Payh Blog
save us out from the darkness
Dec 23, 2013

Is There A More Important Birth…or Death?

“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’” Luke 2:15

How differently, the God who truly is, executes His plans and purposes in contrast to the sons of men. All but one current and past living U.S. Presidents joined by many, many more Heads of State, flew to South Africa to attend Nelson Mandela’s funeral in a massive World Cup soccer stadium, which was broadcast world-wide; the world went genuinely gaga over the birth of Prince William’s and Kate’s baby’s birth; yet only poor shepherds came to see the Lord of all creation on the day He was born in an animal stable in the obscure town of Bethlehem. Is this merely a function of the modern world’s communications and transportation? Possibly, but that misses the point. Messiah’s coming was promised and prophesied for centuries, yet only a few living at the time were ready for it, or waiting for it, when it occurred; the Lord’s Second Advent will take place in this modern era of communications, amidst the spread of the Bible in massive world-wide sales and free give-a-ways, in almost all the world’s languages, multiplied by  global television and radio programs proclaiming the gospel; yet the eager expectation of the return of the King, the Lord Jesus Christ, is not universal by a long shot. In fact, it appears rather meager when you scan the world’s media for any reference to the long anticipated climax to human history.
Just last night, at least as we celebrate it, over 2000 years ago, a group of poor shepherds left their sheep, to walk through the winter night to nearby Bethlehem, all to see a newborn baby in a most unusual setting. They did not balk at the birth-announcement, somewhat grander than our various mailed-photograph-announcements today.  Admittedly, it was a majestic night show in the sky that would cause the most spectacular fireworks display to blush. Yet as you read about these shepherds you sense a devout spirit among them that preceded the presentation of the angels. By no means did they blow off the message brought by angels. Though the Lord was not among those angels, their immediate response was “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about. Furthermore, these shepherds were not in bad company historically seeing that Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and David had experience as shepherds, and the Lord has chosen to call himself the Good Shepherd. Nevertheless, from what we have gleaned from antiquity, the profession of a shepherd did not appear to be a profession of great repute. In fact, there is much disreputableness associated with it in secular descriptions of those times. Still these particular shepherds were honored by God above all their fellows, even the high society of Jerusalem nearby, in being so gloriously invited to see the new born God in the flesh, in swaddling clothes, and bedded in hay lying in a manger. It is such a common story to many of us that we may fail to see the wonder of it all, nor give meditative thought to the actual fact of such a wondrous birth, full of detail to enrich our thoughts.
If the truth of this birth penetrates even a small portion of your brain, it cannot help but astound you at what occurred in such a small corner of the world with its myriad inhabitants with only the parents, some shepherds, and animals to welcome the Messiah. What further amazes is the poverty and humbleness of the whole scene; the exact spiritual condition which the Lord chooses to come into anyone’s presence! He will come as a Judge into the presence of Pharaohs, Caesars, Kings, Presidents, and the pretentious, but he only comes as a Savior into the presence of those who are poor in heart. The continuing arrogant, proud, spiritually independent, and those who eschew telling the truth, have no place before Immanuel’s crib, or his throne.  The lessons of the nativity should not be lost on those who truly claim this Savior as theirs; not only their Savior from numerous sins, but the Master and Lord of their life.
The most important birth ever? Nothing else comes close! The most important birth led to the most important death. Without it there is nothing to hope for, nothing to live for, and we are of all men and women, miserable, and only to be pitied. The lesson for each of you in the historical facts of the nativity is to be as the shepherds in your spirit, both in your immediacy to come to the Savior’s side, and in your gratefulness to spread the good news with great joy, just as these “poor shepherds. How have you imitated the shepherds during this season of the year? How will you imitate them in the new year?

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Prisoner handcuffed to death by lethal injection, vial with sodium thiopental and syringe on top of a table, conceptual image
Dec 19, 2013

Waiting for Christ in the Midst of Paganism

“Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ Luke 2:34-35

Stobi is an ancient Roman city located on the trade route that linked the Danube to the Aegean Sea, being currently excavated in Macedonia. I had the privilege of walking through the archaeological wonders of Stobi this past September. Though it has pre-historic roots, the primary evidence of the excavation accomplished to date covers the first six centuries AD. What is so fascinating about these six centuries of Stobi’s existence is the juxtaposition of Pagan and Christian eras. The first three centuries of the modern era were decidedly Roman with its pagan worship, idols and temples; the next three were primarily Christian, with church basilicas being built upon Roman temple foundations and structures, using the marble from the Roman buildings and most of a large amphitheater to build these basilicas for Christian worship and biblical sacraments. Stobi is a fascinating microcosmic example of the world’s history, a history largely pagan with spurts of Judeo-Christian revival periods which served to restrain the march of evil toward chaos and ruin, which is the historically observed result when pagan practice and habit have no counteractive restraint.
The Bible prophetically describes the Lord’s first Advent as “a light shining in thick darkness, into the lives of people living in this darkness. It took place in the time of Stobi’s pagan era. Christmas is the celebration of the Lord suddenly coming to his temple (Malachi 3) as an answer to the cry of the people, “Where is the God of justice? We are told in the Biblical Record of very few who were waiting then for the “messenger of the covenant, the Messiah, when He appeared in a manger in Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph, possibly, though their understanding was still seeking and searching after the sudden announcement by Gabriel to Mary in Nazareth nine months earlier, her pregnancy, and the angelic message to Joseph concerning Mary and Jesus; the shepherds, only after the spectacular show in the night sky at the Messiah’s birth; the Magi from the East, possibly through prophetic knowledge passed down from the Prophet Daniel and kept alive for centuries in the hearts and minds of the “wise men known in Persia as Magi; and an old man and woman in Jerusalem, named Simeon and Anna.
There may well have been others we know nothing about; after all when Elijah thought he was the only believer in all Israel, God told him there were 7,000 others who had not bowed the knee to Baal. In any case the first Advent arrived in a dark time, a pagan one in the world’s history.  Simeon said to Mary and Joseph in the Temple as Anna listened, that the birth and person of Jesus would be a “sign that is spoken against, and He would “cause the falling and rising of many. The beloved Apostle would later write that “He [Jesus] came unto His own and His own did not receive Him.
Simeon and Anna were remarkable stalwarts of faith in the midst of darkness and paganism; so remarkable that the Holy Spirit would insure their inclusion in the Gospel of Luke. Though sixty-six books make up the whole canon of Scripture, there are relatively few names in proportion to all who have ever lived whose actions are recorded in Scripture. Simeon and Anna are spiritual giants of the faith, worthy of mention in Hebrews 11, if they had fit within the period of history covered there. As we now look to the Second Advent with eager expectation and hope (Titus 2:11-14), how dark will that period of time be when the Lord returns with a shout, the sound of the trumpet, in a lightening flash? Jesus asked, “When that day comes will I find faith on the earth?  And Revelation 1 says of His coming, “…and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of Him. So shall it be! It sounds by the Lord’s own words that He will return, as He did at first, in a dark, pagan time. Can you continue to stand in the darkness and paganism of today?
Christmas is in the eyes of most of us a time of celebration, rejoicing, peace, and family joy and gift-giving. This is well and good as you purposefully take time to reflect and meditate on the heart of Christmas, the coming of your Savior, with whom you enjoy genuine relationship. As you wait for His Second Advent, which should always be an intentional part of your Advent/Christmas season’s thought and hope, as well as throughout the year, read again this Christmas Matthew 24-28. These chapters contain Jesus’ parables which He intends to prepare you for His coming again, told just before His death on the cross for you. I think they should be part of every Christmas Bible reading.
Again, I ask, can you stand in the darkness of this day? A sword may pierce your own soul, as Mary’s; will you still say as Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him! Take to your heart this Christmas, as you consider the pagan darkness of our age, Paul’s exhortation and promise, “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me!

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Dec 12, 2013

Blackest Darkness

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples,  but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” Isaiah 60:1-3

Deep in the caverns of the earth, like Carlsbad in New Mexico, the blackest physical darkness is found where you cannot see your hand in front of your face. The Book of Jude speaks about “blackest darkness” when it describes the fate of rebellious men and women who are blemishes at the love feasts of the saints: “They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.” Today’s text speaks about “thick darkness” and elsewhere the Bible refers to “deep darkness” which is to describe a most complete and terrifying darkness. While living interminably without any physical light can hardly be imagined, the Bible is referring to a thorough darkness of the soul, as well as physical sight. Physical darkness can be endured for a limited amount of time, as long as there is hope that sight will be eventually restored, as those who are afflicted with physical blindness look to the healing hand of their Savior; if not in this life, in the new heavens and the new earth. The darkness of the soul, however, drives people to take their life because the soul-pain is so great it cannot be endured. Suicide has become an epidemic in dealing with the deep darkness of the soul.
Most of us have known others who have or are in the pits of despair, in thick darkness of soul; or you have even experienced it yourself. Relief seems to be nowhere in sight; there are no magic words of comfort which can bring relief. It is a terrifying place to be. This is not only a description in the Bible of the state of mankind in a fallen world where the light of the gospel is ignored or rejected, it is apparently a description of what lies beyond this life: hell, the blackest darkness and the eternal isolation it brings. (Jude 13)
Waiting for advent, over the centuries before the entrance of the promised Messiah, and since his coming into the world for a short time to accomplish our salvation, and now the centuries waiting for the Savior’s return, there is a darkness among the peoples of the earth straining for the light. In every culture you see, among every tribe, nation, race and language group a yearning for light, because the darkness is so debilitating. There are always those who live life with the philosophy of “let us live, eat and be merry, for tomorrow we die,” but invariably they are eventually bitten by the darkness of tragedy, disease, destroyed relationships, addictions, and lonely death. The world’s “Vanity Fair” is a fleeting experience and never the lasting state of being it promises to the ignorant.
This week I spoke at the Funeral, and then Graveside Service of a dear friend, mentor, and fellow elder. As you lower the coffin with his body on a cold, gray day into the cold earth to be covered with six feet of dirt, there is a fleeting thought of the darkness “down there” for that loved one, but the thought flees quickly with the remembrance of the sure promise from Jesus, “Today you will be with me in paradise!” The soul of the believer is immediately translated into the Savior’s presence and those who have gone before; the body in which we lived for these earthly years awaits the resurrection.  Just as Joseph’s bones were set aside and placed in the sight of all his brethren in the midst of Goshen in Egypt (Hebrews 11:22) to remind them of their promised exodus out of slavery to the promised land, so the bones (the grave sites) of our loved ones remind us of our coming resurrection and “soon” exodus to a new heavens and new earth. This all happened as examples for us today (I Corinthians 10:6) that we might have hope and not be overcome by the darkness.
Hence, Advent! This is a time for hope! He is coming! The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will never overcome it.

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Family Toasting at Dinner Table
Dec 11, 2013

Talking Around The Table

It’s the time of year when families gather around the table, celebrating their holiday traditions and remembering what really matters.  Every family is different with a wide range of traditions and ways that they engage in conversation.  While some sit around the table, and talk of the day, politics, work or school.  Others might simply sit and enjoy the food.  Some families gather around the TV and watch shows together or discuss sports.  Regardless, the range of differences is enormous but for each unique home, it passes for normal.  So as you gather around the table, remember it is about being together.
So here are some suggestions as you are talking around the table with your family:

  • Eating together doesn’t have to be a chore.  Nor does it always have to be organized and arranged.  Sometimes just having everyone sit together is an accomplishment and while we as parents might hope there is going to be some magical moment of connection, that is not always the case.  If there is not, that doesn’t mean the effort was in vain.
  • If your family enjoys conversations regarding politics, theology, economics, or any other serious topic, don’t be afraid to interject humor.  Laughter always lessens tension and helps eliminate the possibility of having an argument.
  • Ask open ended questions that lead to further conversation.  A staple question for most people and parents is “how was your day.  That kind of question can be answered with one word or a grunt.  Try making it an open ended question by saying; “tell me about your day.
  • You cannot legislate conversation, so whether you are talking or just being quiet, make sure you tune into what is going on in other people’s lives by paying attention.
  • Give others the opportunity to explain their thoughts.
  • It is okay for your children to hear you wrestling through challenges.  This gives them permission to talk about things they might be struggling with as well.  When they are ready to talk, make yourself available.

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Candle Group
Dec 04, 2013

Advent: Light Piercing the Darkness

“And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 2 Peter 1:19

It was incumbent upon me as a combat Platoon Leader in Vietnam to do all I could to keep the men in my platoon alive, while still accomplishing the mission. One of those numerous ways was not allowing my soldiers to strike up a cigarette without cover at night while in enemy territory, which was nearly everywhere. The mere striking of a match or a lighter to light a cigarette, or even the ash on the end of a lit cigarette would show for literally miles on a dark night; a perfect target for a sniper’s bullet and the head behind it, or a dead give-away to the enemy as to exactly where our platoon was located. It is surprising how far light, even a tiny light, projects in darkness; the darker, the more a sliver of light cuts through the blackness for miles.
If you are familiar with the Old Testament and its many “bits of the light of prophecy, pregnant with greater clarity than those waiting are willing to open eyes of faith to see, pointing to the coming Messiah, then you are familiar with Advent texts. These “bits of prophecy, piercing the darkness, stretch from the Garden of Eden to a “quiet-interval of 400 inter-testament years preceding the sudden arrival of a Babe in a manger. In those four centuries the prophets’ writing fell silent after ten previous, while the actual words spoken stretched from the beginning dawn of civilization in Eden to the “quiet four hundred; until you hear, as Dr. Luke later recounted, Zechariah conversing with the angel Gabriel concerning the significant birth of these two: the long-promised Messiah and his prophesied forerunner John, Zechariah’s son. Metaphorically, these “bits of light of certain promise over the many centuries are the harbingers of hope to men and women of faith, not unlike Simeon and Anna, living in each century from Eden to Bethlehem. They shine down through the centuries twinkling in the darkness as precedents of the star over Bethlehem announcing the Savior’s birth. “Bits of the Scriptures foretelling His advent encourages the study of the Bible with zeal and devotion.
Advent is an annual celebratory and instructive season, which in a mere four weeks has the beneficial intent of teaching you the nature of persevering hope in a coming Messiah, through the dark centuries before Christ, and, by their perfect fulfillment, inspiring your hope for the future return of the King in glory and majesty. It will be as sudden as the first, but the Second Advent rings down the curtain on “procrastination with finality concerning salvation.  Advent has two purposes: first, to celebrate the coming of salvation into the world when God became flesh and lived among us, and, second, to eagerly and actively anticipate His return; yet future, but “soon, for you will not allow the darkness of this age to overcome your hope.
Peter writes, “You will do well to pay attention to this! John writes, “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. Darkness is cunning; it is debilitating; it is demoralizing; it encourages fear; it is not something to take lightly, or with pride. Walking in the light as He is in the light is the only way to defeat darkness. Keep your hope secure by focusing on the many points of light that promise the certainty of His advent. “Yes, I am coming soon! Amen. Come Lord Jesus!

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