Christmas is for Everyone

The Christmas season is over; the ornaments, garland, and lights have been packed up for another year. While this is the case there is one thing that keeps coming to mind over the past month about the Christmas story.

In the Christmas story of course we have Mary and Jospeh, we have the angels, yet we also have the shepherds and if you include the extended version of the Christmas story the wise men (magi) show up sometime before the Christ child celebrated His 2nd birthday (Matthew 2:16). Let’s talk about these wisemen and the shepherds for a moment.

When we think of the shepherds, at least I think of the cute little kid in the church nativity play where he comes in dressed in a bathrobe, some sort of head dress, with a little shepherds crook. These plays depict the shepherds as innocent and honest. These plays also depict the shepherds as part of cultural society. This is far from reality. Shepherds were considered social outcast. They were dirty and dingy from spending so much time in the fields with the flock, they were rude and crude, and they were considered dishonest thieves if given a partial opportunity. This is not exactly the picture we get from the church Christmas play.

The wisemen and shepherd come from completely different backgrounds. One could easily say they come from the two ends of the spectrum of society. They are polar opposites of one another and couldn’t have been anymore different. Yet they are both part of the wonderful Christmas story. We see both have their special place in Scripture.

The invitation to be part of this story wasn’t delivered by mistake. The story is very intentional in who filled the verses so there is no accident in this story. With this being the case what does it mean for these two really different groups to be part of the same story?

You see the reality is Christmas is for everyone! More to the point the Christ child is for everyone! Some would have the misgivings that Christ was for a particular group or groups and NOT for a particular group or groups. This is simply not the case. Christ came for those that could barely make ends meet financially and for those that could give extravagant gifts like gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2:11). Christ came for those that were part of the fabric of society and culture, and He came for those that are on the edges of society and culture. Jesus came for all and is for all.

It reminds me of the children’s song that says, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red, brown, yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

My friend, what an amazing truth that Jesus came for all and is for all. More to the point, Jesus came for you and is for you. It doesn’t matter your socioeconomic status or your position in society or how people may look at you, Jesus came for you and is for you.

No matter who you are or where you are, Jesus came that first Christmas day as the greatest Christmas gift ever. The ever popular John 3:16 tells us, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (NIV, emphasis mine).”



Too Great to Forgive???

“The things I have done are too big and too bad to be forgiven.” Sadly, I hear this statement or a rendition of this statement often enough that it doesn’t catch me off guard as I talk to people about Jesus. Sometimes when people say this they are referring to the totality of the actions in their life, yet what I find more often than not is that they are referring to a particular decision and actions. I have accepted and seen that in the human heart is the potential for good, yet I have also accepted and seen in the human heart a depravity at the deepest levels. It is because of this depravity, that statements like the one above while they break my heart, they do not surprise me. In all honesty and with a broken heart, it doesn’t take much time to see the brokenness and the depravity of humanity.

The question is what do you do if you personally have a question like “my sin is too big and too bad to be forgiven” and how do we respond to statements like this? In no particular order, let me give you some suggestions that I have learned.

Listen with Grace
When you truly open yourself up and listen to people and if you listen to enough people you will hear things that will surprise, shock, and things you had never imagined. When you hear things such as this, you must respond with grace and compassion. I realize this may go against an initial response, yet as we read the Bible Jesus repeatedly responded with grace and compassion.

There are a few realities that we must recognize. First, the person you are listening to is already crushed, broken, and they are at that moment freely admitting that the decision and actions that were taken are bad and awful. Second, it is not our job to pile on with finger waging. As believers, our job is to be a representative of Christ to those around us; to share the wonderful news of Jesus, His love and forgiveness; and to recognize with grace and truth the seriousness of sin. Third, as soon as you give a hint of finger waging, the person will shut down and the wonderful news of Jesus will be shut out.

Recognize and Affirm a Sin is a Sin is a Sin
We as people consistently want to put things on a scale from great and excellent things to terrible and awful things. We do the same thing with the sins that are committed as we arrange them on a sliding scale. Some sins we say are awful and terrible, some sins are bad, and some sins we put in the category of ‘no harm, no foul.’ We can also see this with the distinction we have with lies: white lies and black lies.

We can make a distinction and categorize on a scale the different chili recipes or sports teams, yet the reality is there is no distinctions when it comes to sin. The saying is, ‘A sin is a sin is a sin’, it doesn’t matter where on the scale of awful to not too terrible we place a particular sin. The Bible tells us in the first part of Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death (NASB).” I want you to notice with me it doesn’t say that what we deserve for a particular sin or category of sins is separation from the Lord. It says that the thing we deserve because we commit sin is separation.

When we say that we have committed a sin too bad to be forgiven, we have erred in attempting to put sins in categories. The simple truth is all sin is serious, and the solution for sin is the same- Jesus.

Know the Cross is Sufficient
When we believe that our sin is too big and bad to be forgiven, whether we realize it or not, we are saying that our sin is greater than the crucifixion of Christ or that our sin is greater than His ability to forgive. Colossians 2:13-14 tells us, “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross (emphasis mine; NASB).”

My friends, many of you are in this position of believing that your sin is too great to be forgiven. I want to tell you that the cross of Christ is sufficient to forgive all your sins. The hurdle isn’t if Jesus ‘can’ forgive you and make you whole because He freely offers that wholeness and forgiveness. The hurdle is if you are willing to ask and believe.

Celebrate that His Grace is Enough
The last thing I want to encourage you toward as you realize the love and the forgiveness of Christ, is to celebrate. We are celebrating for a reason and that reason is the wonderful grace of Jesus. My friends that wonderful grace is amazing and more than enough. Through Jesus our sins are forgiven, we are made whole, the joy that comes through abundant life, and we have the hope of heaven. Let us celebrate!

Knocked Down Not Knocked Out

They say that there are two things guaranteed in life, taxes and death. While taxes may seem like death, there is a third that isn’t in this saying, struggles and pains. Struggles and pains are sadly a part of this life and there is no getting around this fact.

Sometimes our struggles and pains are financial. We live on a budget, yet there are times that our money is funny as we get further away from our last pay check. Sometimes the struggles and pains are with relationships. Maybe there is a disagreement with a friend that has divided or broken ‘your relationship. There are also times that trust is broken with a family member and you just don’t know if you will be able to trust them again.

Our struggles and pains can be in the form where we just can’t seem to catch a break. Murphy of Murphy’s law becomes your new and unwanted friend, where what can go wrong, does. Sometimes the struggles and pains are physical, with an injury or a painful diagnosis. Sometimes these struggles and pains are with the loss of a loved one. Struggles and pains are sadly a part of this life.

These struggles and pains can cut us deep, knock us down, and at times they can even deliver a knock out blow. My friends, there is no preventing the fact that these struggles and pains do cut us deep, they hurt and the pain stays with us for days or years, and at times a life time. In like manner there is no preventing the fact that these pains and struggles can knock us down with the blows that are either significantly hard or the blow catches us off guard and sends us to the mat, dazed and confused. Yet, these pains and struggles do not have to knock you out. A.A. Milne the creator of Winnie the Pooh once stated, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

How can you keep these struggles and pains from knocking you out? First, if you are a believer, you have an anchor in Jesus Christ. Psalm 31:2-4 states, “Incline Your ear to me, rescue me quickly; be to me a rock of strength, a stronghold to save me. For You are my rock and my fortress; for Your name’s sake You will lead me and guide me. You will pull me out of the net which they have secretly laid for me, for You are my strength (NASB).” What an amazing passage that gives us the promise that we can hold tightly and confidently to the Lord, as a ship holds tightly and confidently to an anchor in the midst of a storm, as the passage tells us that the Lord is a ‘rock of strength’, ‘a stronghold’, and ‘my fortress’. Not only are we given this truth, but we are given a second truth in this passage, the Lord will lead and guide you through life’s ups and downs.

Second, you need support from loved ones. We were not meant to go through this life alone, so we need others in our life. This is especially true in those times of life’s pains and struggles, where we need those words of encouragement, that shoulder to cry on, and that pat on the back. We simply need those loved ones around us, to help us remember that we are not alone. If you are that loved one, can you be there to be that presence, that word of encouragement, or that pat on the back to remind them that they are not alone?

Third, you need to refocus on your purpose. Each of us has a purpose in our life, yet when we are in the crucible of life it is easy to loose track of that purpose. I am reminded of Elijah after he is threatened by Jezebel in 1 Kings 19. As a result Elijah runs, yet the Lord restores him by refocusing him on his purpose as a prophet.

Simply we get distracted and detoured by pains and struggles. The problem is when we loose our purpose because of a pain, we get lost in the pain. When we get lost in the pain we go down the rabbit hole and the way out is to refocus on our purpose.

My friends, you may find yourself in the midst of pain or struggle, remember to hold on to the Lord as the anchor of your life, that you are not alone, and that you still have a purpose. You may be knocked down, but you are not knocked out.

Depression, Suicide, and Hope

With the recent death of Robin Williams, depression and suicide have come to the forefront of many peoples minds. According to the CDC there were 39,518 suicides in 2011. Put in another way there was a suicide every 13 minutes. When it comes to depression the NIH reports an estimated 16 million adults aged 18 or older in the U.S. had at least one major depressive episode in 2012. This represents nearly 7 percent of all U.S. adults. 

The point of this post isn’t to give all the in’s and out’s of depression and suicide: causes, symptoms, and the like. It is not my purpose at this point to enter the debate on the brain chemistry of serotonin, hereditary issues, or environmental issues. The point of this post is multifold.

First, depression and suicide is real. To pretend it isn’t real and it doesn’t affect loved ones is foolish and dangerous. To stick our heads in the sand doesn’t make depression disappear. I want to encourage you to be able to identify it and understand it. Here is a link that you may find helpful.

Second, take a few moments an tell someone you care, especially someone you may know who is struggling. Maybe this touch of encouragement comes in the form of a phone call, a text message, an email, an old school note in the mail, or even better yet a pat on the back. Whatever form it may be tell them you care, be that smiling face, be that caring touch, and be that word of encouragement.

Third, overcoming depression takes more than just taking a “happy pill”. Overcoming depression can be helped through anti-depressive medications, yet depression must ultimately be overcome through talking and counseling. To try to overcome depressing simply with “happy pills” is like trying to bandage a gun shot. The bandage may help temporarily, but the bandage isn’t going to solve a gun shot. Someone must go in and remove the bullet particles and repair the damage.  Find someone that can help, like a competent pastor or a christian counselor.

Fourth, lean on Christ. He is the source of hope, He is the source of love, and He is the source of encouragement. Apart from Him there is no ultimate source of hope or love or encouragement. Psalms 31:24 states, “Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who hope in the Lord.”

The Grammy’s and Living in a Fallen World

Just this past Sunday the Grammy Awards were on. It was a show shown on Prime Time on CBS that was appalling, shocking, irreverent, and flabbergasting. When you think that we have reached the bottom of how far our culture can go, it sinks even further. The show started with a couple singing a song that leaves little to the imagination of what goes on in their bedroom. Then the show turned to Katy Perry who’s performance has the secular media describing as a Satanic Ritual and witchcraft. After this the performance of a song entitled, “Up All Night to ‘Get Lucky’”. If this wasn’t enough, the church-like mockery that was overseen by Queen Latifah was a wedding of 34 same-sex and mixed-sex couples who tied the knot on what’s supposed to be a music awards show intermixed with the song “Same Love”. 34 same-sex and mixed-sex to show there is no difference between the two. 

We don’t have to look at the Grammy’s we can just look around us. Broken marriages, broken families, and broken lives. We watch the news or talk to friends and hear of shootings, robberies, drug and alcohol abuse, and the the list can go on and on.

There is no doubt that we live in a fallen world that is filled with all kinds of evil. Yet the question is how do we as Christians respond. We are called to be salt and light in the world (Matt. 5:13-14) so the option to stick our heads in the sand is not an option, nor is choosing to wag our finger an option. We as Christians must respond in a manner that will allow us to be salt and light.

First, we must respond by not giving up on those far from the Lord. It is easy to look at their life and lifestyle and say we don’t want any part of it. Yet we as believers must resist this notion. We must stay engaged with the world around us. The Bible tells us that we are ambassadors (2 Cor 5:20) for Christ and that as we are living and going that we should make disciples from new believers to maturing believers (Matt 28:19-20). I am overjoyed that the Lord did not give up on you or me, therefore how much more should we be zealous to stay engaged in the world around us? How do we stay engaged?

1) We must keep praying for our family, relatives, friends, and neighbors that are not believers.

2) We must keep ministering to those who are not believers. By ministering I mean showing the love of Christ in real and tangible ways.

3) We must keep tell our family, relatives, friends, and neighbors who are not believers the boundless love and forgiveness of Christ.

4) We must stay in the public square. We may be ridiculed and there may be an attempt to keep us as believers out of the public square, yet even through this we must stay in the public square.

In the next few weeks we will be continuing this discussion. In the mean time what do you think? Should we as believers stay engaged in the world around us?

Life is Good

It’s a Sunday afternoon and I’m sitting here on the bed beside my wife and my dog laying at my feet, but I’m loving life. Far be it for me to say that life has been easy or alway ‘great’ because it hasn’t been easy, but as I reflect on life I must say I’m loving life. To steal from a fast-food chain “I’m loving it.”

It’s funny what brings happiness and contentment. For me happiness and contentment is laying here beside my wife who has a wet head from a recent shower. For me happiness and contentment is sitting here and writing. For me happiness and contentment is the knowledge that all is in the Lord’s hands and there is no need to worry or fret. For me happiness and contentment is the love and support of great family and friends. Life is good.

There has been many people that have asked me how I kept going or how I kept my head up over the past two plus years? To this I knew that better days would come. I knew things would one day look up and because of this I had to keep looking up. I believe this quote from Castaway best sums it up, “I knew, somehow, that I had to stay alive. Somehow. I had to keep breathing. Even though there was no reason to hope. And all my logic said that I would never see this place again. So that’s what I did. I stayed alive. I kept breathing. And one day my logic was proven all wrong because the tide came in, and gave me a sail. And now, here I am. I’m back. In Memphis, talking to you. I have ice in my glass… And I’ve lost her all over again. I’m so sad that I don’t have Kelly. But I’m so grateful that she was with me on that island. And I know what I have to do now. I gotta keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?” Happiness has replaced sorrow. Contentment has replaced discontentment. Because who knows what the tide could bring in tomorrow.

What about you, is life good or not so good? Is life half-full or half-empty? What brings you happiness and contentment?

A Nation Grieving

This past Friday (12-14-12), our nation grieved after a tragedy in Newtown, CT that must be characterized as horrific and heinous of a gunman walking into Sandy Hook Elementary School killing 20 children all between the ages of 6-7, and 6 adult female staff members. Words can’t express the horror of this tragedy, as my heart goes out to these parents, family members, and community.

I can’t imagine being a parent in this situation of having now having an empty bed and presents under the tree that will never be opened. The thoughts of children who will never graduate high school, get married, or have children. The horrors of this reality is unimaginable.

What I do know in relation to this is two things. First, we as a nation will and must grieve this tragedy. This is a tragedy that will live on in our memories and while this is a horrific tragedy it is amplified by the fact that 20 young elementary students were killed. Further this tragedy will greatly affect our behavior about security in schools in the future. So we must grieve. While I agree that tragedies such as this should infuriate us and stir within us an indignation. We as a nation must be so infuriated that we vow that something such as this should never happen again. In fact I agree with what President Obama stated,”We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.”  Yet, we as a nation must be careful to not jump on the wagon of blame too quickly. There will be a day in the near future to debate the issues of the mental health system, video games, movies, and gun-control. Yet, for now we must resist that temptation and simply grieve.

Second, I know that we have a God that still cares and love us. I know that we have a God who is still on His throne. I know we have a God who mourns when tragedies strike His beloved children. I know that no matter how saddened we may be or how angry we may be at a tragedy such as this, God is more saddened and angry. I know that when we need comfort God is there. I know when we need strength God will provide. I know that God is the great “I AM”. It is on this truth that we must run to. It is on this truth that we must rely upon.

2 Cor. 4:8-9, 16-18, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed...Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Dealing with the Horrific

Nearly a week ago we woke up to the horrific news of another indiscriminate murdering rampage in Aurora, Colorado as patrons of all ages crowded into the movie theater for the premier of the newbox office block buster, The Dark Knight Rises. I remember waking up in horror as the news spread of the dozens of individuals shot and a number killed. I remember asking the questions. Why does something so awful happen? What could drive someone to such heinous behavior?

These questions haunt us as we struggle to live in a world that seems be coming apart at the seams. In another example it wasn’t that long ago that egregious video of the middle school students taunted and cursed unrelenting at a bus monitor for no other reason that to put a video on Youtube. What do we do in situations such as this? How do we respond? How do we cope?

Before we jump into questions such as these it must be said there is no doubt that evil exist in the world. Not all people have good intentions, in fact there are some that have evil intentions. We see evil in this latest murdering rampage. We see evil sense beatings. We see evil monsters in the like of Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, or Pol Pot. Simply put evil exist and there are some who do evil things.

Some people in the face of such evil say they can not believe in a loving God. I would argue that it is because of such evil that we must believe in a loving God. For better or worse God gives us the choice between good and evil. We see this in the beginning in the garden as God gave the first man and woman a choice.  Genesis 2:15-17 states, “Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die (NASB).” God did not create us without a will. God did not create us to be automatons.

Now back to the original questions. What do we do in situations such as these? I see we have three choices. First, we can put our heads in the sand and pretend it didn’t happen. For the record this response doesn’t help matters, even if we pretend it didn’t happen it still did. Second, we humanity and more specifically believers can go hide in the corner, shrink down into a fetal position, and suck our thumbs. In other words we can see it, isolate ourselves, and be too scared to say anything. To be honest this has been our general modus operandi and we see where this has taken us. There must be a different way to respond. There must be something better than to be frozen in fear as a deer in the headlights.

The third way we can respond is to first recognize evil for what it is. These types of events don’t happen without reason. Evil exist. We must also respond with courage. We mustn’t stand around and just let things happen around us. We must step up and speak out. Edmund Burke once stated, “Evil prevails when good men do nothing.” How long will we see evil and just walk by as if nothing is happening?

The final question is how do we cope in situations such as these? Psalm 16:1 states, “Preserve me, O God, for I take refuge in You (NASB).” I want to encourage you my friend cope in situations such as these by taking refuge in the Lord. Find your hope, strength, and courage in the Lord. Let’s be honest with ourselves, if we try to find refuge, hope, strength, and courage in anyone or anything else, they or it will ultimately fail you. Yet, when you find refuge, hope, strength, and courage He will never fail you.

Hope and Blessings of a Birthday

Today is a birthday. Happy Birthday to me! Another year in the books and another year older, this can be depressing or hopeful. Which shall it be?

For some birthday’s are depressing because it serves as a reminder that they are aging. For some a birthday is depressing because it is a reminder of where they wanted to be in life by that particular age and where they truly are in life. Maybe this is in their career of were they wanted to be at a certain place by age ___. Maybe this is in their personal/family life were they wanted to be done with school or started a family by age ___.

Yet for some a birthday is uplifting. They see it as a reminder of the hope and blessings they have in life. They see it as another chapter in the exciting story of life.

I choose to see it as a reminder of the hope and blessings I have in life. I choose to see it as another chapter in an exciting story of life. I know all too well that every chapter in life doesn’t end with “And they lived happily ever after,” unfortunately I have been there and done that. You and I are going to have seasons in our life where things don’t seem to go as planned. There will be those times in life where tragedy strikes. We are not promised that every chapter in the story of life will end on a high note. Yet, the truth is that the chapters that don’t end with ‘happily ever after’ are chapters that simply sets up the next chapter to be great.

The choice is yours, how will you choose to see a birthday? Depressing or hopeful? I choose to see a birthday as hopeful. I choose to see a birthday with hope because of the hope I have in the Lord Jesus Christ. What about you?

Psalm 71:5- “For You are my hope; O Lord God, You are my confidence from my youth.”