But... How Can We Be Thankful?

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Philippians 4:6, NIV

 

The man who influenced me more than anyone else to become a preacher was Jack Carter. It was not only his words  that made such an impression upon me, but also the way he lived. Jack is gone now, but he was a preacher for over 50 years. He had what seemed on the surface to be the perfect life, marrying his childhood sweetheart and raising a family of five beautiful children.

 

His life, however, was not without sorrow. One of his daughters contracted polio at a young age. His wife, Nancy, was stricken with a harsh variety of cancer and suffered for some time before yielding her life to that disease. A few years later, Jack was fishing at Yellowstone with his son Dave and two grandsons. A sudden squall came up, capsizing their boat. Jack and his son dove and dove under the icy water trying to find the boys, but to no avail. Then, Jack met Dave's eyes across the water and helplessly watched as his son sank beneath the waves.

 

I heard Jack speak of these trials some years later. He then, with humility, described how he prayed to his heavenly Father each day. He said that the only thing he could think to say some mornings was "Thank you! Thank you, Holy Father, thank you so much for all that you have done for me in my life."

 

You might be wondering how can anyone be thankful during such times.

 

A more appropriate question might be how can anyone not be thankful, whose hope is in Christ? How can anyone whose sins are forgiven (and whose penalty for those sins having been taken away) not be thankful to the One who paid the penalty? We are going to Heaven, if we will remain faithful - not because we deserve to, but because Jesus paid our penalty. And our loved ones will be there too, if they will but be faithful. Knowing all of this, how can we not be thankful? 

 

In America, at this time of year, we celebrate Thanksgiving. It is a time to remember just what we have been given - and to be thankful for those blessings. Things may not always go the exact way that we would choose, but when you think about it, how can we who have been given so much not start off each day with a prayer that says, "Thank you, thank you, thank you Father, thank you for all that you have done for me... thank you!"

 

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. 

Philippians 4:7, NIV

 

Budget Wisely

It's clearly a budget. It's got a lot of numbers in it.

George W. Bush

I've watched with a combination of fascination and disgust, the budget shenanigans perpetrated by congress throughout the years, but I don't worry about it anymore. My advanced training as a classic economist tells me that the ship for fiscal sanity has long sailed. I'm not overly happy about it, mind you, I just don't give our budget anymore thought than I give to my favorite dog when I was a kid - both are long gone!

While it's easy for us to see the futility of our congress arguing over their budget, we nearly always give ourselves a pass when it comes to the more important area of how we budget our time for the Lord. If we were honest, we would all have to admit that we are sometimes imprudent in the way that we handle the precious hours that God gives us each day. Isn't it funny how we are reluctant to spend more than 5 minutes in our Bible because, "We just don't have the time", but we watch 3 hours of T.V. a day as if there were no limits to our time.

Sometimes we even "borrow" from the future, promising ourselves that we will go to worship next week, in exchange for a day off this week. Or, perhaps, that we will really will read our Bible and pray more tomorrow, but not today. I wonder if God does not sometimes wonder at my lack of budgeting skills when it comes to planning my service to Him.

The fact is that the debt that we owe our Lord is far more than we can ever hope to repay. Christ really did give His life as payment for our sins, and we can never pay back the debt of love that we owe Him. We can, however, begin to seriously consider how to spend our time more wisely for the Master. The great thing about a good budget is that we nearly always have something extra left over to spend on things that we really need. It's true for congress in the way they spend our money, and it's true for us in the way that we spend God's time.

How... are your budgeting skills?

For it is time to seek the Lord...    

Hosea 10:12

 

Breaking the Chains

The strongest chains are not those forged with fire and steel. The strongest chains are those forged in the mind.

Anonymous

 

If you have ever been to a circus, you have probably seen the long line of elephants patiently awaiting their trainer to come and move them. The interesting thing is that these elephants are typically held in place by a simple rope that connects their rear leg to a wooden peg. Now, the elephant is one of the strongest of God's creations, so there is no physical way that the elephant could be held by such a flimsy restraint. Still, the elephant stays put and does not even try to pull itself loose. Why?

 

The secret is found in his training. While still a baby, the elephant has an iron shackle attached to one of its rear legs. This shackle is attached to a heavy chain which is affixed to an iron peg set in concrete. The baby elephant pulls and pulls, sometimes for days, trying to free itself. Eventually, he gives up on the idea of ever getting his leg free and just stops trying. The physical restraint has been replaced with a restraint of the mind - and that is all that is needed.

 

You and I can readily see that the elephant's restraint is only in its mind, but can we see it of our own self-imposed restraints? I have coached hundreds of kids down through the years. While I have rarely seen a child hampered for very long due to a lack of physical talent, I often have seen the powerful and limiting effects of a child restrained by chains that exist only in his mind. If he thinks that he cannot do something, he often won't even try.

 

Sadly, we all have seen people bound by such restraints of the mind. Maybe they have some "great sin" in their past that they feel is just too big for God to forgive so, rather than seek forgiveness, they don't even try. As a result, they become shackled by chains that they have forged in their own minds. Though God's grace is there for them and Christ's sacrifice has already been made, they don't seek the forgiveness that could be theirs.

 

And... they lose out on peace. Worse still, if they never wake up and sever those chains, they will likely miss out on Heaven. If you have found yourself with this mindset, then consider this: God's grace has been offered. Christ's sacrifice was made for your very sin. You can live a new life, if you want to, but you will have to sever those chains and come back to God while there is still time.

 

Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die... for I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!

Ezekiel 18:31-32, NIV

 

Blissful Ignorance

Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

Martin Luther King, Jr. 

I grew up in the Golden Age of sports - at the dawning of the Little League era. I played Little League Baseball and Little League Basketball and Little League Soccer. When I got older - it was the City League era. I played City League Softball and City League Volleyball (Co-ed & Power Leagues) and especially City League Basketball. 

In fact, I have played and coached so many sports throughout my life that it has really taken away some of the joy of watching them. I get aggravated when the coaches don't do something I think they should, really aggravated when the players mess up, and am driven to madness when the referees see a call different than I do. So at times, these sports that I enjoy so much, bring me anything but joy. 

Then, there is track.

I love watching track. I never ran track, never coached track, and only began watching it about eight years ago when my oldest daughter casually announced that she was going to the area finals in two or three events. Now I can't wait for track season to start. I love going to the meets, I love watching the races, and I love going home and talking about them.

Why is that, you might be wondering? It's because ignorance is bliss! Since I really don't know anything about the sport, I can simply enjoy watching those who do - and it's very entertaining.

But, what can be "blissful" in one area of life, can be very dangerous in others.

Have you ever noticed how many people approach religion in the way that I approach track? They don't know anything about it, but they like watching those who do (or at least those who claim they do). Since they know nothing about it, and really don't want to, they can bounce around from event to event just taking in the religion that suits their lifestyle the best. For such people, the words of the Bible (and, therefore, the words of God) are secondary - they just like watching the game... and "hanging" with those who agree with them and say what they want to hear.

So, what's the problem? Simply this: You and I will not be judged by the results of a sporting event, but we will be judged on the results of our religion. The fact is that service to God is not a "spectator sport" - it is the essence of our existence! If we approach religion like a spectator, drifting to the most exciting events but never bothering to learn or do enough to take part in them ourselves, then we very likely will find ourselves in the position of watching the victors receive their crowns, while we go off to join those who did not compete according to the rules or those who never even ran the race in the first place.

Are you... living in "blissful ignorance" in the most important area of your life?

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. I Corinthians 9:24, NIV

 

Betting Your Soul

He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord...

II Thessalonians 1:7-9, NIV

It is fascinating to see how many, otherwise, serious and intelligent people are just "ditty bopping" their way to the Judgment. It's not that they don't believe in God - they do, and it's not that they don't believe that the Bible is God's word - again, they do. But, they don't think about things of eternal consequence - not when there are so many interesting and important physical things to hold their attention.

It's interesting, isn't it, how important the physical things seem at the time. People will spend vast amounts of time trying to figure out how to squeeze out one more dollar from their investments. They will spend years pursuing higher education in order to land jobs that will pay higher salaries. They will spend hours each day making sure that their bodies are physically fit. Now, there is nothing wrong with prudent investing or improving one's self intellectually or wanting a healthier lifestyle. But, it is amazing how often these wealthy, educated and physically fit people will ignore their eternity while pursuing a more quality life here on earth. It's like  a meth addict who trades 5 minutes of pleasure for a lifetime of misery: It's a poor trade.

This is where you and I come in. Have you ever thought of encouraging a friend or family member to become more serious when it comes to pursuing eternal life, but were just too afraid that you might somehow offend them? I think we all have, but consider the risk we are taking: We are betting their eternal soul that they will come to the truth in another way. The fact is, whether we like it or not, you and I are someone's best chance to come to God and Christ - so take that chance.

Here's how you do it. Invite a friend to church. You can tell them what I tell them: "The preaching's not very good but the people are friendly". They might not come, but they might. You can wake up that lazy family of yours (or that hard working family if that's the case) and get them dressed and to the worship. They might grumble, they might whine, but they also might begin a closer relationship with God. You might also start reading your Bible more. It's hard, I know, but it was hard for Christ to die on that cross for your sins, too. Now, inviting a friend to worship, getting your family up for Sunday school and reading the Bible not might change your life or save their souls... but it might. And it is worth the risk!

And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son does not have life. 

I John 5:11-12, NIV