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Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The Deep Meaning of Thankfulness

“Attitude of Gratitude”, “A Thankful Heart is a Happy Heart”, “Thankfulness is The Beginning of Happiness.”  These are just some of the quotes you see after a quick search about thankfulness.  On the surface it appears thankfulness is a motivational and inspirational concept to “turn that frown upside down” and get our “half empty glass, half full”.  Thankfulness has much more substance than that.
 
In the United States, thankfulness is part of our national heritage.  The creation of our Thanksgiving holiday is rooted in our European Pilgrim forefathers who came to America in the early 1600s.  Their practice of thanksgiving feasts came from their religious faith.  They worshiped God, were followers of Jesus and read their Bible.  One passage they no doubt read was Ephesians 5:20, “. . . [give] thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ . . .”
 
The whole idea of thankfulness has religious origins, found in our Creator.  To separate thankfulness from any mention about God and keep it merely as a motivational topic is to miss the real deep and rich meaning.
 
The word “thanks” comes from the words “good” and “grace”.  It denotes two parties.  A giver and receiver.  The giver shows some kindness and the receiver responds with thankfulness to the good grace shown him or her. 
 
In our western culture we act as if there was just one party.  We say, “Be thankful” or “I am thankful.”  But I ask, “To whom?”  We, as the receivers, are saying “thanks”, but we are acting as if it is in a vacuum.  There was a giver.  I argue, based on the truthfulness of the Bible, that God is the giver of all good things.
 
There are unexpected blessings, kind acts, mysterious happenings that we may attribute to medicine, science, chance, fate or simply to nice people.  But behind it all is an invisible God showing you His goodness and grace.  Give Him thanks.  This is a message for the committed believer and for the nonreligious skeptic. 
 
Talking about thanking God when things go our way, is one thing, but what about in times of suffering and hardship?  In those times we often turn and blame God, yet, His goodness and grace is there in bad times, too.  Because the pain blurs our vision, we often need God’s help, or the help of others, to see His goodness. 
 
Acknowledgement is a key word in thanks.  In personal relationships, we should personally acknowledge the good someone brought us; with God it is the same.  Giving thanks is acknowledging His grace in the fabric of our lives – during the good times and bad.
 
And the greatest act of kindness God has shown – is the giving of Jesus, His only Son.  Jesus’ life, death and rising again, gave you an opportunity for new life through forgiveness of all your sin.  He gave to the world without being asked and in the face of disbelief and opposition.  One day you will stand before Him and be judged.  Will you have believed and given thanks for Jesus or will you refuse and experience God’s wrath?  Open your spiritual eyes and see God’s goodness shown to you in Christ,then follow Him with all your heart.
 
A prayer for you to pray– “Lord God, help me to see your goodness and grace in my life, in both the good times and bad.  Open my eyes that I might give you thanks and praise.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.”
 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

How to Fight The Culture of Sexual Abuse

As I prepared to write this column, there were continuing news stories related to the devastating report about the 1,000 children whom were sexually abused by Catholic priests in some Pennsylvania dioceses.  One article highlighted the Catholic church’s own report from 2004, which found more than, “4,000 US Roman Catholic priests had faced sexual abuse allegations in the last 50 years involving more than 10,000 children . . .”  Wow!  And that was in just the United States.  There were also reports in Austria, Chile, and others.

What is happening that children do not appear to be safe in a church with a clergy person?  When I considered that, I slowly began to see how the Catholic church scandal is a devastating picture of a larger problem. 

In protestant churches, pastors have resigned after admitting to adulterous affairs with someone in their own congregation.  In the business world, executives have been fired for sexually preying on members of their staff.  On school campuses, teachers have gone to jail for taking sexual advantage of their students.  In politics, well-known elected officials have stepped down because of sexual harassment. In the home, family members have been arrested for sexually abusing their own children.  In neighborhoods, young men and women have been picked up and sold into the global sex trafficking industry. 

What is the common thread in all of this?  Sexual immorality.  God our Creator has given us instructions.  We are to walk in purity and restrict our sexual activity within the bonds of marriage.  Abusers and the immoral have total disregard for this.  They engage in adultery, pornography, incest, rape, homosexuality, prostitution, molestation, pedophilia, fornication.  All these and more are condemned by God and have devastating consequences for ourselves and others.      

What can we do?  Fight against these evils in our culture by committing to your own purity.  It is written, “Flee from sexual immorality.  Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18).  When you commit to purity you are helping to protect your home, church, workplace, school, neighborhood and your own life.  It is not easy.  Temptation is all around us.  That is why it so wide spread and sometimes we fail.  We cannot do it on our own.  We need help.  We need Jesus! 

He died and rose again to defeat the power of sin, which is at the root of our immorality.  He rose from the grave to make us holy and beautiful before Him.  When we turn to Him He comes to dwell within us by His Spirit.  And that Spirit gives us the ability to be pure.  No matter who you are or what you have done, Jesus can wash you clean and empower you to live a pure life.   

A prayer for you to pray– “Lord God, I want to be clean.  I admit I have done things with my body I should not have.  I regret it and confess my impurity.  Please, oh Lord, wash me.  Remove my immorality.  Forgive me and make me a new person today.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.”

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Freedom from Alcohol

In the rural ministry God has given, I see the negative effects of alcohol on a regular basis.  Most of the time people deny they have a drinking problem while it’s clear to everyone else, or they admit they have a problem, but are not willing to get help. 

The millions who drink are part of a long and storied history dating back over 3,000 years to a man named Noah.  History records him as being the first person to plant a vineyard, make his own wine and booze it up until he became humanity’s first drunk.    

The biblical story recounts Noah as drinking alone in his tent, where the alcohol overtook him, then he disrobed and passed out on the floor without a stitch of clothes on.  The incident caused embarrassment and division within the family. 

Let me point out, this was Noah, the one whom God chose to be His voice to the world during the 40-day global flood.  He was the one about which the Bible says, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless . . . Noah walked with God.”  (Genesis 6:9)

It does not matter if you are a well-respected clergyman, are in constant trouble with the law or somewhere in between, anyone can fall prey to the temptation of the bottle.

I firmly believe no one takes the first drink with the intention to do something embarrassing or harmful.  Instead their reasoning may be, “It goes good with my meal,” “I like the taste,” “I just want to have some fun with a few friends,” or “It’s been a stressful day and I just want to relax.”  Then one drink, turns into two, three and soon they are feeling tipsy, buzzed, and then drunk. 

God says about alcohol, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.”  (Proverbs 20:1)

Have you ever been a little woozy or totally drunk more than once or many times?  Are you able to go a day, week or month without a drink and have no physical symptoms?  After drinking have you ever quietly passed out like Noah, or became loud, obnoxious and abusive around others?

I urge you to please stop.  The practice of drunkenness is condemned by God.  According to Him, drunkenness is when alcohol hits the blood stream and it begins to intoxicate you, affecting your mind and body.  God’s view of drunkenness is much different than ours. 

You do not have to be a slave to the bottle.  You can be free, and freedom begins with Jesus.  He died and rose again that through Him you might overcome.  If you need help, contact me and I can point you to some resources, but the place to start is with Jesus. 

A prayer for you to pray– Lord God, I confess that I have let alcohol affect me.  I have allowed myself to become drunk and disobeyed your Word.  Forgive me.  I also confess I am a slave to alcohol.  Thank you for opening my eyes to this.  I cannot end it on my own.  I need your help.  Come and rescue me from this sin that is controlling my life.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.”

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Danger of Thinking You’re a Good Person

Jesus once told a story about two men who went to pray.  One was a high standing religious man, the other was a tax collector that had extorted money from people. The religious man prayed saying, “God, I thank you I am not an extortionist, immoral or an evil person like so many, including this man next to me.  And I praise you that I regularly fast and pray and give 10% of all my income to the church.”     

Then the other man prayed.  He stood far off by himself with his head hung low against his chest.  He could not bear to lift his eyes heavenward.  Instead he wept and cried out, “God, please show me mercy!  I am a sinful man!”

The differences between the two men are startling.  The religious man saw himself as a good person because of the good things he did.  He was not like everyone else.  He was better.  Meanwhile, the tax collector saw himself as nothing.  There was an admission of all he had done wrong.  A sense that he was undeserving, so in brokenness he called out for mercy. 

When I view the landscape of the American church and society, I see a nation filled with people like the religious man.  Multitudes feeling generally good about themselves because of their attempts at doing good things.  They admit they have done wrong, but counter with efforts that are akin to moral insurance to sooth their conscience.

They also view themselves as better than the other guy, like the religious man did.  They are better than the drug dealer or corrupt politician. They see “those people” as the ones who need the help and religious saving, not themselves.  

These attitudes are dangerous.  They can lead to a moral and spiritual obnoxiousness that will produce a sterile church, empty of spiritual power.  It can also divide a nation among the upright elites and the downright immoral. 

We all are sinners with evil lurking in our hearts.  All of us.  Regardless of our religion, political party or standing in our community.  All of us have done wrong.  No exceptions.  Who has never told a lie, never had a bad thought about another person or never has done something from a selfish motive?  Who?  We!  Are!  All!  Sinners! God affirms this saying, “None is righteous, no, not one . . . no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:11,12).

We have this mysterious evil within us that surfaces in our words, actions, motives and attitudes. What are we going to do about it?  Wish it away?  Ignore it?  Increase our efforts at being good? 

Because of what we have done we face the penalty of spiritual and eternal death.  Yet, it can be avoided.  This was the reason Jesus came from heaven to earth.  He came to go to war against the evil by dying on a cross. There He took our place.  He took our penalty.  He suffered and died for us.  Then rose again, securing the promise of forgiveness and a new life in Him. 

If you admit there is darkness inside you, an evil that dwells within, then in the humble spirit of the tax collector, call out to God for mercy.  Then because of what the Lord God did through Jesus for you and your entire family, freedom is waiting. 

A prayer for you to pray– Lord God, examine my heart.  Point out to me the sin that lives within me.  I do not want it there any longer.  I place my trust in Jesus and ask for forgiveness for all I have done wrong.  Cleanse my heart.  Make it new.  Change my life.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.