hope

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.

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God’s Glory and Grace on National Display

The eyes of the nation are on the state of Oklahoma today because we all can relate to the brokenness on display there.  These events break our hearts because we know how quickly things can change for any of us.  Storms make us recognize how little control we actually have in life and this life is valuable because we are made in God’s image.  So, these events bring out that camaraderie we have with other people whether we know them or not.    We mourn because lives were lost and weep with those who weep.

We also take comfort in these tragedies because while we have no control over things, God has ultimate control.  In the midst of pain He displays His glory and grace in ways He might not have otherwise.  It is hard to understand, but we are called to have faith in our unfailing God.  We don’t have to see how it all ends; we just need to trust our God who does.   C.S. Lewis said it like this in the book “The Problem of Pain”, We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

If we are left to our own understanding and ways we will reject God every time   In fact, when things are going really well is when we see people take larger steps away from God.  Yet, it is in those times of weakness that we learn to lean a little more.  It is in those times of pain that we see the hopeless state we are in and how we do need a Savior.  It is there when we throw up our hands in surrender and praise knowing that we serve a mighty God that is never surprised by anything that happens.  We serve a God who understands that in is the ultimate problem with this world and  has given us a way out of it through Jesus Christ.

What is a proper response in this?  We pray and look for ways to help.  We also praise God because He sees all, knows all, and redeems circumstances like this for His glory.  As Jesus ministers to people, they know that there is a God who loves them and has a plan in their lives.

Interestingly enough, in the wake of all that went on in Oklahoma last night, God was using a show on NBC to display His glory and grace.   It really could not have been planned better because of the statement it made to people watching.  Here is a clip from the television show “The Voice.”  Yes, this was broadcast on network TV last night.  Praise God!

Life Still Matters

life...yes, it matters

life…yes, it matters

What makes Kermit Gosnell, who has been convicted of killing three babies in the name of abortion, so different from the rest of us?  He claims he was just doing his job.  So, what is the big deal?  Well, the interesting thing is that as inherently evil as mankind is, there still is in us a desire to preserve life.  Life matters.  Life is why we have seat belt laws, texting while driving laws and helmet laws.   Life is why I tell my kids not to get too close to the edge of the waterfall or run in traffic.  We enjoy many things in life, but when someone’s life hangs in the balance, we stop to pay attention to them. Life is still an important issue for all of us.

Of course the topic of abortion is highly politicized.  People call it a woman’s right to choose and rant and rave about it all day long.  I am not going to get into the politics of it.  What I do wonder is where we draw the line.  I am thankful that this man was convicted of some of the charges brought against him.  It gives me hope that we haven’t completely lost our value for life.  I am concerned about how many more people wind up hanging out with a guy like Dr. Gosnell thinking that this is the only solution they have.  If only we would help people see that choosing life is not a political issue, it is a humanitarian issue.

The answer to all of this is found in Jesus Christ.  The Bible tells us that there is no longer any condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.  That means that no matter what has happened in your life you can find hope and forgiveness in a relationship with Jesus.  He takes the punishment for your sin and gives you eternal life in its place.  It is the only answer we have.  People who find themselves in an unplanned pregnancy need to know that they have a Savior in Jesus Christ, as do people who are in the midst of other life altering circumstances.  In Him is life because God is the author of life and it is Him we choose.     It was Jesus Christ who gave up His life so that we could have life forever.  Yes, Lord, may you be made known.

 

Keeping the World in its Place

The world does not last, but God's Word does!

The world does not last, but God’s Word does!

We use the word ‘world’ a lot in conversation.  We talk about the world we live in, the world of music, the world of cars, the world of relationships.  We talk about the world and how we need to take care of it, or our desire to travel it.  We also talk about the world as a source of influence that directs our thoughts or decisions.  As a result, we talk about the world in both positive and negative ways, which naturally leads to a lot of confusion about the world and what our relationship to it should be.

“Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” – 1 John 2:15

Let’s start by getting a basic understanding of how the Bible uses the word world because that will help us understand how we are to live in relation to it.

Created order –  It is that which we can see, touch, taste, experience.  God creates something without having anything to start with. God took chaos and created Kosmos—which included humans.  It was purposeful and ordered.  It was good!

Whole of humanity—like in John 3:16 – For God so loved the world! Who was it that he gave His one and only son for?  It was for people, not for the mountains or oceans.

Arena of human activity – or where we live and move.   This is a rather neutral way it is used.  We live in the world.

Organized rebellion against God –  It is a system of values and goals that God is excluded from.   This is the world that is intentionally leading us away from God.  It is not accidental. This is where the devil works to deceive people and direct us away from the truth.

When we talk about the world in 1 John 2 it is this one.   We cannot love the world and love God at the same time.  We don’t have the ability to do that.   We cannot serve two masters.  Jesus spoke about this also in the Gospels.  Our love, devotion, and the things we value need to start with God first and nothing else.

There are three ways the world is described here that shows why our devotion needs to be to God.

The World is an Impostor….God is truth

If it is one thing we don’t like, it is being led to believe someone is someone else.  The world is an impostor   It is the devil’s attempt to remove glory from God, to try to take as many people away from God as he can and to do that he just bends the rules a little.  He makes evil look, well, normal, or at least not too bad.

But, what it says “DO NOT LOVE” the world or anything in it. Stay away from it because it is a seductive force.

On the other side is God who is truth.  Who was at the beginning.  He is the author of the beginning.  We were created in His image, to know Him, to worship Him, and He gave up His Son Jesus so that we could be forgiven from all of our sin.

The World Exploits your weakness….God gives you victory in them.

“For everything in the world — the cravings of the sinful man, the lust of the eyes and the boasting of what he has and does — comes not from the Father but from the world.” – 1 John 2:16

As we start to get closer to the world, it starts to tempt us with things that are against the Word of God in some very specific ways.

Flesh – this is the sin nature which has a nature bent away from God.  Left unchecked it will naturally rebel.  This flesh desires to do what it wants to do when it wants to do it.  This tells you that f it makes you happy, go for it.

Eyes-  things we see and want— The eyes bring in things that influence what we do.  There are obvious things like movies, television and there is just how we perceive the world we live in. The world encourages envy and jealousy.  God has a different way.

Pride – boasting – This says “look at me and how wonderful I am.”    It is an arrogant way to live, but encouraged by the world.

God gives a better way.  A way that keeps us in his will and away from the destructive path of the devil and his schemes.

The World Does not last —- The Lord is eternal

If you invest your life in the things of the world, you will die along with them.  These things might seem fun to our flesh, but they do not last.   Would you invest your life in something that you knew would not matter?

“The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” – 1 John 2:17  

There are many things that we could do with our life, but ultimately what is it that lasts?    We know that when we obey God’s Word, we do God’s Will.  God’s Word lasts!

The command is “DO NOT” love the world or anything in the world.  The reason is because it takes away from God.  In fact, it is the absence of God.    We aren’t to worship ourselves, but God.

What are you investing your life in?  How much is the world influencing you?  Jesus invites you to  follow Him and not the world.  It is in HIm that we find eternal life and hope.

Everyday still means everyday!

I am not dirty!

My kids are learning to challenge truth. That sin nature in us all does not need any help developing.  Add to that people all over the place who have bought into the notion that God’s Word is to be reinterpreted or changed and you have a recipe for confusion.  In youth ministry I am constantly talking with students about what the Bible says in light of what they are being taught in the public schools.  It is hard for many to wrestle with the obvious differences.  I have even started noticing it, albeit in a small way, with my oldest son. (3rd grade) It is as Ravi Zacharias said, “We have a right to believe whatever we want, but not everything we believe is right.”

One day we asked our oldest son to do something he was supposed to do everyday.   His reply, “everyday does not mean every single day.”   He should know better than to say something like that to me.  What does everyday mean?   When I asked him about his definition of everyday I found that he really couldn’t redefine it.  All he knew was the he did not feel like doing what we asked, and there must be a way out of this.   He might want to redefine a word, but the word still means everyday.  Another time he was washing his hand in the sink in the kitchen after repeatedly being told to use the bathroom sink.  There he stood with his hand in the sink and I asked him what he was doing.  He said, “I am not washing my hands, I am just holding my hands in the sink.”  Really?!

This highlights in a silly way the thoughts of the world every day.  I know I need to stay on top of what is being put into the minds of my children.  They need my guidance in order to make sense of it all.  We are finding that the secular worldview is getting stronger, and God is being taken out of all decisions.  People start redefining truth based on what they feel like or what is culturally popular.  It is not a good trend.

It does excite me to know that we have a God who sees the whole picture.  He is never surprised and can take the relativistic culture we live in and display His glory.  The Word of God is always true whether we acknowledge it or not.  I take great delight in that because we need His Word to help us steer our kids to righteousness and to make sense of the chaos in the world.

So, while the world runs as fast as it can away from God’s Word everyday.  God is at work showing His great love to broken people who are desperate for some meaning.   Make today a purposeful day without wasting any opportunities to share Jesus with people who need a real Savior!  Everyday does still mean everyday.  Pray for families and children as they try to help their kids navigate the culture.  Pray for the truth of God’s Word to bear fruit in lives.  God’s Word will accomplish God’s work everyday!

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. – Lamentations 3:22-23

Light always beats dark.

“Hey dad, why is it so dark with the light off?”  This was the response I received to a simple request to go upstairs before bed and clean up the toy trains.  True, his question was about literal light.  But, as these things often do, his question actually made me think about spiritual darkness and spiritual light.  When asked in that context, it is actually a probing question.

Darkness

We understand darkness.  Everyday begins with light and ends without it.  We know that darkness has the ability to hide what is in front of you, or hide you from other things.  But, darkness wouldn’t be darkness if there were no light to compare it to.

It is in the darkness that people try to get away with many things.  There are times of the night when there aren’t many positive things you could be doing.  A few years back I was awakened by some noises outside at 3 a.m..  I got out of bed and saw two guys looking through the front seat of our van.  There is nothing in there, so it was somewhat of an honor that they chose us as the target for their robbery.  The joke was on them.  I got up to the window and said “Can I help you guys find something?”    They just ran away scared.  I think I could have snuck up on them while they were outside because it was really dark.  What would I have done when I caught them?

My point is that most criminals wait until the cover of darkness to pull off their crime.  If they don’t, then they are labeled as brazen and exceptional at their task.

Light

Light is the opposite of darkness, but is also more powerful than darkness.  Think about it.  When you go into a room and turn the light on, immediately the darkness is gone.  There is no epic battle to determine who is more powerful.  Light always wins.  In fact, you don’t need all that much light to overcome darkness, or to be noticed in darkness.

The other morning it started snowing heavily.  It didn’t last long and it left quickly, but I was driving in it and was amazed at the number of people who didn’t turn their headlights on.  If they had their lights on I could see them, but without them they were nearly invisible.

Why is it so dark? 

Spiritually speaking, darkness refers to the evil of the world. Sin loves darkness because it is in darkness where most of its work is accomplished.  People are living in darkness without hope.  There are many places where people are living under oppression, hardship and extreme tensions.  Addictions claim families and lives.  Human trafficking is going on even today and more and more people get caught in it everyday.  This week there has been exposures on the internet about a man named Kony and the world is upset about they way he forces children into warfare.  With hot button issues like abortion and assisted suicide, people are finding themselves in places of darkness both in their own lives and in the world around them.

In youth ministry, I have seen recent suicide in the community.  I have seen teenagers get caught in life altering scenarios where things look incredibly dark.

It is dark because of sin.  It is dark because people have chosen to walk in a place absent of light.

“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light, in him there is no darkness at all.  If we claim to have fellowship with im yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.” 1 john 1:5-6

God is light.  If we claim to walk with him that means our light needs to shine.  The world is so dark because so many people don’t have light.  The world is also dark because Christians are not always letting their light shine for fear of being persecuted, or for fear of offending someone.   The world needs light, though.  It is the only way to rescue people from places of despair and destruction of sin.

“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 5:16

I watched a video today about what things look like in a part of Japan a year after the earthquake and tsunami.  There is so much darkness, but people are there bringing the light into those places.  If you have a few minutes, watch the video below.   Then, go out and be light.  The world is so dark because the light is not shining through our lives.  “Hide it under a bushel….NO!”   — Do you have any examples of this from your own life? Please share your thoughts on this. 

Confusing the World

Radical muslims in Nigeria are out confusing the world in the name of religion again.   Most recently, they did this by attacking Christians as they celebrated Christmas.  This is tragic because there were people killed, but it is also tragic for the message it sends. As I write this, there are reports that the violence in Nigeria is getting even worse.

I read this with interest because of the implications it has on the spread of the Gospel, especially with teenagers. I have been trying and will continue to try to get our High School students to be a light to their peers at school.  This has become increasingly difficult with all of the ‘tolerance’ taught in schools.  As soon as one of them lets anyone know they are a Christian, they are branded as “one of them.”  This makes them uncomfortable and often unwilling to make that known. Then things like this happen and, even though it is a hateful crime committed against Christians, Christians are still labeled as the intolerant ones.   The world views these acts of violence as if they were started by Christians.  But, where do we see Christians attacking other religious celebrations with bombs?  I have never seen it happen.

For years this has been getting worse with the assault on anything to do with Jesus Christ, but the acceptance of everything else.   A local school group wanted to have a Bible study before school and they went through all the procedures to make that happen.  They received ridiculous comments claiming that they couldn’t do it because tax payer money paid for the lights to be on.  Alright, but what about any other club?  No one is worried about any other club out there, no matter what it is.  This double standard is a troubling trend, but no one really says anything about it.

Recently the discussion in our student leadership team has been about the number of Christians in the public school.  I asked them the number of people they thought were Christians in their school.  They couldn’t really come up with an answer.

This brings up two questions:

1-  If there are a lot of Christians in the school, why aren’t they known?  Why aren’t they talking to each other and encouraging each other to be a light to their friends?  Where is the unity that comes from knowing there are other believers there?

2-  If there are very few Christians in the school, does that bother anyone?  It is possible that there are very few Christians in the school system.  Does this mean that the Christian teenagers should just hide and try not to offend anyone?

I think that rather than just walking around concerned that sharing Jesus might be offensive, we all should be engaged in sharing that truth with people.  If we really believe it, then we believe it is true for them also, right?

But, as long as there is violence around religions, there will also be confusion.  People can’t seem to separate some of these groups of people from the actual teachings of that religion.  Anytime there is any sort of attack like this, immediately the atheist groups let us know how much better the world would be without religion.   But, we can say all we want without anything we say actually correcting their thinking.  We can actually make a difference, though, if our actions actually show the world that we are serious about loving others like Jesus.

Will the world look at you and I and glorify God,  or will they just see another person claiming to know Jesus but living the opposite?

We must not be ashamed to proclaim Christ to others through our lives and through our words.  No, it is not popular, but it is needed to help people see that the message of Christ, is not a message of violence, but a message of hope, love, life and forgiveness.

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Also, please pray for the persecuted church worldwide.  They need our support!  For more information you can visit the Voice of the Martyrs.