December 2000 by Jefferis Kent Peterson
for the Sharon Herald
Antioch International Ministries
Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:7,8, NRSV).
I often hear the lament that Christmas is too commercialized. People say, "It isn't about celebrating Christ's birth. The culture has lost track of the real reason for the season." These criticisms are true. Christmas crches are allowed on public squares along with Santa Claus and Christmas trees because the holiday is considered secular enough to have lost a specifically religious purpose. The advertising season starts before Thanksgiving, and the holiday seems targeted primarily to benefit the retailers' bottom line rather than to honor God's incarnate Son. The charges are all true… I love Christmas anyway.
I've noticed during the season, in spite of its grand commercial corruption, something wonderful happens! Usually about two weeks before the 25th, something changes. There is a crispness to the air and a feeling of good cheer that seems to infect people with a kindness that is not usually there. Apart from the crazy exceptions when people fight over scarce toys, I've noticed that people start to act friendlier towards each other. People open doors for each other and help others with packages. They become more polite and patient. Instead of cutting in line, they let others go ahead of them. They smile more. They seem infected with hidden warmth and glowing smiles. I think I know the reason.
What I've decided is that the atmosphere is charged with an unusual motivation: people are preparing to give to others. Rather than thinking of themselves first, the cycle of self-centeredness is broken. For a short period, millions of people start to put others first. They start to plot and plan ways to surprise and make others happy. They get excited about giving and bringing others delight.
When I was a child, the thought of what I might get on Christmas caused me great excitement and caused me to lose sleep. But that kind of zeal faded as I grew to be a Teen, and I didn't understand why. Christmas didn't start get exciting again until I started to give gifts to others. Now I find it hard to wait for Christmas. I can't wait to surprise someone with the love that is in my heart.
While it is true that giving gifts is costly and gifts are not always given with the right spirit, there is a benefit anyway. Though the reason may be artificial and caused by social obligations or traditions, nevertheless, when you get millions of people acting with the desire to bless others, you've reversed the normal course of this world, even if for just a brief moment. For a suspended moment in time, the whole world has started to act just like God, and it changes the atmosphere.
It doesn't matter if someone is a believing Christian or an atheist or if they give gifts out of tradition or social convention. Whatever the reason, the point is they are giving! And when they give, they are starting to act like God, who gives and gives because that is his nature. God gave his son Jesus, because he loves the world and all the people in it. He gives rain for the just and the unjust alike, because he loves them all. God puts people first. He puts you first. He loves you so much that in Jesus, he was willing to die for you. That is why the Lord became enfleshed in the flesh of a child. He was God's gift to you.
And when all the world starts giving gifts and thinking of others first, it is no wonder there is a change in the atmosphere. Kindness becomes infectious, and that is why we are sorry when the season ends.
Now I know, for many of you, who have lost loved ones or who are alone, Christmas is a crisis of pain and sorrow. I understand why it is hard to have joy, but I also have a remedy to bring the glow of Christmas into your heart. If you want to be happy again, then break the cycle. Stop thinking about yourself. Go act like God. Go serve a Christmas meal in a soup kitchen. Bring a homeless person a new winter coat and bring them to your home or to Church to share Christmas dinner. Go buy a toy for a single mom's child. Forget about yourself and find the face of God in someone else - and the joy you've lost will return home to you.
I wish you the joy of finding life through giving, and may you have a Merry Christmas.
For the Pulpit - for July 28th, 2001
(C)2001 Jefferis Kent Peterson
" I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." - Jesus Christ
In a world where it is politically correct to compromise, Jesus would not compromise and that is why He was crucified. He was hated because He would not submit. We want God to approve of everything we do, say, and believe, but Jesus stands in bold opposition to our way of doing things. He will not try to please us and we cannot soften the blow of His own words. Our way is wrong. Our way is selfish. Our way is evil, and God will not yield to our control. It is His way - the Way of Life - or it is the highway to death.
Jesus is God's Way, God's Truth, and God's Life to us. If we want to get to God, we have to do it His way on His terms. So, there are not many truths for us, there is only one Truth. It is Jesus. He is The Truth. All other religions, denominations, philosophies, and ideas are human counterfeits. There are not many roads that lead to God. There is only one Way. It is Jesus. He is the way.You are either with Him, believing as He believes in God the Father, or you are doing it wrong. No compromise. No politically correct agnosticism. Just "I AM the Way... no one comes to the Father except through me."
The Scriptures say, there is only One Body, One Spirit, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, and One God and Father of us all [Ephesians. 4:4-6]. If you do not believe in Jesus, are not born from above by the Spirit and baptized into his life, you are not in Christ, and you do not have the life and the faith of God [Romans 8:9] within you. You are lost.
The world may agree with you. It may tell you how wrong and hate filled and unfair the scriptures are. But remember, it is Jesus, and His words, which are the offense of the Gospel. All I'm doing is relaying faithfully the politically incorrect things Jesus actually said.
The world will get angry with anyone who insists that doing things God's way is the only right way. The world will tell you how narrow minded and politically incorrect such beliefs are. You may even feel justified in rejecting this message, but God will not agree with you. You will do things His way, or you are lost. When the people asked Jesus, "What must we do, to be doing the works of God?" He replied, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom He has sent." How unpopular is that message! It wasn't any more popular when Jesus walked upon the earth. When Jesus said these things, the people wanted to stone him to death right then and there. We haven't changed. His message is an offense.
Jesus' disciples found out that faith in God's Way will ruffle men's feathers. They were beaten and killed for declaring Jesus as The Only Truth. They declared what God told them, "Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to human beings by which we must be saved." The disciples found out that following Jesus means you will be hated by this world. You will be considered politically incorrect. You will be called every name in the book because people hate God's One Way of Truth and One Way of Righteousness. It is either Jesus or no way. The question is: "Are you going to do things God's Way, or are you going to insist God do it Your way?" Who are you that you should order God around? Are you King of the Universe? So, are you still going to insist upon your arrogant ways or will you follow Him? It is your choice, but if you are going to come to God, it will have to be on His terms, not on yours, for God will not yield control of the universe to you. After all, you are just a fallible creature, and He is God!
2002 Jefferis Kent Peterson
for Sharon-Herald, March 23, 2002
The Fool Says in His Heart, “There is no God.” - Psalm 14:1
Atheism is a faith just like any other faith. It is founded on a belief, not on fact or science. The word “atheism” means “no belief.” However, atheists actually do believe; it is just that they believe in “nothing.” They believe that there is no God. In spite of all their claims to the contrary, atheists must still rely upon the same resources for their convictions as do all other believers: namely, their faith. The only difference is their faith is directed towards nothing. They believe there is no “thing” out there. No God. No supernatural. No Devil. No purpose or meaning to life. Yet, they are no more rational in their beliefs than Christians are in theirs. The atheist’s lack of belief in God is simply an article of faith.
The problem atheists face is that you cannot prove that “nothing” exists. Nothing is the “absence” of some-thing. It isn’t a thing. It isn’t there, so you can’t show it. You cannot prove “nothing” is true. At most, you may find nothing where you are looking, but it does not mean there isn’t that thing somewhere else! For the same reason, you cannot prove the non-existence of God, because then you’d be trying to prove that “nothing” exists, which can’t be done. In fact, even to be an atheist and believe that God isn’t, you must first assume that God is, or you have nothing to not believe in! So, the idea of God’s existence is necessary in order for anyone to not believe in him. Atheists need God to have a faith that there is no God.
By all traditional definitions, God is not material. He can’t be tasted, touched, seen, or felt. He can’t be measured or put under a microscope. You cannot subject him to the scientific method, because you cannot measure by material science that which is Spirit. God isn’t earth, wind, or fire. He isn’t lightening or gravity or the vacuum of space. So, how on earth could you “prove” that God is not? All you can do is point to what you can see, hear, or feel and say, “that is not God,” or “I don’t see him.” You may speak of what you know, but you cannot really speak of what you do not know. And if you don’t know God, how can you speak about him at all, either for good or ill?
The realm of our experience is so limited and finite, all we could hope to say with any certainty is: “I haven’t experienced God.” But just because we haven’t experienced God does not mean he does not exist. We are not omniscient or omnipresent, so our experience is limited and tiny. All we know is in our small realm. For us to assert then, that “there is no God” requires a tremendous leap of faith. Maybe it requires even more faith to believe that there is no God than it does to believe that there is one. Listen to the faith of the atheist: “I, from my limited and tiny dot of existence on this small planet, am certain that there is no God. Even though I have not experienced all the vastness of the universe, I am certain I am right because I am so perceptive that I know what the rest of the universe holds.” Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? But that is just what the atheist is asserting when he declares that there is no God. My question is always, “How on earth could he know?” The truth is, he can’t. He is acting in faith. If faith is your only evidence, then you might as well believe that He is as believe that he isn’t!
I realize that many people are driven to the conclusion of unbelief because they are grieved over the evils of this world, or the death of loved ones, or by a thousand other causes of private pain. I cannot answer the pain with reasons why. It is beyond me. But the fact God does not put a stop to human freedom or suffering proves nothing about whether he exists or not. At most, we might wonder about his compassion, but his lack of action does not prove his non-existence. For instance, if I choose not to go to work tomorrow, I may be missing from my office and others may not see me, but it doesn’t mean I’ve ceased to exist. In the same way, we cannot prove God’s non-existence by his apparent inaction.
In the Old Testament, the Jews didn’t even have a word for unbelief or doubt. The word they used was lo-Amen, or “no Truth.” A person who doubted or did not believe was a person who lacked the truth. It wasn’t until the Arabs came up with the number zero that we were able to take this nothing, this lack of truth, and make it into a something. A zero is a symbol that represents nothing, but we treat a zero as if it represents something real. A zero represents the absence of something. In the same way, atheism is built upon the zero, and so, we make atheism into something when it is not. It has no reality in itself, but it pretends to be something. It can never be proved and it can never be affirmed. It is the belief in nothing, or, as the Bible says, it is the absence of the truth.
Atheism cannot exist without God, just as the absence of truth cannot exist without the Truth. The only difference, then, between the Christian and the atheist is not their faith, but in what they believe. And Christians have a better ground upon which to stand, for they have encountered the God of the Universe. They base their faith on something, or rather should I say Someone they have experienced; not on something they haven’t. They have heard God speak to them, so their faith is based in knowledge. How do we hear from this God of the Universe? Well, that’s another story…
2002 Jefferis Kent Peterson
For the Sharon-Herald, Nov. 9, 2002
When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. - 2 Chronicles 7:13-14
Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth. - John 4:23-24
The Old Testament pulled no punches. If calamity came upon a people or a nation, God was responsible. If God sent judgment in the form of drought, pestilence, or locusts, he sent it because the people sinned. If they lost in battle, it was because of sin. You might say, the cause of judgment was the sin and unfaithfulness of God’s people, but the indirect cause was God. God either allowed judgment to come, or sent it, as a direct response to the nation’s unfaithfulness. Nevertheless, God’s hand was there in the punishment, however painful it might turn out to be.
We were attacked unjustly just over a year ago. It was an attack that shook us to our core. Our trust in the twin towers of capitalism, our economic Babylon, came crashing to the ground. It put to death the greed of the ‘90’s and squashed what remained of the stock market bubble. It made us sober. It made us reflect. It made us determined. But it did not make us repent. We wanted to get on with business and return to our American way of life. Our brief spike in church attendance and our prayers of desperation quickly gave way again to political bickering, greed, and our lust. No one seemed to ask or wonder if God had actually sent or allowed the attack as judgment upon our “way of life.” No one seemed to wonder if God was sending us a message - a warning and a call to repentance.
In the Scriptures, God always sends smaller warnings followed by bigger ones. First, he sends the prophets with words, then he sends droughts, and finally he sends armies of destruction. If the people will not listen to the small voice, they will eventually be forced to listen to the sounds of war. God’s purpose is to get us to change our ways before it gets worse! Yet, when people will not listen, the consequences become inevitable. What God does not want or desire will happen because of our stubbornness. We cannot afford just to blame others in the face of calamity. We must also ask, “Why did God allow this thing to happen to us?” Is there a message in this madness? Is God calling us to seek his face? The attack was unprovoked, but God allowed it. Why?
If God is calling us to repentance, as surely he is, there is some good news in all this conflict. The salvation of the nation does not depend upon every person in the country. It does not depend upon the repentance of unbelievers in our midst, who will continue to do evil. The promise of salvation is to us who are in Covenant with God. Those immoral people who glory in their transgressions – and grieve us because of the harm they do to themselves and others – they are not the problem. They cannot bring the nation down, nor can they lift it up. The promise is to us who believe in Jesus Christ. Listen again to that promise: “if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
If you will repent and humble yourself, together with your brothers and sisters, then God will hear, forgive, and heal your land. God’s covenant is with you, not with outsiders. His response is not based upon what unbelievers do, but upon what you do. Yes, the people sin, as they are bound to do, and evil men boast of evil deeds and discourage us with their taunts, arrogance, and pride. But all this sin cannot undo the promises of God or prevent the salvation of the nation. God’s promise is not to them; it is to us. What I’m saying to you is that our land will be healed in spite of what unbelievers do …if we will repent. If we repent, God has promised he will hear and heal our land. Therefore, if you want to help this nation, then give up greed and selfishness. Be generous. Give tithes and offerings. Help your brothers and sisters in Christ. Show kindness to outsiders with charity of word and deed. Give up pornography, fornication, and adultery and immorality of every sort and turn to God. No longer steal from your bosses, your neighbor, or the government. Give Caesar what is his due. Pay your taxes and pray for your spiritual leaders, for judges, police, and elected officials “that you may live peaceably in the land.” Quit racism, anti-Semitism, and prejudice of every sort; for it is evil. What right do you have to judge others, since all are made in the image of God? And lastly, love your enemies and forgive all – even those who boast of wickedness – for God loves them and has forgiven you. Do these things that you may live; then pray and seek his face, so that God can heal our land!
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