Monday, December 12, 2011

HOPE FOR TODAY: The Story of Christmas

Good overcomes evil. Right triumphs over wrong. Justice prevails over injustice. Most films and theater productions have that heroic climax. Writers weave it skillfully into their work and audiences love it. There must be something in the fabric of our being that longs for what is good, right and just to be victorious in our own life and world. I believe the Christmas story embodies that.

The ancient, but true, story takes place in a small Israeli town. One starlit night the world was forever changed when the face of evil met its arch enemy. The Baby Jesus. He was not just any child. A series of miraculous events surrounded His birth. Before His conception, an angelic being appeared to His mother saying, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:31-32). There were many such messages. They continually pointed out this Child would rise one day to become a great King and Deliverer. It all seemed a bit strange, but the news brought glimmers of hope to a world imprisoned in darkness.
Was this Child a mere mortal like you and me? On the outside He looked like one of us, but on the inside He was much more. The seed of Baby Jesus was literally sent from heaven. His seed was placed in the womb of His mother, Mary, by God’s Spirit. She was a virgin having never been with a man before. It was the miracle of all miracles. This seed of Jesus was divine. He was the very image and nature of the God who ruled the universe in heaven.

What a story! God left His throne, with all its splendor, and took on the form of a common human being. He became one of us, coming to deliver us and the world from sin. He came to establish a new kingdom on earth over which one day He will rule. That day all evil, wrong and injustice will be destroyed.

The theme of the Christmas story is hope. No matter what your world is like at present, may Jesus be your hope for today.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

HOPE FOR TODAY: The Year of Protests

“It appears that 2011 is the year of the protest – both foreign and domestic”, according to Julia Edwards from the National Journal. I agree. The Arab Spring and Union uprisings are the face of many. The United States has seen hundreds of thousands protest across the country including the states of New York, Ohio and Wisconsin. Across the globe we have seen protests in countries throughout the Middle East and in Europe.

Each of these uprisings swells from a deep divide protestors have with their opponents. Differences have moved beyond discussion to all-out public opposition. The protestors feel their cause and actions are justified in order to give voice to the evil they see. Is public opposition like this the only answer to the evil and injustice we see in our world? I believe there is a better way.

Centuries ago Jesus rose up among His countrymen with great prominence. Thousands followed Him. Many had hopes He would be their national savior and overthrow the evil Roman Empire.

How did Jesus handle the pressure to use His influence to lead a rebellion? He told His followers “the Son of Man (Himself) must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:22). Jesus’ intent was never to topple a government or fight against a corrupt system. When His ministry began He said, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). Clearly, Jesus lived for something beyond this world. He was not given to the lure of money and power nor did He cower in fear of others. He was courageous, but His fight was against the very seed of injustice. He fought against the powers of sin, death, the devil and pride in the human heart. He did not come to take up a battle against government and religious leaders. Rather, it was to lay His life down that others might be saved from their sin and live to the glory of His Father in heaven.

Rather than rising up against people and institutions may we rise up against the power of sin in the human heart. Let us bow before God and pray for our enemies before we rise up and demonstrate before them. Let us give voice to the good news of Christ before we give voice to our grievances. May Jesus be our hope for today.

Monday, October 17, 2011

HOPE FOR TODAY: The Wrath of God

Our American culture encourages one another to accept a diverse range of beliefs and lifestyles. This tolerance in our houses of worship and on the streets of our cities has failed miserably. It has bred an unaccountable culture.

How will such a society respond to the wrath of God? There are literally hundreds of verses from the Bible that speak directly about this from both the Old and New Testaments. One passage says “whoever does not obey the Son [Jesus] shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36).

What does the wrath of God mean? Theological scholar, Dr. Leon Morris, writes that it is the “active opposition of God’s holy nature to everything that is evil.” What is evil? It lives in the heart of all mankind and it is every thought, word or deed that violates the glory, honor and holiness of God. In simple terms the wrath of God is His anger against our sin.

No matter how we feel about something is not important, it is how God sees it. If we are engaged in behavior that violates the holiness or justice of God we ought to tremble. God is invisible, is everywhere, reads our thoughts, can control the weather, dispatches unseen forces, can alter the course of daily events and possess the power over life and death. What is the ultimate expression of the wrath of this God? Hell. Hell is the full manifestation of His wrath for an eternity. Truly, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).

What shall we do? One thing - call out for the mercy of God. What can save us from God’s wrath? Jesus. Have you ever heard of the term “Jesus saves”? What does He save from? A follower of Jesus once wrote, that we “shall be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:9). When we admit our sin then desperately appeal to the mercy God in Christ then we can be covered and ultimately saved from God’s wrath.

Individually and as a country may we flee from our sin. May we be rescued from the coming wrath of God before it is too late. May we turn to the love of God in Christ and receive Him as our hope for today.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

HOPE FOR TODAY: In Money Do We Trust

What is the root of the economic mess plaguing our country? Everyone seems to have an answer. The political talking heads says it’s the fault of President Barack Obama or President George W. Bush, the Democrats or the Republicans, or Wall Street executives. The economists say it’s due to the fallout of the mortgage crisis, high oil and gas prices, or the increasing trade deficit. The man-on-the-street points toward a growing national debt and says, “We need to reduce our debt and get our spending under control.”

The Great American Experiment is now 230 years old. We have gone from 13 colonies to 50 states and from millions to trillions in national wealth. No doubt about it, the hand of God’s blessing has been on our country. Yet, what have we done with His blessings?

Our government, along with local businesses, families and churches across the country have managed to take the bounty of God and squander it in prodigal-son-fashion. Instead of being stewards, we have become owners. Instead of being thankful we have demanded more. Instead of managing wisely, we have spent and financed foolishly.

Our money is imprinted with the national motto “In God we trust”. Maybe we ought to change that to “In Money We Trust”. We believe that with enough money we can solve our government’s problems, build a larger congregation, have a happier home, or grow a more profitable business. Really? What about the God factor? A wise King once wrote, “Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous [those who trust in God] will flourish like a green leaf” (Proverbs 11:28). Notice, it’s not the possessing of, but trusting in riches that predicts the downfall of people and nations.

Maybe God is strategically working through this financial crisis to humble us so we will turn from trusting in paper and ink and turn to the fortress of Almighty God. May we recognize the error of our ways and receive His gracious healing on our land that is so desperately needed. May He alone be our hope for today.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

HOPE FOR TODAY: The Sex Nation

I was a late bloomer in getting married. It was not until 32 years old that I walked down the aisle with the woman of my dreams. In high school I began a list of what I wanted in the one I was to marry. One thing was a woman who dressed modestly. God answered that. He gave me a woman who was modest and absolutely beautiful too.

Today, modesty seems like a foreign word in our sex-obsessed nation. Purity, innocence and respect seem out of date too. Where are the modern ladies and gentlemen that have a sense of self-respect and are respectful to each other? Our nation is crumbling from within as we selfishly feed our passions. In government, the church and home it has brought disgrace and ruined marriages and families.

We were born with these sexual desires. Our Creator gave them to us. However, they were meant to be fulfilled strictly within the boundaries of marriage. For centuries men and women have continually rebelled against this protective barrier to their own peril, pursuing all forms of sexual gratification. This has tested God’s patience. The Scripture says, “Therefore, God gave them up in the lusts of their heart to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves” (Romans 1:24).

Since our society is so accepting and saturated with the influence of sex how can we live differently? Through the holiness of God. In the entire universe, He is the only being who is absolutely pure. There is no spot of sin, evil or any form of immorality within Him. When we turn to Jesus through faith and in repentance of our sin, an incredible thing happens. God through His Spirit pours His holiness into us. We become holy as He is holy and receive the power to walk in it day by day.

The love, mercy and holiness of God give us a second chance. We can come to Him individually or collectively as a nation. Then if we turn from our immorality and seek Him for His cleansing we will be given a chance to start over again. Even if we have sacrificed our innocence on the altar of impulse there is still hope. By faith, may we receive that hope for today.

Monday, July 11, 2011

HOPE FOR TODAY: Redefining the American Spirit

President Abraham Lincoln with congressional approval signed a proclamation calling for a national observance of “public humiliation, prayer and fasting” held in September 1861. Months earlier the Union troops came under fire at Fort Sumpter. History shows it was the beginning of the civil war. While pondering the fate of his nation, Lincoln shared these words with his fellow countrymen. He said to offer “fervent supplications to Almighty God for the safety and welfare of these States, His blessings on their arms, and a speedy restoration of peace.” The President knew he needed power and wisdom beyond Himself. He knew only the God of heaven and earth could save his divided country.

Lincoln’s American Spirit was much different than our modern version. In the face of natural disasters, political turmoil or economic uncertainty, today’s leaders call on the American people primarily to depend on themselves. Today’s version of the American Spirit is human-centered. It calls for a tough, independent, self-determined mindset that comes with an accomplish-anything attitude.

Although it appears admirable and sounds great on the surface, is that really our nation’s best and brightest way to respond to crises? The self-reliant spirit that does not need God actually enflames the anger of God. However, the humble and God-fearing receive His ear and all of heaven’s resources. The Scriptures say, “For God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:6). Crises reveal our limits as mortal human beings. We cannot stop a tornado. We cannot purge injustice from our world. We cannot control the behavior of every person. Such things highlight our powerlessness. It shouts our need for a Savior outside of ourselves.

There is only one being who is all powerful, all knowing and eternal in existence who can intervene in the course of human affairs – Almighty God. Centuries ago, He intervened by sending His Son, Jesus, from heaven to earth. Through Jesus’ life, death, burial and resurrection God altered the direction of world history.

May the American Spirit come to be synonymous with humility before our Creator. When our nation faces future crises may a holy and humble remnant bow before the Most High and with unwavering faith watch Him work for good in our nation. May God Himself be our nation’s hope for today and future generations.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

HOPE FOR TODAY: Discovering a Man's Purpose

Tony Fadell. Have you ever heard of him? He was the architect of something you probably heard of – the IPod. Under the direction of Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, Fadell and his team developed the new technology. What was the purpose for this industry-changing gadget? According to Jobs, it was to put “1,000 songs in your pocket”.

The God of heaven and earth is the architect of human beings. He made men and made us with a purpose. What is it? As I read the Scriptures, I see repeatedly how God purposed a man to protect, provide and lead those whom they have responsibility for.

Society has its own idea about men. One is the TV-sitcom guy. They are portrayed as lazy, lacking character and more interested in being entertained than anything else. The other is the work-all-the-time guy. These men are consumed with work, highly driven and find their personal worth tethered to their occupation.

God called it “good” when he made the man, and into the fabric of our being He built an instinctive desire to protect, provide and lead. However, that is to be carried out within the framework of two very important commandments: love God and love others.

Men, this is where we get side tracked and draw some valid criticism. The TV-sitcom man thinks life is about his fun and the work-all-the-time guy his career. In neither case is there a humble attitude of love through service to those whom we have been given responsibility for.

God has a vision for your life as a man. It is discovered through Jesus, the standard for all men. He was one of the hardest working men of His day and during a time of crisis, we saw the heart of what a real man was. It was the moment He suffered and died upon His cross. There He willingly laid down His life for the sake of others. It was not about His entertainment, nor personal agenda. As men, we are called to live the same way. Regardless if you are married or single observe the humble attitude in this statement from the Bible, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).

Men, Jesus has pioneered a new path for you. Turn to Him and aspire to become the kind of man He was – and still is today. May He be your hope for today.

Monday, May 9, 2011

HOPE FOR TODAY: Great Power Calls for Great Responsibility

When Young Peter Parker was still growing into his newfound superpower as Spiderman, during a pivotal moment, he remembered a comment his Uncle made to him, “With great power comes great responsibility”.

No matter if someone is a leading political official, the top of a successful company, or the head of an influential organization they all have something in common. Their position comes with a level of power and authority.

The need for responsible management of power is essential, as some leaders will grow to like their power and work to retain it. As a result, self-preserving decisions will be made. In the short term, such decisions will bring success. In the long term, they will bring devastating consequences. Additionally, a power-hungry leader will begin to experience the inward effects of the poisonous cocktail they willingly drink. It is a potent mixture of pride, arrogance and selfishness along with a shot of greed.

Eventually, this poison will so weaken leaders that what they have built will mercilessly be ripped from their fingers in embarrassment and shame.

What if someone occupied the seat of power from the mindset of serving rather than receiving, humility rather than pride, generosity rather than greed? What if they never operated out of a self-preservation motive? What if they did what was right, good and just even if they knew it might cost them dearly?

There is an example of someone who did lead that way – Jesus. In three years, He rose from an obscure carpenter to one of the most powerful and influential figures of His day. Today, nearly 2,000 years later, His name is known worldwide and the movement He started, Christianity, numbers in the billions of followers.

Jesus made a startling statement that reveals His unique style of leadership, “For even the Son of Man [Jesus] came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

What would happen to our world if all those in positions of power led from the mindset of Jesus? What a difference it would make. May those with great power exercise great responsibility. May leaders choose to humble themselves before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, calling upon Him to change their hearts that He may be their hope for today and for those whom they lead.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

HOPE FOR TODAY: Finding Hope in Easter

AP Bangkok Bureau Chief, Todd Pitman, came on the scene the morning after the Japan disaster. He wrote, “A man who has not seen his wife since . . . minutes before the tsunami told me with the utmost certainty that she MUST be alive. After failing to find her at seven different shelters, he began searching for her inside a city gym-turned-morgue where the bodies of 300 tsunami victims lay under blue tarps, waiting to be identified.”

As the death toll continues to mount, people are still searching for their loved ones amidst the apocalyptic scene in Japan. Since 2011 started there also has been a deadly earthquake in New Zealand, catastrophic flooding in Australia and unrest throughout the Arab nations.

Events like these on the world stage are not new. We live on a fragile planet and into all this madness enters Easter. It is not about a sale at the department store, days off from school or Easter egg hunts. It is more. It is about God’s Son, Jesus. He suffered, died and rose again from the dead on our behalf.

Many believers in Jesus use the term “Good Friday” to talk about the day of His death. Perhaps we could also call it “Black Friday”. On it, Jesus, an innocent man, took our place in death. He was separated from His Father receiving His judgment and wrath for the sins of all mankind. It was a gruesome day of suffering and death.

The pain due to the suffering and death we have seen this year is for a season. What Jesus experienced through his crucifixion was for a season too. He did it so we would not be separated from God and suffer without Him in the lake of fire – for an eternity.

Sunday is Resurrection Day - a day of hope. Jesus is alive! He overcame sin and death through His bodily resurrection. Through it, He provided a way of escape from the judgment and wrath of God. Through it, He provided freedom from sin and death leading to genuine and lasting hope.

Easter represents light over darkness, good defeating evil and freedom for the captive. The Scripture says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Roman 15:13). May Jesus be your hope for today.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

HOPE FOR TODAY: What Happens during Mardi Gras is Recorded in Heaven

Costumes, parades, fattened calves, masks and of course, beads. They are all connected with Mardi Gras. For the unfamiliar it is a gigantic party in New Orleans each year, but to the familiar it is a whole lot more.

Mardi Gras means Fat Tuesday, and has become known as a season of celebration. It officially starts 12 days after Christmas and goes until midnight on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.

Some historians say the origin goes back to the Roman Empire in the second century. Over time the Roman Catholic Church tried to Christianize the pagan event which has become a mixture of religious and pagan rituals and traditions.

Today Mardi Gras celebrations are found in cities across the United States and at least 12 nations. There are millions of people that participate. New Orleans is the face of Mardi Gras, which routinely has over 600,000 people gather each year on Fat Tuesday.

From the Roman Empire to the French Quarters, the days of Mardi Gras are well known as days of self-indulgence of every sort, and that is the point. There is a sense of freedom to engage in whatever your heart desires. Open drunkenness, sexual immorality, and vulgarity of every kind are found – until the stroke of midnight on Fat Tuesday. Then from Ash Wednesday through the 40 days of Lent people are to confess their sins and prepare themselves for Easter Sunday.

Have you ever seen the commercial, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas?” That slogan represents the culture of Mardi Gras. Indulge now, confess later and all will be well. That is a dangerous belief. If you plan to do something wrong, but it is legal and fun, and afterwards you intend to confess your foolishness does that mean it is okay? The mindset that we can do whatever we want, offer a half-hearted confession and think that God’s love will cover our sin is a huge misunderstanding.

How foolish to think we can deceive the Most High God. He knows our motives and the sincerity of our hearts. God will not grant forgiveness to a pre-planned, unremorseful confession that is simply based on a religious ritual after a season of wide-eyed and highhanded sin, which you anticipate doing again anyway. There is no mercy for such souls, only the judgment of God. Scripture says, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Heb. 10:31)

Jesus blood was not shed to give our guilty conscience a brief and shallow season of peace while we continue in a sinful lifestyle. Rather, His blood was shed to make us whole and holy. His precious gift of forgiveness came at a tremendous cost. It requires a genuine confession of sin with a truly repentant heart and life. As we enter this time of Lent may our hearts be humble and holy before the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Receive His gift of forgiveness and hope for today.

Monday, February 7, 2011

HOPE FOR TODAY: What if our Religion has it all Wrong?

“You . . . will say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets’ . . . but he will say ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’” (Luke 13:26-27) Jesus was speaking to a large crowd telling them that one day many of them might be surprised to find they had it all wrong.

In the United States today there are many different religions. The big ones people identify themselves with, according to a Pew Forum on Religion & Public survey, are Protestant Christians (51.3%), Catholics (23.9%), Mormons (1.7%), Jews (1.7%), Atheists (1.6%) and Muslims (.6%). Clearly, the majority of U.S. citizens are religious, even the atheists. They are their own god.

Why are so many of us religious? Maybe we were born with an inclination to worship just like we were born with a desire to eat and drink. In our house of worship we may enjoy the feeling of community, helping others and learning. Our religious exercises may bring a sense of hope, a peace and security. Perhaps we even find some ease with the guilt we bear and helpful counsel for the challenges of our life. This appears good, but is that the overall purpose of our chosen religion or respective form of worship?

What if we got it all wrong? What happens if five minutes after we die the self-professed Christian, Catholic, Mormon, Jew, Atheist and Muslim all go “Oops!” Obviously, it is too late then. Now is the time to begin questioning our faith so we face our future with confidence and not fear or doubt.

Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21) Well, what is the will or desire of the God of heaven? It is to love Him and love others. How do you love God? You love Him by obeying His commandments and believing in His only Son, Jesus. Through God and His mission for us do we find who we were created to worship.

Do not be among that number who will be eternally disillusioned five minutes after their last breath. Turn from your attempts at being religious. Discover what it means to know God personally through Jesus. Go beyond rituals to a relationship. Go beyond good deeds to a life transformed and on mission with God. Go beyond knowing about God to walking with Him moment by moment. Before it is too late, lay the title deed to your life down at the feet of the one who made you. Follow Him and embrace His hope for you today.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

HOPE FOR TODAY: A Resolution for Real Happiness

This year an estimated 139 million Americans will do some type of New Year’s resolution. That is about 45% of our population. By June, 92% will have failed to follow through while only 8% will make it to the finish line.

A resolution is a determination to make a change. It is a statement of purpose backed up with a sense of resolve and firmness, like “I make a resolution to lose 25 pounds this year.” Some of those changes are related to health, education, career, finances, relationships and habits.

What is the underlying reason for our resolutions? Likely, it is something deeper than just making changes. For some it could be because they are not happy with how things are going in their lives? Someone might have thought, “If I can just get this mountain of debt paid off I can be at peace with myself.”

With that in mind, consider this statement from author and motivational speaker, Stephen Shapiro. After reviewing the data from a major research project he said, “People who achieve their resolutions every year are NO happier than those who do not set resolutions or who are unsuccessful in achieving them.”

Personally, I found that surprising when I read it. However, after some further thought, it made sense to me. We can work hard at changing the outward circumstances of our lives thinking it will affect our inward restlessness. Yet, after some time has passed, no matter whether we were successful or not, that lack of happiness is still there.

Through sheer determination, self-will and a positive attitude we cannot control everything in our lives or world. We are not gods. We may be able to produce for ourselves happiness for a moment or a brief season of time, but we cannot produce anything that is for a lifetime that continues despite our circumstances from day to day.

There is only one God and He created us that we may know Him personally. Only through His Son, Jesus, can we find answers to the deep things of the heart and soul. In Him, we will discover that He is whom we have really needed all along. He once said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). When we come to Jesus and walk with Him in faithful obedience, we will find His indwelling presence always there providing all we need no matter the situation in our lives.

You will only find temporary happiness in your resolutions, but you will find lasting peace through Jesus. In Him is your hope for today.