Rest in Peace

Someone asked me today about the use of the phrase, “Rest in Peace” when we bury a loved one.  It is the reason why Halloween became such a popular holiday in the world. It started out as “Hallows Eve”.
Just like on Christmas Eve, we honor that night before the birth of Jesus. So, on Hallows Eve, we remember the “saints” who have gone on from this world into God’s eternity.  We don’t forget the loved ones who have gone on before us, rather we remember them, visit their graves and leave flowers.
Rest in Peace is taken from the Latin (Requiescat in pace; hence the term “Requiem”.) It is a phrase that was used in Christian funerals.  It is way of wishing that the deceased’s soul may find eternal peace and rest in Jesus Christ. Such inscriptions were found in the catacombs of the early church and continued to be used on gravestones to this day.  Over time it was abbreviated as “RIP”, merely signifying that someone (regardless of faith) has died.  Oddly enough these words have been found inscribed into Hebrew gravestones dating from the 1st Century BC (Before Christ). “Come and rest in peace” has been transferred to the ancient Talmudic prayers in the 3rd   century AD & is used today in traditional Jewish ceremonies.
Later in history, when the phrase became ubiquitous, it was often used to refer to the body itself, not the soul.  The soul would sleep in the body, and it was wished that the body would find a peaceful rest.  This is commonly known as “soul sleep” and is not a Biblical concept.  For the Christian, to be “absent from the body is to be present with the Lord”, 2 Corinthians 5:8.
After the reformation (1517, 500 years ago this year) things began to change in the minds of the Christian world. The church season known as “Hallow Tide” (when the saints were honored), became less and less enchanted.  By that I mean that the belief in ghosts & spirits went on the decline because of the Biblical teachings on the matter that became open for the public to view and read for itself.  Then you add to that the “age of enlightenment” (17th & 18th  centuries) where the educated elite ruled out any thought of an afterlife or spirits or ghosts or any other such thing. Slowly that line of thought trickled down through our education system and it became common knowledge in the west that the time of enchantment was over, and all there was in life was what you could feel, see, taste touch etc. 
But outside the culture of the wests modernization, in South America, where Catholicism still reigned supreme, the world was still enchanted with spirts, good and evil.  The faith merged with some of the cultic beliefs in Mexico and South America.  So that throughout the Caribbean island’s & Mexico “All Hallows Eve” became the “Day of the Dead”, when spirits supposedly came back to life and people began to wear dreadful looking costumes to frighten the evil spirits back into their graves (or wherever they came from).   It became a holiday that people looked forward to because of the revelry of the event, (much like “Ash Wednesday” became a Carnival in South America.  It is also widely believed that many Halloween traditions originated from ancient Celtic harvest festivals, from cults prior to Christianity.  
All Hallows Eve became colloquialized as “Halloween” and that is how it came to America.  Children would dress up in costumes and go door to door asks for “treats” & if they didn’t get them, then certain “tricks” would be played on that household.  From that we get the phrase “trick or treat?”
Today it has become one of the most celebrated “holidays” in America.
Sadly, it has lost its innocence.  With the rise of the occult beginning in the 1960’s Satan worship, witches, spiritism, talking with the dead, have all become a big part of our culture.  More adults participate in “Halloween” than do children.  The onslaught of horror movies has taken over, and the pornography industry is cashing in big time.  Today in America, the age of disenchantment is over.  And despite the efforts of so many atheists, the spirit world is very real to the clear majority of American’s.   It is not unusual to find Christians who today, believe in ghosts, that is departed spirits, come back from the dead to haunt.  I’ve done enough funerals to know that most of America’s beliefs about the dead are sadly mistaken.  Let me be very clear, “it is appointed for each man once to die, and then comes the judgment”, Hebrews 9:27.  Your deceased relatives are not here for you to talk to.  They are not up in the sky watching you make that touchdown, so you can look up point up and say, “this one’s for you”. No one comes back from the dead, or sits in heaven watching you.  But there are evil spirits out there, fallen angels (known as demons) who followed Lucifer, as he became “Satan” and the “Devil” to be thrown out of heaven. They would like you to believe that they are your dead relatives or someone from the past ages, but they are not.  One thing for sure, their powers are real.  They can lead you into temptation.  They can possess people and lead them to many destructive things (even like mass shootings or suicide bombings).  The occult is nothing to be trifled with.  
All Hallows Eve is a time to remember the beloved Christians who have gone on before us and now reside with Christ.  They are a great host in heaven, and that remind us that our greatest Hope is in Jesus Christ & His salvation.  

In eius dilectione
Pastor Mike



National Day of Prayer

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Thomas Paine once said, “these are the times that try men’s souls”.

America is in crisis, inside and out.  Protestors are threatening our peace from within, rioting if they don’t get what they want.  College age adults, trained in our schools, want limits on free speech.  They want to decide what is acceptable and what is not.  The PC police have frightened most Americans from speaking their own minds.   Outside of our borders we face new threats of terrorism on our shores.  Millions of people unhappy with their lot in life have been illegally streaming into our country in order to attain free benefits from our government: education, medical care, welfare, housing without having to work for it.  Our own politicians are enabling them in order to gain votes in any election.  O yes, they are not citizens, but they can get drivers licenses and they will vote.

 

Within our country we have seen the corruption of government in every sector, leaders who set up rules for the citizens which they themselves refuse to be a part of.  Just look at the degradation in our country due to a loss of proper values and morals.  Have your read about North Carolina’s new bathroom laws to protect our families and children, while our own Federal Justice Department is trying to overturn such laws as civil rights violations.  What about the rights of descent American’s who don’t want a few people’s perversions flaunted in their face while they try and use public bathroom?  Don’t they have rights as well?   We have a secular elite who want to remove our foundational freedoms in order to bolster their own power in government.  They are systematically tearing down and undermining the great foundations of our country.  What ever happened to the “will of the people”?

 

If there’s ever been a time in our countries history in which we ought to drop to our knees and begin to pray earnestly for our nation, this is it.

We have gone so far off course that it seems impossible to get back to what America used to be, what America needs to be for our sake as well as for the sake of the world. Abraham Lincoln once said, “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.”  We have always had the sense that we could do anything and fix anything, but as I look today we have gone too far.  It is going to take a miracle of Biblical proportions to save America for future generations.

 

In the book “7 Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness,” by Eric Metaxas,

He recounts a story of George Washington’s commitment to prayer during the Revolution. His nephew, George Lewis, told a Washington biographer that “he had accidentally witnessed [the general’s] private devotions in his library both morning and evening: that on these occasions he had seen him in a kneeling position with a Bible open before him and that he believed such to have been his daily practice.”

 

Would that every Christian in America had that kind of commitment to prayer.  It was a miracle that we won the revolutionary war, it was a miracle that gave us success at Midway that opened the door for victory in WW2.  Throughout our history the God fearing praying Christians of America have touched the heart of God and kept our country afloat.  We must get back to this kind of passionate prayer.

 

At Chuck Colson’s center they have given us specific focus on how Christ’s church—the people of God—can make a difference in our culture and around the world. We should not hesitate to join them and millions of others throughout our country.

And here’s what we will pray:

  1. We will praise the Lord that His sovereign goodness is as true today as ever. We will remember that this world ultimately belongs to God,

who created all things and Who, in Christ, is restoring all things.

  1. We will repent of our sin, and thank God for His promised forgiveness.

We will remind ourselves that all have sinned, and that we are welcomed

by God through repentance. Nehemiah began his work in the world with repentance. So will we.

  1. We will pray for our current government leaders to fight evil and stand up for truth. We will remember that there is no place where God is not at work.
  2. We will pray that truth and justice will prevail over “political correctness” and “tolerance,” both in our own lives and in our culture. We will remember that right and wrong do not change according to cultural fashions, nor does legality alter morality.
  3. We will pray for the upcoming election season, that God would show us mercy and not give us what we deserve. We will remember that God ultimately orchestrates human history and uses whom He will to accomplish His purposes.
  4. We will pray that God unites His people, using them to bring restoration in this broken culture. We’ll remember that those who have been reconciled to God have been put on mission as agents of reconciliation.

 

Friends, as we pray, we must remember what is true about God, about the Church, and about the world. History demonstrates that God will not tolerate legally approved immorality & a country that spurns His Word & His Ways. But history also shows us that God will hear our prayers.

We CAN make a difference!  We must for the sake of our children & grandchildren.

Mike Samarkand 1024x768

 

Coram Deo,
 
Pastor Mike


Coffee anyone?

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A group of young adults got together at a friend’s home.
They talked about a lot of things but soon the conversation turned into complaints  about politics, stress in work, trouble in our country & life.
The host offered his guests coffee.  He went to the kitchen where he had already prepared the coffee.  He picked out a number of different cups and mugs, as he had a good collection.  Some were porcelain, plastic, glass, crystal, some plain-looking, some expensive, and some exquisite.  He brought it into the room with sugar and cream telling them to help themselves to the coffee.   After everyone had chosen a cup, and began to drink their coffee, the host remarked to the group.  "If you noticed, all the nice looking expensive cups were taken up, leaving behind the plain and cheap ones. While it is but normal for us to want only the best for ourselves, that is the source of our problems and stress.   "Be assured that the cup itself adds no quality to the coffee.  In most cases, it's just more expensive and in some cases even hides what we drink. What all of you really wanted was coffee, not the cup.   But, subconsciously, we go for the best cups...and then we began eyeing each other's cups.   "Now consider this: Life is the coffee, and the jobs, money and, the politics, our position in society are the cups. They are just tools to hold and contain life, and the type of cup we have does not define nor change the quality of life we live. Sometimes, by concentrating only on the cup, we fail to enjoy the coffee God has provided us. God brews the coffee, not the cups.  Let’s enjoy our coffee.”   When a family suffers a devastating fire in their home a number of things transpire.  There is the immediate shock followed by the sense of loss when you start to realize all that was destroyed.  The task of sorting through the rubble, is often a very painful task.  People often have to move out of the house right away due to health issues or safety problems.  That change in itself can be very demoralizing.   At some point you begin to focus on what is really important in life. It always comes down to loved ones and relationships.  You realize that your life was not the house of the things in it.  Job, in the Old Testament, experienced this in a major way that. God forbid we will ever have to experience such a nightmare.   The house the clothes, the possessions, were just the cups that hold our lives. God is most concerned about His beloved children. The cups they come and go.  Sometimes in life the cups are beautiful and precious.  At other times they are downright disappointments. But through it all, it is the “coffee” that is important, what God is brewing in our lives.  
Fortunately, we know the end of the story.  These cups here are only temporary.  Jesus is preparing a new cup for us, that will be glorious and it will carry this precious gift of life into all eternity.
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Enjoy your coffee,
Pastor Mike


Do you love me?

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Last week I made reference to the movie/musical  Fiddler on the Roof.
I drew attention to the scene where Tevye is asking his wife Golde if she loves him.  They had been married the traditional way, by a matchmaker. They never saw each other until their wedding day.  His parents had told Tevye that they would grow to love each other.  He hadn’t thought about that much until it was time for his daughters to be wed.  They had each fallen in love and did not want to be married to someone chosen by the village matchmaker.  They were breaking tradition because of the love in their hearts for someone else. Tevye gives in to their request, but now he is wondering, does his wife love him. Tevye : “Golde, Do you love me? Golde responds: “Do I love you? With our daughters getting married,and this trouble in the town you're upset, you're worn out.  Go inside, go lie down!  Maybe it's indigestion.” Tevye persists with his question: “Do you love me?” Golde responds to his persistence:  “Do I love you?  For twenty-five years I've washed your clothes, cooked your meals, cleaned your house, given you children, milked the cow, after twenty-five years, why talk about love right now?” Tevye   wants an answer, “Do you love me?” Golde,  speaking to herself: “Do I love him?  For twenty-five years I've lived with him, fought with him, starved with him, twenty-five years my bed is his.   If that's not love, what is?”
Tevye jumps at his chance: “Then you love me?”
Golde   “I suppose I do”
Tevye  “And I suppose I love you too.”
They both seem quite satisfied to know, & then they sing together:  “It doesn't change a thing, but even so,  after twenty-five years it's nice to know.”
Yes, it is nice to know.  We all need to be loved & to give love in return.  Jesus summarizes the whole of the law of the Old Testament with 2 great commands in Mark 12:28-31
quoting Deuteronomy 6, the Shema.
28      …“what commandment is the foremost of all?” 29      Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; 30      AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.’ 31      “The second is this, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” I have a good handle on what it means to love others.  Not that it is all that easy.  Some are easier to love than others.  That is not so much a judgment on them as it is me.  My love needs to do a lot of growing here.
But the 1
st 
command, to love God with all my heart, all my soul, my mind, and my strength, now that is where I have a problem.  I have no issue loving my wife, my kids and my grandkids like this.  But to be honest, I struggle emoting those kinds of feelings towards God.
After the resurrection Jesus appears to the disciples on the shore of Galilee (John 21:15-17) where Jesus asks Peter three times in a row, “Do you love Me?” Each time John responds in the affirmative, & each time Jesus tells him to “take care of Jesus’ sheep”.   I take this to mean that our love for Jesus is shown to Jesus when we do what he wants us to do. He says as much in John 14:15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” And then in John 14:21 “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” In John 14:23 Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. 24 “He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.” And then Jesus closes out this section by saying in John 14:25 25 “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. 26 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My Name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” Based on what Jesus has taught in these verses, then I can say with Golde when God asks me if I love Him, “Yes, I suppose I do.” My answer does not come from my emotions, it comes from my actions, living my life in obedience.  I gave up my dreams for my life & accepted God’s will for me to preach and teach His Word, and to tend His flock by feeding them. Although I must say I have struggled to bring them in from the field. Sheep are a stubborn lot, and many prefer to just stay out in the world for whatever reason.  But for those who come I have tried my best to feed them not only the milk, but the meat of the Word of God.  And I also believe that at Pathway we have done a good job in fulfilling His greatest commission by leading His sheep into the uttermost parts of the world in order to love people and share the life changing Gospel, the good news of salvation to all who would receive. Not everyone has the same calling.  Some are called to do other things than the things that I have done.  It makes them no less or more important than me.  We are all children of God, on equal footing, seeking to be faithful to serving God’s particular call upon our lives.  The trick is in discerning what God’s will is.  What is God calling you to do? Have you been obedient to all that God has asked of you?  I can’t say that I have.  I know that I have messed up quite a bit.  But I do keep trying.  I need to lean a little more on the “teacher” “my Helper”, the Holy Spirit of God.  (John 14:26) I still struggle with the emotional part of this.  Some followers of Jesus seem to have this incredible deep “feeling” of love for God.  I wish I could experience that.  Maybe it’s my personality.  I’m just not an emotional kind of guy.  I don’t have the answer.  But I do know that I am hungering for more of Him. Mike Samarkand 1024x768
“That all may Love Him”
Pastor Mike


THE Name Above All Names

the_name_above_all_names_christ_jesus_by_fadlydante-d4rcfjlIsaiah is a towering book of prophecy & one of the most beautiful and significant of Old Testament books. Its messages of judgment are balanced by matchless words of comfort and hope. And its vision of the Savior is the most moving as well as the clearest of all Old Testament portraits.

Its 66 chapters make it the third longest literary work in the Bible.

One of the book’s greatest values is found in its unforgettable images of God. Isaiah’s distinctive title for God, “the Holy One of Israel,” is used 25 times and captures something of the majestic glory with which He is displayed. He is Creator, King, and Savior for His people, the “Mighty God” who sends His Servant, the Messiah, to rescue them at a terrible personal cost. Isaiah 53’s graphic study of the Servant’s suffering is an unmistakably distinct portrait of Calvary, penned some 700 years before Jesus’ birth.

We would know nothing of God except that He revealed Himself to us in His word. Some of the greatest revelations of our Infinite God comes through His Names.  The name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. There around 420 names of our God in three persons.

In the Old Testament there are 223 & in the New Testament there are 195.

To the Old Testament saints the name Jehovah was an ointment poured forth shedding its fragrance over all.  When God spoke with Moses, Moses asked Him what is the name that should be used for Him.  God responded

“I Am Who I Am”.  In the scriptures all we have is the 4 letters of that name,  “YHWH” – it is known as the tetragrammaton.  They only wrote the consonants because they did not want to break God’s Command by using His name in vain, so they simply omitted the vowels.  Then no one would really be saying His name.  Thus the original pronunciation was lost.  The name of God is represented in the Masoretic Text as being the 4 consonants & adding the vowels from the word Lord (aḏōnāy).  From this the sixteenth century translators give us the word “Jehovah” or “Yahweh”.  It is found in one of the words that is the exact same in every language of the world, “Hallelujah!”

New Testament saints think of Him as Jesus.  In the Old Testament Hebrew this is the same name as Joshua, who led the children out of the wildnerness into the promised land.  He as a type of salvation for the people.

The ultimate Savior is our Lord Jesus the Christ.  If ever there was a name that, as ointment poured forth," shed a fragrance over all of human life it is the name of Jesus!

The Name of Jesus is the saving name: "Thou shalt call His name JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21).

The Name of Jesus is the sanctifying name. We are to do all things, in word and deed, in the name of the Lord Jesus (c.f. Colossians 3:17).

The Name of Jesus is the sovereign name. "At the name of Jesus every knee should bow" (Philippians 2:10). It is the name that charms our fears and bids our sorrows cease." It is the name that, as "music in the sinner's ears, brings life and health and peace."

This is a name that has no bounds. It cannot be mortally defined.

It is above all names.

Ephesians 1:18-21 NASB

18      I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened,

so that you will know what is the hope of His calling,

what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,

19      and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us

who believe. These are in accordance with the working of

the strength of His might

20      which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead

and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places,

21      far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every

name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.

No where do we find more names of our promised God the Son coming to save His lost creatures, than in Isaiah.   For a world sitting in the darkness of terrorism & death, lost & hopeless, to our world that name came.

It was a dark hour in Israel about 730 years before Bethlehem's babe.

But what about His name?  What will this coming one be called?

Four pairs of distilled divinity are given to us in Isaiah 9:6.

Let's savor them as we herald our Savior who came and has come to our lives and is coming.... Who is He?

Isaiah 9:6 NLT

6      For a Child is born to us,

a Son is given to us.

The government will rest on His shoulders.

And He will be called:

    • Wonderful Counselor,
    • Mighty God,
    • Everlasting Father,
    • Prince of Peace.

This Sunday I will be expounding on the meaning of this verse.

Corem
Deo,  Pastor Mike


Remember when…

During the Holidays, I always turn a little nostalgic. One of my very first320857fcaa3e147d2dfd00f06f83d6d1
memories is being in Virginia for a brief time after Dad left the Navy.  I must have been 2, maybe a little more.  But I remember walking down the street with my Dad and Mom.  We had gone down town in Hampton to do a little shopping.  I was all bundled up in my winter clothes, and a light snow was coming down so slowly that you could reach out a catch a big snowflake for a second before it desolved.  All the stores had their Christmas lights on.  Obviously I can’t remember everything of that event, but in my mind it was like a Normal Rockwell painting.  That memory has brought me wonderful feelings about the holidays ever since.  It was one of those picture book memories that shapes my attitude and feelings about Christmas.
Maybe that is why I am obsessed, (Maybe a little too strong a word – depending on who you're talking to – if you talk to my family, it is spot on),  obsessed with capturing the past so that I will remember the wonderful events of days gone by.  I guess that is why I love decorating our Christmas tree to the music of the Messiah every year. As a youth, I would buy a big calendar to put on my wall beside my desk in my bedroom.  Each day I would write down what happened – just the high points & the things I did not want to forget.  Later in college I would graduate to a journal, at first hand writtpen-and-journal (2)en.  I have boxes of stuff out in the garage, keep sakes that take me back in time.  I have things that I have purchased from all of the world on my journeys, decorating my office at work and at home. Some things especially have deep meaning & I connect them to some important event that took place.  
My memory is so poor, & getting worse.  So these things help me keep in touch with my past.  Especially my photography – I can look at those old photos, and recapture the days gone by.  They help me to remember the blessings of God and the great joy that He has allowed me to have.
There is a flip side to this.  During a very dark period of my life, that came and went for about 10 years (mostly dark) – I kept a very detailed journal of the events, my failings and my feelings. It was much easier to do since I had joined the computer age.  So I wrote a lot.  I was struggling with depression during those years.  Finally I started to get well, thanks to therapy, my wife and some very loving people at Pathway. But I wouldn’t let go of that dark past.   I would occasionally go back and read about what I had gone through and how it had such a devastating effect on me.  The worst part was not so much what had happened, but what I thought about those situations and how they affected feelings and my self-image. For years I hung on to those writings – going back to visit occasionally.  It was like going back to a garbage dump.  It was smelly. It was awful.  And it would drag me back down into the darkness.  I couldn’t really break free.  God had forgiven. I had forgiven.  But there it was, always waiting for me to return & recapture the pain, the hurt and the evil darkness. Finally I did what Jan (my wife) had kept telling me to do. (Sometimes we men don’t always listen right away to those who love us.)  I deleted it all, and threw all of the hard copies into the shredder.  I would never be able to go back now. It hurt when I did it.  But now they were gone.   It was like cleaning a wound, hurtful and yet the only way for it to heal up.  Over time, those things began to leave my conscious memories.  Then I began to experience the real healing that I so desperately needed from God. There is a great spiritual lesson in all of this.  There are things in life that God wants us to remember.  He wants us to look back and count our blessings.  He wants us to remember just how good and faithful and loving and forgiving and wonderful He really is.  Hence, we need to remember His kindness for two basic reasons. The first, so that we know where our blessings come from & can praise Him. Second, so that we can heed his warnings, and not go “off-roading” from His plan.  He wants us to keep our lives in His circle of love. The good memories keep us on track. And then there is the matter of the brokenness of our lives, the results of the darkness.  He wants to forgive them.  We need to forgive others and ourselves.  And then we need to bury those events in the graveyard, never to go back.  Not even to lay flowers.  There will come a time, when you are so healed, that you can share them with others to help them in their despair. But this is always from the side of victory, not defeat.  As a result we praise God all the more. Worship Man In the coming “holidays” focus on the good memories and try to banish the hurt and pain of things forgiven.  God has forgiven them, and buried them. We need to do the same, and then move on in the Love, Joy and Peace, that comes when we remember all the great things God has done for us, in us and through us.
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In Christi Gloriam,
Pastor Mike