How Thankful Are We?

It’s the week of Thanksgiving here in the United States. It’s a time that we stop and think about how thankful we are. At least that’s the idea. But with family, food and football it’s difficult to squeeze in much time to think about thankfulness.

The question that I have is: How do you gauge thankfulness?

Is it a warm feeling deep down inside? The warmer the feeling the greater the thankfulness? Sounds too mystical.

Is it an assertion that says I’m thankful? And the more confident your assertion the more it becomes a reality? In that case A type personalities will certainly be more thankful than the rest of us.

Is it an attitude, a way of thinking? I think therefore I am. Doesn’t sound right.

Is it something that we just say so it must be true? Sort of like, I’m the best basketball player in the world – so I automatically become the best basketball player in the world. That would send Lebron James into fits of laughter.

So how do you gauge thankfulness?

Is it even possible to gauge thankfulness?

There must be a way to determine, say on a scale of 1 – 100, how thankful you really are.

As it turns out, there are several ways that you can gauge your thankfulness.

You can gauge your thankfulness by how generous you are.

God loves generous people.

Psalm 112:5 says It is well with the man who deals [with other people] generously.

In other words, God wants us to be generous.

I seriously doubt that you can give generously without being thankful for what you have.

And I believe that when you are thankful for what you have – knowing that it all came from God (Psalm 24:1, James 1:16-17) you will in turn be generous.

You can gauge your thankfulness by how much your generosity costs you.

Do you remember the story of the widow in Luke 21? After the wealthy people had dumped their bags of money into the treasury in the Temple in Jerusalem, she put in her two coins. They gave out of their abundance – which is better than not giving at all, but it didn’t cost them anything. They had plenty more where that came from. There was really no generosity in what they did.

Then she put in her two coins. They were all she had. Her generosity costs her everything.

Jesus’ commentary on it was this: I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.

Giving generously is not the same as giving extravagantly. But when you give generously it will cost you something.

You can gauge your thankfulness by your satisfaction in the difficult times of life.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God.

Being thankful in the good times of life doesn’t tell you anything about yourself except that life is good.

It’s when you can be satisfied with what God is doing in your life as the sky falls in that you know you are a thankful person.

The difficult times in life reveal a lot about us.

Being thankful is more than just saying you’re thankful. Saying it doesn’t make it so.

Being thankful is about what you do. It’s about your actions.

Thursday is coming. It’s time to be thankful.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

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It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year – Or is It?

We’re entering the Holiday Season. Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the corner. Time to celebrate!

This time of the year means family, food and football for a lot of people. It means the changing of seasons and the leaves turning the beautiful colors of fall. It means parades, parties and presents. And snow! At least for those of us who live in the northeastern part of the United States.

As the song says, It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year! Or is it?

Not for everyone.

In all of the festivities it’s easy to forget that we are blessed. It’s even easier to forget those who aren’t.

There are so many people around the world who won’t enjoy the holidays the way you do – and some of them are just outside your back door.

The Bible has a lot to say about how we as Christians are to relate to the poor, especially in the book of Proverbs.

He who has mercy on the poor, happy is he (Prov 14:21).

He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker, but he who honors Him has mercy on the needy (Prov 14:31).

He who mocks the poor reproaches his Maker; he who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished (Prov 17:5).

He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, and He will pay back what he has given (Prov 19:17).

Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be heard (Prov 21:13).

Check out James 2:2-9 for a longer New Testament perspective on how we are to treat poor people.

There is a special place in the heart of God for poor people and there should be a special place in our hearts as well.

This holiday season find a way to bless someone who is less fortunate than you. Take a holiday meal to a poor family. Buy some presents for some children who won’t get any presents otherwise. Serve a meal at your local rescue mission.

There are many ways that you can help someone celebrate the holidays who is dreading this time of the year.

It’s not a matter of time – we all have the same 24 hours in the day. It’s not a matter of money (maybe it is for some) – we all have enough. It’s simply a matter of priority.

Make helping someone a priority this holiday season.

The rich and the poor have this in common, The Lord is the maker of them all (Prov 22:2).

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

 

Evil Will Be No More

There are certain place names that have been seared into our collective consciousness. Names we will never forget. Names that provoke instant, dark images in our minds.

Auschwitz, The Gulag, Chernobyl, Sandy Hook, Shanksville.

Add one more name: Tree of Life Synagogue.

You don’t have to be Jewish to be nauseated by what happened this past Saturday at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh, PA. Innocent people killed simply because of their nationality and faith.

We forget how strong hate is.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, writing against the backdrop of the Civil War reminds us of the power of hate in his poem Christmas Bells, later made into the song, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. (I especially like this dramatized version of the song that you can listen to here.)

And in despair I bowed my head;

“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong,

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

If we stop to only look at the evil in our world this will be the verse we sing – over and over again.

But there’s more than just the power of evil in this world. And that’s the story of Christmas. Jesus came to defeat the powers of evil and in a strange twist of events did just that – not at Bethlehem but at Calvary (Colossians 2:13-15).

Longfellow seemed to understand that. He concluded his poem with these words:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,

The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

No God is not asleep. He knows what is going on in our world. He knows the evil. He knows the hurting. And someday, in His time, The Right will prevail.

We have that to look forward to. Not because Longfellow said it, but because the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob said it.

Now it shall come to pass in the latter days . . .

They shall beat their swords into plowshares,

And their spears into pruning hooks;

Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,

Neither shall they learn war anymore.

(Isaiah 2:2, 4)

Someday the Messiah will come and The Righteous One will sit on the Throne of David and there will be peace (Isaiah 9:7).

And that Righteous One will make sure that Evil will be no more.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Don’t be Like the Saudis

The Saudis are in a world of trouble over the Khashoggi affair. Call me Captain Obvious. I don’t bring this up to step into the world of politics, but to use it as an illustration.

Think about how the Saudi government has handled, or should I say mishandled this entire affair. There’s a good summary in the New York Times that you can read here. They have:

  1. Claimed that Khashoggi had left the consulate the same day.
  2. Denied that he was detained or killed in the consulate.
  3. Denied any involvement in his disappearance.
  4. Denied any knowledge of the affair until days later.
  5. Denied that their leaders ordered the operation to take place.

Is anyone really buying this?

So far they have done everything except admit the truth (that seems to be the opinion of many people). Slowly their explanations are unraveling.

In a kingdom as tightly controlled as Saudi Arabia their denials ring hollow. This is a sin that will reach to the highest levels of the Saudi government. Sooner or later the truth will come out.

But this blog is not about the Saudis. It’s about us. And OUR sins.

As Christians, when we sin we are tempted to act like the Saudis. We issue denials (even when no one else knows about our sin). We make excuses. We attempt to justify our actions. We offer alternative scenarios. We do everything except admit the truth.

While it’s easy to criticize the Saudis for their sin, we give ourselves a pass for our sin.

For us it’s not a matter of when the truth will come out. The Truth is already out – at least to the one who counts the most.

And that’s the insane part of this – God already knows so why do we try to hide our sin, or worse yet, act like it never happened?

It’s because we are more like the Saudis than we would like to admit.

We try to save face. We try to put the best spin on it. We try to come out of it smelling like a rose. Meanwhile the whole world (or at least the people who know about our sin) knows the truth. When we try to convince ourselves that our sin really doesn’t matter – it’s not that bad, we are kidding no one but ourselves. Just like the Saudis.

King David had the right perspective when he wrote, I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me (Psalm 51:3).

When it comes to sin, be like David. Don’t be like the Saudis.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

 

What’s Your Focus?

As a pastor I have the opportunity to observe people, especially church people. One thing that I’ve noticed is that Christians have different focuses. That is, there are different things in the Christian life that are important to different people – and sometimes that leads to misunderstandings and wrong assessments.

When other Christians don’t attach the same degree of importance to the things that we think are important – well relationships can suffer.

Think about the things that different Christians stress as important in the Christian life:

-Worship

-Prayer

-Bible study

-Prophecy

-Missions

-Witnessing

-Music

-Counseling

-Spiritual Gifts

And the list goes on.

It’s not wrong to place importance on any of these things, in fact they are all important. The problem comes when one of them becomes THE criteria by which we judge our own spiritual life and the spiritual lives of people around us.

There’s something that we need to clarify here and that is that there is a difference between an interest, even an intense interest in some area of the Christian life and what we might call a spiritual obsession (this may not be the best phrase to describe this, but you get the idea).

Many Christians have a strong interest in prophecy but they don’t expect all Christians to have the same degree of interest that they have.

One of the issues with a spiritual obsession is that it quickly becomes the standard for (and a poor substitute for) spirituality. If I can distinguish between the Beast from the Sea and the Beast from the Earth (Rev 13), explain every obscure prophetic reference, and rattle off all of the end time judgments, then I must be spiritual.

And if you can’t, you aren’t.

Not necessarily.

Knowledge and even involvement cannot pass for spirituality. Spiritual Christians are most often (always?) balanced people. They have room in their life for all of the many facets of the Christian life and don’t elevate one over the others.

Is worship more important or less important than exercising your spiritual gift? Is prayer more or less important than involvement in missions? Is witnessing more or less important than Bible study?

When we start building a hierarchy of spiritual activities we enter uncertain waters. What if you are wrong? What if someone else chooses something different? How do you weight the relative importance of each against the rest?

The key is not to focus on one thing but to focus on the whole thing. Each area of the spiritual life adds something to our personal spiritual life.

Don’t make your focus so narrow that you loose sight of what the spiritual life is all about.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

 

Let’s Keep a Balance in the Church

I had a conversation with a dear saint in our church this week about church. In the course of our conversation they commented that something in church ministers to me.

I’m always happy when church ministers to someone and they leave blessed. We live in such a complex, hyper-busy culture that people today need to be blessed. Life is just difficult. For many, church is the fountain of life that they’ve been waiting for all week (as it should be).

As a pastor I need to think about how we can design our services to minister to all of our people – but especially to people who are discouraged, elderly, facing physical problems, run down, unemployed, going through a divorce, etc.

That’s not easy to do.

But people need to be blessed on Sunday.

There’s another side to every church service that we need to keep in balance with our being blessed and that is God being blessed.

I often tell our church that our primary reason for being in church is to bless God. That’s what we do when we worship Him – and worship is why we’re there (Ephesians 1:4-6 He chose us . . . to the praise of the glory of His grace). But I also tell them that I hope they are blessed, encouraged, motivated, and taught while they are blessing God.

The key is balance and order.

By balance I mean it’s not either/or, it’s both/and.

By order I mean that blessing God has to take priority. It has to be the focus of why we are there. Church has to be about God first and us second (in fact all of life has to be about God first and us second). Unfortunately, we often get those two things reversed.

But, and here’s the beauty of it, if you come ready to bless God instead of seeking a blessing, you will go away counting your blessings. God wants us to set our minds on things above, not on things on the earth (Colossians 3:1-2).

It’s not easy to put your focus on God instead of on your problems, especially when you are hurting, but it’s exactly what we need to do. Focusing on self can easily obscure your worship of God and what He wants to do in your life. Whereas, focusing on God helps us keep self and all of life in the right perspective.

Try making church about Him and see if it doesn’t make a difference.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

 

Why Can’t We Just Play Nice?!

I’ve written similar posts to this in the past and I don’t want to be redundant. However, it remains a problem in our culture. Not just in our culture in general, where it is a problem, but in our evangelical Christian culture, where it shouldn’t be.

I’m talking about the way we talk to people we don’t agree with and beyond that, the way we treat people we don’t agree with.

You can tell it’s a problem when you can’t tell the difference between Christian posts on social media and everyone else. And I often can’t tell the difference – even in some of my posts (this is me asking God for forgiveness).

Our evangelical posts (not all by any means) are often mean-spirited, derogatory, unkind, and demeaning of the opinions and people we don’t agree with. They get very personal. Why can’t we just play nice?

I’m sure that every mother of toddlers is tired of saying, play nice! But mothers under-stand that they have to keep saying it because toddlers will be toddlers and they have to learn.

But we’re supposed to be past that stage. We’re supposed to be spiritual adults. Unfortunately, some Christians fall into the category of people that the writer of Hebrews was talking too when he said that by now you should be eating solid spiritual food but you’re still drinking from the baby bottle (Hebrews 5:12-14).

So, what does it mean to play nice? One writer defined it this way: when you are working with someone, a group, or an entity that you may not work well with, make the conscious effort to be professional, work toward the common goal, and not cause any unnecessary strife

In other words, playing nice is just what the words say. But it’s not the words themselves that we need to work on. It’s the application of the words. Because the application is to people we really don’t agree with. People we believe are wrong, wrong, wrong. People who, we believe at the least are terribly misguided and at the worst are out to change our country in some very undesirable ways.

While neither the phrase playing nice, nor this definition are strictly biblical, they certainly agree with the bible’s description of a Christian whose responses to life are to be radically different from everyone else’s.

Paul in the book of Romans summed it up nicely when he wrote:

Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.

That certainly doesn’t sound as fun as ridiculing someone on Facebook or sending out caustic Tweets. After all, if we don’t put them down, who will?

But then that’s not the point.

The point is to reflect Jesus.

So how have your recent Facebook posts and Tweets reflected the Savior?

If there is anything that evangelical Christians need to learn in the current politically divisive environment, it’s how to play nice.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve