Tuesday, December 7, 2010

HOPE FOR TODAY: Miracle Beyond 34th Street

In 1947, one of the most beloved Christmas movies of all-time was released, “Miracle on 34th Street”. It was an instant hit winning five Oscars, obtaining millions of viewers and becoming one of the top 10 most inspiring films of the last 100 years, according to the American Film Institute.
In the movie, Kris Kringle (the real Santa Claus), becomes incensed when he observes the designated Macy’s Santa flat out drunk during the Thanksgiving Day parade. Eventually, Kris is awarded the job himself. Despite his success at the job, he spends the movie trying to convince people, especially the adults, that he is not a fake, but the real Santa. Through a number of twists and turns the end of the movie finds a judge being put on the spot to decide if Kris Kringle is the real Santa or not.

Although I love the heartwarming film, the real story of Christmas is noticeably absent. Just as Kris Kringle was incensed at his Santa imposter so Jesus likely is at the revision of modern Christmas where He is replaced with a business friendly Santa Claus. The origins of Christmas go back to between 3 and 5 B.C. On a starlit night in the small country town of Bethlehem was born a little baby boy named Jesus who would eventually grow up to change the world. Years later, followers turned His birth into a celebration calling it Christmas after Jesus the Christ child.

Santa can offer the gift of a toy and or other things, but only Jesus continues to offer the original and greatest Christmas gift ever – the forgiveness of sins for all those who will believe in Him. The Bible says about Jesus’ birth, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). This gift promises to bring the hope of a new life, freedom from guilt and rest for the soul. As part of your task to find the perfect gift this Christmas, turn to the Bible and read about the greatest gift that is still available and without charge. May Jesus bring hope to your Christmas this season.

Monday, November 8, 2010

HOPE FOR TODAY: Lifted to Freedom

“Are they alive?” Friends, family and the world all wondered after the Chilean gold and copper mine collapse on August 5. Meanwhile, 2,300 feet beneath the surface 33 miners began desperate attempts at escape and survival. Efforts to find a pathway out or to send up signals to identify their location all ended without success. There the 33 men sat, in an emergency shelter, the size of a living room, with a 48-hour supply of food, water and limited medical supplies. As the weight of total darkness, dust and despair rested upon them they wondered if that mine would also become their grave. Survival was up to them, but a rescue was not. Their fate rested in the hands of others.

Back on the surface, the Chilean President, Sebastian Pinera, called out to his nation and the world to help rescue these men. And the response came. Businesses, governments and individuals gave sacrificially. Then on day 17 a breakthrough came! Contact was made with miners through a hole the size of a grapefruit that was bore through the rock. Hope along with much needed supplies came to them. No one knew that the miners would need to face an additional 52 days before hope would come a second time. And it came on October 13, after 800 people worked night and day to finally bore a hole through the rock where they could be lifted to freedom.

In a way, many of us are like the miners. We are trapped beneath our sin and brokenness. We may feel like there is no way out and that hopelessness and despair are all around us. Yet, we are unaware what is taking place in heaven. There, God knows our situation. He has decided not to leave us to ourselves. Jesus, His only Son, was sent to earth to suffer, die and rise again to show us the way to freedom. God has released His message of good news through people all over the world. This good news is our hope. It is our rescue capsule. If we will only reverse our sinful ways and cling to Jesus, then we will be lifted to freedom.

Miner, Jose Henriquez, led prayer services twice a day, calling upon God for His help. A Christian ministry got them the Jesus Film on mp3 players along with Bibles. Soon they realized there were 34 miners, not just 33. God was with them. Henriquez wrote a note with a Scripture verse quoting Psalm 95:4, "In his hand are the depths of the earth, and mountain peaks belong to him."

You may feel trapped. Recognize God is there. He’s waiting for you to call out and trust Him with your whole heart. Now you will find your hope for today.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

HOPE FOR TODAY: Woody Allen’s Great Delusion

Legendary filmmaker Woody Allen has over 40 films to his name along with three Academy Awards. In September he released his latest film, “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger”.

The New York Times columnist, Dave Itzkoff, interviewed the 74 year old about his film and life. Itzkoff noted the supernatural is important to the movie, which opened the door for Allen to comment about his view of faith. Allen said, “I was interested in the concept of faith in something. This sounds so bleak when I say it, but we need some delusions to keep us going.” Allen is not alone in his sentiments. The results of a major religious survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found the largest increase was in the category of “Unaffiliated”. It grew to 16.1% of all adults and 25% of 18-29 year olds. A majority of this group says they do not believe “in anything in particular” and that religion is “not important” to them.

Allen has it backwards. Faith in God is not delusional. Rather, having no faith in God and putting faith primarily in oneself is delusional. It is a grave mistake to believe that all I need is myself – my own goodness, education, wealth or personal effort. It is unwise to simply decide God does not exist or that you do not want Him in your life so you can continue with your lifestyle.

Throughout the history of mankind, the God who made the heavens and the earth has shown He is real through a myriad of ways. He has revealed Himself through Jesus, His only Son, who was a real historical figure who rose again from the dead. God has also revealed Himself through the Bible a truthful and accurate sacred text and through millions of people who have personally encountered this God and have been everlastingly changed.

The delusion of trusting in oneself does not stand up well in times of unexplained tragedy, or with the guilt and shame from our mistakes and in the faces of death and dying. Itzkoff asked the 74 year old Allen about the aging process. He stated, “I’ve experienced that thing where you wake up in the middle of the night and you start to think about your own mortality and envision it, and it gives you a little shiver.” Where is the hope, the peace?

God is real. Put your trust in Him. Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me” (John 14:1). Do not delude yourself anymore. God knows your name. He is calling you. Turn from yourself and to Him. May you find hope for today.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

HOPE FOR TODAY: Rich vs. Poor

Tax cuts enacted by the previous presidential administration are set to expire the end of this year. There is much discussion over whether to maintain, change or eliminate these cuts. As I looked at various articles on the subject a familiar theme surfaced that went something like this, “Let us have the cuts expire on the rich, but remain for the poor”. This theme also showed up during the healthcare debate and a series of bailouts.

In times like these, the rich and poor become political footballs that seem to be used to help others achieve their chosen agendas. When it comes to cutting government costs, people stereotype the poor as victims to help save their programs. When it comes to increasing government revenue, people stereotype the rich as villains to get their money, in order to help save or expand their programs.

Fanning the flames of division between the rich and poor is dangerous. There is no common sense reason to pursue this. Fostering division over income levels or positions in society opens the door for class warfare, pitting American against American.

Our country can rise above this growing division by running quickly in the opposite direction. The root of division is when people are out for their own self-preservation. The foundation for unity is when people serve others, putting the needs of their neighbors above their own. One of the two Greatest Commandments from the Bible communicates this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).

As a nation, what if we sought to give rather then get and purposed to help rather than to have? I believe it would dramatically change our culture, put the political straw men arguments to bed and shatter inaccurate stereotypes.

The God who made you and me is an example of selfless giving. When God gave Jesus, His Son, to our world He demonstrated selfless giving so that we may receive His rich blessings. When we turn from our sin and place our faith in Jesus, God opens His doors of blessing.

There is no favoritism or partiality with God. Rich or poor, black or white, man or woman, known or unknown, all are alike to Him. God welcomes all. Everyone stands on level ground before Him. May you find hope today in whatever circumstances you face, by turning to Jesus and giving yourself away to others, no matter your position in life.

Monday, August 9, 2010

HOPE FOR TODAY: Arizona Law - Beneath the Surface

Arizona Rancher Robert Krentz was making an attempt to help an illegal immigrant, who was trespassing on his sprawling ranch, when he was gunned down in cold blood in March this year. At the same time, being debated in the Arizona legislature was an illegal immigration bill that was eventually passed and signed into law on April 23, a month after Krentz was murdered.

The law has created an incredible firestorm across the country with a host of influential opponents and proponents making their opinions known and taking sides. On the surface, some have made it about elections, race, border security or state rights versus federal jurisdiction. Yet, beneath the surface it is about something else - people. It is about the growing list of victims, like Robert Krentz.

For years illegal immigration, especially along the Mexico-United States border, has been a problem. It is nothing new. However, something has changed in recent years providing greater urgency for politicians and regular citizens to speak up and take some risk.

Although most illegal immigrants are peaceful and hardworking there are significant numbers that pose a threat. Reports show how some illegal’s are guilty of a laundry list of crimes including police killings, drug trafficking, human trafficking, rape, kidnapping, auto theft, I.D. theft, many sexual crimes, many types of fraud, home invasions, assaults, and much more. According to some crime statistics, 27% of all federal prisoners are illegal immigrants and many have been arrested at least eight times.

No matter if someone is Democrat or Republican, Mexican citizen or United States citizen or even a legal or illegal immigrant – most reasoning people want the senseless killing to stop, kidnappings to end and others to live without fear in their own home.

When God sent His only Son from heaven to earth He was not concerned about poll numbers, fund raising or voting blocks. There was no sign of self-preservation in His decision. He laid it all on the line when Jesus was born into our world in the little town of Bethlehem. And why did He do it? Why did Jesus leave the glory of heaven and come to live with us? He did it for people, like you and me. Jesus didn’t come to create an organization, build an institution or establish a religion. He came for people. From heaven God looked down and saw the power of sin at work in our world and its destructive force. Out of love for you and me He took action. The Scripture says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). In the midst of this darkness, if people will just turn from their sin and believe in Him with all their heart they will find freedom, peace and a new hope in Christ. Indeed, may you find your hope in Him today.

Monday, July 12, 2010

HOPE FOR TODAY: The Oil Spill - A Lesson in Response

On April 20, an explosion on an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 people, sent the entire structure to the seabed, while triggering a gushing oil spill that has leaked an unbelievable 85 million gallons at the lowest count.

BP, Halliburton, Deepwater Horizon, Mineral Management Service, EPA, House and Senate committees and the White House all made choices over the course of time which unknowingly laid the groundwork for this accident.

There were choices made and now there is a waterfall of response covering everything you can think of all going on simultaneously. No matter if it is an oil spill or something else there are five kinds of responses: Slow, quick, right, wrong or even worse - none. Sometimes the immediate, but always the long-term determines what was or what should have been the best response.

Through this oil spill, we have seen the importance of a wise and quick response when it comes to a high stakes situation. More valuable then saving Gulf Coast jobs and its ecosystem is the saving of your soul and mine. Jesus has come from heaven, split time in half and presented us with a choice that demands a response with high stakes consequences. You have an invisible immortal soul within you. Upon death, you will live on in eternity through that soul. Where will be your final destination – heaven or hell? The destination you end up is determined by how you responded to situations in this life. Have you chosen to live your way or Jesus’ way? Jesus once said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). If you choose the way of Jesus, you choose heaven. What will it be for you? The stakes could not be higher. There must be a response. I urge you to respond wisely and quickly. Through Jesus may you find your hope for today.

Friday, June 4, 2010

HOPE FOR TODAY: How to Live in Turbulent Times

Since January, major earthquakes have hit Haiti, Chile and Argentina taking thousands of lives. England, Germany, the United States and other industrialized nations continue to increase their government debt while posing a threat to the world’s financial markets. Extreme Islamic terrorism which drove the 9/11 attacks, continues as a daily threat in America and across many other nations. War-like tensions continue brewing between Iran and Israel and North and South Korea. Violent crime in metropolitan areas like New York City and Chicago are killing more people then are dying in the war in Afghanistan. Political battles over health care, illegal immigration and the economy are creating nationwide division across the country. The moral fabric of our world continues to decline with people calling right wrong and wrong right.

What’s happening? Where is all this going? How should we live in the midst of all this? Some people may have watched too many movies and are ready to dive into their bunker preparing for the end. For the rest of us, let me provide some suggestions to help us live confidently in turbulent times.

Love others. Overcome the polarizing differences in our world with love. Demonstrate love by praying to God for the people who oppose you. And show love through actions. Do acts of kindness towards your opposition. Defeat evil with good.

Be holy. To be holy means to separate yourself from sinful things. It is like choosing to be honest in a dishonest world or to be sexually pure in a sexually promiscuous world. There seems to be no moral restraint with a tsunami of sinful and wicked behavior touching the entire globe. Go against the current. Be holy.

Humbly submit to one another. Open defiance of authority is everywhere. These attitudes and actions against parents, employers and government only deepen the divide. Only humble and mutual submission towards one another will bridge the divide and allow each other’s voices to be heard.

Live justly. There is much corruption and deceit from Washington to Main Street and even in our own homes. There must be a remnant who will hold up the banner of truth. Sometimes people should be confronted and issues exposed. May we stand for justice in wisdom with gentleness and respect.

Turn to Jesus. Our world needs help. The real and lasting help we need will not come from government, media, education, upright living, time, or good strategies. We need Jesus. He is the way, the truth and the life we desperately need. Our hearts can be troubled when looking at the global landscape. Jesus once said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1). Let us put our trust in Jesus. Only He can give us true and enduring peace in a world filled with worried and anxiety-laden people. May Jesus bring you hope for today.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Commencement Wisdom

This month 3.1 million students are expected to graduate from high school and hundreds of thousands will be receiving their college diploma. The teenagers and twenty-something’s will reach a milestone and have a new beginning for themselves. Here are a few pieces of commencement wisdom I would like to pass along to each graduate.

Rejoice and celebrate your achievement. Years have been invested to get to this point. Do not let it slide by without enjoying the moment. Achieving something is more fun when we celebrate the accomplishment.

Recall the people that helped you make it. No man is an island to himself. Thank your parents for any encouragement they provided and take a moment to understand the emotions they are experiencing, as their little boy or girl from years ago will soon be leaving home. Thank your teachers for their investment. Thank the friends who were always there.

Release the heartache connected with the journey. Your celebration may be bittersweet. Perhaps there is conflict within your family. Maybe you have had a hard time fitting in or you carry a broken heart. Whatever it is, you can choose to hold onto the pain or release it. Vow to let go of the past when you receive that diploma and embrace a new future.

Resolve to never give up. There were challenges in reaching this day and there will be challenges tomorrow. Researchers say that there was 27% of this year’s class that never made it to high school graduation and 44% that never made it to college graduation. You did. You overcame. Accept the fact that you will have obstacles, but resolve to learn from them and never give up.

Remember the Creator. A wise old King once said, “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth” (Ecclesiastes 12:1). It is very easy to forget God or to no longer believe He exists in the days of youth. A sense of adventure, a desire to question, being at the peak of energy and strength, living for the moment and a feeling of independence can all lead there. There are many benefits with youth, but also some drawbacks. In the zeal for life, the tendency to live for self and forget God is a major one. Yet, He has a way of keeping us in-check. God has said there will be a day of reckoning, where we all must stand before Him and give an account for how we have lived.

As you reach this milestone, may you make the most of it by becoming a follower of God’s only Son, Jesus. This is the best way to start this new beginning in your life. Turn from your ways and seek His ways, the One who made you and knows you best. May your Creator bring you hope for today and your future.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Forgiving Others

“I will never forgive him for what he did!” Have you ever said that to yourself about someone who deeply hurt you? Imagine if you are in a relationship and you are cheated on. It would be hard to forgive. Right now, the families of high profile figures like Tiger Woods, Governor Mark Sanford and former Senator John Edwards are walking through this.

When someone you trust lies, physically abuses, verbally intimidates, tricks or uses you – it hurts. It causes emotional injuries that swell up into resentment, anger or bitterness, which all lead to unforgiveness.

What can you do when someone hurts you? 1) Bury it and never talk about it again. 2) Sever the relationship ties through divorce, quitting the job or ignoring the person. 3) Get revenge and make the person pay.

Is there a better way? Yes. Forgiveness. The person who has hurt or injured you emotionally is a “debtor”. They owe you. They owe you an apology, the effort to make things right or just something for the pain they caused. Forgiveness means you choose to “write off” their debt so you are no longer demanding the person apologize, make things right or do something to take away the pain.

Why forgive? First, because it is realistic and pro-active. In real life, the person who hurt you probably will not or simply cannot make things right on your terms. Therefore, forgiveness takes the first step and forgives rather than waits. Second, forgiveness heals. Only forgiveness can heal the resentment, anger or bitterness. It is a self-healing medication that you have the power to give yourself. Otherwise, you will carry the injury for the rest of your life.

The ultimate example on how to forgive is found in God. You and I hurt God through our sins. They were an offense and angered Him. As a result, we became a “debtor” to God. Even so, in an act of amazing grace and mercy, He took initiative to provide a way for our forgiveness. He sent His Son, Jesus, to pay the debt for our sins against Him.

I pray that we can learn from God’s example. As He extended grace and mercy to us who offended Him, may we extend the same towards those who have offended us. Jesus said, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matthew 6:14). In Him may you find hope for today.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Victory though Defeat

College basketball fans live for “March Madness”. It is about this time a particular name is remembered each year – Coach John Wooden, the legendary coach of the UCLA Bruins.

He is remembered for the coaching success at UCLA, that most sports historians say will never be matched or likely even rivaled. It is a voluminous set of records. The ones most well known are the ten NCAA national championships in 12 years, 88 consecutive wins over four seasons and 19 conference championships.

Many fans of Coach Wooden, 99 years old, would say he has been a winner throughout his entire life. As a player, he won championships in high school and college. As a coach, he had an 81% winning percentage covering 40 years of coaching along with the UCLA championships.

When you look beneath the surface of Coach Wooden’s resume, you can see he was not always a winner. He has known defeat. During the state title game of 1927 for Martinsville (Indiana) High School, he missed a key shot and lost the championship. Wooden says, “Losing that game was the most disappointing thing that happened to me as a player.” He started coaching in 1932 at Dayton (Kentucky) High School. His first season was six wins and 11 losses. It took him 28 years of coaching through the high school and college ranks before he won his first title. Then at UCLA in 1964, he finally captured his first of many national championships.

Victory often requires that we first walk through the doors of defeat. Then we find that which appeared to bring defeat actually launched us through the doors of victory.

Centuries ago, Jesus faced a torturous crucifixion upon a wooden cross. Political leaders, religious leaders, His disciples, family and friends thought He had been defeated. Jesus faced the cross and those around Him with perspective and resolve. When He died, it was a long, dark day. The sense of defeat was all around.

Then Sunday came. After three days, His tombstone was rolled away and He came out – alive! Angels told those who came to His grave mourning His death, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen” (Luke 24:6). Out of defeat came victory. The cross, which looked like it was going to be a symbol of defeat, three days later, became the greatest symbol of victory the world has ever known.

What has defeated you? Bring it to the cross of Christ. Lay your sin, pain and failures before Him in faith. Through Christ, find victory in your defeats. May that be your hope for today.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Haiti: God Is There

Jean, 13, was having fun kicking his soccer ball around when it turned into a nightmare. Suddenly the ground began moving underneath his feet and buildings started collapsing, including his home where his parents and five sisters were. The Haiti earthquake on January 12 took the lives of Jean’s family, making him an instant orphan.

Before the earthquake, Haiti’s population was 10 million with 46% under 18 years old. Out of that number, the United Nation’s reported there were 380,000 orphans. Following the earthquake, Jean and thousands more children have now dramatically increased the Haitian orphan population.

Nearly every year since 2000, there have been terrible floods or hurricanes that took thousands of lives, including large swaths of parents. For years, through natural disasters and many other causes orphan numbers have been growing.

In the midst of this orphan crisis, there is hope. According to the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, there are 187 licensed orphanages in Haiti that are caring for thousands of children. Many of these are operated by Christian missionaries, who have been transformed by the love of God and are compelled to go and demonstrate the same love they have been shown. These orphanages not only provide onsite care but work to find loving families who will adopt children. Immediately following the earthquake, the State Department said 300 American families were waiting to adopt a Haitian child.

The staff at these orphanages and adoptive families are being “God with skin on”. Rather then standing at a distance, separating themselves from the hurt, injustice and potential danger, they voluntarily run right into it.

Where was God during the earthquake? He was there. He was there long before and still is. One place you can see Him are the orphanages, each worker being His hands and feet.

Maybe you have had an earthquake in your life. Through a series of bad choices, your world has come crumbling down around you. Now, even in a sea of people and activities you feel lost and alone.

God, through His Son, Jesus Christ, and some people He may have placed in your life, comes and calls you by name. He is not standing at a distance. He is close, patiently and compassionately waiting, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way . . . for [God] will abundantly pardon.” (The Bible, Isaiah 55:6-7, ESV)

The God of heaven, who created you and me, is calling. When you place your total trust in Him, you are instantly adopted and welcomed into His family, the family of God. He becomes your Father and those who follow Him become your brothers and sisters. Come into the family of God and find your hope for today.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Choosing Hope

Jill, a high school senior, took the emotional wrenching drive to the clinic. Nervously she sat, seeming unsure of herself. It felt like there was no other way to handle her unplanned pregnancy. There she was, all alone, in front of the abortion clinic. Where is the hope for her?

There are many who can identify with Jill. A college girl and boyfriend who are not ready for the challenges of parenthood. A pregnant single mom who cannot afford a fourth child. A couple who knows the baby they are carrying will be born with a disability.

Hope is that inward thing you need when you feel like you have no control over your circumstances. It is that desire which swells up and challenges you to believe that there is someone or something greater to live for then what you see around you.

If you are facing an abortion or know someone who is, there is a better way. Choose hope.

First, choose hope for your baby. It is not just a fetus. Any ultrasound or a simple hand on the belly will prove this. It is a baby. Let your mind dream of what your baby could become beyond the limits of money, health and other circumstances. Imagine. Dream great dreams for him or her.

Second, choose hope for yourself. Aborting your baby will smash your hope and etch a tragic memory you will never forget. Let this baby be a new beginning, like the start of a new year. Decide to accept this child and determine to be the very best father or mother your baby could ever have or, answer the wish of another couple. Maybe there is a loving family who would welcome your baby through adoption.

Third, choose hope through forgiveness. To abort or encourage someone to abort a living, breathing baby inside the womb is a sin in God’s sight. He calls it murder. The guilt from such an act weights heavy on a person. What can someone do to be relieved of the guilt and have hope restored?

Centuries ago, Jesus provided a way for total forgiveness of your sin. Through His life, He atoned for it. That means He covered your sin and took it away so He could have a relationship with you. The atoning work of Jesus is waiting for you. If you confess your sin to Him right now, He stands ready to forgive. God says, “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities (sins), and I will remember their sins no more” (The Bible, Hebrews 8:12, ESV). Imagine the hope that Jesus can bring by having your guilt finally lifted. The peace! The joy! May Jesus be your hope for today.