Some Thoughts on Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving as a holiday is many things to many people. It might be little more than a day off to one or a significant and profoundly meaningful day of reflection to another. It could be about turkey and football or the end of fall and the beginning of Christmas. Perhaps it is a day for family gatherings, parades and Charlie Brown specials. Whatever your Thanksgiving entails, I’m guessing that in the midst of it all there will be a time of reflection and giving of thanks. For the Christian, this should be a special day filled with worshipful gratitude to our heavenly Father, but even for those who are not a part of the family of faith it is generally a special day filled with greater than usual gratefulness.

It’s about more than more.

Though gratitude should be a constant companion of every Christian, we generally find ourselves putting forth greater effort over the holiday season to “be thankful” and “count our blessings.” Along with everyone else, I usually focus on the quantity of my thankfulness. You know the drill: more thankful for more stuff more often. While this is certainly good and commendable, I have found my thoughts going in a little bit different direction this year. I’ve been thinking more about the quality of my thankfulness.

Don’t forget quality!

I don’t mean how good I am at being thankful, but rather the quality or substance of that for which I am thankful. Don’t get me wrong, I know that I should be thankful for everything. However, I recently read a statement that caused me to consider the types of things for which I am most frequently thankful. The quote by D.A. Carson is this: “…by and large, our thanksgiving seems to be tied rather tightly to our material well-being and comfort. The unvarnished truth is that what we most frequently give thanks for betrays what we most highly value.”

While a general attitude of gratefulness and thanksgiving is important and becoming in the life of a Christian, it can also be an effective gage of where our priorities really lie. This realization has led me to consider whether all or most of my gratitude is focused toward material things, possessions and physical blessings. There is much to be thankful for that is outside of the scope of the material realm.

Expand your thankfulness.

Here are some areas to consider as you offer thanks this holiday season and the rest of the year.

  • Spiritual blessings and not just stuff. Are you as thankful when you are shown grace, mercy and patience as you would be if you were given cash or some other material gift?
  • Meaningful relationships. Do I value people or am I merely thankful for I get from those relationships?
  • The Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence. Are you truly grateful for God’s direction in your life and His Word that is available to you?
  • Spiritual growth. Do you feel as grateful when your children manifest Christ-like character as you do when they excel in school or sports? Are you as thankful for personal spiritual growth as you are for career or personal success?
  • Trials and difficulties. Are thankful for the hard things God places in your life or are you only grateful when life is easy?

Be thankful for your treasure.

Obviously we should also be thankful for material blessings and personal comforts, but that isn’t world that we should be most preoccupied with. After all, Jesus tells us in Matthew 9:19-21 that we should “…not lay up … treasures on earth…but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven… For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Make it your goal this season to evaluate what is truly most important to you. If necessary, make some adjustments and be sure to offer thanks for your real treasure.

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The Path to Joy

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the difficulty and uncertainty of life. There is great turmoil in our nation surrounding political and social issues. There are serious questions about the future for those of us who are people of faith. Looking around, I see a great deal of pain and suffering. I know many people that deal with chronic and constant pain. Many others are struggling with pain from relationships or some other emotional pain. The reality of life is that it can be difficult and painful and often can leave one discouraged.

In contrast, I also know that the Christian life is meant to be a life of joy. Peter writes that believers in Christ are “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.” (1 Peter 1:8-9). Paul prayed for the church to be filled “with all joy…” (Romans 15:13). The psalms talk about singing and shouting with joy. Unfortunately, there are times that I wonder, “How exactly is that possible?”

Though life’s experience may cause me to question the reality of having joy despite the difficulties in life, my understanding of God’s Word leaves me confident that it is indeed possible. The Apostle Paul provides a multitude of examples of this through his own experiences and it is a common theme in much of his teaching. One of the common threads that form the foundation for a life of joy is that we must turn our attention away from ourselves.

Selfishness is a plague that we cannot seem to escape and far too often it worsens when things go wrong and life gets tough. We turn inward and become so focused on me; my problems; my trouble; my pain. That just makes us more miserable. You can be certain that if you focus on your problems, you will have very little joy.

Instead, we must turn our attention outward. We must look for opportunities to use our difficulties to advance the cause of Christ and bring God glory through our problems. We must look for ways to bless, encourage and serve others. I can assure you that through choosing to look outward you will find a renewed joy in your own spirit. You will find that one of the fastest way to bring a little joy into your own life is to focus on others instead of yourself.

If you are struggling to find joy in life, I challenge you today to stop living life for yourself and begin living it for God’s glory. The crazy thing you will discover is that when you live for yourself and your own happiness, you never actually find joy. It is a blessed paradox of following Christ that when you begin to live for His glory above everything else, you find immense joy.

Thoughts For My Fellow Christians on Election Day

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Today is an exciting and potentially historic day for our great nation. It is a day in which we once again have the privilege of exercising our right to vote and it is a day that many on both sides of the political aisle feel will have monumental impact on the direction of our nation. It is also a day that many believers have been anticipating with great fear and anxiety. While I have absolutely no idea what the outcome of this election will be today, I do know that God cares far more about how His people treat each other and represent Him than He does about a particular political party winning or losing. With that in mind, I have a few brief thoughts for my fellow believers that I hope will be considered on this election day.

You Are a Christian First

If you a follower of Christ, that identity supersedes all others. Before you are an American; before you are a democrat or republican, conservative or liberal; you are a Christian. You are a child of God and as such you are His representative. You a citizen of His kingdom with temporary citizenship here in this world. Your obligations are to him before they are to any political party or social cause. Many Christians are approaching this election with the claim that they are voting based on their faith and their beliefs, all the while acting in a manner that is absolutely contrary to Christian behavior. I urge you to consider not only the rightness of your stance (because you just might be right), but also the manner in which you are taking it. Christians cannot be mean-spirited, nasty, dishonest, fear mongers. It is sad to see so much hatred, ignorance and divisiveness among the body of Christ. Remember, today and every day, that if you bear the name of Christ than you must live in a way that honors him.

We Are All Americans

Somehow this particular election seems to have gotten even more divisive than usual. Those of us who are Christians must remember that while it has been a great privilege to live in a country that has largely supported our Christian values and lifestyle God has nowhere promised that it should be so. Being American is not about faith or specific political positions. In fact, the beauty of America is that we are a diverse people unified under the belief that we are all free to believe, like and live however we want. Those who stand across the political divide from you are just as American as you and likely love their nation just as much. Wherever we end up after this election, I can promise you that our nation will be much better off if we get over the “us and them” mentality that has dominated this election cycle and get back to being a unified nation of diverse beliefs and preferences.

God Is Still In Control

Regardless of who is our president or what political party is in power, God is still sovereign over this nation and His world. I want to urge my fellow believers to stop acting in fear as if God cannot handle it if certain people or parties are in power. God is in control, and the simple truth is that He might not want what you expect Him to want. There is no guarantee that he wants you to have religious liberty. There is no guarantee that He wants you to live in a nation that makes it easy to worship Him. There is no guarantee that he wants you safe or wealthy. We just don’t know. What we know is that He is in control and we must accept that His ways are not our ways. Trust Him. Rest in Him.

Prayer Is Our Weapon of Choice

With many Christians taking to social media to fight it out over their political views, I think we need to be reminded that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places(Ephesians 6:12).” The way we fight that battle is not through clever arguments or nasty rants on the internet, but by “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication (Ephesians 6:18).” I urge you today to be in constant, persistent, selfless prayer. Pray for your brothers and sisters who are voting and pray for your brothers and sisters around the world who never get to vote and are living in persecution for their faith. Pray for your current president as well as for the next one. Pray for your nation, communities and neighborhoods. Pray for your church family. Perhaps most importantly, pray also that God will give you a spirit that is in line with His; pray for a heart that sees this world and the people in it the way He does. Pray! Pray! Pray!

You Have Been Given Peace

Too many Christians are walking around these days worried and in a panic. They are troubled over the state of our nation and all worked up over who will be the next president. I can tell you this: if you as a believer do not have peace now, you will not have it when you get your preferred president either. That is because genuine peace cannot be dependent upon circumstances. Peace is an untroubled heart because of faith in Christ regardless of circumstances. Jesus said to His disciples, “I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid (John 14:27).” Peace is a gift from God, but we have to choose to experience it by trusting Him, refusing to dwell on the circumstances, and by being grateful for the blessings He has given us.

God is a Big God Who Deserves to Be Honored

My biggest concern is not for the outcome of this election, but for God to be glorified by His church regardless of what happens in the election. My heart’s greatest desire in all of this is that the church would stand up for what is right, while also acting right; that we would represent our Lord in a way that will make Him happy and not ashamed. While many people will be discussing the election and its potential outcomes and problems and so on throughout the day today, it is my desire to simply remind you that you serve a big God who is in total control. Don’t worry; don’t be afraid. In the words of Paul, “May the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way 2 Thessalonians 3:16).”

 

Photo By Harley Pebley (Flickr: Prayer for USA) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Game 7 by My Numbers

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Even the most disinterested of individuals is probably aware by now of some of the numbers involved in last night’s World Series Game 7. Numbers like 108 years since the Cubs last won the World Series or 174 years combined since either team had won it all. 37 years since a team had come back from a 3-1 series deficit to win. First ever leadoff homerun in a World Series game 7. 2 curses that Theo Epstein has erased. It truly was a terrific game and all the talk of numbers made me think of the numbers involved in my own personal World Series experience. So here is game 7 of the 2016 World Series by my numbers:

0 – Baseball games prior to game 7 I had watched in their entirety this season. Also, the number of times any of my children had ever shown any interest in watching a baseball game with me.

3 – The generations watching the game together around my little laptop at the kitchen table. It was fun having my Dad here for the experience.

1 – Of my children who stayed up until 1:00am watching baseball. What an awesome experience for me and my 9 year old! (Also the number of children who whined incessantly until almost the same hour because she couldn’t stay up with her brother. Also the number of children who could care less that baseball or any sport was being played and just wanted to read his book.)

4 – Innings gone by when I chose to tell my son about the curse of the billy goat. With the Cubs up 3-1 it seemed as if they had a reasonable shot at breaking that curse and I wanted him to understand the enormity of what was about to happen.

2 – The number of times I told my son during the 5th inning that he would probably have to go to bed when it was over.

5.5 – Innings passed when my son decided he felt sorry for the Indians who were down 5-1 and wanted them to win.

2 – The number of runs the Indians scored in the bottom of the 5th that had my son mocking me with goat noises.

4ish – How many times I changed my mind about sending my son to bed before the game was over.

17 (give or take) – Warnings to my son that he had better be on his best behavior the next day or he and I would both be in big trouble for him staying up so late.

3 – The number of times that I have since explained to my wife the value of a 9 year old staying up all night to make once-in-a-lifetime memories with his dad and grandpa.

1 – Great big hug I received from my son along with expressions of gratitude for letting him stay up.

0 – Regrets for the late night of baseball watching with my family.

Though I watch far less sports than I used to and have hopefully matured a bit in the way I prioritize them, I still think that moments like last night can provide a unique opportunity to bond. As parents we have a massive responsibility in the raising of our children and if we aren’t careful we can become so focused on the seriousness of this responsibility that we miss out on moments to simply enjoy our kids and let them enjoy us. We should make sure to make time for constructive and meaningful fun together with our children. These opportunities can provide a foundation upon which future opportunities for instruction and character development can be built. If you don’t believe me, just consider the numbers!

Encouragement for the Election Anxious

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With the presidential election less than a week away, many Christians and conservatives are frustrated by their options and are planning to either vote for a candidate they do not believe in or just stay home on election day. These decisions in themselves are very personal and really are of no concern to me. However, what does concern me is that the frustration involved in this decision seems to be fueling an ever increasing sense of despair and desperation from many Christians.

Do Not Be Afraid!

Even beyond frustration, there seems to be a significant amount of fear over the outcome of this election. This is a real problem! Regardless of the uncertainty surrounding the election and regardless of the potential consequences, there is absolutely no reason for the Christian to fear. Fear is really nothing more than doubt that God can handle a situation and since that is never a possibility there is no legitimate reason to fear. After all, God is not surprised by world events nor does anything take place apart from His sovereign will. Furthermore, nothing can harm us unless God allows it and He promises to protect us from all that is not in our ultimate good. Even in regard to government, it is He who appoints kings and world leaders. We must rest in the knowledge that He is in full control. Consider His Words to Isaiah and know that they are as true now as they were then: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Hope in God Alone

One of the biggest reasons for all the fear and anxiety is that American Christians long ago began to place their hope in a nation and a government rather than in God alone. Instead of being Christian first, we identified as American. Instead of trusting God to care for us, we trusted a government to provide and protect. While it is absolutely appropriate and important to appreciate the great nation that God has gifted us with, we must never place our hope in that nation. As the psalmist said, “The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue (Psalm 33:16-17).” No nation can defend us; no government can deliver us; no political system can provide for our truest needs; and no human leader can save us. Rather, it is God that delivers us and protects us and “He is our help and shield (Psalm 33:19-20).” It is He that determines our future, not an election. We must hope in Him rather than in a political system that at its best is inferior to Him and at its worst is corrupt and failing.

Remember Your True Home

No nation, no matter how great, should have the sole allegiance of the Christian. Though that reality may strike a blow to the blind patriotism that many evangelicals have embraced, it is nonetheless true that Christians owe their allegiance to a heavenly kingdom; this world is not our home. While it is proper and just to be good citizens of this kingdom, it cannot become our primary focus – our home. Our freedoms, comforts, laws, preferences and finances, and even safety should be no more than minor considerations to the believer whose heart is firmly fixed on the heavenly kingdom. Our true home is in heaven and our purpose in life is not to make a nice comfortable home here. Our purpose is to spread the gospel to all people and advance the cause of the heavenly kingdom during our temporary residency in this earthly one. We must always be mindful of our true home. In the words of a song by Building 429, “All I know is I’m not home yet. This is not where I belong. Take this world and give me Jesus, this is not where I belong.”

Stay Encouraged

For a genuine believer, there is plenty of reason to be encouraged despite all that is taking place in the world around us. We have nothing to fear with a sovereign God at the helm and a home in heaven waiting for us. Now is not the time to doubt, but to take heart and to be bold. No matter how the election turns out and regardless of the tremendous cultural shift in our nation, “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” No need to worry or be anxious because God’s got this. You need only to stay faithful, stay focused and keep looking up.