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 

Pray Without Ceasing

Why pray – God already knows all my needs and problems; He knows my shortcomings. He also knows that I worship Him and that I love Him. So what’s the point of prayer?

I know my children and grandchildren love me. But how wonderful it is to hear, "I love you Dad" – or – "I love you Grandpa". Not much else in life puts a bigger smile on my face. So it is with God. He knows our heart, but it isn't hard to imagine the smile on His Holy face as we go to Him again each day to tell Him we trust Him today, that we love Him and that we want to do His will.

Have you thought about how your prayer life is a demonstration of your faith? Think about it!

How better to proclaim you faith in God than to fall on your knees and raise your arms in prayer to an entity you have never seen, never felt, and never heard? You're reaching out to a God that you believe will hear your pleas and your praise. Your prayer is saying to God, "I believe in You; I trust what Your Holy Word says about You, and what it says about your love and care for me; what it says about your mercy, your grace; of how you provide my needs and how you bless me with this overwhelming sense of belonging and forgiveness, and protection, when all I really deserve is your disdain and your wrath.

How do we react when our prayers aren't answered? Everyone reacts differently. Some begin to question the value of prayer; some might even question God's existence. Do you rail against Him – do you withdraw from Him – do you deny the effectiveness of prayer because you didn't get the answer you expected, in the way you expected it, and at the appointed time you desired it?

How often do you pray? The Bible's imperative is that we pray without ceasing (1 Thes. 5:17). REALLY?? You say "But Lord, I need to sleep – I need to concentrate on this surgery – Lord, I am focused on driving in this 5 o'clock traffic . . .I can't be on my knees 24/7." Well, of course, God doesn’t expect us to be in formal prayer 24/7.

We could go about our relationship with God much as many men do with their loved ones. They say, “I provide a home for them, the pantry is full, their closets overflow. I’m a good dad.” Likewise we might say, “I attend church, I even serve sometimes, I sing praises to God along with the congregation, and I tithe. I’m a good Christian.” These are all good and commendable things, but what about your personal relationships – with your family and with God?

Did you spend time with your child; did you hug your wife and tell her you love her and that you appreciate her being in your life? And how about spending time alone with God – quietly meditating on His goodness, His majesty and magnificence? We should talk to Him just as if He were across the room. Remove yourself from any and all distractions and then empty yourself as if He didn’t already know it all.

We need to be an attitude of prayer. As we begin our day, a part of our morning prayer should reflect the close of Psalm 19 – "May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you. . ." We set the tone for the day – there's a focus on the Man-in-Charge – an attitude of recognizing we have a relationship with an omnipotent and all seeing God who has expectations of us.

Make time for prayer first thing in the morning – it establishes a temperament, a personal inclination to acknowledge God's hand in every event of your day. Even in the bad events God is sovereign – if He has allowed them it is meant for either your good (Rom. 8:28) or for His glory. By doing so we daily re-establish His sovereignty in our lives, His majesty, and when we seek Him as our first fruits of the day – we are more apt to see His magnificence all through our day. "For in Him we live and move and have our being". (Acts 17:28)

Exactly what you might pray for will certainly vary with your circumstances. It is impossible to have a relationship with someone if you don't talk with them. As you relate an issue to God in prayer He may silently impress on you the solution. Wait for an answer! Don't just dump your problems and run off to your day. If you believe He hears your prayer, believe also He has an answer and that He does not ignore you. Have faith in your prayer. As James wrote, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”.

The hardest part is waiting for the answer. We've all heard it said – God is not a genie in a bottle that responds to our every wish. We need to be in an attitude of all-day-long communion with God. That is the command of "pray without ceasing". All day long we are mindful of His mercy, His provision, His blessings, His protection, His guidance, etc., etc., etc.

Finally we must remember our prayers of gratitude and thanksgiving. Paul wrote, "give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." (1 Thes. 5:18)

Be blessed!

Testing

 "See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction." (Isaiah 48:10)
"Blessed is the one you discipline, Lord, the one you teach from your law. . ."
(Psalm 94:12)

Should we welcome the testing and discipline of God? My wise and wonderful bride loves the cliche', "There is no testimony without a test."

I know of a man, a faithful believer, who for many years shared with his friends about how God seemed to daily empty his basket of blessings on him and his family. It seemed no distress, no trial, no bad thing came their way. He even felt guilty that so many of his church family were oppressed by financial, health, and relationship problems. He was certainly not wealthy, at least not by American standards, but his family was financially comfortable. They enjoyed good health and his children and grandchildren all knew the Lord as their savior. He was surrounded by many friends and – well – life was just good.

And so, as he continued to grow in his faith he wondered why the Lord had not tested him. Somewhere along the line he had heard that if you're not having occasional journeys into a valley then perhaps your faith is too weak to be tested. Similarly he heard that Satan doesn't bother with those who aren't a threat to him. So, while not looking for cloudy skies, he did wonder.

You see the greatest test of our trust in God is when we have no-one else to turn to. As long as we're on the mountain top we give God the glory, we vocally praise and thank Him for His abundant ongoing providence. But mountain tops don't drive us to our knees in despair, crying out for relief, praying for mercy, begging for a cure, or employment, or forgiveness.

Its much harder to praise God when life gets hard, when you have an unfaithful spouse or a rebellious and delinquent child, when the job you thought would go on indefinitely suddenly disappears, and you wonder how you'll pay the rent and how you will feed your children; or when a loved one is stricken with an illness that may take them from you and additionally drive you into unbelievable indebtedness. That's when many would look up, perhaps shake a fist, and say "Why me Lord?" – "I don't deserve this!" But our God says "When you are weak, them I am strong"- "My grace is sufficient".

Though it may be hard, I would urge you to look at your affliction from a different viewpoint.

Let us first take another reading of our opening verse  – Isaiah 48:10. I typically use the NIV as a default interpretation because it is much easier to read than the King James. In some cases the interpretations are just as reliable but then, in some cases, as here, the rendering leaves us with an incomplete understanding. Reading from the KJV, "Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction."   Note the difference in the second part of the verse – the word 'chosen' verses 'tested'. The difference here is that the Hebrew word, bachar, is from a root – to try; such as, "I will try you out on my softball team – I choose you for  a trial run" Thus the KJV 'chosen' is far closer in interpretation than the NIV or ESV or NKJV 'tested'.

What the Lord is trying to get across is that He has chosen you to be tested. In His great love for you He has chosen you for a test of your faith, and in that sense we should indeed rejoice in that test. God has chosen me. . .

Let affliction come – God has chosen me. Poverty may intrude at my door, but God is already in the house. Sickness may invade, but we have a Salve ready – God has chosen me! Whatever might bring me to tears, I know that He has "chosen" me. Even in the valley of the shadow of death He says, "Fear no evil; for I am with you".

As for the 'man I knew' and what became of his life on the mountain top – that man was your author and he was indeed tested. He not only survived his journey into the valley – he was, I was, by God's good grace, victorious. I was surrounded by the family of God who bolstered my faith, showed me His face, and through them I knew His faithfulness –  that He was walking me, guiding me through the valley. Not only would I not walk the valley alone, but I would come through victorious. So I praise Him for loving me enough to choose me for a test. I pray you are chosen, for by so you may draw nearer to God than you would you ever know.

Trust Him and be blessed. . .

  

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. . .

Into the Valley

 

1. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.

3. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

4. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

5. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.

6. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.

(Psalm 23 NKJV)

Walking hand in hand with God is such a wonderful experience. You know that you know that you know. . .that His Holy Spirit, who is alive – no, more than just alive – He is living, working, leading in and through you. You are so very aware of His teaching, His rebukes and His gentle push when temptation would steer you off that narrow path. He opens your eyes to the wonders of God's Holy Word – that most precious of possessions. He takes this Word and burns it into your mind and then He tenderly places it on your heart, so that it becomes so much part of you that it is as another vital organ without which you cannot survive.

You are so deeply grieved by your sinful contribution to our Savior's death – death on a cross; I may have just as well driven home the nails myself. Could I, could you, look my murderer in the face and say "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do"? All these things are integral to that wonderful experience of a Christian walk.

I have opened this devotional with the 23rd Psalm, a most beloved passage we learned as a child in Sunday School and repeated often in Vacation Bible School. Of the whole of the psalter the 23rd is probably known by more people than any other. Perhaps initially because it is short and therefore easy to memorize, but I think as the words grow within us, even as we physically and mentally mature, they become a cherished crutch to call upon when days grow dark – when we find ourselves in 'the valley of the shadow of death'. If we back up one Psalm to the 22nd we can hear the anguish and distress David is experiencing and perhaps one song led to the next.

It is curious to me that the 23rd Psalm was the first passage that came to my mind when I found myself tumbling off a mountain top recently. I have known myself to be living a mountain top experience for a number of years now. I have shared that cognizance with most of my friends. I have even prayerfully questioned God why I was so blessed, while I was surrounded by so much suffering by those I love. They say you shouldn't look a gift-horse in the mouth. Maybe they were right.

Over the past few weeks I found my footing on the mountain top slipping just a little and midweek this week I came falling, tumbling, sliding off that mountain top, right into the valley of the shadow of death. A doctor's visit jerked the rug right out from under our feet. You see, the doctor says my bride, my love, my best friend has cancer and it is an ugly cancer. I suppose all cancers are ugly, but for Judy and me this one seemed more ugly than what we were ready to face.

We made a few phone calls and send a couple of emails to ask our friends and family for prayer. I so very distinctly remember how distant God seemed from me. That wonderful, hand in hand experience I described above seemed now so far away. In one email I noted that although I knew the Lord was with us, I just could not at the moment see where He was in our picture.

I stayed up very late that evening, much of the night on my knees. Not only praying for a miracle for Judy, but that I would know His presence – that He would show His face. I so desperately missed knowing His nearness to me.

God answered my prayers – in spades. He showed His face in ways I had not expected. He sent His angels – earth angels. Some of the angels had titles, like Pastor and Doctor; most were those of His faithful – our friends and family. Judy and I were inundated with phone calls, email and text messages, flowers, and knocks at our door. It was in these of our loved ones, as they circled the wagons around us, that I saw the face of God – this was the hand of God telling me that He will indeed lead us beside still waters to lie down in green pastures. This was God assuring me that we should fear no evil for He is with us.

Our walk through the valley of the shadow of death is far from over – it has really only begun. But as wonderful as was the mountain top, so too now is this valley, as I know He is with us on the journey. Surely and indeed my cup runneth over.

Trusting God when all is well is such an easy thing. I think it also can be a time we may take His blessings too much for granted. I don't think I had done so – perhaps He thought differently. But I thank Him for this 'valley', as I am more sure today than yesterday that I know that I know that I know He loves me and He will never leave me nor forsake me.

I would never wish ill for anyone, but I do pray God will take you into some valley, that you may come to know Him in a way you'll never know from the mountain top.

God bless