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.       

Monday, August 4, 2014

Gays & Evangelicals

Almost weekly news stories appear promoting gay rights.  Currently 19 states have legalized same sex marriage while 31 states have traditional marriage laws on the books.  Additionally, President Obama has issued various executive orders furthering the equality of gays.  All this has made the gay issue a topic for public discussion.  It is not just a religious, political or social issue anymore.  It is regularly in the news and impacting many Americans on some level. 

The issue is dividing America pitting citizen against citizen.  My hope is that passionate supporters of gay rights could listen to their opponents without anger and that passionate supporters of Judeo-Christian values could listen to their opponents in the same way.     

When I step back and frame the debate in my mind I see how gays want to be acknowledged, respected and treated like everyone else.  To achieve that they feel it is necessary to push for legislative action, policy changes in business and public awareness-type initiatives.  On the other side, evangelical Christians have a traditional belief in marriage that goes back thousands of years and that homosexuality is a sin against God.  Consequently, they feel a deep conviction to stand for godly morals and against advocacy of the gay lifestyle.     

Common sense tells me there is going to be much more action taken on these issues creating more and more division.  Here is a tough question – how can gays and Christians peacefully co-exist?  The question itself is divisive because some gays believe a person can practice homosexuality and be a Christian, while evangelicals do not.  Thus my point, living peacefully will be a challenge but I believe it is possible.  Attitude is the determining factor. 

Jesus’ example and words show how it is possible.  He said, “Love your enemies, and do good . . .  expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great” (Luke 6:35).  Love does not mean approval or agreement with your opponents.  Rather, it speaks of showing kindness and compassion in the face of differences.  Jesus was strongly opposed (and eventually crucified) for His teachings and miracles.  Yet with an attitude of grace, He spoke the truth and did good for His opposition. 

This type of an attitude does not come naturally.  Our normal response is to dig in and shun or lash out.  It requires the Spirit of Jesus to create the same type of a heart that He had.  We need His help.  Let us call upon Him that He will change us.  May Jesus be our hope for today and bring peace in the face of division.          

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

America's Future

When the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776, our forefathers built their hopes of the nation’s survival on some important principles.  John Witherspoon, one of the Declaration signers wrote, “Nothing is more certain than that a . . . corruption of manners make a people ripe for destruction.”  This is the principle of a Civil Society.  Witherspoon and other founders repeated this idea believing if America did not upkeep its civility it would become its greatest downfall.           

Would Franklin, Hancock and Adams be encouraged at the state of our union today?  According to a USA Today poll from several years ago 68% of readers thought people were more rude today then 20 to 30 years ago.     

Manners, etiquette, politeness all speak of civility.  Sandra Morisset, a professional etiquette trainer, gave ABC news an insight on a civil society saying “It's all about your self-awareness and treating others with respect. If you're not aware of your behavior, that's a problem."  I agree.  Many Americans seem to practice self-realization throwing off any concerns about “what people may think” and just “being themselves”.  Yes, we should be ourselves but not to the extent we become careless in our attitude and lifestyle to those around us.  Crime, political corruption, declining business ethics, family conflicts, broken friendships and church divisions all have their root in a lack of civility.  Since our founding we have advanced economically, educationally and technologically but plummeted in our manners. 

What did our founders believe was the foundation for a civil society?  God.  They believed if Americans chose to worship and follow Him it would lead us to become moral citizens and assure a civil society.  However, if future generations turned from God they warned that immoral behavior would rise and anarchy fill our streets.   

Jesus said, “I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).  Jesus suffered, died and rose again centuries ago that we might be made into a new person.  If we believe in Him with all our being He will give us a new heart and mind.  When that happens everything changes.  We become a new person laying down our lives in love and service to others for the glory of God.  Imagine waves of people in city after city being born again and putting the concerns of others above themselves.  This is the answer for America’s future.  May Jesus be your hope for today and the next generation.            

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Why Forgive?

I will never forgive him for what he did!” Have you ever said that to yourself about someone who deeply hurt you?    

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 have rooms at Hotel Unforgiveness.  Margaret Stunt once said that “unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.” 

What are the options we have when someone has hurt us?  Should we just bury it, sever the relationship or plot some type of nasty revenge?  I believe there is a better way - forgiveness. When someone has hurt or injured us emotionally they instantly become a “debtor” to us and do not even know it. This means they owe us. They owe an apology, the effort to make things right or just something for the pain they have caused.

Here is the real challenge of forgiveness.  If we choose to forgive someone that means we choose to “write off” their debt.  We no longer demand they fix what we believe they broke.  Instead, we set the person free. 

Why should we forgive? First, because it is realistic and pro-active. In real life, the person who hurt us probably will not or simply cannot make things right on our terms. Therefore, forgiveness takes the first step, releasing the person, rather than waiting year after year. Second, forgiveness heals. It heals the resentment, anger or bitterness that surfaced in our hearts. It is a self-healing medication that we have the ability to administer our self. Otherwise, we will carry the injury for the rest of our 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.

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 Jesus, may you find forgiveness for others and hope for today.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

America’s Defense

The United States was born in 1776. Since then America has been involved in over 40 wars and other military operations from the American Revolution, Iraq and Afghanistan wars to lesser known operations like the Banana Wars and Utah War. Over 1.3 million U.S. soldiers have died through all these engagements.

The brutality of war is seen at Arlington National Cemetery and other military cemeteries. If Americans explore their family linage they will likely discover relatives who died while taking up arms in defense of our country. In the midst of these cemeteries we might ask, "How can our nation truly be protected? When war takes life after life, who is left to defend when all is gone?"

America has always had two lines of defense. Our heroic soldiers and Almighty God. Our first President, George Washington, was also General Washington who led our nation’s first army in the Revolutionary War. In a letter he once wrote, "By the all-powerful dispensations of Providence, I have been protected beyond all human probability and expectation; for I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under me, yet escaped unhurt, altho' death was leveling my companions on every side." Washington knew if America was to succeed it required skilled soldiers and a military that trusted in God’s divine protection. He was so committed to this he took steps to create a military chaplaincy so America’s soldiers would walk in a manner worthy of God’s protection.

Centuries before Washington there was another great military leader who rose to lead his nation, King David. He also sought not just the skill of a soldier and effective weapons but of God Himself. He once said, "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright. O Lord, save the king! (Psalm 20:7, 9).

Our history is rich, lined with stories about the providence of God in battle. What will our future look like? Is God’s protection always guaranteed? He is not beholden to one race, ethnic group, nation or tribe. Therefore, may our nation’s leaders and military personnel be a people who are worthy of God’s guidance and divine protection. May Jesus be our nation’s hope for today and generations to come.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

World History's Two Greatest Events

The Gutenberg Printing Press was invented around 1440 having a huge impact on learning, communications and much more worldwide.  The United States Constitution was adopted September 17, 1787, establishing a new form of government the world had never witnessed before.  These are two significant events in world history, but are they the greatest?  Here are my top two:  1) The incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth.  2) The resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  Let me explain.

The incarnation of Jesus occurred about 5 B.C.  The world still celebrates this annually through the Christmas holiday.  We remember how Jesus left heaven and came to earth in the form of a baby.  We remember the day when God clothed Himself in human flesh becoming like one of us.  It is the recognition of Jesus as fully God and fully man and the declaration of Jesus’ Deity.

The resurrection of Jesus occurred about A.D. 33.  The world still celebrates this annually through the Easter holiday.  We remember when Jesus suffered, died by crucifixion, was buried and after three days rose again and is still alive 2,000 years later.  Most importantly, it is the confirmation of Jesus’ Deity. 

Why are these two historic events the greatest?  Because they declared to the world in Jesus’ own words, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), which has become a beacon of hope for mankind across all culture and time.

Jesus’ Deity and proof of it declared He is the way.  All mankind is searching to worship something in an attempt to navigate through this world.  Jesus proved He is worthy of our worship.   

Jesus’ Deity and proof of it declared He is the truth.  All of us long for the truth, to know what is right and wrong and how to live a life free from guilt and shame.  Jesus proved He is the standard for truth balancing the scales of justice and raising the flag of morality in an evil world. 

Jesus’ Deity and proof of it declared He is the life.  All of us want the intangible things that money, power, success and possessions can never buy – life, real life.  Jesus proved He is the source and giver of real and lasting life. 

Experience history’s two greatest events.  Make them yours by trusting in Jesus to change you into a new person by simply calling upon Him in faith.  May Christ be your hope for today.  


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Remembering St. Patrick

If you are like me St. Patrick’s Day might be about watching a parade, wearing green or for some, having a few drinks at the pub.

It is part of human nature to forget all-together or do a little historic revisionism as time passes for significant events. You know, every year the fish story becomes more amazing. This is the case with St. Patrick’s Day. It was meant to honor Patrick and the incredible legacy he left, not just to celebrate Irish heritage.

Patrick was born British and lived 385-461. His parents were very religious, but he wanted nothing to do with their faith. As a teenager his life dramatically changed when an Irish mob abducted and sold him into slave labor in Ireland. For six years he served as a shepherd watching over his master’s sheep. During those years of quiet suffering he came to know the God of His parents. Eventually, he was led by God to escape slavery in miraculous fashion. He made his way back home to Britain. There Patrick prepared for a career in ministry. In time, he was convicted by God that he must return to the land of his slavery and spread the good news of Christ. He boarded a boat that took him to the shores of Ireland for a second time, this time of his own choosing. The day he stepped onto Irish shores began 29 years of a legendary mission.

Ireland in Patrick’s day was an evil and dangerous place. Knowing this in advance, Patrick recounted in his writings, The Confession saying, "I am ready to be murdered, betrayed, enslaved -- whatever may come my way." It was an epic battle of light versus darkness which made for mythical type stories that followed Patrick’s work. Upon his death in 461 light had won the battle setting a new course for the Irish. God used Patrick to see over 120,000 people baptized and 300 churches planted.

St. Patrick’s Day is about remembering two things. 1 – Remember what God can do through someone who is wholly surrendered to Him. 2 – Remember how God loved Patrick enough to rescue him from slavery and how He loved the Irish enough to send Patrick with His good news.

Remember the real Patrick and the good news which changed a nation. "Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation" (Mark 16:15). Like Patrick, may Jesus be your hope for today.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Path to Eternal Citizenship

My last name has German roots and I have been told in Germany "Decker" is common as Miller or Smith in the United States. And my mother’s maiden name is Broman, which has roots in Finland and Switzerland. I believe my family immigrated to the United States through Ellis Island sometime in the early 1900’s. Immigration statistics began in 1820, in that year 8,385 people started a new life in America. Then in 2012, 192 years later, 1,031,631 people were granted permanent residence in the U.S.

Millions upon millions have crossed our nation’s boarders and gone through a process to be declared a United States citizen with all its rights and privileges. Then immigrants have the door of opportunity thrown wide open to pursue their turn at the American Dream.   

When my family came to America nearly two centuries ago they received America’s extended hand of compassion welcoming them. At the same time, those who came outside the designated path of citizenship received its justice. According to the Department of Homeland Security, in 1892, when they started tracking deportations, 2,801 people were sent back to their home country and in 2012 the number was 409,489.

God through Jesus Christ extends His compassion inviting us to receive His gift of eternal life and come to His home in heaven. Just as immigrants to America are not born U.S. citizens, so none of us are born heaven’s citizens. Rather, we all must walk through God’s path to eternal citizenship.

Some may try to come to outside of God’s plan. They may think by giving of their time and money to those in need or by church attendance and service they can assure themselves a spot in God’s glorious kingdom. Yet, Jesus says there is only one-way into His kingdom declaring, "I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6). Not following God’s path assures us we will meet His hand of His justice being denied entry to His heaven and separated from Him forever in hell – the eternal dwelling for the lawless.

God has laid out a plan for citizenship in His celestial kingdom. Out of His compassion, He extends an invitation, inviting you to turn from your sinful deeds and to Christ. By faith receive His hope for you today


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A New Start

As a sunrise means the start of a new day, so January means the start of a new year.  Our world is filled with examples of new starts.  The toss of a coin on a football field is the start of a new game, the exchange of vows in a wedding ceremony is the start of a new life-long relationship and the first day on a job is the start of new opportunities.  Examples of new starts are all around us.  They can teach us a few things.

First, they teach us about perseverance. Life can make us weary. It can make us feel like giving up and saying to ourselves, "I can’t do this anymore." However, January can be a new start. Will you give up or accept that last year is gone and renew your commitment to give your best and keep pressing onward?

Second, a new start teaches us about opportunity. January shouts saying, "Hey, it is a new year what are you going to do with it?" We may have opportunities to begin a new career, help someone who is in need, or fulfill a lifelong dream. Will we allow them to come and go or will we rise up, seize these opportunities and do our best with the chances we have been given?

Third, a new start teaches us about the grace of God. As New Year’s Day symbolizes the occasion to commence a better year, so the grace of God is the chance to inaugurate the start of a new and redeemed life.

As we have done nothing to cause the rising of the morning sun, so we have done nothing to earn this grace of God and the redemption it provides. What is this amazing grace? It is an expression of God’s love shown through the death and resurrection of His Son whom provided the forgiveness of sins our hearts desperately need.

The Scriptures say, "Let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16).Today, draw near to God and seek His grace that His love may wash you clean and place within you a new heart and mind. Indeed, may His love be your hope for today and this new year.