Saturday, December 14, 2013

Death of a Great Statesman

It was on this date that George Washington, one of the greatest statesmen, this world has ever known died at his home at Mount Vernon.  He died of pneumonia at age sixty-seven. 

Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee in his eulogy proclaimed these famous words about his fellow Virginian: “First in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in the humble and endearing scenes of private life. Pious, just, humane, temperate and sincere—uniform, dignified and commanding—his example was as edifying to all around him as were the effects of that example lasting. . . . Correct throughout, vice shuddered in his presence and virtue always felt his fostering hand. The purity of his private character gave effulgence to his public virtues. . . . Such was the man for whom our nation mourns.”

Thomas Jefferson wrote: “Perhaps the strongest feature in his character was prudence, never acting until every circumstance, every consideration, was maturely weighed; refraining if he saw a doubt, but, when once decided, going through with his purpose, whatever obstacles opposed.  His integrity was most pure, his justice the most inflexible I have ever known....It my truly be said that never did nature and fortune combine more perfectly to make a great man.”

I’m afraid an entire generation is growing up without reading those words.  Revisionist history has so denigrated the nation’s founders that children don’t look upon them as larger than life heroes, rather often they see them as despots who cheated and schemed to gain power and position while establishing an unjust government.  Is it little wonder that men of character deign to offer themselves for service in this age?

Washington could have been a king, but he would not.  He could have been president for life, but he would not.  He committed all his worldly possessions, his family, and his friends to the quest for a free United States of America.  Today’s toxic political environment is filled with “Me-Firsters.”  Men and women who have enriched themselves dramatically by nefarious deal making, and refuse to step down from the towers of power, even when they physically and mentally can no longer function effectively, now occupy those seats as mere shadows of the great statesmen who went before.

Certainly there have always been charlatans, those for whom personal gain trumped character, and certainly each of the founders had warts aplenty.  However, there were enough men of character to overcome the effects of those self-indulgent personages.  Space does not allow one to elaborate on all those who stood tall during those tumultuous years.  That is what the government education system ought be doing.   We ought be having our children and grandchildren coming home with tales of wonder about the exploits of those who risked everything to give us a land of freedom.  Sadly, I fear, they learn more about the warts than the heroic. 

Lest you think, I’m fatalistic, let me say that as long as God waits to send His greatly longed for Son to bring this age to an end, those who are true Believers in Jesus Christ, and have made Him Lord of their lives have hope.  Our hope is not in the council halls of government, the ivy walls of education, or the churning machine of economic development.  Our hope rests in a sense of illogical peace to the natural mind, our hope rests in the Prince of Peace, whose birth we celebrate this month.

I am endebted to Bill Bennett's American Patriot's Almanac for reminding me of the quotes about Washington included above.

©              2013           Mike Rasberry

Thursday, December 12, 2013

I Love Christmas, but...

I love Christmas.  I love everything about it.  I remember going to downtown Meridian, Mississippi as a child through the brightly lit streets from the Kress store, to Woolworth's, and on.  Each store was decorated and Christmas music wafted on the night air.  My Dad held my hand tightly, and my Mom had my two sisters, as we enjoyed the fairy tale like atmosphere.  I shall never forget the sweet smell of cashews roasting at that delightful candy counter in Woolworth's.    I fear the magic of those sights, sounds, and smells are gone forever, and I believe we are the worse for it.  But I still love Christmas.  I enjoy listening to carols and the songs of my childhood during this bit of nostalgic remembrance.

Yes, I love Christmas, but few people get the joy today from Christmas that my wife, Diane, does.  Few people invest as much of themselves in others as she does in her Grandchildren, our Mothers, and in me.  She spends hours preparing gifts, not expensive, but gifts over which she agonizes while trying to find just the right thing for each one.  She individually wraps about 170, or so, gifts and dates them to be opened on the twelve days of Christmas.  Then, to know that each has received some semblance of joy from the gift lifts her spirit immensely.

Yes, I love Christmas, and Christmas rightly has a place of prominence in Christ's Church, however, it is important to remember that Christmas for the Genuine Believer is the celebration of a birthday.  I'm afraid that even Christ's Church sometimes places far more emphasis upon His birth than we ought.  Let me share with you some facts I've received which might just shock you.

The birthday of the Christ is emphasized more in the Old Testament than in the New Testament, and even those are often shrouded in highly symbolic language.  While two of the four gospels do not even record the events of His birth, The Book of Acts does not refer to it at all.  When Paul summarizes the gospel in 1 Corinthians chapter 15, he doesn't refer to the birth event there either.

I've learned that of the 89 chapters in the four Gospels, only 4 1/2 chapters deal with the first thirty years of Christ's life, while 30 cover what has come to be know as Passion Week and the time following the resurrection to His ascension.  That leaves 54 1/2 chapters of the Gospels which cover His earthly ministry before Passion Week.  

Certainly the birth of Christ is important.  However, we do need to keep it in perspective with the rest of Scripture.  It is common in contemporary churches for a full month to be devoted to the celebration of the Christmas event, and while I'm not saying that is bad, I wonder if the cultural celebration of Christmas has not impacted Christ's Church to the extent that other Biblical truths receive less emphasis.   

Christ's Church should celebrate Christmas, but remember the New Testament emphasis is upon the Lamb who is worthy to be slain for the atonement of man's sin.  He is the Sacrifice sufficient to satisfy the demands of Holy God, and thereby become the propitiation for our sin.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

More Than The Babe of Bethlehem

This is the house in rural Clarke County, Mississippi where old Dr. Irby attended my Mother as I was born on June 20, 1946.  My earthly life actually began about nine months earlier at my conception, as sexual union of love between My Mother and Father.

I remember that house well.  As a child, I visited it often because my Uncle Renzor and his family lived there.

Across the road near the barn was a Mulberry tree whose succulent berries left their evidence embedded in our skin and clothing time and again.  A large pecan tree shaded the Southwest corner of the yard and fields of corn surrounded the house on three sides.    

I still remember the pungent odor of carbide headlamps assaulting my senses as I hunted, with my Dad and Uncle, the huge cane-cutter rabbits beyond the field to the east, along the gurgling cold creek as it cut through the dense underbrush toward Archusa Creek.

Jesus Christ was born in a manger in a stable in the small town of Bethlehem to Mary, a descendant of King David.  But unlike me, Jesus did not have His beginning nine months earlier at conception because Jesus has always existed.  He had no beginning.  He had no earthly father, rather his earthly mother conceived in her womb by a supernatural act of God's Holy Spirit and remained a physical sexual virgin until the days of her purification following the birth of Jesus.

Jesus was not just a baby born 2000 years ago in a small Palestinian village, who learned at His earthly father's knee to be a skilled carpenter.  He was, He is, and He always will be eternal God.  Unique, just as much God as if He were no part man, and just as much man as if He were no part God.  Not part God and part man, but uniquely all Man and all God at the same time, the God-Man.  

Scripture tells us in John 17:5 that He was in the beginning before the creation of the world, “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.”

Jesus also says in John 8:58, "...Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” 

As we consider Santa Claus and the giving of gifts this Christmas season, each of us would do well to stop and consider that the greatest gift was when God gave His only Son, Jesus, and that Jesus did not remain the "Babe of Bethlehem."  

I pray your understanding of just who Jesus is will grow during this season, and you'll look back on Christmas 2013 as a time of growth in understanding, and commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ for your life.  

Give thanks for the Baby, but accept the Savior He became, and look in anxious anticipation for His soon return as Conqueror and Judge, while living in such a way as to reflect the belief that He is LORD TODAY!

Why Santa Looks Like He Does

  I am continually asked about Santa Claus.  Should parents perpetuate the myth, or indulge the fantasy. 

I want to say that I still support the idea of Santa, not as the one to whom we appeal for our wants and needs, but representative of the idea of nameless giving.  Never would I want him equated with, nor substituted for the God of Glory who gave His precious Son to redeem mankind.  But that was not an anonymous gift.  That gift was publicly foretold, boldly announced, and universally proclaimed.

But where does our current notion of Santa Claus come from in our land.  Here is the amazing story of one of Christmas' most endearing rhymes which has forever formed our vision of the Jolly Elf.  I do not know the source of the following article, but I have confirmed the factual information.

Dr. Clement C. Moore was the distinguished professor of Greek and Hebrew at General Theological Seminary in New York City. America was less than 50 years old. Moore's father, a famous Episcopal bishop, administered the first oath of office to President George Washington. He also comforted Alexander Hamilton as he lay dying from a bullet wound inflicted by Aaron Burr. Dr. C.C. Moore, however, would not be remembered for his father's meritorious accomplishments, nor for his own scholarly writings...and there were many. His greatest legacy would be a short, rhyming composition penned in less than one hour on Christmas Eve, 1822. Here is the amazing story: 

Mrs. Moore had been packing Christmas baskets for poor families when she realized she was one turkey short! "Clement," she asked in an urgent tone, "will you run down to the market for me? I need a few more items." With the snow falling briskly and the spirit of Christmas in the air, off he went. Upon returning home, Moore met his Dutch caretaker, Jan Duychinck, a short stubby man with a bowed mouth, a big red nose, two perfectly placed dimples, and a pipe clenched between his teeth, causing the smoke to encircle his head. The moon's bright light shone upon the blanket of newly fallen snow. These two men, both possessing child-like hearts, talked about Christmas, particularly the Dutch customs. The caretaker shared with Dr. Moore the fascinating story of Saint Nicholas. He mentioned how Hollanders pulled a sleigh-driven statue of the saint along a parade route. The children line the street anxiously awaiting its arrival. Someone dressed in red and white, like the saint, walked alongside passing out gifts. Dr. Moore could hardly wait to get into the house, grab his quill pen, and begin writing those familiar words:
'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.
When Moore began describing the old saint, he drew a word picture of his Dutch caretaker:
His eyes - how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
From Dr. Clement C. Moore's poetic portrayal of Saint Nicholas, we get our present-day picture of Santa.