Give thanks? Really?

Even though we are being rushed from Halloween straight to Christmas every year, we still cannot overlook the fact that next Thursday is Thanksgiving. We have the supermarket ads to remind us, if nothing else.  But this holiday is not meant to be about eating and football.  Although established by political action and not a strictly religious holiday, Thanksgiving originated with an outpouring of thankfulness to God on the part of the Pilgrim Fathers in recognition of their survival in the new land.

Each year the Holiday Season begins with the pagan/superstition festival of Halloween, pauses briefly on the day of counting one’s blessings, and then diverges into separate paths. For Christians, giving thanks to God for the blessings of the year initiates the Advent season when we prepare our hearts for consideration of the miracle of God’s gift of salvation through His Son, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. For many in our secular society, the family-football-and-food fest of Thanksgiving, followed immediately by the shopping frenzy of Black Friday, is the kick-off to a month of consumerism and sentimentality.

The days following Christmas Day bring us all back together as we face the New Year with resolutions, hopes, and fears for the future. How one celebrates these holidays is a clear demonstration of one’s world view.

If you count your blessings or your lucky stars or feel a sort of general thankfulness that your life is good; if Christmas means nothing more than love of family and friends and sharing gifts and traditions, you may not know the great blessing of being able to face each New year without fear, confident that the loving God who created the universe is in control.

If you thank God for the ups and downs, blessings and struggles of the past year and know that Christmas is both an historical miracle and the promise of eternal salvation, then you have Happy Holidays, indeed.

Have a happy Thanksgiving…a happy time giving thanks to the One who gives us everything. Thank God.

[original version posted November 2010]

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Honoring those who serve and have served

Veterans Day, November 11, is the day we in the United States honor the men and women who serve, or have served,  in the military in the defense of our country. Whether in peacetime or war, these individuals take a vow to serve and to sacrifice. All Americans owe them a profound debt and it is fitting to honor them on this day.

veterans day

Recent events bring to mind those serving in another field of conflict; soldiers striving in the spiritual battle in the service of God’s kingdom. A little church in rural Texas, on the front line in this battle, recently took severe casualties in the name of Christ.

It is fitting for all Christians to take a few moments when honoring US service people, to remember those who’ve served, and are serving, in the spiritual battle between the forces of good and evil.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12 (NAS)

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The lost art of humility

I frequently hear the lament that, in the age of cell phones and social media, conversation is becoming a lost art. It’s common to see a group of people sitting together, eyes glued to their phones and thumbs twitching, as they interact on-line, rather than face-to-face. In the process, our society is losing a sense of intimacy and personal empathy.

An even greater loss, and one I think is responsible for much of the current coarseness and hostility in our society, is the absence of genuine humility.Walk humbly

After decades of the “have it your way” and “I’m worth it” philosophy, underscored by an educational system with a focus on building self-esteem, rather than capability, a me-first mindset has infected our culture. Rather than humble gratitude for our blessings, we are an entitled mob, marching roughshod over others with a huge chip balanced precariously on our shoulder, on the constant look-out for slights to which we can become outraged.

While a mass of self-important people, each one convinced he or she is the most entitled, may influence the culture, as though working together for a common goal, each individual feels more entitled that the rest. Look at the flow of evil oozing out of Hollywood since the sex abuse scandals burst into the open: this is what happens when someone feels entitled to use others. The self-entitled inevitably step on each other while clamoring to the top of the heap.

What’s the antidote to this painful situation? Humility.  A humble person respects all people as being equally worthy of respect. A humble person is grateful, not demanding. A humble person gives the other guy the benefit of the doubt.

Genuine humility may be a lost art, but it is one anyone can learn by sitting at the feet of the Master.

 

 

 

 

 

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Floss and Pray Daily

I recently had my semi-annual visit to the torture chamber…er, I mean, the dentist’s office, and I’m embarrassed to admit I am practically phobic about dentists. Now, I realize that dental professionals are probably perfectly charming people who only want to help me keep my gums healthy and my teeth shiny. Still, these visits every six months are an ordeal I  force myself to undergo from the fear of what horrific treatments I might need in the future, if I neglect this regular maintenance. (Can you say root canal?)

dental hygienist

So, there I was on my last visit, stretched out rigidly across the dental chair while the hygienist plunged hand and foot into my gaping maw, scraping away with her hooks and rippers, to eradicate every trace of evil plaque.

To distract myself from this torment, I tried to picture my future in Heaven, where, although dentists may be admitted, they cannot take their tools with them, and I will enjoy eternity with perfect spiritual teeth needing zero maintenance. This delightful vision sustained me right through flossing, polishing, and blessed release.

As I walked away from the dentist’s office, new toothbrush in hand, I was struck by the contrast between the time, effort, and money I’d just spent on maintaining a mere outer shell and the amount I’ve been devoting to nurturing the immortal soul within.

I’m willing to face down my fears and endure pain to keep my pearly whites in good shape, but what am I willing to suffer for my spiritual health?

It’s illogical to give more importance to the temporary than to the permanent…and yet, we are constantly reminded to floss our teeth, exercise, eat right, and to take pills to relieve every symptom of our perishing body’s inevitable expiration. We hear no mention in the media of the soul we will carry into eternity. Advertisements do not proclaim, “For a whiter, brighter soul, pray after every meal,” nor do they ask, “Is your soul flabby and out of shape? Get the Holy Bible and see marked improvement with only four reps per day.”

Ideally, as my body progresses through its unavoidable decline, I will grow stronger spiritually, so on that inescapable day when this mortal shell fails completely, a soul in its prime will step strongly into the presence of God.

[originally Posted on

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We need a political Reformation

With the five hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation approaching (October 31, 2017), I’ve been dipping into the history of the church and the life of Martin Luther, who unwittingly tipped the domino that started this revolution.

ProtestantReformation-1I learned that when he posted his ninety-five theses on the door of that famous church in Germany, he was merely posting his opinions (in Latin, the scholarly language) on the bulletin board of his university, hoping to begin a debate with his fellow theologians.

There are many literary references to Luther’s stubbornness and outspoken nature, but a comment from one of his contemporaries following a theological debate between Luther’s Augustinian order and the Dominicans struck me as revealing.  One of the Dominican brothers, Martin Butzer, as quoted by Gordon Rupp (Rupp, E. Gordon. Luther’s progress to the Diet of Worms, 1521.NL: NP, 1951), had this to say:

[The Dominicans’] wiles were not able to move [Luther] an inch. His sweetness in answering is remarkable. His patience in listening is incomparable…His answers, brief, wise and drawn from Scriptures made his listeners his admirers.

Although often described at pugnacious in defense of his beliefs, Luther was a man who followed, at least in this instance, the guidance of Proverbs 15:1

A kind answer soothes angry feelings, but harsh words stir them up.- Proverbs 15:1 (CEV)

Perhaps it was his sweetness in answering his opponents and his patient listening, or his brief, wise, Biblical answers which allowed this one man to change the course of the Christian Church for centuries to come.

In today’s hostile, crude, and sometimes obscene public discourse between disagreeing factions of our society, how much impact can Christians of all denominations have by meeting this coarsening of culture with sweet replies and patient listening as we stand firm on God’s Word?

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What’s so funny?

You know how, when you read or see something that makes you laugh, you want to share it? Or when hearing someone laughing, you want to know what’s funny? It is human nature to want to share laughter. Laughing together can create a bond of affection.  On the other hand, ridicule drives a wedge between those laughing and the ones being laughed at.

With so many smartphone apps and handheld devices streaming individual entertainment, a whole family can be in the same room watching different entertainment.  Have you ever felt left out when you are with someone who is looking at their handheld screen, listening through earbuds and they begin to laugh? Even if you interrupt them to ask what’s funny, you are seldom able to share the moment. This is especially true if you don’t share the same political views.

Today we need a whole lot more affectionate laughter. We either need to find more non-controversial things to laugh at together, or we need to start being able to laugh at ourselves.

When I need a good laugh, I love to pull up YouTube videos of old Abbott and Costello routines, or those of other old-time comedians. No political commentary, no culture wars diatribes, just good, wholesome humor. And it’s so much better when I can share a hearty laugh with someone.baby laughing

A joyful heart is good medicine, But a broken spirit dries up the bones. – Proverbs 17:22 (NAS)

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TMI: What to do with all the awful

Fires, floods, massacres, and tragedy have abounded in recent months. Like many of you, I find the constant onslaught of bad news overwhelming. How should I respond? How can I help? It’s tempting to crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head until it goes away, or until I can make sense of it all.

It made me feel a bit better to send donations for the hurricane victims (One Great Hour of Sharing a multi-denominational outreach, gets close to 100% of donations to the needy) , but there is only so much I can give and the tragedies keep coming.

When a person feels helpless, it is common to find them misdirecting their frustration onto whatever target is closest, but a more productive coping mechanism might be taking one small step at a time within one’s own sphere of influence: do the next right (and righteous) thing you come across. Make a difference where you can make a difference; be kind to people you encounter, offer praise freely when it’s deserved, forgive slights, real or imagined, and most of all, pray for one another and trust God.

In these days of spiritual warfare, stay equipped with the full armor of God.

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. – Ephesians 6:10-18 (NIV)

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Ordained to serve

I had the privilege last week of celebrating the ordination of my daughter-in-law. It was a joyous occasion as her home church congregation and fellow clergy honored and confirmed her call to the ministry. During the ceremony, my daughter-in-law accepted the awesome responsibility of full-time service to God. She is a professional member of the clergy, but the New Testament tells us that all believers are meant to be ministers.

 He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant… 2 Corinthians 3:6

The rite of ordination includes a charge to the candidate to serve in accordance with the responsibilities found in Scripture. Those responsibilities are meant to build up the body of Christ.

As believers, we are each charged with the same duty. How is your life building up the body of believers? Are you being true to your calling?

clergy_
To be ordained is to be set aside, destined for a purpose.
All Christians, whether clergy or laity, share a solemn, joyous purpose: glorifying God.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
1 Peter 2:9

Will you accept the charge?

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FEAR not, fear NOT, FEAR NOT!

27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. – John 14:27 NIV

The two words the New Testament records as repeated most often from the lips of Jesus are, “Fear not.”  In the Hebrew language emphasis was made by repetition. The fact that Jesus said these words so often lets us know how important they are, especially for us today.

While modern Christians in the West have long feared the world’s ridicule and mockery, our persecution has moved beyond lack of respect and become fear of loss of our freedoms. In many countries Christians are being slaughtered for their faith.

Christ knew what we would be called upon to face and how frightening it would be. Since we have much to fear, now is the time to cling to our faith ever more boldly.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9 (NIV)

 

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Could you be a missionary?

Beginning in the 1800’s and continuing through the early Twentieth Century, the Christian churches of the United States sent many missionaries around the world to serve and witness to pagan peoples.  While the US still sends more missionaries abroad than any other country, surprising numbers of missionaries are now being sent TO the US from former mission fields. One only needs to scan the media to know the America we live in is growing increasingly pagan with each passing year.

As a child in a small Methodist church, I was impressed with the visiting missionaries and their reports from Africa, Asia, and South America. These people of faith left family and comforts behind and stepped into pagan cultures to serve in answer to the Great Commission. I longed to share the adventure.  As I grew, I became aware of the obstacles of raising financing and learning new languages and customs that face hopeful missionaries.

I resigned myself to supporting missionaries with prayers, donations, and occasional notes of encouragement, because I didn’t have the money or education to go to the mission field.

Maybe you have had a similar experience. If so, I’ve got good news! The mission field has come to us. No need for expensive travel and you are already familiar with the language and customs. How cool is that? 

… behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields, that they are white already unto harvest. – John 4:35 (ASV)

If you don’t feel qualified, this would be a good time to read some biographies of

missionarymissionaries from the Nineteenth Century, such as Adoniram Judson, to see how they approached their pagan cultures.

Bless God and Take Courage, there isn’t a moment to lose.
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