Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Traditions of Christmas

The power of a tradition is that it memorializes something considered important or sacred and is a way that ancestors communicate with their descendants. For example, old European and earlier American society gave us many of our most wonderful Christmas traditions. These are the familiar images of baby Jesus in a manger, the three wise men, Mary and Joseph, shepherds, and angels. They also include Christmas trees, church services, traditional carols, giving gifts, good will, the story of Scrooge and even the playful metaphor of Santa Claus. These are all traditions our ancestors initiated and handed down so that future generations might know of their love for their world’s most valuable treasure: Jesus Christ.

Although modernity has largely moved away from the religious heart and soul of the holiday, Christmas traditions were specifically designed to stir goodwill and love among people because the one celebrated is an expression of good will and love from God. What a great idea, to rejoice at God’s gift to the world by transforming an entire home, village, town or city with colorful lights, garland and the sounds of heartwarming songs in a common expression of Christmas joy. It is sad to me that our society has moved so far away from the original meaning of these holiday traditions as it has from many other aspects of our Christian heritage.

The good news is God is never far away, regardless of how far people have drifted. The great hope for our generation is, as always, in the tireless, timeless work of bringing the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ back into the center of human life. Our ancestors knew this and memorialized it in our Christmas traditions. Therefore this year as we begin to turn our hearts towards Christmas, I encourage the faithful to keep Christmas as Christmas; a day when we remember and celebrate God’s gift of His own Son, Jesus Christ, to the world. In the words of the immortal Linus, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
Photo above courtesy Dean Malaxos.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Always Mardi Gras and Never Lent

Our culture reminds me of Mardi Gras, where spectators line up along the street each night, intoxicated by drink and the spirit of the celebration while watching a parade go by.

Mardi Gras parades include floats, marching bands, costumes, glitter, lights and strings of beads being tossed from the floats. Each float is a gaudy, brilliantly illuminated artistic creation, presenting some theme or other and usually manned by celebrities or exotically costumed characters in masks, face and body paint or skimpy outfits. Catching the beads is part of the fun for the onlookers. The whole concept of Mardi Gras apparently originated as a period of time set aside for people to get their fill of sinful pleasure before the annual start of Lent.

I see American culture very much the same way. Like at Mardi Gras, the music of our culture is always loud and always playing in our ears, reinforcing the spirit of the party. The entire generation seems intoxicated with alcohol, drugs, consumerism, entertainment, politics, and sexual energy. Each TV show, web site, movie, video game, news or media spectacle is another float going by and actors, politicians, athletes, news people and talk show hosts in their various costumes, pass by their audience each night offering a glimpse into a caricature of life that entertains, titillates, outrages, shocks, informs and sells. The spectator hoard catches the beads every time they buy a new flat screen TV, iPod, hybrid car or hamburger.

This perpetual Mardi Gras parade and its variety and diversity of floats all really serve the same purpose and the ultimate effect is the same. That is, to hold the attention of the crowd and give each spectator a feeling of meaning without having done anything to deserve it. It is the ultimate shallow gratification. I watch a TV show like a float going by. I am entertained, I feel satisfied, I have a sense of visceral stimulation, but I have done nothing. I have accomplished nothing, changed nothing, built nothing and stood for nothing. I have only attended a parade. I am a well-behaved drunk. I sometimes feel slightly guilty but I am an addict; I cannot resist.

The Bible says: "But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?" James 2:20

On another float in the same parade, American culture has created a generation of Christian Mardi Gras spectators, expecting to be entertained by their preachers and threatening to change the channel. These people attend church like watching TV and think that merely being a spectator makes God happy. Many feel the same visceral stimulation at church as a good episode of CSI and leave the service just as unrepentant, unchanged and spiritually ignorant.

But at least Mardi Gras has Lent; a period of self denial before Easter. Our modern culture has no such self-correcting mechanism. The Bible says: "Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? "For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works." Matt 16:24-27

It is clear that believers are required by God to put feet to their faith. At some point we must decide to voluntarily turn from the cultural Mardi Gras parade and embrace a spirit of Lent as a vital aspect of each of our lives. C. S. Lewis wrote about a curse on the fictional land of Narnia that caused it to be "always winter but never Christmas." We live in a seemingly opposite but equally off-balance land—a land where it is "always Mardi Gras and never Lent."

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

My Latest Books

I am in the middle of revising and editing a bookfor the series Pure Gold Classics (PGC), publishedby Bridge-Logos publishers. The book by Arthur W. Pink is titled The Sovereignty of God and was originally written in 1918. This is the second book in the PGC series I have had the privilege to work on, the first being Power, Passion and Prayer by 19th century revivalist Charles Finney, which I wrote in 2004.

You can purchase a copy of Power Passion and Prayer from our church office or from

I also recently compiled and self-published a small book called 'African Impressions' containing photos and comments from my trip to Africa in March 2007.

The book is free to download on a pdf file from the homepage of our church web site:

Brain Sludge

Humor columnist Dave Barry writes about a term called "Brain Sludge" coined by scientists to describe the vast collection of odd things the brain chooses to remember, instead of useful information. For example, if you take any group of one hundred average Americans, and sing to them, "Come and listen to a story 'bout a man named Jed." At least ninety-seven of them will immediately sing: "A poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed." Barry quips, "They will sing this even if they are at a funeral... they can't help it."

Another way of looking at this phenomenon is like old-fashioned flypaper. All kinds of disjointed information sticks to the brain like flies on those sticky, hanging glue strips. In fact, many people are proud to amass the most mental flies—little useless facts people boast of knowing—because this supposedly shows how 'smart' they are. The bad news is that an undisciplined mind full of mainly useless facts deceives people into believing themselves intellectually strong when in fact they are merely the haphazard owners of a vast collection of mental flies or, again, what Dave Barry calls, Brain Sludge.

Jesus said that a tree is known by its fruit (Luke 6:43). Good trees produce good fruit and bad trees produce bad fruit. Therefore, you can know if your amassed knowledge is comprised of either Brain Sludge or useful knowledge by what your life is producing. Here's a good test for self-diagnosis: Is your life producing faith, contentment, peace, healthy relationships, prosperity, productivity, purpose, success, joy and love? Is your mind alive to good things? Is your closest friend your spouse? Do you love God and His church? Do you love your neighbor? Really?

If not, the good news is that the brain's flypaper like adhesive quality works on useful information as well as Brain Sludge, but it takes a little work. Romans 12:2 says, "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." Renewing the mind is a mandate to the child of God.

To renew the mind, the flypaper must be hung in the appropriate room where it will catch the right thoughts. If someone consistently exposes themselves to healthy, success-producing knowledge, eventually their brain will begin catching small strands of healthy thoughts and words. The healthy thoughts and words deepen over time with repetition and bond together with other healthy knowledge creating a network of healthy thinking. And here is a major tip: Healthy thinking results in healthy actions.

How to move mental fly paper into a healthy room:

1. Study the Bible. The Bible is the perfect fountain of knowledge and wisdom and the healthiest thinking comes from its words. The Bible says:

Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 2 Tim 2:15

How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word. Psalms 119:9

But you must continue in the... Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Tim 3:14-17

2. Meditate on or ponder good thoughts. Again, healthy thinking results in healthy actions. The Bible says:

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy--meditate on these things. Philippians 4:8

3. Keep the right company. Avoid spending too much time with negative, gloomy, dirty-minded, overly sarcastic, untruthful, foul-mouthed and crooked people, at least as much as possible. Also, as John Kelly teaches, there are three kinds of people; those who hate you, those who tolerate you, and those who celebrate you. Try to spend most of your time with those who celebrate you and the least amount of time with those who hate you.

Go out of your way to befriend people who will make you feel good, noble, intelligent, compassionate and holy. Here is a tip: if good people seem to avoid you, check a mirror. The Bible says:

Do not be deceived: "Evil company corrupts good habits." 1 Corinthians15:33

4. Cultivate your mind-life like a garden. You wouldn’t let destructive animals or insects into your vegetable garden and neither should you allow every ungodly voice in the world into your mind and heart.The Bible says:

Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life. Proverbs 4:23

"Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God... the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience. From Luke 8:11-15

5. Speak and pray faith-filled words and prayers. The Bible says:

Have faith in God. "For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. "Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them. Mark 11:22-24

6. When you recognize your own toxic thinking and attitudes, repent. The Bible says:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

In conclusion: Implementing these six simple principles will revolutionize one's life. Imagine being able to recite the Scripture as readily as we recite our cultural Brain Sludge. I can hear it now...Someone sings, "Come and listen to a story 'bout a man named Jed." And ninety-seven people retort,

"As a door turns on its hinges, So does the lazy man on his bed." (Proverbs 26:14)

At Catskill Mountain Christian Center we are committed to creating opportunities for people to grow in God’s grace. To reposition your mental fly-paper or to cleanse your mental sludge, I encourage you to participate in any of the dozens of activities held here each month including:

-Sunday and Wednesday Services
-Bible Studies
-Home Groups
-Christian Life School of Theology, Beacon University
-Prayer services
-Christian Worker Home Bible Study Series
-Family Church
-Men’s and women’s meetings
-Sunday school classes for the whole family
-Youth Group
-Senior Citizen’s Fellowship & Dinner
-Pastoral counseling

Catskill Mountain Christian Center
629 Main Street
Margaretville, NY 12455
e mail:
web site:
Sunday Service: 10:00 am

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Integrating Faith and Education

Catskill Mountain Christian Academy (CMCA) is currently in our thirteenth year of high powered, high quality, academically excellent, intellectually stimulating and spiritually uplifting Christian education. Our pre-K through 12th grade students continue to score well above the national average across-the-board on standardized testing including the all-important SATs.

CMCA does not position itself as a competitor to public education but really only exists to serve parents who have committed their lives and resources to raising their children without a spiritually divided mind. Christian parents who are willing to sacrifice for their kids to possess a Christian worldview, will receive at CMCA, an unapologetic integration of faith and education, something that, by definition, public schools cannot do.

Like myself, many parents feel like it is important for our children to hear the same moral and spiritual message in school as they do at home. At CMCA, we teach that God is one God; whether at church, school, home or workplace and that His presence and teachings should inform and saturate every aspect of our lives.

Separation of church and state is a concept for the government to dispute, not parents. Parents are admonished by God to "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart fromit" (Prov 22:6).

And also from Deuteronomy 6: "And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. "You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up (...or pretty much all the time!).

In short, public education, by law, looks at all religions as equal; CMCA unapologetically teaches that God exclusively expresses His will to the human race through the Gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Holy Bible. And that is why we joyfully open our doors each day to honor God by educating our CMCA children academically and 'in the Light'.

Louvre Painting at CMCC

In 2006 an amazing painting by Lawson was donated to CMCC, and it hangs behind the pulpit in our Chapel.It is approximately ten feet long and depicts the scene from Luke 7: 36-50 where the sinful woman washes Jesus' feet with her tears, wipes them with her hair and anoints them with fragrant oil.

The painting is a study of an original painted in 1737 by artist Pierre Sableyras on display in the Louvre Museum in Paris. You have to see it to believe it!

Thoughts on Aron Ralston

The Discovery Channel broadcasted a show highlighting the experience of Aron Ralston, the young hiker who severed his own arm to get free from a fallen bolder after being trapped in a Utah canyon for five days. Tom Brokaw conducted an interview with Ralston and did a magnificent job. The story relates to our walk with the Lord in very poignant ways:

Off on his own. As he tells it, Ralston did not tell anyone of his whereabouts when he went hiking. He was drawn to the danger and excitement. We likewise stray into many dangerous places which God's Word instructs us to avoid for the sake of fun, danger and excitement. These are places the Bible calls sin. We go alone because we don't want anyone to know.

Trapped by a fallen boulder. Sin leads to bondage. What starts as seemingly harmless fun can take a nasty turn and trap us in a deep dark prison. Dysfunction is the common thread of our generation because of the myriad social and relational bondagescreated by the sex, drugs and rebellion so pervasive in our generation.

In a deep canyon that no one could locate. Sin leads to isolation. Eventually people bury or cover up their bondage so deep that there is no way to even know they are trapped. People are generally terrified of being ‘outed’ in their bondage because they either are ashamed of being there in the first place or they fear rejection or do not trust the healing community to have an answer for them.

Realization that actions were dumb. Ralston happened to be carrying a video camera and recorded several messages chronicling his experience. "I don't know what it is about me that's brought me to this...Go out looking for adventure and I can feel alive...and don't tell someone where I'm going, it's just dumb." Repentance, or turning, begins withmentally saying, "uncle" to God's truth. The Bible teaches, 'Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up'.

Realization that the bondage can kill you. Another video quote finds Ralston saying, "If I had a way to end it I probably would...its miserable, its cold. I can’t keep the wind off of me, it's cold...I'm doing what I can, but this sucks. It's really bad. One of the worst ways to go. Knowing it's going to happen." He was realizing that the bondage could kill him. The destruction of your life is going to be the unalterable result of this prison. You are a dead man walking. There is a coldness of spirit when one is trapped in some bondage of sin that brings a creeping impending death. This can create the catharsis that brings a sense of desperation, pushing one to consider possibilities formerly outside of one's consciousness. Jesus said that in order to find your life, you must lose it.

Reaching out for a love touch. In another video clip he says, "So again love to everyone. Bring love and peace and happiness and beautiful lives into the world in my honor. Thank you. Love you." After 9/11 I was astonished at the stories that reported people calling on their cell phones from the WTC and hijacked airplanes to say 'I love you' to their loved ones. It is amazing that the human spirit, faced with separation from this life, reaches out for a love touch. It is almost like a universal need to proclaim participation in the only real pure thing in life: love! The Bible says, "God is love."

Doing what it takes to survive. On the fifth day Ralston finally came to terms with what he had to do to survive; cut his arm off. He explained in excruciating detail the process of breaking the bones first and then with the small blade of his knife working through the rest of his arm. The brutality and sheer will displayed an unwillingness to stay trapped in the present situation and do whatever necessary to be set free. It is so reminiscent of Jesus’ words, "If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched-- (Mark 9:43) Ralston's experience is a harrowing demonstration of Jesus’ metaphorical instruction. When a person becomes this desperate in the canyon of their bondage, they are ready to be liberated. The Bible says that we find God when we seek Him with all our heart.

The power of a second chance. Once he was free of his arm, Ralston said he felt reborn. "[It] was the happiest moment in my life...there will never be a more powerful experience for me. I...just spent all this time trapped here. And then having the opportunity I...thought I was going to die...and to have gotten to that point I...where I engraved my own epitaph...gravestone, in a sense that it...was absolutely the greatest feeling to be...given the chance to get out of here. And looking down in canyon, I knew I had a...hell of a trip left. But at least...I was not going to die right here. And the power of that was astonishing." The power of a second chance, of being born again is incredibly powerful. The metaphor is simply compelling to me! His words describe exactly the feelings of a person liberated by the power of God. Who the Son sets free is free indeed! You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free!

Carrying forward the essentials. Ralston left most of his equipment when beginning his hike out of that place. Many people want to bring elements of their former lives on their trek in Christ but the child of God travels light. Paul wrote: Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil 3:13-14). Our journey in Christ is arduous and treacherous and we, in our varying degrees of amputation, must not try to carry more than the essentials.

And now for the hard part. After severing his own arm, Aron Ralston had to then hike out of the canyon, repel down a cliff and cross a long distance before someone found him. Our journey in Christ requires courage, perseverance, steadfastness and great desire for salvation. Christianity is not for the faint of heart!

Combating Phantom Pains. Aron suffered phantom pain in his arm for a long time afterwards. Likewise, we must always remember that Jesus laid the ax to the root of sin on the cross so the only real bondage of sin that remains today is phantom pain. The devil still uses his influence to persuade us that we are still tightly and inseparably bound to that sin. It is his full time job to draw us back into bondage. He comes but to kill steal and destroy but Jesus came that we might have life and have it more abundantly!