Last year, I finally made a new year's resolution that I could fulfill - take more naps. This year I resolve to not tamper with a winning system.
Every 365 days some of us get another chance at life. I will admit that last year was not all that I planned for it to be. My humanity got in the way. So did my age. I have no one else to blame. One of the most wonderful things is that God has given me another opportunity time and time again. In spite of all the failures and stumbling blocks God allowed me to go on in this life day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year. That is not something I deserve. Something I do not deserve is, simply put, the grace of God. Several years ago, I heard a song called "No Other Word for Grace but Amazing." Here are the words:
Red can’t explain the beauty of the rose, White can’t tell the magic in the air when it snows;
Marvelous can’t captivate the grace of the King, The only word for grace is amazing.
There’s no other word for grace but amazing, No other explanation will do;
Unmerited favor, the song that I sing, No other word for grace but amazing.
Now the Father looked beyond all the failures I had made, He didn’t seem to notice all the times that I had not obeyed; He overlooked all the scars of sin I had in me, But the grace He showed still amazes me.
There’s no other word for grace but amazing No other explanation will do;
Unmerited favor, the song that I sing. No other word for grace but amazing.
Unmerited favor, the song that I sing. No other word for grace but amazing. There’s no other word for grace but amazing.
If God lets us live another year, it will certainly be by God's grace, and, as the song says, the only word for grace is amazing. As we near 2013, remember that life and everything in it are by the amazing grace of God.
It rained here most of the day on December 25. No one complained becuase it was the first serious rain we have seen in several months. The ground has been dry. Vegetation is showing signs of stress. The rain, even on Christmas day, was a welcome event. And then, as forecast, in the late afternoon, the rain turned to snow. About 2 inches of it fell in my area of Northwest Tarrant County, Texas, which is nothing significant, but a beautiful sight. The snow brought an appropriate peace, reminding me of the Savior who has brought peace to my heart. My son, Tom, came for dinner followed by my grandson, John, and his wife, Mindy. My daughter, Julie, was always with us on every occasion before going to be with the Lord on December 21, 2009, and we do miss her so desperately. I thought I felt her presence yesterday. I thought I heard her voice say, "Dad, I am right here." I know where she is, however, because the Bible says that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord and that those who have received Christ are truly resting in peace in His presence.
The snow brought a little peace. It reminded me of those I love and it reminded me of a greater peace in knowing Christ. It reminded me of the promise of God that there is a place of peace and eternal joy waiting for His elect. It reminded me of the promise that Jesus is preparing a place for us in that heavenly home and will soon come for His bride. It made me pray as John did in the Revelation. After Jesus said, "I come quickly" John responded, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus."
We do not know which month Jesus was born. Our traditional December 25 is not even recognized by all Christians. You have heard the song: "Twelve Days of Christmas" which is based on the twelve days from December 25 through January 5. This is because Western Christians observe December 25 as Christ's birthday, while Eastern Christians observe January 5. Some people say He was born in the spring because of the Biblical account of shepherds watching their flocks by night. I have been to Bethlehem six times between November 1 and the end of March, and there seems to have always been shepherds in the fields. So, we do not know which month and day Jesus was born.
Matthew 1:18-23 says: "Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife; for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth her first born son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, 'Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel,' which being interpreted is, God with us."
The prophet in verse 22 is Isaiah who wrote about 700 years before Christ was born, and the passage is Isaiah 7:14. If the Son of God had to come down here in such a way and give Himself to wash away our sins, they must have been exceedingly shameful. The birth of Christ is certainly a joyous event because of the great hope it brings, but it was indeed damning because of the necessity for which He came. He submitted Himself to this life, was made to suffer humiliation and scoffing and then died the cruelest of deaths. All of which was under the direction of the Father who planned our redemption.
One of the greatest parables from the lips of Jesus was the parable of the prodigal son. Look at that young man. He took his father's hard-earned money, went as far away as he could go; sought out the worst companions he could find; got himself in as deep as he could plunge. Yet, after he had wasted everything, his father loved him, received him and restored him. That is an example of grace. When we look at the state he was in, how far he had gone and how far he had fallen, we can see the love of God. The best way to understand God's love is to understand how deep into sin we had fallen - how far He has brought us. Why did He pay such a high price? Why did He send His only son to pay with His life? Because He loved us so much.
Twice in this passage Christ is given a name. In Biblical times people gave names with meaning to thier children. Noah means rest; Enoch means dedicated; Abram means exalted father; Abraham means father of a multitude; Isaac means he laughs; Jesus means Savior. That is why in verse 21, the angel told Joseph to name his child Jesus: "Thou shalt call his name Jesus, because he shall save his people from their sins." That emphasizes that He alone saves; not our faith in Him, but His death for us. Also, that He saves His people; those made willing to believe; those chosen by the Father. Thirdly, it emphasizes "from their sins." That is not what we deserve but what God graciously did. I do not know of a greater message for Christmas. There is no greater message.
The other name given to Christ is in verse 23, where it says: "They shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is God with us." Where is that name given to Christ? It is used only three times in the Bible: twice in the Book of Isaiah and once here in Matthew's Gospel. Each time the name is used in the sense of who He is. Christ is Emmanuel, God with us. John 1:14 says: "The word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father." The idea is that the person of the Godhead called the son was sent by the person called the Father to accomplish redemption for His people, thus, the name "Emmanuel" - God with us. He is Emmanuel. He is Savior.
All of this talk about gun control and the right to bear arms. My local newspaper has daily letters-to-the-editor containing vitriolic statements on both sides of the issue. The nation is ever more divided over gun ownership, and the debate peaks at every new gun-related tragedy. Most of it focuses on the wrong thing.
I am probably what is called a fiscal conservative and social liberal. I am careful with money but like my social security and my medicare, the former of which I paid into for 56 years, the latter of which I paid into for 47 years. I am still paying medicare premiums out of my social security check. These are not government freebies. I paid for them just as I did any other insurance program, and I expect the government to manage them properly. I do not belong to the NRA or the AARP, but I am a gun owner. I grew up in west Texas shooting rattlesnakes and jackrabbits. My guns have never been used as a threat to human beings - only deer, turkeys, one hog and a a lot of snakes. The problem is not the guns but the people who use them.
Yes, there needs to be strict laws in an attempt to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. The focus needs to be on the user not on the guns. The user is the problem. The obviously mentally ill shooter in Newtown, Ct. The hate-filled Muslim soldier in Fort Hood, Texas. The user. Greater responsibility. Greater safety incentives.
Yes, there are hunting accidents. We all grieve with those who have lost loved ones. I understand the unbearable pain that tries to push one over the edge. Do we forbid all hunting? Do we take away all guns. No.
What about my right to protect my home and property? What about the second amendment? I have thought about that for a long time, years in fact. Could I kill an intruder? Is my stuff worth more than a human life? The church where I pastor was vandalized and set on fire in 2007. The police charged two teens and put them on trial. Both were found guilty. The insurance company lowballed our claim and I had to work full time for more than four years (at age 70 to 74) in order to restore the building. But at the trial, I embraced one of the boys and encouraged him to seek God. Could I actually shoot a person? Maybe. If a life was threatened. If a "rattlesnake" came into my house. It is still the user. Who uses the gun.
Focus on the user of the gun when making the ownership laws stricter. Focus on the user when creating safety standards. It is the user. Not the gun.
We have all been saddened by the Newtown, Conn. tragedy. The President of the United States tonight gave an address in an attempt to comfort those who are grieving. As a parent who is grieving the loss of my only daughter, I want to give a word of personal advice about the difficulty of comforting those who mourn. First, We all go through a process of guilt, blame, anger, frustration and the inevitable questions: "Why?" "Could I have done something?" "Was it my fault?" Life will never be the same for us. This Friday will be exactly three years since she passed away, and I still think about my daughter every single day and cry often. There is a big heartache that will never go away. Secondly, we do not want to hear something funny. It will not cheer us up. For two years after my loss, I could not listen to music; I could not bear to hear anything cheerful; I did not want to hear mindless dribble from people. Silently, I ask myself: "Can't these people see that I am hurting?" Thirdly, do not ignore us. I have had people just look at me when I talk about my pain. I realize that only those who have gone through it fully understand the agony, but your silence makes me wonder if you think I was somehow responsible. Those who mourn need friendship more than ever. Don't let them become isolated. It is not good. Reach out. Listen to them. Let me cry if I need to. The one thing I need is support. God forbid, but you may need it someday yourself.
God willing, I will preach tomorrow from Ephesians 3:20-21. The text is the Apostle Paul's doxology concluding a prayer for the Church at Ephesus concerning greater knowledge of Christ or a fulness of God. He is not talking about a second blessing but a deeper comprehension of Christ through the Holy Spirit who is already at work in the believer. The apostle John called him the Spirit of Truth four times and says in chapter 16 that He will guide you into all truth. He also called Him the Comforter in John 14 and said He will teach you all things.
However, the ultimate intent of having a greater understanding of God is to give Him greater glory. The end of all things is the glory of God. The apostle says "through out all ages" or from generation to generation. Take your children to church. Let them hear the gospel of Christ. Go to church yourself. Every believer is nourished by the gospel. The old old story is never old.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram has come to my house for thirty-five years. I prefer the printed page because I do not hear as well as I used to, and TV news for me is lost in the sound effects. Over the years I have read most of the obituary notices and get alarmed when I read about the death of an infant as I did this morning. My consternation is not only because I know the grief of losing a child, but also the way many of the notices contain a reference to the infant as an angel or getting its angel wings.
Perhaps the grieving parents are not thinking clearly at such a time, or they are just speaking figuratively, but I must say, this is totally contrary to Biblical teaching. No human being will ever become an angel. No human being will ever receive wings. The Scriptures tell us how man was created in the spiritual image of God, how man disobeyed God and became a condemned sinner. Scriptures also tell us of man's total inability to cure the problem and how God sent His beloved Son into the world to redeem God's elect to Himself. They reveal God's purpose to bring His children into His presence through the blood of Christ. These are the basic beliefs of Christianity. But nowhere in the Bible nor Christian theology is the teaching that God has provided salvation for an angel or that man will ever become an angel. If any fallen human did become an angel, he could not go to heaven because Christ did not die for angels. He died for God's children, His church.
I do not expect that my lamentations will ever correct this error. My newspaper will go on incorrectly refering to children receiving angel wings especially at Christmas time. More people watch the movies than read the Bible. But you and I know better.
I have been threatening to cancel my subscription to the fundamentalist magazine, Sword of the Lord, because I do not have any more table legs that need a wedge under them. But a recent issue had an interesting story about a Chinese man who sued his wife for giving birth to an ungly baby. It seems that the baby did not have a family resemblance and the man accused his wife of infidelity only to have her admit to having plastic surgery before their marriage.
Is anyone thinking what I am thinking? What contribution did this father make to create a more attractive child? Surely it could not be entirely the fault of the mother. Besides that, don't all new borns look like Winston Churchill? Maybe in China they look like John R. Rice (founder of Sword of the Lord).
Like many of my friends, I was born during the days of the dust bowl and the "New Deal." But unlike many of my friends, I was born just 100 miles south of Amarillo, Texas, the core of the bowl. The great depression had eased somewhat but came roaring back that year. Times were tough. I worked in the cotton fields at an early age during the 1940s but got my first real job at Skinny Eaves' grocery store in 1951. I did everything except butcher. My pay for a 12 hour day was less than $5. I paid about 50 cents in social security and income taxes.
I was raised in church. It was a little one-room building. Curtains were drawn in each corner for Sunday school classes. I heard the gospel of Christ and learned of God's saving grace from the preaching and the hymns of a Broadman Hymnal with green covers. One of my favorite hymns from my youth has been "Come, Thou Fount." I didn't know what an Ebenezer was, but I learned how prone I was to sin and how God rescued me from sin by interposing His precious blood.
The Bible says in Zecheriah 4:10 concerning the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem: "For who hath despised the day of small things? for they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet (carpenters' tool) in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven ; they are the eyes of the LORD, which run to and fro through the whole earth ." Those small things in that small town shaped my life forever. There is a deep plainness in my heart even in these days of high technology. God would have us take advantage of the instruments of communication to preach the gospel, however, we must never forget that He still uses small things.
Today, there are megachurches, megapreachers and megadenominations. But there are also thousands of small churches, small preachers and small associations. The greater part of Baptist pastors are still bivocational, needing to earn a living for their families. In my own pastoral career, my wife and I have both worked another job most of the time. "Who hath despised the day of small things?" That was meant as a rebuke to those who criticized a second temple that was much less attractive than the first.
Beautiful buildings are nice. Large crowds are wonderful. I want our church building to be as accomodating as possible, but that is not the most important criterion. People need the real deal. Sinners need the truth. Even saints need to hear the gospel regularly. That does not draw the crowds in this age. But it is right. It is Biblical.
Dr. Jack Warren was born in Floydada, Texas, in 1938, the son of a Baptist pastor. His family moved to Fort Worth when his father enrolled in the Seminary in 1949. He was in the first class graduating from L.D. Bell High School, Hurst, Texas, in 1956. He attended Arlington State College (now University of Texas at Arlington), Arlington Baptist College, Bible Baptist Seminary, the University of Nebraska at Omaha and received a Doctor of Divinity Degree from Landmark Baptist Theological Seminary.