Joy, Pain and Christmas

The season of Christmas has such interesting dynamics to it.  On the one hand, it is really fun.  I mean who doesn’t love seeing their kids dressed like sheep and angels?  It can be fun to have time to catch up with family or friends. My daughter was giving me the details on how many sleeps it is until Christmas and the order of events.  To say she is excited about this Christmas is an understatement.  But in all of my preparation this week for two services,  and time with my family I have been thinking about the amount of suffering that people are going through.  Does that seem strange?  Well, keep in mind I am a Pastor of a church and an EMT in the local community.  I have seen some suffering.  I know we sing songs about how wonderful this time of year is and declare “Joy to the World, the Lord is Come.”  But what about those who are not experiencing so much joy

tree
Christ is the hope of Christmas.

this year?  You can’t just sing it and make the pain go away.  Some people have experienced more loss this year than at any point in their life.  Suicide.  Depression.  Alcoholism.  Abuse of all kinds.  Stress.  Anger. Anxiety. Financial Challenges. Illness. I mean, can we just be honest and say that for some people this season does not make pain get better, it just amplifies the issues.

So what difference does this baby make for those who are hurting this Christmas?  Micah 5:5 says that this ruler who was to come out of Bethlehem would be our peace.  Peace is something we talk about and strive for, but can’t seem to achieve.  But if Jesus is our peace, maybe we can experience it.  Maybe this one we celebrate can actually enter into my mess and help me.   And of course the answer is emphatically “yes!”  You are why He came!  You are why He left the comforts of His heavenly home and entered our world in an insignificant town surrounded by insignificant people on some insignificant day in a very insignificant way.  In doing so, however, He did provide for us something we were so desperate for: hope.  Hope says that while right now things are a mess; one day things will no longer be that way.  Why?  Because Jesus has come and is coming again.

Do you have some questions?  Yes.  Do you have some things you are hoping to see resolved?  Yes.  But there is comfort in knowing God was not content just telling us how to live; He needed to send His son to demonstrate His love for us.

So if you are in a good place right now and you know someone who isn’t, it could be a real good idea to encourage them in some way.  In fact, I think it is exactly what Christ demonstrates for us in His birth.  He showed up in our mess in order to save us from it.  I  have showed up many times just to visit with someone who was really having a tough time.  Those kinds of things mean the world to people.   It reminds them that God has not forgotten them — the very heart of the Christmas story.

Oh, and get to it because there are only 3 more sleeps until Christmas.

 


Want to hear more about what Jesus Christ has offered to us?   Check out my Christmas Sermon Series on our Church Website.

Honesty Does Pay

There was a story in the news yesterday about a homeless man who found a whole bunch of money and traveler’s checks worth more than $40,000 and he turned them in.  This has become a big deal because it is so unusual for people to show this sort of honesty today.  He was quoted in one story I read as saying that God has always taken care of him.  This time is no exception.  It appears that through donations he will receive something like $50,000 all for being honest.

This reminds me of something that was written about in 2 Corinthians 9:8:

 “And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

We should not lose sight of the importance of honesty in today’s culture.  Sure it is nice to think that money will fall out of the sky and provide our needs, but how much better is it to live life knowing God will provide?   This man proved that honesty still is the best policy.

Here’s the story — Homeless Good Samaritan  (opens in new window)

Infidelity phones? Really?

Integrity matters!  Your kids are watching.
Integrity matters! Your kids are watching.

Ravi Zacharias has said, “With no fact as a referent, what is normative is purely a matter of preference.”  In other words, if we don’t have some sort of truth as a foundation for what we refer to, then we just fall back on what we prefer.  It is like what was recently portrayed in the Lorax movie with the Oncler declaring “How bad could I possibly be?  I am just doing what comes naturally.”  Doing what comes ‘naturally’ and doing what is right are often two very different things.  Man inherently wants to rebel against God because of our inherent sin nature.   Ephesians 2 says that we were born as “objects of wrath” because of that sin nature.

Even with an understanding of our sin nature and what God says about it, I still read things in the newspaper that make me throw up my hands in disbelief.   One of these moments was this morning as I read an article in the Wall Street Journal. (read here)  The article was about how some people in Japan are opting to stay with a particular type of phone, even as antiquated as they are, because they are able to hide their unfaithfulness.  These phones have been called ‘infidelity phones.’

This is nothing new and I understand that.  What got me was the brazen nature of the people interviewed.  These guys have multiple women they are cheating on and there is not one hint of concern with how horrible that concept is.  All they were worried about was being able to maintain their cheating!  One man said about his concern, “Women may want to check my phone for strange emails or calls when I’m not around.”   This is only a problem if you have something to hide and he had a handful of women to keep apart.  An executive with a company in Japan said this, “If Tiger Woods had this Japanese feature in his phone, he wouldn’t have gotten in trouble.”   How arrogant and selfish a statement is that?

No, maybe he wouldn’t have gotten caught, but I assure you that he was in plenty of trouble.  The heart of the sinner will attempt to do whatever it wants, whenever it wants, with the illusion that there is absolutely no cost for sin.  That is absolutely false.  Sure you might be able to hide your cheating heart for a while, but as the old country song once said, “your cheating heart will tell on you.”

It is the same thing Moses told the people in Numbers 23 as a warning to follow the instructions.

“But if you fail to do this, you will be sinning against the LORD; and you may be sure that your sin will find you out.” – Numbers 32:23

Do you hear his concern?  They are sinning against the LORD and the LORD will notice.  In the New Testament we see how all of this deception is not freeing at all, but rather bondage producing.  Having to live multiple lives must be exhausting and stressful.  Why put yourself through that?   Honesty is not a some old-school concept, but it is still relevant today.

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:32

We need truth at every level.  What we need is people who are more transparent, not with more secrets.  I know people like their privacy, but privacy can be dangerous.  We need each other to help us walk the path of righteousness.  We need to be faithful to our God and to each other, especially our spouse.  The trend of using technology to hide your cheating heart is troubling and eroding at the bedrock of the family.  Integrity matters!  Let’s live it, men and women.  Our children are watching.

 

 

Sounds Like Cheating to Me

It is a dead heat…

When you can’t win a medal legitimately by winning,  perhaps you can get one by losing.  I know that logically this does not work, but when losing gets you seeded lower in the final round, it could actually work.  At least this was the thought of a few badminton teams the other day at the Olympics.  I have heard that this sort of thing is not completely unheard of in sports and that it is not classified as cheating.  Why isn’t it?  Cheating means to defraud, swindle or to deceive.  They defrauded, swindled and deceived.  It sounds like cheating to me.

Countries inherently place enormous pressure on athletes to do well in the games.  Individually there are monetary benefits to winning medals that are hard to pass up.   But, when teams start to lose on purpose, the fun of the sport is lost.

In youth ministry I have had students in the past who would do this.  They would play a game, but intentionally mess it up for everyone.  They are no fun to play with as a result and have a way of taking the fun out of competitive games.  Competition is fun, when it is friendly.  If no one wins, or tries to win then what’s the point?

The issue at play here is honesty.  How much is it worth to give up being completely honest?  The concept of deception is glamorize on television all the time.  Shows like ‘Survivor’ play a game where people are lied to in order to advance in a fame worth a million dollars. Is a million dollars really worth the integrity surrendered?  Is that alright because there is a game involved?

The truth is that honesty is appealing when dealing with our own personal finances or family.  Companies that deal dishonestly with someone are publicly flogged.  But, when it is in the name of friendly competition people look the other way.

There is a fundamental flaw in believing that honesty is only worth it sometimes.  A game is only a game, but to sacrifice personal integrity for a piece of metal is absurd.   Honesty means coming to grips with the reality that you might not be the best athlete in the field, or that you might not actually know everything.

Honesty is about more than just what is said.  Honesty is a heart condition.  It recognizes who you are and what is really going on.  It does not elevate self over others and it certainly does not give up a reputation in order to get ahead.  Instead, it works hard, tries its best and accepts the results.  After all, wouldn’t you rather have something you truly earned instead of something that just sort of landed in your lap with limited effort?

How reliable are you?

What could possibly go wrong?

How reliable are you?  I suppose the answer we would give would be, “it depends.”  But, when we look at things like cell phones, for example, we don’t want an answer like that,  we want it to be reliable right now.

Our measure of reliability comes from some place else; it comes from our life.  Is your life reliable? Are you willing to do God’s will and live like He exists?  Do you regard God as though He actually is there, or do you ignore Him and just live your life?

In other words, how reliable are you when it comes to following God?

Amount of Laziness 

Now this hits at the heart of the teenagers and adults alike.  I mean what would it be like for anyone to actually jump out of bed in the morning in excitement for the day?

Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! – Proverbs 6:6

Ants get the job done and they don’t need a whole lot of pushing to make it happen.

In comparison, someone who is a sluggard makes excuses, does things half-hearted and just sits around.  If they were an ant, they would just sort of hang out and enjoy the sunshine until one day winter comes and the seeds are gone.

The Mouth 

A scoundrel and villain, who goes about with a corrupt mouth, – Proverbs 6:12

There are some key areas that we can take a look at here.  A corrupt mouth simply means that it does not always speak wholesome things.  Does your mouth always speak good?  Do you even slander or make fun of or gossip?

Proverbs 6:17 also says that a lying tongue is a problem here. Lies have become such an important part of our lives that we probably don’t even realize how much we do it.  Notice, though, God does not take delight in lies.

a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers. – Proverbs 6:19

Dissension is fighting, bickering, squabbling and dividing.   Some people have more drama in their  life than others. Also, some people probably cause a lot of that drama by things that are said.

Pride 

Another area addressed in Proverbs 6 is what is called  “haughty eyes.”  This could also be called arrogance.

Pride gets us into a lot of trouble, really.  If I think I am really awesome than I behave that way and other people suffer.  We all deal with this.  Pride says, “I don’t need help or input”

Pride will get you into trouble and is a sin because we are not to be first.

Heart of a rebel 

  a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, – Proverbs 6:18

How is your heart?  Are you putting on a show?   Are you looking for ways to get around rules?  Being a rebel is in our nature as people, so it is not a surprise when we rebel against God.

Reliable? 

I think if we are honest we realize that we are not all that reliable.  We cheat, steal, lie, are lazy, gossips who try to do rebellious things.    Well, this is significant because the Bible talks about us as it relates to sin.

The truth is that we are only going to be reliable in life if we trust in Jesus Christ and take Him as our Lord (meaning we follow Him) and our Savior(meaning we trust Him to forgive and remove our sins)

You will never be as reliable as Jesus Christ.  It is time to follow Him instead of yourself!

The truth is….

As I prepared for a class I was teaching last week, I was able to really ponder the words of Pilate to Jesus in John 18.  Pilate was on a quest for the truth and was also in a rather awkward place.  On the one hand, he had pressure to do something with Jesus.  On the other hand, he could find nothing to charge Jesus with.  All Pilate knew was that there was no basis for any charge against Him.  Then just before he incites the crowd to select the person they want to release, Pilate makes a statement that I had really never stopped to consider before.  He says, “What is truth?”  That is a profound question to ask with significant ramifications depending on how it is answered.  Yet, right in front of Pilate was the truth and he missed it.

The truth is…

Why has truth become such a rarity that people need to call attention to it with posts on Facebook that start with: “truth is.” This is supposed to cause people to magically tell the truth about you.  Why can’t we just be honest with people?  It comes down to an erosion of truth all together, in my opinion.  Truth has become far more subjective than it actually is.

We had a camp-out this last weekend with some of our youth group boys.  As we sat around the fire, we discussed the work of God in our lives.  We talked about how we are supposed to be light and how being bold about our faith is not an option, but the very thing God has called us to do.  We talked about the challenges of living out our faith in a world that seems to be bent on removing everything to do with Christ from any public forum.  This also led us to our discussion of sin and how it leaves a mark.  Yet, we have a God who has taken away our sin!

I love the discussion and the passion that is often showed in these settings.  I enjoy seeing as people sit around and meet with the Lord together and He speaks.  But, there still seems to be a separation from the real world. In a safe setting of guys sitting around a fire, it is easy to agree with one another.  In the real world  this question of truth that Pilate asked is the same question being asked in our culture.  If you turn on the television you will see a wide range of worldviews being presented and it can make it challenging to decipher truth from lies.   The appeal of happiness, materialism and longevity in life has made people pursue remedies and more stuff, while the answer still is found only in Jesus Christ.

The truth is that there will be more and more confusion in the world until the issue of truth is settled.  In the same ironic way that Pilate stood before Jesus and asked the question, the world today does the same thing.  The truth is right in front of us in the written Word of God and still so many look around for something else.   I know that many people don’t like to read.  I know that people are busy and might find taking time in the Bible as a waste of time, but to me that misses the point.  A relationship with Jesus Christ was never about the doing; it was about being with Him.  That is why He came and died on the cross.  It wasn’t so that we could check our devotions off of the list of things to do.  It was so that we might find the ultimate answer to everything we could ever need in Him.

I feel like I am constantly talking to teenagers about reading their Bibles. Even with all of the talk and realization of its importance, still many of them just won’t do it.  What does it take for people to get out of their slumber and spend time with Jesus Christ?  This is how things change in our culture.  If we who follow Christ don’t spend time with Him on our own, how do we then expect other people to even desire to follow Him?   What would happen if people stopped going through the motions and actually sat at the feet of Jesus?  I think these are questions that need to be asked because there is so much at stake.

At lunch yesterday my kids were talking about Jesus and I loved it.  They didn’t have large and profound things to say.  All they said was, “Jesus loves me.”  This illustrates for me that so much of this is caught from people in our lives. Parents need to teach their children the Word of God.  Homes need to be directed by the Word of God.  Pastors or other church leaders need to be actively in God’s Word.  We need God’s Word to be alive and active in our lives again and to be honest with the reasons we avoid it.

Completely Honest

Just being who I am

Kids have a way of being brutally honest.  They have an innocence about them that makes them just be who they are no matter what.   Even so, adults can learn to just be who they are by following the lead of their young children.  It is not until the kids start getting older that the pressure to conform becomes even more real to them.  We all just need to be honest and not let other people dictate what you do and don’t do.  You see, honesty is about more than simply speaking the truth.  Honesty is about being who you are and standing for the things you believe in.

What does it mean to be completely honest?  No, not just with the things that come out of your mouth, but completely.   As in, your life and who you claim to be, matches up to who you actually are.  In other words, who you are in secret, or with your friends, actually matches with who you claim to be and, more importantly, who you really are in Christ.

It all comes down to an understanding of our identity and being completely honest with who we are in Christ.

 How you Spend Time 

Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler;
whoever is led astray by them is not wise. – Proverbs 20:1

In the United States alcohol is not illegal, provided you are old enough.  This is not a verse that prohibits drinking all together, but does deal with drunkenness..

Why?  Being drunk makes people lose control and often makes them do things that they will regret later on.  In this way, as it says here, alcohol leads people astray.

This is dangerous no matter what, but is especially destructive when teenagers engage in this activity.  The biggest killer drug for teenagers is alcohol.  The reason is in the moment of peer pressure, alcohol is consumed, people get drunk and do something that hurts them.  I know that people in high school think they are being adult and having a little social get together to show their independence. The truth is that most of the parties that happen are to get drunk, not to just hang out. It is dangerous and not a godly choice.

To be honest with who you really are as a believer would mean that you will stay away from ungodliness.  It doesn’t mean you are rude to your friends, but you say “No, that is not me. I still like you, but I am not going to do that activity with you.”  It is ok to do that and it is something that more people need to do.

When it comes to how you spend time, the party scene is not the only concern.

A sluggard does not plow in season;
so at harvest time he looks but finds nothing.- Proverbs 20:4

That one can hurt because it deals with procrastination, which can get someone into trouble.  In this case, the person procrastinates so long that there is nothing to harvest come harvest time.  This can be the case with projects at work or school work.  I know I have had to be very intentional over the last few years at getting my school work done.  It is easy to find things to do instead, but there comes a time when those things need to be done.

A lot of time is wasted on things like Facebook and texting, but there is work that you need to do.  If you waste time, you don’t get things done and your work and  relationships stuffer as a result.  So, it is important, as one who wants to follow God, to use time wisely.   That means you are not putting everything off until the last minute.

Honesty in how you spend your time is an important part of being completely honest, but it is not all of it.

How you treat others

 It is to a man’s honor to avoid strife,
but every fool is quick to quarrel. – Proverbs 20:3

People who are quick to fight and pick a fight are not treating others with the love God would have them.  Do you pick fights?

There is also the issue of self-righteousness or comparing yourself with someone else.

Who can say, “I have kept my heart pure;
I am clean and without sin”? Proverbs 20:9

A good question, but helpful because it keeps us from comparing ourselves to each other. Honesty says we are all sinful people who have been saved by Jesus Christ.  Being honest with who you are in Christ will affect how you treat others.  It also continues with a common scripture theme, gossip.

 A gossip betrays a confidence;
so avoid a man who talks too much. – Proverbs 20:19

Avoid a man who talks too much.  Gossip comes up a lot because it is easily done. Chattering about other people is a dangerous game to play and betrays people and hurts them.  That is not what God calls us to in love.

My children will run around the yard imagining they are all sorts of things.  They don’t care in the least bit if someone is watching.  In fact, one time there was a group of young people walking past the house while they were playing.  The people walking by actually made fun of my kids as they played.  I thought it was petty and immature, but my children were just happy they said something.  When there is confidence in who you are, it doesn’t make any difference what someone says.  This confidence frees a person to not worry about who is around and to feel free to say no to something they are not ok with.  There is just too many outside pressures trying to change people.  Just be who you are and be honest with who you are.  No one else needs to tell you who you are.