Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Yesterday's Christmas

            A Sunday afternoon stroll through the local shopping mall revealed the dearth of Christmas decorations.  Only two businesses displayed signs in their storefronts that mentioned Christmas. In one, a sign read, “We have your Christmas shopping needs” and in the other store were two small pictures of wreaths encircling the words, “Merry Christmas.”  What a letdown.  I expected to see people enjoying the season as they shopped, but there was little to distinguish that day from any other. 
            How times have changed.  The Christmas season in America during my childhood, was a somewhat magical time, when a shopping trip to downtown Tulsa was equivalent to a trip to Disneyland, in later years.  Bus and trolley drivers greeted people with “Merry Christmas” as did elevator operators, and every department store clerk.  Store windows were decorated with fake snow and holly.  Inside, the stores were decorated with every conceivable decoration and ornament.  Frequently, the store employees were dressed as Santa’s helpers.  Huge Christmas trees were normally located near the toy departments and children would stand in line to sit on Santa’s lap, or in his sleigh.  Parents, grandparents and strangers alike were filled with contagious joy as they watched happy children. 
In those days, the Savior and His birth were not forgotten, or hidden in fear of reprisal.  Manger scenes, ranging from miniature to life sized, were prominently displayed.  Often, people stopped to survey the scenes, perhaps, pondering the impact of that first Christmas, or perhaps, praying, while others passed without giving a glance, unbothered by the religious thoughts of others. 
The atmosphere and experiences of those long departed days, promoted what was called the “Christmas spirit” of joy, peace, and goodwill that clears the human mind and refreshes the soul.  It was a time in our history when Americans came together regardless of their faith, or lack of faith, to enjoy the season.  It was a time for peace and goodwill toward all people.  Even warring armies laid down their weapons on Christmas.  It was a festive time, as birthdays should be, especially the birthday of The King.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Proper Response to the Birth of Christ - Lk 2:1-20

Several years ago, the news services carried a story that told of a department store Santa Claus in one of our big cities, who was attacked by the children he had been hired to entertain.  
It seems the crowd was much larger than expected and he ran out of candy to distribute among the children.  Those who did not receive treats began screaming, some even cursing, and several even went so far as to kick the department store Santa in the shins, while their parents watched with tacit approval.
          What does this indicate about our society?  Are Americans so caught in the materialism of the season that we have raised a generation of children who see Christmas solely as a time when they can expect, even demand, that they be given something?  Hopefully, not!  Hopefully, this was and will forever be an isolated incident.  But at the same time, perhaps this story indicates how these particular children and the parents who condoned their behavior view Christmas.
          Clearly, they are missing the Christmas spirit and more than likely they are missing it because they are missing the Savior, as so many people do each Christmas, and one wonders how these people would respond to the birth of the Savior had they been there that first Christmas, some two thousand years ago.
          Today, as on that first Christmas, there are different responses to the announcement that a Savior is born, and as we look at some of the different responses revealed in Scripture, we need to ask ourselves, “What is my response to the birth of Christ?” 

I.  Mary’s Response

Mary’s initial response was one of disbelief.  In Luke 1:34, she is quoted as saying, “How can this be since I do not know a man?” 
Surely, this is her reason for not believing.  Mary knew she was a virgin and she simply did not believe that she could have a baby.  In other words, Mary did not initially believe the virgin birth.  This is the initial response of most people when they learn about the virgin birth of Christ.
Talk about Jesus being born King of kings and Lord of lords and people may listen.
Talk about Jesus being born Savior of the world and people may listen.
Tell people that Jesus was born of a virgin and their response is normally the same as Mary’s, they do not believe it.
But we must believe it, for it is His virgin birth that sets Jesus apart from the rest of humanity and makes Him unique among all who have ever been born. 
We know the sin that resides in the flesh is passed from generation to generation through the fathers, meaning, a human father would make Jesus a born sinner, as are all other people.  Therefore, to take away the virgin birth of Christ is to take away His sinlessness, His deity, and to reduce Him to a mere mortal, no better, no worse, than the rest of us.  And if this is true, we are dead in our sins and there is no hope of salvation because Jesus cannot possibly be our Savior.  But it is not true. 
Jesus was born of a virgin and His Father is God.  Therefore, Jesus was not born with the fleshly desire for sin.  He had no sins of His own, so that He could take our sins on His own body and die in our place, to pay our penalty.
It is not unusual to initially respond to the virgin birth of Christ with disbelief, but this response is deadly, and the consequences are eternal for the person whose mind never changes.  Mary quickly changed her mind and believed fully in the virgin birth.  She knew with certainty that Jesus was born of a virgin, just as everyone must, if they are to trust Him as Savior.

II.  Joseph’s response


We read in Matthew 1:18-21,

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows:  After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.  Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.  But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.  And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 

Joseph’s initial response to the birth of Christ was fear.  The angel clearly said to Joseph, “Do not be afraid,” and it is safe to say this indicates Joseph was afraid.
Surely, the thing bothering Joseph was that Mary was going to have a baby before they consummated their marriage, and while Joseph was a just man, knowing he must deal with this situation, he was also a man of compassion because he planned to put Mary away, that is divorce her, secretly.
Viewed through the eyes of contemporary American society, Mary being pregnant out of wedlock is no big deal, but in Joseph’s day it was a very big deal. 
Then as now, if an unmarried woman is found to be with child, there are really only two possible conclusions.  Either, she consented to that which caused her condition, or she was forced to that which caused her condition. 
Under the Law of Moses, if she consented, she was to be stoned.  On the other hand, if she was forced, the man who forced her was to be stoned.  So, we might say that Joseph was between a rock and a hard spot.  He knew he was not the father, and not only was his heart aching because he felt betrayed, he knew if Mary’s secret was revealed, one of them might be punished by stoning.  Do not doubt for a moment that Joseph was afraid.
Fear is a common response to Christ.  When a person truly recognizes that Jesus the Christ is Lord and Savior, and the Holy Spirit is drawing that person to come to Jesus in one great response of faith, in Jesus alone, for salvation—fear enters.
First, there is the fear that coming to Jesus will take all the fun out of life.  Too often, there is the idea that Christianity is for older people or for people that have no ambitions in life.  People often tell themselves that when they get older they will think about Jesus, but right now they have a lot of living to do.  But Jesus was not born to destroy our quality of life, the Bible says, He came so we might have life and have it more abundantly.
Then there is the fear that family and friends will think we are foolish, or that we are a wimps, or that they will desert us and we will be alone.
Several years ago there was a fire in a hotel casino in Puerto Rico.  One account tells of a woman who smelled smoke and warned her friends to go outside until they discovered the source.  Because her friends did not smell smoke, and because they were having a good time at the gambling tables, they laughed at the woman and told her she was imagining things.
At first, the woman sat at a table, embarrassed that she had spoken.  But again, she caught the faint odor of smoke and this time she walked from the building without her friends.  She barely cleared the outer doors when an explosion engulfed the casino in flames.  Had she listened to her friends, she too, would have been killed.
Fear of what others will think can sometimes have deadly consequences.  Mankind’s response to Jesus should be faith, not fear.

III.  The Innkeeper’s Response

“And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).
One of the most frequent complaints these days is the lack of time.  Many people are so busy that time, traditionally set aside for church and God, is now appropriated to do such things as grocery shopping, laundry, and lawn work, or for recreational activities such as sports.  And while the activities these folks engage in may be different from the innkeeper’s activities, they are in reality, responding to the Lord just as he did.
Imagine with me if you will, how the conversation might have sounded when Joseph inquired about a room at the inn.
We start with Joseph knocking on the door (knock, knock).  The Innkeeper comes to the door and as he cracks it open we hear the noise from a house filled with people eating, drinking and making merry.
“What can I do for you?” He says, really more intent on getting back to his guests than in talking to Joseph.  “My wife is about to have a baby,” says, Joseph.  “We need a room in your inn.”  The innkeeper responds, “Sorry pal, we’re full up, we’ve got no room for you here.”
“But this child is the One promised by the Prophet Isaiah.  This child is Messiah,” says Joseph.  Impatiently, the innkeeper replies, “Look friend, I’m busy, my wife’s busy, and we just don’t have room.  Can’t you see we have all we can handle?”
“Do you mind if we stay in your stable?”  Begs Joseph. “We’ve got to have a place for my wife and baby.”  “Sure, sleep in the stable if you want but just be sure you don’t interfere in my business,” and with that the Innkeeper closes the door. 
Many people today respond to Jesus just as the Innkeeper did.  They do not make room for Him among life’s other activities.  They simply shut Him out of the Inn and confine Him to the stables where He won’t be in the way.

IV.  The Shepherds’ Response

The shepherds’ response is far different from the others we have seen.  They did not allow their lack of understanding, their fears, or their busy lives keep them from Christ.
Notice in Luke 2:15, they say, “Let us now go...”  Keep in mind that this was in the middle of the night—the time when their sheep would have been most vulnerable to predators.  The time when the shepherds stood to lose the most by leaving their flocks to go to Jesus.
Indeed, the lives and fortunes of these shepherds were tied to their sheep.  Yet, in these four simple words, “let us now go,” we see the willingness of the shepherds to forsake all to come to Jesus.  All the sheep in the world were not worth missing the opportunity to come to Jesus.  And so it is today, nothing in this world is worth keeping a person from coming to the Lord.  Jesus said in Mark 8:36, “For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
“They came with haste,” Luke 2:16.  The shepherds made coming to Christ an immediate priority in their lives.  Ben Franklin said, “Never put off until tomorrow, what you can do today” and better advice was never given as it concerns coming to the Lord.
Harry Grimshaw was well known in the construction industry in Tulsa.  His father, W.  R. Grimshaw founded Grimshaw Construction Company and Harry was raised in the high dollar, fast-moving world of big-time construction.  Over the years, Harry made and spent several fortunes.
Many years ago, when I was just starting in the plumbing and mechanical contracting business, Harry gave me the opportunity to do a job that established me as a contractor.  Needless to say, I thought a lot of Harry, because he gave me a life-changing opportunity.
More than twenty years later, Harry and I sat in his car, in front of my home, where for the first time Harry listened as I told him about Jesus, and just before he drove off, Harry told me that he was almost convinced.  But he still drove away.
Later that week Harry asked me to meet him for breakfast at the Camelot Inn, saying he had something to show me.  He brought the certificate of water baptism he received when he was baptized in the military.  I suppose Harry wanted to believe he was going to heaven, because he had been water baptized.  But salvation is not based on water baptism.  It is based on God’s grace made available only through faith, in the sacrificial death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Faith and faith alone is the vehicle God has chosen to bring salvation to men.  I tried explaining this to Harry, but again, Harry put off trusting Christ until some other time.
Less than two weeks later, my wife and I went to visit Harry in the hospital.  He suffered a stroke that left him incoherent and unable to communicate.  Harry died a short time later.  He spent the final hours of his life fighting the restraints that held him in his bed, with a look of terror on his face, and screaming unintelligible sounds.
If Harry went into eternity without Christ as his Savior, he did so because he did not come with haste, as the shepherds did that first Christmas night.  Harry put off until tomorrow, what he should have done today.
There is something else the shepherds did that is noted in Luke 2:16.  They “...found Mary and Joseph and the babe lying in a manger.”  The key word is “found,” and the fact the shepherds found something indicates they were looking for something.  The sad truth is many people never look for Jesus, therefore they never find Him. 
We get a feel for how diligent the shepherds were in looking for Jesus when we consider they immediately left their sheep and traveled to town looking for Him.  Neither job, nor time, nor distance, nor other people kept them from coming to the Lord.  And so it must be with humanity today.  When the Holy Spirit moves in the heart to draw one to Christ, it behooves that person to not allow job, or time, or distance, or other people to keep him from responding.
Hebrews 11:6 says, “...he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.”  God promises that anyone who believes and seeks the Lord Jesus Christ will be rewarded.  Today, if you will seek Christ, you will be rewarded.

V. Conclusion

The Christmas message is still the same today as it was two thousand years ago.  “For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
However, some will not respond because of unbelief.  Some will not respond because of fear.  Some will not respond because there is no room in their lives for the Savior.  But some will do as the shepherds did.  They will, as soon as they hear, quickly and diligently, seek the Lord Jesus Christ.
I encourage you to do as the shepherds did.  Come to Jesus.  If you have never come to the point of believing that He died for you, in your place, for your sins, and rose from the dead, then you need to trust Jesus, now, and know for sure that you will spend eternity in Heaven with the virgin-born Savior of the world.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Lowes Knows

Lowes slogan, “Never Stop Improving,” has new meaning, now that they are taking heat for pulling their advertisements from a TLC television show called, “All-American Muslim.”  Predictably, Muslim groups and their sympathizers, along with several elected officials, are frothing and fuming while writing letters of outrage, name-calling, and threatening a boycott.
Funny, I thought elected officials were supposed to be neutral in matters of religion and that private businesses could spend their advertising dollars where they want.
Perhaps, the folks at Lowes realize that Islam is a religion that controls the government and lives of people in every country it overtakes, and maybe, Lowes does not want to finance the concept of “All-American Muslims,” when the danger is an “All Muslim America.” 
Thank you, Lowes.  May your business “Never Stop Improving.”


The Other War With Terrorists

            Seventy years ago, Japan launched a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor and did what Japanese General Yamamoto feared would happen:  They “awakened a sleeping giant!”  
            A study of WWII in the Pacific Theater reveals some interesting parallels between Japanese soldiers and Muslim terrorists in the protracted “War on Terrorism.”  Some of these are:
1.     The Japanese worshiped their emperor as god, rather than the Eternal God, our Lord Jesus Christ.  Neither, do the Muslims worship Jesus as God.
2.     The Japanese believed that if they died in service to their emperor god they were assured a place in heaven.  Likewise, Muslims believe death in service to their god assures them a place in paradise.
3.     To the Japanese, life was cheap, only those that served the emperor god were deserving of life and all others were destined for enslavement, torture, and death.  The Muslim Jihad (or struggle) is war against non-believers in Mohammed’s mission.  The ultimate goal being conversion to Islam, banishment, enslavement, or death, to those they call infidels.
4.     Japan’s war of conquest was a religious war, spawned by belief that their emperor god had the divine right to rule the world, and thought by them, to be a right and justifiable expansion of the empire.  Muslim terrorism is a religious war, thought by them, to be right and justifiable in expanding the rule of Islam around the world.
5.     To their own, the Japanese were kind, peaceful, respectful and honorable, but all manner of lies and deception were acceptable when dealing with those that did not worship their god.  Likewise, with Muslims, according to the Koran.
6.     Japanese fanatics believed fate and their emperor god controlled their destiny.  Muslims are also fatalists, believing all things occur according to the will of their god.
7.     The Japanese believed in the use of force to accomplish their goals, and greater force was the only thing that deterred them.  The Muslim Jihad is on the same path.

Ultimately, it took two atomic bombs in a show of force beyond anything ever before seen, to break the will of the Japanese people.  Only the prospect of intense suffering in their homeland could destroy the delusional dream of heaven, as reward, for death in service to the emperor god. 
Hopefully, the “Sleeping Giant” will again awaken.  This time to realize that religion is always the same.  It promises future reward for present human endeavor and requires tremendous power to free people from its clutches.  Bullets and bombs may free nations, but the only power that can free individuals from religion, is the good news that Jesus died for your sins and rose from the grave.  If Jesus did not die to pay for your sins, then you must pay your own penalty and if Jesus was not resurrected for your justification, then the torments of death are yours for eternity.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Save The Postal Service

            The importance of postal service is established in the US Constitution, Section 8, which grants the authority and responsibility, “To establish Post Offices and post Roads.”  Funding, for these and the other required functions of government, such as military forces, is established in the opening paragraph of Section 8:  “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence (sp) and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.” 
            It seems obvious, the Founders realized that postal service was necessary to the welfare of the United States and that they intended universal taxes to pay for it.  Today, the US Postal Service is being trimmed because it cannot compete with private package delivery services and electronic media, meaning it does not generate enough cash to pay its own way.  Local Post Offices and regional sorting facilities are being closed, resulting in overall slower delivery times.
The postal service, like the armed services, was not originally intended to pay its own way as a profit making business, because it was understood to be vital to the general welfare of the United States.  Somewhere along the way, government decided postal service should be self-supporting, probably under the well-worn guise that those who use the service should pay for it, and the intent of the Constitution was dumped.  This, of course, allowed the monies for postal services to be spent on other things.  Also, the requirement to establish “post roads” was long ago relegated to local authorities.  However, in spite of this pay-as-you-use scheme, Congress retained its right to use the postal service without charge, through the device of signature franking. 
            Before we abandon the Constitutional responsibility to provide postal service, due to lack of funding, perhaps, we should de-fund the lavish lifestyles our elected and appointed officials enjoy at taxpayer expense; the numerous agencies that seek to control our lives; and foreign aid to our enemies.  Not only could we then fund a first class postal service, but also, we would save billions, perhaps trillions, in the process and as the late Senator Everett Dirksen reportedly said, “Pretty soon, you’re talking about real money.”


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Terrorist Acts Are Workplace Violence?

            The Defense Department has labeled the attack on unarmed personnel at Fort Hood, conceived and perpetrated by Muslim terrorists, as “workplace violence.”  If the 9/11 attacks had occurred during this Administration, would they be called, “airplane crashes?”
            I am thankful that seventy years ago, our nation’s leaders did not misread, misunderstand or mislabel the attack on Pearl Harbor.


Friday, December 2, 2011

It Was Not Broken Until They Fixed It

Recent reports reveal the unemployment rate is at its lowest level since 2009, partly because people are leaving the workforce.  Apart from receiving a large inheritance, physical injury, or death, a common reason for leaving the workforce is retirement.
Paralleling the dropping unemployment rate is the fact that “Baby Boomers” are reaching retirement age in droves.  Politicians have long known and used this information as a scare tactic to influence voters with empty promises to “fix” the “problem.”  Older citizens are told the money they depend on to live cannot continue, and younger citizens are told the fund will not be there for them.  The proposed solution being, “vote for me and I will fix it.”
How is it possible that Social Security is in trouble?  Contrary, to email wisdom, illegal aliens and welfare recipients are not the problem.  Social Security payments are based on the amount a worker has paid into the system, with a minimum time in system requirement.  Very simply, people who do not pay into the system for the required time do not receive retirement payments.  This is also true for disabled people, non-working spouses, surviving spouses and orphans.  Additionally, recent studies show that most people die before receiving all that was paid into the system on their behalf.  Our own payment schedule requires that my wife and I must reach the age of 92 before the money we paid is fully returned. 
The real problem with Social Security is that politicians have and are spending more than is generated by the general tax base.  Therefore, they used Social Security monies to fund their deficit spending and now, the government is so far in debt that it cannot repay the loans.  At the same time, the Social Security Taxes being collected are not sufficient to sustain the system.
            There is no legitimate reason for Social Security to be insolvent.  If the fund is depleted before its time, we can blame the politicians, not the actuarial tables.  The actuarial tables allow insurance companies to pay benefits and still make a healthy profit.  They will do the same for Social Security when politicians quit borrowing money from the fund without repaying it and depending on current Social Security Taxes to cover existing and future obligations to retirees.
            The failure of Social Security is only the tip of the iceberg and looms on the horizon as a warning to all who will heed.  Deficit spending must stop and it should be clear to anyone with enough sense to manage his own finances that the people in office today are incompetent, or unwilling, to stop the spending.  The only way to show politicians that pork-barrel politics do not work is by voting them out of office. 
Regardless of party affiliation or lack thereof, the single issue needs to be:  Do not vote for the incumbent!  This means we may need to hold our noses while voting for someone from a different party, or for someone with a different political or religious view, but politics and religion are not the issues before us.  Crushing debt that will put us in servitude to those who own our mortgaged future is the issue.  Even servants have political and religious views, but they don’t have freedom.