December 25, 2006

Birthday of the Unconquered Son

Luke 2:13-14

No one really knows when Jesus Christ was born. Some say in the fall; others, in spring. What is known is that Christ was indeed born. Certain groups of people who are anti-theistic (I refuse to call them atheists because God doesn’t believe in atheists) like to point out Christmas is celebrated on a pagan holiday and that the Christians are really partici-pating in a cultish festival.

In 336 A.D., Christian leaders set the date of Christ’s birth to December 25th in an attempt to eclipse a popular pagan holiday in Rome known as Saturnalia, that celebrated Natalis Solis Invincti, or "Birthday of the Un-conquered Sun." It was, therefore, the day the Sun proved itself to be "unconquered" despite the shortening of daylight hours.Along with honoring the god Saturn, the use of the title Sol Invincti allowed several solar dieties to be worshipped collectively, including Elah-Gabal, a Syrian sun god; Sol, the god of Emperor Aurelian (AD 270-274); and Mithras, a soldiers' god of Persian origin.

So, Saturnalia was a time of general relaxation, feasting, merry-making, and a cessation of formal rules. There was drinking, gambling, and singing, and even public nudity. It was the "best of days," according to the poet Catullus.

While it may be true that no one on earth knows when exactly Christ was born, I encourage all of you who believe in Jesus Christ to hold this day holy because of He who made the heavens, the stars and all underneath it. Celebrate it because it was the advent of our salvation. It brought forth a Savior in a world too dark and too busy with itself to make room for Him on that special, holy night. His arrival brought great promise: peace to all the world. As Prince of Peace, Christ brought the only lasting peace—not with the world, but with God. Celebrate it because in Him there is hope, peace, love and redemption that were purchased with His blood.

During this Christmas season, remember that a young Jewish virgin woman cradled the biggest news of all: the birth of the Savior, who would become our Lord and Savior, whose birthday continues to be celebrated thousands of years later because of His redeeming work at the cross and because He conquered death.

That's the heart and soul of the Christmas message. Back then, there weren't many worshipers around the original manger; only a handful of shepherds. They were considered lowly because of their work. But, they were the first ones to see Christ. They saw and believed and humbled themselves before Him. Over two thousand years later, there are those who refuse to acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God. But one day every knee will bow before Him, and every tongue will confess He is Lord (Philippians 2:9-11). Those who doubt Him, those who are His enemies, those who merely ignore Him, all will one day bow, too, even if it be in judgment.

I pray that God grants you the life-changing spiritual experiences that only Christ can bring. I pray God gives you an ongoing attitude of joy, thankful-ness, and responsiveness that causes you to tell others that you, too, have seen Christ the Lord. And that He dwells in your heart. Truly, we celebrate the birthday of the Unconquered Son: Jesus Christ!

Jesus is the greatest gift you could share with anyone this season!
Spread the Good News and Merry Christmas!

December 14, 2006

Happy Endings

Exodus 14:26-30, Luke 24:49-53 & Revelation 21:1-4

Imagine a world without happy endings. No transformation of frog to prince. No magical kiss to awaken a spell-induced slumber. No grand slam home run at the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded. No last second swish at the NBA Finals with the game on the line. The bad guy makes off with the girl and the loot. Dorothy doesn’t get to go home to Kansas. At the end of It’s A Wonderful Life, George Bailey commits suicide. And, Darth Vader crushes the rebel alliance and controls the universe. After all, life is meaningless, right?

The happy ending is timeless because at heart we are the good guys. There’s an eternal appeal about the hero overcoming obstacles and love conquering all. Unlike life, these stories resolve themselves with triumphant endings and all that is left is a still life of a relationship. And then the credits roll and we leave the cinema to face the problems we checked in at the door. We close the book and there’s the garbage that needs taking out.

And yet, we feel that there’s more to life than just living (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We search high and low, near and far for that elusive happiness. Drugs. Sex. Achievement. Fame. Self-esteem improvement. Money. Education. Yet, nothing can fill that hole of unfulfillment. In a way, we go on wandering and searching for that happy ending.

The good news is that life doesn’t have to be this way. There is a Hero who took on the weight of the world and overcame it (John 16:33). You’d like this Hero because He serves others rather than Himself, helps those whom others have ignored, and by His death allows you to be resurrected from a dark life. Of course, I'm talking about Jesus Christ, who is your advocate in Heaven and approaches God the Father on your behalf (1 John 2:1). All you have to do is accept Jesus as the Lord of your life. To be sure, your new life will have storms, and some may even rattle you to the core, but Jesus will not abandon you nor forsake you.

But, in order to understand why Jesus had to die, you have to understand how we live. Go back to the Fall to see why Adam and Eve lost fellowship with God (Genesis 3:1-6). Go back to the Flood to see why Noah built the ark (Genesis 6:11-13). Go back to Moriah to understand why God tests men’s hearts (Genesis 22:12). Go back to Egypt to see why Israel needed a deliverer (Exodus 3:7-8). Go to the rugged, old Cross and try to fathom the depths of God’s love (John 3:16).

The happy ending is timeless because at heart that’s how we’d like for our life to end. Those who sour their faces at happy endings have that attitude because they’ve been let down one too many times. They sneer, That’s not real life! Of course, it’s not real life because Christ isn’t in the story, your story. Once you allow God into your life, you are no longer a slave to sin and its consequences (Romans 6:23). What a wondering ending to be truly joyful about!

I invite you to walk with Christ. Accept him as your Lord and Savior and see the difference He will make in your life. Like the Hebrews crossing the Red Sea, like the disciples seeing Jesus one last time before the Ascension, like the Christians whose hope is in the New Jerusalem, you will see that happy endings are possible. Not only that, in them, there is the promise of new beginnings. And that’s something to cheer about.

December 10, 2006

On Suffering

Job 42:5-6

A friend asked me a difficult question about something she saw on tele-vision the other day. There was a commercial about children who have cancer and St. Jude’s Hospital asked for donations to help them fight this disease. And the question was: How can there be a God who allows children to hurt and be in pain?

Suffering is a problem in life that comes home to everyone. A child is born blind, deformed or physically afflicted and the question comes: Why? After all, the child has done no harm.

Millions in the world are suffering from starvation and disease in countries with vast populations. Others perish or are made homeless in floods and earthquakes. It is asked: Why should they suffer?

These questions imply that suffering in human life is inconsistent either with the power of God or with the love of God. That is, as a God of love, He doesn’t have the power to prevent the suffering, or if He has the power then He doesn’t have the will. It is assumed that the prevention of suffering is something we should expect from a God of love who is also Almighty.

One basic assumption is that suffering is evil in itself. It is this belief that suffering is the essential evil that lies at the root of Buddhism. The Bible view is radically different; suffering is not evil in itself, but a symptom of a deeper evil. The Scriptures portray suffering as a consequence of sin, not necessarily the sin of the individual who suffers, but sin in the history of man and in human society.

There was a time on this earth when suffering and sorrow did not exist. When God first created man upon the earth, everything was perfect. There was no sickness, no pain, no sorrow of any kind. It was God's plan for man to live in peace and harmony. According to Genesis 3, it wasn't until man chose the way of Satan, rather than the way of God, that sorrow entered the world. Man sinned against God and He revealed to Adam and Eve the consequences of their sin in Genesis 3:16-19. God told man: "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."

The teaching is simple. With man's disobedience there came a separation in the relationship between the Creator and man. The relation between God and man is broken. The first sin brought a fundamental change, not only in the relationship with God but also in the environment itself, which affects everyone with the evils which are common to man. Death is universal in man and also the world. That is, disease, famine, droughts, floods and other natural disasters are a reflection of the fallen world. God does not modify it for the particular individual or region.

Sometimes God has to allow tragedy to enter a life in order to get someone to look to Him for Salvation. As someone has said, "Some people won't look up to God until He puts them on their back." This is sad, but true. There are many people who would still be lost in their sins if God had not brought some tragedy into their life to get their attention. I can personally vouch for this.

At the same time it is true that in the Bible, for those who seek to serve God, suffering takes on new meaning; they are in a new relationship to the Creator, and will learn to see tragedy in a new light. What is it?

Suffering can be a way in which God works with men for their own spiritual development and to bring them to a knowledge of Himself; and the outcome for Job was a new and intimate knowledge of God. He could say: "I have heard of thee with the hearing of the ear: But now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:5-6).

This working of God with man must in its nature be individual; only the man who suffers can gain this as a personal experience. The larger problem of suffering remains, and the only answer to be extracted from the Book of Job is that man cannot question the majesty and wisdom of God. He is the Creator and Sustainer of all life, and His works are beyond man's know-ledge. It is this answer, which is elaborated with such power and beauty by the Voice from the whirlwind in Job 38-41.

While, therefore, the Book of Job offers no simple answer to the problem of suffering, it has been raised to a wider level. Only by loss and suffering could Job know that he did not serve God for the sake of houses, lands, flocks and herds, or even children. He did not even serve for the sake of his own skin, his health and well-being. He worshipped God for Himself, in spite of all the tragedy that befell him. It was only when stripped of everything that he really knew that God was his only refuge, and in that discovery he was triumphantly vindicated against the slander of the Adversary epitomized by the three friends, who believed that Job’s suffering was a consequence of God’s punishment. Job's faith in God was put to the test under trial, and by trial it was tempered as steel when put through the fire. It was by his final acceptance of the wisdom of God, and by learning that faith could be developed through suffering, that Job came at last to the fuller knowledge of God.

So it was that, about 2000 years ago, God intervened in the lives and history of man. In other words, God has not abandoned the world to eternally suffer the consequences of sin. He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to provide ultimate freedom from the consequences of sin. By giving His Son Christ Jesus to share in human suffering to the uttermost extreme in order to bring about redemption from sin and death, we have an Advocate and Comforter who understands our suffering. It is wrong to indict God because suffering is not yet eliminated, just as it would be wrong to indict a doctor who treats a gunshot wound he didn’t cause, simply because the wound is not healed instantly.

So, by Christ suffering and dying, the whole problem of man's suffering was raised to a new level. Without faith in God, suffering is an evil to be endured or dampened with drugs. With faith, and the example of the Son of God, suffering brings us closer to God, drawing the sufferer nearer to Himself. It can be truly a divine education.

Also, the assurance that God will eliminate suffering is not the only comfort God gives us. Through suffering we can learn patience, self-discipline and trust. When we suffer we can experience the love, compassion, and self-denial of those who help us. When we help someone who is suffering, we find significance in our own lives as well. The best way to witness about Christ is by showing love through our suffering. Glory be!

We must concede this: For God to rid the world of evil NOW would require ridding the world of all of us! Each one of us has fallen short of the God’s glory. In the future, God will indeed rid the world of evil, since He is too Holy to tolerate evil forever. Remember, sojourners, this world is not our home. We are just passing through. For believers, there is another world we are going to.

But if you are unsure about your standing with God then it is of crucial importance to make certain you know where you are headed for eternity. Jesus talked about hell more than heaven. John 3:36 says, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." 2 Peter 3:9 tells us that God does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. Please repent of your sins and put your faith in Jesus Christ. Accepting Him as your Savior and Lord is a decision that only you can make for yourself. He is ready and willing to come into your life, forgive you, and be your Savior, your Lord, your God, and your Friend. There is none like Him.

December 02, 2006

On Being Set Free

Luke 4:18

It is said that upon his death bed, Sigmund Freud, father of psycho-analysis, [which shaped how the world perceived how humanity was motivated by sexual (eros) and death (thanatos) drives], was in agonizing pain in his final days. Apparently, he suffered from jaw cancer that plagued him for the last 15 years of his life. He underwent over thirty operations to remove it. After specialists finally reported that it was useless to operate again, Freud pressured his doctor for relief. After all, Freud had difficulty hearing and speaking and could no longer eat. Freud’s final words to his doctor were, “You promised me that you would help me when I could no longer carry on. It is only torture now and it has no longer any sense.” So the doctor gave him large doses of morphine and Freud slipped into a coma, dying peacefully the next day.

It is noteworthy that Freud’s own theorizing provided him little solace in the winter of his life. He spoke of religion as an illusion and maintained that it was a fantastic structure from which a man must be set free if he is to grow to maturity. In his psychoanalytic theory, Freud isolated two main princi-ples: thanatos is the drive towards the disillusion of all life, whereas, eros is to strive towards stopping the death drive. When one goal is reached, the other becomes out of reach, and vice versa.

At best, when wisdom degenerates to rationalism, our walk with God is reduced to an intellectual pursuit rather than a living relationship; at worst, we become indifferent, atheists or agnostics. All of these conditions are antagonistic toward God. In the Old Testament, wisdom was not under-stood as our ability to reason independently of God. Instead, it was an acknowledgement of divine revelation. Biblical wisdom is seeing life from God's perspective. Proverbs 3:5-7 states, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understand-ing. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and turn away from evil.

In contrast, Freud said that we may find less consolation, but the truth, harsh as it is, will ultimately set us free from false hopes and unrealistic expectations. But if the Everlasting God is true then so is His Truth, and as a consequence, all other truth fades in significance. Nothing has more profound and more far-reaching implications for our lives. Since all unbelievers are outside the moral boundaries of God, they can expect judgment. Christians living outside the moral boundaries can expect discipline. Truly, God’s love is a beautiful gift in the Son, Jesus Christ, who restores fellowship with God.

Consider, beloved, the thief on the cross — condemned by both God and man — was just hours away from death. But before he took his last breath, something glorious occurred. In the very process of dying, the criminal was rescued by Jesus, right in front of the mocking crowd. The thief’s name was written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, and all of heaven rejoiced. Jesus promised him a place in paradise in the presence of God. The other thief died in his sin.

In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis said, "Divine gift love in a man enables him to love what is not naturally lovable — lepers, criminals, enemies, morons, the sulky, the superior, and the sneering." Man’s philosophies, with its best intentions, cannot attain this attitude. It is solely the blood of the Lamb that one is transformed, that one is set free (Luke 4:18). Praise the Lord!

A final sobering thought: Every one of us is just a heartbeat away from dying. Have you examined your life? Are you living the darkness? Are you alone and lonely? Are you sick and tired of being sick and tired? Are you in anguish and can't carry on any longer? If so, friend, trust Jesus. Accept Jesus Christ now as your Lord and Savior. He will make all the difference in the storms of your life. Will you come to Him now? It will be the most important decision you make in your entire life.