Anno Domini

December 28, 2012

The Latin, Anno Domini, is better known as simply AD. It means “in the year of the Lord” and is short for Anno Domini Nostri Jesu Christi (“in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ”). Years before the Christan era are designated a.C.n. (for Ante Christum Natum, Latin for “before the birth of Christ”). In English, it is common to use the abbreviation BC for “before Christ.” This calendar intended to have the Christian era begin with the birth of Christ.

Although others had attempted to date from the time of Christ, our current system was devised by Dionysius Exiguus (“Dennis the Small”) in AD 525. He was assigned the task of creating tables for calculating future dates for Easter. The previous tables in use had been dated from the emperor Diocletian. Dionysius did not want to perpetuate the memory of a tyrant who persecuted Christians. Instead he calculated AD 1 as equaling the 754th year from the founding of Rome.

Calculations like these are never easy, and there are reasons for believing that Dionysius may have miscalculated. Josephus in his Antiquities of the Jews mentions a lunar eclipse immediately after the death of Herod the Great. That causes modern chronologists to suggest that Herod died in 4 BC. This in turn causes a revision in the date for the birth of Jesus. Although the intent of the dating system was to date an era from the birth of Christ, the miscalculations give us the oddity of Jesus being born in 4 BC or earlier.

Other calendar systems exist. January 1, 2013 in the Jewish calendar is 19 Tevet, 5773 (before sunset). The Jewish calendar dates its era from creation using the genealogies in Genesis to arrive at this calculation. The Islamic calendar dates itself from the Hijra, when Mohammed emigrated from Mecca to Medina. The Persian calendar also calculates from Mohammed’s emigration from Mecca to Medina, but it is a solar calendar in contrast to the Islamic lunar calendar. The Chinese calendar dates from the first legendary emperor, Huangdi or the Yellow Emperor. The Hindus also have a calendar that has been used in India since about 1000 BC.

As we enter a new year, this history lesson reminds us that Jesus is so significant that we date time by him. No other calendar dates simply from someone’s birth. Jesus is that significant. Have you examined the evidence? Do you have faith in him? Have you obeyed His teachings? Can you call Him Lord?

Unwrap the Gift

December 21, 2012

The mall is crowded. People scurry about finding parking places and searching for that perfect gift. It’s a time of wrapping paper and tape, ribbons and bows. It’s a time of standing in line to ship packages to loved ones. It’s the season of gift giving and receiving.

I reflect over all the gifts I have received. I’ve been truly blessed. One of the dangers of abundance is that it may dull our sense of gratitude. Gratitude needs to be cultivated. It is the proper response to gifts. So it is important to say thank you and acknowledge the giver. It is also important to say thank you to God, the ultimate giver.

I don’t know how many packages will be under our Christmas tree. I do know that none will be left unwrapped. We may even feel some childlike excitement as we wonder about a particular gift. (I have to watch Kathy to make certain that she doesn’t shake too many of her packages.) The anticipation may build until the appointed time to open gifts, but no one says, “Let’s wait until next week or next month.” A gift is meant to be opened.

The greatest gift of all time is reflected in the most memorable of Bible verses:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16, ESV

Yet, many people leave this gift unwrapped.

The benefits of this gift are not automatically applied. There’s no divine direct deposit set up for each of us. Instead, the gift requires of us a decision to accept it or reject it. There’s no middle ground.

Since sin is the reason for the gift in the first place, it is natural that faith or trust is required. Sin is the opposite of trusting God. Sin is trusting ourselves and going our own way in opposition to God.

It is also natural that it requires repentance. Since sin is the problem that the gift is intended to cure, renouncing sin – having a change of heart about sin is a prerequisite (Luke 13:3).

Baptism is also an expression of this trust. From the vantage point of sight, baptism looks like someone just getting wet. But we walk by faith not sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). In the eyes of faith, baptism is the place where God has promised to meet us and apply this great gift to our lives: forgiveness (Acts 2:38), regeneration (Acts 2:38, Titus 3:5, 1 Corinthians 12:13), and union with Christ (Galatians 3:27, Romans 6:3).

Have you unwrapped the gift?

Not By Bread Alone

December 14, 2012

I’m a regular Bible reader. The guide I use has daily readings for the whole year, and I should be able to finish it without problems. I’ve done so for years now. But I confess that I miss days at times. I try to read ahead when I can, and I play catch up when necessary. Bible reading has become a regular part of my life. But I avoid the term “daily” because I suspect that all of us who develop the habit of Bible reading slip up. I don’t want to set perfection as the standard for the person who has not yet developed the habit.

The beginning of the year is important to me as the time to set my goal for Bible reading in the next year. Starting the habit of Bible reading doesn’t require the beginning of a new year. The habit can be started at any time. But I have found that a new year has been a helpful time to start. The new year can provide motivation to form a new habit.

I have failed in my reading goals in the past, although I currently have years of consistency behind me. I suspect most people who successfully form the habit of being a regular Bible reader have had some failures along the way. Forming habits is not always easy. Life has many distractions. Research indicates that it takes a couple of months to form a habit. But we have to be careful to be consistent or we can unlearn a habit. Don’t let past failures stop you from trying. This habit is worth it.

For me forming the habit of regular Bible reading did not start with a daily Bible reading guide. I started smaller. I started with smaller goals with the commitment to try to read daily. (Note the word “try.” I tried for consistency not perfection. Forgiveness allows us to keep trying.) For example, I started first with the commitment to read the gospels. After I reached that goal, I made the commitment to read the rest of the New Testament. It is good to read through the historical portions of the Old Testament (Genesis through Esther). A simple reading log can track your progress.

The Bible reading guides that I have liked the most through the years have provided some variety in reading. I’ve done better with reading guides that gave at least an Old Testament and a New Testament reading each day. The guide that I have used the most through the years is the M’Cheyenne guide. It gives four different readings each day. Variety is helpful. It’s tough to plod through Leviticus or the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles. Having other passages to read really helps, because it ensures some spiritual nourishment in your reading. (Not that there are not lessons in Leviticus and the genealogies of 1 Chronicles. They just may be harder to recognize for the beginning reader.)

Bible reading is not just about reading. It is good to write down questions of things you don’t understand. In time, your reading may help you answer those questions. I’ve just had one answered that I have pondered for about forty years. Most questions probably won’t take that long to be answered. The most important things in scripture will be clear. Yet there is always something to be pondered. A quotation that goes back at least fourteen centuries suggests that the Bible is like a river “shallow enough for the lamb to go wading, but deep enough for the elephant to swim.”

A few simples tools can help. A Bible dictionary is helpful for looking up words that you don’t know the meaning of, and a map is helpful for locating places. These simple tools can enrich your reading experience.

It is also important to reflect on how this applies to me. Bible reading is about a transformational relationship with God. It has changed me as a person. It is not just about the head but the whole inner person. “… man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3, NIV).

Is Doomsday Scheduled for December 21, 2012?

December 7, 2012

NASA has devoted part of their web site to debunking the hoax that the Mayan calendar predicts the end of the world on December 21, 2012.1 David Morrison, a NASA astrobiologist, noted that the agency has received emails from young people who said they were too worried to sleep or eat, and some said they were suicidal. He writes, “We worry about the effect of this fear on impressionable children.”

Let’s do a fact check on the Mayan calendar hoax. The Mayans had a fairly accurate calendar which used the base 20 numbering system rather than our base 10. Think of it in this way. We count all our fingers (up to 10) and start the cycle again. They counted all their fingers and toes and started the cycle again. One of the units of their calendar is a B’ak’tun which is equivalent to 394 solar years. We have various cycles too like decade, century, and millennia. Although December 21, 2012 represents the beginning of the 14th B’ak’tun for the Mayans, there is no indication that it represented the end of their calendar or the end of the world. I have a calendar hanging on the wall which ends on December 31, 2012, but that is not evidence for the end of the world scheduled on or after that date.

But what about the cosmic events predicted for 2012? Promoters of the 2012 idea are touting planetary alignments, the sun’s alignment with the galactic center, the reappearance of Planet X, and maximum solar flares. All of this is supposed to bring disaster to our planet. We have to remember that we live in a world where we are free to claim anything and sell lots of books doing so. But we need a reality check. Just as no credible archaeologist believes that the Mayan calendar predicts the end of the world, I know of no scientist concerned about these so-called cosmic events. The NASA web site deals with each of one of these and debunks the claims.

Why does this kind of thing gain traction in our world? We are going through uncertain times. We have terrorism, wars, and economic problems that cause all of us to have concerns about the future.

Will the world end some day? The Bible does predict the passing away of this earth (2 Peter 3:10-13), but it is tied to Jesus’ return. It is not a day for Christians to fear. For those who are in Christ, it will mean being with the Lord, and Jesus warns us about trying to predict his coming (Matthew 24:36 ). We are encouraged to live for Christ and not to engage in idle speculation. I don’t’ know what the future will bring, but I believe that God is in control, and in God I trust.