Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Power of Christmas Traditions

The power of tradition is to memorialize something considered exceptionally important or sacred to a culture and to function as a vehicle to pass down important values from ancestors to their descendants. For example, old European and early American culture gave us many of our most wonderful Christmas traditions, mixing the biblical accounts of the Nativity with other beloved practices. These are the familiar images of baby Jesus in a manger, the wise men, Mary and Joseph, shepherds, angels, Christmas trees, church services, seasonal songs, traditional carols, giving gifts, spreading good will, sharing fictional stories like A Christmas Carol and even old St. Nick. These are all traditions our Christian ancestors initiated and handed down so that future generations might know how much they loved their most valuable treasure; God's original Christmas present: Jesus Christ.

Although our mixed-up world has largely moved away from the true heart and soul of the holiday, Christmas traditions were intentionally designed to stir feelings of 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, the sounds of heartwarming songs and celebrating by giving gifts to one another in a common expression of Christmas joy. I believe that we must never forget the main message communicated through our beloved holiday traditions, contending vigorously and reminding the world boldly of their original meaning.

We surely know that God is never far away regardless of how far many have drifted and 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 turn our hearts towards Christmas once again, I encourage everyone to keep Christmas as Christmas; a day when we memorialize and celebrate God’s gift of His own Son, Jesus Christ, to the world.

"Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. "For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. "And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

"Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" Luke 2:8-14

And echoing the words of the immortal Linus, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Apostle John Kelly - A Testimonial

It has been a great privilege to be associated with Apostle John Kelly for the past twenty plus years. His personality and ministry style set him apart as a man uniquely equipped to impart vision and direction to a generation of Christian leaders hungry to influence the world for the cause of Christ.

My first exposure to Apostle Kelly's ministry was at Ravena Bible Training Center in upstate New York circa 1987. As an up-and-coming on-fire Christian with a faith-message background, I was excited (though somewhat skeptical) when told that an 'apostle' was coming to speak at a Saturday morning men's breakfast. I figured that in order to prove he was a true apostle he would probably tell awesome stories about the miracles he performed or somehow flex his apostolic muscular prowess through prophecy or healing.

What I got that morning however was much more... he was surely anointed with the Holy Spirit, but John Kelly was logical, earthy and confident with an east-coast style manliness that flowed naturally and was closer to my Bronx-born, WWII veteran father’s personality than any Spirit-filled minister I had ever been exposed to. Prior to Kelly every preacher I considered really anointed had a southern accent. This new perspective blew my mind.

In addition, I found Apostle Kelly to be amazingly perceptive and there was nowhere to hide from his dead-on insights. I still remember feeling sick to my stomach listening, for the first time, to his now often-quoted lines like (speaking on authority), "If you cannot make your own children obey you, how do you expect a demon to?" Ouch! Through the years, I have come to believe that many of John Kelly's one-liners are among the most profound sayings anywhere, having the power to shine a light on critical inconsistencies. I personally quote John Kelly in my ministry far more than any other contemporary source.

The overall feeling I was left with that morning reminds me of an old song by Roberta Flack called "Killing Me Softly with His Song." The song tells of a woman listening, for the first time, to a particular singer performing and how his song cuts into her soul. Well, the song I could have written about that men’s breakfast might have been named, "Bludgeoning Me Mortally with His Message." And although it was a painful experience, it was the most liberating teaching I have ever heard and left me with two life-changing impressions to this day: 1. Jesus loves the east coast too! 2. Apostle John Kelly represented a vision of unapologetic, strong-side manliness in ministry that, to this day, has never been matched. For that, I am ever grateful.

I tell people that John Kelly is more prophetic by accident than most prophets are on purpose. He has a great gift of being able to tie heaven and earth together and see opportunities and project trends in the church and in the culture before the wave breaks on the horizon. My wife, Nancy, and I are very fortunate to have benefited immeasurably from Apostle Kelly’s wisdom throughout our ministry as we have endeavored to build based on the principles he has forwarded in his teachings and from his personal instruction to us.

In 1990, John and Helena invited me to a local diner one fateful evening and offered me an assignment to pastor a small church plant in the rural Catskill Mountains of New York State. I accepted, of course, and soon found this tiny village, Margaretville, population 600, is so remote that I felt, at first, like Kevin Costner’s character in the beginning of Dances with Wolves. Over the next eighteen years, however, (as I am writing now) that church has grown-up to become a major beacon to the region and a multifaceted apostolic life generator affecting thousands of lives and moving millions of dollars over the years for the cause of Christ. This is John Kelly’s legacy in one small spot in the world.

During the 22 years I have been associated with Apostle John Kelly; he has won many great victories and faced much painful hardship and adversity including physical limitations and the betrayal of friends. Through all this he has shown himself to be a gracious and consummate leader and an innovator. His ability to forgive is astounding. His sense of humor is refreshing. His intelligence is reassuring. His humility is disarming. His insight is profound. His love and compassion are surprisingly delicate but vitally important balance weights to his otherwise warrior attitude. His courage is not rhetoric but real. Apostle John Kelly is the only minister that I have ever really tried to emulate and Catskill Mountain Christian Center is, in no small part, a testimony to his influence.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Purpose of Christmas - A Recommendation

I’m writing today to recommend a book. The Purpose of Christmas by Rick Warren. I believe that it will be a blessing to you personally and make a great Christmas gift for friends and relatives. I LOVE THIS BOOK.

I must confess that I do not care for many of the typical light-reading illustrated Christmas gift books being published today, but this is unlike any I have read before. It is a small book and easy reading but it definitely connects the dots in clearly explaining why Jesus’ birth is an event truly worth celebrating. It will reignite your pure faith and has the potential to lead many to salvation. I recommend this book for our home groups (as a December study guide), for family devotions, for unsaved friends & relatives and for your entire gift list. The message is very positive so everyone will enjoy it.

In the book, Warren approaches the purpose of Christmas by describing it as a time for Celebration, a time for Salvation and a time for Reconciliation. In each of these sections he offers relevant illustrations, answers from a mall survey on prevailing attitudes towards Christmas, and outstanding explanations of vital biblical concepts. The book definitely ministers to the heart and illuminates the head.

The following is a reader review from “Like most people, I've "done" Christmas every year since I was a baby, but honestly, I had never really thought about it much personally. Of course I knew it was the birth of Jesus, but didn't figure that had any relevance to me. It was just an historical event. Then, a week ago, a good friend of mine gave me a copy of this book. It was short, so I thought I'd read it. WOW.... I mean seriously... I had no idea! How did I miss this all these years? Warren explains why Christmas is such a "big deal" around the world, but more important is how he clearly lays out the implications and benefits to your personal life. I did what he said and I will never be the same person anymore. I'm free! I still don't know enough to explain it so I just ordered 9 copies to give to my friends. This will be the best Christmas because now I get it. JONATHAN FARADAY”

I bought my copy for the $17.99 cover price at Barnes & Nobles last week but saw it last night at Wal-Mart for $12.00. Also, at the Amazon link below, you can buy it for $12.23 plus shipping and at the same web page there is also a 2 minute video presentation of Rick Warren talking about the book (It is worth looking at the video).

Again, I encourage every CMCC family to buy a copy for your own and another for everyone on your list.

See You Sunday,

Pastor Bob Engelhardt

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary defines Thanksgiving as: A public acknowledgment or celebration of divine goodness; also, a day set apart for religious services, especially to acknowledge the goodness of God, either in any remarkable deliverance from calamities or danger, or in the ordinary dispensation of his bounties.

As Christians, being thankful is at the very heart of our faith because we are formerly spiritual orphans who have been adopted by God. We have taken advantage of His offer to be joined with His Son, Jesus Christ, and in doing so, become sons and daughters in His family. Another benefit of our adoption for which we are thankful is freedom from sin. Sin is like a universal birth defect in the human species—a spiritual malignant tumor in our hearts that poisons us with cravings for a variety of ungodly pleasures and keeps our moral compass perpetually off course. Now that we are His children, we are free from sin. The scalpel has been laid to the roots! The tumor has been removed and for that we are very thankful.

Unfortunately, due to memories and phantom pains, even though we don’t want to be, we are still sometimes tempted by impulses to return to our fatherless sin-sick behaviors. We are thankful and confident, however, in our Father’s plan because He is the Great Physician. The surgery of His Word, the radiation therapy of His love and the chemotherapy of His Holy Spirit are zapping sin cells and renewing our minds to live with Him in sin/cancer-free bliss. And not only is sin eradicated, but we are also thankful because beyond the limitations of this life, awaits fullness of our adopted status as permanent residents of His eternal city. We are very thankful people!

The Scripture has quite a bit to say about Thanksgiving. Here are five examples:

  1. As believers, it is not only when things are good that we give thanks, but also when the chips are down. The most powerful thanksgiving can come when things are really bad. For example, Jonah gave thanks from the belly of a fish after intentionally running from obeying God: “But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving” (Jonah 2:9) Sometimes, when it really hurts, in the darkest night, in the deepest trouble, with literally no options, when destruction is seemingly certain… that is the time to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving!

  2. We should be living fire hydrants, gushing continually with thanksgiving especially when we see the grace of God increasingly affecting, not only our lives, but our family, community, country and the world. “For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:15)

  3. Thanksgiving is to prayer what peanut butter is to jelly. Here is the promised peace you’ve been looking for! “ anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

  4. Robust, hearty, overcoming Christian faith is full of thanksgiving. “As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 2:6-7)

  5. Christians must continue in watchful, attentive prayer, always remembering to keep an attitude of thanksgiving. “Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2)
I am very thankful this year for all of you who call CMCC your church home. Nancy and I are in our eighteenth year of serving you—thank you for making our work a delight. We are grateful to you and to Jesus for making CMCC a productive and prosperous vehicle for His Kingdom. In a region where there was not a potent expression of God’s glory, there is now a living, vibrant church, blazing with the glory of God. Jesus Christ is being lifted up in this region! The church is growing, poor folks are being fed, children are learning and the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

Happy Thanksgiving 2008
Pastor Bob Engelhardt