Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving



“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing; give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).  If we are ever to wonder what the will of God would be for us and our churches, these succinct exhortations make it quite clear.  If we were to simply focus on those three short commands of Scripture it would completely alter the spiritual landscape of our lives and our churches.

            This is a season in which we take the time to intentionally and specifically thank God.  Engrafting the practice of thanksgiving into our lives on a consistent basis is a means of keeping cynicism and sarcasm away from us.  At this time of year we are not only in danger of frostbite on our fingers from being outside too long; we also can be in danger of having frostbite of the soul by a prolonged exposure to negative thinking and speech.  Thanksgiving Day is an opportunity to allow your inner self to thaw in the warmth of God’s grace and goodness. 

            It is an understatement to say that this has been a difficult year for my family.  Yet despite the challenges we have faced and are still facing we are thankful.  The Apostle Paul specifically encouraged the church to look for ways to be thankful whatever the circumstances may be.  So, I want to express my thanks to God in the following ways:

  • I thank God for the opportunity to demonstrate love for my wife through caring for her after three surgeries this year.
  • I thank God for my epileptic grandson’s constant happiness, his encouraging spirit, his smile, and the joy he brings to others.
  • I thank God for my oldest daughter’s hard work and her courage in raising a special needs son.
  • I thank God for my youngest daughter’s humor and keepin’ it real.
  • I thank God for my middle daughter and her husband – that they love the Lord in so many ways.
  • I thank God for the privilege of preaching God’s grace to my congregation each week.
  • I thank God for the many people who care and pray for me and my family each and every day.
  • I thank God for all you who commit yourselves daily to God’s Word.
  • And consistent with Paul’s admonition to be thankful in all circumstances, I thank God for the problems and the adversities of my life which humbles my heart to pray.

What has God done in your life this year?  How has his grace been mediated to you through the church?  In what ways can you be thankful in the midst of adversity or difficulty?  How is God currently blessing you?  To whom could you express gratitude for being helpful or encouraging?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Christ the King Sunday



Christ the King Sunday is intended to help us see the cosmic reality that Jesus reigns over all creation.  It is an intentional proclamation that every creature on earth must submit to Jesus as the only rightful Sovereign of the universe.  This Sunday always comes just before Advent so that we remember we do not only anticipate a baby in a manger, but a great king.

            The fact that Jesus is Lord of all exposes three problems that we might face.  First, because we live in a fallen world and we are all profoundly touched by sin, in our depravity we have this nasty tendency to build our own petty kingdoms and set ourselves up as masters over our own small worlds.  People who have been hurt (which is really all of us) often attempt to seize power for themselves in order to avoid ever being hurt again, or in the belief that if we had power we could stop others from being hurt.  The classic villains of movies, literature, and even gaming are the ones who seek to destroy the earth so that they rebuild it in their own idea of how the world should operate.  Instead of submitting to Christ’s rule, which we may feel insecure about, we will control our little ends of the world to protect ourselves from pain.

            A second problem which Christ as King exposes in us is a rush to bow to other kings besides King Jesus.  When we become stressed and under pressure from life’s difficulties, we might not run to Jesus but instead rely on another ruler to alleviate the situation.  Addictions are common ways of dealing with stressful circumstances.  But we also might expect other people like fellow church members, pastors, even politicians or others leaders to give us only what Jesus can.  No matter what or who it is, we might willingly submit to them as our king because they provide a temporary way out of our problems.  Instead of taking the gospel road of confession and repentance through Jesus Christ and doing things God’s way, we instead run to the kings we have set up in his place to cope with whatever is going on in our lives.

            A third problem is that we might not realize the power we actually possess as being subjects of King Jesus.  Maybe no one has ever told you that as a believer in Jesus you have authority in Christ.  Perhaps nobody has ever communicated to you how to use the power that has been given to you in Christ.  As Christians we reign with Jesus and can exercise authority over every dominion that exists, especially the dominion of darkness (Ephesians 1:15-23).


            In the name and through the blood of Jesus we have authority to use our God-given power to confront every enemy of our souls and resist all the machinations of the devil in our lives and our churches.  This is a day to take our place with Jesus as the Body of Christ and confront the dark forces seeking to destroy us.  Let us live into the position we possess with the incomparable great power for us who believe.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Envy



            It is simply the fallen human nature of people to look at the success of others, and our own lack of it, and conclude with the question, “Why not, me?”  This is a fairly typical garden-variety kind of envy.  Yet, if this envy is dwelled upon and nursed, it can easily turn into something more sinister.  Believing that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, we might buy into the notion that our gifts and abilities will be better used somewhere else where they are more appreciated.  As a result, people right in front of us, with real needs and a bevy of concerns, are not ministered to and do not have the faithful presence of a caring pastor in their lives.

            The wise man keenly observed that “a heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones” (Proverbs 14:30).  When we begin to think that people, even God, owes us something then our souls become tainted and the rot of envy sets in.  Like a slithering snake we think more about what a congregation can do for us rather than what we can do for them, and for God. 

            Joe Pew Sitter also may struggle mightily with envy.  Believing that he has a right to be spoon fed by the pastor and leadership, he quickly moves onto another church when his perceived needs are not met.  “I’m not getting fed,” “I don’t like the worship style,” and “I didn’t like the decision the church made,” are all too common statements from envious parishioners who desire attention they are not getting. Perhaps there are others who harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition because they were not asked or were passed over for some important ministry or project.  Rather than facing the rot in their own hearts, they move on to another church hoping, like the Pharisees of old, to get their fix of recognition from others.

            The place to begin in addressing envy is to see it for what it is:  not just a common predilection that everyone has, but a sin of believing that I deserve something that God is not giving me.  That puts God in the position of holding out on us, much like Adam and Eve’s original sin of grabbing a forbidden fruit in the belief that God was not providing everything they needed.  Turning from evil pride and becoming satisfied in what the Lord has already provided are the remedies to an envious heart.

            Thankfulness and gratitude are spiritual practices that, when engrafted into a daily walk with Christ, provide a strong antidote to keeping envy at bay.  So, instead of wondering why God is not blessing my life and ministry in the ways I think he should, maybe we ought to be rather intentional about identifying and counting the blessings we already possess and enjoy.  Some of the greatest joys around us are the simple pleasures of everyday life – holding and sipping a hot cup of coffee; a quick kiss good-bye to my spouse on the way out the door; the opportunity to curl up with a good book on a rainy day; these and many more are blessings given to us by a heavenly Father who cares for us deeply.

            It might be a good thing to spend some time in your next leadership meeting, or your next time of prayer, and speak out many of the blessings that currently exist in your life.  For example, in the last week my wife had two surgeries performed on her spine.  Rather than wishing that she would have not have to endure this and envying the healthy, I rejoice that she is with me and that we enjoy one another’s love and companionship every day whether it is in times of health or in seasons of illness.


            As the season turns colder and the holiday of Thanksgiving comes closer, let us celebrate with grateful hearts that pushes the rot of envy far from our souls.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Are You Prepared?



We prepare for things we really care about; we anticipate things that are important to us.  Those persons that really care about hunting make careful preparations for the season and anticipate opening day.  People who have season tickets to the Green Bay Packers and care about football make appropriate preparations for attending games at this time of year and look forward to game day.  And weddings are events that take all kinds of preparation because families care about the marriage that will occur; in fact, since I raised three girls, I can testify first hand that wedding plans begin in 3rd grade for females.

            People come to the things unprepared largely because they do not value the event enough to be ready for it.  Casual hunters and fair-weather footballs fans go home when it gets too cold because they are not adequately prepared for the conditions.  Quickie weddings happen in Las Vegas where two people are not prepared to have a marriage that lasts a lifetime.  In other words, unprepared people tend to drop out of things when it gets too hard.  If they do not value the event enough, they just do without it.  But if they really care about it, they prepare for it, have patience through it, and persevere in it when things get tough.

            Just because someone professes Jesus as Savior and Lord does not necessarily mean:  that the person has Christ as their ultimate value; that they care enough to live into their baptism; that they will avail themselves of the means of grace at the Lord’s Table; that they will value the event of worship each Sunday; or, that they will continually make it their aim to love God, each other, and their neighbors.  The true test of authentic commitment comes when things are not easy and it takes blood, sweat, and tears to see something through.

            There are few human events more freighted with emotion and preparation than weddings.  Parents invest heavily in time, energy, resources, and love in order for their kids to have a nice wedding.  And there are all kinds of potential for disaster to occur at a wedding.  Since I have done my share of weddings, I can tell you that a lot of things go awry in the preparation process and at the wedding itself.  I have had bridesmaids pass out, grooms forget the ring, and families fight like cats and dogs in the narthex just as the bride is ready to come down the aisle.  All kinds of crazy stuff can happen with a wedding.  At my own wedding, Mary’s bridesmaids were literally sown into their dresses by the seamstress just hours before the wedding; one of my groomsman did not show up because, it was found out, he was in jail; and, we were married on the hottest day of the year – it was 100 degrees, which did not go so well for a bunch of women who were trying to have their best ever hair days.

            But we got married anyway.  The wedding happened because it was important to us.  I think it is interesting that Jesus chose to tell a parable using a wedding in order to tell us what the kingdom of God is like (Matthew 25:1-13).  The bottom line about this particular parable from Jesus is that the five foolish virgins were not ready because they did not care enough to be prepared.  This, at face value, might seem harsh.  But not having the oil they needed for their lamps in that day would be like in our day having half of your bridesmaids show up at the wedding at the last minute in jeans and t-shirts without having done their hair and expecting to stand up with the bride.  No bride or groom or family in our culture is going to roll with that kind of behavior.  And the reason it is not going to be allowed is because bridesmaids who show up not prepared in the way they should is deeply offensive to the bride and groom.

            The five wise and five foolish virgins point to the mixed nature of the church.  The church consists of both faithful authentic disciples of Jesus, as well as wedding crashers.


            Jesus tells us to keep watch, because we do not know the day or the hour when he will return.  So, the big question for every professing believer in Jesus is:  Are you prepared?  We are to be in a state of constant vigilance, being always alert for Jesus to show up.  It is one thing to profess Christ; it is quite another thing to live each and every day doing God’s will and being prepared for Jesus to return.  Let us live in the light that Christ’s Second Coming is immanent and be ready for his glorious appearing.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

All Saints' Day



In all times and every place throughout history God has specialized in taking imperfect and broken people and transformed and used them for his own glory and honor.  On the Christian calendar, November 1 is the day each year to remember the saints who have gone before us.  This day is meant to be an intentional way of not forgetting the people, friends and family as well as long-dead historical saints, who have made a significant impact in our spiritual lives.

All Saints’ Day should not be a focus on extraordinary persons so much as on the grace and work of ordinary Christians who faithfully lived their lives.  We give thanks for the gift of how they lived their faith each and every day.  We also remember that all believers in Jesus are united and connected through the cross.

            Remembering is a prominent theme in Scripture.  Well over a hundred times we are told to remember God’s covenant and actions on behalf of his people; to remember those less fortunate; and, to remember the important people in our lives who influenced us in our journey of faith.  The writer of Hebrews exhorted Christians with this:  Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you.  Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith (Hebrews 13:7). 

            We are to be inspired in the present with the actions of faithful saints of the past.  They are to serve as a model of faithfulness so that they we will persevere in our Christian lives and not give up.  Through biblical stories of very human persons being used of God, as well as reading biographies of godly people who were given to God in service, we can be motivated to be patient and keep persevering until Jesus returns.

            Who were the people in your life that went out of their way to communicate the gospel to you both with words and with actions?  Who were those persons who labored behind the scenes in prayer so that you and others would know Jesus?  If any of those persons are still around, and you know where they are, remember them.  Drop them a note.  Express to them a simple thank you for their influence in your life.  In doing so, you will not only encourage that person, but it will help you remember and re-engage with something in your life that you may have forgotten or have just taken for granted for too long.

            Gordon McDonald, a Christian pastor and writer, at the passing of a lifelong mentor, recalled his loyalty and the crucial counsel he gave in a crisis:  “He was there when, many years later, my life fell apart because of a failure for which I was totally responsible. In our worst moments of shame and humiliation, he came and lived in our home for a week and helped us do a searing examination of our lives. We will always remember his words: ‘"You are both momentarily in a great darkness. You have a choice to make. You can—as do so many—deny this terrible pain, or blame it on others, or run away from it. Or, you can embrace this pain together and let it do its purifying work as you hear the things God means to whisper into your hearts during the process. If you choose the latter, I expect you will have an adventurous future modeling what true repentance and grace is all about.’"


            We are not to live our Christian lives in isolation from others, as if we do not need them.  We are here today because someone significantly influenced us in the way of Jesus.  And we will continue to persevere and thrive in the faith only when we remember those who have gone before us and allow those here in the present to journey with us along this road of faith.