Monday, December 1, 2014

The Heart of Christmas

What is the heart of Christmas?  Is it the children, helping the less fortunate or being with family?  Also, what is the significance of the baby Jesus in a manger that we observe in holiday plays and hear about in Christmas carols?  Is it just a nice seasonal story or does it mean something? 

Words like the Incarnation, Virgin Birth and Immaculate Conception do not show up in most Christmas cards but these words contain the heart of the season.  World history uses them to describe only one person – the birth of Jesus. 

The Scriptures declare Jesus existed in heaven from eternity as God the Son.  Then one day, through a carefully crafted plan, God the Father sent His willing Son from heaven to earth.  He took the form of a seed that was implanted by His Holy Spirit into a specially chosen young woman – Mary.  She was pure having never lain with a man.  The news of her approaching pregnancy did not come from a doctor, but an angel.  He said “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold you will conceive in your womb and bear a son” (Luke 1:30-31).  Soon she conceived by the hand of God and months later, a host of angels announced the birth of this miracle baby to a lost world.     

This extraordinary historical account has its share of skeptics.  Some argue it is biologically impossible.  Others doubt, calling it a myth equal to the stories of Greek mythology.  God’s miracles have their critics because they cannot be explained in a classroom, under a microscope or on a calculator.  If they could, they would not be miracles.        

Why was this virgin birth necessary?  First, for the forgiveness of our sins.  We carry the weight of our guilt and shame every day.  It is a heavy load.  Yet, only one man is the vessel by which forgiveness can come – Jesus.  His Deity from conception made it possible. 

Second, in order to show us the way.  Jesus could have descended from heaven and bypassed a birth.  Instead, He chose to enter our world as a baby becoming one of us.  He took on our weaknesses and was subjected to our temptations.  Then through His eventual death and resurrection He showed us we can overcome through trust in Him.  He became our way to victory.     

The heart of Christmas is Jesus.  His miraculous virgin birth is our triumph.  May Jesus be your HOPE FOR TODAY during this Christmas season.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

God & Ebola

Human history has been subjected to constant bouts of infectious diseases.  Sometimes these have grown to pandemic proportions leaving death tolls in the millions worldwide.  The Black Death (the bubonic plague) dramatically affected European populations wiping out up to 50 million people in the mid-14th century.  During the early 20th century governments battled against the influenza pandemic which took up to 50 million lives including 675,000 in the United States.  Then small pox killed upwards of 300 million people across the globe throughout much of the 20th century.

Our modern world still battles infectious diseases and one receiving the most headlines is the Ebola virus which was first identified in the 1970s.  As I write, the virus has fortunately not reached pandemic levels yet.  How should we respond if we are faced with the genuine threat of a virulent disease going global?  Our generation has access to pictures, videos and real-time reports like never before.  As a result, it can lead to feelings of anxiousness or fear.  Let me pass along a few things we can do.      

Do research.  Let us educate ourselves making use of the Internet, our local library and our personal physician.   

Do common sense thinking.  Exercising old fashioned common sense goes a long way towards becoming and staying healthy.  

Do some filtering.  Use discernment in following news reports on Ebola.  Sometimes information conflicts, is not accurate or is taken out of context. 

Do pray.  We should do all we can in the areas of science, medicine and technology to tackle disease.  However, is that enough?  What about God? 

God speaks of Himself saying, “For I am the LORD, your healer” (Exodus 15:26).  He wants the world to know who He is.  He is the Healer.  Then He invites the world to seek Him by saying, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (Psalm 50:15). 

God cannot be any clearer.  In the face of stopping a spreading disease our first action, not last, should be to seek God for His healing.  And though people of different religions and of no religion may be affected, there is only one God we must pray to and only one Who can heal.  He is the God who made the heavens and the earth and gave the world Jesus.  May He be your hope for today and peace in the face of uncertain times.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Roots of Radial Islam

The news of the brutality of the ISIS fighting force has made global headlines.  ISIS is a terrorist army that has amassed a force in the tens of thousands.  Their savage march across portions of the Middle East has captured the attention of world leaders and its citizens alike.  The unashamed imagery and how they glory in their barbarism is something the world has never seen.  What motivates these fighters to do such shameless evil?   

The first motivator is their religion.  Current Muslims stand on the shoulders of millions of followers of Islam dating back over 1,200 years to their founder, Prophet Muhammad, the Quran, and the stories of their faith that have been handed down to each generation. 

Historical accounts show Muhammad engaging in brutality comparable to modern radical groups.  Some experts say 15 to 25 percent of Muslims (180-300 million) would be considered extreme similar to ISIS or Al-Qaeda.  Portions of the Quran influence their deplorable tactics with passages like “I [Allah] will instill terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers: you smite above their necks and smite all their finger-tips off them” (Quran 8:12).  When bloodshed is driven by a deeply held religious belief, groups like ISIS do not see their actions as reprehensible.  They consider it honorable.  

The second motivator is money and power.  What if the money, fame, expanding territory and growth of followers were all taken away?  Would ISIS still exist?  Sometimes people can use religion as a clever mask for a deeper motivation of personal gain.   

The genuine face of peace in our world of upheaval is Jesus.  He did not come for personal gain.  He came to show us the one-true God pulling back the curtain of mystery.  Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father [God]” (John 14:9).  Sometimes our religious leaders and institutions can fall short because they are built upon flawed people.  However, when we fix our eyes on Christ we will never be disappointed. 

Jesus reveals God is not a brutal dictator.  He owns and rules the universe.  Religion, money and power do not motivate Him.  Rather, His purpose is to give.  He showed this most by giving His Son to die on a cross and rise again.  If only we would believe and turn from our sinful ways.  Then peace will reign in our hearts through His gift of forgiveness.  May Jesus be your hope and peace for today.   

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Let’s Move in Together

Clinical Psychologist Meg Jay writes about a young lady named Jennifer in a New York Times column.  She was one of Meg’s clients who lived with her boyfriend four years prior to getting married.  Then, a year after the wedding, Jennifer showed up for a session on Meg’s couch.  Jennifer told her, “We were sleeping over at each other’s places all the time.  We liked to be together, so it was cheaper and more convenient. It was a quick decision but if it didn’t work out there was a quick exit.” 

Meg states how the cohabitation rate has skyrocketed 1,500% since 1960 when there were 450,000 couples living together.  Today there are 7.5 million.  Researchers say between 50%-60% of all couples have lived or are living together with someone outside of marriage.

One report nailed it about the current state of American relationships stating, "Cohabitation is a common part of family formation in the United States, and serves both as a step toward marriage and as an alternative."

Like Jennifer couples might move in together for financial reasons or convenience, to spend more time together or to test out their relationship.  Often it is not a deliberate decision but one that couples slide into after spending a growing amount of nights together.

I truly believe if couples were asked straight up if they want a successful, healthy relationship, that 100% would give a definite yes.  I believe God has the best way to achieve that, but His way swims against popular culture.  God said, “A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 3:24).  God wants us to go from our parent’s home to marriage or from a season of singleness to marriage.  What is the greatest obstacle to that?  Ourselves.  We want love, happiness, companionship and sexual fulfillment and we want it yesterday!  Sometimes our path to achieve those desires is done in self-destructive ways. 

Bottom line - we need God’s help.  He sent Jesus to die and rise again that we might have victory over our lustful, impatient urges.  He came to indwell us by His Spirit and to give us power over our destructive ways.  All we need is to call upon God and say to Him, “Oh Lord, no longer my will, but only Yours be done.  Change me oh, God!” 

May Jesus be the hope of your relationship today and forever.