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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.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Sports Obsession

The ancient people of Israel escaped their Egyptian slave masters for freedom.  As they exited Egypt, Moses their leader, often spent time with God seeking Him for guidance in governing the people.  One time, he was alone with God for 40 days.  As the time passed, the people began to doubt if Moses would return, so they looked to Aaron, Moses’ brother.  He became their new leader and they sought his help in finding a new god.  He led them to craft what became a golden calf and the people said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” (Exodus 32:4).

The people of Israel replaced the Lord God with a golden calf, because of their impatience.  What they once looked to God for, they now sought through their own creation.   
 
The story illustrates the human condition.  All of us are like Israel.  We are constantly looking to replace God, without realizing it, by instinctively looking to other things to satisfy our needs. 
 
As an example, sometimes sports can become one of those replacements when it evolves from a casual interest to an obsession.  It is a multi-billion-dollar world-wide industry that is a deep part of the fabric of our culture.  However, it goes too far when it consumes the family checkbook and calendar to the neglect of more important things.  When it pushes parents to yell at referees or berate their child’s effort.  When it drives big business to deceivingly entice our young people with fame and fortune that leads them down the path of disillusionment and bankruptcy.  The promises of sports are grandiose, but empty.  After a loss, injury or even the next morning following a stunning victory, it offers nothing.   

Only true and lasting joy, peace, relationships, purpose and worth can come from God through Jesus.  He came to suffer, die and rise again to show us where real life is found.  He is the way.  Every other way is a fake, cheap replacement, no matter if it is sports or something else.  Today, experience the forgiveness of all you have ever done wrong and discover what you have always been searching for – Jesus.         


A prayer for you – Lord God, I pray that you will examine the heart of each reader, showing them if they have a misplaced priority of sports in their life.  May they seek you for forgiveness if they do and may Jesus become their consuming passion.  Whether their teams win or lose or their child excels or not, may their eyes always be fixed on you.  In Jesus name, amen.     







Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Finding Calm in the Storm

Once after a long day of work, Jesus and His disciples climbed into a boat to cross the sea.  They pushed out and settled in for a little break until work would kick back up again on the other side.  Some of the disciples, due to their fishing experience, knew how to navigate the waters, so were comfortable on the seas.  Jesus immediately laid down and fell asleep.   
Very soon however, the winds picked up and they were in the middle of a full-blown storm.  The wind speeds were high and created large waves that crashed down on their boat.  They began taking on water and became fearful their lives might be lost at sea.     


Meanwhile, Jesus continued to sleep.  His disciples were agitated at His disconnect from the urgency of the situation.  Filled with panic and fear they angrily awoke Him saying, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38).  

Jesus stood, looked out on the stormy sea and spoke directly to the wind “Calm!” and to the waves “Peace!”  The disciples stood in amazement as suddenly the weather changed with the wind stopping and waters resting.  They marveled.

Then He turned and confronted their lack of faith in Him.  Their eyes fixed on the storm and they became controlled with anxiety and doubt.  They lost all sense of reason, as panic took over.    

The event communicated how Jesus has the power to control the greatest forces of nature and how He wants people to trust Him when walking through the disasters of life.   

Jesus does not promise to calm every storm, but does show how through Him we can experience His peace. 

If we are dealing with the effects of a hurricane, tornado or a wild fire, His calm can reign.  If we are dealing with a wayward child, bankruptcy or traumatic medical diagnosis, He can give us rest.      

Sometimes He chooses to let the storms come and they cause great damage and pain, at other times we are spared with a sense of relief.  There is a mystery to it.  We do not understand God’s ways.  But one thing we do understand, His steadfast presence and abiding peace remain.   

A prayer for you – Lord God, I pray for those in our country who are walking through the effects of hurricanes in the south and the forest fires in the west.  I don’t understand why these disasters were not suddenly stopped.  Even so, I pray you will show yourself mighty to those who have suffered loss.  Help them to trust in you despite devastation all around.  May you lift their eyes heavenward and fill them with your joy and rest.   

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Answer to Racism

Levi was among the earliest disciples to follow Jesus and hosted a large dinner gathering for Him.  Because Jesus was celebrity-like He attracted attention wherever He went and on this occasion, while He was inside with Levi, the Pharisees were outside watching.  They were a religious group that fiercely opposed Jesus and condemned Him saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” (Luke 5:30).   

Pharisee means “separate”.  In the case of tax collectors, the Pharisees separated themselves, because according to their religious rules, the collectors were considered unclean.  In modern day language, the Pharisees' actions revealed the hate and intolerance in their heart. 

The tax collectors were thieves and corrupt to the highest degree.  However, the religious leaders responded with equal injustice.  They barred the tax collectors from their synagogues, refused to touch, speak or be in their presence and taught that promises made to them were permitted to be broken.

When we return evil for evil, like the Pharisees did, nothing gets better, only worse.  And springing from this, when we look down upon others because their race or views are different than ours there will be no hope for peace.  The practice of separatism can lead toward bullying, oppression, racism, bigotry and to the extremes of ethnic cleansing and genocide. 

Jesus is the answer to this inherit evil.  He is the only religious figure in world history whose life and teachings break down walls of separation between people, and His death and resurrection provided the power to do it.     

When we surrender our lives to Jesus, His Spirit does a supernatural work in our hearts that washes away our sins and gives us a new heart that is filled with God’s love for all people.

He modeled what this new heart looks like when He had dinner at Levi’s home.  He went toward someone that was different than Himself and showed mercy and kindness, which He showed toward His critics too. 

Following Jesus' resurrection, He commanded His followers to take His good news to all people across the world, and do what He did with Levi.  Consequently, the uniting message of Jesus has been taken to nearly every nation and territory on the earth and through Him people of different races, political leanings and religions have broken down the walls of division.

A prayer for you - Lord God, as we look across our community, nation and world division is everywhere.  Forgive me if I separate myself from those who are different than I am and look down upon them.  Change my heart and help me to show mercy and kindness to all.  By the power of Christ, let me be the change our world needs.  In Jesus name, amen.