Thanksgiving Gratitude

This week, we celebrate another Thanksgiving. Over the years, I have watched – to my dismay – our unique holiday celebration of Thanksgiving, be pushed and crowded out of our collective conscience, as Americans. Each year, Thanksgiving seems to fade further, and further into the background, in deference to its bookend holidays of Halloween and Christmas. In fact, almost as a mockery, many people have stopped using the word Thanksgiving, calling it instead turkey day.

But, for me, Thanksgiving will always be my favorite holiday, next to Easter and Christmas. I can’t think of anything more enjoyable than gathering with family and friends, around a wonderful meal, for the express purpose of giving credit, where credit is really due, to the creator of the universe, for all of our many blessings.

Thanksgiving is all about gratitude. The word gratitude comes from a Latin word meaning grace, graciousness or gratefulness. Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for all that we have, beginning with life itself. With gratitude, we acknowledge the goodness of God, and His goodness to us.

Recent published studies show an association between gratitude and an individual’s well-being.

In one study, they asked groups of participants to write a few sentences each week. One group wrote about things they were grateful for, the other group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them. After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives.

Gratitude helps us refocus on what we have instead of what they lack. And just like a muscle, it atrophies or gets stronger with use.

So this Thanksgiving, join the psalmist – with an attitude of gratitude – in saying,

How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in you. For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods. We celebrate His abundant goodness and joyfully sing of His righteousness.

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.” Psalm 107:1

Happy Thanksgiving

Christmas and shepherds

Unprecedented! How odd! Indisputably, the single most important event in human history, the birth of God in human flesh, took place with no media build up, no marketing campaign, no paparazzi, no press.

Well, that’s not entirely true. There was a brief, yet spectacular announcement given by the angels with a multitude of the heavenly host praising God. But wait, who was in the audience for that miraculous announcement from the sky? Did you say, shepherds? You’re kidding right?

In those days, shepherds occupied the bottom rung of society’s ladder, and the average citizen of Judea wanted little to do with keepers of sheep. No one could have predicted that the first people to hear of Jesus outside of His parents would be a motley crew of shepherds. Nevertheless, an angel of the Lord appeared to these men, who got to watch the greatest sound-and-light show of all time.

In Philip Keller’s book – A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 – He talks about the “cast down sheep,” which is a sheep on its back that cannot get up again under its own strength. Such sheep may bleat a little for help, but usually they just lie there with their legs flailing about, and they die, if they are not rescued.

That’s the best picture, the best metaphor to describe Christmas. For it is the state of all of humanity, stuck in their sin and unable to turn themselves right side up. God comes to the rescue, not as a Knight in shining armor, a lowly shepherd. He came to seek and to save the lost. Having become like us, the Good Shepherd knows the human condition and all its weaknesses. Rejoice, that the mighty King of heaven, is also a tender shepherd who loves each of His lambs deeply.

So this Christmas morning, when most are thinking about opening gifts… “What did I get, what did I get?” Recognize that, in Christ – you’ve already received the greatest gift of all – eternal life.

“Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need!”“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’” Luke 2:13-14

Merry Christmas

God with us

There are many beautiful hymns that have been composed in celebration of the birth of Christ. One of my favorites is O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. It may have been composed as early as the 8th century. The melody appears to have originated in France in the 15th century.

The hymn is based on a prophecy in Isaiah 7, a prophecy that looks forward to the birth of a child who will be named Immanuel, which means “God with us.”

In the Garden of Eden, God was present with the two humans He had created, but as a result of their sin, mankind was exiled from God’s presence. From that point forward, the restoration of God’s presence with us, His creatures, become the underlying theme developed throughout Scripture.

In reality, the Bible is a love story, unfolding God’s incredible plan to fix what appeared to be forever ruined by Adam and Eve’s rebellion and disobedience.

And then, in the fullness of time, Jesus is born, and Matthew tells us that His birth took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken through the prophet Isaiah, quoted in Mathew’s gospel. Jesus is Immanuel. He is God with us. In Him all of the Old Testament types and promises that looked forward to the restoration of God’s presence with His people are fulfilled. Jesus is the Son of God incarnate.

The words of the hymn express the hopes of Israel throughout history, for the fulfillment of Isaiah’s promise. We don’t often think about the fact that we have it sooooo much easier than those living before Christ. We’re able to look back to the fulfillment of those promises – to that most incredible, awe-inspiring moment in history, the birth of Immanuel… the incarnation of the Son of God Himself.

So, based on that fact, here’s my question. As a Christian, do you live every day of your life, celebrating the fact that God is with you, living and working through you?

Christmas, celebrates the joyous fact that In Jesus, God established His presence once again with His people, and He is with us always – to the end of the age.

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” Matthew 1:23

And the Reformation begins

In 1517, a Dominican named John Tetzel began to sell indulgences near Wittenburg, with the offer of the forgiveness of sins. This practice had been inaugurated during the Crusades to raise money for the church.

Now, I’ve got to admit, as an old youth pastor – who’s done literally 100s of fundraisers – this has to be the greatest fund raising idea of all time! Beats a car wash any day. I mean, who wouldn’t pay something, anything, for the guarantee of sins forgiven.

The horrible atrocity of indulgences so angered Martin Luther, that he decided there must be a public debate on the issue. So on October 31st, 1517, Luther nailed a list of Ninety-five Theses, regarding indulgences, to the front door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg.

Nailing a thesis to the church door was actually a common practice at that time. The idea was to promote a scholarly debate. Luther hoped to provoke a calm discussion among the faculty.

But a copy fell into the hands of a printer, and the Ninety-five Theses spread throughout Germany and Europe in a few weeks. Luther became an overnight hero. And, with that, the Reformation was essentially born.

At this time, Luther was studying the books of Psalms and Romans. In his study, he realized that he could be forgiven, not based upon his own works but upon the righteousness of Jesus that was available to him if he would trust in Christ alone for his salvation.

Luther’s intent was to spark a debate. I guarantee you he had no idea it would spark a Reformational wildfire that burned for decades, and is still burning today.

“For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,[e] just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.'” Romans 1:17

Is everyone a child of God?

Is everyone a child of God? The answer is emphatically no! The idea that all are children of God is not found in the Bible anywhere. The Bible says that God is the Father, not of all, but of those who, knowing themselves to be sinners, put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. In so doing they become adopted into God’s forever family. It is not something everyone enters into by natural birth. It is a supernatural gift which one receives through receiving Jesus Christ.

In essence God gives us a choice, either we accept God’s offer of adoption, or we remain an orphan. This is the most important decision anyone will ever make in this life.

It is a very unique experience becoming a child of God here on earth. It’s supposed to be life changing. Assuming that you have accepted God’s offer to adopt you into His forever family, and have become a child of God, has it really made that much of a difference in your life? Do your still-orphan friends here on earth even realize that you were adopted? Do they see a difference in your life verses theirs? Do you?

J.I. Packer said, in his timeless book Knowing God, “If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all.”

Wow! That’s a strong statement. So how about you? Does that statement describe how you understand Christianity and your relationship with God?

“To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural decent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12-13)”

As one former orphan to another, let’s live our lives, daily celebrating that we are a children of God.

“To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:12-13

Clearly Seen

Have you ever had anyone say to you, “there is no proof that God exists”? My response to that is always, “nor is there any proof that He doesn’t”. How would anyone go about proving that something does not exist? Proof of a negative statement is difficult to pull off. For example, how would you prove the negative assertion “There is no gold in Alaska”? You would have to determine the limits of Alaska, its borders and depth and height, then dig up every cubic inch of Alaska. If there was one cubic inch you did not dig, there still might be gold there. On the other hand, how would you prove the positive assertion, “There is gold in Alaska”? Easy—you need find only one piece.

Similarly, what would you have to know, in order to know for sure, that there is no God? Well, you’d have to know everything. If there was one thing you did not know, that one thing might be God. We are so far from knowing everything that there is to be known, that the dogmatic assertion “There is no God” is not only not provable, it is ridiculously arrogant.

Jerry Root once asked the famous atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair, “How much of that which there is to be known, do you claim to know, 10%?” She laughed and said, “Okay, 10%.” He asked, “Is it possible that God might exist and be part of that 90% of reality that you admittedly do not know?” She paused and was silent for about a minute, then she said, “A qualified no”, and quickly moved on to another question.

That’s why no atheist or agnostic will be able to persuade God – when they stand before Him someday – that they would certainly have believed, if there was only sufficient proof of His existence.

Romans 1:19 states, “what may be known about God is plain to [all], because God has made it plain… For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that [everyone is] without excuse.

God has given every human being sufficient visual-aids to logically and confidently come to the conclusion that an intelligent, transcendent being created us… and everything we see that is not man-made.

That’s proof enough for me!

“What may be known about God is plain to everyone, because God has made it plain.” Romans 1:19

Current views about the Bible

In a recent study among young adults, conducted in partnership with the American Bible Society and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, the Barna Group sought to discover how changing ideas about Christianity might be affecting perceptions of the Bible. The study found that non-Christian young adults hold ambivalent and sometimes extremely negative views about the Bible.

What’s interesting is that 62 percent of the non-Christian young adults surveyed, had never even read the Bible. Wow!

The most common words they use to describe the Bible are “story,” “mythology,” “symbolic,” and “fairy tale.” 30 percent of young adults believe it’s a useful book of moral teachings, but nearly as many—27 percent—agree that the Bible is (quote) “a dangerous book of religious dogma used for centuries to oppress people.”

Almost one in five say the Bible is “an outdated book with no relevance for today.” How very sad!

Because of this anti Bible sentiment, the Barna study goes on to say that by far, the best way to positively influence a non-Christian young adult toward God and the Bible is through “personal interactions” with people who have benefited from the Bible. This bears the most fruit.

Because today’s young adults value relationships, the best demonstration of the Gospel is living out your Christian worldview boldly, and consistently.

This actually fits with what the Apostle Paul said in Corinthians 4; “the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

So this week, concentrate on positively influencing the non-Christian young adults around you toward God and the Bible, by first developing a relationship with them, letting them see your light shine. That is, the glory of Christ in you.

“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

Right vs Wrong

Who’s to say what is right or wrong? Doesn’t each individual determine right or wrong for him or herself? Who can say that the “morals” of one culture are better or worse than those of another?

Most Americans today are living a unique contradiction. According to recent polls, a vast majority of Americans say they believe in God and are religious, but more than two-thirds say they deny any belief in absolutes. The big question is this: Are there moral standards that are written into the universe?

In C. S. Lewis’ journey of faith, he came to question the idea of moral absolutes. However, his intellectual wrestling bouts with the subject of good and evil, right and wrong, ultimately brought him to the following conclusion; if there were no God, then there would be no solid basis to say that anything was good or evil.

If there is evil, Lewis concluded, there must be a fixed, absolute, infinite, transcendent standard by which we can judge it to be evil. He also took note of how people assume a fixed set of morals in their ordinary interactions in life. Though they might deny any absolute standard, they constantly appeal to a standard of fairness when they say, “Come on, you promised,” “That’s my seat, I was there first.”

Many in today’s generation are easily drawn to an emotional approach to their morality. They put a higher value on being tolerant of others, because they want to be considerate of other people’s feelings. By contrast, many in my generation, and anyone who understands and believes the Bible, places a high value on feeling strongly about what is genuinely right or wrong.

I’ll close with a poem that I wrote years ago, that points out – with childlike simplicity – the Biblical position on moral absolutes.

A question is asked from one to another,
What is your favorite color?
I say red and you say blue,
But which is correct—am I right or you?
Since favorite colors are one’s personal preference,
There’s no right or wrong, just tolerant deference.

Another question is asked to me and to you,
What is the answer to 2 + 2?
You say 3 and I say 4,
But we both can’t be right like the question before.

One of us is wrong—either me or you,
There’s no way out; both can’t be true.
So, am I intolerant if I don’t agree,
With those who believe 2 + 2 = 3?

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” Romans 1:18

Keep looking up

Did you know that if you put a buzzard in a pen that is 6 feet by 8 feet, yet is entirely open at the top, the bird, in spite of its ability to fly, will be a prisoner? The reason is that a buzzard always begins a flight from the ground with a run of 10 to 12 feet. Without that space to run – which its accustomed to – it will not even attempt to fly, but will remain a prisoner for life in a small jail with no top.

Did you know that a bumblebee, if dropped into an open tumbler, will be there until it dies, unless it’s taken out? It never sees the means of escape at the top, but persists in trying to find some way out through the sides near the bottom. It will seek a way where none exists, until it completely destroys itself.

In many ways, we are like the buzzard, and the bumble bee. We struggle with our pain, problems, and frustrations, never realizing that all we need to do is LOOK UP! There have been times in my life when I have been depressed and fearful, almost paralyzed if you will, by some unexpected problem or difficulty. Unfortunately, my first inclination was to look inside myself, or look to a friend for the answer. But I’ve learned the hard way that that’s not the best approach.

The Psalmist wrote, “I lift up my eyes to you, to you who sit enthroned in heaven.” The God we serve created this universe and everything in it. He’s the only one who has the answers to this life and the life to come. To go through life without looking up to Him, creates the same frustrated imprisonment, as the buzzard, and the bumble bee. Jesus said, I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.

So, this week, when you start to feel frustrated try looking up!

“I lift up my eyes to you, to you who sit enthroned in heaven.” Psalm 123:1

 

The Morality Pill

“I have come that you may have life, and have it more abundantly.” John 10:10

I know that today it seems like there’s a pill that will fix most anything, but I must admit, I didn’t see this one coming. Molly Crockett, a neuroscientist at Oxford University, is proposing a series of drugs that could become what journalists are calling a “morality pill.”

Crockett says, “Recent studies have shown that by shifting people’s brain chemistry you can change people’s personalities.” One of the chemical candidates for the “morality pill”, that Crockett suggests is a hormone that actually increases a person’s levels of trust, empathy, and cooperation. However, other research suggests the hormone also boosts envy and gloating. Oooops! Almost perfect, I hate those pesky side effects. They can just put that in the reeeeally small print that nobody reads!

All this sounds eerily close to the mind-numbing drug “soma” in Huxley’s “Brave New World,” Soma made everyone relaxed and happy, whether they wanted to be or not. Huxley said soma provided “All the advantages of Christianity and alcohol; [and] none of their defects.”

Well there you go. Who knew? We can solve the problems of selfishness, sin, and sanctification all with a pill. And, you don’t even have to believe in Jesus. What could possibly go wrong?

Four decades ago C.S. Lewis addressed this issue; “Free will,” Lewis said, “though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.” Lewis goes on: “A world… of creatures that worked like machines—would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight… compared with which… the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water.”

What Crockett and other behaviorists offer is a false morality, a robot-like love that is worthless. Pills cannot fix the human condition. We need transformed hearts that will lead us to transformed lives.

Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life, and have it more abundantly.”