A Thanksgiving Dinner

November 25th, 2014

“[God] prepares a banquet for me . . and fills my cup to the brim.” Psalm 23:5 TEV.

In no situation is God unwilling or unable to provide abundantly.

My thoughts and comments today are about “a thanksgiving dinner.”

I love this time of year. Autumn brings a change of season introducing Thanksgiving Day and leading to the joy-filled celebration of our Savior on Christmas Day. Thanksgiving Day is celebrated with family traditions and traditional foods – roast turkey and dressing, cranberry sauce, giblet gravy, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, candied yams, warm dinner rolls, and of course, pecan and pumpkin pie, all enjoyed at a seasonally decorated and well-appointed table. But first, each family expresses thankfulness to God for His provision and for one another.

David, the Psalmist, enjoyed “a thanksgiving dinner” of sorts, which he describes in the most familiar and beloved of his psalms, Psalm 23. Giving thanks to God, David wrote, “You prepare a banquet for me . .  You welcome me as an honored guest and fill my cup to the brim.” Psalm 23:5 TEV. In unexpected times and places, God prepares and provides for him. David dines with a heart of thanksgiving for the ample provision of God in every situation and circumstance. In no situation is God unwilling or unable to provide abundantly. Our God “. . is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.” Ephesians 3:20 NIV.

From the life of Elijah, let me share three examples of “a thanksgiving dinner.” In a severe drought and resulting famine, God sent Elijah where He alone could provide for him. Read 1 Kings 17:1- 7 NKJV. “Hide by the Brook Cherith . . you shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded ravens to feed you there.” God provided “a banquet” by natural means delivered in unexplainable ways; scavenger birds brought bread and meat morning and evening. Unusual circumstances don’t matter, when God “prepares a banquet . . and welcomes you as an honored guest.”

In a worsening drought for three years, God redirects Elijah to a widow in Zarephath. Read 1 Kings 17:8-16. Her meager resources exhausted by the famine, she shared with Elijah what little remained, which was then miraculously replenished daily as long as the drought endured. I believe Elijah gave thanks. God provided “a banquet” by a miraculous multiplication of her meager resource. Insufficient resources are irrelevant, when God “prepares a banquet . . and welcomes you as an honored guest.”

And lastly, from an angry queen seeking his death, Elijah “arose and ran for his life.” Read 1 Kings 19:1-8. Running scared and disheartened, Elijah collapses in exhausted sleep until awakened by an angel with fresh bread and water prepared, and “Elijah went in the strength of that food forty days and nights, as far as the mountain of God.” God provided “a banquet” by supernatural provision in desperate circumstances. Debilitating fear and despair disappear, when God “prepares a banquet . . and welcomes you as an honored guest.”

With the Psalmist, I have found this true, “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.” Psalm 37:23-26 NIV. At this Thanksgiving season, I am grateful that Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” - a prayer He never fails to hear. Whatever the challenge or need of your present situation, you have ample reason to trust God and give Him thanks for His faithful and sufficient provision, today and always.

Today, my prayer for you is that you find reason every day for thanksgiving to God.

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Righteous and Gracious

November 20th, 2014

“The Lord is righteous in all His ways, gracious in all His works.” Psalm 145:17 NKJV.

Life is not always fair but God will always be righteous.

My thoughts and comments today are about being “righteous and gracious.”

Children seem to possess a heightened sense of what’s fair or unfair. They have not yet learned that some circumstances and some people are neither righteous nor gracious. It is assumed that if you do what is right all will be well, but that is not accurate. As a pastor and counselor, I have heard many people say, “Life’s not fair!” Of course it’s not; get over it. Life is not always fair but God will always be righteous. “For God is not unfair. He will not forget how hard you have worked for Him and how you have shown your love to Him by caring for other Christians.” Hebrews 6:10 NLT.

Jesus is your example when life seems unfair. “It is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering . . if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in His steps. ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ When they hurled insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly.” 1 Peter 2:19-24 NIV. “It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” Read 1 Peter 3:14-18 NIV.

On occasion, suffering is the natural result of what you have done or left undone. At other times, suffering is not related to your decisions or actions. Asking, “Why,” is seldom productive. I think there is much to be learned from the experience and examples of Daniel’s companions, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Read Daniel 3:1-30 NIV. They obeyed God; they did what was right; yet they suffered unjustly; but God was with them from beginning to end.

(1) Good people are not exempt from trouble. Truth takes the confusion out of trouble and unfair circumstances. David declared God to be righteous and gracious, “The Lord is righteous in all His ways, gracious in all His works.” Psalm 145:17 NKJV. Life is not always fair but God is always gracious.

(2) God will be with you at all times, in all situations. King Nebuchadnezzar was furious by their refusal to bow to his golden image, and committed them to a fiery furnace for their destruction. But they had company they never imagined; the Lord was with them. Astounded, the King saw, “four men walking, unbound and unharmed, in the midst of the fire.” Daniel 3:25 NIV. They experienced God’s company, special fellowship in the worst circumstance possible.

(3) Blessing will be found in suffering, and afterward. “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace . . will Himself perfect you and give you firmness, strength, and a sure foundation.” 1 Peter 5:10-11 TEV. God will turn your pain into gain.

(4) God will redeem your suffering. People are watching to see if your life and faith work; for many of them, their life does not work and they have little or no faith. God will take the worst that happens to you and create the best result. Everyone has a story to tell. Let your story be a testimony of the goodness and faithfulness of God.

“Then the King promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.” Daniel 3:30 NIV. Grace will write your testimony. Your story is not just about your struggles and circumstances; the real story of your life is about God’s provision, protection, and promotion. Even when others are not, God is ever righteous, always gracious. Imagine if others found us more like our Father in Heaven.

Today, my prayer for you is to trust God in every situation and rejoice at all times.

Seeds and Harvests

November 18th, 2014

“While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest . . shall not cease.” Genesis 8:22 NKJV.

Every seed you plant schedules a harvest.

My thoughts and comments today are about “seeds and harvests.”

I don’t know anyone who enjoys waiting. What you want, you want now. But that is not how life works. Things that come too quickly or too easily are not appreciated as fully. God designed life to have a necessary process. “Consider the farmers who eagerly look for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They patiently wait for the precious harvest to ripen. You, too, must be patient.” James 5:7-8 NLT. And without the process, you will miss the preparation essential to experience God’s best. David got it right. “But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God. My times are in Your hand.’” Psalm 31:14-15 NAS. Peace and satisfaction come when you rest in God’s hands and trust in God’s time.

Solomon wisely observed, “Everything that happens in this world happens at the time God chooses . . God has set the right time for everything.” Ecclesiastes 3:1 TEV. Life works best when you believe God and trust His timing. “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart; and wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:14 NIV. Trust and tranquility relax life, granting you patience with peace of heart and mind.

Process is important. God’s process begins with sowing and ends with harvest. Every harvest begins with a seed. With no seed planted or no patience with the process, you will not experience a harvest. Nothing comes from nothing; nothing ever has. Here are two simple, practical considerations: sow what you plan to reap (See Galatians 6:7-9); sow in the measure that you hope to reap. See 2 Corinthians 9:6-11. NIV.

Those who pour their life generously into the lives of others are replenished, while those who hold and hoard everything for themselves worry about parting with what they have and end up losing it, or not enjoying it while they have it. The Bible says, “Some people give their money freely and still grow richer. Others are cautious, and yet grow poorer. Be generous, and you will be prosperous. Help others, and you will be helped. People curse a man who hoards . .” Proverbs 11:24-26 TEV.

Now, when you have planted seed in abundance having allowed the necessary process for the planted seed to germinate and release its inherent life, God promises the time of harvest will come just as He established from the beginning. Every seed you plant schedules a harvest. God built His promise into every seed. “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest . . shall not cease.” Genesis 8:22 NKJV. You plant the seeds; God promises the harvest.

God wants to bless you and give you more; His intent is far greater than your having excess. There should be a distinction between excess and abundance. Excess is what you hoard and hide for yourself. Abundance is the means from which you validate your stewardship to God and exhibit a generosity toward others. Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Luke 6:38 NIV. Jesus’ context was about forgiveness, but the principle is broadly applicable to every area of stewardship in the Kingdom of God.

Today, my prayer for you is that you sow in faith so that you may reap in joy.

Spiritual Intimacy

November 14th, 2014

“That I may know Christ.” Philippians 3:10 NKJV.

Relational integrity is essential for spiritual intimacy.

My thoughts and comments today are about “spiritual intimacy.”

Life requires purpose and a superceding objective. Your purpose has to be consequential enough to weather the demands life will require of you and influential enough to empower you to give the effort necessary to achieve and excel. Any person is insufficiently inspired who lacks an objective worthy of the sacrifices needed. The greatest purpose is knowing Jesus Christ in a practical, personal, and intimate way. His intent is that you, “. . know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Read Ephesians 3:17-20 NIV.

Intellectual knowledge alone is inadequate for the personal and experiential knowledge of Christ that Paul sought. He desired a transformative experience of soul and spirit that redeems the heart (See Romans 7:15-26 NIV) and forever alters the desires and direction of one’s life. Read Acts 9:1-6. Subsequently, Paul pledged a devotion to Christ that did not exclude the most severe of mortal threats. “None of these things move me, nor do I count my life dear to myself . .” See Acts 20:22-24.

Relational integrity is essential for spiritual intimacy. Information without corresponding experience becomes intellectual, without relational integrity. As I intend, “relational integrity” describes a commitment to absolute authenticity in relating to God or others. Authenticity is the only enduring basis for real intimacy. Worse yet, intellectual information without corresponding, spiritual experience immunizes you from a real and vital relationship with God.

As a young, college student preparing for ministry, I prayed that Paul’s passion for Christ would be my passion as well. “That I may know [Christ] and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” Philippians 3:10. This verse became, and remains today, my “life verse.” Paul’s words describe my purpose and objective. I am committed to daily experience an intimate knowledge of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

Paul’s passion to “know Christ,” expressed an unparalleled intimacy, with disregard for suffering or sacrifice. The same expression is found in the Old Testament, “Adam knew Eve, his wife, and she conceived . .” (Genesis 4:1), as well as in the New Testament, describing Mary’s incredulity at the angel’s announcement, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” Luke 1:30-38. The word expresses experiential knowledge that forcefully creates and releases new life. Do not be content to know about God, without experiencing Christ personally and powerfully. Anything less is inadequate.

Passionately, Paul desired an encounter with Jesus that releases God’s power and new life, in and through him. Such spiritual intimacy evidences itself in a power for life that is linked to and sourced from the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. See Ephesians 1:17-21 NIV. Nothing you encounter will ever prove His Resurrection power insufficient. In Jesus’ resurrection, God turned apparent defeat into glorious triumph.  Whatever is broken in your life can be fixed. What seems listless and lifeless can receive life abundantly.

If you desire anything more than Him, then your passion to know Him as He desires to be known is lacking. Jesus was clear, “And this is the way to have eternal life – to know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the One You have sent to earth.”  John 17:3 NLT. There is a depth of relationship that results from intimate fellowship experienced with God through Christ. Only then will you know the power that flows from His Resurrection into the very circumstances where you walk and live every day.

Today, my prayer for you is to know Jesus to the extent you could never again be the same.

The Utimate Sacrifice

November 11th, 2014

“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 NKJV.

Jesus’ redemptive life was given for all others’ salvation.

My thoughts and comments today are about “the ultimate sacrifice.”

On this day, America pauses to honor our military veterans who have honorably and sacrificially served to protect our country and preserve our freedoms across subsequent generations. Gratefully, we also acknowledge those men and women who presently serve in our Armed Forces, as well as the practical sacrifices made by their families.

On a personal note, I remember and honor my uncle Ralph, who served in the United States Marines, and fought in the battle for Guadalcanal in World War ll. He was the eldest of my paternal grandparents’ three sons and daughter. I was just months old when my uncle died in battle so except for my Dad’s conversations in later years and a fading picture of a young Marine in uniform, I never knew him. As a young boy, I remember that his name was always mentioned with pride and respect, yet with a note of sadness. To the innumerable others who suffered the horrors of war or made the sacrifice of irreplaceable lives, there remains a debt of honor and gratitude too incalculable to repay.

On this and every day, let us not forget another sacrifice more notable than all, a Savior whose sacrifice of life is truly incomparable. Read John 15:12-13 NIV. “For Christ died for sins once and for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive [resurrected] by the Spirit.” 1 Peter 3:18 NIV. John wrote, “God is love. This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 1 John 4:8-10 NIV. See John 3:16-18 NIV. A lifetime is too brief to fully comprehend the personal relevance of an ultimate sacrifice for which there is no parallel.

In amazement, Paul wrote that the righteous Son of God would be the price and pardon for the sins of unrighteous men and women. “Christ Jesus, being in very nature God . . [yet] taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:6-8 NIV. Jesus’ life was not taken by another; His redemptive life was given for all others.

Such a holy sacrifice is the recurring theme of the Apostle Paul, “Christ died for the ungodly . . God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” Romans 5:6-10.

Those words are too profound and powerful to read and then hurry on. Slowly and deliberately, consider such incomprehensible truth. “If when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” Such depth of truth deserves prayerful reflection, humble acceptance, and joyous praise. Reconciled to God by Jesus’ death, we are, “saved by His life.” I would not presume to know the full extent of that promise. This I know; His life in me is “the hope of glory.” Colossians 1:27. With childlike simplicity, I merely embrace its truth and praise God for His promise.

Today, my prayer for you is to know and regard the price Jesus paid for your redemption.