Have Yourself a Merry . . .!

As I write this I realize some of you around the world are already celebrating Christmas Day.

Merry Christmas to you one and all!!!

It seems to me that this time of the year, with the (North American)Thanksgiving days, Christmas and New Year falling within such a short span, most people in the “so-called” Western nations are completely overrun with a sense of holiday, time-off from work, consumerism, food, parties and family get-togethers. All good stuff, we would all agree. Try as we may, even Christians find it difficult to focus on the true reason the Christmas day is set aside.

From the very beginning, when God delivered the people of Israel out of bondage in Egypt, He has told us to remember those special times He has performed miracles. However, the early followers of The Way did not celebrate the birth of Jesus. The time of the celebration of the birth of Jesus was set aside as a festival by the Roman government many years after the first century. Even so, it is a good thing to celebrate this particular BIRTHDAY.

Clearly that virgin birth of Jesus, which ultimately fulfilled over 90 (ninety) prophecies dating back over 1500 years, is one of the most significant events between God and His Creation since the beginning. It is inexplicable in human reasoning – which, of course, is one of the definitions of a miracle. But it has become even more of a “lightening rod” because of the debates surrounding abortion.

If God can enter into the womb of a virgin girl, to impregnate her egg, and create the human life of the Son of God, then . . . is He involved in the creation of life in every womb of every mother in the world? All life is created by God.

So much of the focus of the various religious Christmas celebrations is the birth. And well it should be. However, the pregnancy, albeit covered through the traditional Scripture readings, is just not normally discussed. It is not an easy topic for children, and, in the past, it was not considered proper to discuss conception (or the process thereof) in mixed company.

But take a look at the angel’s answer to Mary as transcribed by the physician Luke in the Bible.

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Luke 1:34-35

The power of God Himself impregnated her.

Today, with the discovery of the DNA chain, it is beyond me that anyone of sound mind could choose to believe that life does not begin at conception. The scientific (and logical reasoning) community must hang their brain at the lab door as they go out into the world, to accept the argument that the beginning of life is an unknown. It is the most absurd contradiction I can think of!

Because the social pressure to allow the murder of a precious life in the womb (what should be the safest place in all creation for a tiny baby) has hit the entire world like a tsunami, even the Church is divided. But, in the eyes of the Almighty Creator of life, abortion is never acceptable. No matter how a child is conceived, no matter who the father or mother is, no matter our flimsy predictions regarding the child’s health and future, no human being has the right to end that innocent life. And that is God’s truth – regardless of the laws of human government.

So, as you celebrate the Christmas season, perhaps you would ponder the wonder of the conception of the Christ child, the One sent from God to save all mankind.

Leader of the Velvet Revolution

Much has been and will be said about the life and legacy of Vaclav Havel. Obviously, I did not know the man personally, but want to share some thoughts about him for those who are not aware of his contributions.

During the ‘80’s I became aware of his writings and began to find out about his life. I was greatly impressed with his ideas on human rights, freedom of religious expression, the free market, and national democratic government. What was so intriguing about that was his ideas were developed while living under the Soviet Communist rule.

In the early 1990’s I had the opportunity to work with some Czech businessmen, getting a first hand look at the state of their economy and business climate. Then, I was in France four years and traveled in the Czech Republic. The business atmosphere was one of enthusiasm and optimism. Although there were elements of assistance from the Central Government, there did not seem to be the “entitlement albatross” hanging around. There was a strong element of entrepreneurism, and a sense of hope for the future of their country.

Some quotes from Havel – the Playwright, the Dissident

“Genuine politics – even politics worthy of the name – the only politics I am willing to devote myself to – is simply a matter of serving those around us: serving the community and serving those who will come after us. Its deepest roots are moral because it is a responsibility expressed through action, to and for the whole.”

“The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and human responsibility.”

“A state that denies its citizens their basic rights becomes a danger to its neighbors as well: internal arbitrary rule will be reflected in arbitrary external relations. The suppression of public opinion, the abolition of public competition for power and its public exercise opens the way for the state power to arm itself in any way it sees fit. A state that does not hesitate to lie to its own people will not hesitate to lie to other states.”

“We have become morally ill because we have become accustomed to saying one thing and doing another. We have learned not to believe in anything. Not to care about one another and only to look after ourselves. Notions such as love, friendship, compassion, humility and forgiveness have lost their depth dimension.”

Notes from Jan Culik of Scotland (1989)

“In 1979,Havel was sentenced to four and a half years’ imprisonment for his association with VONS, the Committee for the Defence of the Unjustly Prosecuted. Before his trial, he was given leave to emigrate. He declined. Three and a half years later, in danger of his life, he was released from prison as a direct result of international pressure. Throughout the seventies and eighties, Havel wrote a number of essays, political articles and open letters, showing himself to be a man of profound insight and sensitivity.

“Arguably the most important essay in this volume is “The Power of the Powerless”, written in 1978. Here Havel presents a thought-provoking analysis of a typical East European regime prior to Gorbachev’s revolution. He argues that the pre-Gorbachevian East European states were in no way similar to traditional dictatorships. They usurped all means of production and employment, thus wielding absolute control over their citizens. There was no sharp dividing line between rulers and subjugated. In order to be left in peace, every citizen was required to perform certain political rituals.

“Havelwas a supporter of “antipolitical politics”, believing the only remedy for the world’s ills to be a re-introduction of the ethical and moral norms as the guiding principles in people’s lives. He does not regard the Western party political system as an ideal model. Personally, he would prefer an arrangement whereby politicians would be elected into positions of power on individual merit, rather than members of political parties, thus being fully accountable for all their actions.”

*************

Havel was not (apparently) a Christian. However, he studied his Bible and admitted to an affinity for the “Christian sentiment.”

Havel had a huge impact on the fall of the Soviet Union. He was unafraid of the state’s power to muzzle his voice, willing to suffer prison rather than contradict his character and beliefs.

A man – a dissident –  willing to live his convictions in the face of a totalitarian regime, stay the course, and see its fall.

The Narrow Road

 

The Narrow Road is a movie adaptation of the classic allegory Pilgrim’s Progress, written by John Bunyan and published in 1678.

An Excerpt From Wikipedia:

“The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come is a Christian allegory written by John Bunyan and published in February, 1678. It is regarded as one of the most significant works of religious English literature, has been translated into more than 200 languages, and has never been out of print. Bunyan began his work while in the Bedfordshire county gaol for violations of the Conventicle Act, which prohibited the holding of religious services outside the auspices of the established Church of England.”

This is an exciting NEW PROJECT that is presently in the making. By using the latest technology, committed screenwriters and composer to produce a high-class video presentation, this movie can be an extraordinary tool for portraying the Christian message.

Please go to this site, watch the trailer, and forward this POST to as many people as you can.

From The Narrow Road website

“This powerful, epic story chronicles the journey of a pilgrim in search of salvation from impending doom.  CHRISTIAN, the pilgrim and the story’s protagonist, must travel an obstacle-filled road wrought with unique, passionate, and even wicked characters on his road to the beautiful CELESTIAL CITY.  The book is a clear allegory of the Christian life and deals with deep theological issues in a simple and powerful way.”

The link below will take you to their site, for a trailer and information on the project, the cast and those involved in the production. I believe you will agree it is a strong team.

http://narrowroadmovie.com/

Please go to this site, watch the trailer, and get the word out to as many people as you can.

Evil Unrestrained

A sample of News Headlines in the US from December 16th, 2011.

  • A gunman with a rifle opened fire at a Southern California Edison office in Irwindale on Friday, killing two employees and wounding two others before taking his own life.
  • A Penn State assistant football coach testified Friday that in 2002 he saw Jerry Sandusky sexually assaulting a young boy and that he reported it, in graphic detail, to Coach Joe Paterno and two senior Penn State University officials.
  • 5 shot dead in small town west ofKankakee, including boy, girl and baby
  • The state medical examiner has ruled that the death of aFloridaA&MUniversitydrum major last month was a homicide after concluding that the student was severely beaten in a hazing incident and died within an hour.

In every one of these situations someone has made a choice to pursue a path of evil, but it did not start with this choice. The long slide to unrestrained evil starts with one poor choice, generally insignificant and unnoticed by others.

Evil unrestrained leads to excessive perversions.

“Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.”  (Romans 1:28-31)

A familiar statement made in the 19th century by British Lord Acton stands true:

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

We see this is many nations where the rights of the people have been severely limited or extinguished, and where there is no freedom of speech.

  • Excess in any material form generally has no good outcomePower can be used for good

But – abuse of power leads to horrible consequences

  • Pursuit of financial gain can lead to strong commerce and businesses, jobs, security, etc.

But – unrestrained greed will lead to abuse of people, friends, coworkers, etc., excessive desires, cheating, lying

  • Sexual intimacy was created by God for good, to be shared in the marriage bonds, and for procreation.

But – abuse or excess of this desire, in any context (including marriage), leads to sexual addiction, excessive desire for personal physical gratification; and, unrestrained, it leads to many forms of sexual perversion.

  • Eating is a necessity of life and can be pleasurable.

But – unrestrained desire for food leads to many forms of physical ailments, as well as obesity and its consequences.

God’s way is one of selfless pursuit, loving others as yourself, placing their good ahead of yours.

“And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.”

Colossians 1:10

God stands ready to provide the wisdom to make wise choices.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” James 1:5-6

There is a sense of entitlement, found in affluent societies, and it battles against any form of selflessness.

But the courage to make wise choices, against our deepest inner cravings, against the pressure of our peers or the social setting we operate in – that requires strength of our own will. That emanates from within our soul – the character that has been planted there. And it is upon that foundation that strength of character builds.

While many in the world (might I say most) scoff, laugh or sneer at leaders who make the hard but necessary choices to do the right thing, deep within there is an admiration of men and women who are capable of doing just that; who can plow through the seas of uncertainty and stay the course.

God is the “Ultimate North Star.” He will guide us to true north. But that path is never easy..

In the Year that King Uzziah Died

“In the year that King Uzziah died . . .” (Isaiah 6:1a).

The death of a king brought great upheaval in ancient Israel. There would be battles for overall power. There would be people scrambling to be near the king – to be his advisors, and/or in his court. In the midst of all this, foreign powers might see it as a time to encroach on sovereign territory, or just raid and pillage.

In the USA we are blessed with a democratic republic, with a Constitution unlike any the world has ever seen. We see a transfer of power happen in peace and with little interruption in the national and international interactions. The presidential election of 2008 was no different. President George Bush, recognizing the fact that the war on terror, the economy and international relations are in heightened risk, made sure there was a smooth transition between the old and new administrations.

Regardless of where you stand on the cultural and political side of the ongoing debates, Barack Obama, as of January 20, 2009, became our president, at least until 2012. A majority of the voters elected him, and that is the way our Constitution calls for a change in executive leadership. As a nation we have seen significant shifts in policy and cultural initiatives in recent history. The Ford to Carter change; the Carter to Reagan change; the Bush(1) to Clinton change; and now, the Bush(2) to Obama change.

There is a significant divide in this nation, one that is growing at a rapid pace. The divide is along a culture defined by a conservative, Judeo-Christian, free market mindset, versus a liberal, secular, socialistic mindset, and all points in-between. President Obama represents the most sharply defined liberal/secular president the US has ever elected. We must pray for him and about him and his administration. We know God allowed him to come to power.

How does this discussion have anything to do with Isaiah and the change of rule in an ancient Near Eastern culture? First, we must never lose sight that our God is immutable (unchanging). He cannot be Almighty, Eternal God unless that is true. While He may choose to deal with interim judgments in His own ways, He has not changed; nor has He changed what He has said from the beginning. In two ways I suggest we can draw wisdom and strength from Isaiah’s prophetic writings to his people

Isaiah was given a vision in the Temple of God. So, first of all take note that he went to the Temple to pray. The vision he experienced was one of judgment and grace. He was given a mission – to prophesy the destruction of Israel if the people did not return to their absolute, singular, heart-surrendered worship of Almighty God; and to preach of personal peace available to those who place their complete trust in God, as well as foretelling the advent of the Messiah and His ministry of grace and restoration. That was quite a mind-boggling call on this man’s life. But Isaiah did just that. His writings are the most comprehensive of all the Old Testament prophets, covering God’s creation of the world to the advent of the Messiah.

However, we live in a different time than Isaiah: the Mosaic Covenant has ended and we are under God’s New Covenant, defined by the sacrificial shedding of blood and physical resurrection of Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ, God’s anointed savior of mankind. We live in a period defined by the unmitigated Grace of God.

The Christian should bear in mind that Judah, the southern kingdom of the divided nation of Israel and Isaiah’s home, survived well over 100 years beyond when Isaiah prophesied destruction. God’s timetable is just that – His timetable. Do not allow yourself to get into an “end of days” mode that causes indifference and a “bunker” mentality. We know the answer to the question of the purpose of life; we can point anyone to how to receive eternal life and peace with God; and we know that God is Sovereign. That is the message we are to live out day by day for mankind to see. Just as Jesus was bold in His message against the enemies of God, yet chose a life of absolute submission to the Will of His Father, even to death, we are to live a life of submission to Him that brings light to dispel the darkness of the lost world. We are to live out that message until the very moment of our passing into eternity.

Secondly, we can live in perfect peace in these days. “You (God) will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You.” (Isaiah 26:3) We have no reason to live in anxiety or fear, to worry about our physical needs or the future of this nation or the world. While it is only right to be concerned and to be bold, there is no reason to fear for our future or for our loved ones – we must show them the pathway to salvation through Jesus, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6); and, then, we can teach them how to live in God’s abundance. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10).

In the midst of grief at the loss of Isaiah’s beloved king whom he served, and his loss of status in the king’s court, came the voice of his God. “Whom shall I send? And who will go out for us?” Isaiah’s immediate response – “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8).

What can you be doing in the coming weeks and months. Shall you throw up your hands in despair over the endless discussions regarding the economy, upcoming elections, global crises, etc., etc., and just go back to business as usual? Shall you sit around and grouse about these things that you have little or no power to change?

I want to suggest you consider going before the Throne of Grace and beseeching God: “Here am I, Lord. Use me!”

Got Faith?

What is faith – really?

What does it mean to have faith? What does it mean to be faithful? These are questions that each of us will deal with if we have any desire to know God, or a desire to pursue our definition of God.

The definition of personal faith in the Bible is (roughly) the substance of our hope (our assurance) in Jesus, in His bodily resurrection, and His presence and power in the unseen realm; faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses.

But then, Jesus asked this question of His disciples, regarding His return (commonly referred to as His Second Coming), “. . . when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). The faith Jesus refers to is the whole body of revealed truth. In other words, will He find a people who embrace the whole of God’s revealed truth and walk by it, rejecting the worship of worldly passions? The converse is this – Will He find a people who know the truth but choose not to live it – who choose to reject those truths that interfere with the life they want to live? This condition within the Body of Christ is known as apostasy.

Scripture is clear that God is the source of all foundational truths, wisdom and knowledge. “. . . faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)

To exclude Jesus, or even to try to marginalize Him, is to risk severe error – missing the mark entirely. Similar to the precision guidance necessary for a NASA launch to the Moon; if the scientists are off the mark by a fraction of a degree the trajectory could be off by thousands of miles in space. The Apostle Paul wrote, “My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.” (Colossians 2:2-4)

If our belief system is not based on the foundational truths from God (like a ship’s anchor), we will find ourselves drifting far away from reality. You see, truth is NOT relative!

THANK YOU!

We are once again reminded of the extreme sacrifice of those who have pledged their lives to protect us. Emotional, financial, physical sacrifice of them and their families. We should not let the news of a few bad apples spoil the memory of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, nor the respect of those on our streets today – still in harm’s way.

Make a point in this Christmas season to thank a police officer, fireman, or EMT. They deserve it.