Most parents know that lying to our kids is not a good idea — it’s not respectful or kind, and is likely to cause our children to mistrust us in the future. And that mistrust could possibly carry over into their adulthood.

However, what about Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy? Is it okay to tell our children that Santa Claus is real? Or is this just another innocent “white lie” that we all tell our kids so we can watch their faces light up with joy on Christmas morning?

Some believe that the “Santa-Hoax” is a dangerous path that can psychologically affect our children’s capacity to trust adults when they eventually find out the truth. But I believe that it all depends on the child’s emotional make up. I think some kids don’t completely buy the Santa story, but others might feel betrayed when they find out that it had all been an elaborate lie concocted by their own parents.

Some parents go a bit overboard on the Santa hoax — actively doing things to make it look like Santa had visited or telling stories of hearing noises on the roof or just missing seeing him.

On the flip side, some parents, (thinking they’re being honest and progressive) go too far and end up killing all the joy Christmas. However, there are gentler approaches besides outright lying to children about Santa and exposing the whole thing as a cruel hoax—as long as these approaches are motivated by joy, love and respect.

I explained to my children when they were very young that Santa wasn’t a real person but that he represented the “spirit of Christmas” that so many people enjoy. But I also taught them to respect those who believed in a “real Santa” and that we should let their parents explain it to them.

I remember the next year while me and my son were in a convenient store a woman looked down at my son and said, “Is Santa coming to your house?” My son looked up at the woman and in his matter-of-fact voice answered, “No.” Stunned at his answer the woman said, “Haven’t you been a good boy this year?” “Yes.” He replied. “Well then Santa’s coming to your house!” The woman exclaimed. My son then looked at me strange and whispered, “Dad, no one’s told her yet!”

Talking to our kids about the “Santa Game” can be great fun—just like we might talk about fictional characters such as Iron Man, or Sleeping Beauty. But going out of our way to try to make our kids really believe that there’s a man who rides around in a flying sleigh and lives at the North Pole with his wife and elves, just isn’t necessary. Our children are naturally able to enjoy the wonder of make-believe without our fabrications. It’s possible to really get into the whole Christmas spirit as much as our children do by just following their lead.

Remember, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

May your holidays be filled with the joy and wonder of a child.

What do people know about you?

From your Face Book page they probably know your approximate age, city of residence, marital status, hobbies and interests, but do they know the most important thing about you? Do they know that you’re a Christian? Do they know that you’re a disciple of Christ? More importantly, does what you post on social media reflect accurately your hope and peace in Jesus?

John 13:35 states, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Occasionally we sing a song in church that proclaims, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” We love that sentiment as we sit in church. I am not disputing the truth of these lyrics. Some Christians sincerely want to show and share the light they have received with others because they truly walk in the confidence, peace and love of the Lord.

Unfortunately, if you were to ask most of the unsaved world how they would describe Christians from what they post on Face Book and other social media sites, love is seldom a word that would come up. More often the word hypocritical is used.

That should not surprise anyone familiar with Face Book. Too often I have scrolled down a page of someone who professes to be a Christian who posts a serene picture with a Scripture verse superimposed over it. But then they post an inappropriate or vulgar image right below the first one. What message does that send to the unsaved world?

What is even more disturbing to me though is the negative language that is used in posts from Christians to other Christians that they happen to disagree with. I recently read a post from an unsaved person that read, “Christians are against more things than they are for. It just seems to me that Christians are mad at the world and mad at each other. They are so negative that they seem unhappy. I have no desire to be like them and stay upset all the time.”

Today’s Christians have an image problem that is not pleasing to God. We don’t always do a good job of loving others as we should. But if we intend to bring the gospel of Jesus to an unsaved world we first need to wash our minds with the God’s truth and walk in a way that reflects His love inside of us.

The Apostle John says, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)

James chapter 3 reminds us that the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. He warns that the tongue is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body and is full of deadly poison. James goes on to say that out of the same mouth comes praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be!

To those who would say that I am being too judgmental I would remind you that Jesus said, “Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the Day of Judgment.” (Matt. 12:36)

Jesus also said, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16)

We are to be salt and light to this dark and tasteless world. But if we hide our light—if the darkened world can see no difference between us and them, then what are we here for?

Then let us be lights that shine brightly not only with our actions and our deeds, but also with our words.

Chanukah is far more important than we Christians give it credit for. Everyone is familiar with of a menorah. It symbolizes and epitomizes the Chanukah story. But your average Christian, may not know the story. Knowing the story is important and so I will share an abbreviated version with you here.

In 168 B.C.E. the Jewish Temple was seized by Syrian-Greek soldiers and dedicated to the worship of the god Zeus. This upset the Jewish people, but many were afraid to fight back out of fear. Then in 167 B.C.E. the Syrian-Greek emperor Antiochus made the observance of Judaism an offense punishable by death. He also ordered all Jews to worship the Greek gods.

Jewish resistance began in the village of Modiin, near Jerusalem. Greek soldiers forcibly gathered the Jewish villages and told them to bow down to an idol, and then eat the flesh of a pig –practices that are forbidden to Jews. A Greek officer ordered Mattathias, a High Priest, to subject himself to their demands, but Mattathias refused. When another villager stepped forward and offered to cooperate on Mattathias’ behalf, the High Priest became outraged. He drew his sword and killed the villager, then turned on the Greek officer and killed him too. His five sons and the other villagers then attacked the remaining soldiers, killing all of them.

Mattathias and his family went into hiding in the mountains, where other Jews wishing to fight against the Greeks joined them. Eventually they succeeded in retaking their land from the Greeks. These rebels became known as the Maccabees.

Once the Maccabees had regained control they returned to the Temple in Jerusalem. By this time it had been spiritually defiled by being used for the worship of foreign gods and also by practices such as sacrificing pigs on the altar. Jewish troops were determined to purify the Temple by burning ritual oil in the Temple’s menorah for eight days. But to their dismay, they discovered that there was only one day’s worth of oil left in the Temple. They lit the menorah anyway and to their surprise the small amount of oil lasted the full eight days.

This is the miracle of Chanukah that is celebrated every year when Jews light a special menorah for eight days. That is why we light one candle on the first night of Chanukah, two on the second, and so on, until eight candles are lit.

Some think, “Well, this is nice and all, but that’s Old Testament, so why should we celebrate it today?” Because Jesus also celebrated Chanukah:

“Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. The Jews gathered around him, saying, how long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” –John 10:22-24

Notice that the Jews wanted to know if Jesus is the Messiah because they think he might kick out the pagans and set up his kingdom just like the Maccabees did over a hundred years prior. They were now under Roman rule and they were ready for independence.

We also need to realize that while Jesus was at the Feast of Dedication, the subject of the Rabbi’s discussion on that day was most likely about the Temple dedication. So immediately we see that Jesus not only celebrated Chanukah but made the effort to be at the temple during this time. So if it was good enough for our master to celebrate a feast that commemorates the dedication of God’s temple, then why shouldn’t we follow his example?

The Messiah can be seen in every one of God’s feasts, including Chanukah:

“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

Jesus is the light of the world, symbolized by the menorah, but even more specifically Jesus is the central light from which the other lights are lit.

The ninth candle in the center of the menorah is called the shamash or the “servant” candle. It is used to light the other ones. Jesus said, “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…” –Matt. 20:28

Just as the candles on the menorah must be lit by the shamash (servant) candle, so we too must be lit by the servant, Jesus the Messiah, before burning bright in the world as a light to others; and our light will guide others to Jesus in the form of serving one another. This is Jesus’ message on Chanukah for us today.

Happy Chanukah!

 

“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.” (James 4:1-2)

Many Americans were shocked after hearing reports of the atrocities committed by the terrorist group ISIS this year. We were even more shocked when we learned of the brutal beheadings of Americans. Now there are rumors that ISIS is even beheading children!

Many of us are thinking the same thing: “How could any religion promote such evil atrocities?” Or “Why doesn’t God step in and destroy all of these enemies?”

But in the mind of the terrorist WE are the enemy of their god, Allah and it is their duty to destroy anyone who does not ascribe to their religion: “When your Lord revealed to the angels: I am with you; therefore make firm those who believe. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.” (Quran 8:12)

It’s part of human nature to think that the universe revolves around us. We have a tendency to think as if our desires and wants are the most important things in the world. Subconsciously we try to make God fit into our plans.

Think about it. During the crusades, many people stated that God was on their side, that their cause was just and that God would help them defeat their enemy. (Those outside the Christian faith) It is events like this which should tell us that our perspective is wrong. We need to re-think our relationship to God.

When Joshua asked the person he encountered whose side he was on, it must have been a real shock to hear him say “Neither!” (Joshua 5:13-14) The Lord’s army isn’t FOR anyone. God’s purpose is to carry out God’s will – not to be another force at the disposal of man’s whim.

The real question is not whether God is on our side, but whether we are on God’s side. Are we submitted to God? Do we really act as though Jesus is our Lord, or do we try to get God to do what we want? God sometimes graciously intervenes on our behalf, but that is only God fulfilling His plan through us for His own glory.

C. S. Lewis wisely wrote: “Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, `Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally, we shall insist on seeing everything – God and our friends and ourselves included – as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.”

This is not a popular opinion, but is it possible that all that we’re seeing in the world today is the result of God’s law of reaping and sowing? Galatians 6:7 tells us, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”

We’ve replaced the Bible and prayer in our public schools with metal detectors and police security. We’ve given up the security of family values and replaced them with immoral ideas and attitudes. Sanctity of life is no longer fought for, and more often is legislated against. Our children have become uncontrollable beasts who murder without conscience. Pornography has been piped into our homes for us and our children to view at the push of a button on the remote control.

If we reap what we sow, well, “Welcome to the harvest!”

The only way that this war on terror will end for us is to pray as the prophet Daniel did:
“Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land…Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.” (Read Daniel 9:1-19)

It is only when we truly repent and turn from our wicked ways and turn back to God that we will experience true peace in our land. Because God promises that, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Ahh, Christmas time has come to us again! That time of year when joy fills the hearts of people everywhere. When we find people bustling through department stores and shopping malls to purchase that perfect gift for those they love—that one time of the year when we have peace on earth and good will toward all men. Right? Really? Ask any homeless person if they feel there is good will toward all men.

Homeless people are not respected by and large. Many of them will receive a Christmas dinner at a shelter and a few stocking-stuffers, and then it’s back on the street. The number one thing that they need and often deserve, even if you don’t know them, is respect. Respect them as a human being and fellow traveler on this journey we call life.

Living on the street is not like camping. You must be consistently on the move, and ready to get up and leave when you are asked to do so. If you are on the street, it is usually because circumstances beyond your control have forced you into that position in life. Living on the street, life is far harder than you could ever possibly imagine if you have never been there. Homeless people have needs like everyone else in this world. Their needs are usually very basic and to give of your time just to talk to them sometimes can really help. But if they don’t want to talk to you, respectfully back away. Otherwise, listen to what they have to say even if it makes absolutely no sense to you. It doesn’t have to. They are talking because they are alone and feel that they are without hope. And being without hope will eventually kill you.

There are many things that people on the streets will need to survive. For the homeless to lack some of these items could well lead to their death. To survive, they need things—small things. Like soap, shaving gear, postage stamps, pencils, and paper. Even having a good book will help to alleviate the burdens they carry around mentally every day.

The list above is good, but it does not cover the whole issue of how they will get money. Money is the key ingredient that everyone needs, but many will abuse it. If you really want to help a homeless person, give them a job if you can do so. There are many carpenters, electricians, and factory workers that are now homeless. Please do NOT discriminate against them; because everyone else is already doing that.

So during this Christmas season of giving, if you have anything that you can give, do so. Some people will argue that this only encourages them to stay on the street. It’s true that it will encourage a few of them to remain where they are, but there are those out there who, by simply giving them a bottle of water, a hot meal, or simply a smile and a kind word, will possibly save their life.

Some simple gifts that most of us can give:
• Instead of giving them money directly, go out and purchase Subway gift cards, and the like. Think about this, Subway and many of the sandwich places are selling subs for fewer than five dollars! By giving a homeless person a gift card for 10 or 20 dollars you may well give them food for three to four days! A lot of homeless eat very little and their stomachs are no longer as strong as they used to be. Sandwiches, especially from healthy places like subway, provide a great deal of nutrition that they desperately need.
• Do not give a homeless person greasy food! You know what that does to you and what ends up in the toilet? Try eating that and not having the opportunity to use a bathroom!
• One of the greatest problems that the homeless have right now is the need to bathe and finding a place where they can do that at. Most locations will force them from the property because of health risks, but most homeless people know where they can go to clean up. If you want to help, give them small bottles of antibacterial liquid soap. (Bar soap is harder to store and they may be allergic to some types of scented hand soap)
• An inexpensive sturdy back pack can prove to be invaluable to a homeless person. They can use it to safely store all of their items while still being able to remain mobile.
• You can usually find inexpensive seasonally appropriate clothing at a local thrift store to give to the homeless—Coats and accessories such as mittens and stocking hats in the winter and shorts and flip flops for the summer.
• The reason that you see homeless people carrying around cardboard is that the cardboard provides a layer of protection between them and the cold concrete they often sleep on. A Yoga pad that can be rolled up would help considerably. (And they’re not as unattractive as a rolled up piece of cardboard)
• Blankets are important too. Even when it’s warm during the day, weather can turn cold at night and a person should stay covered when they sleep.
• There are many things that can be done, if we simply think of the homeless as our fellow human beings and give them the respect that all humans deserve.

Don’t leave taking care of the homeless just up to the shelters. Remember what Jesus said: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (See Matthew 25:31-46)

 

Flower in ConcreteLately there have been so many reports of bad things happening in the world—from terrorist attacks, to riots, to shootings. But if we look hard enough finding good that’s being done is like finding a flower blooming in concrete.

Here are a couple of flowers I discovered lately:

Omaha’s street paper

M,A,Yah saw the homeless in a different light, because at one time he too, was homeless. So he has great compassion for those struggling to survive on the streets. He dreamed one day that he would own a street paper and dedicate it to getting the homeless jobs and hopefully, off the streets. Omaha’s Heartland News street paper has been finding its way into homes and businesses since 2011.

But M,A,Yah’s dream literally went up in smoke February 5, 2013, when someone had set fire to his newspaper which was located at 62nd and Ames Avenue at the time. Fortunately no one was hurt. However, M,A,Yah had been residing in the upstairs of the building, and due to the fire he found himself homeless once again. But that did not deter him from going after his dream.

Although someone tried to crush it, they didn’t succeed. All he could think about from the time of the fire was getting his paper back up and running again. He said he only lost a building, not his dream. Within 4 months of the fire, M,A,Yah found refuge just 20 blocks east of where his original building was. He moved his newspaper into a building that is shared with a barber at 4001 Ames Avenue and now his paper is back and doing better than ever!

The vendors are told to tell people the suggested donation price is $1.00 per paper, but once a person finds out that the venders are homeless, they usually get generous amounts of donations—All of which they get to keep for themselves. This program is designed to help the homeless “Charge Straight out of Poverty,” as the motto goes, by allowing the vendors to keep 75¢ from each paper they collect a dollar donation for. Then they pay The Heartland News .25¢ for each paper they distribute. The money they give to The Heartland News goes back into the fund to get the next issues printed.

M,A,Yah also has people that set up tables in front of stores, such as Walmart, No Frills and Bakers who do nothing but collect donations for the paper itself. However, because vendors do not set up at the same locations as the Salvation Army bell ringers, the paper doesn’t do so well in donations this time of year.

The Heartland News is not just another venue for panhandlers. Some of the venders are able to find a place to live, while selling the Heartland News. Others meet people that might open up job possibilities for them. The North American Street Paper Association says in just 2 months a vendor could make enough money to put a permanent roof over their head.

Table Grace Café

Table Grace Café is a place that offers food for a free-will offering. They don’t suggest a certain amount of money as a donation. You just give what you feel like giving and nobody knows how much you donated because it all goes into a wooden box at the counter.

The pizza-salad-soup combo is standard fare at Table Grace Café. Owner and professional chef Matt Weber is a trained chef who studied at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City. Pizza and soup is handmade every day at Table Grace Café and the varieties they offer depend upon what they have available.

They have a relationship with Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Wohlner’s Grocery and during the growing seasons they get fresh produce donated by local farms. These donations help keep costs low, and helps Matt and his crew continue to offer nutritious food to folks who might otherwise go hungry.

It’s important to know that while Table Grace Café certainly helps people who might not otherwise be able to afford this type of meal, this place is for everyone. Everyone is welcome, and everyone is free to pay whatever they want to pay for the food. Whether you drop a couple of quarters into the donation box or a hundred dollar bill, you’re going to receive the same friendly service and wholesome meal as everyone else.

The purpose of Table Grace Café is to promote a healthy community by offering great food prepared and served in a graceful manner to anyone who walks through the door. They believe that everyone; regardless of economic status, deserves the chance to eat wonderful food while being treated with respect and dignity.

Paying it forward
Table Grace Café also has an Internship Program that allows individuals to complete a 2 week training course in restaurant work. After they complete their training they are given job placement assistance by Matt’s staff and volunteers.

Catering
Table Grace Café also caters dinners for 10-30 people. Just give them a call and they’ll be happy to work out all the details for your event. Whatever your event; Table Grace Café will work with you to accommodate your catering needs. And best of all, by choosing Table Grace Café, you’ll be helping their ministry in downtown Omaha of ‘Nourishing Hungry Bodies and Souls’.

See more at: http://www.tablegracecafe.com/our-mission.html#sthash.rEeflMLt.dpuf

 

Remember that Jesus said, “Whatever you do for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you do for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

“Now the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD.”
(Genesis 13:13)

What was the sin of Sodom that was so great and outrageous in the eyes of God? What was the sin that so angered him, so outraged him, that he annihilated the city with fire and brimstone? Many think it was the sin of homosexuality and point to the account of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah found in Genesis chapters 18-19. Although Sodom is mentioned many times in both Old and New Testaments and is synonymous with great and outrageous wickedness, the truth is that Sodom’s greatest sins were pride, gluttony, and laziness, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door. (Ezekiel 16:49)

Just like Sodom, America has lost her way. She no longer knows right from wrong. She has turned away from the way of truth and light found in the Bible and followed in the way of lust, wickedness, immorality and evil. She has lost contact with Biblical moral standards – that set of attitudes, outlooks and values that the Bible represents. She has rejected God and followed his great adversary, the Devil, who is the master of illusion and deception. She has lost her faith in God and instead put her faith and confidence in the god of this world.

People have exchanged the truth of God for the false ideas, dogmas, religious traditions, doctrines of men and secular humanism. Spiritual darkness has descended on the land. The evidence is everywhere. There can be no better or more convincing evidence of this than the way the country has condoned and embraced that great sin of pride, gluttony, and laziness, while the poor and needy suffer on our streets.

The fact that we now live in a country in which so many people view themselves as Christians and yet condone and accept behavior that is so radically at odds with the outlooks and attitudes of the Bible shows the extent to which even Christianity has become twisted, contorted, corrupted and perverted in this land.

A person is not a Christian just because he/or she calls themselves a Christian or because they are a member of some church or denomination, or because they recited some robotic prayer to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. Just believing in God doesn’t make one a Christian either. Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror! (James 2:19)

Christianity is about substance. It’s about what and who you really are inside. It’s about a faith and love in God that is accompanied by serious godly, upright living. It’s about an attitude and commitment of the heart–a commitment that results in virtuous, good, moral living. It’s a mind-set, a way of thinking, a philosophy, a set of outlooks, attitudes and values based on God’s Word. It’s a lifestyle against sin and a lifestyle of goodness and virtue.

The Christmas season is supposed to be about celebrating the birth of Jesus. But more than any other time of the year you will find people rushing through retail stores pushing, shoving and fighting over trinkets that will be broken or discarded within a year–while others are praying for a warm meal and a safe place for their children to sleep. A person who considers himself a Christian and sees nothing wrong with this gross depravity is deceived.

As C.S. Lewis puts it in his short essay ‘The Weight of Glory’: “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

The world is hungry, lonely and hurting. It needs to know the loving, accepting God of the Bible–not the haughty, uncaring and judgmental God that we have shown the world for too long.

So instead of ignoring the poor as you mindlessly drop a few coins into the Salvation Army bucket on your way out of the store, maybe you could buy a few extra things. Take them home and wrap them up to give to a few homeless people in your city. You see, sometimes God doesn’t just want our money. Sometimes he wants us to be Jesus to someone who is hungry, lonely and hurting.

Here is what God has said regarding the poor:

“Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” (Proverbs 14:31)

“Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward them for what they have done.” (Proverbs 19:17)

 

 

“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 him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (I John 1:5-7)