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By Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor

Scripture References:

Daniel 10:1-9
Luke 1:26-38

Israel was set apart as a people to be God's witness in the world, so that people of every nation would return to the Lord their God and be saved.

But Israel didn't do what God desired them to do.

They corrupted themselves.

They went after other gods.

They did many evil things, and as a result they became a negative witness to the world; a witness that would turn others away from God.

Thus Israel was led into captivity.

Our nation has been blessed in a similar manner as Israel; and we, like Israel, have corrupted ourselves and turned away from the Lord our God, and have become false witnesses among ourselves and to other nations.

One seemingly small thing concerns the sale of cigarettes. In this country the sale of cigarettes must be accompanied by a warning label on both the product and the advertising of it.

All of the cigarette companies have complied with this requirement for the sale in this country; but in foreign countries, the American companies are not requires to comply with this ruling.

In fact, they are promoting the sale to school children by advertising on supposedly free notebooks.

If it is wrong to do this in this country, it should be wrong to do it in other countries.

And just in case someone wonders what harm it does, listen to the results of a study conducted over a period twelve years prior to the enactment of this ruling.

If you smoke a pack of cigarettes a day, you have a 2 1/2 times greater chance of getting cancer than if you don't smoke, and there is a similar increase in the likelihood of getting cancer if you drink alcoholic beverages.

But if you both smoke and drink, you have a 15 times greater chance of getting cancer.

Maybe this is one of the reasons that God has inspired so many Christians not to smoke or drink, but what about the others?

Do not be blinded to what is going on around us.

Be like Daniel. Recognize a sin for what it is, and then do what you can to correct it.

Daniel's main way to seek to correct a situation was to pray; and by his consistent praying, he was a witness to both God and to the people of his nation and even to the entire world, for his praying is still before us.

Sometimes Daniel's prayers were not answered right away, as we see in chapter 10, beginning at verse 1; but he never ceased praying until he got his answer.

1. In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia a message was revealed to Daniel, who was named Belteshazzar; and the message was true and one of great conflict, but he understood the message and had an understanding of the vision.

2. In those days I, Daniel, had been mourning for three entire weeks.

3. I did not eat any tasty food, nor did meat or wine enter my mouth, nor did I use any ointment at all, until the entire three weeks were completed.

4. And on the twenty-fourth day of the first month, while I was by the bank of the great river, that is, the Tigris,

5. I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, there was a certain man dressed in linen, whose waist was girded with a belt of pure gold of Uphaz.

6. His body also was like beryl, his face had the appearance of lightning, his eyes were like flaming torches, his arms and feet like the gleam of polished bronze, and the sound of his words like the sound of a tumult.

7. Now I, Daniel, alone saw the vision, while the men who were with me did not see the vision; nevertheless, a great dread fell on them, and they ran away to hide themselves.

8. So I was left alone and saw this great vision; yet no strength was left in me, for my natural color turned to a deathly pallor, and I retained no strength.

9. But I heard the sound of his words; and as soon as I heard the sound of his words, I fell into a deep sleep on my face, with my face to the ground.

Perhaps what the angel Gabriel brought to Daniel this time was God's grace in giving him a glimpse of the Lord Himself.

No matter how God answers our prayers, it should have a profound effect on us, just as it did with Daniel.

Maybe it won't cause us to faint, but it should change us for the positive, so that we all would be better witnesses of God's heavenly will for your lives.

Perhaps such an encounter has totally changed your life, but part of your past still haunts you at times. Well that's all right. Just hang in there and be the witness that you know God wants you to be, no matter what others may say.

Such was the case with John Newton, the writer of “Amazing Grace.” He was a slave trader, did many evil things, and indeed was, as he describes himself, a wretch.

But there came that day when God's grace appeared to John Newton, and he responded by repenting and willingly changing his life.

And this hymn, that we sang this morning, is still having a positive witness on people today.

But his former life has also had a continuing effect on others, as well.

Black Christians, whose ancestral heritage was grossly abused by the insidious and ungodly practice of slavery and by men such as John Newton, sing his hymn today because of their understanding of God's amazing grace.

But to many people of color in this world, who do not know Jesus Christ, our Christian faith is considered the "white peoples religion."

These people know that many of the slave traders considered themselves to be Christians, and that even one of the slave ships was named "Jesus."

This fact was brought out by Howard Thurman in his book, Jesus and the Disinherited, where he recounts a similar conversation with a Hindu man in Colombo, Ceylon in the year 1935.

This man made specific reference to John Newton and his hymns, which he obviously considered hypocritical, and he said to Howard Thurman, a black theologian,

"I am a Hindu. I do not understand. Here you are in my country, standing deep within the Christian faith and tradition. I do not wish to seem rude to you. But, sir, I think you are a traitor to all the darker peoples of the earth. I am wondering what you, an intelligent man, can say in defence of your position."

And Howard Thurman spent the next five hours telling this man about Jesus and God's amazing grace.

But right here in this Christian nation, there is still prejudice. We have come a long way, but we still have a way to go.

And think about the billions of so-called food animals, that we continue to enslave and cause to suffer all the days of their lives. What does that say about our Christian witness.

Over and over again we, who are entrusted with the Christian faith, must ask ourselves, "Am I a believable witness for Jesus Christ?" Are we?

And if the "I" or the "we" is not positive, then what are we going to do about it?

Perhaps being like Daniel is a place to start, and another is to be like Mary when Gabriel appeared to her, as recorded in Luke 1:26-38.

26. Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee, called Nazareth,

27. to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.

28. And coming in, he said to her, "Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you."

29. But she was greatly troubled at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this might be.

Mary, like Daniel, knew that she wasn't truly so holy and righteous as to be considered a "favored one" before God. She knew that she sinned just like the rest of us, even though she obviously tried not to.

And she also must have repented for her sins and sought God's forgiveness; thus she was considered favored before God, as any of us are if we live in this manner, for God's grace covers our sins and makes us acceptable before Him.

But in Mary's case, God had a job for her to do for Him.

30. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.

31. "And behold, you will conceive in you womb, and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.

32. "He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David;

33. and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end."

34. And Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?"

35. And the angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God.

36. "And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month.

37. "For nothing will be impossible with God."

38. And Mary said, "Behold the bondslave of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.

Mary, because of her heart attitude toward God, was considered favored among all others to be gifted with God's special grace.

And even more, she was the vessel of God's grace to the believing world through Jesus Christ our Lord, who was carried in her womb.

Through that grace, people like us can be saved and be given new enlightenment into the ways of God.

And the same grace is being offered to the executives of the American cigarette companies who have weighed in their hearts the value of money as being greater than the health of children; but in order to receive this grace, they must also repent.

It was this same grace that freed John Newton from his life of sin and made him into a child of God, so that he could express to all of us God's amazing grace.

It is also interesting to note that all who willingly come to Jesus Christ and accept God's forgiving grace, also bond themselves to Him as willing servants: as it were, slaves of Christ.

Each of us, therefore, who has accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, and been filled with the Holy Spirit, is also a vessel of Jesus Christ to the world, just as Mary was; so that we, like her, might bring new birth to a world caught up in sin, so that they also might experience God's amazing grace.

Do not let the sin of the world turn you off or entice you to participate in it, as happened to Israel; but be a true Christian witness, and let all people see and know this amazing grace and love from you this Christmas season and forever more.