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While working as an engineer at Hyster Company in Portland, Oregon, I purchased a cute little 1964 light blue rag-top VW “Bug.” We really enjoyed driving it but noticed that the steering seemed a bit loose and the front end rattled some. Thinking probably the front spindles were worn, I took the Bug to a foreign car shop near where I worked. They soon called with some bad news, saying that the body pan which ran the full length of the car was rusting out and that If I were to brake hard, the front axle may come off and that there wasn’t enough good metal to weld. I hadn’t thought about the fact that the fellow worker from whom I purchased the car had transferred from one of Hyster’s plants in Illinois where they heavily salted the roads in the winter to melt the snow and ice. If the salt is not washed off it takes its toll on vehicles and in this case had rusted out the whole bottom of the vehicle. Since a salt solution is also used on our roads in the winter, I have learned—from that experience—to frequently wash our vehicles, including underneath, to rinse off the salt before it can cause damage.
As believers, we sometimes go on for periods of time without “washing off” the contaminants of this world and our old sinful flesh that start building up on our lives. And, as with the body pan on the VW which is out of sight, we often don’t notice it happening, for it is going on in the “inner man.” If we don’t ask God to search our hearts on an ongoing basis and confess sins right away, they can accumulate and start a “rusting” of the inner man to where one day, we may “crash” and wonder what happened and why. If we had not checked out our VW Bug, we may have had a serious accident. King David in the Old Testament understood the dangers of letting sin go unconfessed for a period of time. It took a great toll on his life as he described in Psalm 32:3,4: “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer.” What a tremendous release and relief it was to him when he was confronted by Nathan the prophet and finally confessed (agreed with God concerning) his sin. He said: “Be gracious to me, O God, according to Thy loving kindness; according to the greatness of Thy compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against Thee, Thee only I have sinned, and done what is evil in Thy sight…Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness, let the bones which Thou hast broken rejoice. Hide Thy face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me…Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation…” (Psa. 51:1-12). (Notice that David did not asked God to restore his salvation, but the joy that it brought. When we allow sin to accumulate, we don’t lose our salvation, for we are secure in the One who is keeping us—I Pet. 1:3-5; Phil. 1:6—but we lose the fellowship with Him and the joy it brings.)
The cares and allurements of this sinful world, in combination with the lusts of our old nature, can gradually rob us of our testimony, our spiritual growth and our joy. David was well aware of what he had done, but we may have ignored the convicting voice of the Holy Spirit within for so long we don’t even realize how “rusty” we have become. We just wonder why our Christian life has become more of a burden than a delight. We may wonder why the joy and excitement has gone. We no longer hunger for His Word or look forward to attending the fellowship of believers. David learned from his horrific experience to let God expose his heart on a regular basis. He prayed: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there by any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way” (Psa. 139:23,24). David knew first-hand the joy of sins forgiven, and that feeling of being clean inside again. He wrote: “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit!” (Psa. 32:1,2).
How’s your joy in Jesus? If you have lost it, better inspect for “rust.” Let God do the inspecting through His Spirit and the Word of God. He alone really knows our heart. The Apostle Paul, wrote this: “I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the One who examines me is the Lord” (I Cor. 4:44). Examining ourselves with a deceitful heart (see Jer. 17: 9), we will inevitably be deceived. Our thoughts and emotions are highly complex in their working, so the knowledge derived from them is undependable. Thus introspection is dangerous. As John wrote, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (I Jn. 1: 8). Let God do the “searching,” as David did. Then, as He points out sins in our life, confess them, for “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I Jn. 1:9). One of the keys to avoiding the contamination from the “roads of life” and the rust that results, is to do what David recommended in Psa. 119:9,11: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Thy Word. Thy Word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against Thee.”
For weeks now we have been bombarded in the media and on the internet with campaigning by the political candidates for the upcoming presidential elections. It seems that we are at an extremely crucial point in the history of our nation. Our citizens are becoming more and more polarized, and it isn’t so much over the issues of immigration or the economy or how to fight terrorism, but it is over spiritual and moral values. There is quite obviously a fierce spiritual battle being fought over control of this nation, which has long been a lighthouse of hope to other nations and people in the world.
Today people will gather—weather permitting (blizzards are expected)—in the state of Iowa in political caucuses to show their support for their favorite candidates. What they are looking for in a presidential candidate will be revealed by how they vote. Just what is it that we should look for in a person that qualifies them to lead our nation, or for that matter, our state, our county or our city, or our church? What makes a good leader? Is it just someone who agrees with our political bias and our world view? Or is there more?
Although God had intended for the Israelites to have a “theocracy” where they were solely dependent upon and submissive to God as their leader, they insisted that they have a king like the other nations. They came to Samuel, the circuit-riding judge and religious leader, and said, “Behold you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations” (I Sam. 8:4.5). Samuel was upset with their request and talked to the LORD about it (vv. 4-6). The LORD said to Samuel: “They have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them” (v. 7). The LORD told Samuel to warn the people of what would happen if they chose to have an earthly king like other nations (vv. 10-18). In spite of Samuel’s warning, “Nevertheless, the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel, and they said, ‘No, but there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations…” (vv. 19,20). The LORD told Samuel to go ahead and appoint them a king of the people’s choosing (v. 22).
So, whom did the people choose and why did they pick whom they did? Well, the narrative in I Samuel goes on to say, “Now there was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish…and he had a son whose name was Saul, a choice and handsome man, and there was not a more handsome person than he among the sons of Israel; from his shoulders and up he was taller than any of the people” (9:1,2). Saul became the people’s choice, after all he was the tallest, best looking young man in all Israel. Surely he will make a great king! And the Spirit of God even enabled him to be a good leader (10:6,9). But soon Saul became disobedient to God and was disqualified from his position of leadership and Samuel said to him: “You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God…your kingdom shall not endure. The LORD has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the LORD has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you” (I Sam. 13:13,14). Notice that God’s choice was of “a man after His own heart.” Then God sent Samuel to the home of Jesse the Bethlehemite to anoint the new king (I Sam. 16:1). Jesse brought seven of his eight sons to Samuel, but the LORD indicated it was none of them. He said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (16:7). So, Jesse sent for his youngest who was out tending the sheep. David was brought before Samuel, who anointed him as the future king of Israel. He even made a covenant with David, establishing his throne forever (I Chr. 17:11-14).
Obviously to God, character matters. Was David perfect? Goodness no! He made some grave mistakes and it cost him dearly, but he repented and returned to walking with God because he was “a man after God’s own heart.” All future kings of Judah/Israel were compared to David. If they were godly, it is said of them, that they walked in the ways of David. For example, we read in II Chr. 17:3,4): “And the LORD was with Jehoshaphat because he followed the example of his father David’s earlier days and did not seek the Baals, but sought the God of his father and followed his commandments…” We also read about Josiah (who became king at age eight!): “And he did right in the sight of the LORD, and walked in the ways of his father David and did not turn aside to the right or to the left”” (II Chr. 34:1,2).
Unfortunately, we are most often a lot like the Israelites who demanded a king and based their choice on appearance, not character. It is obvious, from not only a biblical standpoint, but from an historical one, that character really does matter when it comes to picking leaders. The Bible gives us some very explicit instructions, for example, when selecting church leaders, we are to look for men with these characteristics: “above reproach, the husband of one wife (i.e., a one-woman-man), temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, uncontentious, free from the love of money, one who manages his own household well…and he must have a good reputation with those outside the church” (I Tim. 3:1-7). We have a similar list in Titus 1:6-9).
So, as you listen to the candidates who are running for office, be sure to consider, not just their promises to jumpstart the economy or to protect our country, but consider their character— their integrity and moral and spiritual values. Because character really counts. It counts to God, so it should count to us as well. When God measures the man, he puts the tape around the heart, not the head. The true measure of a man is the height of his ideal, the breadth of his sympathy, the depth of his convictions and the length of his patience. What you are beats what you have any day. A person’s character reveals what he or she really believes about life. “Outwardly, character reflects an inner life committed to honor and uncompromising integrity” (Tony Dungy). Our character should be a reflection of God’s character. Our character is determined not only by what we do, but how we respond to what is done to us. Our response provides the most powerful testimony to the kind of person we are.
One of my favorite things to do when we are walking—which we try to do every day if possible—is to watch for and try to identify birds. We happened to be walking in one of our favorite places up Bear Creek (where we have a fantastic view of our Cabinet Wilderness mountains) when we spotted a large flock of birds swirling overhead in tight formation. They were small birds and appeared all white as they flew. It was so amazing to watch how they they flew so close together, yet moved with precision as they would quickly change direction. When we got home I looked them up and discovered that they were snow buntings. It is pretty amazing how God has equipped these little birds to be able to fly so closely together and make rapid directional changes without bumping in to one another.
The birds which are especially known for this phenomenon are starlings. I encourage you to do a computer search for “starlings” and you will find some unbelievable YouTube videos of thousands of starlings swirling through the sky, appearing like smoke billowing across the sky. According to those who have studied the starlings’ flight patterns, they fly at approximately 20 mph and each starling tracks the relative position of seven other nearby starlings and attempts to match their relative formation. The flock of starlings is called “moot.” I recently heard what the word is for a flock of birds—like starlings or snow buntings—flying together in a whirling, ever-changing pattern. It is “murmuration.” According to the dictionary, murmuration is a noun meaning “a flock of starlings”, or “an act of murmuring.” It refers to a low continuous indistinct sound or muttering.
I was reminded of the term, murmuring, as found in Scripture, especially when it came to the complaining of the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness after making their miraculous exodus from Egypt. We read in Ex. 16:2: “And the whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled (murmured in KJV) against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.” The Hebrew word (lun) means “to be obstinate, especially in words; to complain, grumble or murmur.” They were complaining about their hunger, so God provided quail and bread from heaven—manna. In spite of how God miraculously provided for the people, they continued to grumble and complain—murmur. God had pretty much had it with their murmuring and said to Moses and Aaron: “How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who are grumbling against Me? I have heard the complaints of the sons of Israel, which they are making against Me” (Nu. 14:27). This was just after the twelve spies came back from Canaan and ten gave a bad report, saying “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us” (13:31). Verse 31 adds, that they “made all the congregation grumble against him (Moses) by bringing out a bad report concerning the land.” Only Joshua and Caleb said, “We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we shall surely overcome it” (v. 30). As a result of their grumbling, God said “Your corpses shall fall in this wilderness, even all your numbered men, according to your complete number from twenty years old and upward who have grumbled against me” (v. 29). Only Joshua and Caleb escaped death, because they had trusted in the promises of God and had not grumbled. The word “murmuration,” which refers to a “low continuous indistinct sound or muttering,” is a great description of the nation of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness, grumbling along the way. There may be several thousand starlings in a “murmuration.” There were between two and three million Israelites that left Egypt! Just imagine the din of their constant muttering, grumbling!
As is pointed out in Ex. 16:7,8, the grumblings of the people were really against the LORD. It revealed their hearts which were not putting their trust and confidence in the faithfulness of God and His promises. That’s why God hates grumbling. It is an affront to His character and trustworthiness. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the struggling believers at Corinth, he used the illustration of what happened to the Israelites in the wilderness because of their grumbling as a warning. He wrote: “For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea… nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness…let us not try the Lord, as some of them did…nor grumble as some of them did and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction…” (I Cor. 10:1-11). Paul also exhorted the believers at Philippi, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing (murmuring or complaining)” (Phil. 2:14).
As God’s people, we should be full of gratitude, rejoicing for who we are and what we have in Christ and learning to be content whatever our circumstances (Phil. 4:11). If we are constantly complaining, as the Israelites in the wilderness, it reveals a heart that is not trusting in God and His care for us. David said, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall now want” (Psa. 23:1). “But as for me, I will hope continually, and will praise Thee yet more and more. My mouth shall tell of Thy righteousness and of Thy salvation all day long; for I do not know the sum of them” (Psa. 71:14,15). “Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and besides Thee, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psa. 73:25,26).
Football coach, Lou Holtz, had some great advice when it comes to complaining. He said, “Don’t tell people your problems: eighty percent don’t care and the other twenty percent are glad you have them!” It seems today people—as the Israelites of old—won’t shut up about their problems. They want to let you know about every issue they have and every time they are offended. It’s a bottomless sea of discontent and must grieve the heart of God. Spend your time counting your blessings, not airing your complaints. Besides, yesterday was the deadline to register any complaints!
Praise the LORD! Pastor Saeed Abedini and several other Americans being held in prison in Iran have finally been released! Saeed’s wife is even now on her way to Germany to be reunited with her husband. She and the children have not seen him in more than three years. Just imagine the emotions going on in her heart and mind right now, and the excitement of the children in finally getting to see their dad again. They weren’t sure they ever would—on this earth. We need to continue to pray for Saeed, though, as he has gone through tremendous torture and untreated illnesses which have surely taken a toll on his body and mind. And we need to pray for the many Christians who continue to be persecuted world wide.
Some of you may have witnessed another reunion that took place at an Anaheim Ducks hockey game. Sergeant First Class Robert Vandenberg had been in Afghanistan for ten months and had never seen his newborn son, Travis. His wife was able to Skype with him over the big jumbo screen so that at least in a small way, he could be “home” for Christmas and “see” his new son. But, as thousands watched the touching reunion by screen, there was barely time for “hellos” before the sergeant started disappearing as the screen went blurry and static came over the speaker. Sadly, his wife handed the microphone back to a team rep. At that very moment, however, Sergeant Vandenberg walked down the steps of the arena right into the arms of his wife! Then he picked up his son and held him up in front of him—looking into his eyes for the very first time. What a surprise, blessed “appearing.”
One Hallmark’s Christmas movie this season centered around a young mother and her son who were awaiting the return of their husband and father who had been wounded in Afghanistan and was recovering in Germany. His commanding officer had hoped he could be released to make it home for Christmas, but the doctor had felt he needed to stay until the new year. His wife and son were greatly disappointed. The boy had written to Santa saying he didn’t want any gifts for Christmas other than to have his dad home, but they had resigned to not having him there. A friend who had some connections with the military secretly arranged for him to make it home for Christmas. His wife and son were at the community tree lighting where he surprised them—again a very moving scene of reunion.
I remember as a young boy when my dad, who had been very sick and was not getting any answers from local doctors where we lived at the time, traveled by bus to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. It was winter and we walked with him down our long lane in the snow, where he waited for the bus to come by and pick him up. I didn’t really know if I’d ever get to see him again. I was afraid he might die. I can still picture in my mind the bus picking him up, along with his suitcase, and our waving goodbye. Pretty traumatic to my young, impressionable mind and heart. Then was the long wait, hoping, praying, and watching for his return. (He did come back but battled his illness for a few more years before finding a solution).
As exciting and heart-stirring as the above stories of reunion are, just imagine what it will be like when our Lord returns for His Church! And, considering the world-scene, it could be very soon! I believe that after Jesus ascended back to heaven and the angels told those watching: “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven,” (Acts 1:11), that believers have anticipated Jesus’ return in their lifetime. I believe that’s how God wants it to be, so that we live in such a way that we will be excited to see Him come. The Apostle Paul surely lived that way. In the final letter he wrote before his martyrdom, he said, “In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” ( Tim. 4: 8).
Are you longing for the Lord to return—and not just to escape the problems and persecution on the earth—(but) because you love Him so much and can’t wait to see Him face to face and be with Him eternally? The assured hope of His return should cause us to live each day as if He might come today. John wrote, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when he appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (I Jn. 3:2,3). John’s challenge to us is: “And now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming” (I Jn. 2:28). If we, as Paul, “fight the good fight…finish the course… (and) keep the faith” (II Tim. 4:7), we will definitely be loving His appearing. If we fail to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Mt. 6:33), as Jesus exhorted, but instead, focus on self and building up our “kingdom,” we will not “love His appearing,” but will be ashamed to see Him come? So, which will it be for you if Jesus returns this year?—and He surely could.
“Amen, Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20)
In late winter or early spring, I have the task of pruning about a dozen fruit trees and removing dead branches from the many other trees on our property. When I was a bit younger I would climb up in our big lodge pole pine tree and cut away dead branches—all the way up to the top. I would be careful to be sure that I wasn’t sawing off a branch that was supporting me! That may be a very obvious thing to avoid, but I am amazed how many in our western civilization are doing all in their power to do that very thing. They are trying to purge culture of the very thing that provided for the freedom and the success they have experienced. They are attempting to purge Christianity from public life on every level: business, sports, politics, education, the military, etc. The freedoms and scientific progress we enjoy in the West are due to our foundation of Christianity and biblical principles.
Our Constitution and most of our laws and governing structures were based on God’s Word. Thomas Jefferson wrote: “Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever” (1781). This quote contradicts historical revisionists who contend that Jefferson wanted a “wall of separation” to protect the government from the people of faith. Actually it was the very opposite. He also wrote: “The greatest danger to our American freedoms is government that ignores the Constitution.” (There’s been a lot of that happening!) George Washington said, “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.” We are getting a good picture—and not a pretty one—of what happens when we try. Ronald Reagan said, “If we ever forget that we’re one nation under God, then we will be nation gone under.” Erwin Lutzer, pastor of Moody Church, wrote in his book When A Nation Forgets God: When God is separated from government, judgment follows.” (If you haven’t read Pastor Lutzer’s book from Moody Publishers, I highly recommend you get a copy). Our second president, John Adams, said, “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. Statesmen may plan and speculate for liberty, but it is religion and morality alone, which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. ” How can we expect God to bless this nation if we have pushed Him out of public life?
The Psalmist wrote: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD” (Psa. 33:12), but, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psa. 11:3). The word for “foundations” is not the usual word for, say a building foundation, but one which means “purpose” or “basis.” Not only does it refer to a nation straying from the purpose for which it was founded, but it applies to us as believers. The fear is not that the foundations of our faith might be undermined, but that we might lose our sense of purpose. If we allow the devil to undermine the very purposes God has for our lives, following instead some temporal interests, then why even continue with a pretense of Christian living? When we are tempted to wonder whether it is really worth it and when our very purpose for living seems to be crumbling, remember that God is Creator, Sustainer, and Judge of all—that He is still on the throne, and that we who belong to Him have been “predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11).
It is with that purpose in mind that Franklin Graham, over the next several months is conducting a “Decision America Tour” in which he will speak in the capital of each of the 50 states, challenging Christians to repentance, preaching the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and asking for God to heal our spiritually sick and dying land (II Chron. 7:14). As he wrote in Decision magazine, January 2016: “Founded by Separitists from Europe seeking religious freedom to practice their faith before Almighty God, America has long enjoyed the blessings of people who acknowledged and practiced belief in the God of the Bible. For centuries, our country has stood brightly as a ‘city upon a hill,’ defending freedom abroad, and affirming our spiritual heritage as ‘One Nation Under God.’ In recent decades, however, that enduring foundation and heritage have been under relentless and vicious assault. Christians now find themselves constantly on the defensive from a progressive, godless culture, that seeks to diminish and eradicate any religious influence in our society.” We have been sawing off the branch that supports us! Franklin began his “Decision America Tour” last Tuesday in Des Moines, Iowa and Tuesday will be speaking in Tallahassee, Florida, and on Wednesday at Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He will speak at noon in each location. I recommend you go on line and see the schedule so you can be praying for Him—and our nation—at the same time He is speaking. Christianity transforms not only individual lives but entire societies as well. Pray that, if God is willing, He will once again transform our society that has turned its back on Him.
Well, if you are reading this, it means that in spite of all the challenges, setbacks, health problems, accidents, etc., you made it through 2015 and have entered the new year of 2016. It also means we are one year closer to the Lord’s return to take His Bride, the Church (all believers) to heaven in what we refer to as the Rapture (from the Latin word for “caught up” in I Thes. 4:17). And, since we all had a birthday last year, it means we are one year closer to the “appointed time” God has for taking us home in death (unless the rapture comes first). As believers, each time we have a birthday, it means we are one year closer to glory! What an exciting thought!
In the Jan. 1, 2016 devotional in Our Daily Bread, Joe Stowell (past president of Moody Bible Institute), wrote about how his dad, a pastor, would preach about the return of Christ on the first Sunday of each new year, often using I Thessalonians 4 as his text. Dr. Stowell relates that when he was six year old, God spoke to him through his dad’s sermon and he realized that he wasn’t ready for the Lord to come for him. He knew his folks would be going to heaven and he wanted to go too, so that Sunday when they got home, Joe asked his dad how he could be sure of going to heaven. His dad took him through some salvation passages in the Bible and led him to Christ.
As we view the chaos, hatred, wars and rumors of war, anti-Semitism, etc. in the world today, and our own beloved United States of America, we realize what a mess we are in because of the sinfulness of man, and how close we must be to the final events of history that are prophesied in Scripture (Eg., read Rom. 1:18-25; I Tim. 4:1-2; II Tim. 3:1-7). Indeed, this could be the year! At Christmas, I taught a Bible study on Gal. 4:4 which says, “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son…” At just the right time, that God had planned and prepared, God the Son became the Son of Man. The first coming of Christ was in God’s perfect timing. As we look back, we can see how God was preparing the stage for that amazing event, the Incarnation (God taking on human form…Jn. 1:14; Phil. 2:5-8). Just as there was a perfect time for Jesus to be born in Bethlehem, there is a perfect time, planned out by God, for Jesus to return, first to catch away His Bride, and then (probably seven years later, after the Tribulation or “Time of Jacob’s Trouble”…Jer. 30:7) to come back to earth to reign for 1,000 years and fulfill all the promises to the nation of Israel, as He reigns on the throne of David as “King of the Jews,” as “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Rev. 19:11-16 cf Isa. 11; Ezek. 36,37).
Although we can’t know the date of Jesus’ return (Mt. 24:36), He gave us many signs to indicate when that time was approaching. For example, Jesus said that the time of His return would be as it was in the days of Lot and Sodom (Lk. 17:28-30) with its wickedness and sexual perversion (Gen. 18, 19). Also, Jesus said, “For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah” (Mt. 24:37) when “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5).
Probably the surest indicator, however, of the time of the Lord’s return is the nation of Israel, which is really the “time clock of the Bible.” Jesus’ sermon that we refer to as the “Olivet Discourse,” in which He describes the conditions on earth just prior to His return, was in response to His disciples’ question, ”Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Mt. 24:3). They were thinking, of course, of when Jesus would visibly and personally return to the earth to set up His Kingdom. And, if indeed Jesus comes prior to that to remove the Church from the earth, then that is the next event in prophecy and could happen at any time—maybe this year! As we see the nations rising up to destroy Israel, and how our own Administration has backed off in our support of Israel, even pushing for the dividing up of Jerusalem, we have to believe that the “end is near.” Daniel’s prophecy of “seventy weeks of seven years” (or 490 years…Dan. 9:24-27) is focused on the nation of Israel, with the first 483 years already being fulfilled (From the decree by Artaxerxes of Persia to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem until the Messiah was crucified). The 70th week of 7 years would begin when the anti-Christ comes and make a seven-year covenant to protect Israel (the Tribulation period). Between the 69th and 70th weeks is a gap in the prophecy which we know of as “the Church Age,” in which God is calling out from among the Gentiles (as well as Jews) a people for His name (Acts 15:14; Gal. 3:26-29; Eph. 2:12-22) called the “Church” (“called out ones”). God will remove the Church before the “Time of Jacob’s Trouble” (or the Tribulation) begins (Jer. 30:7). He will then deal again directly with the nation of Israel to bring her to repentance during this horrific time described in Revelation 4:1-19:21 when the nations of earth gather to make war against Israel, to wipe her off the face of the earth. But then Christ returns to earth with the “armies which are in heaven (including the Church)…and He smites the nations; and He will rule them with a rod of iron…” (Rev. 19:14-15), and “all Israel will be saved” (Ro. 11:26) and Christ will usher in His Kingdom.
One day soon someone will trust Christ as Savior and be the final member of the Church, the Bride of Christ, and “The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord” ( I Thes. 4:16-17). The Apostle Paul wrote: “…a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Ro. 11:25), with reference to when the Church is complete and will be removed. It is then that “The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob (Israel)” and “all Israel will be saved” (Ro. 11:26). This could be the year that the Church will be completed and Christ removes it. Are you ready? Have you put your trust in Christ as Savior and Lord? If not, I strongly urge you to consider doing so, for we have no promise we will be here tomorrow. As we read in Job 14:5: “Since man’s days are determined, the number of his months is with Thee, and his limits Thou has set so that he cannot pass.” Jesus gives a final invitation in the last portion of His revealed Word: “And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirst come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost” (Rev. 22:17) and concludes with: “Yes, I am coming quickly,” to which John said (and we who know Christ can say: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22: 20)–Maybe this year!
I’m sure that you probably were asked by several over the past few days, “Did you have a good Christmas?” You may have asked that question of others as well. Just what do we mean by “good Christmas”? What does it take to have a “good Christmas”? We are most often thinking about whether we had family home, had fun opening gifts, received the gifts we wanted, enjoyed some good fellowship with friends or neighbors, had lots of yummy, fattening goodies, had some beautiful snow to make for a “white Christmas,” or any number of other things we consider it necessary to make for a “good Christmas.” If we weren’t able to have any family with us over Christmas (as was our case this year), we will often respond to the question with: “We had a quiet one!”—meaning we spent it by ourselves.
As I was thinking about this yesterday when I had several ask “Did you have a good Christmas?” I couldn’t help but refocus on why we even have Christmas and why we celebrate. After all, it is a celebration of “Christ’s birth.” It is about Him, not about us, except that we are the recipients of God’s love that sent His only begotten Son into the world (Jn. 3:16). The activities of the Christmas season can become so hectic with all the cards to write, gifts to buy, concerts to attend, family and friends to visit, house to decorate, food to bake, and church activities to help with that we not only don’t enjoy it, but we dread it because we have lost sight of what it is really all about.
I’m reminded of one summer when our church softball team planned a surprise birthday party for one of our members for after the game that week. Well, wouldn’t you know it, he didn’t show up that evening! We went ahead with our party, but without the “guest of honor.” We were there to celebrate his birthday and honor him, and had to try to do it without him. It was a rather “empty celebration.” I feel that is much like what happens often with our Christmas celebrations. They are very empty, because they leave out the very Person whose birthday we are celebrating.
The term “Christmas” (Christ’s Mass) is an old English term first used in the 11th century. During the first three centuries of the Christian era, there was considerable opposition in the church to the pagan custom of celebrating birthdays, although a religious celebration of the birth of Christ was included in the Feast of Epiphany (“an appearance or manifestation of Deity) on January 6th around 200 A.D. After the triumph of Constantine, the church at Rome assigned December 25th as the date for the celebration of the feast about 320 A.D. and by the end of the 4th century, nearly the whole world was celebrating Christmas on that day (except for the Eastern Orthodox churches which stuck to January 6th.) December 25th was chosen to celebrate Christ’s birth in an attempt to turn people away from their purely pagan observance of Saturnalia in Rome and the winter solstice in northern Europe which also occurred at this time. As many of these pagans were converted to Christianity, they carried a number of their pagan practices with them into the Christmas celebration. Due to this, there arose opposition to celebrating the feast and from 1642 to 1652, e.g., the Puritans in England condemned the celebration. This feeling was carried over to America by the pilgrims and it wasn’t until the 19th-century wave of Irish and German immigration that enthusiasm for the feast of Christmas began to spread throughout the country. So, our customs of Christmas celebrations come from a mixed background of pagan practices as well as Christian celebrations.
So, since December 25th is not really an accurate date for Christ’s coming to earth, and because of all the paganism associated with the background and customs, and because of all the commercialism, some Christians have always reacted against Christmas celebrations so as to reject them altogether. On the other hand, there is much in our Christmas observance which, though not explicitly found in the Bible, makes it a legitimate and wholesome application of the significance of the incarnation, of God taking on human flesh and dwelling among us (Jn. 1:14). In a society that is becoming increasingly secularized and fragmented, and anti-Christian, it is important to have an annual and universal remembrance of the great historical fact that “By this was the love of God manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him” (I Jn. 4:9). Even rank unbelievers and cynics seem to sense at Christmas time that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (I Tim. 1:15) making it a good time for evangelism. It is a time for family reunions, for communicating with old friends, for reconciling differences, for giving gifts to show our love to others. The emphasis on children at Christmas is surely wholesome too, as it reminds us of how Jesus came as a babe—God in a body—and grew up as a normal child, experiencing the entire range of problems and needs. It also reminds us of how He loved children and of how we must become as a child—in faith and trust—to come to Him.
If Christians were to stop celebrating Christmas because of its pagan association from the past or commercialism and reveling in the present, what would be left?—only a pagan Saturnalia. That would be Satan’s desire. But, unfortunately, we Christians, who claim we “celebrate” Christmas in the true “spirit of Christmas,” too often make it all about us and what we need to have a “good Christmas.” We forget what it is really all about. Whether we had family home, whether we received the gifts we wanted—if any at all—whether or not we had lots of parties to attend and goodies to munch on, Christmas is by definition “GOOD,” because it is about the “good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk. 2:11,12). Every Christmas is a “good” Christmas if our heart is focused on that fact and we are rejoicing in the eternal life that we gained through the cradle and the cross of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
So, “Yes, we had a good Christmas! Did you??