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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.”

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Freedom from Alcohol

In the rural ministry God has given, I see the negative effects of alcohol on a regular basis.  Most of the time people deny they have a drinking problem while it’s clear to everyone else, or they admit they have a problem, but are not willing to get help. 

The millions who drink are part of a long and storied history dating back over 3,000 years to a man named Noah.  History records him as being the first person to plant a vineyard, make his own wine and booze it up until he became humanity’s first drunk.    

The biblical story recounts Noah as drinking alone in his tent, where the alcohol overtook him, then he disrobed and passed out on the floor without a stitch of clothes on.  The incident caused embarrassment and division within the family. 

Let me point out, this was Noah, the one whom God chose to be His voice to the world during the 40-day global flood.  He was the one about which the Bible says, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless . . . Noah walked with God.”  (Genesis 6:9)

It does not matter if you are a well-respected clergyman, are in constant trouble with the law or somewhere in between, anyone can fall prey to the temptation of the bottle.

I firmly believe no one takes the first drink with the intention to do something embarrassing or harmful.  Instead their reasoning may be, “It goes good with my meal,” “I like the taste,” “I just want to have some fun with a few friends,” or “It’s been a stressful day and I just want to relax.”  Then one drink, turns into two, three and soon they are feeling tipsy, buzzed, and then drunk. 

God says about alcohol, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.”  (Proverbs 20:1)

Have you ever been a little woozy or totally drunk more than once or many times?  Are you able to go a day, week or month without a drink and have no physical symptoms?  After drinking have you ever quietly passed out like Noah, or became loud, obnoxious and abusive around others?

I urge you to please stop.  The practice of drunkenness is condemned by God.  According to Him, drunkenness is when alcohol hits the blood stream and it begins to intoxicate you, affecting your mind and body.  God’s view of drunkenness is much different than ours. 

You do not have to be a slave to the bottle.  You can be free, and freedom begins with Jesus.  He died and rose again that through Him you might overcome.  If you need help, contact me and I can point you to some resources, but the place to start is with Jesus. 

A prayer for you to pray– Lord God, I confess that I have let alcohol affect me.  I have allowed myself to become drunk and disobeyed your Word.  Forgive me.  I also confess I am a slave to alcohol.  Thank you for opening my eyes to this.  I cannot end it on my own.  I need your help.  Come and rescue me from this sin that is controlling my life.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.”