Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Why We Desperately Need Easter

If you take a few minutes and read over any local or national news, you will find bothersome stories.  Like officials in a well-known college basketball program using prostitutes and strippers to recruit top players.  Like some merciless girls and boys that taunted a young man, which lead to his suicide.  Like a teenager walking into a school and drawing his weapon to slaughter 17 people.

The problem in each of these stories was a moral one.  Wrong was right and right was wrong.  And collectively, they reflect a moral crisis in our nation.  This is why we need Easter.  It projects a sign of hope that stands above the chaos.  The sign of the cross.  It is where Jesus, the Son of God, suffered and died. 

The hope of the cross lay in the purpose of Jesus’ death.  Strangely as it may sound, it was planned. 

At Jesus’ birth an angel announced to Shepherds in a field, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).  A Savior?  Yes!  Save means “to rescue”.  Rescue from what?  Sin.  It is the wrong things we do against ourselves, others, but primarily against God our Creator.  And it lives within our hearts.  Sin is displayed at every lie we tell or feeling of pride that squares our shoulders.  It is our inner moral rot, like a cancer that slowly destroys us. 

Jesus was born to rescue us from this.  His planned suffering and death, was the only means through which we could be rescued, and it was an ugly experience.  The corruption by religious and political figures that sentenced Jesus to death was ugly.  The tearing apart of Jesus’ flesh was bloody and ugly.  Jesus being hung on two pieces of wood by being nailed to it through his hands and feet, was inhumane and ugly.  The gruesomeness of the cross, illustrates the severity of our wrongs.  In the courtroom of God, our failings required the penalty of spiritual and eternal death.  However, in the greatest display of sacrificial love, Jesus suffered and died in our place.  He took our sin and penalty upon Himself, so we wouldn’t have to. 

That is the hope of Easter.  Through the cross, a hard-hearted man can become loving and forgiving.  Through the cross, a bitter woman can become kind and compassionate.  Through the cross, a divided nation can become one.   

And what guarantees these things?  The resurrection of Jesus.  Three days after He died, He rose again.  Therefore, because He lives, so-can-YOU.  His victory can be yours. 

A prayer for you to pray –  God in heaven, I can see the darkness of my heart.  I do not have it all together.  I am broken.  I need the work of the cross in my life.  Oh God, save me!  Rescue me!  Give me a new heart and a new life today.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

When Pride Becomes Your Downfall

Years ago when I was studying to become a minister at MidAmerica Nazarene University, a professor dedicated the class time to teaching on sexual temptation in ministry.  It was not for academic purposes, but to prepare us.  I am glad he did!

My mind raced back to that class as I reflected on the flood of sexual misconduct stories beginning with Harvey Weinstein.  The women that came forward in the film industry, gave courage for others to speak out in the worlds of sports, politics, and media.  By no means is it limited to those arenas.  I live in the world of religion. Unfortunately, the problem extends there also. 

As we celebrate Valentine’s Day, let me be clear, none of this has anything to do with real love.  When someone of great influence moves sexually on someone of lesser influence, it is about lust and abuse of power.  When a man or woman of a lesser position sexually engages with person of higher position, that he or she might find some advantage, it is for personal gain.  When an organization refuses to act on confirmed reports of sexual allegations against its influential leader, they are looking out for themselves.  And it does not matter if it is consensual or not.  Wrong is wrong.  And no one is immune from this.  In the Bible, the heralded King David became a victim of sexual sin as found in the legendary story of David and Bathsheba. 

David was an honorable man of God, but at the height of His fame and power, he became morally weak.  One day, instead of tending to his normal duties, he strolled onto the roof of his palace to view his expanding kingdom with pride.  In that moment, a woman appeared in the distance that captured his attention.  He used his position as King to summon her, where they slept together, and she became pregnant.

The story did not end there.  For a year, David hid his heinous actions until God sent a messenger to confront him.  Finally, David turned from his pride and humbly confessed his evil to God. 

After an incident like David had, it would be easy to feel as if life was over because of the consequences.  There is no future.  There is no hope.  Let me say, that with God, there are always second chances.    

Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus the evil of your sexual sin can be forgiven.  Your shame and guilt can be washed away.  In the face of your consequences, you can have freedom.   

A prayer for you to pray – Lord God, I can see that what I have done is wrong.  I desperately need your forgiveness.  I pray David’s words who said, “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin” (Psalm 51:2).  In Jesus name.  Amen.   

Thursday, January 4, 2018

My Sustaining Hope in the New Year

Two months ago my family and I laid my father (Paul Decker) to rest, after he unexpectedly died of advanced pancreatic cancer on November 13; three days after his diagnosis.  The holidays were obviously different for our family knowing dad was gone.  It is not only unique for us, but for thousands of others who lost a loved one in 2017.

After we buried my father, and traveled back home to Kansas from Ohio, death visited again.  Within days, I found myself standing next to a friend in a hospital bed who had just lost her husband in a horrific vehicle accident, where she also received multiple injuries.  No one is immune.  If you are in a situation like this, where can you find hope in this New Year?  As you see others dancing the night away and having good times with family and friends, you may feel an emptiness, because a spouse or parent is gone and not coming back. 

On that November Monday night, at 10:00 p.m., I received a call I will never forget.  My mother, in shock and in the deepest of tears told me dad was gone.  As I hit the floor in overwhelming despair, nearly 1,000 miles away, I was soon drawn to pick up my Bible.  I flipped to 1 Corinthians 15:54-55 and read it for myself and to my mom and sisters via cell phone, “Death is swallowed up in victory.”  “O death where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting.”  Within minutes, Jesus’ relationship with me and His Word were giving me grace filled hope.  The hurt did not stop, or the tears dry up.  Even so, Jesus and His Word became my Rock.  My refuge.  My sustaining hope. 

Furthermore, additional hope was found in the story of my father’s life.  On September 3, 1972, during the last night of a series of camp meeting services in New York, he surrendered to Jesus and became a new man, and then a year later was called by God to be a pastor.  For 34 years my dad pastored churches throughout the Great Plains and Midwest. 

Knowing dad trusted Jesus as His Lord and Savior and served Him gives me hope.  The grace of God that saved him, kept him and took him to his eternal home, assures me, that one day by that same grace, I will see him again.  Jesus’ relationship with me, His holy Word and the life-changing story of my dad is my sustaining hope.   

If you are facing death or grieving someone who has died where is your hope?  Start out 2018 with a commitment to Christ.  Let His grace wash you clean of all you have ever done wrong.  Surrender your life to Him.  Time is short.  Do it now.  Live each day to its fullest for the glory of God and the good of others.     

A prayer for you to pray – Lord God, as I walk through this valley of grief and pain, be my hope.  Forgive me of all my sins and become my hope for today and all eternity.  Teach me your Word that through it you will become my solid rock.  In Jesus name.  Amen.     

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

How Christmas Defeated Evil

As I sat down to prepare for this column, I began thinking about Christmas and the end of the year. I pondered some news headlines like the nationwide sex abuse scandals spawned by Harvey Weinstein, the Texas church mass shooting and a potential war with a nuclear weaponized North Korea. I wondered, "With all this, how can we move into a joyous Christmas season?" 

Then as I began reading the Christmas story from the Bible, a light came on. When I dug beneath the surface, I saw how history has much in common with our day.

The ruthless King Herod, who had been given the title King of the Jews by the Roman Senate, ruled over Israel during the time of Jesus’ birth. One day, a large entourage of esteemed, well educated, eastern wise men entered his city after a long journey. When they arrived they began asking, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him" (Matthew 2:2). Unknown to them, Herod already held the title, King of the Jews, so all Israel became troubled by their questioning. Herod immediately became protective of his position, and determined to strike down his rival, employing a gruesome tactic. He knew baby Jesus could be no more than two years old, and learned from the wise men, He was from the area of Bethlehem. Therefore, he mobilized his soldiers to kill any child under two living there. Jesus was spared, when Joseph and Mary took Him and fled toward Egypt for protection.

History’s first Christmas was filled with darkness and despair, but also tremendous hope.

Jesus was born a few miles from Herod’s palace. It was intentional. God sent His Son to be born in the presence of evil’s most notorious figure, King Herod, and boldly announced His coming. Right on evil’s doorstep God came and firmly planted a flag of victory in the form of an empty cross that His Son one day would die on.

Repeatedly, Herod and other emissaries of evil have tried to vanquish what is good; time after time they have always failed. In this spiritual battle between good and evil light bursts through the darkness, love smothers hate and forgiveness cuts down the legs of bitterness.

No matter the news headlines or political spins this Christmas, there is hope waiting for you in Jesus’ manger. That hope can become yours when you decide to turn your back on the wrong things you have done, and when you are ready to give up trying to be a good person in your own power. Call upon Jesus. Ask Him to make you good, by making you a new person and giving you a new heart. Then in Him, you will find a new beginning.

A prayer for you – Lord God, open the understanding of our hearts to the real meaning of the Christmas season. Take our burden of fear or despair. Cleanse our hearts of anything impure. Come to live within us by your Spirit, and fill us with new life, hope and truth. In Jesus name. Amen.