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Being Thankful

Enter his gates with thanksgiving;

go into his courts with praise.

Give thanks to him and praise his name. (Psalm 100:3)

A couple of quotes on being thankful: “The unthankful heart… discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings” (Henry Ward Beecher); “There is no such thing as gratitude unexpressed. If it is unexpressed, it is plain, old-fashioned ingratitude” (Robert Brault). Now let me connect the dots here: as you go through this season of Thanksgiving, may you have a thankful heart that looks for all the blessings in your life, and as you discover those blessings, may you be quick to express your gratitude for them. One final quote: “The prayer that begins with trustfulness, and passes on into waiting, will always end in thankfulness, triumph, and praise.” (Alexander MacLaren) My prayer for you during this season of ‘thanksgiving,’ may your prayers would begin in a spirit of trust in the God Who has shown Himself to be trust-worthy, may they be done with a willingness to wait upon Him and His grace for His Loving response, and may your prayer, your time in the Presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, produce in you, for the whole world to see, a heart of “thankfulness, triumph and praise.”

Do not be anxious about anything,

but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,

present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6).

The ‘Melody’ of Our Lives

speaking the truth in love,

we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head,

into Christ.

Ephesians 4:15

Mark Twain, referring to his wife’s cursing, described it as “getting the lyrics right, but missing the melody.” Isn’t that a great quote? One that applies much more broadly than when someone curses. That’s why Paul instructs the Ephesians to speak the truth “in love.” We need to pay attention not only to our words (the lyrics), but also to how those words are delivered, how the other person receives those words (the melody). Truth can be spoken not only in love, but it can also be spoken in selfishness, harsh-ly, and with cruelty. Or very matter-of fact-ly, impersonally, without care or concern for the other. We’re in the relationship business, us humans: we were made personal beings, made for community, in the image of our God, a personal, Triune God. Our lives are impacted, for good or for ill, by those we come into contact with. Both through the words we use, but also by the attitude, the tone with which we speak. Our words, and the melody with which we speak, impacts lives. In fact, you can say it is the melody which has more impact on others: the hearts of those around us are softened and opened as we communicate our care, concern, and love for them: only then will they truly hear and respond to our words. So, my word to you today: be attentive not only to the lyrics, but also to the melody of your life. Ask God to give you a greater sensitivity to not only the impact of your words, but also to the melody your life is singing. And we all know how much we are affected by music! Is the “melody” of your life today that of thanks, and joy, and goodness…? Is that what those around you are hearing from you? Ask God for it to be so.

On Being Thankful

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;

for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Sometimes, as I read these verse, I find myself thinking, “like I can just flip a switch and be thankful and joyful…”  But that is EXACTLY what these verses, and so many others throughout the pages of the Bible, are saying to us.  This being thankful is not all that difficult, even in the toughest of circumstances.  It’s a matter of focus, of the will, of making a choice.  A choice to fix our minds, our eyes, our hearts, on Jesus.  On His love, His grace, His power….  Either we’re living down to our circumstances, or up to our God;  Letting our circumstances dictate our attitude, or our relationship with our God;  Letting the world and all its burdens be our focus, or our God and His love, grace, and power.

Yes, life can be hard, and is filled with trouble, as Jesus reminded his disciples in John 16, but remember His next words:  “I have overcome the world.”  That word, overcome, is in the perfect tense, which, if you know your Greek tenses, refers to something that was completed once for all time.  Not, I am overcoming, or will overcome,  but I have overcome.  Done.  For all time (which includes today).  Your circumstances don’t have to get the better of you, leading you to anger, or discouragement or worry.  If they are, its only because you are letting them, by not making the choice to abide in Jesus, to fix your thoughts and hearts on Him.  It really IS that simple.  Like flipping a switch….  Is your switch turned ‘on’ of ‘off’ right now?  “Father, help me to keep the switch turned on to You, and help me not let my circumstances control my attitude and emotions.  May I be a person who reflects joy and thanks to those around me.  I can do this only in Your strength, by Your grace, with Your Spirit’s help.  Come, Lord Jesus….”

In Praise of His Creation

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars, which you have set in place….

Psalm 8:1, 3

Debbie and I had the chance a couple of weeks ago to take a quick trip into the mountains of North Carolina, to see the fall colors. In some places, the trees were pre-peak, but when we got up into the Blowing Rock area, driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway, it turned spectacular- full color. What a magnificent Creator! It’s hard not to stop and praise the Maker, as David did in Psalm 8. And to think some believe all this incredible beauty is the result of time and chance! As we came home, the leaves around us had not yet begun to turn, but in the couple of weeks since we returned they are now turning. Not as spectacular down here in the Piedmont, but still pretty incredible. And having seen the beauty of the mountains, I find myself more attentive to and appreciative of the beauty here. Perhaps there’s a truth lurking in this observation: that the “mountaintop experiences” we have all had, those times when we experienced His love and presence in a special way, give us a greater ability to “see” the beauty even in the everyday, the usual, the ordinary. As we remember His faithfulness and power, and nourish our relationship with our God, it gives us a greater sensitivity to His Presence, His touch, His grace in its many manifestations each day, including today. Has He been good to you? (I know He has) Take time to praise Him for His past faithfulness and care, and ask for a greater attentiveness to the ways He is blessing you and caring for you and those around you today.

Heart to Heart

“Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”                                 1 Samuel 16:7

How guilty am I of the exact same thing: looking only at the outward appearance? It takes time, and attentiveness, and effort, to be able to see the “heart” of another. But that is the only way to have significant, meaningful, rewarding relationships. And the only way lives are changed. How often do we see people in the headlines, usually having done something tragic, and people around them saying, “I had no idea….” What is REALLY going on in the lives of those around you, those closest to you? Do you know their heart? Are you taking the time to even consider their heart, or are you so absorbed in self, that you are only responding to the outer person and behavior? Ask God, as you pray in the days to come, to “see” the hearts of those around you, to be able to communicate “heart” to “heart” with them. And, perhaps most importantly, for the willingness to open and share your heart with them. That is how lives are changed, how relationships are deepened, how life becomes richer and fuller. But it all starts with grace….

Spiritual Corrosion

As I continue to preach through James, I have been reflecting this week on the beginning of chapter 5, where James speaks to those who are wealthy. He speaks of the corrosive effect of wealth, that wealth itself doesn’t last, but that it has a corrosive effect upon those who have it. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire(5:3). I wonder: how many other things in my life have a corrosive effect upon my soul? How about TV? And not only the movies, shows…, but what about the talk shows and all their anger, criticism, negativity? Studies have shown that all the violence in video games, movies,… de-sensitizes those who watch/play them and makes them more violent themselves. They corrode the human spirit. Same thing with the sexual nature of advertisements, to say nothing of movies and TV shows: they corrode the human spirit. On the other hand, there are ways we can build and encourage eternal riches and values. Not just the individual disciplines of prayer and Bible study, but things like worship, service, acts of caring and sacrifice…. They also have a “corrosive” effect, but a good, positive type of “corrosion” upon our souls. Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it…. Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Proverbs 4:3, 25-26. Soooo, the challenge to all of us is to reflect on the state of our soul, and how much, and what type of “corrosion” we are subjecting ourselves to. Are we giving careful thought to the path of our feet? Let’s not deceive ourselves here: we are being influenced b y the people and whatever else we are watching, coming into contact with. Let’s pray for ourselves, and for those around us, that we would be more sensitive to the corrosive influences around us, and submit ourselves more to the good than the bad.

Rejoicing in God’s Faithfulness

This is the day the Lord has made.

We will rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24)

In addition to bringing your requests needs, and hurts to God, make sure you also take the time to remember the Lord’s faithfulness to you. Perhaps make a list of all His blessings, or at least make a list in your head. The list would be quite extensive, wouldn’t it, if we only make the time to do it. If we don’t do this regularly, we will forget so much of God’s blessing. And in turn forget how loving, gracious, forgiving, and powerful He has been. And still is. There’s the key: He is still just as loving, gracious, forgiving. He hasn’t changed a bit. But we have: we tend to forget, and drift away, and begin to fear, doubt, worry…. Our list of needs and requests is never-ending, isn’t it? New things pop up each day. But just as never-ending is His love…. And so we rejoice: today, right now, whatever the circumstances. He has been faithful and IS faithful! Rejoice!

Let all that I am praise the Lord;

with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.

Let all that I am praise the Lord;

may I never forget the good things he does for me. (Psalm 103:1-2)

The Evangelism Gap

In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answerto everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15)

I recently attended a presentation on personal evangelism, where the speaker spoke about a gap in his life between what he knew about evangelism, and what he was actually doing with that knowledge.  He “knew” people were lost without Jesus, both in this world and for eternity; he “knew the difference Jesus can make, the holes and needs only He can fill in a person’s life; he “knew” individuals who either had never committed their life to Jesus, or who had drifted away from Him, and so badly needed to be connected or re-connected to their loving Savior.  But he was doing little or nothing about that knowledge, he was not sharing Jesus with them:  hence the “gap.”  He knew Jesus challenged His followers to tell their story, how Jesus touched and is touching their lives.  He knew so many around him would benefit from Jesus’ touch.  He challenged himself, and was challenging us, to commit ourselves to closing that gap in our lives.  So I pass on the challenge to you:  will you ask God to bring into your life people who you can share your story, your testimony, the Good News of Jesus with?  And for opportunities to share your faith, your story with them?  Remember, it begins simply with loving people, being attentive to those who the Lord has placed in your path, and with prayer- lots and lots of prayer.  Attentive prayer.  Expectant prayer.  Being-ready-to-give-an-answer kind of prayer.

Sowing and Reaping

Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant.  Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.  So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.                  Galatians 6:7-10

This passage is pretty straightforward: I simply leave you with one question. What seeds are you sowing in your life these days? The farmer knows there ain’t going to be any corn in the fall if he doesn’t plant corn seeds in the spring. And yet, spiritually, I think many Christians presume to think that the fruits of righteousness (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, self-control…) will just appear by nothing more than our desire to have them. Let me suggest to you: if you wish to see more of the fruit in your life, then you must sow spiritual seeds: reading Scripture, prayer, worship, fellowship…. And don’t forget service, as Paul writes here: “do good to everyone.” We also need to apply this sow-reap principle to those around us: if we wish to see a harvest of souls, if we desire to see them come to Christ and grow in their relationship with Him, then we must be about the business of sowing those seeds as well: praying for them, building a relationship with them, sharing our faith with them when appropriate, inviting them to join us at church… Again I ask: what seeds are you sowing? Seeds for the kingdom of God, of righteousness, or selfish, temporal, this-world seeds?

Finding Delight in Him

Delight yourself in the Lord,

and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Psalm 37:4

I wonder if we really believe that verse. Aren’t the desires of our hearts often mis-directed and sinful? Certainly God won’t give them to us. The key words in this verse are “of your heart.” God made our heart, and He made it for Him: to be in intimate communion with Him. But we have replaced the true desire of our hearts with counterfeit, imitation, and often perverse desires. Desires that will never satisfy our deepest longings and desires. Only He can do that. And only as we put aside and drive away those counterfeit desires will our deepest desire and pleasure be revealed and satisfied. Only as we make a deliberate decision to put aside the cares and passions of this world, and replace them with the pursuit of Jesus. “Taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:6).”  It’s in the tasting that we find how satisfying He is, not just in the understanding. Good intentions don’t satisfy, they only lead to regrets and guilt. What specific steps can you take this week to pursue a deeper relationship with your God? More time in prayer, studying His Word, in worship or service? Let’s remember that our earthly, temporal pleasures are only cheap imitations of our deepest pleasure, which is the presence of our God in the midst of our daily activities and experiences. He brings out the true pleasures of this world: He made it for us. To be enjoyed by us. In Him. Don’t leave out that last phrase: in Him!