Posted by: Aaron Allison | December 16, 2014

As Christians, let’s celebrate Hanukkah, too

Nativity

Today (December 16) is the start of the Jewish holiday Hanukkah.  An email from the International Christian Embassy for Jerusalem, a ministry CIL supports, really expanded my thoughts towards Hanukkah.  Susan Michael’s article is informative and thought provocative, so take a read, and see if you agree:

A common understanding of the December holiday season is that Christmas is the holiday for Christians and Hanukkah is the holiday for Jews. Few Christians relate to Hanukkah since it is not one of the biblical feasts of Israel. But, the fact that Jesus celebrated Hanukkah should make Christians curious enough to investigate the possible importance of the festival to their faith. 

It is no exaggeration to say that had it not been for Hanukkah, there could have very well not been a Christmas. Hanukkah prepared the way for the birth and ministry of Jesus. Therefore, Christians may want to not only wish the Jewish community a Happy Hanukkah, but celebrate it themselves!

God Gives the Victory

The story of Hanukkah begins during the period in-between the Old and New Testaments, when Antiochus IV Epiphanes became the ruler of the Greek empire. While the Hellenization of the area already threatened the survival of the Jewish religion, Antiochus seemed obsessed with ensuring the demise of the Jewish faith and thereby, the future of the Jewish people. 

He not only murdered the High Priest, Onias III, but he slaughtered 40,000 inhabitants of Jerusalem. All sacrifices, the service of the Temple, and the observance of the Sabbath and of feast days were prohibited. The Temple was dedicated to Zeus, the Holy Scriptures were destroyed, and the Jews were forced to take part in heathen rites. 

In his attempt to destroy every trace of the Jewish religion, the final assault was the slaughter of a pig on the sacrificial altar of the Temple, thereby desecrating it. The Maccabean family, from the priestly line of Aaron, led a revolt against this evil ruler and miraculously experienced victory after victory over the mighty Greek forces, until at last the Temple could be purified and its services restored. 

This rededication of the Temple to the God of Israel is celebrated during Hanukkah, originally known as the Festival of Dedication. Hanukkah is a Hebrew word derived from the word “to dedicate.”

The defeat of the Greek forces by this small band of Jewish zealots was nothing short of a miracle. God had once again demonstrated His steadfast love and faithfulness to His people by saving them from the threat of extinction. This in itself is cause enough for celebration!

The story goes on to claim that when the Jews re-entered the city of Jerusalem and the Temple, there was only enough of the special oil to light the Temple menorah and keep it burning for one day. But, the oil miraculously burned for eight days while more was being brought from the Galilee—an eight day trip there and back. 

The story of the miracle oil is nowhere found in the inter-Testamental writings, therefore it is largely believed to be a legend, however, the very first Hanukkah was indeed celebrated for eight days, and the festival was called the festival of lights as early as the first century. Perhaps archeology will one day uncover a clue to the story’s authenticity.

A Turning Point in History

The events leading up to the Maccabean revolt were prophesied in vivid detail in the Old Testament book of Daniel. In chapter 8, the Angel Gabriel described to the prophet Daniel the coming abomination of a king who would put a stop to sacrifices and desecrate the sanctuary. 

The fact that it was prophesied some 250 years before it occurred indicates how serious the threat was to the Jewish people. The Maccabean revolt was a turning point in history that saved the Jewish people and their religion from the threat of extinction.

This story, and the various archeological finds that support it, provide further proof as to the existence of the Temple in Jerusalem. So, while Israel’s modern-day enemies attempt to rewrite history and distort fact by denying the Temple ever existed in Jerusalem, the celebration of the Hanukkah story takes on new meaning. 

Jesus and Hanukkah

In John’s Gospel, chapter 10, Jesus entered the Temple during the Feast of Dedication. He would have surely known the story behind the Feast and that the Temple He stood in would not have been in operation without it. 

Christians today would also do well to remember the faithfulness of God to the Jews on that first Hanukkah. Had Antiochus succeeded to annihilate the nation of Israel, there would have been no Jewish woman named Mary to become the mother of Jesus Christ.

There would have also been no Temple for the beginning of the Christmas story. Luke 1 starts the nativity story in the Temple with an angel announcing to the priest Zacharias that his wife would give birth to John the Baptist. It is no coincidence that God chose to begin the Christmas story in the Temple, the heart of Jewish life and faith at the time.

Without Hanukkah, the celebration of Christ’s birth could very well have not been possible. So as you wish friends and family Merry Christmas this year, you might also like to wish them Happy Hanukkah!

For Zion’s Sake,

ICEJ: Susan Michael

Susan M. Michael
US Director

Posted by: Aaron Allison | December 3, 2014

Hey church, it’s not 1992

book_seeker_sensitiveIn the early 1990’s I attended a seeker church for the first time, and loved it! This church was reaching my friends, impacting our city, and presenting the message of Jesus in a fresh way. As a high school student who had grown up in church, this seeker church invigorated my faith and passion for Jesus. In those days, “seeker church” was not a dirty word.

Then, pastors discovered the seeker church movement in the 2000s, and it has been a downhill slide for the American evangelical church ever since. Instead of transformational art in church that attracts non-Christians, duplication has produced a bad imitation of culture on Sunday morning platforms. In my opinion, a lot of the cultural imitation churches now practice actually repels more non-believers than attracts them.

More disturbing than the bad programming is that Christians now expect church to be entertaining. The intent behind the seeker church movement was not to entertain Christians, but to engage non-Christians who found church irrelevant. Some churches still do the seeker-model well, but most do not.

Looking beyond what is happening inside the church, culture has changed so much in America over the last 25 years, that seeker churches are no longer relevant to Millennials and many Gen Xers (some Baby Boomers still enjoy hearing Journey cover songs in church). I believe the seeker-model was generally effective from 1975 when Willow Creek was launched until the September 11th era began. We fundamentally changed as a people after 9/11.

Superficial entertainment still has its place in our culture, but not in the church. When considering church, believers and non-believers both want sacred space each week to find meaning for their life. Relevancy is over. People are not looking for a relevant message, but a transformational message. I thank God for the impact the seeker church had on my life, but it is no longer 1992.

Posted by: Aaron Allison | November 21, 2014

The Church Needs Youth Ministry

I am at the National Youth Workers Convention in Atlanta with our youth pastor, Matt Malone. It is great to see the vitality of this conference is the same as when I came as a youth pastor. Mark Matlock leads the 44 year-old organization called Youth Specialties that puts this conference on, so he does a lot of thinking about youth ministry. In recent years it has become popular to bash youth ministry, criticizing its effectiveness and even its Biblical mandate to exist. Mark gives some language that helps those of us who love and believe in youth ministry explain its importance.

I have summarized his five points:

Youth ministry is necesary because . . .

1. Youth Ministry assimilates a new generation into an intergenerational community.
2. Youth Ministry helps the church stay relevant.
3. Most people become Christians before they are the age of 18.
4. Unlike most entities, teenagers can fully participate in the church as teenagers.
5. Teenagers keep the church authentic, with fresh eyes to see Jesus’ way.

In August, I slipped into a youth service at CIL, and I was touched to see dozens of our students kneeling in prayer for persecuted Christians at the front of the church.  This picture is why I love youth ministry.

Youth Praying - 2014 - August

 

You can access the Matlock’s blog post, and more of his thoughts on these five points by clicking here.

Here is Matlock’s same five points in the words he has chosen:

1. Youth ministry is vital to helping teens integrate into the larger intergenerational community of the church.
2. Youth ministry resists the status quo, helping a church stay relevant in a changing culture.
3. Youth ministry focuses on inviting those who are not already part of the church into the deeper narrative of God’s plan for humankind.
4. Youth ministry reminds the church that teens are not marginalized members of the body, but are co-creators and conspirators in the divine work of the church, restoring life on earth as it is in heaven.
5. Youth ministry helps the church focus on the way of Jesus, which goes beyond tradition, dogma, and ritual.

Posted by: Aaron Allison | November 9, 2014

25 Years Ago East Germany Fell

Aaron at Berlin Wall - 2014On Nov. 9, 1989, Communist East Germany threw open its borders, allowing citizens to travel freely to the West. Joyous Germans danced atop the Berlin Wall.

I was fourteen, a freshman in high school, and did not fully realize the amazing history that was happening before my eyes on the television.

Yet, in my young life up to that point, I never dreamed that communism would fall.  In my mind, the East Germans were these amazing athletes who dominated the 1984 Olympics, and were ready to take over the world when the Russians unleashed them.

I never dreamed that by my senior year of high school I would be close friends with an east German exchange student who attended my high school, and would visit his home in the former East Germany in 1994. His family was lovely, and the East German people were just like us Americans.  They loved pizza, beer and techno music.

I never dreamed that in 2014 I would visit Berlin as a minister with some of my closest colleagues, touching the Berlin wall, and walking the streets around Brandenburg gate.  We marveled at a city once divided, that was now the cultural leader of Europe.

So what is the impossible that could happen in the rest of our years?

- A united, Christian Korea?
– The emergence of a true democracy in Iran?
– A secession of one or more states in The United States of America?

So what were you doing in November of 1989 when history happened before our eyes?

Posted by: Aaron Allison | November 8, 2014

I am so glad God is patient

hourglass

We are in such a hurry.  I am so glad God is patient.

The patience of the Lord appears many times in Scripture, but I was impacted by this concept recently while reading 2 Peter chapter three.

People were growing impatient with the delay of the Lord’s return, even scoffing at the concept (see 2 Peter 3:3-4).

To impatient people, the Spirit wrote through Peter:

Dear friends, don’t let this one thing escape you: With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance. – 2 Peter 3:8-9 (HCSB)

God is patient by withholding His judgement.

God is patient when we are rebellious to His will.

God is patient with our slow development into Christ-like character.

God is patient with me.

I am so glad God is patient.

Posted by: Aaron Allison | November 5, 2014

The Next Election – Cynicism or Participation?

Nixon Resigns - NYT

In the 1970’s America discovered that their president had lied about a low-level burglary over an election that was not even competitive.

We have not trusted our politicians since.

From the “Iran-Contra affair”, to “perjury under oath”, to “no weapons of mass destruction”, to “the shame of Benghazi” –  we have plenty of reasons not to trust our political leaders.

VoteSo, it has become expected and socially desirable to be cynical. We don’t trust our leaders, because we are afraid to trust them.

While a dose of reality tempers our tendency to idolize, political cynicism is keeping too many people from participating.

Decisions are going to be made, why not be part of those decisions?

We the People determine the present and future of our nation.  So, if decisions are going to be made, why not be part of the process?

 

 

On this day after a big national election, how can you serve your country?

Will you become an informed voter?

Will you actually go vote?

Will you join a political party, volunteer with the election commission, or advocate for a political issue?

Will you support a future candidate?

Will you be a future candidate?

Will you participate, or play it safe and only criticize?

There has never been a better time than today – on this day after an election – to choose to be politically active.

As American citizens, we get to participate!

Posted by: Aaron Allison | October 31, 2014

History of Halloween and the Christian Response

Aaron Allison:

This blog gives a concise history of Halloween, and calls Christians to be thoughtful in this cultural celebration. As Christians, lets celebrate the Reformation on October 31, and praise God for the access we all have to God’s Word because of this movement!

Originally posted on Aaron's Angle:

Here is a teaching I have done in the past on Halloween.   Unfortunately, I did not reference where I got all this information, so any plagiarism is unattended.   The outline at the end is original:

Halloween’s unsavory beginnings preceded Christ’s birth when the druids, in what is now Britain and France, observed the end of summer with sacrifices to the gods.  The holiday is rooted in the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in), which came at summer’s end.

Celts believed that on the night before the New Year (which began on November 1st), the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred.

Samhain beckoned to winter and the dark nights ahead . . . pointing to winter as a season of death.  They believed Samhain, the lord of death, sent evil spirits abroad to attack humans, who could escape only by assuming disguises and…

View original 302 more words

Posted by: Aaron Allison | October 29, 2014

I am voting “Yes” on Amendment 1

YES ON ONEAmendment 1 to the Tennessee constitution is on Tuesday’s ballot, and I am going to vote “yes” for Amendment 1.  The amendment states that “Nothing secures or protects” an individual’s right to an abortion.

This amendment is a response to judicial activism by The Tennessee Supreme Court in 2000, when the court ruled that abortion access is guaranteed as a right to privacy. In the 2000 ruling, the judges eliminated a two-day waiting period for women, mandatory counseling, and a requirement that all second-trimester abortions take place in a hospital instead of a clinic. These preventitive measures that are not in Tennessee are used in states geographically surrounding the state.

Amendment 1 will take the power of determination out of the hands of the courts, and allow the people of Tennessee to make decisions about abortion access. If the citizens of Tennessee should decide in the future they do not want abortions to occur with ease – or, at all – they should have that voice.

the-new-york-timesEven The New York Times acknowledged last week in an article titled Abortion Capital of Bible Belt? Tennessee Voter Tests That Idea the liberal nature of the 2000 Tennessee Supreme Court ruling. The article states, “Both abortion rights advocates and anti-abortion forces agree that it created a level of protection for abortion higher than that afforded by the federal courts.”  This posture on abortion is not reflective of the conservative values in our state.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
    before you were born I set you apart.” – Jeremiah 1:5 

Posted by: Aaron Allison | October 24, 2014

“Dirty Words” This Sunday

What do you consider a dirty word?  There are words from our faith that we no longer want to hear – like sacrifice, authority, sin, holiness – to name a few.   In my new message series, we will look at Scriptures that deal with some of these words.  The next five weeks you will be challenged by the Bible to be the person God has called you to be.

Posted by: Aaron Allison | October 21, 2014

A Relational Life Is Costly

Our deepest desire is for a relational lifestyle. Our lifestyle does not leave room for relationships. This is the dilemma of life in the suburbs in the twenty-first century.

A life shared with meaningful conversation, and a sense of being known for who we really are, takes time. The relational life takes time. In our culture, time is money. It also takes time to develop and maintain a career, and the more productive you are, generally the more affluent you become. Taking time for relationships will cost you money (in the short-term). You will become less productive, which means you will make less money, and you will lose opportunity for advancement in your work.

LWN SelfieYet, once we pay the price for authentic relationships, the pay off is invaluable. The relationships we obtain are priceless. In addition, the benefits of authentic relationships are not just the intangibles. Long-term relationships are the doorways to the blessings of God. God moves through relationships. Almost every answer to prayer and kingdom opportunity that has come to me has occurred because of a relationship developed. I believe the phrase, “Our relationships today, are the answers to our prayers tomorrow.” So pay the price for authentic relationships because it will be the best investment of your time for tangible and intangible benefits.

Each month I meet with two groups of pastors (here is a recent “selfie” of one of those groups). These relationships are not based off of an agenda, an event or an obligation.  We simply meet to laugh, encourage and talk. Some months it seems very inconvenient, and almost unproductive.  Yet, the commitment to these fellow pastors as my personal small groups has contributed to my emotional health, my professional sustainability, and my overall happiness.  These men have made me a better husband, father, and pastor. Relationships matter!

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