Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Where is God in Your New Year?

A long time ago there was a King named David.  His Kingdom had grown, and he became great in the eyes of his people and surrounding nations.  One day he decided to take a census to see how large a Kingdom he had.  He was highly regarded as a godly man, but in this case, he neglected God.  David’s military general questioned the wisdom of the order, but David persisted so the census was carried out.  Eventually, David received his numbers and was pleased.  However, God was angry and severely disciplined David’s neglect and pride.

This ancient story from the Bible reminds me of our day.  The mainstream of thought being broadcast to hundreds of millions is to enter a new year without any consideration of God.  Through a casual survey of radio stations, articles, news items, podcasts and videos about the upcoming year, most of the content is godless. 

The Scriptures give us advice on this saying, “Come now, you who say ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.  What is your life?  For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”  (James 4:13-14)

Neglecting to seek out God’s counsel in our decisions, is like not checking the weather conditions before heading out on a trip through the Rocky Mountains in the middle of winter.  Logically, it does not make sense.  God is our Creator and being so, it seems logical that we should go to Him for help.  He is all-knowing.  He knows about our problems and the burdens we bear more than we do.  He can see them in complete detail, knowing all the facts and solutions.  God is all-powerful.  No matter the challenges we will face in 2019, they are not too big for God.  He is the God of the impossible.  The God of miracles.  The God of the supernatural.  Nothing is a challenge for Him.  Additionally, God is mysterious.  No one can see Him.  He is an unseen Spirit that fills the universe.  However, He has sent us a Messenger to communicate to us what He is like – Jesus.  Do you wonder, “Who is this God I should be involving in my decisions?  What is He like?”  You can discover first-hand by learning about Jesus, His only Son, through the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the Bible.  There you will learn about Him through the stories and teachings of Jesus.     

What you will discover is the main reason why we neglect to invite God into our plans, hopes and dreams.  It is us.  The pride and spirit of independence in our hearts resist yielding to the wisdom of God.  The writers and talkers all around us refer to believing in yourself and achieving your hopes and dreams.  They encourage this pride and independence.  But to receive all that God has for you, you must willingly lay down your life.

Jesus illustrated this, when He suffered and died on the cross.  He laid down His life, not for His own interests, but for the interests of God His Father and the multitudes of others, like you and me.  As a result, three days later, He rose again from the dead.  When we lay down what we want and choose to follow God’s ways, admittedly, there’s a high cost to pay, but if we remain faithful, there is also a great blessing.

A prayer for you to pray– “Lord God, as I begin a new year, I apologize for not always putting you first in 2018.  I often put my desires and plans ahead of you.  I am sorry for neglecting you.  Today, I begin a new year by choosing to turn from my ways and put my trust in Jesus and follow Him with all my heart, no matter the cost.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.”

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Sin. The Reason for The Season

Legendary country singer Johnny Cash is one of many artists that have recorded the famous Christmas carol, Silent Night.  I can usually get the first verse by memory, but the second I always need a little help.  It goes like this, “Silent night!  Holy night!  Shepherds quake at the sight; Glories stream from heaven afar.  Heavenly hosts sing, “Alleluia!  Christ the Savior is born!  Christ the Savior is born!” 

Savior.  It is a word that shows up in many Christmas carols and it is used a lot around Christmastime.  Jesus’ name means “Savior” and it conveys the idea of to save or deliver. 

Jesus was a Jew and in His culture the meaning of someone’s name carried great significance.  It was not given to Him by His parents though, as was typical.  In a stunning event, an angel from heaven announced a message from God to Joseph and Mary, saying they would have a child and “. . . you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

This beautiful and miraculous little baby was destined to grow up and provide a way for all mankind to be delivered from their sins.  This is where the American version of Christmas loses some of its glitter.  It is a statement of truth to say, sin is the reason for Christmas.  If there was no sin, there would be no need for a Christmas Savior. 

Sin is an unseen spiritual element that lives in each of our souls.  It is an evil that dwells inside us.  This mysterious presence reveals itself with every subtle lie, burst of anger or gleaming sign of pride we show.  It condemns us before our Creator to eternal death.  This is who we are, but most likely we cannot imagine thinking about ourselves this way when opening Christmas presents, gathering for holiday dinners or solemnly singing Silent Night. 

We generally think of ourselves as good people.  Not perfect by any means, but to say evil lives within us and that we are sinners sitting under the judgment of God, does not sound very merry.  Even so, it is true. 

The good news of Christmas is that Jesus came to deliver you from your sin.  He grew up to suffer, die, be buried and rise again from the dead.  When He rose, He conquered sin and death.  He rose to give you a new heart, new mind and new life. 

The good news of Christmas is truly good, but you cannot appreciate it until you understand and accept the bad news about your condition.  No matter how you think of yourself.  No matter how others perceive you.  Before God you are a sinner with a dark and evil heart.  When you accept that, you will begin to understand why Jesus was born to be your Savior.  Then you will behold the glory and wonder of Christmas like never before.     

A prayer for you to pray– “Lord God, help me to see myself as you see me.  I am a sinner with a dark and evil heart.  Help me to see how Jesus came to be my Savior from my sin.  Oh God, forgive me.  Take my life.  Change me.  Be the Lord of my life this Christmas.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.”

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The Deep Meaning of Thankfulness

“Attitude of Gratitude”, “A Thankful Heart is a Happy Heart”, “Thankfulness is The Beginning of Happiness.”  These are just some of the quotes you see after a quick search about thankfulness.  On the surface it appears thankfulness is a motivational and inspirational concept to “turn that frown upside down” and get our “half empty glass, half full”.  Thankfulness has much more substance than that.

  In the United States, thankfulness is part of our national heritage.  The creation of our Thanksgiving holiday is rooted in our European Pilgrim forefathers who came to America in the early 1600s.  Their practice of thanksgiving feasts came from their religious faith.  They worshiped God, were followers of Jesus and read their Bible.  One passage they no doubt read was Ephesians 5:20, “. . . [give] thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ . . .”
The whole idea of thankfulness has religious origins, found in our Creator.  To separate thankfulness from any mention about God and keep it merely as a motivational topic is to miss the real deep and rich meaning.
The word “thanks” comes from the words “good” and “grace”.  It denotes two parties.  A giver and receiver.  The giver shows some kindness and the receiver responds with thankfulness to the good grace shown him or her. 
In our western culture we act as if there was just one party.  We say, “Be thankful” or “I am thankful.”  But I ask, “To whom?”  We, as the receivers, are saying “thanks”, but we are acting as if it is in a vacuum.  There was a giver.  I argue, based on the truthfulness of the Bible, that God is the giver of all good things.
There are unexpected blessings, kind acts, mysterious happenings that we may attribute to medicine, science, chance, fate or simply to nice people.  But behind it all is an invisible God showing you His goodness and grace.  Give Him thanks.  This is a message for the committed believer and for the nonreligious skeptic. 
Talking about thanking God when things go our way, is one thing, but what about in times of suffering and hardship?  In those times we often turn and blame God, yet, His goodness and grace is there in bad times, too.  Because the pain blurs our vision, we often need God’s help, or the help of others, to see His goodness. 
Acknowledgement is a key word in thanks.  In personal relationships, we should personally acknowledge the good someone brought us; with God it is the same.  Giving thanks is acknowledging His grace in the fabric of our lives – during the good times and bad.
And the greatest act of kindness God has shown – is the giving of Jesus, His only Son.  Jesus’ life, death and rising again, gave you an opportunity for new life through forgiveness of all your sin.  He gave to the world without being asked and in the face of disbelief and opposition.  One day you will stand before Him and be judged.  Will you have believed and given thanks for Jesus or will you refuse and experience God’s wrath?  Open your spiritual eyes and see God’s goodness shown to you in Christ,then follow Him with all your heart.
A prayer for you to pray– “Lord God, help me to see your goodness and grace in my life, in both the good times and bad.  Open my eyes that I might give you thanks and praise.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.”

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

How to Fight The Culture of Sexual Abuse

As I prepared to write this column, there were continuing news stories related to the devastating report about the 1,000 children whom were sexually abused by Catholic priests in some Pennsylvania dioceses.  One article highlighted the Catholic church’s own report from 2004, which found more than, “4,000 US Roman Catholic priests had faced sexual abuse allegations in the last 50 years involving more than 10,000 children . . .”  Wow!  And that was in just the United States.  There were also reports in Austria, Chile, and others.

What is happening that children do not appear to be safe in a church with a clergy person?  When I considered that, I slowly began to see how the Catholic church scandal is a devastating picture of a larger problem. 

In protestant churches, pastors have resigned after admitting to adulterous affairs with someone in their own congregation.  In the business world, executives have been fired for sexually preying on members of their staff.  On school campuses, teachers have gone to jail for taking sexual advantage of their students.  In politics, well-known elected officials have stepped down because of sexual harassment. In the home, family members have been arrested for sexually abusing their own children.  In neighborhoods, young men and women have been picked up and sold into the global sex trafficking industry. 

What is the common thread in all of this?  Sexual immorality.  God our Creator has given us instructions.  We are to walk in purity and restrict our sexual activity within the bonds of marriage.  Abusers and the immoral have total disregard for this.  They engage in adultery, pornography, incest, rape, homosexuality, prostitution, molestation, pedophilia, fornication.  All these and more are condemned by God and have devastating consequences for ourselves and others.      

What can we do?  Fight against these evils in our culture by committing to your own purity.  It is written, “Flee from sexual immorality.  Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18).  When you commit to purity you are helping to protect your home, church, workplace, school, neighborhood and your own life.  It is not easy.  Temptation is all around us.  That is why it so wide spread and sometimes we fail.  We cannot do it on our own.  We need help.  We need Jesus! 

He died and rose again to defeat the power of sin, which is at the root of our immorality.  He rose from the grave to make us holy and beautiful before Him.  When we turn to Him He comes to dwell within us by His Spirit.  And that Spirit gives us the ability to be pure.  No matter who you are or what you have done, Jesus can wash you clean and empower you to live a pure life.   

A prayer for you to pray– “Lord God, I want to be clean.  I admit I have done things with my body I should not have.  I regret it and confess my impurity.  Please, oh Lord, wash me.  Remove my immorality.  Forgive me and make me a new person today.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.”