Category Archives: thanksgiving

The Invitation

“Come in!” you hear and, pushing on the door, quietly, expectantly, you tiptoe into the hospital room.  The new mother is propped up, holding her first baby.  As she looks up and smiles, suddenly you find yourself swept up in her joy.  You can’t help it.  It’s as though you have fallen into a deep pool of unrestrained celebration. 

If that’s how great joy feels for us, and how it pulls us in, imagine what it would be like to be caught up into and fully share the joy of Almighty God!  Try to understand how vast and powerfully explosive would be the deep, rumbling, cymbal-splashing joy of God.  What would it do to you to enter His room and participate in His greatest happiness?

You have heard the parable of the master who gives to each of his servants portions of gold (called talents) to use.  Perhaps that parable, told by Jesus, sounded severe to you, as though He was saying, “You better get busy, or else…”  If so, reflect on how He described the outcome for the ones who faithfully and productively used the gifts with which they had been entrusted.

His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’  (Matthew 25:21)  
Now, there is an invitation you don’t want to miss…

Why This Friday is Good

“Move that bus!”  The impoverished family gapes to see a newly remodeled home, filled with improvements to make their lives better.  If you’ve seen “Extreme Makeover, Home Edition,” you remember the tears of amazement and joy.  But as the family tours the home, as excited as they may have been, for the breadwinner, in the back of their minds is the gathering fear, “What if I can’t keep this job and we miss a few payments?  I could easily lose this place…”  But occasionally, just before the show signed off, Ty Pennington would say, “Oh, there’s just one more thing…” and some charitable organization would present the family with a check, paying off their mortgage in full.

In a scenario like that, a family that had experienced life as a daily struggle, would then be able to move into their new home and find rest, secure in the realization their greatest obligation of debt had been paid off by someone else.  That is, if they trusted the check was real, accepted it and cashed it.

Today we remember that, on the Cross, Jesus Christ paid our full obligation of debt, with His own blood, forever.  As Isaiah foretold,

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.  (Isaiah 53:5-6)

If we trust Him, and accept His payment on our behalf, we will be received into God’s family (John 1:12-13), enter into His rest (Hebrews 4:3), secure in the realization that our obligation has been fully paid.  Forever.

 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. 6 So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son.* 7 He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.  (Ephesians 1:5–7). New Living Translation

The Meaning of Meaninglessness

Here’s a special treat.  In the last several posts we have chewed on Ecclesiastes, but how can we scoop its message all together?  It seems so full of contradictions – just like you!  Scholars have tried for centuries to make sense of it.  But, Ecclesiastes is about real life, real life that throws curve balls.  Recently, my son sent me a wonderful You Tube about Ecclesiastes.  These guys really get it.  I couldn’t summarize the book any better.  Check it out.  But do yourself a favor and wait for a moment when you can really watch and listen.  It begins with a short Hebrew song and then goes way deep.   Click HERE.

But wait, there’s more!  No, not steak knives…    This same group produced a beautiful song based on the teachings of Ecclesiastes.  You’ll find it HERE.

And, If you missed this short series, the first one is found HERE.

Grace and peace.

Seasons

If you want to write a hit song for Millennials, here’s how (that is, according to a joke I saw recently):  First you start with some banjo.  Then all the musicians shout “Hey!”   The body of the song should contain complaints about life by Millennials.  Then another “Hey!”  Finish with a bit more banjo, played faster and fading out.  Like any good joke, it’s an exaggeration based on a bit of truth.  And the truth is, young people tend to complain when things aren’t going the way they hoped.  And write songs about it.  It’s not just Millennials.  My generation did it back in the 60’s.  “I’m just a man of constant sorrow. I’ve seen trouble all my days.”  We sang that with earnest looks, even though our “days” were just getting started.

But, spend time with an old farmer, someone who has struggled through the ups and downs of a tough life, and you’re much more apt to hear a fiddle tune than a bunch of complaining.  The farmers I have known are well acquainted with the fact that life ebbs and flows through good times and bad, and that complaining only makes it worse.  In fairness to Millennials, their generation is also known for a desire to “keep it real.” And in time, by “keeping it real,” they will be known for patient acceptance of life’s various seasons.  Because those seasons are real.

Perhaps the most famous section of Ecclesiastes are these next verses.

1 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace

(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

Try to identify exactly which of these seasons you have experienced and when.  Call to mind any of the ways you experienced God’s influence and care during them.

Joy and Fear

Maybe the man was schizo.  Or confused. When he wrote Ecclesiastes, he said:

Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God.  (Ecclesiastes 5:19)

And he also wrote:

Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandmentsfor this is the duty of all mankind.  (Ecclesiastes 12:13)

 Which is it?  Should we enjoy God’s generous gifts or fear Him?  It’s both, but let me explain.  To “fear” means to treat someone with great reverence or respect, paying careful attention to his desires or commands.  Can you do that with God, while simultaneously enjoying His gifts?   Here is a fantasy illustrating how to do both – fear and enjoy.

Let’s say my guitar hero, Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, invites me to his home.  I’m in shocked disbelief and show up, quivering with excitement.  He welcomes me in, shows me around, and then we discuss guitar picking.  We jam a little and he teaches me a few of his trademark licks. Then, as I am about to leave, be asks if I would be willing to take his prize acoustic guitar and take care of it for him.  He said, “I want you to play it regularly, but there’s a few things you’ll need to be very careful about.” Perhaps you can imagine how astonished, delighted and thrilled I’d be for such an opportunity.  Stunned by his generosity.  And extremely careful to follow his instructions.  I would fearfully enjoy his gift until such time as he decided to take it back.  That’s what Ecclesiastes teaches should be out attitude toward God with respect to His gift of life.

Night Light

2 The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
3 You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
4 For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:2-7)

Merry Christmas!

Peace on Earth 4

The “piece of cod that surpasses all understanding,” Swedes talk about is lutefisk.  It’s an apt description, but the whole thing is a pun from this bible verse:

 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 4:7)

Three questions:

  • What is the “peace of God?”
  • How does one attain it?
  • What does “surpasses all understanding” really mean?

The “peace of God” means a peace that is given to us by God, a kind of peace that is superior in all ways to what the world thinks of as peace.  It’s not an absence of conflict but a genuine wellness of soul which gives the wherewithal to go through seasons of strife without losing it.  That’s because it “guards our hearts” from going off into unproductive second guessing and “if only.”  Instead, it keeps our hearts and minds settled in Jesus.  That’s not some emotional trick.  We make our home in Christ, in His mindset and in His care.

This peace is given to us in response to our genuine prayers:

“…The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:5b-7)

Mixing prayer requests with thanksgiving – real thankfulness – is a key to this kind of prayer and that kind of peace.  When we turn computer problems over to an expert, knowing he has the knowledge and skill to take care of it, we don’t waste time futilely trying to figure out how to fix it ourselves.  Same thing when we turn problems over to Almighty God, only so much better.

The phrase, “surpasses all understanding” probably means it is impossible to understand the peace that comes, much less to explain it logically.  But I suspect it also means the peace we receive is better than the understanding we yearn for in tough circumstances.  We cannot explain why God would allow this tragedy to have occurred but as we pray and, as He blesses our souls with peace, we discover that understanding why it has happened is not so important.  We have peace that comes from God, comes from knowing the God of sovereignty and grace, knowing He is on the case and somehow that is enough.  More than enough, it’s better.  It surpasses the mere desire to understand.