Happy Thanksgiving

Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name. (Psalm 100:4)

 It seems that at this time of year we are flooded with messages on thanksgiving. We hear them from the pulpit, in our daily devotionals and in so many Christian blogs. I think because of that so many people tune out and turn off when the THANKSGIVING trumpet sounds. They just switch channels.

My question to you is, “Is there ever too much of thanksgiving messages, or better still is there ever really enough?”

It would be easy to plug any number of scriptural passages in at this point but let me begin with just one.

"But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them." (2 Tim. 3:1-5)

In this letter to Timothy, Paul cautions his protégé of the mindset of many of the people in times to come. Did you catch that the trait of "ungrateful" was followed immediately by "unholy"? Does anyone suppose that God, in His infinite wisdom, arbitrarily placed these two characteristics together? I doubt it. He places 'ingratitude' in with some very unsavory company.

God places a high value on our being grateful for His abundant blessings of grace and mercy, and He has made it imperative that we voice our gratitude. The apostle Paul writes, "In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." We must understand that gratitude to God is not some magnanimous gesture on our part – it is God's will that we be thankful.

The result of not being grateful to God is also given to us in the Bible. In Romans chapter 1, Paul describes a culture in disintegration, a culture sliding backward into darkness. Perhaps like our American culture. Paul sets the scene, and then adds these significant words in verses 21-22: "For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools"

I have wondered if perhaps the economic downturns we are now experiencing are God's message to the United States – Is He telling us, "Your too fat, you've become too soft, too complacent, too busy building your own temples where you worship yourself and your things. You have the morals of dogs and the scruples of thieves, and you are totally lacking in contrition or remorse. You glorify those who would give you what you don't work for, by taking it from those who do." Maybe our country needs a good swift kick in the pants to get our thinking straight.

In these times of economic failure it is sometimes hard to look heavenward and say "Thank You Lord for all your blessings". For those who have been fortunate enough to remain employed, their future is still often cloudy, and we all know of friends and neighbors who are without a paycheck this holiday season.

I often find it hard to 'give thanks' for those in authority, particularly some of our political leaders. But the Bible will tell me that is just my flesh in rebellion to God's Holy Word. The Lord admonishes us, "Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence." (1 Timothy 2:1-2 NKJV)

The real test of our trust in God comes with the valleys He takes us into. How do we come by a mindset of thankfulness when we face the fears and tribulations, the calamities and maladies of life? Without going into a long list of examples I’m sure you can bring to mind your own valley experience. My question for you is – did you thank God for it? My guess would be – probably not.

In such instances having an attitude of gratitude just isn’t a natural human instinct. We want our issue resolved, we want it to disappear! Thanking God for it is often the farthest thing from our minds. We may go to our knees in prayer for intercession but probably not thankfulness.

But that’s just what God tells us to do! Philippians 4:6-7 says, Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

The only way I can interpret that last part of verse 6 is that we are called to thank God for our tribulations – for whatever we might become anxious about.

It’s easy to be thankful for the good things. A life of rich fulfillment comes to those who are also thankful for their setbacks. I am reminded of a verse in an old Bill Gaither hymn, “The God of the mountain is the God of the valley; the God of daytime is still God in the night.” If I could be so bold, I might add, “the God of our good times is the God of our bad times; and the God of our blessings is the God of our troubles.” Find a way to be thankful for your troubles and they will become your blessings.

Some Christians may take thankfulness to an extreme, praising God for helping them find a parking place, shouting hallelujah when they find the TV remote control, or breaking into song because the cafeteria is serving turkey today instead of liver. It can get a little silly.

But isn't it better to be grateful too much rather than not enough? If you practice being thankful every day, it won't be long before you notice changes in your life. Exercising an attitude of thankfulness builds our confidence in God as our provider and our protector. It becomes a constant reminder of our dependence on Him, it promotes an attitude of giving and charity, and it fosters a mindset of self-denial.

I recall some years ago, in the aftermath of hurricane Wilma, the experience of having no electical power for nearly a week. No electricity meant no hot water, no air-conditioning, no stove, microwave, or TV, and no light after sundown. There was no gasoline for travel as the service stations too were without power. We couldn't even recharge our cell phones. Major intersections had to be manned by police officers as the traffic lights didn't work. The grocery stores lost many thousands of dollars in food which spoiled awaiting the return of power for their coolers and freezers, as we did in our own refrigerators at home.

It would be hard to enumerate a complete list of businesses and services affected by the simple loss of power. Our water had to be boiled before use, as the water treatment plants were not able to function properly, restaurants were closed, – on and on went the adversity.

I remember as my son and I said in the dark one night of that ordeal, we discussed how life must be like that for so many people in the world. Yet even then God had provided a safe and secure place or us to ride out the storm. We took the opportunity to thank God for reminding of us of His providence in allowing us a life of such luxury. It was a lesson in humility as opposed to a time to complain. It was also a time to relearn the differences between my wants and my needs.

I have found in the past that I would spray paint my thanks to God. That is I would say, "Father, thank you for all your many blessings", and I hope that God would honor such a prayer, but a time came, somewhere in my soul, that the Holy Spirit told me that God did not spray paint His blessings. He was very precise and particular in the way He blessed me. I should at least attempt to be as particular in what I thank him for. Obviously I cannot enumerate every blessing. I do know that every day I am blessed and don't even realize it, but I can and do know many of the blessings and so now I try to lift each of these up to Him and have Him hear of my gratitude.

Waiting in line at the grocery store isn't irritating if you're thankful there's food available and you have money to buy it. Even the high price of gasoline isn't as distressing when you're grateful you have a car to put it in.

Be thankful you don't already have everything you want. If you did what would you look forward to?

Be thankful you don't know everything, for you have the opportunity to learn.

Be thankful for your limitations. They give you opportunities for improvement.

Be thankful for each new challenge, because it will build your strength and character.

Be thankful for your mistakes for they will teach you valuable lessons.

Be thankful when you are tired and weary, because it means you've made an effort.

 If you look for things to complain about you’ll find them. But if you look for things to thank God for, you'll find those too.

I leave you with these two verses on gratitude; 2 Corinthians 2:14, "But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him", and 1 Corinthians 15:57, "but thanks be to God, He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ". Take notice of the association of thankfulness to triumph and victory in those verses. God wills that we pray our thankfulness to him and in return we have victory.

So today as you thank God for his providence and His blessings, remember also to thank Him for the trials and tribulations in life. How would we ever grow in Christ if every day was without hardship, if we never knew anguish, tragedy, or misfortune? Does anyone ever learn to stand before they have fallen a few times? Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 7:14, "when times are good, be happy: but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other."

Happy Thanksgiving 

Friends With God

Some of what I propose in this devotional is obvious. The problem with the obvious is that it gets overlooked and taken for granted; it becomes mundane and unexciting. So how do we take the emotions and conduct of being a friend and having a friend back to exciting? What was it about Abraham that God would name this man, and this man alone in all Scripture, "Abraham, my friend"? (Isaiah 41:8)

Before we address being a friend of God lets take the more elementary steps of being a friend to anyone. Typically we choose our human friends based on like-mindedness and reliability. We have common interests and we know we can count on each other. Friendship is most definitely a two-way street. I find that if I substitute the word 'friendship' for 'love' in Paul's definition of love in his first epistle to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 13:4-7), I now have a well-founded pathway to being a friend. Old cliches and common sense insist that "to have a friend we must be a friend".

As friends we allow ourselves to be accountable to one another and we honor our responsibility as our friend bares their soul and becomes accountable to us. When a friend is victorious we celebrate with them and when they stumble we hold their hand and seek a way to get them back on their feet. When our friend confesses their shortcomings – their trespasses – even against us, we embrace their honesty, we salute their contriteness, and we forgive, and when our friend calls out for a need we set our own agendas aside and come to the rescue where possible. Sometimes we can only offer a shoulder, but how often I can recall that shoulder being all I needed at the time. Being a friend is developing that relationship where nothing is off limits, where we keep our promises, and where love is the order of the day.

So what was it about Abraham that God would call him 'friend'? Surely we are aware of some of his mis-steps such as the journey to Egypt, where Sarah would acquire Hagar and that ill fated consequence. When I read the story of Joseph I wonder why God didn't call him friend. Scripture doesn't reveal any wrongdoing by him. Though nothing of the sort is found in scripture, it has been suggested by scholars that perhaps Joseph participated in idol worship as a member of the Egyptian elite. We read in Acts that David was "a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do."  (Acts 13:22), yet God did not call David 'friend'. The question remains – what was it about Abraham that caused God to call him friend?

We find the answer in Genesis. Isaac has gone to the land of the Philistines because of a famine. God speaks to Isaac telling him not to go to Egypt and promises him that He will keep the promise He made to Abraham "because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws." (Gen. 26:1-5)

Is it that simple? Obedience? Surely there must be more than that. Does all God ask of us to be called His friend is that we obey?

I find that obedience is the natural product of faith. In Hebrews, chapter eleven, we read of the OT faithful elite and it says of Abraham that when God called him to leave his family and home to go to a place where he did not know, "he obeyed". (Heb. 11:8)

Fast forward to the New Testament and the testimony of Jesus as related in John. Our Lord Jesus speaking to the apostles tells them, "You are my friends if you do what I command" (see the whole passage – John 15:9-17) Once again the prerequisite for friendship with God, whether the Father or Son, is obedience.

As a child I remember being bullied and pushed around in school. I recall wishing I had a big strong friend to rescue me, but that never came to be. Today we are bullied by any number of adversaries – Satan tempts us and our sinful nature gives in. This fallen world brings bullies in the way of sickness, heathen employers, and calamities and maladies by the score. Yet God has promised to rescue us from our storms – whatever their source – if we are obedient to His commands. (Exodus 23:22)

What comfort it is to know the Mighty, Majestic, Omnipotent, Creator God stands with us, desiring to be our friend if we will only obey.

Be blessed.

Because God Has Said

"Because God has said. . .so we can say with confidence. . ."

". . .because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Heb. 13:5-6)

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? (Rom. 8:31-32)

"You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world." (1 John 4:4 NKJV)

During the praise and worship portion of any given Sunday service I'm sure we would find almost unanimous agreement with the words of Chris Tomlin's song, "Our God". Parroting the query of Romans 8:31 we should indeed demand to know, "who-ever might prevail over His children?"

"Because God has said. . .so we can say with confidence. . ." If we could only grasp these words by faith, we would have an all-conquering weapon at hand. What doubts we would allay; what fears could we calm, what burdens might be overcome!

Charles Spurgeon wrote, "Will not the distresses of life and the pangs of death; will not the corruption within, and the snares without; will not the trials from above, and the temptations from beneath all seem but light afflictions, when we can hide ourselves beneath the bulwark of "he hath said"? Yes, whether for delight in our silence or for strength in our conflict, "he hath said" must be our daily resort."  (Morning by Morning)

Some quick counts from a concordance reveals that "thus says the Lord" appears over 500 times, and "declares the Lord", 250 times in the Old Testament. Then we have "the Lord has said. . ."

My point is that God is speaking to us. Many of these "thus says the Lord" and "the Lord declares" we would surely want to avoid as they were words of wrath spoken to a rebellious nation of Israel, but we cannot and we see the results of His wrath on our nation as it has turned away from God just as the Israelites did over and over again.

Many of these verses are God's promises to those who would obey Him, and those promises we can today appropriate for our own lives and that of the church.

What greater motivation for Bible study could there be than to know there are promises of rewards and blessings unknown to you now! There may be a promise in the Word that would exactly fit your case, but you may not know of it; therefore, you miss its comfort. You're like a prisoner in a dungeon with a 'get-out-of-jail-free' card at hand and you know nothing of it. There may be a potent medicine in God's great pharmacy waiting to cure your sickness, but you failed to look for the prescription He designed for you. You may continue to be sick unless you examine and search the scriptures to discover what "the Lord has said".

Since "the Lord has said" is the source of all wisdom and the fountain of all comfort, let it dwell in you richly, as "a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life". (John 4:14)

May He abundantly bless you and yours.

Defeating the Hittites

The Hittites have come and surrounded our home. They have been threatening for quite some time now – ever since I quit paying homage to their gods. They have allied with the Amalekites and Midianites to bring down this little corner of the Kingdom of God. They want to return me to the slavery of yesterday's life.
Who are these Hittites, Amalekites and Midianites? Well just as those same named kingdoms of Biblical history were enemies of God's chosen people, so too we face enemies today.
While our enemies aren't human armies with battering rams and siege machines, they do test our resolve to stay faithful to the Lord. They seek to break down the walls we – with the help of the Holy Spirit – have built to withstand their challenges. So I garb myself with the whole armor of God and meet their challenges. And we win – the Holy Spirit and I, we win.
How do I recognize these Hittites when they come knocking? They are minions of Satan himself and are often very well disguised. They can spring upon you in a flash and before you know it you are a victim.
The Hittites in my life is my pride, the Amalekites, my intolerance, the Midianites, my impatience. I also am sometime challenged by the Canaanites – an old and evil enemy, the bottle. He is oh so weak now, but he hasn't gone home in defeat and so I must be ever on guard. It was from Canaan that the god Baal found its way into Jewish lives. Surely our addictions, whatever their source, become our Baal.
I know of other enemies too; the Edomites, the Moabites, the Ammonites, the Jebusites, etc., etc. Some of these "ites" manifest themselves today as greed, lust, judging, and unforgiveness. But just as God Himself defeated or equipped the Israelites to defeat the "ites" of the Old Testament, He, through His Holy Spirit, equips you and me to be victorious over our enemy, however he may present his evil self.

The greatest enemy we face is what I will label as the Philistines. The Philistines were the perpetual enemies of Israel and the fiercest – they were big, and bad, and mean, and they just never went away.  God warned, even commanded, the Israelites not to have anything to do with these pagans.

The Philistines that we face is our own sinful nature. None of the "ites" armies of Satan are as relentless and persistent as is our own internal Philistia. The army that would lay siege to my home, my personal temple of the Lord's, is never so menacing and sinister as that sinful nature.

Perhaps this has been a somewhat frivolous rendering of our war with sin. But I am inspired to see how so many "ites" came against Israel from near and far, and from all sides. Some of them were powerful, some less so. Ephesians 6 tells us that "…our battle is not against flesh and blood, …but against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil…" (Eph. 6:12)  Some of our enemies are powerful – some less so. But our Lord knows what we need for each battle and thus equips us so. (See "My Grace is Sufficient")

Read the chronicles of Israel's centuries old war with the Philistines – Israel falls away from God, she is defeated (1 Samuel 4:1-11), she repents and is victorious (1 Sam. 7:7-14; 13:3-4; 13:23-14:23; 17:1-58; 18:17-30), she rebels again and is defeated (1 Sam. 29:1, 31:1-13), she repents and is again victorious (2 Sam. 5:17-25; 8:1; 21:18-22).

Isn't the scenario similar in our own lives? We fall away from God and we find ourselves outside that shower of blessings – we are defeated. We repent and find comfort, peace, joy, and abundant blessings – we are victorious.

Greater enemies came and defeated Israel – Egypt, Assyria and Babylon – and we understand these defeats were ordained by God due to Israel's rebellion and worship of other gods. But God never abandons His own. He allowed nations to punish Israel by their defeat and slavery, but He always left a remnant present and He always redeemed them. As promised to Joshua – "I will never leave you nor forsake you." (Joshua 1:5b)

As we read about the Israeli exiles being redeemed from Babylon in Ezra and Nehemiah, having been forgiven their trespasses, and restored to Jerusalem, to His Kingdom – to His good grace and mercy, we must  parallel our own redemption and restoration to God's good grace and mercy. We are redeemed and restored by Christ's death at Calvary and His glorious resurrection which we will shortly celebrate on Easter Sunday.

Be blessed. . .

This Is The Day

This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24 NKJV)
Here's a verse we all know well; words we have put to song and we sing them to our Creator God. If we were to back up a few verses we would find that the psalmist is referring to the Cornerstone of our faith, and the "day the Lord has made" is the day of our salvation through Christ Jesus.
I believe God honors our appropriating this verse out of context. But how many of us really begin our day with such expectant praise! How might our days be different if, as we begin our day in prayer, that prayer was in gratitude and eager anticipation of what our Father God has planned for us that day?
How might our attitudes blossom and our demeanor be uplifted, if we would focus on one truth – That this may be the very day that your Father in Heaven has determined to be the most wonderful, fulfilling, blessed day of your life – 'A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over'. Why could it not be? Why shouldn't it be so?
I think of how we might greet each day with the anticipation of God's grace, provision, and blessings; of the opportunities He will make available to us today to be His hands and feet; of being the salt and light He has called for us to be. I think of the overwhelming honor of being used by my Father to further His holy kingdom. I think of the wonderfulness of His holy word and how, through that book, we are allowed to know Him and to seek His righteousness. I think of the comfort He allows me, knowing that when I stumble, when I fail He has already forgiven me that failure, that He will pick me up, dust me off, and hold my hand going forward.
We never know what today may bring. It may bring calamity, or malady, distress, or even death. Yes, Jesus warned us that our world is full of trouble and we will often have to endure such, but that trouble is not of God. He would not tell us to rejoice and be glad in the new day He has made only to burden that day with trouble.
What a wonderful sensation it is to know as I lay down my Bible each morning, stand up and walk out into the new day, that I have this sense of empowerment, knowing that I am loved by God, that I am His child and heir to His kingdom. He has formulated a plan for each of my days that I might prosper, have hope and a future; and that He lives within me through His Holy Spirit. Is that not awesome?
I noted above that this may be the day He has set aside as the pinnacle – the highest mountain top you will ever know. How much greater, how much higher might that mountain top be if you began your day in anticipation of such an experience. If we were to begin our day in such holy anticipation, when the blessings do occur, how much greater is our joy! "He really did. He really blessed me over and above anything I imagined!"  "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him". (1 Cor. 2:9 NIV) And now, being in the right frame of mind, we instantly know the source of our blessing and we eagerly give thanks to that Source.

I recall some years ago sharing with friends how abundantly God had blessed me and how, in my prayers of gratitude I would say to God that He had outdone Himself and no blessing could be greater. And sure enough, just as if to say "Oh Yeah, you think that was good – how about this!", and He would bring a new and greater blessing.
And if per chance the day does not bring you to the mountain top, it has still been a day of joyous anticipation as our heart and soul focuses on the goodness and faithfulness of God, rather than the travails of life.

We do serve an awesome and mighty God. Blessed be His Holy Name!!