RECEIVING BLESSINGS FROM OTHERS

(Romans 15:2 MSG) Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?”

I have a large tree in my front yard.  In the fall the leaves of this tree turn yellow, orange and red.  It is quite beautiful.  Usually the leaves fall between the last two weeks of November the first few weeks of December giving me a nice period of time to pick them up.  This year was different.

November was unseasonably cold this year leading to a surprise event. The colder weather prepares the leaves to break loose from the tree and fall to the earth more quickly.  Sunday and Monday of this week, a strong northwestern wind presented itself. Within twenty-four hours, ninety present of those beautiful leaves fell to the ground.  Four weeks of work turn into a one day experience. The good news, I was blessed with unanticipated help.  As I faced my overwhelming task, three Good Samaritans passed by. 

The first was a young man delivering a package to my neighbor.  He stopped to verify the address, and I pointed him to the right house.  On the way back to his truck, he stopped and offered to help me.  He stayed long enough to load a large bag with leaves.  I thanked him, and he replied that he used to pick up leaves with his grandfather.  He smiled and said he enjoyed helping me.

It takes many weeks to dispose of so many leaves.  I can only fill up one lawn waste can per week which would have taken me more than a month.  Then the second Good Samaritan came by. I don’t know who this was, so they remain anonymous.  When I went into the house for a coffee break, I left two large bags of leaves lying in the driveway.  When I returned one of those bags was gone.  I can only assume that a neighbor came by and took one home to put in his lawn waste can.    

The third Good Samaritan was my neighbor from across the street.  He noticed me laboring there in my front yard and offered his green can for me to fill.  He probably would have stayed to help me fill it, but he had broken his wrist and it was covered with a large brace. Now getting rid of the leaves will happen in just a couple of weeks thanks to my neighbors.

Three people, out of the kindness of their hearts, made my arduous task less difficult and more enjoyable. Their acts of kindness blessed my heart.  With their simple acts of kindness, they embodied our scripture from Romans. 

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.

FAITH IN OUR GLORIOUS FUTURE

(Hebrews 11:13-16) All these people were still living by faith when they died.  They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on the earth.  People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.  Instead, they were looking for a better country–a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Abel, Enoch. Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob are the people referred to in this Scripture.  They are the ones who admitted being foreigners and strangers on the earth.  Do you feel like a foreigner or stranger on the earth?  Maybe not, but think about the reality of our time here.  Our sojourn on the earth is a few short years compared to the eternal existence God has promised us.  In truth, we are simply preparing for the home that lies ahead.

Not to make light of our current lives.  The short period we are here is essential.  There are choices to be made and ministries to be carried out.  The most important choice is choosing Jesus as our savior and recognizing that his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead represent God’s provision for us. Through Jesus, we become sons and daughters of God’s promises.  As sons and daughters, we have an assigned purpose in God’s kingdom while here on the earth.  Like the faithful people of the past, we serve in God’s kingdom fulfilling what he has planned for us.

Looking ahead to what God has promised brings joy to us no matter what our circumstances.  Faith in our glorious future sustains us.  In hard times, we remember that this life is not going to last forever.  Our future lies in a country where there is no pain or sorrow.  Heaven will be filled with God’s love, and we will bask in his presence for eternity.

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.

THE SOURCE OF TRUTH

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1)

The Bible is a great source for understanding the world in which we live. These first words from the Bible answer the fundamental question about where did the world we know come from.  There are those who would say this is myth and give you the alternative explanation that it all happened by accident.  I find it hard to except that the intricate details and creativity found in the universe came about by accident, but let’s move on.

The Bible also describes the characteristics of the creator.  We learn to know him as we read about his interactions with his creation, and we find that he loves us.  Through prayer and worship we communicate with him, and he in turn speaks to us.

In the New Testament, Jesus teaches us many lessons about how we should live.  Life is so much easier and fulfilling when we live this life according to Jesus’ teaching and avoid the ways of the world.  However, we find this hard to do.

The Bible also explains that due to our rebellion against God we have inherited a sinful nature.  This sinful nature resists God’s instructions and wants to live this life without God.  God in his great love for us is constantly working to draw us back to himself.  All of this information is right there in the Bible.  If you desire to know the truth, read this one-of-a-kind book. 

ADVERSITY

(John 16:33) I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.

Jesus said these words to his disciples as he was getting ready to finish his work and return to the Father.  He knew that they were going to face considerable adversity as they carried the Good News to the world.  His encouragement to them was first that they would have peace in him, and secondly that they would “take heart” because he has overcome the world. 

Take heart is a familiar statement, and most modern translations use the words take heart for this verse.  I wanted to better understand what Jesus was saying, so I did a little digging.  Here’s a definition that I thought explains the term well:  to gain courage or confidence: to begin to feel better and more hopeful.  God put in us great inner strength, but he never meant for us to face adversity alone.  We can take heart because Jesus has overcome the world.

I stumbled on this scripture from Proverbs when I was going through chemotherapy.  (Proverbs 24:10) If you falter in a time of trouble, how small is your strength?  It caused me to take heart, to rise up and continue to face my adversity.    So I gained courage and confidence, and I began to feel better and more hopeful.  I was strengthened in myself, but I was not strengthened by my own ability.  Through my relationship with God and the guidance of his word, I was encouraged in him.  I was able to rise up and face my adversity, because Jesus was at my side through it all.

OUR LEARNING DISABILITY

(Romans 7:25) Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!  So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

When I was working on my teaching credential, I had the opportunity to work in a school that dealt with learning disabilities.  I was assigned to work with a young lady who was struggling with basic math. She was in third grade but still at a beginning first grade math level.  The director explained that though she might seem to learn a lesson, she would not retain the information the next day.  Sure enough, the information I taught her that day was gone the next day.

I gained some very useful information during my time at that school.  Relationship, patience, and repetition were the three most important things I learned.  Patience and repetition go together.  Teaching someone who struggles with learning requires abundant patience, which facilitates repetition.  Say it, see it, touch it, and then do it again.  Sometimes we rhyme it or sing it.  Relationship however is perhaps the most useful.  Developing a relationship with the student insures that they will hear what you say, and they will pay attention to you.  If they don’t understand that you are there for them, and you care about them, information transference will not take place.

I shared all that to first point out that we are all learning disabled.  Our sinful nature, the flesh, is with us until we leave this life.  It constantly interferes with what Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, is teaching us. He has a difficult task in bring us along the road to Godliness.

Secondly, note that Jesus is applying these teaching methods to help us overcome our disability. He is building a relationship with us that started with our recognizing that he cared enough to die for us. And have you noticed how patiently he continues to teach us? The lessons are patiently repeated over and over again. 

I know that I have improved from the lessons Jesus taught me over the last 40 some years, but I often find that he needs to repeat even the earliest lessons.  This is when my learning disability confronts me.  I am so happy that Jesus cares for me, and that he is patient with me when I need to review previous lessons.  Jesus is overwhelmingly patient and kind.