Archive for December, 2011

Let’s Pretend” is a game small children play. Nothing has to be purchased in order to play the game. All that is required is the use of your imagination, and most children have more than an abundant supply of that. Though “Let’s Pretend” is a child’s game, it can be played throughout life, and often is – even by adults. For example, join me in playing the game now.

”Let’s pretend” that your banker phoned you this morning and told you an anonymous donor who loves you very much has decided to deposit $864 into your bank account every day for as long as you live. That is a penny for every second in the day. You may ask, “Who in the world would do that?” But remember, this is a game of “Let’s pretend.”

Imagine having $864.00 deposited into your bank account — seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year – even if you lived to celebrate your one-hundredth birthday. That means your bank account would grow $315,360.00 every year. Who wouldn’t like for that to happen?

Let’s pretend, however, that there is a stipulation to the bequest – you must spend every cent of the money the same day that you receive it. No balance can be carried over to the following day. Each day the bank would cancel whatever sum you failed to spend.

If you were to receive such a call from your banker, you would probably say, “What is the joke? No one is going to make an offer like that.” And you would probably hang up. Or, in the event that you thought it could possibly be true, you would immediately begin to plan how you might spend that much money each day.

Playing “Let’s pretend” can be lots of fun – even though we realize the scenario mentioned above is only an imaginary one and not likely to ever become true. But, believe it or not, it is true! Someone who loves you very much deposits into your bank of time 86,400 seconds of time every single day of your life.

Each twenty-four hour day contains 86,400 seconds. There are sixty seconds in each minute, sixty minutes in each hour, and twenty-four hours in every single day that God gives us. We may use these increments of time in any way we choose. How we spend the time we have is vitally important, for none of it can ever be carried over on credit to the next day.

It is often difficult to live in the present, ridiculous to try to live in the future, and impossible to live in the past. It is wise to make the most of our time. The days we have been given must be lived one at a time. Nothing is as far away as one minute ago.

Someone has said that time is God’s way of preventing everything from happening at once. From midnight tonight until midnight tomorrow each of us has twenty-four hours – that’s 1,440 minutes, or 86,400 seconds. Time, like money, can be spent any way we choose, but we can spend it only once. It can be wasted, but it can never be recycled.

We all have the same amount of time every single day — whether we are rich or poor, old or young, single or married, educated or uneducated, employed or unemployed, a child in school or the President of the United States.

How did you spend your twenty-four hours yesterday? How are you spending them today? How will you spend them tomorrow? These are important questions.

At the end of each day the hours we have spent unwisely will be gone forever — for hours, like flowers, soon fade away. However, the hours we have spent glorifying God and serving mankind are on deposit in the bank of heaven and can never be lost.

The bank of heaven will never become bankrupt.


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The birth of a baby in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago is the most important event in the whole course of human history.  Even so, its significance is often ignored, glossed over, brushed aside, or rendered impotent by over-familiarity.

Christians believe that the baby born to Mary in Bethlehem was truly the Son of God, that eternity invaded history that day.  We also believe that “this same Jesus will come back in the same way His disciples saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

The New Testament does not teach that all evil will one day be eradicated from the earth, all problems solved, and health and wealth become every person’s experience as a result of human effort and progress.  The human heart is sinful.

The Bible teaches that the return by Christ to earth to claim His bride, the church, will be immediate and conclusive.  At that point the human experiment will end, illusion will give way to reality, the temporary will disappear before the permanent, and the King of Kings will be seen and recognized for who He is.

The thief in the night, the lightning flash, the sound of the last trumpet, the voice of God’s archangel – these may all be picture language.  Even so, they are pictures of an event that will be sudden, catastrophic, and decisive.

The humanist’s point of view resembles Christianity in that it encourages tolerance, love, understanding and the amelioration of the human condition through service.  But it is cruel in that it teaches that life on planet earth is the only life humans will ever have, that no place is being prepared in eternity for those who believe, that the only realities we will ever know are those we experience in the here and now.  What a tragedy!

When God decides that the human experiment has gone on long enough, Christ will come again.  “So you also must be ready at any time, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him” (Matthew 24:44).  Every knee will bow and every heart will confess that He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

This is the message of Advent: always be alert, vigilant and industrious, so that Christ’s coming at the end of our time on earth will not be a terror but an overwhelming joy.  Suffering, disease, mourning, pain, and death will not happen any more, for “the former things will have passed away” (Revelation 21:1-4).

According to an old saying, familiarity breeds contempt.  A window-washer who works on scaffolding hundreds of feet above the ground has to be on guard against this over-familiarity.  The man who works with high-voltage electricity must also be constantly aware of the danger he faces.

The danger Christians face during the days of Advent is unlikely to be contempt for the sacred season.  However, our familiarity with it may easily produce indifference.  In that event, the true wonder and mystery of it would leave us unmoved.

That is why, behind all our fun and activities with family or friends during Christmas, we should not lose a sense of awe at what God did on that eventful day in Bethlehem, or that Christ is coming again at a time of God’s own choosing.  “Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know on what day the Lord will come” (Matthew 24:42).

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The star was so beautiful, large, and clear,

That all the other stars of the sky

Became a white mist in the atmosphere.

And by this they knew that the coming was near

Of the Prince foretold in prophecy.


Thus wrote Henry Wadsworth Longfellow concerning the Star of Bethlehem.  Of all the signs and wonders surrounding the birth of Christ it is perhaps the most mysterious.  It is certainly the most interesting.

After the birth of Jesus men who were obviously interested in astronomy came from the east to Jerusalem and inquired, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?  We saw his star in the east and have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:1-2).

These men were very likely astrologers, persons who consulted the stars to make predictions about what was going to happen in the world.  As they studied the night sky they saw something that, according to their belief, indicated a king had been born.

But what, exactly did they see?  There have been many theories.  Some Christians think that the star was a supernatural light – something never seen before, or since.  Some have conjectured that it was a comet, or a conjunction of planets.  Johannes Kepler thought it was a supernova – an exploding star.  Still others think it was a meteor shower.

What are we to make of these and other theories?  The place to start is with biblical facts.  First, we know that it was a heavenly object and that it made a sudden appearance in the east (Matthew 2:2).  Presumably the Magi had never seen anything like it before.  Otherwise, it hardly stands to reason that they would have followed it.

Second, it disappeared as suddenly as it appeared.  This explains why the Magi stopped in Jerusalem to ask for directions instead of going straight to Bethlehem.  Then, the star reappeared!  This is the clear implication of Matthew 2:9-10.

One of the more prominent explanations is that the Magi witnessed several conjunctions of Jupiter, the planet they considered to represent kingship.  A number of such conjunctions took place in the years leading up to the death of Herod.

In September, 3 B.C., Jupiter came into conjunction with Regulus, the star of kingship, the brightest star in the constellation of Leo.  Leo was regarded by astrologers to be the constellation of kings, and it was associated with the Lion of Judah.

The conjunction between Jupiter and Regulus was repeated, not once but twice, in February and May of 2 B.C.  Finally, in June of 2 B.C., Jupiter and Venus, the two brightest objects in the sky except for the sun and the moon, experienced an even closer encounter when they appeared to touch each other in the sky.  To the naked eye they became a single object comparable to the setting sun.  Most scholars now believe that Jesus was born prior to the death of Herod.  It that be true, it is likely that none of these conjunctions of Jupiter and Regulus and Venus could have been the star the Magi followed.

The important thing is that the Magi followed it to Jerusalem, and then five miles further to Bethlehem.  Whatever it was, it was a remarkable demonstration of God’s sovereignty.  It means that from the beginning of time, God organized the entire universe in a way that would herald the birth of His Son, and our Savior, into the world.

Some people believe that when Neal Armstrong walked on the moon it was the most significant event in human history.  Not so!  It was when God walked on the earth!

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Luke 1:46-55 contains “The Song of Mary,” the mother of Jesus.  It is also called the “Magnificat” because that is the first word of the song in the Latin version of the New Testament.  Soon after the annunciation Mary made a long journey to visit her relative Elizabeth who was to become the mother of John the Baptist.

When Mary arrived unannounced, “Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  And why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy.’”

The first three verses of the song (verses 46-48) concerns Mary herself.  This portion of the song reveals her deep feelings of adoration, of holy joy, and of intense, glad surprise.  It is a prayer, but the highest form of prayer, for it asks for nothing – it simply breathes adoration and thankfulness.

Mary is filled with wonder that she should have been chosen as the instrument of the boundless goodness of God.  She believed that she had nothing to recommend her for such a high honor other than her low estate.  Owing to God’s favor, she would be called blessed by countless generations in the future.

Though Jesus was likely born sometime in the spring, the date is not precisely known.  In 376 A.D. Christians settled on December 25th as the day the Savior’s birth would be celebrated.  Ten years later, in 386 A.D., this fact is mentioned in a sermon by Chrysostom.  It is the earliest Christmas sermon that we have in print.

A mistake was made by those who originally calculated the exact year when Christ was born.  It is a certainty that He was born before the death of King Herod, which occurred in 4 B.C.  He was very likely born in 5 B.C., for that was the year in which King Herod, after a long struggle to regain favor with Rome, finally got down to the business of taking the census which brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem.

Every time God has planned to do anything great He prepared for it by sending a baby into the world:

When He wanted the Children of Israel brought out of bondage in Egypt, He sent Moses into the home of a slave.

When He wanted slavery to end in America, Abraham Lincoln drew his first breath in a Kentucky log cabin.

When He wanted light to shine into the dark depths of Africa He sent a baby by the name of David Livingston to be born in Blantyre, Scotland.

Throughout human history to this very day every time God wanted a specific need to be met, a wrong to be righted, a work to be done, or a truth to be preached, He has sent a child into the world.

For what purpose did He send you?

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Those who know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord have a song in their hearts. From the very beginning, singing has played a major role in Christian worship.

In was on an ordinary night in many ways when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The innkeeper was keeping his inn. The shopkeepers and others were bedded down for the night.  Shepherds were out in the fields “keeping watch over their flocks.”  In other words, everything was normal. All of a sudden everything changed: the ordinary was transformed into the extraordinary, and that which was natural was suddenly infused with the supernatural. The shepherds would never be the same again.

For the angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid.  And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’  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, good will toward men”  (Luke 2:8-14).

There is an old Jewish legend which says that, after God had created the world, He called the angels around Him and asked them what they thought of it.  An angel said, “One thing is lacking: the sound of praise to the Creator.”  So, God created music!  And ever since that day, music has been heard in the whisper of the wind, in the song of birds, and in joyful singing whenever humans have gathered to worship Him.

T.L. Cuyler once said, “The best days of the church have always been its singing days.”  And that is still true.  Congregational singing allows the entire church to vocally express adoration and praise to God.  Special music – solos, duets, trios, quartets, choirs, ensembles, etc. – helps to create a worshipful and responsive atmosphere. Choir practice affords musicians and singers the superb opportunity to develop their talents in service to God.

Christian music differs from any other music in many ways. I will list just three:

  • IN THE MESSAGE IT PROCLAIMS. Both Christian preaching and singing centers around God’s Word. Christian music is a love song which is sung by the Christian to Christ. Though a song has moving music, it is not Christian if it does not offer praise to God the Father or have God the Son at the center. This doesn’t mean that it is bad or evil music, just that it is not basically Christian.
  • IN THE METHOD IT USES. Although emotional and aesthetic value may be inherent in Christian songs, the basic purpose is educational.  In other words, a message is being proclaimed. It is a message admittedly different than preaching, but which is supportive of preaching. The key to genuine worship is responsiveness. Both preaching and singing call for an affirmative response.
  • IN THE MANNER IN WHICH IT IS EXPRESSED. The experience of God’s grace is its primary goal. Those who sing mechanically, formally, coldly, or not at all, suddenly, when they are born again, begin to sing with animation, freedom, warmth, and joy. It is because they have the grace of God in their hearts.

When the agnostic, Robert Ingersoll died, the printed funeral program contained these words, “There will be no singing.” If you plan to attend the funeral of an infidel, agnostic, or skeptic, do not look for hymns, anthems, oratorios, carols, or spiritual songs.  Without God, without Christ, without redemption, without a divine revelation, and without hope, what do they have to sing about?

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