Is Thanksgiving Just Another Day?

Is Thanksgiving “just another day” at your house?

If it’s not, it should be.

I know. That sounds backwards. Thanksgiving shouldn’t just be like every other day, you might be thinking. It should be a day of purposeful expressions of gratitude to God for all His blessings to us. Shouldn’t it?

Well, that’s my point. Our prayers should be filled with gratitude on Thanksgiving Day, of course – just like every other day of the year. That is, for God’s people every other day ought to be just like Thanksgiving Day! Do we need a reminder?

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you”(1 Thess 5:18, ESV)

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”(Phil 4:6, ESV)

“Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.” (Heb 13:15. NKJV)

I don’t know about you, but I need regular (almost daily) reminders that when I open my mouth – God is listening for gratitude, not griping. In fact, growth in the grace of gratitude is one of the clearest evidences that God is changing me to be more like His Son Jesus.

Happy Thanksgiving to you!! And by God’s grace, may your Thanksgiving Day be just like every other day this year – an opportunity to tell God, in the hearing of others, just how thankful you are.

One thing is for sure – I’ll make sure to mention to the Lord just how thankful I am for you. We appreciate your partnership in our ministry!

Changing Seasons

Our hot and unusually wet summer here in southeastern Pennsylvania has produced a different kind of autumn. I assume that the abundance of moisture caused confusion for many of the trees. In normal years, the leaves would all be on the ground by early November. Not so this year! There are still holdouts refusing to turn loose of their host and drift downward to await the winter snows. It’s like they’re stalling, hoping to turn back the calendar.

But, the calendar will advance. The leaves, even the most stubborn holdouts, will fall. Time stands still for none of us. And those falling leaves are a gentle and beautiful reminder of a coming appointment we all must keep.

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor. 5:10, ESV).

This is a sobering thought. But for the apostle Paul, it was also a thought that filled his heart with joyful anticipation. We are going to stand before Jesus! We are going to see His face! And if we are faithful to make choices that please Him, we will hear His words of commendation. “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

This was what motivated Paul to say, “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him” (2 Cor. 5:9). In other words, there were only two days on Paul’s calendar: “today,” and, “that day.”

Every choice we make on this day will influence what words we hear from Jesus on that day. Let’s make it our aim today to “please him” – to keep on becoming God’s kind of husband, God’s kind of wife, God’s kind of parent or grandparent, God’s kind of friend, God’s kind of church member.

Someday, just as sure as those leaves are falling outside my window, we will stand before the Lord who loved us and gave Himself for us. By His grace, let’s give ourselves back to Him today.

One Hundred and One Things

During one of those busy weeks recently, I came across a quotation from Oswald Chambers that jumped off the page and grabbed my attention:

“No matter if there are a hundred and one things that press, resolutely exclude them all and look to Him.”

That really spoke to my heart because in that particular moment, I was looking at the hundred and one things and not doing a very good job looking to the Lord.

Have you noticed that most every day of your life the “hundred and one things” are always there? Anxieties about work . . . family issues . . . money problems . . . concerns about your health . . . the U.S. economy . . . terrorist attacks . . . .  Some days your list may number more than a hundred and one!

Have you also noticed that when you permit yourself to look exclusively at the hundred and one things, the more they seem to “press?” The more you look at them, the heavier they feel. Before long you feel so far under that you have to reach up to touch the floor.

It is in these moments when we feel most pressed, we must get our eyes off the hundred and one things and onto the Lord. But how do you do that? How do you “resolutely exclude” the hundred and one things? Paul has some helpful advice for us here:

“Rejoice in the Lord . . . Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:4, 6-9).

May the Lord help us today to replace our anxious thoughts about the hundred and one things with right thoughts about Him – His power, His mercy, His fatherly care, His faithfulness to keep promises, and most importantly, His coming near to us in the person of His Son. Then we can talk to Him about the hundred and one things – and know that He is already actively at work through our prayers. As you place your hundred and one things on Him, you will sense the “press” being replaced by His power.

Are You Sanctified?

Simeon was a fifth-century monk who subjected himself to severe practices of asceticism in his quest for what he thought was holiness. He became somewhat of a celebrity in his day, widely known for his extreme practices of depriving himself of the basic necessities of life. Crowds began to seek him out for advice and prayer.

Unable to escape the world horizontally, he attempted to do it vertically. He climbed up a pillar among some Syrian ruins with a narrow platform at the top, determined that there he would live out his earthly days. With meager food and drink brought to him by boys from the village, he lived atop the pillar for 39 years, refusing to come down even for his own mother’s funeral. There, consistent with his wish, he died.

“Saint Simeon the Stylite” inspired many isolationist imitators, and pillar-sitting became quite popular for a time. Others apparently bought into his philosophy – that the best way to avoid contamination from the world is to avoid contact with the world.

The problem is, Jesus had a larger agenda for his followers than just not being contaminated by the world. In His prayer recorded for us in John 17 (including eighteen mentions of “the world”), He made it clear that He desired us to remain pure and obedient, yet fully engaged in a redemptive mission to the hurting people in the world.

“I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” (John 17:15-18)

We don’t achieve “sanctification” by climbing atop a pillar and isolating ourselves from unbelievers. Rather, we live in the world, but we march to the beat of a different drummer. Our ethics, our values, our purpose in life – all of these are distinct from the unbelieving world around us and derived from our daily study of God’s unchanging Word. This is the sanctification Jesus asked the Father to grant us: obedient to the Word, yet still connected in redemptive mission to those who need to hear the gospel. Are you sanctified . . . or just sitting on a pole?

Jesus is Praying for Us

I recently heard an Indian brother recounting a conversation he had with a Hindu man. The man did not understand why the Hindu religion has 300 million gods and yet only one temple, while Christians claim to serve only one God and yet are splintered into thousands of groups and sub-groups?

That needling question is a good reason to reflect on the longest recorded prayer of Jesus, found in John 17. Uttered on the eve of his crucifixion, he begins by praying for himself (vv 1-5). He then makes requests for the eleven disciples present with him on that occasion (vv. 6-19). Finally, he prays, “for those who will believe in me through their word” (v. 20-26) – that’s us, folks! He’s praying for us! But listen carefully to what he prays. . .

Jesus asked that his followers would be preserved and characterized by loving unity, a unity defined by truth and clearly focused on the mission of saving the world. The importance of this unity is stressed several times in the prayer (v. 11, 20-23). Our unity around our gospel mission is in fact the primary way that the world will know we are followers of Jesus (v. 23).

I squirm just a bit when I think about Christians and churches I know as it relates to loving unity around the gospel – or when I think about my own pursuit of loving unity around the gospel.

Few of us would disagree that the modern ecumenical movement clearly lost it’s way and sacrificed truth in a mad rush toward “unity.”  But what about the ditch on the other side of the road?

We’ve all heard stories about churches who have been characterized by petty bickering and strife over a myriad of embarrassingly silly issues. Their lack of unity may result in new “churches” – but essentially removes them from effective connection to the mission of making Christ know to their community.

I’ll reflect more on this passage next week. Today, I’ll close with a couple of challenging reminders from Paul. . .

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3)

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27)

Your Bible and Your Idols

If Albert Einstein was still alive and I had five minutes to talk to him, Psalm 19 would be a great place to focus the discussion. This powerful poem explains why his search for God in nature was a dead-end (v. 1-6), and points to the only reliable Book that holds answers to life’s most important questions (v. 7-11). Like the scorching Palestinian sun, David had felt the heat and light of God’s law “searching out the hiding places of his soul,” to quote C.S. Lewis.

How appropriate, then, for the closing stanza of the psalm to begin with a rhetorical question meant to arrest the reader’s attention. “Who can discern his errors?” (v. 12). David is now concerned about his “hidden faults,” his “presumptuous sins” that would “have dominion” over him. Only when he allowed the Scriptures to examine his inmost being would he be “blameless” and “innocent of great transgression” (v. 13).

What is the “great transgression” that David feared would dominate his life? I think he’s talking about the BIG ONE here: the sin of idolatry, the sin of putting your trust and reliance for the needs of your life into anyone or anything other than God. David was not only jabbing the ancients who worshipped the sun god (v. 6). He was keenly aware of his own tendency to transfer his trust from the Creator God to rival gods calling for his heart’s affection.

He closes the psalm with a humble prayer to the only true Rock and Redeemer (v. 14) – “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in your sight.” David wanted the truth of God’s law to illuminate the dark corners of his soul and drive from his heart any affection for false gods.

We may not be tempted to worship the sun, but our hearts are just as drawn to any number of idols. We look to material possessions, physical appearance, popularity with peers, financial security, professional accomplishment, and a whole litany of substitutes to meet the deep needs of our souls – instead of finding in our relationship with the Lord all that is necessary “for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3).

When you read the Scriptures this week, let them be the sun to bring to light cherished idols and sweep them away. Let the scriptures show you the unmatched beauty of the Lord Jesus, who alone satisfies the deepest longings of the human heart.

Einstein’s Problem

Albert Einstein’s brilliant intellect ran him right into a brick wall. That is, as he studied the natural order of the created world, he sensed something marvelous and majestic. But his brilliance notwithstanding, he never figured out who or what that was.

I see a pattern but my imagination cannot picture the maker of that pattern. I see a clock, but I cannot envision the clockmaker. The human mind is unable to conceive of the four dimensions, so how can it conceive of a God before whom a thousand years and a thousand dimensions are one?

Einstein had deep within his heart, just like every human, a longing to know the Creator.

I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know his thoughts. The rest are details.

Ultimately, Einstein arrived at a tragic conclusion.

We know nothing about God at all. All our knowledge is but the knowledge of schoolchildren. Possibly we shall know a little more than we do now, but the real nature of things, that we shall never know, never.

The truth is, if Albert Einstein had a thousand lifetimes to study the created world, he would still not know the “real nature of things.” This is the powerful teaching of Psalm 19, a psalm that C.S. Lewis once described as “possibly the greatest poem in all of world literature.”

The first six verses of the psalm describe the penetrating, yet silent, message of the heavens – basically, God exists, and He is very powerful – “The heavens declare the glory of God.” So powerful, in fact, that the blazing sun, emitting the equivalent energy of a billion atomic bombs each second, is merely His “handiwork” (literally “fingerwork”). His power is beyond our ability to comprehend!

But seeing the daily journey of the sun across the heavens is not quite enough to come to know this God in a personal way, to “know His thoughts.” As a matter of historical record, many people in David’s day mistakenly identified the sun itself as a god. Perhaps David was taking a little jab at these idolaters by describing their “god” as simply a little “fingerwork” of the true God.

The answer Einstein sought he never found in nature. I’ll talk about that answer next week from the rest of Psalm 19. Until then, when you feel the hot summer sun on your face, think about “fingerwork” and how marvelous the God we serve must really be. No matter what you’re facing in your life, is anything too hard for Him?

%d bloggers like this: