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Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Is Life Worth Living?

Clay Center, Kansas –The fall of 1993 was one of the most difficult periods of my life. 

I was a sophomore at a Christian college, studying for a career in ministry.  I went through a valley that seemed to get deeper and darker as the weeks passed.  The semester began with taking a Greek class, only to drop it after failing multiple exams.  In relationships, I went through two break ups back to back.  I also battled a strenuous relationship with my dad.  In ministry, I felt like a failure as a young preacher and doubted my call as an evangelist.  Consequently, with short notice, I canceled being the guest speaker at a week-long revival.  Additionally, I resigned from leading a campus ministry.  I turned inward, pulling away from people and activities into my own dark world. 

One night, as I was lying on the bed in my dorm, I stared up at the ceiling with my mind racing.  “How can I make it through this?  What’s happening to me?”  Thoughts of leaving school, the call to ministry and ending my life even flashed across my mind.  Have you been there or know someone who is? 

“Is my life worth living?”  That is a question that can surface in times like this. 

Your parents came together and you were born, but behind them is your ultimate Creator.  It is said about Him, “God created man in his image.  Male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).  And when He made your life, He did so with value and purpose. 

In one of the Ten Commandments God said, “Do not murder.”  He said that because He values human life.  Only humans were uniquely made in His image.  As a result, He does not want you or someone else ending your life.  And when He made you, He did so with purpose and meaning. 

About all humanity, it is written, “. . . they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him.  Yet, he is actually not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27).  You may feel alone, yet the God who made you is closer than you think. 

I ended up making it out of my dark valley through the help of encouraging people, God’s invisible sustaining hand, and the truth of His Word, the Bible. 

It was not easy reading or listening to the Scriptures, because they pointed out the problems that were causing my problems.  Ouch!  There is a reason you do not think life is worth living, so it is important to face the unvarnished truth, through the searchlight of God’s Word. 

Take your eyes off yourself and away from your despair.  Lift them toward God’s Son, Jesus.  For He came from heaven to earth, to die on a cross and rise again--for you.

A prayer for you to pray–“Lord God, I wrestle with the thoughts of wondering if my life is worth living.  I turn toward you, my Creator.  Show me my purpose.  I accept that I cannot do this anymore on my own.  I turn from the wrong things I have done and call out to you for help.  In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Even The Devil Believes in God

“I believe in God.”  I have heard the statement many times in my years as a minister in rural communities across the Great Plains.  The regular at the local bar, the businessman, the county jail inmate, the greeter at the church, and the friendly neighbor across the street all have said they believe in God and are doing fine.   

Additionally, nearly every person I have talked with has heard of Jesus, God, the Bible and are familiar with many Christian terms and concepts.   Some regularly attend church while others only went as children.  Others have gone just for funerals or weddings and a few have never been.  And though many are not familiar with traditional Bible stories, the majority have heard or read at least portions of the Bible. 

If so many people believe in God, then why are our communities so filled with abuse and immorality?  Should not this belief make a difference? 

Perhaps there is a misunderstanding about what belief in God means.  Maybe people think they believe, but in truth, they do not.  

The Bible is the original source for understanding the whole idea of belief in God.  A casual reading of the Bible on this can be a little confusing.  On one hand the Scripture says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved . . .” (Acts 16:31).  While on the other hand, it says, “You believe that God is one; you do well.  Even the demons believe—and shudder” (James 2:19).  The Devil believes in God like everyone else?  What is wrong with this picture?  It all comes down to understanding what belief means, not according to our opinions, but according to God’s Word. 

If you study the Bible on the subject you will see five truths.  1)  Believing in God is synonymous with belief in Jesus.  Since Jesus is God’s Son, to refuse to believe in Him is an empty belief.  2)  Believing in God is an acknowledgement of Jesus.  It means you acknowledge His deity, virgin birth, death and resurrection.  3)  Believing in God is to trust in Jesus.  It means you are willing to entrust your whole life into His care and submit to His leadership.  4)  Believing in God is to follow Jesus.  It means you are willing to do what Jesus and the Word of God says, no matter the cost—even unto death.  5)  Believing in God is union with Jesus.  It means Christ is in you and you are in Him. 

The belief the Devil has is knowledge-based and does not proceed to trust, following or union with Christ.  The Devil’s belief does not lead to a changed life.    

However, a whole-hearted, biblical belief in God through Christ shows itself in a spiritual and moral transformation.  The old has gone, the new has come.  You do not have to tell someone you believe in God, they can see it.
 
I urge you to embrace full-on, radical belief in Christ.  Go beyond superficial words and the mere window dressings of religion, like Jesus did, when He went to the cross and shed His blood for you.  He counted the cost and laid His life down.  Do the same.  Count the cost and believe in Him with all your heart.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Turning The Tide on American Violence

Are you becoming increasingly concerned about your child’s safety at school?  Has your church begun discussions on providing security during worship services?  Have you had some uneasiness while at public gatherings, wondering if some incident might take place?  Unfortunately, this is where we are in American life right now.  More and more people are having these concerns and rightly so when you see the news. 

Our society is becoming more dangerous and I am not the first to ask, “What is the solution?”  Let us start with identifying the problem.  The epidemic of violence is highlighted by cold blooded murders in our schools and inner cities.  And it also involves the brutality of physical and sexual assaults in homes, on the streets, on campuses and in workplaces.

There is a place for new legislation, better enforcement of existing laws, awareness campaigns and task forces.  But they all have limits.  They can help restrain violence and provide all kinds of data and resources for combating it.  However, none of it goes to the source. 

What is the ultimate problem?  The human heart.  The Scriptures say, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”  (Jeremiah 17:9)  It is where a person’s values, beliefs and standards lay.  This is what gives them the justification to terrorize.  It is where they become a god unto themselves and exert power over others to destroy.

Only the presence of God in a human heart can give what our society is calling for.  But ironically, that is missing from the public debate.  America has a chronic heart condition, and the more we stray from God, the more violent our nation will become.  It is truth and consequence.

To end the violence in our streets requires humbling ourselves before God and asking for His help.  We have tried it our way.  Now let us try it His way. 

Our world has never seen the horror of violence more than in the death of Jesus of Nazareth.  It was brutal.  Yet, through it, a morally perfect man, took on Himself the evil that existed in every human heart.  He bore the sheer depravity of all mankind.  And when He rose again from the dead, He overcame the darkness.  Through it He became what every heart, every city longs for – peace.  Jesus Himself became our peace.  In Him, a person of brutality can become one of tenderness.  In Him, a monster can be changed into a beautiful and precious child of God. 
 
A prayer for you to pray–Lord God, search my own heart.  Let the change in my city begin with me.  Point out if I have hurt people physically or with my words.  I am sorry Lord for how I have treated others.  Rid the evil within me.  Forgive me for what I have done.  Make me into a kind and loving person by your power.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Why We Desperately Need Easter

If you take a few minutes and read over any local or national news, you will find bothersome stories.  Like officials in a well-known college basketball program using prostitutes and strippers to recruit top players.  Like some merciless girls and boys that taunted a young man, which lead to his suicide.  Like a teenager walking into a school and drawing his weapon to slaughter 17 people.

The problem in each of these stories was a moral one.  Wrong was right and right was wrong.  And collectively, they reflect a moral crisis in our nation.  This is why we need Easter.  It projects a sign of hope that stands above the chaos.  The sign of the cross.  It is where Jesus, the Son of God, suffered and died. 

The hope of the cross lay in the purpose of Jesus’ death.  Strangely as it may sound, it was planned. 

At Jesus’ birth an angel announced to Shepherds in a field, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).  A Savior?  Yes!  Save means “to rescue”.  Rescue from what?  Sin.  It is the wrong things we do against ourselves, others, but primarily against God our Creator.  And it lives within our hearts.  Sin is displayed at every lie we tell or feeling of pride that squares our shoulders.  It is our inner moral rot, like a cancer that slowly destroys us. 

Jesus was born to rescue us from this.  His planned suffering and death, was the only means through which we could be rescued, and it was an ugly experience.  The corruption by religious and political figures that sentenced Jesus to death was ugly.  The tearing apart of Jesus’ flesh was bloody and ugly.  Jesus being hung on two pieces of wood by being nailed to it through his hands and feet, was inhumane and ugly.  The gruesomeness of the cross, illustrates the severity of our wrongs.  In the courtroom of God, our failings required the penalty of spiritual and eternal death.  However, in the greatest display of sacrificial love, Jesus suffered and died in our place.  He took our sin and penalty upon Himself, so we wouldn’t have to. 

That is the hope of Easter.  Through the cross, a hard-hearted man can become loving and forgiving.  Through the cross, a bitter woman can become kind and compassionate.  Through the cross, a divided nation can become one.   

And what guarantees these things?  The resurrection of Jesus.  Three days after He died, He rose again.  Therefore, because He lives, so-can-YOU.  His victory can be yours. 

A prayer for you to pray –  God in heaven, I can see the darkness of my heart.  I do not have it all together.  I am broken.  I need the work of the cross in my life.  Oh God, save me!  Rescue me!  Give me a new heart and a new life today.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.