Archives for : December2009

The Spirit of Christmas

I have been asked on occasions if I “celebrate” Christmas. I must admit that this time of the year has a special warmth about it. There is something special about the lights, busy shoppers, and the “holiday music.” Before you brand me as a heretic let me assure you that I do not believe the Jesus was born on Christmas Day, and even if He was born in the depth of winter (which He was not), there is nothing in the Scriptures that even hints that we should “celebrate” His birthday.

It has been more than ten years since I first came across the following article. I thought it worth sharing with our readers. Unfortunately I do not have the name of the author.

WHAT IS THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS?

The spirit of Christmas is kindness, tolerance for an unpleasant relative, allowing someone else to turn first at a busy intersection. It is smiling and saying something nice to a hurried clerk who has just been chewed out by an irate customer.

The spirit of Christmas is compassion, fod for hungry people, secret gifts for needy children, and spending part of your holiday time with a lonely person in a nursing home.

The spirit of Christmas is understanding, feeling the emptiness of someone who is spending her first Christmas without a husband who died recently. It is listening to the mixed-up musings of a teen-ager who has gotten into trouble or reaching out to someone whose personal anguish over a lost job or divorce has him on the brink of suicide.

The spirit of Christmas is sacrifice. It is children breaking piggy banks to buy gifts for their parents. It is someone missing a party to be with the rest of the family on Christmas Eve, or someone refusing to pass an unkind judgment or choosing to forgive an insult.

The spirit of Christmas is love, paying special attention to children, and still being thoughtful during the most hectic days of the year. It is doing something for someone who cannot repay you. It is kindness and compassion, understanding and sacrifice, and love. Not one of these is a “secular” virtue which arises naturally from humankind. They are primary spiritual qualities which have been exhibited best in this world by Jesus of Nazareth.

With all due respect to Santa Claus, he is not the one who brought us these gifts. Santa is reindeer and elves, snow and red cheeks, pretty packages and stockings from the mantle. Jesus is much, much more. Jesus was kind enough to befriend the people everyone else avoided. His compassion made him weep with Mary and Martha when the sisters’ brother had died. He understood fickle Peter and questioning Thomas. He sacrificed all personal ambition and eventually his life for the sake of others. His very name is synonymous with love.

The “spirit of Christmas” did not originate with Charles Dickens or Jimmy Stewart. They merely wrote and performed the Christmas spirit in artistic settings. This special sentiment is rooted in a religious tradition which changed the world. It is produced by our imitation of the Son of God. Whatever it is you like most about this season of the year cannot be perpetuated by carrying the wallet you get under the tree or wearing the cologne someone gives you. It will endure only for those who remember the Babe of Bethlehem year round and allow him to live in their hearts.

I hope you enjoyed the article as much as I did. Let me close this week’s “Tom’s Pen” with a sincere wish for a Happy Holiday Season and best wishes for a Wonderful New Year.

Tom & Johnnie Ann Wacaster

The power of the cross

A WELL-KNOWN preacher once gave the following advice to a group of churches concerning their approach to evangelism:

“Don’t tell people about the cross, it doesn’t work. Too many evangelistic efforts fail because they focus too much on the cross. Just tell them God loves them and has a plan for them.” He continued, “The message of a crucified Jew is ridiculous to the modern mind. So move onto something better. A crucified Messiah is stupid, but promise them prosperity, give them emotional experiences, provide them with self-esteem and then you’ll fill the pews.”

THOUGHTS: Avoiding the cross and catering to people’s external needs might “fill the pews,” but they will be pews filled with people still dying in their sins. Without the cross, the Bible is just another neat story book. Without the cross, Christianity is no more than a self-help seminar. It was the cross that God displayed His wisdom and power. (Mitchell Skelton)

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).

–Mike Benson

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Jesus' next return – will it be soon?

WHEN WILL THE Lord come again…?

Through the years many attempts have been made to determine the date.

. William Miller set the day May 21, 1843. When that date failed, he refigured it for October 22, 1844.

. Joseph Smith announced the coming of the Lord was nigh in 1835.

. Charles Taze Russell of the Jehovah’s Witnesses said that the Lord came invisibly in 1874. He later changed it to 1914.

. Joseph Franklin Rutherford published a tract in 1920 announcing that Jesus/ coming would be in 1925.

. Hal Lindsey, in his book The Late Great Planet Earth, said that Jesus would return within 48 years of 1948.

We could give more examples, but, “What’s the lesson we’re to learn?” (Don Blackwell)

“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only” (Matt. 24:36).

–Mike Benson

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Faith In The Far-Fetched While Skeptical Of The Sure

“Shall the voters for the City and County of Denver adopt an initiated
Ordinance to require the creation of an extraterrestrial affairs commission
to help ensure the health, safety, and cultural awareness of Denver
residents and visitors in relation to potential encounters or interactions
with extraterrestrial intelligent beings or their vehicles, and fund such
commissions from grants, gifts, and donations?” Yes___ No ___

Jeff Peckman, a Denver resident, was able to secure ten thousand signatures and get this ballot title drawn for next year’s elections. Peckman created the Extra Terrestrial Commission to be a “welcome wagon” when the aliens show up in the Mile High city.

This is not a joke. At least, I am not joking with you.

This raises a question that is intriguing. How many people in this nation believe there are extraterrestrial beings out there and/or down here? What is the basis for their faith? We have seen TV specials or magazines or photos of alleged space ships or aliens. People claim to have been abducted or to have had close encounters with them. Some even suggest that aliens are responsible for the creation and design of this planet and its inhabitants (dodging, though not artfully, the tough question of how the aliens came into being). Some, though I dearly hope a scant minority, earnestly believe there are “extraterrestrial intelligent beings” out there.

A growing number seem strident in their denial of what the Bible proposes. The Word of God gives a simple, logical explanation for our origins. It explains the purpose of mankind on this earth. It speaks of a God in heaven and an eternal future either with Him or separated from Him. People scoff away such a possibility, ridiculing the intelligence and sanity of those who trust this to be true. They can be the butt of jokes.

The proposed alternative to special creation by an uncaused, eternal, and intelligent being is uncaused, eternal matter giving rise to design, intelligence, morality, procreative abilities, and much more. How did that dust get here? How did it grow more complicated? How did some of it gradually become a fern or a hippopotamus or a barnacle or a rock or a human being? How did an octillion more things happen to get us from that power-packed, uncaused mass of stuff to the boundless, ordered universe in which we now live, breathe, and comprehend?

The most reasonable explanation involves a loving God who created man in His own image, who created for mankind a world fit to be inhabited–complete with food and water and the other essentials to make life perpetuated from generation to generation. Not only does it best explain design, the cosmos, morality, intelligence, and the like, it makes reasonable the idea that such a Being, God, could communicate His thoughts, intentions, and will through scripture and superintend the process of revelation that gives us, even today, precisely what He wanted us to know.

Mindless chance, aliens, or a loving, limitless God. What seems most reasonable?

–Neal Pollard

LOOKING IN THE WRONG PLACE FOR JESUS

There has been a rash of “sightings” lately with which unbelievers have been having a field day. I refer to “Jesus sightings” people are claiming in such things as clouds, Cheetos, dental X-rays, cooking utensils, windows, walls, and trees. Wikipedia even has an entry for it (“Perceptions of religious imagery in natural phenomena”). People vehemently defend the idea that these are intentional, divinely sent images. Meanwhile, secular and agnostic witnesses to such claims gather up baby and bathwater together, using such superstitiousness to show how deluded those in Christendom really are. Yet, while responding to superstition in religion would be a fitting use of time, another thing comes to mind when hearing these sad stories. It is a reminder that people are looking for Jesus in all the wrong places.

They want some heavenly sign, some overwhelming feeling, some sensory sensation, and some sort of religious fireworks to create or validate their faith. While God has embedded plenty of these in the marvels of nature and creation, through the product of answered prayer that defies logic or explanation, and by the amazing process of transformation that occurs when people follow Christ, He calls on us to seek for Him in a much less electrifying and cataclysmic place.

When we pick up God’s Word and regularly, intently read, meditate, and study (cf. Psalm 1) it, we see Jesus come alive in powerful, sustaining ways! When we walk with the Lord each day, the resulting relationship built on His character and our trust in Him is powerful! When we actively serve Him and others and put into practice what He teaches us through the Bible, we see Jesus in a vivid way. Daily Christian living, the longer we practice it, brings Jesus into unmistakable, clear focus. Maybe that is what these “seers” truly desire, and what they need is our help to truly find Him. Let us take that as a challenge and help people really “see Jesus” (cf. John 12:21; Heb. 2:9).

–Neal Pollar

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Tragedy

CHARGED, BUT JUSTIFIED

Tragedy A local policeman had just finished his shift one cold November evening and was at home with his wife. “You just won’t believe what happened this evening. In all my years on the force I’ve never seen anything like it!”

“What happened?”

“I came across two guys down by the canal, one of them was drinking battery acid and the other was eating fireworks.”

“Drinking battery acid and eating fireworks!! What did you do with them?”

“I charged one and let the other one off.”

Spiritually speaking, those of us who are Christians have been both “charged” and “let off.” We are charged with sin (and rightfully so, for we are guilty). “For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.” (Rom. 3:9)

But, those of us who are Christians who have put on Christ have also been “let off” because Jesus Christ has paid the price for our sins. We have been justified, “just as if I’d” never sinned. “Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:38-39)

To be charged is a frightful thing (those of you who have received tickets can vouch for that). To have a judge say, “I find you guilty, but I’m going to pay the fine for you” is inconceivable. Yet, that’s exactly what has happened! May our lives demonstrate the gratitude we feel.

Alan Smith

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On A Hill Too Far Away

A young Christian rationalizes his cursing, expressing his “need” to fit in with his peers. Someone habitually falls asleep during Bible study or worship. A Christian woman tends to talk bad to her friend about their mutual companion. A middle-aged couple forms the habit of missing evening assemblies to be with friends or pursue others interests. Several Christians silently fret over their inability to focus while partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Some of the brethren seem indifferent to the work of the church. What is happening with these precious children of God?

Several scenarios have been portrayed, but there is in them but a single issue. Why do people, even Christians, slip away from the Lord? The first several words of George Bennard’s famous hymn are, “On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame.” So, what does one do when it seems that Christ died on a hill too far away?

The most dangerous thing that can happen to anyone is for the cross of Christ to lose its meaning. It CAN lose its meaning for people. Paul said, “Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect” (1 Cor. 1:17).

Does the cross have much meaning for the Christian’s friends and colleagues whose words and actions assault that for which the cross stands? Willful sin is against the cross (cf. Heb. 6:4-6). People hurt Christ all over again because the cross means, if their actions accurately reflect their hearts, little more to them than does a fairy tale or ancient history. Because of a desire to please the world, the Christian can develop such an attitude toward the cross. In this moral quandary, he can choose to be close to the enemies of the cross instead of the One who died there. But, when one chooses the world over Christ, HE becomes God’s enemy, too (cf. Ecc. 8:11; Js. 4:4).

Perhaps a few brief facts will help children of God, especially when the hill far away seems too far away.

REMEMBER THAT THE CROSS IS REAL. Paul taught this without equivocation (cf. 1 Cor. 15:1-4). Contemporaries of the cross attest to its historicity. Atheists and skeptics only have blind eyes for the plain facts because they know that acceptance of them means they must obey the doctrine of Christ (cf. Rom. 6:17). But the fact, according to Paul, are simple; namely, Christ really died, He was buried, and He arose! What the Bible teaches that Christ did for humanity as a whole and the individual in particular is true! The cross is real!

REMEMBER THAT THE CROSS IS REALLY IMPORTANT!

–Christ died for everyone’s sins on the cross (Rom. 8:8). He died for the seemingly insignificant, seemingly minor sins. He also died for the big, ugly, embarrassing, shameful sins!

–Christ died to bring man back to God on the cross (Rom. 8:34). Because of his sins, man was rejected by God. God wanted nothing to do with any vile person (note: Rom. 3:23). But, because of Christ, anyone can come back to God who obeys Him.

–Christ died to be the ruler of the human heart on the cross (Rom. 14:19; Gal. 2:20).

–Christ died to show the individual how much He loves him on the cross (2 Cor. 5:14-15; John 14:23).

–Christ died to open the door to heaven, shut by the separating power of sin, on the cross (1 Thes. 4:14; Isa. 59:1-2). Thus, in its importance the cross exceeds all else!

REMEMBER THAT THE CROSS IS REALLY SPECIAL. Only Christ could have hung there. No one else was qualified. Only the blood of Christ was right in God’s sight for cleansing man from his ugly sins. Only His love, as shown by the cross, is strong enough to bring one’s love of this world.

REMEMBER THAT THE CROSS WAS REALLY NECESSARY. Christ had to die to satisfy God’s perfect justice. Though all sin, no sinner, of himself, has anything to offer God to satisfy His just requirements. Everyone needs what Christ gave on that hill far away (cf. Eph. 2:8-9). There’s no good news to obey without the cross (cf. Rom. 1:16; 5:5-9). If no cross, then no hope, no joy and no heaven!!

What can we do when the cross seems so distant from us in our spiritual lives? Understanding the reality, the importance, the uniqueness and the necessity thereof, we will be prompted to renew our zeal and dedication to the suffering servant who died there for us (Heb. 5:8-9). Matchless love led God to Calvary. It is love that leads us back to Calvary!

–Neal Pollard

IN OUR OWN BACK YARD

It is always exciting to sit and chapel, seeing and hearing the reports from our student campaigns. Today was no exception, as Chuck Ramseur shared the results of one such recent effort. While we had students travel to Washington, Montana, and Utah, a good-sized group stayed here in the Denver area and knocked doors and campaigned in Wheat Ridge. These homes lay just a few miles north and west of the church building. The thing that struck me about this campaign in a major U.S. city’s suburbs are the types of people our students encountered.

In addition to the expected atheists, there were others you might not expect to be met. One man showed no interest in the creation seminar hosted by the Miller Street congregation because his gods were Thor and Oden. Before the students left, it so happened that the man’s high priest arrived. That apparently made for a memorable experience. Another couple of students met a woman who was a practicing Wiccan. She had black and white stones set up around the perimeter of her house, a superstition that was apparently designed to bring balance and stability to her home and life. Duality is an important element found throughout this neopagan religion. Another pair of student campaigners ran across a “Jewish Christian” whose beliefs must surely be unorthodox. He believes in reading Tarot cards as well as the idea of reincarnation. He also claimed to be able to read Aramaic through his “mind’s eye.”

Why do I point these experiences out to you? This is not the heart of the jungles of South America or Southeast Asia. This is not among the tribes of Africa. This is the urban corridor of Colorado, in America. How is this possible? Many answers might be offered: the embracing of pluralism, political correctness, relativism, eroding moral values, and the like. Yet, it all comes down to a rejection of Divine knowledge. The Bible has, in many corners, ceased to be revered by the average person in our culture. The Bible warns about what follows such changes. In Romans one, Paul writes, “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them” (28-32). Read through that list again. In them, there are allusions to the very things witnessed by our students. The sobering thought is that when we reject biblical knowledge, God rejects us (Hos. 4:6). We have much work to be done, not only on foreign soil, but also in our own back yard!

–Neal Pollard

PRAYER IN TIME OF WAR

    A young guy in a two-engine fighter was flying escort for a B-52 and generally being a nuisance, acting like a hotdog, flying rolls around the lumbering old bomber.

     The hotdog said over the air, “Anything you can do, I can do better.”

     The veteran bomber pilot answered, “Try this hot-shot.” The B-52 continued its flight, straight and level.

     Perplexed, the hotdog asked, “So? What did you do?”

     “I just shut down two engines, kid.”

     Virtually every day, we are reminded when we turn on the television or pick up the newspaper that there is a war going on in Iraq.  These are
difficult times, and we all feel the urgent need to spend more time with God in prayer.  We pray for the safety of our troops.  We pray for a quick end to the conflict.  But, beyond that, what should we pray for?

     In 2003, Ron Hutchcraft sent out an e-mail entitled “10 Ways to Pray in Times Like These.”    His suggestions are still good ones.  Here are 7 of his points:

1.  “Lord, do something that will show people Your glory over all the earth.”

     This is a moment for God to do something that no diplomat, no world leader, no army could possibly do – so all will know that “the Lord He is
God.”

2.  “Lord, use these anxious and uncertain times to bring many to Christ.”

     God can use this fearful time to reach the hearts of many – in Iraq, in America, across the Middle East, among the young men and women of the military.

3.  “Lord, guide our leaders to be instruments of Your will on earth.”

     “I urge … that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority.” (I Timothy 2:1-2)

4.  “Lord, protect the innocent.”

5.  “Pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27)

     Jesus has charged us to represent even our enemies before His Throne of
Grace.

6.  “Lord, help Your people model peace in these troubled times, pointing the people around them to Jesus – at a time when hearts are soft.”

     This uncertain time is a life-saving moment – when those who belong to Jesus have an unusual window to introduce Him to those who don’t. But the window may not be open for long.

7.  “Lord, bring peace out of all that’s happening.”

     God has told us that the result He desires in answer to our prayers for our leaders is a climate where peace and righteousness can flourish (I Tim.
2:2).

     My appreciation goes out to Ron Hutchcraft for his article, and I hope that his prayers will be yours as well.  We live in troubled times that
serve as a reminder of just how much we need God.

–Alan Smith

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