Monthly Archives: November 2014

The Basket

It was the harvest festival.

This was a special celebration in India. Everyone offered something as an expression of thanks.

The local pastor watched the people entering the church. Most brought food.

Then he noticed her.

The old woman was thin, brown and wrinkled; so frail it seemed a puff of wind might knock her over. She slowly made her way to the front of the church. She carried a large basket of rice. The minister went down to greet her and took the basket from her weathered arms.

She smiled and thanked him.

She was very poor. This he knew. But he also knew she was faithful and devout. Though she had little, she loved God with all she had.

“Oh, dear sister,” the pastor marveled, “this is a very large offering!” The old lady nodded. He asked her if this was an offering for some unusual blessing.

“Yes,” the old woman replied. “My son was very sick and I promised God a large gift if he got well.”

“And your son has recovered?” the minister asked.

The woman paused and he caught a sudden glistening in her eyes.

“No,” she said softly. “He died last week. But I know that he is in God’s care. For that I am especially thankful.”

How much easier it would be if our gratitude could be premised on the circumstances of our lives. God does not leave that option to us. He does not want our thankfulness to be conditional. He wants it to be unequivocal.

God wants our gratitude to be transcendent.

He is clear and direct on this point. We are given no out, no excuse, no exemption and no qualifier.

“In everything give thanks,” Paul tells the Thessalonians (I Thessalonians 5:18, KJV).

In everything?

 “… no matter what the circumstances may be” (The Amplified Bible).

“Thank God no matter what happens” (The Message).

God does not recognize a circumstantial gratitude.

And just in case we may be tempted to think this is only Paul’s view of life, the apostle immediately clears that up in the same verse:

“In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (KJV, emphasis added).

It’s a powerful emphasis Paul adds.

This is God’s will for you and me. This is how God wants us to live. This is how he wants us to think. It’s how he wants us to respond.

And if we are “in Christ Jesus,” Paul says, we will want this too.

God wants thankfulness to be our way of living. Gratitude must be a mindset with the Christian; a positive way of viewing the world and our place in it.

Thankfulness is the Christ-centered philosophy of life.

Everyone goes through life feeling entitled or indebted. And one of those two attitudes permeates every area of our lives – our reaction to every situation and our response and relationship to every person.

These attitudes affect our religion and how we see God and expect him to see us. The health and wealth claims of the Prosperity Gospel, which has a large following, are, at their root, an attitude of entitlement: “where’s mine and why is it taking so long to get here?”

The attitude of indebtedness, by contrast, is best summed up in the simple prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, be merciful to me a sinner.”

It’s the difference between gratification and gratitude.

In the mid-term elections, polls showed Americans angry, bitter, and dissatisfied. Nearly two-thirds said our country is on “the wrong track” and close to half said things will be worse for their children.

Three weeks later, we were told by the media that “an improving economy, more disposable income, consumer optimism and low gas prices are combining to create the biggest Thanksgiving travel rush in years.”

So tomorrow, what will it be?

Will there be a complaining and entitled spirit around our table or a spirit of indebtedness to God and genuine thanks? Will we be despondent with disappointments or shall we joyfully count our many blessings?

It’s interesting that in this passage Paul associates thankfulness with joy, prayer, patience, and encouraging others – none of which are possible without gratitude.

It’s not always easy.

I have a friend who’s had a rough year. He hopes and prays that he and his family are on the other side of it. I have a colleague who just discovered that the latest tests show that his mother-in-law’s stage -four pancreatic cancer has spread.

Thankfulness doesn’t come naturally in such circumstances. It doesn’t come naturally at all. Like all good graces and the fruits of the Spirit, the seeds of gratitude must be carefully and deliberately cultivated in the soil of the soul.

God helps us to do that if we’ll let him.

When international evangelist Nick Vujicic, who was born without arms or legs, was asked if he had ever been bitter toward God for his disability, he said he knew that was one response he could have chosen. Instead, Nick says, “I chose gratitude.” In a worldwide ministry that pulsates with joy and optimism, that choice has made all the difference.

Thankfulness is a choice. Shall we choose to be grateful? We’ve got a big basketful of reasons.

May God bless you and your family. And have a Happy Thanlksgiving.

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Showing Us the Way

It nearly cost Edward Rosenthal his life.

Rosenthal, 64, was hiking in Joshua National Park in southeastern California when he simply took the wrong turn. It’s easy enough to do, and who among us hasn’t done it?

We all get lost sometimes.

In Mr. Rosenthal’s case, it was a near-fatal mistake. He hiked 13 miles in the wrong direction. When he finally stopped and realized his error, Rosenthal was alone and lost, with no way out and no one to hear his cries for help. After six hopeless days, he was finally found by rescue workers, weak and dehydrated.

When Edward Rosenthal made that fateful wrong turn along the hiking trail, he was probably pretty confident it would lead him out to the right place. It seemed the right way to go at the time. No one intentionally tries to get lost, especially if they’re in the wilderness hiking.

Getting lost is an accident.

Despite our best intuition and judgment – our best logic and reasoning – we still can make the wrong choice and we can go in the wrong direction. For Mr. Rosenthal, as in some of life’s critical decisions, the stakes were high. And there are plenty of times in our lives – especially at those crucial junctures – when simply relying on our own intuition isn’t good enough.

“There is a way that seems right to a man,” the Bible tells us, “but it ends in death.” (Proverbs 14:12, emphasis added).

The prophet Jeremiah prayed “I know, Lord, that our lives are not our own. We are not able to plan our own course.” (Jeremiah 10:23, NLT).

When we try we find it is not within our power.

“I claim not to have controlled events,” Lincoln confided to a friend in the dark days of the Civil War, “but confess plainly that events have controlled me.” One of the president’s favorite quotes was from Shakespeare:

“There is a divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them how we will.”

That “divinity” is our Sovereign God.

The Book of Proverbs offers wise counsel when it comes to finding our way and choosing the right road.

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart,” we’re told, “and lean not unto thine own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5, KJV).

Godly decision-making starts with godly trust. It begins with a confidence that God loves us and will lead us. This is what he has promised to do. It is up to us to believe it. We’re not to be indecisive on this matter or half-hearted. We must trust God with all our heart – fully and without reservation. No matter what the circumstances or our own feelings.

If we won’t trust God with our lives, we don’t trust him at all.

If we will fully trust him we shall find him fully true. “In all thy ways acknowledge him” – not in some things but in everything, and here is the promise – “and he shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:6, KJV). It does not say God could or that he might; he says that God shall direct us.

The writer goes on and admonishes:

“Be not wise in thine own eyes” (Proverbs 3:7, KJV). For in this is found the ultimate conceit and life’s greatest self-deception. The “best and brightest”, independent of divine guidance, stumble into ruin. The greatest tragedy of the human race has been man’s rebellion against God’s way.

God never ceases to be merciful.

Even if we do take the wrong turn, when we come to that realization, God will still show us the way back. Did not the Good Shepherd leave the 99 sheep safely in the fold so that he might seek that one lost sheep that had wandered away? And he didn’t stop looking until he found it.

God does the same with us. Because he loves us, he seeks us. Because he cares, he leads us back.

Isaiah promised the people of Israel that “The Lord is a faithful God…He will be gracious if you ask for help. He will surely respond to the sound of your cries…he will still be with you to teach you.” [Isaiah 30: 18 -20, NLT].

And God will guide us.

“Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, ‘This is the way you should go,’ whether to the right or the left.” [Isaiah 30: 21, NLT].

This world is not the easiest place in which to make our way. It’s filled with some surprising and often intimidating twists and turns – and critical intersections. Our lives are confronted daily with temptations, sincere advice, and popular appeals that “seem right”.

It can all be quite confusing at times.

But if you and I will place our trust in God and in his love for us, and seek his direction in prayer and through his Word, he has promised never to leave us. He will show us the right turn to take and even when we make a wrong one, he will rescue us and show us the road back.

He loves us that much.

“For this God is our God forever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death” (Psalm 48:14, KJV).

He’s there – always. He will show us the way.

May God bless you and your family.

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Freedom’s Price

It changed him.

He went from being a confused, mixed up kid to being a seasoned and mature man.

It was a formative experience. He grew up.

The military can have that effect on a young person. It can be relentlessly focusing.

For Casey Morgan, it was the Marines. It was Iraq in the early years of our involvement. It was Afghanistan.

It was the sights and sounds he’d never forget.

Unlike many of his less fortunate comrades, Casey did not emerge from Iraq broken but strengthened. Still, as for all who go, there were the scars and the memories. Those he carries. They are part of him and they will remain.

They are the costs of bearing freedom’s torch.

This week, America saluted Casey Morgan and nearly 22 million of his fellow American veterans. These are the men and women who gave, sacrificed and served. They did so not because they like war but because they cherish liberty and love their country.

And because they know, as all free people must, that freedom is never free.

America was born in strife. It was a costly and difficult war against a distant oppressor that “brought forth on this continent a new nation.”

While our country’s history is hardly unblemished, it may be said that the United States has fought its wars in defense of freedom and justice – not for ourselves alone but for all those who have suffered as victims of tyranny. Ours have not been wars of subjugation but of liberation.

Historians and politicians have always debated the causes and justifications of war but few have questioned the motives or the patriotism of those who have served. Those who wave the anti-war banners, shout the slogans, sing the songs and make the arguments seldom stop to ponder the price that was paid to secure their right to dissent.

There’s nothing about America that’s ever been easy or automatic.

The values, the ideals, the rights and the liberties that most of us are tempted to take for granted were bought with the blood and sacrifice of American soldiers – the living and the dead, the wounded and the whole.

It is only fitting that we celebrate Veterans Day and Thanksgiving during the same month.

When we gather as family and friends around a table of bounty in the greatest and freest nation on earth, we’ll have God to thank. And we can also thank God for the men and women who have served and fought and struggled to make it so; those “who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life.”

As we once again engage more of our military in fighting terror in the Middle East, it’s easy to lose sight of the enormous toll this conflict – and the war in Afghanistan – have had on our American servicemen and women.

These wars have been waged for many years now – far removed from our immediate danger or deep concern. Our daily lives go untouched by the suffering of so many of our soldiers and their families.

There are not many ticker tape parades for our returning veterans. Instead they often face an anguished adjustment to civilian life. The recent scandal at the Veterans Administration exposed the poor and shabby care our veterans too often receive.

At the end of America’s bloodiest war, Abraham Lincoln underscored our continuing moral obligation “to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan.”

We can do no less for those to whom we owe so much.

Twenty-five years ago, the Berlin Wall crumbled into history. Thanks to the resolve and courage of statesmen named Reagan, Thatcher and Pope Paul II, Soviet Communism was defeated and America won the Cold War. These were seminal achievements in the history of the world. But none of this would have been possible without the American military – and the faithful and brave soldiers who comprise it.

Those who proudly wear the uniform of the American armed services are the unsung heroes of American strength and greatness.

The Old Testament is largely the story of military courage and conquest. King David solidified and united the nation of Israel through a strong and loyal army. His men loved him and fought for him and many died for him. David understood and appreciated their sacrifice.

When the King was given animals and materials for burnt offerings to God, he refused the gift. Knowing the true value of those things which matter most, David replied, “I will not present burnt offerings to the Lord my God that have cost me nothing”(II Samuel 24:24, NLT).

So David, who had seen men die on the field of battle, paid a price.

Important things are seldom free. They are seldom easy.

Casey Morgan is a hero of mine.

I would be proud to have him as my son. I am proud to have him as my son-in-law. I’m honored that his blood flows with mine through the veins of my grandchildren. I’m thankful to him for serving our country so bravely and so well.

To all those who joined him – and to the millions who serve today – we salute you.

May God bless you and your family.

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Open Our Eyes!

The young man stirred in his bed. He thought he heard something out the window.

Fully awake now, he flung open the door and went outside. The morning sun was beginning to glisten over the mountains.

There was an impatient rustling.

The young man looked up and was struck with fear at what he saw. Across the horizon were horses and soldiers and chariots. They were everywhere.

The city of Dothan was surrounded.

There was no escape.

When the youth ran back into the house, the old prophet was already up.

“Oh sir,” he cried, “what will we do now?”

The old man grasped the younger one by the shoulders and looked into his frightened eyes.

“Don’t be afraid,” Elisha calmly told him. “That’s quite an army out there. But listen to what I’m telling you son.”

Elisha smiled at his young servant. “There are more on our side than on theirs!” (II Kings 6: 15-16).

The servant was puzzled. What was the prophet saying? The young man didn’t see anyone else.

That’s because there wasn’t anyone else. Just the two of them – and an advancing army.

Elisha was a military informant. He had been warning the King of Israel about the plans of its enemy, the Arameans. No sooner had the king of Aram conferred with his generals than Elisha would report it to Israel. How Elisha knew, it doesn’t say. But he was, after all, a “man of God.”

Aram’s king ordered a search party to find Elisha and capture him.

And now they had the old man – and the whole city – surrounded.

This was the stark reality of a very desperate situation.

Elisha prayed but not for himself. He prayed for the panic-stricken young man who trembled in fear before him.

“Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see.” (II Kings 6:17, KJV).

And God opened the eyes of the young man. And “when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire.” (vs. 17, NLT).

What that must have been like.

For a few dazzling moments this young man gazed upon the unseen glory and flaming power of the Lord God almighty. He was given a rare blessing. The eternal God pulled back for him the curtain of human reality to reveal a far greater reality. And this servant of the man of God caught a glimpse of the wonder and majesty of the One who rules the universe.

He saw beyond sight. He was lifted above the limitations of mere earthly vision to the realms of heavenly vistas. And he knew that there was a grander and more glorious world than this one.

In an instant, an earthbound youth was transported to the limitless beauty of divine omnipotence.

He had to believe. He had no choice. He saw with eyes opened by God himself.

We face the stark reality of our desperate situations – whether they are cultural, political, global or personal – and we often feel surrounded by an army. We are overwhelmed by what we see.

Our prayer must be Elisha’s. He prayed for his servant. We must pray for ourselves.

“O dear Lord, open our eyes, that we may see!”

We are not likely to be shown the reality of God’s power in the same way as this young man was. Thomas threw down the gauntlet of doubt before the feet of his risen Lord. It was a direct challenge. Unless Thomas could see and feel the wounds of Christ he would not believe he had risen.

When he saw, Thomas believed. And Jesus commended him. But Jesus reserved his highest commendation for the rest of us: “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29, KJV).

We accept the earthbound definition that “seeing is believing” but we too easily forget the far greater spiritual reality that believing is seeing.

A heavenly army of horses and chariots of fire stand watch over us and over this world. They fill the cosmic hillside. The great spiritual activity beyond our senses is no less real for being invisible to our eyes.

In fact the unseen is the supreme reality.

It is not mere mortal machinations that will determine the eternal destiny of this fallen world – or our immortal souls. The great spiritual conflict that ends with the triumph of King Jesus takes place beyond our sight and sound. Beyond the debates of congress and parliament.

We are part of this struggle, surrounded by it and enlisted in it but we do not see it.

And if any one of us could see heaven for as long as that young man saw those chariots of fire, we’d rush to take the next train out of this world. We wouldn’t want to remain here a moment longer for the beauty of eternity.

To see through the eyes of faith is to see purely and truly – to see realistically. For the Christian that must always be so.

Faith is defined as “the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

Paul tells us to focus on the unseen things for they are eternal.

Lord, open our eyes, that we may see.

May God bless you and your family.

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