with the subjects in the book. A heathen king with a large harem. The possibility of compromised values on the part of the heroine. The distressing threat of genocide. A holiday to celebrate not only survival but getting back at your enemies. Lack of direct mention of the name of God in the entire book. Some even question if it should be a canonical book. But we really need to compare scripture with scripture and look at the whole book.

As a very beautiful young unmarried woman in the empire, Esther became one of the candidates to be queen and wife to the king after Vashti was deposed. Indeed it would seem that all of the women were “prepared” to become at least a concubine (essentially a wife of much lower status) to the king. It was only a matter of who would be selected queen out of the many women. In modern times we might find aspects of this very revolting and demeaning. However at the time and culture, the women in the harem were probably envied. Esther obeyed the word of her guardian cousin Mordecai, and did not reveal that she was Jewish. This probably enabled her to not face discrimination in the prospect to become queen.

Chapter 2 of the book concludes with Esther being celebrated as the new queen, while at the same time Mordecai found out and prevented a plot to kill King Xerxes. The conspirators were hanged and the event was recorded and forgotten about.

In similar fashion with verse one of chapter 2 in which there was a recognized elapse of time, chapter 3 of the book again begins with the phrase “After these things…” We get the sense of another passage of time. The man Haman “the Agagite” was promoted to be over all of the leaders in the empire except Xerxes himself.  This is interesting, as Haman was recognized by this term as an Amalekite –  historical enemies and attackers of the Jewish people. Together with the Midianites, the Amalekites are the ones who waged a resource siege on the people of Israel much earlier – eating up all of their increase. In the book of Judges, Gideon and his worthy 300 men had responded to this earlier threat to God’s people.

Part of Haman’s elevation in the kingdom was that he was given the right to receive worship. If Xerxes’ second in command was allowed such reverence, it lends credence to the common belief that Xerxes may have believed that he himself was a “God-King”. Haman was informed by others that Mordecai the Jew would not reverence him and this greatly angered Haman. Haman then conceived a plan, not only to kill Mordecai, but to wipe out all of the Jewish people. Since this is now referenced to be the twelfth year of Xerxes reign (Esther 3:7), Haman’s plot and the planned date to exterminate the Jews can be traced to 474/473 BC. This would have also been nine years after the drunken party in chapter 1. Haman’s devious plan affected upwards of 120,000 Jews within the empire – both the ones who had remained in Babylon, and the approximately one-third who had returned to Jerusalem.

In Haman’s plan, the lot was first cast to give the date for his desired sentence to be carried out. The lot returned a date far in advance – drawn in the first month, the sentence would be carried out in the twelfth month. Then Haman convinced King Xerxes to sign a law that the unnamed people whose “laws are diverse from all people” would be destroyed and Haman offered a contribution to the king’s treasures of a large sum of silver (Esther 3:9 and 4:7).  The would-be attackers were only directly promised the spoils of their prey (Esther 3:13). We get the sense of Xerxes’ naiveté in giving a rubber stamp to an extreme law in which he did not know all of the critical details. We do know that Xerxes may have received such accusations before, and that a derogatory climate had been created to last generations (Ezra 4:-16).

The phrase in Esther 3:15 is interesting: “… And the king and Haman sat down to drink; but the city of Shushan was perplexed.” This would imply that most of the people in the city did not hate the Jews. Also, it would imply that this was out of the ordinary action for King Xerxes. In modern terms, he would have been thought of as a playboy and a party king, and he reportedly had intrigues with his harem – we don’t know how much of which can be substantiated. The prophecy in Daniel 11:1-2 showed that Xerxes, the “fourth” King, would enjoy riches much greater than his predecessors. He was one who had crushed revolts within the empire and engaged in war conflicts including a major part in the Greco-Persian wars.  It would seem however, that an order of genocide within the empire would be a shocking turn of events in idyllic Shushan – which is translated “lily”.

Chapter 4 shows a time of mourning when all of the Jews learn of the evil law and death sentence from the Persians’ efficient message delivery system within the empire. Mordecai mourned in sackcloth, abandoning his seat at the gates. When contacted by a messenger from Esther he told her to make a supplication to the king to contravene the law. Esther responded that she could not and that it was a death sentence to appear before the king uninvited, unless he held out his golden scepter. Mordecai somewhat harshly sent a message back that it was her duty to do so, and that she may have been brought into the kingdom “for such a time as this”. Mordecai believed there was a providential hand at work. Esther then sent another message to Mordecai:

Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish. (Esther 4:16)

Mordecai, after laying down the law with her in an earlier message about her duty, readily agrees to accomplish Esther’s wishes. The scripture simply said: “So Mordecai went his way, and did according to all that Esther had commanded him.” (Esther 4:17)

In chapters 5-10, we see that Haman’s plan crumbles. Esther gains an audience with a king, and knowing his social nature, wisely invited him to a dinner event that also included Haman. When the king again asked Esther what she wished for, she invited him to dinner the following night with Haman as well. The night before the second meal, the king was sleepless and had the chronicles of events read to him, and the memory came again of how Mordecai had saved the king’s life. When he woke up, he caused a special honor to brought about to celebrate Mordecai, involving Haman parading him around in the royal robes. On the evening of the second dinner, when Esther reveals Haman’s character and intents, the king gives the order to have him hanged. Indeed he was hanged on the very gallows that he built especially for Mordecai.

Esther, and in turn Mordecai, were able to persuade the king to have a new law written, since the first could not be voided, with the following effect:

Wherein the king granted the Jews which were in every city to gather themselves together, and to stand for their life, to destroy, to slay, and to cause to perish, all the power of the people and the province that would assault them… (Esther 8:11)

The message went throughout the kingdom giving the Jews a right to defend themselves. The fall of the lot gave them nearly a year to fortify and prepare themselves to receive the attack of their enemies. Ultimately, 75,000 attackers with hearts set upon murder and profit were killed, as the Jews “stood for their lives”, fighting in self-defense (Esther 9:16). The interesting thing is that no Jews are recorded as casualties. When Esther and Mordecai instituted a fast, they were engaging in spiritual warfare – humbling themselves and presumably praying to God – and this would set the course for the coming year. God allowed the Jewish people, through the actions of individuals like Esther and Mordecai, to escape completely unscathed from the attack.

The result prompted several affects. The Jews received converts as well as outside aid in the attack (Esther 8:17 and 9:3). The city of Susa, that was previously perplexed, now “held a joyous celebration” (Esther 8:15, NIV). The Jews had much joy and a great celebration. Mordecai became second to King Xerxes and was well accepted by the Jews. This was after he had basically caused the death sentence by his non-compliance which had provoked Haman’s wrath. Mordecai had helped achieve a greater peace – and freedom of worship. And the legacy holiday of Purim was instituted to celebrate the preservation of the Jews at this time –  a holiday which has now lasted for over two millennia.

A Bible Mystery between the Exodus and the Promised Land

The Spartan culture has long been a fascination to modern societies. But the fascination goes even deeper. Where did the Spartans come from? At times they were at war with their Greek brethren, and at times they were allied with them. At about 650BC, Sparta – also known as Lacedaemon – had become the dominant military land force in Ancient Greece. “Sparta was unique in ancient Greece for its social system and constitution, which completely focused on military training and excellence.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sparta Along with Athens, Sparta was a dominant city-state in ancient Greece.

The Bible and other sources give some clues to who these Spartans might be. We have to turn our view elsewhere and to the context of the children of Israel – and the twelve tribes who are the descendants of Jacob’s twelve sons. In the period of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness because of their lack of faith in God’s promises, there were two notable rebellions in the ranks. The first came with the rebellion of Korah, who was of the tribe of Levi, along with Dathan and Abiram from the tribe of Reuben (Numbers 16). The second notable rebellion came in Numbers 25:

“And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab. And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods: and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods. And Israel joined himself unto Baalpeor: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.” (Numbers 25:1-3)

This second rebellion might have seemed the low point for the Israelites in their wilderness wandering. Many of the Israelites had begun to worship Baal, forgetting and flaunting the providence of God, who provided for them the entire time they were in the wilderness. God had brought a subsequent punishment and plague following this in which 24,000 died. (Numbers 25:9) At this time there was also a well-known member of the tribe of Simeon who had brought a pagan Midianite woman into the camp for illicit purposes “in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation” (Numbers 25:6). The Levite Phineas put an end to this brazen sin and outrage by spearing the man and the woman together, and he was lauded as having brought to an end the plague the sin had precipitated.

Although it seems members from most or all of the tribes had participated in the worship of Baal, the symbolism of one of their chief tribal members in connection to this low point may have precipitated a mini-exodus of a large part of the tribe of Simeon. Although the Bible doesn’t give explanations about it, an interesting thing occurs in the census figures of the tribes given in Numbers 1 & Numbers 26. The population of Simeon decreased from having 59,300 males ready for war to 22,200 males ready for war, a drop of 37,100 males, not including their wives and children.

While the plague following the sin of Baal worship (Numbers 25:9) would have had an impact, it would have been spread across the tribes and cannot explain the total decreases. Other than the huge drop of two-thirds of the tribe of Simeon, the tribes of Reuben, Gad, Ephraim and Naphtali also had net decreases in the number of males during the approximately forty years between the two censuses. Wherever the missing Simeonites went, they likely brought some from the other tribes with them. While it is understandable that this tribe known for their impulsive nature might have been tired of their sojourn in the wilderness, their defection during this time may have resulted in the tribe of Simeon being omitted from mention in the blessing of Moses prior to his death (Deuteronomy 33).

This Bible mystery of the missing Simeonites does not by itself connect Simeon with Sparta – but other sources and references do seem to tie the Spartans with the Israelite people.

In the book of I Maccabees14:16-23 also records this correspondence, which includes this statement: “And this is the copy of the letter which the Spartans sent: The Chief magistrates and the city of the Spartans send greeting to Simon, the chief priest, and to the elders and the priests and the rest of the Jewish people, our kinsmen.”(Emphasis added.). It is revealed by the Spartans themselves in their own writings that they are related to the Jews. In Ancient Mythology, Bryant relates that Stephanus Byzantium shows that Alexander Polyhistor and Claudius Jolaus also speak of a direct relationship or kinship between the Spartan Greeks and the people of Judaea (vol.5, p.51-52, 60). Are the Spartans these missing Simeonites? — http://www.british-israel.ca/Simeon.htm

The book of Maccabees referred to above was part of the ancient scripture versions discovered in the Quamran caves known as the Dead Sea scrolls. With some similarity to the Jews, the Spartans observed new moons, and the “seventh day” of the month, according to Herodotus. The Spartans greatly respected their legendary lawgiver Lycurgus, who had tremendous parallels to the Bible figure Moses.

Lycurgus, legendary lawgiver of Sparta

As seen in several examples in the Bible, there is no disputing the militant warrior nature of the tribe of Simeon. Levi and Simeon had fallen out to a great extent with their father Jacob following a vengeful and bloody action taken on behalf of their sister Leah. When Jacob blessed his sons and the tribes they represented at the end of life, he said that the two tribes would be “scattered in Israel” (Gen 49:5-7).

As for the Simeonites that remained with Israel, they are closely associated with the tribe of Judah. Their land inheritance that was determined by lot was within the land area given to Judah (Joshua 19:1,9). It was almost as if God wanted the tribe with impulsive tendencies to be surrounded by the tribe named for Jacob’s (Israel’s) son Judah who showed great judgment and mercy. Judah made an impassioned speech before Joseph in Egypt that displayed these attributes (Genesis 44:16-34). In armed conflicts, the tribe of Judah preferred to have his brother tribe Simeon to be at their side (Judges 1:1-4, 1:16-17). In I Chronicles 12:25 the Simeonite warriors are described as a triple threat: “mighty men of valour for the war”.

The Spartan 300 – A Portrayal of Courage for the Ages

“Above all, taking the shield of faith, with which you shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.” –Ephesians 6:16 (King James 2000 Bible)


By Praxinoa (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

King Leonidas of Sparta

The story of the events at the Battle of Thermopylae is an inspiring one. In 480 BC, the Spartans and their allies bravely took on a mission in which defeat was virtually assured. The legendary story takes place during the second Persian invasion of Greece in which Spartan King Leonidas and his trained elite bodyguard of 300 Spartans – along with approximately 700 Thespians and 400 Thebans who stayed through the whole battle – took on the vast Persian empire force sent by King Xerxes. According to Wikipedia, modern estimates of the Persian forces were between 70,000-300,000, while Herodotus claims the wildly large number of 2.5 million. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Thermopylae

As the third son of Spartan King Anaxandridas, Leonidas was not originally expected to be heir to the throne. Therefore unlike other Spartan kings, as a youth he had been subjected to the rigorous military training that young Spartan males received. This made him a formidable leader prepared for the threat imposed by Persia. The elite Spartan hoplite warriors who accompanied Leonidas were selected not only for their military skills, but also that they all had living sons back home.

The Spartans and Greeks successfully held off the Persian army for two days, their united phalanx formation effectively protecting the group. On the second day of battle, Xerxes put forth his 10,000 elite Persian soldiers known as The Immortals – but even these were cut down by the Spartans. On the second day of the battle, a man from Sparta named Ephialtes betrayed the Greeks and showed the Persians a path in which they could box the Spartan force from the back. During the third day, the Spartans and their companions were all killed, and King Leonidas was brought down by Persian arrows. Even in losing the battle, the relatively few Spartans and Greeks had dealt a devastating loss of about 20,000 to the Persians.

Hearing the defeat at Thermopylae, the remaining Greek forces strategically withdrew to the island of Salamis. The Persians were able to win the battles of Thermopylae and Artemisium, conquering also Thessaly, Boetia, Euboea and Attica. The Greeks achieved a critical victory in the naval battle of Salamis in late 480, devastating the Persian fleet and causing Xerxes to withdraw much of his army to Asia, under the threat of starvation and disease. In August of 479 – a year following Thermopylae – the Greeks won a decisive victory at the Battle of Plataea, exercising tactics to difuse the strengths of the Persian army and cavalry.

The story of Thermopylae involved the hubris of an empire. The below quote is from an article from Irene Brown from History Today http://www.historytoday.com/irene-brown/historian-philosopher-herodotus-and-strength-freedom

Greece was the only obstacle to the Persian conquest of the known world. If it were once permanently subjugated, no other city or nation would dare to oppose the might of Persia and ‘by this course then we shall bring all mankind under our yoke…’. Xerxes was assured that he was certain to be victorious and that he had nothing to fear from the Greeks as they had neither men nor money, and the other Persians were silent, as Herodotus points out, because in the Persian despotism they were all afraid to raise their voices against any plan of the Emperor.

Again, from the same article:

…the great Greek naval victory at Salamis on September 20th, 480, one month after Thermopylae, showed, said Herodotus, that the gods did not want one man to be the ruler of Asia and of Europe.

The last stand of the Spartans at Thermopylae most certainly had a lasting effect on human history. It would indeed seem that God did not want both Asia and Europe under the control of one man. It could have been fateful to build the pride of the one man Xerxes – what was needed was to lessen and temper his pride. Xerxes had to realize that he was just a man – a man who could make wrong decisions and judgments. We know that Xerxes was extremely disturbed and angry at several points regarding the results of Thermopylae – the victory he gained there being tremendously costly. When his notorious temper cooled however and his grudge died down over a few years time, he probably had become a different man than the one at the beginning of the book of Esther. Through their fighting zeal and their willingness to give their lives to protect each other and give a better life to their descendants, the Spartans unwittingly gave an assist to the Jews in peril in the Persian empire only about 6 years later. The spirit of the Spartans also undoubtedly inspired the Jews when it was their time to band together and defend each others’ lives.

A Biblical Understanding of Divine Intervention and Just War

It is interesting to analyze how war is regarded in the Bible and to take note of the occasions when divine intervention has seemed to occur. During most times, we humans are allowed to live out our earthly existence unhindered, but then there are other times when God seems to take special notice or even intervene in the course of events.A few examples where God has either personally intervened or has sanctioned war are shown below.

Worthy opponents – Greek hoplite and Persian warrior depicted fighting, on an ancient drinking cup, 5th century BC

1. When a civilization had become so sinful it was antithetical to life. Examples are the condition of the earth’s inhabitants right before the flood and in Sodom and Gomorrah before those cities were destroyed.  Jesus also promised there would be intervention in the end-time as he said “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.” (Matthew 24:22, NIV)

2. Self-defense. Jesus himself instructed his disciples to have swords in the group for self-defense. (Luke 22:36-38) There are many instances of this throughout the whole Bible, including the story of David taking on the giant Goliath, who threatened and mocked Israel.

3. God allowed the people of Israel, the stock from whom our Redeemer would come, to acquire territory in war when it was faithful and obedient to God, but then also he allowed people of Israel to lose blood, treasure, freedom and land when they strayed from him. (Deuteronomy 3:22, 7:18, 20:1, I Chronicles 9:1, II Chronicles 18, II Chronicles 20:15)

In the Bible we see instances of admiration for warriors. David and his mighty men are referred to in several passages. David seemed to inspire a great deal of loyalty with the men whose company he kept. During the time David was to become king for the first time, he had contingents from all of the tribes escorting and supporting him. This glorious time is described below:

All these men of war, that could keep rank, came with a perfect heart to Hebron, to make David king over all Israel: and all the rest also of Israel were of one heart to make David king. (I Chronicles 12:38)

The soldiers described above are said as being of “one heart” and men “that could keep rank”. It is said that no one can really understand the bond of those who have fought together and protected each other on the battlefield.

Another thing vital to being a good soldier is faith, just as the Spartans believed their sacrifice could provide something better as their families lived after them. Jesus himself called attention to the faith of a Roman Centurion in a short passage in the gospels:

And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him. The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour. (Matthew 8:5-13)

The book of Ecclesiastes gives us sound wisdom on there being a time for everything: “A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:8). Some people think of God being a harsh, Old Testament figure. Is that how we should view Him? God is a “consuming fire” in Hebrews 12:29, but “God is love” in I John 4:8. The “Lion of the tribe of Judah” in Revelation 5:5 is the same person as the “Prince of Peace” in Isaiah 9:6. Although David was a man after God’s own heart, the Lord chose to have his temple built by his son Solomon, who was a man of peace.

Comparative and Foreshadowing Aspects of These Stories in History and Prophecy

“Let the lost be found and the dead be raised – In the here and now, let love invade               Let the church live loud, Our God we’ll say – We believe, we believe!                                       And the gates of hell will not prevail – For the power of God has torn the veil                        Now we know your love will never fail – We believe, we believe!”                                  (Newsboys – “We Believe”)


Lion on a decorative panel made of molded bricks, Persian King Darius’s palace at Susa. Terracotta, ca. 510 BC.

The battle of Thermopylae was three days of fierce fighting at the site translated as the Hot Gates. Esther, Mordecai and their friends fasted for three days after the lot had already been cast and the law had been sealed that allowed the genocide of her people. Three days of physical battle at Thermopylae. Three days of spiritual battle in Susa a few years later. The battle of Thermopylae was technically a loss for the Spartans and Greeks, but it would make a King and his subjects wonder and reinforce both the human rights of self-defense and freedom of worship. The result of the spiritual battle in Esther was undiluted victory.

Like many other stories in the Bible, the book of Esther especially shows us that God uses individuals. There are many times that God will not act unless he sees faith exhibited by individuals. Just like when Abraham asked God to save the cities of the plain if there were enough righteous individuals. Mordecai and Esther didn’t wait for a divine command or an invitation. They only did what they knew to be right.

We can draw some interesting parallels between the Spartans, their leader Leonidas and Christ.  A few of them are: 1. Jesus, King of Kings, is known as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Rev.5:5) and the Spartan King’s name was Leonidas, meaning “Lion-like”. 2. Both Christ and the Spartans were on a sacrificial mission. 3. Both Christ and the Spartans were betrayed by one of their own. 4. Jesus Christ was crucified on a cross and history records that in his anger, Xerxes wanted King Leonidas’ dead body to be crucified. 5. Christ rose from the grave to immortal life and the Spartan hoplite warriors had a story that lived long after them and soldiers and sons who would carry on after them. In an interesting way, the descendants of the wayward tribe from the book of Numbers may have foreshadowed the coming of Christ.

Faith is fundamental in Christian thinking. Paul said in Hebrews 11:6 – “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). One of the Spartans named Dieneces heard that the Persian arrows would be so numerous that they would obscure the sun. This brave Spartan responded he wasn’t bothered as they would fight them in the shade. For a modern application, we do not need favorable conditions or even the light of day to oppose evil or tyranny. As is seen in these stories, this is done through faith.

The cast lot and the immutable law signed by the King would not doom the Jewish people, and the onslaught of tens of thousands at the hot gates of Thermopylae would not defeat the spirit of the Spartans. These stories weave together as instances where God took a direct interest in the affairs of men, and of His people Israel.


 ~While drawing from many sources, the views and opinions expressed in the discussion of historical events and related Biblical passages are solely those of the author.~

 
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Posted by on June 25, 2014 in Culture, Faith, History, The Bible

 

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Tips for Maintaining Your Health during Periods of Stress

We all go through periods of stress and it can affect us differently. Stress can cause an elevated heartbeat, headaches, stiff neck and tight shoulders, back pain, sweating and upset stomach. Over time, stress can affect the immune system, muscles, and the heart and other organs of your body. http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/stress-management-effects-of-stress

Stress often involves change. Some of the most stressful life events include: spouse death, divorce, marriage separation, jail term, death of a loved one, injury or illness, marriage, job loss, pregnancy, and retirement/change of financial status. It is interesting that even events we look forward to like marriage and retirement can be severe stressors.

A stressful life event that I experienced was in taking on a challenging job after being away from the work force for two years. The new job involved a lot of responsibility and a lot of new things that I would have to learn. Although not on the above list, a lot of people develop chronic stress from work. And chances are that if your boss does not handle stress well, that it can also affect you. I did not exactly handle my stressful situation the best. I was drinking tons of coffee, not sleeping well, not making time for exercise, and ended up gaining about 20 pounds. I probably knew better, but you can get on a cycle where you don’t know what else to do. So this article stems from lessons learned.

One other consideration involves the effect of hormones on the body. While there are a few hormones like testosterone in men and women that can aid weight loss, elevated levels of certain hormones like cortisol can cause detrimental effects on the body, including weight gain. http://stress.about.com/od/stresshealth/a/cortisol.htm

This article is not medical advice. It is about relating my own lessons learned. Here are some of my own tips for not letting stress take its toll.

  1. Take a walk. Go for one or more short, brisk walks throughout the day for stress reduction and health benefits. http://walking.about.com/od/hearthealth/a/hypertension906.htm   A study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion found short walks to have enormous positive benefits. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130901153352.htm
  2. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. When we are stressed we often tend to drink anything but water, but water is exactly what is needed. http://benefitof.net/benefits-of-drinking-water/ 
  3. Eat anti-inflammatory foods. Inflammation is a common culprit in most disease from cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Anti-inflammatory foods can include anything from organic fruits and vegetables to fish and fish oil, olive oil, to a glass of red wine. Even though salad can be healthy, most store-bought salad dressings actually increase inflammation. A great simple anti-inflammatory salad dressing is one part rice vinegar, two parts olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. A good book on this topic is The Inflammation Syndrome by Jack Challem. 
  4. Multi-task. It might sound counter-intuitive, but you can reduce stress by keeping busy. You might catch up with a favorite show on Netflix or listen to a book on tape while doing housework. If you sit watching NFL football doing nothing but consuming beer and fatty foods, this can add stress. However if you also fold a couple loads of laundry, change the cat litter and take out the trash in the same period, this time multi-tasking will probably not add to your stress level, even if your team loses. 
  5. Pray. You don’t have to handle your stress alone.
  6. Socialize with supportive friends. Individuals with a support system always fare better than their isolated counterparts.
  7. Exercise. It is a great way to distract us in a productive way, remove tension from our bodies and help us sleep better. Also, if done outside, you can be invigorated with fresh air.
  8. Get restful sleep and a nap when you can. I put this one last because the chances are that if you do the preceding (including the exercise and drinking water) that you will be able to sleep.

Take charge of your own health and take care of you!

 
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Posted by on February 23, 2014 in Career, Culture, Health, Life

 

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Video

tobyMac – Speak Life

“It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” – John 6:63

 
 

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Prescriptive vs. Descriptive Communication

I first noticed prescriptive and descriptive styles of communication in observing parenting styles. Both types of communication are necessary in certain contexts. In terms of persuasion however, I have found the descriptive style to have a lot more appeal.

Here are a few examples of these types of communication in different contexts.

Advice

Prescriptive – If you follow my 31-point system, you cannot fail. (Micro-manager)

Descriptive – Here are some of the things that worked for me and contributed to my success…

Teaching

Prescriptive – The first Homo sapiens evolved between 400,000 – 250,000 years ago. (Authority figure/Doctrinal)

Descriptive – These are some of the things I know about the theories of evolution and intelligent design…

Teaching # 2

Prescriptive – Religion is oppressive! (Opinion taught as fact)

Descriptive – I will give you some of the tenets of the major religions and belief systems of the world, but I encourage you to look into these topics for yourself.

Parenting

Prescriptive – Eat your broccoli!

Descriptive – I hope that you will eat your broccoli. (Emotional appeal)

Parenting # 2

Prescriptive – None of my kids had better use drugs! (Veiled threat)

Descriptive – These are some of the effects of a person’s brain on meth…

Religious Instruction

Prescriptive – The Pharisees placed burdens on others as authority figures (Matthew 23:1-9)

Descriptive – Jesus used parables and quoted scripture (The temptation of Jesus “It is written” – Luke 4:1-13)

Witnessing or Preaching

Prescriptive – You need Jesus!

Descriptive – I need Jesus.

There is a time and a place for both prescriptive and descriptive communication. Prescriptive communication is often used with young children, as in “Don’t touch the stove!”; “Eat your fruit”; “If you don’t eat your vegetables, you won’t get to have dessert”; and “Don’t run into the street!” Although we would probably never need to tell our teenager not to run into the street, it is possible a similar issue could come up if our teen was a daring skate-boarder. So prescriptive communication can work well with young children, especially when it is balanced a lot of affection, which typically would be the case.

Another good use of prescriptive communication is in times of stress. Boot camp or military training, for example. In these cases people should and must be prepared to take orders. War would not be a time for Socratic dialogue. If there was a woman and her young child trapped in a burning upstairs apartment, the firefighters might tell her: “Mrs. Jones, drop Timmy into our net. Good. Now you jump.” In these cases, prescriptive communication inspires confidence, not doubt. The person taking authority has transferred responsibility for the outcome onto himself or herself.

There are other times however, when descriptive communication has the edge. If you have studied psychology, you may have learned that there is a huge difference between being authoritative and authoritarian. If you don’t let your kids – especially the older ones – make any decisions for themselves, they will never have an accurate grasp of cause and effect outside of the fear of authority. Under an authoritarian regime one does not develop the confidence to make decisions for himself.  Beliefs will tend be shallow if they are only based on what an authoritarian figure says, and not on one’s own examination and reasoning. Prescriptive teaching can also create confusion, especially if you have been taught the opposite before. You won’t know who to believe or to trust. But if you are trained to reason, research and evaluate the facts and implications on your own, then you will not be swayed easily back and forth. You will be able to recognize flawed arguments, logical fallacies or deliberate deception.

Descriptive communication is also an effective way to build a warm relationship. Instead of an authority-obedience relationship, it is a relationship where discussion is possible. Knowledge and learning is emphasized, not dogmas and platitudes. Kids are naturally curious and full of questions, so attempting to answer their questions with a humble attitude is one of the best ways to build a good relationship with them. Descriptive communication is especially effective with kids.

Low-key descriptive communication might be an effective approach for wooing a rebellious teenager. Scientists and psychiatric experts have observed that the adolescent brain is incomplete, especially in the areas of making good decisions. As described in a 1999 US News and World report article, teens may lack the necessary “hardware” for having good judgment. Here is a link to the article in which the below quote is found. http://www.usnews.com/usnews/culture/articles/990809/archive_001644.htm

“Until the prefrontal cortex has been pruned, most young teenagers don’t yet have all the brain power they need to make good judgments. Researchers suspect that the excess of synapses means the young adolescent mind can’t easily keep track of multiple thoughts, and it can’t gain instant access to critical memories and emotions that allow grown-ups to make judicious decisions.”

Teenagers may not remember all of the applicable warnings or advice that a parent has given on any situation or vice, but they will remember the kind of relationship that they have with their parents. If the relationship is tense and full of conflict, the child may go the opposite direction from the parents’ wishes. However if there is warmth and open communication, the child will remember that. The pull of the parent-child relationship alone may prevent poor decisions at that critical time of life. Psychologist and author James Dobson also seems to support this concept of stepping back when parenting older kids. This is quote from his book “Solid Answers”: “Older children desire to be friends with their parents instead of accepting their parents’ authority over them.”

Descriptive communication is also a logical tool for single parents – especially single mothers – to employ. Single mothers can sometimes use the controversial “passive” parenting to good effect. Since single parents are often more constrained in keeping track of their kids compared to two-parent homes, there is a break in the ability to have complete authority over them. Thus, authoritative parenting could be frustrating and ill-advised. Renowned neurosurgeon Benjamin Carson was raised along with his brother by a mother with only a 3rd grade education. She worked several jobs and had little time at home. She required certain things of her sons like reading and book reports, even though she herself could not read. Her high expectations of them inspired them to higher heights. She also developed a system in which her sons helped to make the family rules. By involving them in the process, they were much more likely to live by those rules. Her method of parenting involved giving up some of her power, but the results speak for themselves. Their family had challenges and things to overcome, but both of her sons became very successful. As a pioneering neurosurgeon, Dr. Carson has been an inspiring role model to many throughout his career. He is the author of several books, including his autobiography, “Gifted Hands”.

With thoughtfulness we can learn to communicate more appropriately and intelligently, in ways that establish respect, confidence and the importance of relationships.

 

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