You may have noticed by the amount of crazy, frivolous spending, that Christmas is coming. Materialism has run crazy and taken lives in its wake again. Getting deals does not make people evil. The sinful heart does a great job of bringing it out of people. But why? How is it that rational people can get so short-sighted over an electronic device that will be obsolete in a matter of months? It is a lot like getting caught in the undercurrent. If you don’t prepare for how you might guard yourself from it, you will end up underwater.
It is no different for any other area of our life. I know my family is currently in the midst of a transition from one ministry to the next. That lends itself to a lot of opportunities for unguarded emotions. What helps is to back up and look at the big picture – eternity. We are serving the God of all the Universe. We are obeying Him and not getting taken in by the comfort of settling somewhere where God is telling us to leave from. That is a hard place to be at times because our ability to try to control everything gets in the way. But there is such joy in the trust that comes from a relationship with God. It means we need to keep our eyes on Him and not on other things.
I don’t know what that means for anyone reading this, but I do want to share how I have been praying in order to keep focused on where I need to be now. And when I say that I don’t just mean as a pastor, but as a parent, husband and member of a community.
“He is always wrestling in prayer for you that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.” – Colossians 4:12 (part of it)
I have been taking time to wrestle in prayer for my family. We want to not just sort of settle in God’s will but we want to stand firm in it. We want to have our feet firmly planted on the Rock of our Salvation, Jesus Christ. So, I pray that my children, my wife and those I serve in ministry with will know the will of God and stand on it with confidence. I also have been praying for progress and growth in our relationship with God. (maturity) As we get closer, we become more like Him. And lastly I have been praying that we are fully assured of that will. As we walk each day in step with the Spirit of God, we want to know that we are right where we need to be!
This type of prayer involves taking a longer range view. It means understanding that sometimes what is right in front of you is not what you might have chosen, but you know the God who has chosen it can be trusted.
The beginning of the first proclamation of a national day of Thanksgiving from 1789. – by George Washington. (before it became a yearly thing)
‘Whereas, it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the Providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, humbly implore his protection and favor…”
The goal was always to thank God for his provisions. That is what Thanksgiving is about!
Why is God where our Thanksgiving beings, as it says in verse 2 “come before him with Thanksgiving.”
He gives Salvation to us
The Psalm reminds us that God is the Rock of our salvation. Right now there is turmoil in families all over the world. If we were left to our own devices to somehow obtain salvation and make sense of it all, it would be like trying to build a mansion on the beach with no foundation. Sure, you might get by for a while, but the wind and waves will come at some point and the house will be destroyed.
We can be thankful today that despite all the changes in our culture, positive or negative, that God does not change. We can be thankful that He still saves sinful people from the mess of sin we are in. He takes us and places us on the Rock, Christ Jesus.
He Made it All & is Over It All
In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land – Psalm 95:4-5
There is purpose and order in the creation. No matter what is going on at any given moment, God is still the real King. Why? Because He made it all. I mean try to imagine this scene. The depths of the earth in his hand. The mountain peaks, some of which people have never climbed, and never will climb, are his. The sea in all its splendor is God’s. He owns it because He made it. I mean I have made some amazing things with Lincoln Logs and Legos, but never anything as amazing as the universe, the depths of which we can never fully grasp.
This makes my heart burst with thanksgiving because it tells me that God is always on the throne. God is never surprised by anything that happens. There is no molecule in the universe that he is not aware of. He made it all. He knows it all. It reassures me that no matter what I am going through, no matter how alone I might feel, I can find comfort in knowing that God knows exactly what is going on.
He Knows and is Involved With us Personally
This is where it gets crazy. God over everything, but He knows everyone personally, individually. It is one thing to recognize that there is a God who is over everything, who is larger than anything. Many people believe in a “higher power.” But, the difference here is that God is personal and involved in our lives.
Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; – Psalm 95:6
He is our maker. That means we are not a mistake and not junk. Ephesians 2:10 says that we are God’s handiwork, His masterpiece. He has molded each person individually like an artist does with clay.
So, as we gather today we give start by giving thanks to God because in Him is where our Thanksgiving begins.
Have a Happy Thanksgiving!
If everything I have belongs to God, then I must learn to appreciate what I have. If I have been given everything in need in Jesus Christ, then I must appropriately overflow with thankfulness. This is a healthy way of life. Instead of looking at what other people have or at Black Friday ads and hoping to get something you don’t have, you look at all that you do have. It is a lifestyle that sometimes is hard to do with all of the stuff around us, but it is so freeing to say “thank you” for even the most mundane things as a realization that nothing comes from you. It is all God’s! This type of attitude makes us happier people and even keeps us away from burdens like unnecessary debt. Yes, that was me tying frivolous spending to a lifestyle of thankfulness.
Christmas is coming up again. But did you know that before Christmas is this holiday called “Thanksgiving?” What is making matters even more interesting this year are the number of stores once again opening on Thanksgiving. It seems like some retailers are pushing things up every year putting their own bottom-line over their employees family time. I understand the need to make money as a business, but I also know that people need time to stop to give thanks. It is not just about turkey and football, it is about health and worship. It is about happiness and time with family. So, just stop and give thanks without looking through all of those ads and desiring to buy things that you cannot afford. And please do not buy my family gifts that you do not have the money to buy. That defeats the purpose of this season, in my opinion.
Instead we need to find our foundation in Jesus Christ. It is in Him we live, move, and have our being. It is in Him where we received everything we could ever possibly need. And actually it is really the gift of Jesus we celebrate at Christmas anyway, not the material items we give each other. You have been given fullness in Christ! He is available right now, offering Himself to you.
Soon it will be time to deck the halls and I am looking forward to that. But let’s not forget about Thanksgiving first.
We take a lot of things for granted each day. I know this because I take so much for granted myself. It seems like the month of November comes and suddenly people remember to recognize how thankful they are. This is a healthy exercise because we all have seen how quickly circumstances change and how quickly we forget all that we do have. I was pondering this at breakfast this morning as I read an article about the typhoon in the Philippines. Can I adequately wrap my mind around the devastation? Can I look outside my own little world to recognize the hurting masses on the other side of the world? What should I do about it from where I sit in the United States?
It was important for me to understand the human side of it. We all saw pictures of the storm and were amazed at the power. I know I saw it buried on some news website and thought how incredible it looked. I know I was mindful of the people, but I don’t know anyone there. Last year when we experienced a blizzard we lost power for a few days in the winter. Our house got down to about 40 degrees and we were greatly inconvenienced. That was a big deal to us despite the fact that no one was killed. We went to a friends house and slept by their wood stove. It was an inconvenience, but we lived. Now there is nothing wrong with recognizing the problems right in front of us. I just wonder if we all need to take a step back and consider some of the life or death challenges people are facing each day. Maybe the day that my coffee grinder failed to work was not as big of a deal as it seemed at the time. I did still have a home to live in and breath in my lungs, albeit no coffee.
I read a story in the Wall Street Journal yesterday about a 20-year-old woman who had a baby only to watch it die as a result of this storm. This child suffocated to death because they had no electricity to insert a ventilator. The story talked about how she sat in the hospital chapel with her first-born baby’s body in a bag next to her. Can we even understand what sort of grief this woman is experiencing? That is just one of many.
This year I am making a new effort to be thankful to God for what I do have and to look around for ways to bless others within that. I think that is what Jesus meant when he told us to look after ‘the least of these’ around us. Each year my family has given to some sort of need as a Thanksgiving offering. It has never amounted to a large amount of money that was given, but it was never really intended to be. We have our kids give something to help people around the world because they need to look outward, as we all do. Last year it was for Hurricane Sandy relief and this year it will go to help those impacted by the typhoon in the Philippines through CAMA services. It is my hope that when we look at what we have and give it away that we get a vision for how we need to be willing to give that blessing away to other people. It starts with something small and grows to something much larger. We all have a part to play and we all have so much to be thankful for.
How do you highlight thankfulness during this time of year?
One of the greatest stories to bring up with high school students is the story of Elisha’s way of dealing with a bunch of youth. They called him bald and he prayed and God sent bears to maul them. Sounds like teens should be nice to their bald youth pastors. But, why was this the reaction? At face value, this looks rather harsh. I mean, couldn’t they have just said, “hey, be nice to the man.”
First, here is the story, if you are not familiar.
From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. “Go on up, you baldhead!” they said. “Go on up, you baldhead!” He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths. And he went on to Mount Carmel and from there returned to Samaria. – 2 Kings 2:23-25
The explanation lies in both who the youth were and who Elisha was. First of all, I asked an Old Testament professor about this and one thing he brought up was that this wasn’t the average youth group. This was a group of trouble makers, or muggers. They were comparable to a street gang. So, sorry youth pastors, I guess if you are balding you can’t use this as a threat.
When they tell him to “go on up” they are not just talking trash. They are telling him to move on, to get out of town. Elisha, being a prophet, would not have always received a warm welcome in all places. Clearly this group was not thrilled with the message he brought and wanted him gone.
With that being said, this had everything to do with opposition to God. In this case, God dealt with the opposition in a swift fashion. It is never a good idea to be opposed to God. This is not a new concept, but just an occurrence where it is done with uniqueness.
It is not an overreaction. It is the act of an unholy people trying to live in proximity to a Holy God. This is something that they never did well, which is why Jesus Christ coming was so significant. Now there was a mediator between God and man. Now there was an ability to be forgiven of sin and to be viewed as righteous before God. We could never have done that!
I will say that if you are a teen and have a balding youth pastor, it is still wise to be nice to him. But, when he tries to ask God for bears to maul you, make sure you remind him of what was really going on there.
And of course — be careful who you taunt.
Prayer is a vital part of life; It has to be or else we lose connection with God. It is true that people who don’t believe in God will sometimes pray because there is something in us that desires to see something powerful happen around us. Prayer is also a place that gets neglected in lives because it is perceived as something that needs to be done in a liturgical manner. I have heard often the longings of someone who says they want to pray more but just don’t have the time. My question to them is always: “How much time do you actually need to pray?”
The Bible tells us to “pray continually” and to “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions”. When people read that they get even more discouraged because that sounds like something nobody can ever accomplish. That leads to discouragement and a lack of connection with God. We tend to complicate things a bit with our ideas. I think it is helpful to look at the prayer lives of children in order to get a better sense of what it should look like. Yes, you heard me right – children.
We have taught our children to pray as they go about life and to be sensitive to when that needs to happen. No, it has not happened as much as it should, but it has happened more than it ever would have without our direction. For example, if one of them wakes up during the night because they had a scary dream, we will always remind them that God is bigger and pray with them. This has helped them to have the confidence to do this on their own when they have felt some fear. At other times there might be people who are hurting or need something and we will pray for them. This past summer my son and I came upon a scene of someone we know getting air lifted to a hospital after he fell while doing some roof work. I was pacing the house and my son looked at me and said, “dad, I prayed for him.” I was pacing continually and he was praying continually!
The other night I was driving with my 2-year-old daughter when she said, “Thank you God” a few different times just randomly. She was praying while we were driving back from the store. Every night we pray with her and thank God for whatever comes to mind. The other night she thanked God for “quack quacks” and “Jesus”. This simple activity before bed has been integrated into more areas of her life without our forcing it to happen!
I think we can learn something from the prayer life of children. There is no filter to their prayer; they are real. They are not afraid to just pray out loud. They pray with such faith and simplicity. It is no wonder Jesus told us to have faith like children.
The lesson for me is to pray for whatever, whomever, whenever the Spirit leads. It means to not simply go through a list of requests, but to pray as people come to mind. It means praying with people who need to find that connection with God. Above all it means making sure that prayer is a continual part of my life because without prayer we are powerless to accomplish God’s work!
This song has been on my heart today as I pray for God to build His Kingdom here! We all know how much we need His power and work in our midst. Let’s ask Him to work through us wherever we find ourselves today.