On March 20 this year, Jewish people will celebrate the annual festival of Purim. This festival commemorates the defeat of Haman's plot to massacre the Jews as recorded in the book of Esther. This book reads like a movie script - we have a beautiful, courageous heroine that was way outside of her comfort zone (Esther), a fearless hero (Mordecai), and of course, the dastardly villain (Haman). It’s a story of faith, bravery, suspense, betrayal and palace intrigue. We read about a forgotten good deed, a dazzling reward, perfect timing from God, and a just punishment for the evildoer, setting up a satisfying ending. For us today, the lessons of Esther should give us comfort that God is in control of history and what might seem unanswerable now will make sense in God’s timing and in God’s way.
Nobody likes a hypocrite. Nobody likes it when you proclaim yourself to be a certain way or stand up for specific principles or speak up in support of a clear ideology and then display yourself to be a walking contradiction. Nobody likes lip service or pretend support, especially when there are circumstances that require firm conviction. For followers of Christ, the mere thought of being seen as a hypocrite is at very least cringeworthy. Yet throughout history up to our present time, it is evident that Christian hypocrisy abounds. How does this happen? What provokes someone to be two-faced and therefore unreliable? More importantly, how can Christians avoid such a trap? If we have already fallen into the hypocrisy trap, what does it take to get up, get out and get going?
We often look around at the world and think about how horrible things are. Being wicked is in vogue. Yet, more people have more advantages now than at any time in history. The average life expectancy throughout the world has dramatically increased, and in most countries technology is in the hands of the average person. All of this as the desire to live in a God-honoring Christian way has severely decreased, especially in developed countries. If so many good potentials for the human race exist and Christianity is on a downward spiral, then is it logical to conclude that life without God and Jesus is better for humanity? I’ll bet you didn’t expect that question!
As another year rolls around, many of us feel like it's time to shake off the lethargy of our most recent habits and experiences and dive headlong into the "new me." THIS time I’m gonna make those changes! This time I’m gonna see it through! This time I’m not going to let circumstances or feelings or habits or others distract or discourage me! Lots of determined thinking and talk, and it turns out that it may well end up as lots of hot air. According to several sources (business magazines and periodicals) no matter what we say or resolve, about 80% of us stop trying to keep our New Year’s resolutions by mid-February. Now, there are lots of reasons that might happen from setting the bar too high to a basic lack of commitment. But, what if the issue is that our comfort zone is just too comfortable? What do we do then?
We all know the often-quoted scripture that highlights Jesus’ birth: “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people." This announcement is stirring for many reasons, not the least of which is the comprehensiveness of its scope. It is a message to ALL people, and further, it is a message of joy to all people! With all of the wonderful lessons and characters that surround this proclamation it is easy to lose sight of the simple presence of joy – great joy. It is easy for us to confuse joy with happiness, but they are not the same! What does it mean to live joyfully? How did those involved in the story of Jesus’ birth find their joy? How do you live yours?
Every Christian acknowledges the evil that permeates our world, though explaining its depth and purpose can be challenging. We always say it is a result of sin and Satan – and that’s true. The harder question most don’t ask or want to ask is whether or not God is responsible for evil. If He is the Almighty and far above all He created, then surely He must bear a generous amount of accountability for what we see around us. We believe God is powerful enough to stop it and chooses not to, so by definition He must own some blame for all that evil produces. As a Christian, (and this may be a surprise to some) I do believe that God is accountable for evil. However, if we are going down THAT road, then there are other roads of accountability justice requires we go down as well, because it would be unfair to only tell half a story!
As Christians we are always talking about faith and its indispensable role in our lives, for without it we really are not true Christians at all. We are always looking for ways to inspire our faith towards higher and more mature levels. Finding this motivation does not have to be a difficult task, as the Old Testament is full of individuals whose faith and actions were God honoring and incredibly heroic. If we observe and study their lives we will find a treasure trove of faith-strengthening tools and examples for our practical everyday use. How much did they know of God’s plan when they were tested? What were the obstacles that they were beset with? What kinds of social pressure did they have to deal with? Were their choices along the lines of "good, better, best" or were they clear black and white decisions? What does all of this mean to us?
Fundamental to all of Christianity is the foundational teaching of salvation. The problem is that the actual interpretation of salvation shifts dramatically depending upon which denomination or group you belong to. For some, it is speaking words of acceptance and offering a simple prayer. For others, it is belonging to a specific church, and for other groups it is a gift that will find you whether you seek it or not. So, what is salvation – what are we saved from and how does it work? Can everyone have it? If so, why and if not why not? Is it only offered now in this life or is there some way it can be offered after death and resurrection? Finally, if this teaching is SO important then why does it seem to be so elusive?
Let’s face it – the Bible really does a lot of focusing on men. Adam was created before Eve, Noah saved humanity and Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were the patriarchs of the nation of Israel. The prophets, Jesus and the Apostles – all men. So where does that leave the women of the Bible? The answer to this is actually astounding! The women of the Bible are left to quietly teach us some of the most powerful and significant lessons the Scriptures have to offer. Finding these lessons is like uncovering rare and telling archeological artifacts that vividly reveal deep biblical truths. Such are the lessons we receive from Mary and Martha, sisters of Lazarus and close friends of Jesus. Their conversations with and actions towards Jesus speak volumes - not only of their importance in HIS life, but also of their abiding place in our lives as well.
In the United States, Thanksgiving Day is a day that was originally set aside on a national basis to stop the activities of our busy lives and thank God for His providence. Fast forward a few hundred years and what do we have – a day set aside for family friends food and football. Being “thankful” is rarely on the agenda anymore, and being thankful to God specifically borders on political incorrectness! So, what about actually living daily with a grateful heart? That's a concept that is far from the collective consciousness of our tech savvy society. Now, just because gratitude is not focused on does not mean we as Christians have permission to ignore it. On the contrary, living in appreciation is a Christian requirement, so how do we take that which is required of us and transform it into that which we seek each and every day?