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!
It was over a year ago now that I started to feel a bit unsettled here. It is not that I didn’t like something about the ministry, but I just sensed God stirring me to something. I remember asking the Lord to make His will known in my life, but I really did not want to move. The truth is Cape Cod is a nice place to live and we have established ourselves here. We had three of our four children here and currently have two kids in school. Moving with youth children adds a while new level of stress and fear. I had no idea why I was even thinking like that. I prayed and set it aside.
Then in November of last year the church burned down. I thought maybe that was this stirring I was feeling. Maybe God was somehow preparing me for this big change. In the midst of all the chaos it definitely was set aside. I was very busy with day-to-day ministry items that all of this was forgotten. But God does not let something drop and one day there it was again. God, by His Spirit, pressing this on me once again. It was at this point that I said, “okay, Lord, whatever you want.”
Over the course of time God has led me to a place where I believed He was asking me to become a Senior Pastor. That made me laugh because I was only about a year removed from my Master’s degree where I did a thesis on longevity in youth ministry. I spent a considerable amount of time researching and thinking that whole thing through. My conclusion was that I was a youth ministry lifer. I did not want to be one of those guys who started in youth ministry and then moved on. God likes to surprise us, doesn’t he?
In the beginning of this year I started to feel like God was loosening the roots here. I recall hearing from a pastor friend of mine that before God moves you He needs to loosen the roots. That very thing was happening and I didn’t even know what that very thing was. This was new territory for me and I was being stretched.
I started to bring this subject up with my wife who always seemed to bring me back to reality. She did not have the same sense I did and I was okay with that. In fact I was looking for any excuse I could to get out of it. We went to a conference in June and God spoke very clearly to me that it was time for me to take this step. Of course my wife was not there yet, or so I thought. It was amazing how many different people and speakers during this conference brought this to mind.
I got home and was praying for God to make the path He had for us known. One night the flood gates opened. I had been on the phone and when I came out and talked with her she admitted that she had the same sense of stirring. That left us at an interesting place because what do you do with that? What was I supposed to do? Who was I supposed to contact? How does someone even try to process this all?
Little did I know that was just the beginning of a journey for us where God would open doors very obviously. There is much more to share from there. For now I just want to leave you with a thought that I had during this time period. I kept thinking about how God shows up in unexpected ways but with amazing results. I wasn’t even looking for it, but when God calls it needs to be noticed. Perhaps it is that we need to expect God to do the unexpected. Maybe we get a little too comfortable with our mapped out lives. I know God has put together something amazing for us and we are just getting started.
Have you ever been surprised by God? How?
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.
It started for us when our youngest was in kindergarten. ”Hey dad, my friend has an I-Pod. Can I get one?” Before I could even get my mind in a place to answer the question I needed to come to grips with the reality of 5 year olds with I-Pods. What are they doing with them? What music are they listening to? Why would any adult give their 5-year-old an expensive piece of technology?
Once I pulled myself together I said, “no.” At that point he was content with the answer. He is now in 4th grade and there are kids in his class with i-Phones. I wonder now who it is they are calling and who desires to give their 9-year-old a smart phone with a data plan? Where does the madness end?
Now I know I sound mean and out of touch. I assure you I am not against technology, in fact I have a smart phone of my own. I do understand that appeal of the technology, I mean who doesn’t like to play Subway Surfers or Angry Birds? But I do have real concerns when parents hand over the internet to their child with no apparent oversight. Their innocent clicking on some sort of video or link could lead them to a place that no parent wants their child to be. So, we have had to come up with some ways to help our kids navigate this media draw.
Demonstration – Our answer has been to demonstrate wise media use and let our children play games on devices we have control of so that there are no accidental encounters with things we don’t willingly bring into our home. We make the choice to avoid video games that are violent, sticking to sports or other fun family games. I don’t play games I don’t want my kid to play. I believe the example does make a difference.
Oversight - We do not have computers in bedrooms and do not allow our kids to play on the computer without our oversight. It is not that we don’t trust our kids, but rather that we don’t trust people putting things on the internet supposedly for kids. Call me old-fashioned all you want but the battle is for the mind. We have an obligation to help our children stay away from things that will distort their mind.
Saying No and Limiting Time – This is not some sort of break-through concept, but it is a necessary idea to come to grips with. I have no issue with kids playing games or using certain electronic devices. What I think is problematic is the lack of any real boundaries. My kids will beg me to play games on my Nook or phone, but I limit it to only a few times in a week. It seems like they enjoy the time they do have more this way and they find other things to do with each other. If I did not ever provide boundaries, they would play on these things every waking moment. That does not lend itself to a healthy worldview.
Not Comparing - Every family needs to make choices for their families. I know it is easy to look at someone and criticize them for their choices, but how helpful is that? I would rather invest my energy in helping my children make wise media choices while choosing godliness. There is far more at stake here than rules on video game use.
As it relates to so many things, here is a verse that seems to come up a lot when communicating with children.
“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,” Titus 2:11-12
It is possible to make wise choices, say no to ungodliness and say yes to things of God. Let’s do our part to steer our kids to God in everything!