Monday, December 10, 2018

Worship Christ the New-born King

The American Revolution had just begun when six year-old James and his parents left home in England to be missionaries in the West Indies. James’ experience in boarding school was not pleasant, but life went from bad to worse when word came that both of his parents had been killed at their mission post. Sent back to England, James was shuffled from place to place until his teenage years when he set out on his own. After trying to sell his poetry, working various jobs, and spending some time being homeless, he eventually got a job for a radical newspaper. When the editor had to flee the country for publishing material the British government didn’t like, James took over the job. Following in the footsteps of the previous editor, James was later charged with writing an article inciting British people to take sides in the French Revolution. James was sentenced to do jail time.
When he got out, James had still not learned his lesson. Two years later he was again in trouble with the law for writing about a riot by workers in a local mill. The government thought this was contrary to the public interest and sent him back to jail. While in jail this time, he wrote a book called “Prison Amusements.” Much to his surprise, when he got out six months later, his book had become a best seller and he was something of a celebrity. As a devout Christian, he used his paper and new influence to advocate for causes like the plight of chimney sweeps and the abolition of slavery.
He also began using his paper to publish his poems and hymns, which received enthusiastic response. So, in 1816, after re-reading Luke chapter 2 in preparation for writing a Christmas article for his paper, James sat down and began to write,

“Angels from the realms of glory,
Wing your flight o’er all the earth;
Ye who sang creation’s story,
Now proclaim Messiah’s birth!
Come and worship, Come and worship,
Worship Christ the new-born king.”

And that, as Paul Harvey would have said, is the rest of the story about how James Montgomery, an orphaned, once homeless “jailbird” used his talents to write one of the most beloved hymns of the Christmas season.

This Christmas season, while we share in the joy of Christmas greetings and gifts, feasting and family, lights and music--Don’t forget to “Come and worship Christ the new-born king.”

(Re-written based on Stories of Christmas Carols by Ernest Emurian, Baker, 1958)

Monday, December 3, 2018

What a Christmas!

What do you think it was like for Mary to have had to tell her parents and her fiancĂ©, Joseph, that she was pregnant? At first Joseph didn’t believe her and I seriously doubt that her parents did either. I can’t help thinking that there must have been feelings of anger, family disgrace, and gut-wrenching disappointment with Mary. Whether this lasted for days, weeks, or longer we do not know, but it must have been a very difficult “Christmas season” for a young girl like Mary whose reputation was being unjustly trashed! Then there was the three or four day trip to Bethlehem on a donkey or in a wooden cart. That had to be difficult (to say the least) for Mary who was nine months pregnant! And how do you think Mary might have felt when her baby was not born in a nice warm home in a semi-comfortable bed like other babies. He was born in a dirty stable where animals ate, slept and did their business! Finally, Mary and Joseph soon found out that their baby’s life was in danger from the ruthless King Herod. What a Christmas!!!
Someone recently put a sign in one of the restrooms where I work that asks, “How has God blessed you this Christmas?” Ideally, Christmas is a time of happiness and joy—but that is not always the case for many people. For many, the Christmas season is a time of painful memories, disappointments, or difficult family relationships. If Christmas time is hard for you, that doesn’t mean God has forgotten you or is angry with you. Much to our chagrin, God’s blessing sometime comes through suffering, as it did for Mary.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Extraterrestrial life

There is an organization known as the SETI Institute (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) founded by Carl Sagan. This is not some wacko alien conspiracy group but Ph.D. scientists searching disparately for signs of life in outer space.

In my files I have a cartoon depicting two people sitting under a star-lit night sky. One of them says, “I wonder if anybody out there is trying to contact us…”  In the lower right corner of the frame is a drawing of the Ten Commandments. In the next frame, the same person says, “Maybe they’ll visit our planet someday…”  In the lower right corner is a drawing of baby Jesus in the manger.

What SETI searches for, we proclaim—There IS intelligent life in outer space. This is the season when we celebrate how that Life came to live among us, being born in a manger. Happy beginning to your Christmas season!

Monday, October 29, 2018

Attack on a Jewish synagogue

The nation was stunned this past week after deadliest attack on the Jewish people in U.S. history. Eleven people were killed in a synagogue in Pittsburgh.The murderer was a vile anti-Semite. We might dismiss him as simply deranged—and he certainly was—but a CNN article cites a source saying that anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. surged almost 60% in 2017!

Although the church has a deplorable history of anti-Semitism, in my opinion, an attack on Jews is also an attack on Christians. Jesus was Jewish. All of the Apostles were Jewish. In fact, the very earliest church was almost entirely Jewish. In Galatians 3 Paul says that if we are in Christ, we are Abraham’s descendants and joint heirs of the promises God gave to Abraham. In Romans 11, Paul likens non-Jewish Christians to wild olive branches grafted into a Jewish olive tree through Christ. Christians are spiritual Jews!

Although some Protestants argue that when Israel rejected Jesus, God rejected Israel, that’s not what Paul says. In Romans 11 Paul asks, “Did God reject his people?” In the context “his people” is clearly referring to unbelieving Jews. Paul answers, “By no means!...God did not reject his people….” I’m not sure how much clearer he could be!  In fact, Paul’s love for his fellow Jews is so great that in Romans 9, he says that he would actually be willing to go to hell if that could somehow save his unbelieving Jewish contemporaries!

We stand with all decent people everywhere in condemning this slaughter and call for the strongest legal means possible to put an end to our nation’s anti-Semitic surge. We also join with Christians everywhere in praying for the survivors of this terrible tragedy.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Seeker Sensitive Churches and the preaching of the Gospel

Al Mohler is president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary—the largest seminary in the world. In his book, “He is not Silent,” Mohler says, “Though most evangelicals mention the preaching of the Word as a necessary or customary part of worship, the prevailing model of worship in evangelical churches is increasingly defined by music, along with innovations such as drama and video presentations. Preaching has in large part retreated, and a host of entertaining innovations have taken it place” (24).
In context, Mohler is certainly not criticizing the use of music in worship. He is criticizing churches that increasingly replace preaching with various forms of entertainment, often in an effort to increase attendance. Responding to such churches, Mohler goes on to quote from A.W. Tozer who pulls no punches:
“Any objection to the carryings-on of our present golden calf Christianity is met with the triumphant reply, ‘But we are winning them!’ And winning them to what? To true discipleship? To cross-carrying? To self-denial? To separation from the world? To crucifixion of the flesh? To holy living? To nobility of character? To a despising of the world’s treasures? To hard self-discipline? To love for God? To total committal to Christ? Of course, the answer to all these question is ‘no’"(26).
A bit too judgmental? Perhaps. Food for thought? Absolutely.

Monday, October 15, 2018

The way we die

I mentioned in my sermon on Sunday that I just finished reading a book entitled, “The way we die now.”  The book was not written by a Christian, which made his conclusion even more striking:

“There is a perception—even a consensus—that death is something that medicine should somehow ‘sort out’. But our needs are spiritual, not medical. Medicine’s dominion should be limited and explicitly defined. Medicine, and our culture, would be healthier and happier if we stopped expecting medicine to solve our existential and spiritual problems, if we stopped thinking of our bodies as machines and if we gave up our fantasies of control and of immortality. Doctors can indeed help the dying, but dying needs to be de-medicalized” (271-272).

When the author, a medical doctor, writes about giving up “our fantasies of control and immortality” he is talking about doctors who will do everything necessary to keep someone alive even though those doctors know 1) this may result in much more pain and suffering for the patient and 2) that the disease is terminal regardless of what the doctors do.

The author says he wrote the book “because my limited, strictly medical, expertise was inadequate to meet the demands placed on it by society and by my dying patients and their families. I had no answers, no profound insights.”

I appreciate his honesty. Ultimately, the only one who has the final answers to life and death is the One who himself conquered death through His resurrection. We have His thoughts and the Spirit-inspired wisdom of his earliest followers, in the New Testament.

Monday, October 8, 2018

“An increasingly hostile environment”

In the October 7, 2018 edition of the Christian Post, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President, Albert Mohler was quoted as saying, "Among the many challenges the church will face in the present and coming generations, few will equal the challenge of maintaining a steadfast commitment to biblical Christianity in the midst of an increasingly hostile environment.”
I am convinced that a large percentage of America is rapidly moving from a post-Christian to an anti-Christian society, in which an increasing number of people are openly antagonistic and even hostile to Christianity. In this new anti-Christian atmosphere there seems to be a growing movement even by “Evangelical” churches to “fit in.” The Bible is increasingly being re-interpreted (twisted) to be more culture-friendly. Teaching on sin, repentance and faith is being replaced by the “gospel” of health, wealth and prosperity. Old sins like dishonesty and immorality are being replaced by new sins like not being environmentally friendly or being intolerant of society’s new norms.
This desire to fit in is especially dangerous since it is coming from those who profess to be Christians! We need to remember the warning in James 4:4 that “anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” But some Christians have argued that if we were just more loving and tolerant, we wouldn’t be so hated by the world. Jesus, on the other hand, taught, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you (John 15:18-19).
The “challenge of maintaining a steadfast commitment to biblical Christianity in the midst of an increasingly hostile environment” must be met with a continued commitment to the Bible as our final authority in faith and practice, an unwavering commitment to solid biblical teaching and preaching, and an absolute commitment to the Jesus, not some Jesus imagined in our own image, but the Jesus proclaimed by the Bible.