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 

The Aroma of Christ

"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. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing." (2 Corinthians 2:14-15 NIV)

There's a 'not so kind' saying that goes, "Old fishermen never die, they just smell that way." Well, your author is an old fisherman, and I suppose on some  successful trips I have smelled that way. Of course, I do try to remedy that condition at the earliest opportunity.

Science tells us that the sense of smell is more acute than any of our other senses. A single whiff of apple pie, fresh mowed grass, orange blossoms, or an approaching rain shower is immediately recognized, even to the unseeing eye. Age old memories are brought forth clear and distinct by a momentary breath of an aroma from our past. I still remember the smell of my mother, her passing some 24 years ago. I don't have to see my wife to know she is near; her fragrance is sweet, magnetic, and a joy for me to inhale. So it is with genuine Christianity. Those who love the Lord Jesus emit a lovely aroma.

The Greeks in Corinth would have been very aware of the significance of Paul's reference to 'fragrances'. Whenever the Romans won a major military victory they would celebrate with a spectacular parade. Preceding the victorious company of soldiers would be heralds and priests swinging their censers with sweet smelling incense. The commanding general would lead the procession in a magnificent chariot, followed by his soldiers, musicians, and other officials. Then, soldiers would lead the defeated enemies through the city in bondage. All along the parade route you could smell the sweet aroma of the spices people were burning.As a part of the celebration, the Romans would burn fragrances on altars, filling the entire city with a pleasant aroma. Even those who could not witness the triumphal procession could hear the victory music and smell the pleasing incense. Everyone would know that their army had been victorious. The special fragrance came to symbolize victory to anyone who smelled it.To the conquered victims the incense has the stench of death lingering all about them.

Paul goes on to say in verse 16, "To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life." To those who are perishing we are the smell of death. At least we should be. Our righteous walk with the Lord should be evident for all to see and as such bring a sense of guilt and remorsefulness to our unsaved brothers. We wear this smell of death not haughtily or in false piety, but remembering always that we once walked the same path as they. As for the fragrance of life; "We are to God the aroma of Christ…". We wear that fragrance only by the grace of God; "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast." (Eph. 2:8-9 NIV)

Another aspect of having the 'aroma of Christ', and the more important one, is the aroma sensed by our Father in Heaven. There is a TV commercial presently depicting some people sitting around a garbage can blindfolded. Hanging over the stinking garbage is a deodorizer that has supposedly masked the stench and when the blindfolds are removed the people are amazed that they could not smell what they now can see.

Going back to Leviticus (chapters 1-5), where the LORD established the method and manner for each of the five sacrificial offerings, the text states that each offering would be "an aroma pleasing to the LORD" . Such is the aroma of Christ's death on the cross to our Father God. The stench of our sin nature, our unholiness is masked by Christ's sacrifice at Calvary. Through Christ Jesus we exude the aroma of His sacrifice.

We who were God's former enemies (Rom. 5:10) have been conquered by the sovereign saving grace of God (Eph. 2:5), and taken captive by Him, and as His bond slaves are led and displayed by Him before a watching world (v. 7). It is my prayer that as we daily walk with our Lord, His sweet fragrance fills the air of our passing and all those we encounter would breath in the sweetness of Jesus.

May the Lord abundantly bless you and yours, and may you be a blessing to others.

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. . .

A Fearfully Wonderful Body

There are several verses that speak to God's loving and meticulous manner of bringing each one of us to life.

One of my favorite passages is from Psalm 139. It says, "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." (Psalm 139:13-14 NIV). (See http://www.weeklywitness.com/a-love-letter-from-god/)

The KJV and NKJV weakly translate 13b as "You covered me in my mother’s womb." The word 'covered' only partially interprets the original Hebrew "sakak". The better, more complete rendering is to weave or knit.

Albert Barnes, in a late 18th century commentary, explained the verse thusly: "The word here rendered cover means properly to interweave; to weave; to knit together, and the literal translation would be, "Thou hast woven me in my mother womb," meaning that God had put his (hers/yours/my) parts together, as one who weaves cloth, or who makes a basket…. The original word has however, also the idea of protecting, as in a booth or hut, woven or knit together. . .of boughs or branches…."

We should see, as David did, the human body as an especially designed covering, and a vehicle for an especially designed personality. Aside from a spiritual or scriptural view of the body, any scientific study of the harmony, the orchestration of the intricate working of muscles, organs, and mind leaves me wonderstruck.

Following this assertion of intricately divine creativity is David's own proclamation, "I am fearfully and wonderfully made…" 'Fearfully' is in the sense of being in awe or reverence. David says he is awed by the wonder of his physical being and the soul in residence. He goes on to speak of God's omniscience in that He saw "my unformed body" before it was made (Ps. 139:15), and that He established the days of my life before they came to be (vs. 16; Jer. 1:5).

What consideration do we make of our bodies. To agree that we are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made only scratches the surface of our duty to maintain and protect this earthly shell.

Paul said our bodies are as houses or tents, yet Job said these houses are of clay and their foundations are of dust (2 Cor. 5:1; Job 4:19). Both Peter and Paul likened our bodies to tabernacles or temples (2 Peter 1:13 ASV;  1 Cor. 3:16-17), and Jesus warned us about the foundations we choose to build our house on (Matt. 7:24f). We are commanded to sacrifice our bodies (Romans 12:1) and to honor God with our bodies (1 Cor. 6:15; 18-20).

How wonderful is it that God is busy designing a physical shell for you and me while at the same time He has built a  home, and has provided a lighted path to that home, for the day our shell is no longer needed. Think also about the fact that your body is unlike any other body ever created. We've all heard the complimentary adage "When God made him/her, He threw away the mold!" Well my friend, that's exactly what happened when God made you – He threw away the mold. He has never, and will never make another person just like you. There are no clones.

Before you were ever a smile on your parents face, God had a need. He needed someone with a specific and unique role for His kingdom and so He designed you to fit that role. No one else can or will fulfill that purpose. If you don't fulfill it, then it will go unfinished – empty – forever lost.

That is why you are so important to Him. If you have ever designed and/or built anything unique you can begin to understand how precious you are to God. Think about the possibility of designing your child before conception. Consider how diligent you might be in choosing their personality, skills, intellect, physique, etc. Then as you first hold this perfect design imagine your elation of knowing you have contributed to the wonderfulness of who this child is. This is what I think God sees at our birth.

That we have red hair, black hair, or no hair; that we are articulate of speech, or stutter as did Moses; that we are leaders or followers; whatever characteristic or attribute we enjoy, or thorn in the flesh we might be  burdened with, is by God's will and plan. Yes I believe God even designs our shortcomings – not our sins – but which of the Biblical heroes were not afflicted with some failing characteristic, and how often did God not use that characteristic to show His glory? God did not intend mankind to be afflicted with the great maladies and calamities brought about by the fall, but He certainly can use them to proclaim His glory as we are victorious over these things in His name.

Take heart my friend and rejoice in knowing that you are special – no – more than special – you are uniquely designed by God for God, and with that knowledge you should stand tall, shoulders back, proudly proclaiming God's personal stamp of approval on your individuality. Do not dismay that your contribution may not shine as brightly as another. There have been many great preachers, but only one Charles Spurgeon, many great evangelists, but only one Billy Graham, and many great missionaries, but only one Mother Theresa.

Remember God's promise from the prophet Jeremiah – "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

Be blessed.