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!
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.
Forgiveness is an important topic because other people so often hurt us. That is the nature of relationships because they deal with people. There are so many lessons in these situations for us! God is not silent about this, but rather He has told us a lot about love and how to live with each other in kindness. We need to love each other!
God desires fellowship with Himself; He offers Himself to us! But so many people choose to live away from Him. Even if you are someone who has received Jesus Christ as your Savior at some point in your life, you still might not be in full fellowship with God. Sin does that. Sin does move us away from walking in daily dependence with God.
Forgiveness is closely tied to this because forgiveness touches all areas of our lives! You cannot walk in fellowship with God if you refuse to forgive people. When you decide to hold grudges, gossip, hurt others it is directly opposed to God and pushes you away from fellowship with him to a place of isolation.
Forgiveness is needed for fellowship with God.
Forgiveness is a lifestyle
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.- Ephesians 4:29
Unwholesome talk literally means “rotten talk” sort of like road kill in the hot sun. No one would go down the road, pick up a rotting animal and serve it for dinner. It is dangerous to eat rotten meat. You will get sick. It says do not let this rotten talk come out of your mouth.
When you go to the zoo they have an important rule: ”Do not let animals out and do not let people in with them.” Remember when the lady jumped in to the Polar Bear exhibit a few years back? That didn’t end well. You see, the goal is to set up boundaries so that people stay out and the bears stay in. Do not let the bears out is really wise advice.
That’s the picture here. Do not let those rotten words to come out of your mouth. Instead you should let words that are helpful for building people up.
This is more than just saying curse words too. This means other things as well that destroy relationships
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. – Ephesians 4:31
It says to get rid of these things. Take them outside, pour gas on them and light them on fire because these things destroy fellowship with God. But the difference is in verse 32 of Ephesians 4.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. – Ephesians 4:32
Be kind, Be compassionate – why? Because Jesus Christ is those things and He lives in you by His Spirit.
In Matthew 6 we have what is referred to as the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus told His disciples that when they prayed, they should include certain things including forgiveness.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors. – Mathews 6:12
Debts are obligations. What are our debts to God? Sin! Because the wages for sin is death. We deserve death because of our sin, but God forgives us because of Jesus Christ.
So then it says, forgive us our debts as, or in the same way, that we forgive our debtors.
We forgive other people because God forgives us. Except we aren’t very good at it. But see forgiveness is not something we normally do, it is a lifestyle that needs to be constantly worked through in prayer so that it is lived out.
What sin must we forgive? Are there limits? No, we are to forgive it all and let God be the judge.
When we practice this we show God’s work in us because God true and good. Forgiveness is freedom and forgiveness is where God blesses. It is what He did for us and what we are to do for others.
People will hurt you. You will hurt other people. At times this will happen intentionally and at other times not. But we must not get hung up on it, but extend love, grace, forgiveness. If we don’t we are running from God.
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!
I found an interesting note in my notebook tonight. It was a simple phrase that I wrote after a trip our family took to Pennsylvania in the spring. The note was in reference to a picture of my daughter feeding a horse through the fence. The fence was electric and it was on. We had to carefully stick the carrot in between the wires and convince the horse to come close to the fence to get the food.
The whole scene reminded me of ministry and the different ways people approach it. What I wrote was: “Sometimes we are lazy and feed people through the fence, but we need to take a risk and go inside the gate.” I know that so many times people distance themselves from the pastor or ministry leader because they are just unsure. It is even worse when the pastor is the one distancing themselves from the people! But it sure makes a difference when the pastor or ministry leader does not sit on the outside of the gate, but rather enters in and relates to them as people.
We must never get so busy with the day-to-day tasks of ministry that we forget the importance of spending time in proximity with people. I know that it makes a much greater impact on lives when we love the people we serve more than the task of serving them.
If you lead a ministry, how do you make sure you don’t just go through the motions of ministry? In other words, how do you ensure that you are entering into the fence and relating versus just sticking your hand through the fence?
It is time to get inside the fence!
Even with all that goes on in the world today, I still run into people who believe that people are generally good. Often what they say is something like: “I am a pretty good person and God is alright letting me live my life how I think.” Really?
It does not take very long to get corrected on that thinking when the Bible is opened up and read.
“Since then you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” - Colossians 3:1-2
“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” – Colossians 3:5
This section of Scripture continues to list off more things you are to take off and a whole list of things that you are to put on. In other words, yes it does matter to God how you live and no you are not good on your own. That goodness comes only as a result of a transformation that happens as you trust in Jesus Christ. It is at that point that these sinful things come off and these new things get put on.
This realization is actually key to the Gospel message. When we stop and recognize that we are sinful people in need of a Savior it positions us to receive the gift of new life in Christ. The message is not about behavior modification; the message is about a new spiritual life. That is where true freedom is found – not in doing things our own way!