Thanksgiving First

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While working on a sermon for the Sunday before Thanksgiving, my mind wandered back to early grade school times and the lessons we were taught about that first Thanksgiving. The pilgrims, we were told, gathered to have a dinner of thanksgiving, though by today’s standards the amount of food was paltry. That first Thanksgiving was more about being thankful for being alive as opposed to being grateful for an abundance of food.

As I continued to ponder the differences between now and then, I began to feel convicted about taking the blessings of God for granted. How often or how deeply do I reflect on the fact that my every day needs are met. I am faced daily with deciding what to eat, not wonder if I will.

With these thoughts in my mind, I decided I wanted to be more intentional and genuine in my thoughts, words and deeds with regard to being grateful. The idea struck me, as I continued to contemplate the first Thanksgiving, to put thanksgiving first.

As you who have been with me in the blog-o-sphere for a while might guess, I found the inspiration to do this in the Scriptures.

The Bible is full of passages that encourage the reader to be thankful. Here are just a few from the New International Version:

1 Thessalonians 5:18: give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Psalm 107:1: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

Psalm 100:4: Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise

I could go on, but you get the idea; being thankful to God encompasses all of the human experience. Realizing this, I still was not sure if my being grateful for the blessings I receive does not sometimes get delayed because I am distracted by this or that.

To help me with this issue, I came across the solution in another favorite passage of Scripture of mine: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV)

Did you catch it? We are first told to pray instead of worrying. And then we pray with thanksgiving as we are making our requests of God. Don’t wait for an answer, instead be thankful as you pray. This is how we keep God in the forefront of our hearts and minds. Basically, we thank God for being God. And if I might add, the request we might make most often is that the Almighty increase our trust in Him.

The wonder of the promise here in being a thanksgiving first people is that we are promised the peace of God. Let that sink in a moment. The peace of God. It is given to guard our hearts and our minds according to this verse from the Letter to the Philippians. In my opinion, the primary role of God’s peace is guarding our hearts and minds from worry.

I pray for all of us that we become willing to be thanksgiving first people and that as we do, the Holy Spirit will draw us to a place of deeper trust in God. As this trust continues to grow, we will experience more and more of God’s promised peace as our tendency to worry becomes less pronounced.

So not only a Happy Thanksgiving to you all, but also one that grows you and me in our love and trust of God as we give thanks for all God has done for us and as we do, pray that God keeps our eyes open for the opportunities to share these abundant blessings with the world around us.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Giving Thanks in a Socially Distanced World

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Thanksgiving in the United States is considered the traditional kick-off of the holiday season. How much of a season of good cheer it turns out to be is yet to be seen, however.

2020 has certainly been a year like no other. In this country we have seen civil unrest, Mother Nature at her worst, political upheaval and of course, the Covid-19 pandemic.

Amidst all the pain, suffering and uncertainty of the future, some might find it hard to be thankful at this time in history. I would not be one of them, however. My heart certainly goes out to those who have lost so much to wildfires and hurricanes. It breaks for those who have lost loved ones to sickness.

I whole-heartedly believe that true thanksgiving must spring from our hearts regardless of current circumstance. I can best accomplish this when I stay focused on the One who always deserves my humble gratitude, the Lord Jesus Christ.

I will be preaching a Thanksgiving sermon from Luke 17:11-19. I have given this message the title: Giving Thanks in a Socially Distanced World. This passage of Scriptures relates the account of Jesus healing 10 who were afflicted with leprosy. I hope that as you consider these verses, you too will be able to give proper thanks and praise more readily to our Lord.

I admit I had never used, thought of or even considered the term ‘social distancing’ before March of this year. Social distancing is now the norm. Keeping a minimum of 6 feet or more from others is considered the best way to slow the spread of Covid-19 down. It is not a new idea, however. Those 10 lepers seeking healing from Jesus used it as well: They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” (Luke 17:12b-13 NIV)

Like us, you could say that the ten lepers were not having a good year either. Their condition was not only debilitating physically, but it made them outcasts from all people, family and friends included.

The lepers were living/existing away from their families. The family unit was very tight back then. Their absence would have been keenly felt, affecting the lives of the rest of that group. These 10 had an incurable disease and depending on its severity, a death sentence. Those family members would have had little to no hope of seeing their loved one again.

            This certainly helps explain the joy they must have felt when they were cured. The desire to let their loved ones know they we healed and back with them would have been very strong; strong enough to prevent them from even thinking about going back to thank the One who had healed them.

However, in our currently socially distanced condition, we can learn the most about giving thanks from the one who came back to Jesus. Gratitude, in my opinion, is an action word. Merely saying I’m grateful without a heart and /or actions to back it up is a bit shallow. The man who went back to Jesus modeled the action of gratitude. He changed direction, putting the giving of thanks above anything else he may have initially wanted to do. He thanked the Lord before going off on his new lease on life.

Practically speaking, how might you and I display the action of gratitude in a socially distanced world? Here is one suggestion: Take the time today to call someone you know that is alone. Let them know you are thinking of them. Ask if there is anything they need and express a willingness to fulfill that need if you are able.

As I think of it, truly giving thanks in a socially distanced world depends little on our current circumstances. Rather, the driving force of daily thanksgiving is God Himself. Merely scanning the Scriptures reveals many things to be grateful on a daily basis because of who God is and what He does.

Think of it as a fill-in-the-blank exercise: God I thank you for: ______________

Here are a few examples:

God I thank you for: saving me through your Son Jesus Christ

God I thank you for: your faithful love

God I thank you for: the fact I can pray to you.

Please notice that this list includes not one item having to do with things or possessions. Rather it is all about who God is and what He has done, is doing and will do. I firmly believe that the more we keep the eyes of our hearts open to see what God is doing in and around us, the more grateful for Him we become.

This is not to say we shouldn’t be grateful for the material blessings in our lives. We should be grateful to God for the gifts He bestows on us. I merely remind you to not lose sight that the material things, as wonderful as they may be, will one day be gone. Only God is constant. He is forever loving us, leading us, calling us to Him. Let nothing separate you/me from giving thanks to Him!

The 10 lepers kept their distance, yet still called out to the Lord. You and I have no restrictions to God’s availability. The only barriers to us knowing Him more intimately are put there by ourselves.

God does not demand that we thank Him. We can assume the other 9 lepers remained healed even though they did not come back to say thanks to Jesus. But the one who did return received an even greater blessing. He got to look into the eyes of Jesus. The Lord then blessed him abundantly by revealing what faith in Him can do. I believe this man’s healing went beyond his surface condition and reached his heart with the peace that only God can give.

 So run to His embrace. Know the depth of His love for you. As you do, you will find freedom to live a thanksgiving life every day that no social distance can keep you from.

Blessings and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

A Life Well Lived

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There are times, though not very often, when I think about what kind of mark I will leave on the world.  Will my wife remember me as a partner who adored her? Will my kids recall me with fondness? Did I allow enough of my heart to be transparent; so that through the ups and downs of life my family will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my love for them never wavered?

With regard to ministry; how will the people God placed in my life and under my care  remember me? My desire has always been that they know my everyday intention is to have God glorified through what we shared together.  Have I lived out the Gospel in such a way that Christ is more fully in their hearts through what I have taught?

As I said, these types of thoughts don’t rattle through my brain too often.  Yet as I have mentioned here before, as I draw ever more away from the start of my life and closer to its human end, thinking about my legacy does happen from time to time.

This most recent journey into this recess of my mind has come about because of an individual I met last week.  I received a request from a family in hospice care that they wanted a pastoral care visit.  No more details were given me, so I on the drive to their home some of the more usual questions and my responses to them went through mind.   You see, the full awareness of one’s time being up on earth has a definite tendency to focus thoughts about the process of dying and what may lay beyond.

As I was greeted by the sad smile of the caregiver, I felt as ready as I could be to meet the patient.  Was I wrong!

That’s not to say I was totally off base.  Some things were as expected.  I was introduced to a patient who was obviously near death.  The frail and gaunt body told me all I needed to know about the physical condition: Cancer was wreaking its usual havoc at the end stage of life.

But this is not the memory I will carry from this meeting.  What touched me so deeply was the absolute peace this person exuded.  Though in obvious pain that the meds couldn’t alleviate, his eyes fixed on me with more care than I have seen in a long, long time.

We chatted briefly about the journey through life; of the many places seen because of work and family.  I am always blessed when folks share these personal nuggets from their past.  Losing track of time, I probably could have sat there all afternoon.  But the conversation lagged and then stopped.  I wondered if it was time for me to excuse myself, thinking that fatigue and pain were winning out.

What became apparent next was that it wasn’t tiredness that had quieted our chat, but rather that the patient was gathering the strength he needed to finish our time together the way he wanted it to end.

As best as I can remember, this is what he said to me: “Tell your parishioners this, ‘Think of others more than yourself.  Be ready and willing to help out in practical ways.  Don’t simply tell people that you love them, live your love for them in front of their very eyes.  I made this my primary goal in life, and as my time here is up, I am so very glad I did.’”

It was crystal clear to me that these weren’t merely words said in an attempt to comfort oneself when faced with imminent death.  They were spoken with a genuine desire that they be shared so that others could see what I was witnessing; peace.  Peace from a life well lived.

What an incredible legacy! I share this with you, my Faithful Readers, to encourage you as it has encouraged me to look beyond myself and into the eyes and hearts of others.  If I can incorporate this level of caring into my everyday lifestyle, I need not worry about what kind of legacy I am leaving behind.  The patient I met last week certainly wasn’t worried about it; may you and I find that same level of peace from our lives well lived too.

Blessings and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

Thoughts about Ash Wednesday from a non-denominational pastor

Many of my dear sisters and brothers in Christ will be receiving ashes on their foreheads today.  As a non-denominational pastor, I’d like to share a few thoughts about what Ash Wednesday means to me.

I was born to Roman Catholic parents.  They faithfully went to Mass each Sunday, dragging my brother and me along with them.  They also hit all the Holy Days of Obligation with us in tow.  That meant that we got ashes on our foreheads every year at the beginning of Lent.  At the time, all I cared about was that this was bringing us closer to Easter and a basket filled with chocolate bunnies.

As I got a little older, I listened to the readings at these gatherings, again without any real impact on my life.  As soon as I was old enough to decide whether I wanted to continue down my parent’s path of religious belief, I opted out.

Many years later life-changing things happened to me, and I found my self back in a church.  This time it was Lutheran.  These good folks also had a special midweek gathering at the beginning of the Lenten season where they, too, had ashes put on their foreheads.

By this time, thankfully, I knew more about the reasons behind this, which gave me a better appreciation of the symbolism.  My faith journey continued and my family and I landed in a non-denominational church.  I was, and am, still deeply moved by this approach.  When church life here is lived in the proper light, the non-denominational church answers to God and not the traditions of men.  Therefore, I found no Ash Wednesday celebrations among these good people.

More time has passed, and I am now an ordained pastor of a non-denominational ministry.  What may be surprising to some is that I will be assisting at an Ash Wednesday service at a Lutheran Church this evening.  How did this come about, you might ask?

My wife and I have been blessed to become friends with the Pastor of the local Lutheran Church.  She is a dynamic person of God, whose devotion to the Word, to prayer, and to others is inspiring.  We met at an ecumenical gathering of local pastors who get together every Saturday morning at 7 to pray for revival in our area.

Pastor Wheatley has invited Betsy and me to participate at this evening’s service at her church: Betsy will lead us in song and I will help distribute ashes.  This is what got me thinking about this topic today.  Why me?  And why ashes?

Non-denominational or not, I have concluded that the receiving of ashes on this day is a very good thing to do.  The ashes themselves symbolize three things: our sinfulness, our mortality, and the hope we have in God through the finished work of Jesus Christ.

The first two of these of go together; the bible teaches (and my life proves) that all people are hopelessly lost in sin.  Only God, in His mercy, can save us from eternal doom.  The ashes remind me of this fact today.  They also serve to refresh my memory about my own mortality; that no matter how good I feel physically today, at age 59, I am still much closer to the end of my natural life than I am to its beginning.  When this sobering thought is taken with the first point made, I am ever so glad for the third one!

The ashes, placed on the forehead in the shape of a cross, are a visual reminder of the reality of the love of God for us all.  Jesus, God’s Son, chose to die an awful death on a cross in order that sinners (that’s all of us) could be saved.  Peter expressed it this way: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

I can’t save myself, and no other human can do it for me either.  Only faith in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ can.  The ashes on my forehead remind me of this awesome truth again today.  I’ll gladly hand them out and humbly receive them.  The only title I bear today is follower of Christ, for it is the only one that truly matters.

Blessings,

Pastor Chuck

Giving Thanks in ALL Things

 

I have so much to be thankful for.  In no particular order (other than the first 2), I thank God for my Savior Jesus Christ.  That He would willingly take my place for my sins boggles the mind, but I am eternally grateful that He did! Second is another gift God has given me, my wife Betsy.  The most a grace-filled, loving, patient, brilliant; the list goes on, person I have ever known.  To realize that before time began our Creator had it so planned that she and I would spend so many years together is another mind-blowing event that I am thankful each and every day.

There is so much more: my two adult kids, my good health, my sobriety, my friends, my dog.  It could (and should) go on and on.  I was told very early in recovery that gratitude is an action word, meaning that if I am truly grateful for what I have received, my face, actions and words ought to reflect that fact.  For these more obvious things that have come my way, I think I do a pretty good job showing how thankful I am for them.

But something else has come to mind recently about which I am far too slack in giving thanks for: the challenges and problems that I face.  That they occur shouldn’t be a surprise.  Jesus even tells us so: “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33, emphasis added).

Jesus gives us so many promises in the Bible: I am with you always, my sheep know my voice, I’m going to prepare a place for you, etc. These and so many others are exciting, fulfilling and comforting promises.  And He always does what He says He’s going to do, never once deceiving us.  Therefore, the promise that there is going to be troubles is also true.  If I’m going to accept the ‘good’ ones, I have to accept the others as well.

But being thankful for troubles and trials? Why, you might ask, should I or anyone be grateful for the issues that come up in life? With so much bad in the world, why not just count as blessings the good I have experienced.  The answer for me lies in the fact that without the challenges and struggles, I too quickly become lethargic about being thankful.  When I stop giving thanks for the bounty that surrounds me, I become lazy in giving praise to God.  If I allow this to go on for long, a feeling of entitlement can start to grow.  Left unchecked, I can get to full-blown complacency in a very short time.

Thankfully, God knows this about me even better than I do.  It’s not that He is up there in his throne room keeping score on my gratitude meter, but rather that He allows the various challenges and things that make me struggle come my way so that I will keep Him in the proper place in my heart and mind.

It seems I grow the most in my faith when I can get over my wounded pride or selfishness or whatever other shortcoming gets illuminated during a trial or conflict and come to that place where I simply trust God and His sovereignty.  Without fail, when I realign my heart with God’s during these times, He will point out some aspect of my life that needs to get reined in; or maybe better said that I bring this area to Him, humbly asking that He lead me in the way He would have me go in regard to it.

Like most, I seem to learn best from my mistakes.  Now if I could just stop screwing up the lessons might be over! However, my track record would indicate that more mess-ups are likely.  I’m trusting that with each one God will help me to turn to Him more quickly, thus shortening the time that I need to suffer or be at a loss of how to go on.

God is faithful.  He has seen me through even trial and tribulation I have ever faced.  His track record is perfect; as is everything about Him.  I am thankful for this truth.  I am thankful for every struggle that has brought me to know this more fully and I’ll be thankful in the future when these types of things come up against me, because I know I am under His complete care.  When I remember that, I am indeed so very grateful for everything in my life.

Memorial Day Every Day

 

Memorial Day weekend means many things to people here in the States.  For some, it is the ‘first weekend of Summer.’ Others look at it merely as a chance to get away from work and maybe outside for the first time in months (other than for shoveling snow). Thankfully, a great many will take the time to remember those who have fallen protecting the freedom we live in.  Parades and memorial services will be held throughout the land, helping people to remember that this freedom does not come without a great cost.

Personally, I came to this greater appreciation after the attacks of September 11th, 2001.  Prior to that, I took for granted all that comes with living in America.  As an under grad I majored in history, with a concentration in the 20th century.  I learned many of the important dates and the activities of historical figures from that era, but I never felt personally the sacrifices that were made that gave me the basic freedoms I enjoyed every day.

The attacks of 9-11 awakened in me a passion for our country I had never felt before.  It was seeing the graphic destruction in my homeland and the suffering of so many innocents that prodded me from the national lethargy I was living in.  Though I do not always agree with, condone or understand what the political machine is doing here, the love I feel for my country and what it stands for is unwavering.

From that point onward, I have made it a point to thank each member of the military I meet, wherever that may be.  I extend this greeting to law enforcement as well.  It may be a handshake and ‘thank you for serving our country’ or simply a nod of the head to a passing patrol car, but it is one way I attempt to let these brave men and women know I appreciate their efforts and by extension, all those who have gone before them.  In this way I carry Memorial Day in my heart every day.

There are similarities in my coming to faith in Jesus Christ as my Savior.  As a spoiled and carefree youth, God and the things of eternity could not have been farther from my mind.  From my late teenage years to the age of 31, the hell that is alcoholism kept me selfishly focused only on me and my perceived needs.  This Jesus, if he existed, certainly didn’t have any desire to be associated with a drunk like me (when I finally read the Gospels, I saw how wrong I had been!).

It was in the earliest stages of recovery that I realized that not only did He exist, but He also was giving me the opportunity to be free from the bondage I was under.  Since then and over these past 27 years, I have been blessed to know the eternal relationship has been restored with my Heavenly Father because of the atoning death Jesus died for the forgiveness of sins.  His resurrection to life gives me the assurance of security regarding my forever life with Him.

Much as I make it a point to let those serving our country know I appreciate their efforts, I also attempt to acknowledge what Jesus has done for me (and everyone) in all I do.  I have found the best way to do this is to follow the example of the Lord; listening to people’s concerns and extending my hand to help.

I was taught long ago that gratitude is an action word.  If it is so, then my simply giving lip-service about what Jesus has done doesn’t truly show my thankfulness for His sacrifice.  Every person I meet and interact with offers me the opportunity to in some way express the love that God has for them.  In so doing, I am remembering daily the significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In closing, allow me to again say thank you this Memorial Day for all those who paid the ultimate price while preserving my freedom.  May your legacy never be forgotten or diminished.

And every day, may we remember that the Son of God not only died for the forgiveness of sins, but that He is alive still today!  His message of hope continues to go out.  May we who know His love remember always to express it back to Him as we model it to the world around us.

Being a Joyful Giver

As I continue sharing some thoughts on tithing, the giving of 10% to the local church you call home, it is my hope that if this an area of struggle for you, my experiences might shed some light on to the freedom one can find when being obedient to God’s commands regarding your finances.  I say finances because in our time it is far more practical to give monetarily as opposed to bringing in the first fruits of our labors like the largely agrarian society of biblical times did.

As I mentioned last time, I do not teach that tithing is something one must do as some sort of obligation.  I base my teaching/counselling on this topic on what the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 9:6-7: Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver (NIV).

These verses indicate that God is far more concerned with our heart position than He is with us meeting some mathematical formula of what we owe Him.  When looked at in this light, the scripture seems quite clear; to give what we have decided in our heart to give.  Hence, the importance of our heart position toward God.  I firmly believe that how we feel about, and handle our finances, goes a long way in revealing our heart attitude toward God.

As I share what my wife and I have experienced as faithful givers to the local church, I do so in order that you too might find the joy in giving as we have.  Another important point at the start; we don’t give to receive a blessing(s) from God as if the tithe were like some employer matching your donation to a retirement fund.  Having said that, I do firmly believe that God does bless those whose heart is glad to give.  Here’s how He it did it for us.

As I have mentioned before, I had lived a ruinous life in the death grip of alcoholism through the first 8 years of our marriage.  During that spree of destruction, I managed to dig a very deep financial hole for us.  As a business owner I had failed to meet my tax obligations to both the State of New York and the Federal government to the tune of over $100,000 (in 1991).  By God’s mercy I was able to find good employment soon after becoming sober and we, as a family, set out to clear the books.

Some six years later, we were able accomplish this.  There was no fanfare, just the satisfaction of knowing we had used what God provided in such a way as to pay off the debt.  From the start, through my wife’s gentle urging, we tithed our income.  We didn’t have some deep understanding of the Scriptures, but we knew from where things were coming from.  We gave the 10% because it was the right thing to do.  We gave it without any expectations of reward or blessing, we were simply being obedient to what the Scriptures said.

We had our two children by this time, and though we kept them in good clothes and always had food to eat, we had set absolutely no money aside for their future college expenses.  It was in this that God showed His mighty and faithful hand at work.

Our oldest child was a sophomore in High School when I landed the job as Facilities Painter at Le Moyne College.  One of the benefits of employment at the college is the ability to have your children/spouse go to school there tuition free.  The only condition is that you must be employed three years to receive this benefit; the exact number of years before our oldest would start!

There is another verse from Scripture that is often quoted during teachings about tithing: “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.  Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” (Malachi 3:10) NIV.

Obviously, the prophet was speaking about bringing in the first fruits of the crops, but the principle is the same today.  We were obedient to bring the tithe of our earnings each week, and God did indeed bless us.  I bring your attention to the latter part of the verse above where God says He will give so much blessing for obedience in this matter that you won’t have room for it all.  In the case of our oldest child, we received full tuition remission because of my employment at the school.  Here’s the overflow part; our son also earned a full scholarship because of his SAT scores! We were blessed beyond what we had need for.  We believe without any doubt that this is a tangible expression of God’s faithfulness.  He made the promise and then He fulfilled it, as written!

As wonderful as this account is, it really isn’t the true blessing that we have found by being faithful in our giving.  The result has been that we are the ‘joyful givers’ that I mentioned at the top.  As we came to more fully understand God’s provision, it became natural for us to want to give back the first fruits (off the top) of our labors.

From this attitude grew a deeper trust in God’s provision and care for us in all things.  This resulted in a wonderful freedom from the pursuit of fulfillment through material things.  We are more than happy to drive a seven-year-old car.  We find more satisfaction is doing for others than taking extravagant vacations.  I’ve got nothing against vacations, but when we do travel, we make the effort beforehand to save some money to cover expenses.

The bottom line, if you’ll pardon the pun, is that we have chosen to be obedient to God’s Word regarding giving.  The result of this is having the burden of worry about finances lifted from us.  Simply put, we are thankful to God for the employment opportunities He gives us, and we show our gratitude by giving back to Him what is truly His anyway, which, by the way, is what tithing is all about!

 

 

What is God’s Will for Me?

 

“What is God’s will for me?” As I speak with folks, this question often comes up.  Generally, there is some frustration in their voice.  They have been praying and seeking direction, but somehow the answer seems to elude them.

We pastor-types tend to make this out to be pretty heady stuff, this trying to figure out what God’s will is.  In many cases, we have made it a more complicated issue than God intends it to be.

To help us get our minds around this topic, let’s start with the big picture and work from there.  With this wide-angle lens with can say with 100 percent clarity that God’s will is for every person to come to know Him as Savior.  His has spelled this out in the familiar John 3:16 as Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  The Apostle Peter also tells us; The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 NIV).

The Bible clearly establishes that God’s heart is for all people to come to Him, acknowledging their need of a Savior.  It really is that simple, God’s immeasurable love is always on display through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is an open invitation to absolutely everyone.  If you are reading this and you have come to know God’s forgiveness, I rejoice with you!  But like those old Ronco veg-a-matic tv commercials, “Wait, there’s more!”

To find it we must begin to look at the  picture with a narrow focus lens; that being God’s will for your life now that He has called you to His fold.  Once again, we can find some straight forward instruction as to how to do this from the Bible: Be joyful always; 17pray continually; 18give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV).

Sounds simple enough as at first glance it appears God is saying to keep a bright outlook most of the time, pray a lot, and remember to say thank you when someone does something nice for you.  But if you will read those three little verses again, you will find that God is saying much more about what His will is for you.  We are not to qualify or justify our actions by self-righteously deciding to withhold our gratitude, not bothering to pray or opting to be sour instead of joyful.

Realizing God’s will for us in these things is a full-time and faith-filled response to the above mentioned love the Almighty offers to each of us.  Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as: Being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (emphasis added).

The faith that is borne at our salvation brings us the surety of eternal life and makes us certain of that which we cannot see with our physical eyes.  Saying yes to Jesus allows us to know the truth of the Scriptures.  In the context of knowing God’s will we can then find the comfort of: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28 NIV). As the power of that verse sinks more deeply into your heart, we can better see how we are to be joyful always, for even as things may be bleak or painful around us, we have God’s promise that He is working things out ultimately for our good!

The instruction to pray continually does not mean to be reciting prayers non-stop, but rather to be aware of the presence of God always.  The more we do this, the more likely we are to be in a constant conversation with Him.  I encourage you to simply try living in the constant awareness of God’s presence.  Conversation for most of us comes much easier with someone we are familiar or comfortable with.  We have established God’s will for you is to be in contact with Him.  It becomes possible if you are willing.

The third piece of knowing God’s will, we are told, is to give thanks in all circumstances.  Here again we experience the tension between what we are currently going through and the higher call of being thankful always.  The Expositor’s Commentary explains it this way: We need to recognize that seeming aggravations are but a temporary part of a larger plan for our spiritual well-being. Out of this perspective we can always discern a cause for thanks.  I’m not saying this is easy for any of us to do, in fact it’s downright impossible on my own.  Ah, enter faith! God is bigger than what my circumstances of the moment are!

Having said all this, you will note that I still have not given you specific insight into what God’s will is for you.  The reason is simple:  That’s not for me to do! I would suggest, however, that if you will incorporate the instruction given about being joyful always, praying continually and being thankful in all things, you will find yourself much closer to God on a daily basis.  As He nurtures your relationship to Him, your faith will grow. As it does, your ability to see and trust His purpose for your life will increase, revealing His wonderfully personal will to you!

Giving Thanks

I am a big fan of the Thanksgiving Holiday, though maybe not in the more traditional sense. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy overeating the seasonal dishes served at this time, as well as the opportunity to visit with family and friends that I don’t get to see regularly. I also quite enjoy dozing off while ‘watching’ a football game after the big meal.
No, what really stirs me every late November is taking the time to intentionally thank God for the countless blessings He continues to pour on me, and to hear so many others doing the same as they too ponder the great depths of our always giving God.
Psalm 107, verse 1, captures what the position of a thankful heart should be: Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his love endures forever. (NIV) Ultimately, all creation owes thanks to God simply because He is good. Yes, I believe it is right and proper to thank Him for individual blessings, but truly our whole countenance ought to be thanking Him always, simply because He is good and that His love endures forever.
However, the thanks we give to God is not quite like the thanks we give to one another. It is customary in our culture to say, ‘Thank you’ to the person who has done a kindness toward us. This is of course proper. We ought never forget to acknowledge the thoughtfulness of another. It is not the giving of thanks that is to be different with God, but the order in which we do it.
The Bible teaches that we are simply to be thankful to God. This tells me that I need not wait until God delivers on a promise, but rather I am to be thankful regardless of my circumstance. The Apostle Paul captured this idea in his letter to the Philippians: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Phil. 4:6 NIV).
Did you catch it? We are to offer our thanksgiving with our request. This is a great reminder of what our heart position needs to be in relation to God. We are not to think of Him as merely a cosmic giver of gifts from afar, but rather as Someone with whom we can, and should be, having daily fellowship with.
When we align our hearts in proper to submission to God, we will find what Paul says next to be reality in our lives: And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:7 NIV). God promises His peace, even if the answer to our prayer happens to be no. Giving thanks to God, then, is to be the normal and natural expression of our faith. He is the Creator of all, and His desire is to have close relationship with His creation. And He has made this wonderful truth possible by bridging the gap between us and Him with His Son Jesus Christ. That fact alone gives us a lifetime of things to say thank you for.
But the giving of thanks is also an action that we should be taking often. One of the best ways we can express our gratitude to God is to provide care for others around us. We find this directive in James 1:27: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (NIV)
It has been said, correctly, that gratitude is an action word. By daily taking inventory of all God has blessed us with, humility should not be hard to come by. As we recognize the abundance He has shown us, it should become more natural that we honor Him by blessing others who are in need. God does indeed bless His faithful followers, but not simply for our pleasure or convenience, rather that His name may be given geater renown. Simply put, our thanks to God should be tangible. Yes, we are to thank Him in our prayers, but also in our actions.
So a Happy Thanksgiving to you from Lakeside Christian Ministries! May you enjoy the day with family, friends, food and fellowship. And remember to thank God, always and in everything!