Hanukkah…all about JESUS

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Dear Friends,

I love stories about heroes and sacrifice. They are incredibly compelling. That’s perhaps why Hanukkah is one of my favorite times of the year. Hanukkah is the season when we celebrate how, centuries ago, God’s people were willing to make enormous sacrifices, to fight against great odds, not comprise their faith, and do what was right. They became heroes through their obedience to God.

Here’s a summary of the amazing story …

Alexander the Great conquered most of the known world but died without an heir, so his massive new empire (which included Judea) was divided among his generals. This was fine for the Jews of Judea at first – until 175 BC, when the Seleucid King Antiochus IV Epiphanes invaded and tried to outlaw worship of the one true God, the God of Israel. Antiochus banned circumcision, outlawed the Hebrew Bible and even sacrificed pigs on an altar to Zeus in God’s Holy Temple. This prompted a Jewish uprising – the Maccabean Revolt – led by a Jewish priest named Mattathias and his sons. After ten long years of guerrilla warfare against a much larger and better equipped Seleucid army, the Jewish rebels did the seemingly impossible, pushing back their enemies, recapturing Jerusalem and cleansing and rededicating the Temple. That’s why those Jewish Maccabean warriors were heroes – they did impossible things, against impossible odds, because it was right and because God told them to. Their heroic actions are the basis for the celebration of Hanukkah. Especially important was the miracle of the oil. During the re-dedication of the temple, they found only enough specially prepared oil to relight the lampstand in the Holy place for one day. But miraculously, God kept the lampstand burning for eight days until new oil could be prepared! This is why we celebrate Hanukkah by lighting candles for eight days. All because the heroes of that day had faith that God could do the impossible.

Heroes today are those who work so hard to provide impoverished and often persecuted people with clean water, education, clothing, friendship, and most important of all, with the Good News of Yeshua (Jesus) who loves them, died for them and wants them to receive the gift of eternal life. After all, Yeshua is the reason for this season and this celebration. Here’s a few reasons why:

#1- He is our light, and the only good and pure thing that breaks back the darkness of our of a sinful world.

In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it

John 1:4-5 (NIV)

#2- He is the ultimate hero who stepped down out of heaven to die on cross for a sinful humanity.

Have this attitude in yourselves, which also was in Messiah YeshuaWho, though existing in the form of God, did not consider being equal to God a thing to be grasped. But He emptied Himself, taking on the form of a slave, becoming the likeness of men and being found in appearance as a man. He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:5-8 (TLV)

#3- He is God’s provision for us that never runs out.

But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

Hebrews 10:12-14 (ESV)

Hanukkah is absolutely amazing. It’s full of spiritual significance, all of which points directly to the Savior of the world. As a Christian, this celebration has incredible importance. Who wouldn’t love celebrating Jesus for eight days straight? Lighting the Hanukkiah (tree of life), singing worship eight nights in row, recounting stories of God’s faithfulness, it’s so much fun and so encouraging! I invite all my brothers and sisters around the world to join me and my family in honoring our King, our Light, our Life. It starts tonight. Will you join me?

Will you be a hero by not abandoning conviction and truth? Will you be a hero and share the love of Yeshua with a hurting world? Will you shine His love and light into the darkness?

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

John 8:12 (ESV)

Peace in Christ

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A Profitable Life

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And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Mark 8:34-38 (ESV) [my emphasis]

I think we’re all faced with some really difficult questions about life at no greater moment than when we lose someone close to us. Tragic events bring us face to face with a reality that affects us all…we are all going to die. Isn’t it interesting, and slightly ironic, that death is the most effective catalyst to cause us to evaluate life?

For me, the journey of truest soul searching began in late December 2013. I can honestly say that my life had rarely been disrupted by loss like it was then.  Sure, I had lost pets, distant relatives, and great grandparents before. Nearly 10 years earlier my grandmother, who I was pretty close to, had gone home to be with Lord. But even that did not compare to losing my father on December 31st, 2013. Two big reasons for that are that I was in a very different place in my life when my dad died and we were as close as about any father and son could be. Other than my wife, he was the one I spent the most time with. In addition to losing my father, I lost my grandfather while in the process of publishing this book. My grandfather and I shared a birthday, lived next door while I was growing up, and had a special bond.  When you lose extremely important people, role models, and friends, it shakes your life up pretty good.

In the weeks following my dad’s death, I helped my mom go through some of his things. At one point I found myself in his old weight room. From wall to wall shelves were filled with trophies and plaques from all of the successes in nearly 40 years of coaching high school and middles school wrestling. It was a spectacle to see. My mom asked me what we should do with them. It was then that I realized that they meant absolutely nothing. They were pieces of metal and plastic. The trophies themselves had zero value to them other than what could be reused if recycled. They weren’t something that my dad could take to heaven with him and they held no significance to those he left behind.

The trophies were not the only memorabilia in there. On all of the walls were nearly 40 years of team photos. Those represented over 1500 high school and middle school boys (including my brother and I) that passed through his care and tutelage. Fifteen hundred lives marked by his words and lead by his actions. While the trophies carried with them no worth, those photographs captured immeasurable value.

The lives my dad was able to influence in this lifetime and career as a teacher and coach have had an effect beyond what any of us could see. Students and athletes of his have carried on lessons he taught them, to their own families, students, and athletes. The lives we touch are always exponential. In the end, trophies and titles don’t validate a person’s efforts in life, it’s the impact we have on others that does. This was confirmed for me in a big way during my dad’s memorial service. We decided to hold it at the high school where he spent most of his career. The gym bleachers were packed! We’re talking around a thousand people. Several of them shared their testimonies of how my dad impacted their lives. I haven’t stopped hearing from people how much he had meant to them ever since.

This leads to several  important questions: what have we lived for? What profit has come from all of my choices, efforts, and sacrifices? Was it all worth it? What exactly does profit our lives according Jesus? Some of these questions, you can only answer for yourself. But as to what Jesus defines as a profitable life is well described within the Bible. Chapter seven of my book  explores the Christ defined profitable life by comparing our life to a movie. Who is the main character in your life movie? Answering that question will go a long ways in unveiling the answers to all the other ones.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:19-21 (ESV)

It’s never too late to live a profitable life. And you have been made for just that.

Peace in Christ brothers and sisters

The Lily and the Apple Tree

fireheartA lot people avoid the Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon, depending on your translation). It makes people blush, and rightfully so. I haven’t seen any bible study small groups quick to make this their selection. But, if it’s in the bible, it must have something very valuable to teach us right? I personally enjoy the book because of its raw, unapologetic description of love. It’s a beautiful dialogue that expresses the heart in a unique way. Just check out this small section:

Place me like a seal over your heart,
    like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
    its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
    like a mighty flame.
Many waters cannot quench love;
    rivers cannot sweep it away.

Song of Songs 8:6-7 (NIV) [my emphasis]

That’s intense right? Death is not something any of us can overpower. We can’t step out of the grave on our own power. And if you’ve ever seen a large powerful fire you’d know it’s unstoppable. It consumes everything in it’s path. To describe love that way is incredibly moving, especially in the context of a marriage.

My wife and I chose these verses for our wedding invitations over 7 years ago. I’d like to say that the past seven plus years have been fueled by a love like this but that wouldn’t be true. Many moments definitely have. But that’s not the case for every one of the nearly 3000 days that we’ve been together. So while passages like this are very moving, they’re also very convicting.

Don’t you think God meant for our love for our spouse to look this way? To be unstoppable, unquenchable, fierce, and powerful? Our love can actually be strong enough that no speeds bumps of life could ever dowse the flames. This is a passionate love that I think every marriage needs, and every spouse deserves. It’s a love that we have to fight for and make every conscious effort to maintain. It’s love that fully adores our spouse no matter how they are acting or if its a good day or not. It’s love that sets our spouse as a priority. It’s a love that serves as often as possible. It’s love that puts the needs of the relationship above either individuals personal needs. It’s a love that withstands any temptation. It’s a love that refuses to dull into oblivion.

Here, check out another one:

Like a lily among thorns
    is my darling among the young women.

Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest

    is my beloved among the young men.
I delight to sit in his shade,
    and his fruit is sweet to my taste.
Let him lead me to the banquet hall,
    and let his banner over me be love.

Song of Songs 2:2-4 (NIV)

This is passion. These are two people who adore one another. Our marriage should be a love poem that would read like this. Our spouse should know that we are head over heals for them. The butterflies never have to stop fluttering in your stomach when you’re out on a date with your significant other. You never have to stop being captivated by the one you chose to spend your life with.

When’s the last time you felt a deep passionate desire for your spouse? Anyone struggling to answer that question should also know that it’s not too late. That fire can be rekindled. With God, all things are possible. But we have to want it.

In a way, to lose our passion for our spouse is equal to devaluing them. If you know the story of Solomon, you know that he eventually went astray. He had to devalue his bride to go after other things and other women. All marriages are susceptible to this. We start to lose that passion when we allow jobs, ministry, other relationships, money, goals, hobbies, and even kids to get in the way.

I think Solomon’s sad story pushes some away from reading his love poem. I hope for you, that’s not the case. We’re told that all scripture is profitable and inspired by God. Which means, He wants us to know the words of the Song of Songs. Because that passionate love that we’re meant to have with our spouse reflects His heart for us. There is no power in existence that can stop our God’s love for us. And that is an encouraging thought.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)

Be encouraged

Be loved

Love passionately

 

The Imitation Golden Rule

_imgWhen I was a kid, I used to collect rocks. I absolutely loved them! It’s amazing that I never became a geologist. Now I’m passing that love on to my children. In all of my rock collecting as a child, I accumulated quite the assortment. Of all of the rocks I sorted through, only one disappointed me. I can remember distinctly as a child combing through a quarry and finding a sparkling golden nugget. I ran up to my parents thinking that I had struck it big. Come to find out, it was a little something called ‘fools gold’. I didn’t get it. Fools gold? I felt kind of dumb and let down all at the same time. When it comes to the so called ‘golden rule’, many people kind of treat it the same way. Jesus provided the real deal, but so many of us are wheeling and dealing the imitation goods and are so surprised when it doesn’t get the same return.

So in everything,do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Matthew 7:12 (NIV) [my emphasis]

It’s interesting that so many people, Christian and non-Christian alike, know this phrase as the golden rule. But I’m not so convinced that all of them know the meaning of it. A few years back, one of my students quoted it in class. I asked him if he could tell me who said that. His response was typical. He said, “I thought it was just a principle we are taught as kids.” I gently informed him that these were words spoken by Jesus Christ. Since it was a public classroom, mentioning His name changed the entire atmosphere.

Ironically, when the boy used the phrase, it was in a sarcastic and hurtful tone towards another. So I asked him if he enjoys being talked to like he had just spoken to his classmate. Of course he rolled his eyes and muttered under his breath, “well, all people talk like that.” My teacher ears kicked in and I called him out on it. I said, “first of all, not all people talk like that. Second, just because we know a lot of people who are rude, doesn’t mean we want to be treated that way. Third, if we don’t want to be treated that way, then we shouldn’t treat others that way.” He then slumped into a reflective state and class continued on. He wasn’t mean to another student the rest of the semester. He was actually one of the kindest among his classmates.

This was a classic example of how people misuse this verse. They use it when it’s convenient to prove a point, but not when it forces them to change their ways. Here are what I believe are the two most common misinterpretations of the verse:

1-“…in everything, treat others how you’ve been treated.”

I think this IS society’s golden rule. At least this is how I’ve seen it play out most of my life. It’s also how I’ve been guilty of not applying it like Jesus intended. People with this mindset may start off with good intentions, but if wronged, it will cause a hardness in their heart that callouses over and determines how they relate with others. If loved, they love. If served, they serve.

2-“…in everything, demand that others treat you how you want to be treated.”

Self entitlement is extremely common. People are out to ‘get theirs’ in life. They apply that to relationships, careers, and the like. If others treat them well, it may or may not have any bearing on how they choose to treat others. It’s a ‘me-centered’ universe and their end game is to be treated how they think they deserve and they’ll treat others according to their convenience and mood.

When I read Matthew seven not long ago, it was like a dagger to the heart. I had this image in my mind like I was watching myself interact with others; like it was a movie. You see, it’s a lot easier to critique the actions and words you see and hear from others. But for some reason, the same standards don’t always get applied inwardly. I had a highlight (or low-light) reel run through my mind of several instances of how I mistreated others. They were subtle, but they made me feel ashamed. They made me feel like a hypocrite.

Then I feel like the Lord persuaded me to view situations differently. A thought came to mind. What if I entered every conversation, and took every action, from the perspective of ‘what if this was said or done to me’? That can be the filter but it doesn’t stop there. I believe the words of Jesus are proactive. What I mean is, we should go out of our way to try and change to culture of speech and action. We should enter every conversation with the aim of speaking life, encouragement, truth, gentleness, and hope. That’s what we all want to hear right? We should also try to serve and love all because we all want that from others. So I leave you with the two questions that I’ve been wrestling with ever since my last encounter with Matthew seven.

1-Are you saying the things you want to hear?

2-Are you doing the things you’d like to be done to you?

Imagine how the world around us would change if we did our part to live out the ‘golden rule’.

Peace in Christ my brothers and sisters!