THE REASON FOR THANKSGIVING

(Ephesians 1:7-10 MSG) Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people – free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds.  And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free!  He thought of everything, providing for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making.  He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.

So here in America, we have a day set aside for thankfulness.  What a great idea!  Americans have much to be thankful for – such as our freedom.  This freedom has been bought and maintain at a great price. We are thankful for all those who have sacrificed for our country.  Yet there is an eternal freedom that has been afforded us by the sacrifice of just one.  This freedom is offered to all who live on the earth.

Our scripture from Ephesians begins with this statement, “Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people…”  I don’t mean to trivialize the freedom we have in America, but I do want to emphasize the magnitude of what God has done.  All of mankind has been given the opportunity of being forgiven for their sins and to have eternal life. We in America and every other person on the earth can experience this freedom no matter what their circumstances.

Though I have many things that give me reason to be thankful, the foundation of my gratitude rest in Jesus Christ and him crucified.  All that I have and hold dear are because he redeemed me and gave me freedom from my sins. Jesus is my reason for being thankful.  I have a family and friends that I am privileged to enjoy here in this life, and I have the comfort in knowing they will be with me in eternity.  I am eternally thankful to my Heavenly Father and my Savior Jesus Christ.

ANGER

(Ephesians 4:26) “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.

Anger is an emotion and not necessarily a sin.  God can’t sin, but he gets angry. Most everyone can attest to the fact that anger is dangerous and can potentially lead to sin. Other emotions like love for instance can affect our reasoning ability.  Love can make us silly and whimsical, while anger can make us aggressive and violent.  Our enemy is prowling around looking for an opportunity to lead us into sin (see 1Peter 5:8).  Our anger looks like an invitation.

Anger can cause us to think, say, or do things we would never do under normal conditions.  So when anger arises, it should be a red light of warning.  I have many times allowed my anger to get out of control, most often with disastrous results.  Now when I recognize myself getting angry, the caution flag comes up, and the battle for control is on.

You’ve probably heard people say count to ten before you react.  That’s great advice, but I frequently need more time. The Apostle Paul teaches us to take every thought captive (see 2Corintians 10:5).  He goes on to say in that verse to make those thoughts obedient to Christ. That in itself is a challenge, yet it is a great reminder of where the strength to take those thoughts captive comes from. Anger is a strong emotion, and we need help to control it.  Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit to help us. 

We could do a whole seminar on the subject of anger, however today we are just touching on the task of controlling it.  Being angry, controlling that anger, and avoiding letting that anger become sin, affords good results like peaceful relationships, less stress, and returning to loving one another.  These are things worth fighting for.  We need to do the battle, and win the victory of obedience to Christ.  In the long run I know we’ll be glad we did.

METAMORPHOSIS

(Revelation 21:1-3)Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.”

As I read this passage of scripture, I thought, what a beautiful picture of our future, and I noted that what remains of the old creation are the creator and his children.  We his children will be changed into our eternal existence, and be with our God.

God has given many examples in creation to teach his children.  I love the life of the butterfly as an example of change.  The butterfly starts out as a caterpillar, but a change is coming.  Through a process that God set in motion the caterpillar will become a very different creature.  The change called metamorphosis takes the lowly caterpillar and produces a beautiful butterfly.

God is always with us as we continue our caterpillar existence here on the earth, but remember a metamorphosis is coming.  We have a beautiful, eternal future.  God is always with us, and we have glimpses of his presence from time to time.  In the new heaven and earth he will set his dwelling place among us.  We’ll have the delight of his presence forever.  Take time to contemplate the words of this scripture.  No matter what you might be facing, a smile is likely to arise from deep within you.

DECEITFULNESS OF WEALTH

When Jesus was explaining the parable of the sower to his disciples (Matthew 13:18-23 NIV) he used this phrase, “the deceitfulness of wealth”.  In Matthew 13:22 Jesus said, “The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word making it unfruitful.”  This phrase caught my attention as I read through the passage, and I thought it worth a more in-depth look. 

I frequently like to refer to The Message to expand my understanding of a passage.  Here’s how verse 22 reads, “The seed cast in the weeds is the person who hears the kingdom news, but weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it.”  The words deceitfulness and illusions both give indication of something that is not really there.  Here in America, I believe the deceitfulness and the illusions of wealth hinder us from fully participating in God’s kingdom.  Perhaps it is our greatest deception.

I remember, when my youngest daughter returned from a mission’s trip to Mexico, she was deeply impressed by how happy the people were in the village where she stayed.  She said to me, “Dad they live in shacks and have nothing, yet they are always cheerful and happy.”  It was a great experience for her.  She had the opportunity to realize that material wealth doesn’t bring happiness. 

As we head into the holiday season, let us not fall victim to the deceitfulness of wealth.  The holidays should be more about God’s love and faithfulness.  There is a mounting excitement as we gather together for Thanksgiving and then the celebration of God coming to earth.  In these moments, there is light to be found.  Don’t let the darkness of striving for wealth cause you to miss the light of God’s love.

THE PITFALL OF GREED

(Luke 12:15) Then he said to them, “Watch out!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

Jesus follows this statement of caution with the parable of the foolish rich man (verses 16-20).  He tells of a rich man whose fields yielded an unexpectedly abundant harvest.  His barns were inadequate to handle the harvest, so he tore them down and built bigger ones.  Here he is thinking he’s got it made, but his time was up, and he died that very night. 

Jesus concludes the parable in verse 21, “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.  The message translates this verse, “That’s what happens when you fill your barn with self and not with God.”  Jesus often directs his teaching to the matter of focusing on material wealth rather than God. He knows our weaknesses, and how easily we can fall into the pitfall of greed.

Our culture is filled with the “I need more syndrome”.  We are continually trying to fill the bottomless pit of want.  Solomon warns us in Ecclesiastes 5:10, “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.” Jesus wants us to pursue the life that comes from trusting God with our needs.  Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

God offers us a better way.  By focusing our lives on him and trusting him with our needs, we can avoid the merry-go-round of greed.  We will be disappointed by spending our lives accumulating wealth and material possessions.  There is never enough to satisfy.  God’s way brings satisfaction.

BE MERCIFUL

(Jude 22-23) Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

The Church, the Body of Christ, has throughout the ages frequently missed the basic tenet of being merciful.    On the other hand the Church has been an instrument of mercy in society since its beginning.  It’s been a mixed bag.

 In Luke 6:35-36 Jesus says, “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.  Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”  God has shown us mercy, and he desires us to be merciful.  I believe our ability to be merciful depends on our ability to receive mercy.  Humility is the key.

To receive mercy, I must first recognize my need for mercy.  When I know that I have sinned against God, there is then the recognition of the debt I owe to God.  Secondly, I need to humble myself and become aware that there is nothing I can do to repay this debt.  God is willing and has made the way to grant me mercy by forgiving my debt.  I don’t have to work for it.  It’s free.  That is hard for me because in my pride I want to do something to earn forgiveness.  However, by holding on to this idea of earning forgiveness, I will never even understand mercy.

Now you can see why it’s a mixed bag for the Church.  Our pride often gets in the way.  In Matthew 9:13 Jesus says to the Pharisees, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’  And again in 12:7, “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.”  The Pharisees were caught up in a ritual of sacrifice that fed their pride allowing them to condemn others rather than show them mercy.  They were trying to pay their debt to God on their own merit.  They were blinded by pride and did not understand mercy.   Therefore, they could not extend mercy. 

Mercy proceeds from a humble, forgiving heart.  This is God’s nature, and his heart toward us.  By surrendering my will to God and allowing myself to be forgiven, I take the first step in understanding mercy.  I feel the burden of gilt lifted and the exhilaration of being free.  But, I must remember that I’m free and not fall prey to the lie that I must do something for this freedom.  That lie feeds my pride.  I must remain humble. Then in humble gratitude, I live under God’s mercy.  A life that is continually bathed in mercy emanates mercy. 

PEACE WITH GOD

(Romans 5:1) Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

(Romans 5:10) For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

In war people are at odds with each other.  Their relationship is broken.  Hatred and distrust guide their interactions, and this causes them to fight with and kill each other.  When a peace treaty is finally signed, the opportunity to rebuild their relationship becomes possible.  With man, the hurts and attitudes that caused them to be at war, and the horrors that came about during the war, stand in the way of reconciliation.  There is great mistrust to overcome.  It often takes generations for forgiveness to slowly enter the hearts of the opponents.  This is the way of humans, but it is not the way of God.

When Jesus paid for our sins on the cross and ushered in new life for us through his resurrection, God was immediately ready for us to return to him.  God’s great love for us, welcomed us into reconciliation with him. Jesus made peace with God possible.

This is how we became God’s enemies.  In the beginning we rebelled against God.  He warned us of the consequences if we rebelled, but we chose to ignore the warning.  We ate from the forbidden tree, and death entered God’s creation. Our rebellion devastated his entire creation. This produced a great separation between us and God, and it made us his enemy.  In spite of our bad behavior, God, driven by his infinite love, worked out a way for us to return to him.

So, here we are facing the greatest peace treaty ever offered.  All we have to do is trust God and open ourselves to a renewed relationship with him.  What we will receive in return is eternal life in a recreated new world that is full of peace and love.  These terms sound like a great opportunity.  I’m accepting.  How about you?

Love and the Ten Commandments

If you truly love someone you will treat them well.  You will honor them, and you will certainly not murder them.  You will not cheat on them, steal from them, lie about them, or covet what they have.  At least, if you love them, you will surely try. 

To accomplish this, you’ll have to be patient, kind, not envious, and not work to look more important than the person you love.  I can’t imagine that you’d be rude to them or easily angered by them.  When they‘ve wronged you, you’d forgive and forget.  You’d protect them, trust them, and hope the best for them.

You may have guessed that what I’ve done here is to connect the Ten Commandments, found in Deuteronomy 5:7-21, and Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians chapter 13.  The Ten Commandments are not just rules to contain us, they are truly about love.  The first four commandments are about loving God.  The remaining six are about loving each other.  The Ten Commandments are about love.  As a matter of fact, if you don’t love God or your fellow humans, why would you even try to adhere to the Ten Commandments?

Jesus summed it up this way: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matthew 22:37-40).”   

GOD WALKING AMONG US

(John 1:1-4) In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all thing were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.

Imagine that God came and sat down with you and explained how best to live the life he has given you.  What an amazing advantage that would be.  Well this really happened some 2000 years ago, and Matthew recorded the event in his Gospel.  He starts out with these words, (Matthew 5:1&2) “Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on the mountainside and sat down.  His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.”  Matthew continues on and shares the words Jesus spoke that day found in chapters 5-7.

Probably most of the people there that day did not know they were listening to the one through whom all things were created.  At the end though, Matthew tells us they were amazed by Jesus’ teaching.  They also didn’t know that Jesus was going to die for their sins; he was offering them a fresh start, and an opportunity to live a new life in the way he taught them.

Today, there are still many who don’t recognize that Jesus is God, that he died for their sins, and that he offers them a fresh start.  They may be amazed by Jesus’ teaching, but they don’t realize that to have the power to live by them they must receive him as their savior.  For those of us who do know that Jesus is God, and that he died for our sins, when we receive him, he gives us his Holy Spirit (see John 16:13) to empower us on our quest to live by his teaching.

OBEDIENCE

(John 15:9-12 MSG) “I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me.  Make yourselves at home in my love.  If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love.  That’s what I’ve done – kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love.  I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature.  This is my command: Love one another the way I have loved you.”

The idea of obedience has always left a bad taste in my mouth.  I am leery of anyone who wants me to “obey” them.  From my earlies years, I have found ways to skirt around obedience.  As I was contemplating my approach to obedience, I was taken aback by the sudden realization that disobedience is what got us humans into trouble from the very beginning.  “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (Genesis 3:11)  I think it is time for me to reevaluate the concept of obedience. 

In John 15:9-12 Jesus makes a clear connection between love and obedience.  If I keep his commands I’ll remain in his love.  Then the reverse is true.  If I don’t keep his commands, I will separate myself from him and set myself outside of his love.  If I choose disobedience then separation and loss of love is also my choice.  If I want to be like God and love like he loves, Jesus tells me that obedience to his commands is the key.  I then have a love relationship with him that flow out of me to others.

I remind myself that when Adam and Eve first disobeyed God, they brought sin and death into the world.  I indulge that devastation when I disobey Jesus’ command to love one another.  Obedience from this vantage point gives me a whole new perspective, and it nurtures in me a true desire to be obedient.  Unfortunately, a change in perspective is only a start, but it’s good to get started.  To change my heart takes the Lord working in me.  He and I have our work cut out for us.