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.

It’s Personal: Part 1

 

Over the next several weeks, I will have the privilege of speaking at two events.  The first will be a commemoration service for the local Hospice organization I volunteer at and the other is a Blue Christmas church service.  At each the focus of my message will be the hope that God brings to people in their darkest hours.  I have endeavored to pray, study and meditate on the familiar words of Psalm 23 in order to share what I have discovered and experienced about God’s comfort in the context of His promise to care for us always.

For my blog, I imagine this will be broken into several different entries and as always, your feedback is desired and appreciated.

As it is rendered in the New International version, Psalm 23 begins:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 2 He makes me lie down on green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he restores my soul.  He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

That the relationship offered by God is personal can be seen here at the very start: The Lord is my shepherd (emphasis added).  He’s not just someone else’s shepherd, He is mine! Think about that.  The God of the universe, creator of absolutely everything, considers you important enough to be your personal shepherd.

With the LORD as my Shepherd, I can also experience the wonder of having all my needs met.  I read this in verse 1 as it tells me I won’t have any wants.  Logically, this informs me that with my needs met, there won’t be any wants.  Being honest, I don’t always live in the midst of this promise.  My mind can often wander, considering how nice it might be to own this or to have that.  Usually, and thankfully, God will grab my attention back from dreaming about these totally non-essentials.  When He does, I re-set my focus on Him.  As I do, He then makes more of His peace available to me as I again realize the abundance of gifts I receive while under His care.

In some ways, I find this personal relationship that God offers mind-blowing.  After all, what do I bring to it? It’s when I realize, again, that it’s all about Him and not about me, that the idea of the Lord being my Shepherd resonates deeply within me.

Continuing with the example of Psalm 23, verses 2 and 3 are further expressions of God’s personal care for His sheep.  Sheep won’t lay down when they are hungry and also will not drink from fast moving water.  Once again, the psalmist is telling us that our needs are being met by the Great Shepherd.

To me, these are clear indications of God’s caring heart toward those who would follow Him.  But before going any further, let me ask, “Are you o.k. with being a sheep?” Sheep are totally dependent creatures.  They can’t fend for themselves and on their own they are no match for predators.  They’re not known for being overly smart.

I’m not suggesting that we simply lay about in the natural, waiting for someone to come and take total care of us.  On the contrary, we are to see not only to our needs but also to the care of others (Philippians 2:3-4 has more on this).  Rather, it is in the spiritual realm that me must trust and rely upon God alone for our care.  It is when I muster this child-like faith that I can more fully realize the working of God around me. In my opinion it certainly is o.k. to be a sheep in God’s fold, because His faithfulness to me (and many others) has taught me this!

In closing for this time, please consider what we read in verse 3, he restores my soul.  The simple implication here is that we have a soul that needs to be restored! Does yours? Mine certainly needs it from time to time.  Once again, the Great Shepherd is the One who can/will accomplish this for us.  His is an all-inclusive care package.  A member in God’s flock can have the joy and peace that only He can provide and remember, this is not a cookie-cutter, one size fits all peace, it is personal! Created and molded for each one individually, the perfect fit from the Perfect One, the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The Appeal of Christianity

Does the person who cut me off on the highway know I am a Christian.  Did my one-fingered salute clue him in that I profess to follow Jesus? Do the folks around me at a hockey game experience my love when I loudly disagree with the referee’s call? Does my wife see the love of God displayed in me when I grudgingly agree to help with a project around the house? No, no and no.

Looked at in this light, I am missing by a wide margin the command Jesus gives in John 13:34-35: “A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (NIV).

The word love in these verses is God’s all-encompassing love.  It is the love given to us that we are to express back to Him and others.  Another place in Scripture tells us that, we love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

How do I do this? On my own, I can’t.  I/we can only exhibit the love of God if it is in us.  In order to obey this command, we must believe Jesus to be the Son of God who gave His life for all sinners and was raised from the dead to give the final victory over death.

Ok, I do believe that; why then do I have trouble obeying this command? The answer comes down to understanding the sacrificial nature of Jesus love.  More than understanding, I must become willing to supplant my wishes in favor of others.  That means I have to grow to be less selfish as I live my faith out.

Allow me to share some insight into what I see as the lack of appeal in today’s Christian to the outside world.  My current ministry has me visiting different churches in our area as I fill in for vacationing  pastors or as I help my wife lead worship when there is a need.  These churches have some things in common.  One, the people that are there seem genuinely glad to be there.  Second, there aren’t many of them.  The churches we help out at always seem to be more than half, if not two thirds, empty.

Why is this? Why are there more empty seats than warm bodies present on any given Sunday (except for Easter and Christmas)?  The answer, as I see it, is that going/belonging to a church has lost its appeal.  What has happened in the relatively short period of time from the commitment of  my parent’s generation to weekly attendance to the mass exodus from church today? I understand we live in a busier world today, with each of us seemingly being pulled in multiple directions constantly and that Sunday morning for many is the only chance to catch up on sleep.  There is also soccer and hockey and a myriad of other activities going on these days that never were on help on Sunday morning before.

Ok, I get it; folks are busy, stressed, or just too tired to even think about church.  This has resulted in a generation of people who are not necessarily anti-Christianity, they simply have not had any exposure to what a life of faith is all about.  The majority of this group has formed their opinion of what a Christian is based on how it is portrayed on television sit-coms.

This my fellow-believers, is our fault.  Somehow, in the busyness of our own lives, we have lost the attractiveness of what being a Christian should be.  Many of us, myself included, tend to ‘love others’ at our convenience.  In so doing and ever so subtlety, we have traded the command to love everyone for the desire to love ourselves first.  Said another way, once our wants our met, we can see to the needs of others.

When we profess faith in Christ, yet live with a ‘me first’ attitude, we fail miserably at obeying the Lord’s command to love others.  Our love of self limits our ability to experience the love God gives us.  With this restricted flow of heaven-sent love in us, we become far less appealing to the hurting world around us.

If we find ourselves falling into this trap, there is but one way out; ask God to forgive us our selfishness and restore to us the joy of His salvation.  This allows us to see our relationship to our Creator more clearly.  As we do, we bring our weakness in to the light; His light!

Remember, God is not a about condemnation when we screw-up.  What He is always doing is inviting us to enjoy a deeper life of fellowship with Him.  As we accept this invitation, we will find our ‘wants’ list to be greatly reduced in size as we realize our utmost need is being met.  Living in this freedom then allows more of the Father’s love to flow in to us, thus making us better able to love the world around us.  That appeals to me and it is what will make the life of obedience to Jesus appeal to others.

It’s simple really, just not easy.  But it is so wonderfully worth it! Let’s all make today the day we will take the Lord’s command to heart and love others as He has loved us.  In this way we can best make our appeal to those who don’t know Him yet.  For my part, I will pray blessings on that next driver who cuts me off, I’ll acknowledge the referees good work at the hockey game and joyfully join with my wife in our next project.

 

Why?

Why?  Those who have spent any time around a three-year old have heard this many times.  It seems to be a nearly unending cycle as each explanation is greeted with yet another ‘why?’ No matter how thorough or correct your previous answer, it never quite satisfies the inquisitive toddler.

In some ways and to some extent, we can all be like this youngster, especially when we are faced with the reality of bad things happening to good people.  Why did this or that happen? They didn’t deserve that.  Why is it, that good folks are being subjected to random acts of nastiness? Similarly, we ask why did the non-smoker develop lung cancer or the health conscious person have a heart attack?

I’m not saying any of us are wrong in asking these types of questions, especially if the wrong in question is something that needs to be brought into the light of justice.  I am also aware that by merely asking these questions, some people can begin to find an amount of healing from whatever has brought the question of why about.  However, I am also aware of the opposite.  If a person is in a place where all they do is ask the why question, seeking some definitive answer,  the suffering involved remains an unbroken loop.

I am not putting myself above any of this.  I certainly have asked this question often in the various seasons of my life when faced with difficult situations.  If you’ve read of my struggle with God pertaining to my Dad’s long decline of health, you know how I felt.  If ever there was a good guy who didn’t deserve his lot, it was him.

Blessedly, God ministered to me then in such a way at the end of my Dad’s life that I can not only empathize with people who are hurting, I can share the strength that God gave me so that they too can find the peace that He offers us all.

There are many places in the Bible where God makes His strength available to us.  For today, let’s consider the Prophet Habakkuk.  You will find this short book nestled between the writings of Nahum and Zephaniah toward the end of the Old Testament. Please take the time to read the three chapters of Habakkuk to familiarize/reacquaint with what he has to say.

This book is different from all the other prophetic books in that Habakkuk records just a discussion he has with God.  He didn’t have a word given to him to speak to the people of that time nor did he proclaim some judgment of God on them, as so many of the other recorded prophets did.  He simply lays out his case before God, asking why things are happening the way they are, and then he writes down what God says in answer to him.  Habakkuk asked God the same type of ‘why’ questions that we still ask today.

See if some of what he said to God isn’t applicable today:

How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? 3 Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. (Habakkuk 1:2-3. Emphasis added)

As we are faced with the real question of why bad things are happening to good people in our day, let’s look at this conversation Habakkuk had with God.  As we do, it is my hope we can all come to a better place of understanding of the answer to the many ‘whys’ in our lives.

The Expositor’s Commentary helps to explain what Habakkuk is saying: “Violence” denotes flagrant violation of moral law by which a person injures primarily one’s fellow human beings. Its underlying meaning is one of ethical wrong, of which physical brutality is only one possible expression.

These same types of things were happening in Habakkuk’s world that are in ours.  The Prophet was looking for answers and went to the ultimate ‘source’ in hopes of finding them.

In response to the first set of why questions, God simply tells Habakkuk they He is going to do something amazing.  It will be so wondrous that Habakkuk won’t be able to believe it.  However, this ‘big picture’ answer doesn’t satisfy the prophet.  He asks God again:

Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.  Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves? (Habakkuk 1:13 emphasis added)

In Chapter 2 God once again answers Habakkuk.  This time God is speaks more plainly, telling the prophet he can be assured that those who do evil will meet their just reward at a future time.

Though this might not be the specific answer Habakkuk, or we, might want in our own personal circumstance, it is one that we can trust in.  Habakkuk then shows us how we can do this in a way that can provide comfort in the face of delayed answers to our why questions.  The key is to shift our primary focus from us and place it on God.  Here’s how he did it:

LORD, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy. (Habakkuk 3:2)

By doing so, he takes strength in the greatness of God, whose fame reaches to heaven and whose mighty works are awe-inspiring.  The Prophet recognizes that God is greater than any circumstance, and that keeping the focus on Him will allow Habakkuk to navigate the difficult times of life.

The same applies to us: We must transfer our primary focus from us and put it on God.  This won’t magically make our problems go away, but it will give us a healthier perspective with which to see them.  If we can acknowledge that God has always been in control, we can better accept that He still is, even when the stakes are personally high for us.  This can allow us to gain trust in God’s providence.

This is the comfort God has made known to me.  Though my specific requests may not have been answered in the way I thought were best, God has continued to show His faithfulness by the way He has chosen to do so.  He is in control, whether I choose to see it or not.  This includes my accepting that not all of my why questions will get answered. His past record is perfect, I can trust that His current and future handling of things will be as well!

 

 

 

Death of a Salesman

 

My first job out of college was in retail sales.  I hated it.  No matter how much I knew about the product or how much I would reduce the price to entice a customer to buy, my sales figures never matched those of my colleagues.  As much as I struggled on the sales floor, my other primary duty was an absolute nightmare.  I had to design and implement both the window displays and the in-house sets that were to promote the latest and greatest items in the inventory.  Of the many things that I am not, being a flashy attention-grabbing designer is near the top.  You can imagine may trepidation whenever one of my regional managers showed up.  He or she was never satisfied with what I had done, and usually with good reason.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want the displays to look nice and improve sales, I just lacked that creative gift.

It has now been over twenty-five years since I left the world of retail sales, and I can honestly say I haven’t missed it one bit.  The frustration of not being able to improve my skills finally caused me to look for work elsewhere.

I found my niche in the workplace as a painter.  As you may have guessed, not as an artist, but rather a contractor.  With training and a great mentor in the trade, I learned to be quick about my work and extremely neat.  I relished the fact that I didn’t have to design anything, merely put the proper coating on it!  This skill set allowed me to work in nuclear plants, factory settings and finally on a maintenance crew at a local college.

While working my 40 or more hours a week, I also slowly completed my schooling and training (though the training is always on-going) to follow the call God has put on my life to be a pastor.

That’s quite a way from retail sales you might be thinking, but consider this.  I entered this stage of life with the enthusiastic approach of a new salesman because I now had the single best-ever product to promote: Jesus Christ! How could I miss with this material?

But miss I did.  I realize I’m not the most gifted public speaker, but with abundant research and the occasional funny and applicable story from my past, I thought I would at a minimum be able to inspire folks to want more of this Jesus.  Unfortunately, my preaching lacks the ability to really grab a hold of people.

Not to be discouraged, I approached small group leading and teaching with the conviction that if I took the time to really explain what we are studying from God’s Word, those in the group would dive in with me to plumb the deep truths of Scripture.  Again, I experienced only a limited return on my investment of time and study.

Doubt in my pastoral abilities and the persistent voice in my head telling me that I wasn’t any better at pastoring that I was at selling had me once again wondering if I had better find something else to try.  Maybe this unnamed something would finally be my ticket.

Before heading in a different direction, I decided to first to follow the advice I so often counsel with: Don’t make any big life changes without first earnestly praying about it.  With a fair amount of self-pity, I approached the throne of grace with my tail between my legs, telling God I was pretty useless in this kingdom business and that He better open us some other way for me to serve Him.

I chose the term ‘throne of grace’ for a reason.  It is exactly what I experienced! God in His unending grace listened to my pity-party.  Once I got it all out, He simply let me know that it was my “sales” approach that needed changing.  I came to realize I could talk a good game about what living life for Jesus meant, but these words are hollow unless they are backed up with living life as an example of what I was suggesting others do.

What freedom! What a release it is to live ministry instead of merely doing ministry.  To wrap up the salesman analogy, I had to wear the product I was showing, not just talk about it.  The practical application is simple, if not always easy.  The love I feel toward God has to be evident in more places than just my office or prayer room.  It must be the thing people remember about me after we have met or as we build a relationship.  Wearing this love can/should take many forms, but a short list ought to always contain: patience, compassion, willingness to listen and to help (outside of my comfort zone), forgiveness and kindness, to name just a few.

In the short time since God has begun revealing this to me, He has allowed me to see tangible results as people are responding to Him through me in some new and powerful ways.  I am deeply grateful to the Lord for His grace, gratified for the people who are growing in their faith and extremely pleased the old salesman has passed away.

My Chains are Gone. Now What?

 

I’ve been asked if I have a favorite Bible character.  The answer is no, simply because during the various seasons and times of my life, different characteristics (both good and bad) of the folks mentioned in it have had deeper meaning to me.  Jonah’s running from God, David’s sinning and Peter speaking without always thinking first have, like so many others, given me insight into my own faults and shortcomings.  Likewise, the miracle of Bartimaeus receiving his sight and the transformation of Saul from being deadly opposed to Christ to Paul who goes all-in for Him have been powerful encouragements to me.

When asked if I have one particular account in the Bible that I cherish above all else, the answer is a resounding yes! It is the telling of Paul and Silas’ imprisonment and miraculous release found in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles: 16:16-34.

I encourage you to read it for yourself in its entirety, but for now here’s a brief description of the events.  Paul and Silas were in Philippi spreading the news of Jesus Christ as Savior.  They were thrown into prison after Paul upset some men as he cast a demon out of a slave girl these fellows were making money using.

Without trial, Paul and Silas were severely beaten and then put into the inner cell of a prison, their feet locked in stocks.  Around midnight, and in spite of their pain and uncertainty of what was going to happen to them, they were singing songs of praise to God.  The Bible then says that as they were, a powerful earthquake hit the area, so strong that the chains that bound them fell away.

It is what happens next that makes this account so deeply meaningful to me: Paul and Silas not only talk the jailor out of taking his life, but they present the salvation message to him! We are then told that this man and his whole family came to faith in Christ that night.

This all brings me to the point of the title of this entry: My Chains are Gone, now what? Many of you who regularly read these jottings know of my life of alcoholism.  That chain held me completely in the dark and hopeless of any way out.  The ‘earthquake’ in my experience was realizing the saving power of Jesus as I sat in a detox center.  The chains of addiction fell away that day as I admitted my sins before Him and asked His forgiveness.  I give Him all thanks and praise for it.

The journey I began those 27 years ago has led me to being an ordained minister.  No one, myself at the top of the list, saw that one coming way back then!  Though I was not instantly cast into a position of bearing the Good News like Paul and Silas were, I can still see the similarities in how God works.  He removed my chains for me so that I would in turn work for Him.  Because He chose to do this for me, I live with a peace that can only come from Him.

If He has removed the chains that bound you, won’t you join me in spreading His love that is so desperately needed in our hurting world.  Share your story, take the time to invest in the lives of others so that relationships can be built.  No matter what blessings you have received from the freedom granted you by God, there are greater ones still awaiting if you will only acknowledge the wonderful work God has done in/for you.  These blessings probably won’t come in some material form.  More likely it will be you realizing more deeply than ever how much God loves you.

The chains He removed from us make us uniquely qualified to help others find the freedom that only God can give.  I would never for a second go back to the life, it you could call it that, that I was chained to.  But today I remember how it was so that I can always remember the depths from which God saved me.  My chains are gone.  Today I willingly submit the life God transformed to Him, that He use me in ways that promote His freeing power to all who would accept it.

A Grand Re-opening

 

My writing style, such as it is, attempts to inform and instruct both followers of Jesus Christ and those who do not.  It is my goal to present the truth of Scripture in meaningful ways to all who might read these jottings.  This entry, however, is written specifically to those who profess to have put their faith in Christ.  Please read on, even if you haven’t made that decision for Christ yet, for even this discussion might contain something you can relate to.

I recently attended an area meeting of Elim Fellowship.  This is the group that has ordained me and that provides headship over independent ministries like ours.  These bi-monthly gatherings give the opportunity to meet and network with others in our geographical area.  There is also time set aside for praise and worship and usually a message from the Area Director, Rev. William King.  What he shared the other day has had a positive impact on my walk with Christ.  I share it in hopes that it will do the same for you.

It came to him as he was reading through Genesis, specifically Chapter 26:18 which states: Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham, which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died, and he gave them the same names his father had given them (NIV).

Meditating on this verse brought a question to Rev. King’s heart and mind: “What wells of mine have been stopped up.”  In other words, what things had he gotten away from or had lessened in importance to him in his walk with the Lord over time.  He mentioned several things that he became aware of and has since asked for the Lord’s forgiveness and is now making the effort to walk in them more fully.

I took his experience to heart as I too contemplated the question about filled in wells in my life.  Two things jumped out at me as I did: my personal prayer life and my attitude of gratitude (I wonder if they are connected?).

I thought about the mornings some years ago when I would simply stand in my kitchen and pour out my needs to God and then take some time to simply be silent before Him, allowing His Spirit to speak to mine.  Somewhere along the line I have allowed busyness and the need to get things done to crowd out and diminish this precious time.  It didn’t happen all at once, but in keeping with the illustration of the well, it slowly filled in with other things I thought more pressing.

The well dug next to this one I named Gratitude.  I was told early in recovery (the timing of which coincides with my Christian life) that gratitude was an action word.  If I was grateful, my life should reflect that fact in how I lived.  By daily remembering that God was sparing me from the scourge of addiction, my life ought to be a joyful one filled with giving of myself wherever He led me to.  Alas, this well too has gotten somewhat filled in by the cares and concerns of my life.  Gradually, as I look back, I can clearly see how I have allowed them to overshadow my gratefulness.

Here’s another thought about wells: in this part of Central New York, most wells need to be dug 15-20 feet to hit water.  The wells Isaac was reopening were generally dug to a depth of 70 feet! To carry this analogy further then tells me that there is quite a bit of work involved to get my wells flowing again.  The key for me is to remember how sweet and fresh the ‘water’ tasted when I first dug them, thus encouraging me to open them up more fully again.

The same quality of the water Jesus offers is abundantly available to all.  Only His water can give life to the fullest.  It is the same spiritual drink that the Lord offered to the woman at the well; life giving water that quenches our thirst in/for Him forever.

If these thoughts have helped you to realize that some of your wells have been stopped up as well, won’t you join with me in asking the Lord’s forgiveness for our negligence? I have found that by doing so, He has allowed me the pleasure of experiencing once again the joy of His loving touch.  My prayer today for me and you is that we make every effort to keep anything from blocking the flow of the living water He has for each one of us. Amen.

What a Friend, Part 2

 

Many, myself included, have sung the wonderful old hymn What a Friend We Have in Jesus.  As I prepared to preach a message recently on what the friendship offered by Jesus can mean to us, I did a little internet research into the origins of this classic.  What I story behind its writing!

The author of the lyrics is Joseph Scriven. He born in Ireland in 1820.  We pick his story up on the eve of his wedding.  Incredible tragedy strikes as his fiancé drowns that very night.  It was this trauma, coupled with some other family issues, that drove Joseph to discover salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

His life of trials continues after he moves to Canada.  He meets and falls in love with Eliza Roche and they become engaged to be married.  As hard as it is to believe, his wife to be got sick shortly before their wedding date and also passed away.

Faced again with the difficulty and pain of going on, Joseph begins to fulfill his life’s call by providing care for the elderly and other less fortunate folks.  Rather than wallow in self-pity, he opts instead to carry on with the work of God’s Kingdom.

It is during this time (1855) that he receives word that his mother is extremely ill back in Ireland.  He wrote the words to What a Friend We Have in Jesus to be an encouragement for her as she lay dying.  I have an incredible amount of respect for this man who allowed God to use him despite his personal struggles.

I’ve included the lyrics to this great song here.  Please consider them and note the Scripture references I’ve added. I hope it helps you, as it has me, to see the validity of the friendship Jesus offers today to each one of us.

  1. What a friend we have in Jesus,                 John 3:16-17
    All our sins and griefs to bear!
    What a privilege to carry
    Everything to God in prayer!
    Oh, what peace we often forfeit,                Philippians 4:6-7
    Oh, what needless pain we bear,
    All because we do not carry
    Everything to God in prayer!
  2. Have we trials and temptations?               John 16:33
    Is there trouble anywhere?
    We should never be discouraged—
    Take it to the Lord in prayer.
    Can we find a friend so faithful,               Hebrews 2:18
    Who will all our sorrows share?
    Jesus knows our every weakness;
    Take it to the Lord in prayer.
  3. Are we weak and heavy-laden,                Matthew 11:28-30
    Cumbered with a load of care?
    Precious Savior, still our refuge—
    Take it to the Lord in prayer.
    Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?      John 15:18-19       
  4. Take it to the Lord in prayer!
    In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,
    Thou wilt find a solace there.

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John 3:16-17: All our sins Jesus has taken on Himself that we might be saved! We find this at the beginning in order that we get it from the start!

And yet, I/we don’t live in the constant all-encompassing peace this friendship offers. Philippians 4:6-7

Part of the reason for our unease was foretold by Jesus: John 16:33

            Take heart= action required on our part

Faith= Has He overcome your world?

In Him, our Friend, we have peace

A friend knows what it feels like to . . . Hebrews 2:18

            Jesus knows what it feels like to go through whatever we’re going through. He can help (if we ask Him)

Still, we get weary.

Our Friend Jesus knows and tells us what to do Matthew 11:28-30

            “All you,” that’s you too!  When you allow Jesus to lead, we can find rest and peace

However, there’s no pink cloud here; John 15:18-19

Strong words about being hated, but true.  The world hates Jesus, the world sees Jesus in us, therefore the world hates us.

One other constant throughout this Hymn: Prayer.  Take everything to the Lord in prayer.  Open up, admit your needs, shortcomings and insecurity.  Your Friend Jesus cares for you and will care for your needs, if you ask and then let Him.

What do you think? Is Jesus a friend worth having?

 

 

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

Jesus said to His disciples, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.  Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:12-15 NIV)

Jesus calls us His friend. What a friend indeed!  Our human experience with friendship pales when compared to the friendship offered by the Son of God. Sure, most of us get blessed with that one close friend in life.  Someone to confide in and that you trust completely.  The friend who wants to be around you; not because of your stuff or your home, but just to be with you.  As kids it’s called inseparable; impossible to see one without the other.  Plenty of laughter and good times; a person you spend time with and it seems completely natural to do so.  They stand with you in trouble or even get in the middle of it if they see you are hurt or threatened.  This rare kind of friend is a blessing for sure.

Yet I, for one, have never been a perfect friend to anyone.  Likewise, even my closest friends during my life have all had their share of imperfections as well.  Not so with Jesus!

Friendship with Jesus is an immeasurable upgrade over even the best we have known here on earth.  In the scripture passage at the top, He tells us all about it.  We are no longer simply servants, but in fact we become co-laborers with Him.  Jesus let’s us in on His business, which He has learned from His Father.  We can’t go any higher than that!

To be sure, this is not an ‘all get and not give’ relationship for us.  Jesus is also clear that if we are to be His friend, we will voluntarily obey His command to love Him.  We demonstrate this love for God as we unselfishly love each other.  Though this may seem difficult (or at least it does to me when I consider some of the people I know that seem pretty unlovable), God supplies the means: We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).

It is simple, but not always easy.  When we struggle in this area of loving others, might I suggest we take a step back to consider what it is Jesus offers when He extends friendship to us.  It is a friendship I haven’t earned or deserve, but it is offered to me nonetheless.  We get the opportunity to love Him simply because He loves us.  When I stop looking at others through the lens of my understanding or perception and start to consider them simply as others that the Lord loves equally as much, my heart softens.

When we obey the call to love others, we are directly involved with God’s business.  Remember Jesus said He no longer called His disciples servants because He had let them in on the Father’s work.  The same applies to us to today.  We don’t know God’s Master Plan, but we can participate in our part of it: Love others as Jesus loves us.

Never forget that it is Jesus who brings the ‘weight’ to this friendship relationship.  He has already done immeasurably more than we ever could hope or imagine.  He proved His love to mankind by dying in our place that our sins could be forgiven.  What a friend! If you know that forgiveness, you have a pretty good idea of What a Friend We Have in Jesus.

If you don’t know Jesus as your friend but find yourself interested in doing so, open up your heart to Him.  I have experienced enough of His faithful friendship to know that if you want His friendship, He will make the way so that you can.

 

When Good Enough Isn’t

In his devotional book titled My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers wrote the following for May 25th: Whenever right is made the guidance in life, it will blunt the spiritual insight.  The great enemy of the life of faith in God is not sin, but the good which is not good enough.  The good is always the enemy of the best.

I/we tend to settle for the good.  Let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with good.  In fact, Scripture encourages us to not grow weary of doing good (Galatians 6:9 NIV).  The stumbling occurs when we decide something we have done is ‘good enough.’  It’s almost like admitting we know that it is not the best, but that it, (whatever it is), will have to suffice.

Jesus had much to say on this topic.  If you have a bible handy, please read Luke 10:38-42.  In case you don’t, here’s a quick paraphrase: Jesus and His entourage are passing through a village on their way to Jerusalem.  As was the custom of that time, He and the group with Him stopped at the home of some people He knew, Martha and Mary (whose brother was Lazarus).

As was also customary then, the hostess, in this case the older sister Martha, was expected to provide a meal for these guests.  With no microwave or take-out available, meal preparation was an involved process back in the day.  Martha goes about these preparations while her sister Mary opts to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to Him talk.  Martha is so upset by this that she goes to Jesus in an attempt to have Him intervene on her behalf and make Mary help her.

I love Jesus’ response: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will  not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42 NIV).

Though compassionate toward her heart, Jesus tells Martha straight-up that Mary had chosen what was better.  Yes, preparing a meal for guests was a good thing, but being in the presence of the Son of God was (and is!) infinitely better.

We all need to be careful to not fall into the ‘it’s good enough’ trap because it is almost always a self-serving one.  I can rationalize with the best of them that my reasons (excuses) for not going the extra mile are legitimate.  After all, look how busy I am, and at least I’m doing something, are frequent thoughts I struggle with in this area.

The bottom line is this: if I say something is good enough simply for my own reason(s), it isn’t.  When I honestly look at a certain set of circumstances over which I have said or felt this way, this truth is invariably revealed.  The root of the vast majority of my ‘good enoughs’ is selfishness.  There is usually something I have/want to do that seems more important, hence the need for the good enough label placed on what I was doing.

How shallow this is, particularly when viewed through the lens of eternal matters. Jesus’ mild rebuke to Martha thankfully is speaking to me today, reminding me that I am but a small cog in the cause of Christ.  Today, I choose what is better, which means I am closer to Jesus than I was.  As I get closer, I realize how much more I need Him.  He offers the absolute best, why would I want to settle for anything that is merely good enough?