Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I Really Love Christmas!

I know that many people think the Christmas season starts too early and is too commercialized but I love it all. Every time I see a commercial selling Christmas gifts, I think of the perfect gift that God gave the world—His son, Jesus. I think of the gift of the little baby Jesus in the manger. I think about the gift of salvation. I think about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I think about the gifts of the Wise Men. I think about the gift of God’s love. I really love Christmas!

When I think of the cost of buying presents for everyone on my list—how expensive they are—I think about the cost that Jesus paid on the cross. I think of the cost God the Father paid giving the life of His precious Son as a ransom for mankind, fallen in our sinfulness. I think of the incredible price paid for my salvation. I really love Christmas!

Whenever I see a Christmas tree, the evergreen reminds me of God’s eternal love. The ornaments remind me of the fruit and gifts of the Holy Spirit. The lights remind me that Jesus is the light of the world. Christmas snow reminds me ‘though my sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow.’ Christmas snow also reminds me of purity, new beginnings and second chances.

When I think of children waiting for Christmas to come, I think of how God’s children are waiting for Jesus to return. When I see the happiness on the faces of little children wild with anticipation and hope of the wonderful treasures that Christmas might bring, I remember that “the joy of the Lord is my strength” and how I so desperately anticipate one day seeing my Savior. I really love Christmas!

When I am tempted to lose heart at a world that has traded in Jesus for Santa Claus, I am reminded that even that whimsical childhood fantasy reminds me of Jesus—a tale of a magical event where all good children are given gifts. It reminds me of the Holy Spirit, everywhere in the world at the same time, giving gifts, blessings, comfort and joy to anyone in the world who dares to believe. Even Christmas cards remind me of God’s greeting card to me… His Word, the Bible. I really love Christmas!

At Christmas:
I remember to have faith like a little child.
I remember it is better to give that receive.
I remember that God has given me so many wonderful things to be thankful for.
I remember that the greatest is love.
I remember to care for my neighbor.
I remember to forgive those who have hurt me.
I remember to appreciate my family.
I remember just how much I love Jesus Christ.
I remember how much I love the Church.
And I remember just how much I love all of you.

So, although it is still pretty early, let me be the first this year, to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas season.

I pray we all really shine this year!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Election Reflections

Here are five points of reflection on this week's elections:

Since the first 20 African slaves were brought to Jamestown Colony in 1619, nearly 400 years have passed. From that time forward people of African ancestry in our country have struggled and faced injustice and unwarranted hatred on their painful road to the place we are today. That one of Africa’s progeny now holds the highest office in our nation marks a great day of victory for all Americans. I encourage everyone to consider the true-life message of freedom embodied in this moment and join me in congratulating all of our African-American fellow-citizens.

America is truly the greatest country in the world and on some level I feel we are suddenly a lot closer to the dream famously articulated by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on August 28, 1963. Following is an excerpt from that awesome speech:

“…And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.

"I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride, From every mountainside, let freedom ring!”

Again, I whole-heartedly celebrate the accomplishment of those who have suffered to make this day possible and I offer my genuine heartfelt praise to God and good wishes to all who have longed for this moment in time. It is a wonderful statement of validation for our neighbors of color—you absolutely deserve this blessing.

Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” Acts 10:34-35

We are instructed to pray for our governmental leaders. This is the sacred duty of Christians. The Church was born under Roman rule and Rome was neither sympathetic nor partial to Christianity. Under this hostile environment the following words were written by the Holy Spirit through Paul to Timothy: “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:1-4

As children of God we pray with the faith that ultimately God is in control. “that the living may know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, gives it to whomever He will, and sets over it the lowest of men.' Daniel 4:17

We are to obey the law of the land. “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. 5 Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.” Romans 13:1-7

Again, remember that Roman rule was not sympathetic toward Christianity and yet the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Peter wrote: “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14 or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men-- 16 as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. 17 Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.” 1 Peter 2:13-17

In the Gettysburg Address, President Abraham Lincoln identified our country as having a government, ‘of the people, by the people and for the people.’ This reveals that in America, we have the unique governmental form that is designed to be guided by the vigorous involvement of her citizens. As Americans, therefore, it is both our privilege and our duty to passionately engage government to influence policy with righteous values and ideals, especially when we perceive error. And, regarding the prevailing political views reflected in our recent presidential elections, we have much work ahead.

It is, therefore the American responsibility to stay active, as guided by conscience; influencing, informing, complaining, peacefully protesting and broadcasting the views and values which will hold our nation accountable to God’s morality. In addition, for people of faith, it is our biblical mandate to vigorously oppose unrighteousness and defend the innocent in every arena of life. The Bible teaches the following:

“Learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow.” Isaiah 1:17

“Defend the poor and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy; Free them from the hand of the wicked.” Psalms 82:3-4.

There are many issues sure to be forwarded by our new government that will require our spirited dissent. Whereas the former administration had sensitivity towards issues important to conservative Christians, the new administration has a troubling track record. This, in combination with a liberal congress creates a potential perfect-storm of anti traditional-Christian sentiment in coming years.

Furthermore, our responsibility as Christians is to monitor the government to make sure our liberty to worship freely and evangelize the lost is never taken away or even reduced. We have to remain ever vigilant and vocal in order to support and defend the freedoms necessary to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ both at home and abroad. Jesus said to, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15)

A few other issues are on the radar that will require our voices are: the expansion of abortion and infanticide rights and practices, the traditional definition of marriage, proper use of military, our support of Israel, bioethics, overbearing taxation and maintaining our freedom of religious expression in the broadcast community. These are all important items to us as Americans and Christians.

In closing, most important will be our hearts when engaging these issues. It is necessary to learn to disagree passionately with an unrighteous position, practice, policy or law and not hate the persons who advance it.
Pastor Bob Engelhardt