Thanksgiving in the year 2020

When Thanksgiving rolls around, we often hear these words from 1 Thessalonians, “in everything give thanks.” While seasonally appropriate, these words present a challenge.

How do we give thanks in the midst of turmoil, chaos, or heartache?

For many years I held to the view that these words of the Apostle Paul meant that we should be thankful during difficulties because God will help us get through them. While that is true, the Scripture goes far beyond that to get to the heart of the nature of God.

We’ve all heard the skeptics say that if God is all-powerful, He can’t also be all-loving and righteous while still allowing bad things to happen to good people. So, either He isn’t able to prevent our problems or He must not care about us.

Many modern Christians subscribe to the idea that God is all about love, but after He set the world in motion, He has a sort of hands-off policy. When the bad times happen, He sympathizes with us and comforts us with the knowledge that things will be better in Heaven.

I’ve found that a thoughtful reading of Paul’s full text presents a different perspective (emphasis mine):

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NRSV)

The will of God is for us to rejoice always, pray without ceasing and give thanks, yes. But perhaps all circumstances are also His will for us.

God is all-powerful. That should go without saying as an absolute requirement to be God. This means that everything we encounter in this life, good and bad, has been allowed by Him. He could have stopped the difficult and the painful, but He chose not to. Not because He doesn’t love us, but because He does.

28 We know that all things work together for good[a] for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28 (NRSV)

Struggles, hardships, and discipline are seldom enjoyable, but they are undeniably character building. A loving parent may wish to spare their child from these experiences, but doing so can result in a weak, selfish, and immature adult. A wise loving parent must make difficult decisions when choosing when to protect their child.

When making your list of blessings for your Thanksgiving prayer next week, remember God’s promises, and you may be able to be thankful even for this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year of 2020.

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Cheaters never prosper? Really?

One of the hardest things to accept is when people are rewarded for cheating and lying.

When we were children and we complained about other kids who weren’t obeying the rules, we were reminded that, “Cheaters never prosper.”

We were assured that they would come to a bad end… eventually.

Not surprisingly, that adage comes from the Bible.

King David knew how frustrating it was when those who care nothing for God’s laws seem to be rewarded.

In Psalm 37 he reminds us of God’s eternal justice (the full Psalm is long, but well worth reading every word. Here are a few of the verses I cling to.)

Do not fret because of the wicked;
    do not be envious of wrongdoers,

for they will soon fade like the grass,
    and wither like the green herb.

Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him
, and he will act.
He will make your vindication shine like the light,
    and the justice of your cause like the noonday.

7 Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him;
    do not fret over those who prosper in their way,
    over those who carry out evil devices.

12 The wicked plot against the righteous,
    and gnash their teeth at them;
13 but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
    for he sees that their day is coming.

27 Depart from evil, and do good;
    so you shall abide forever.
28 For the Lord loves justice;
    he will not forsake his faithful ones.

34 Wait for the Lord, and keep to his way,
    and he will exalt you to inherit the land;
    you will look on the destruction of the wicked.

It was frustrating as children to be told we would have to wait to see the bad guys “get theirs,” and it is still one of the Lord’s hardest lessons to learn, and one more of His promises which call for His people to trust, keep doing good, and be patient.

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Choices and consequences

Life is made up of a series of choices. From the moment we open our eyes each day, we must decide our every action, and when we do, we must live with the consequences of our choices.

Much of the time our choices seem to be on autopilot as we repeat established habits. Sometimes they are “gut reactions” resulting from pure emotion. When the choice is inconsequential, little harm usually results.

However, even our seemingly insignificant choices can ripple out to effect others. So, it is prudent to try to make all of our choices wisely.

To make wise decisions requires information. When considering our options it is wise to do our research into the possible outcomes, make a list of the pros and cons, and then prayerfully consider the choice as dispassionately as possible.

Once the choice is made, we must be prepared to accept the consequences of our decision.

While we may recognize our responsibility to accept the consequences of our own choices, but what about when the choices of others impact us? What about when we don’t like those choices? What is our responsibility then?

Our reaction to such a situation is also a choice. Perhaps the most important choice of all.

Choose this day whom you will serve.

“If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

Joshua 24:15 (NASB)
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Be still and know

We often hear the phrase from Psalm 46, “Be still and know that I am God,” but how many of us are familiar with the rest of the Psalm?

Rather than a simple admonition to “let go and let God,” as the words seem to imply when taken out of context, this Psalm, which inspired Martin Luther to compose the hymn A Mighty Fortress is our God, reassures us that God is in control of both nature and nations. He is our refuge and strength in all sorts of trouble.

“When waters roar,” as in the recent storms with their destructive flooding, He is there to give us strength to cope.

No matter what the outcome of our upcoming elections, “though nations raged” or “kingdoms are removed,” God is with us and He will continue to use events for His children’s good and for His Glory.

No matter what upheavals and trials come to pass, we must calmly, faithfully cling to His promise.

Though times seem bleak, He is in control, now and always.


Be still and know that I am God; 

I will be exalted among the nations, 

I will be exalted over the earth.”

Psalm 46:10

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Halloween in the time of Covid-19

This year almost every tradition is being impacted by the restrictions of the pandemic. This includes Halloween. Here in California, we are discouraged from Trick or Treat, church or school carnivals, or even neighborhood gatherings, all in the name of preventing the spread of disease.

While some of us appreciate the authorities trying to keep us well, many people resent what they consider draconian measures meant more for exercising the power of government. What many see as good, others perceive as evil.

When re-reading C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, the Christian classic written from the perspective of one of Satan’s demons, I came across this line, “All mortals tend to turn into the thing they are pretending to be.”

While that sounds profound, I think that is true only some of the time.

We’ve all seen people (politicians come to mind here) pretending to be honest and upright in order to impress an audience, but who are eventually revealed to be dishonest and self-serving at heart.

I think it is a person’s motives that determine the effect pretense has on character.

Christians are sometimes advised to act “as if” we feel love or forgiveness toward someone when we have difficulty calling up the genuine emotions, because the action can be the precursor of the feelings.

If you pretend to be better than you are simply to fool and manipulate others for your own gain, it is like slipping into a Halloween costume; you remain unchanged beneath your mask.

Walking a higher road in order to help others and in the hope of eventually becoming what you are emulating can really change you.

Rather than a false face to hide behind, we should be putting on the character of Christ, allowing it to mold us into His image.

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

Romans 8:29

I want to be authentic in all my relationships, yet always striving to overlay my flawed character with generous, loving, and courageous actions for the benefit of others and the glory of God.

Don’t you?

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What are you afraid of?

Almost everybody I talk with, lately, mentions how afraid they are. They fear disease, violent unrest, and the unknown direction of our government which might result from the upcoming election.

It seems as though everyone is afraid of what the future may hold in these unsettled times. So, what is the antidote for so much fear?

Is it courage?

While it takes courage to tackle our fears and do what must be done, even when we are afraid, the courage to act is secondary. Before every brave action comes faith. Whether faith in oneself or faith that help is on the way, we need faith to overcome the paralysis of fear.

Even in the midst of fires, floods, riots, and disrespect toward one another, we can live bold lives if we have faith.

There is a passage in the Old Testament which assures us that whatever we may be going through has been endured before:

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 1:9

Even a brief look at history tells us that during Bible times, both Old and New, the people knew as great or greater calamities and uncertainties as we do today. Yet, the prophets of old and the writers of the New Testament acted boldly to follow God’s leading despite the risk to their very lives.

This should give us confidence to respond fearlessly to the perils of today. The Apostle Paul was in great danger throughout his ministry, yet he wrote the following words to his young protégé, Timothy:

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.

2 Timothy 1:7

As Christians who have received that perfect love which casts out fear (1 John 4:18), it behooves us to display the power of our faith in God by exhibiting love and self-discipline in all we do. Even in these scary circumstances.

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“I just don’t know what to believe, anymore!”

Two years ago, I posted about the confusion and lack of confidence in our news sources. In this election year, the issue deserves to be revisited.

In our information-dense culture we are constantly bombarded with information; every source claiming to have the true take on every topic. With wildly conflicting versions, no wonder we don’t know what to believe. This is a real problem and one we can’t simply ignore. 

What we believe guides our actions, for good or ill. 

We are often told to believe in ourselves, that if we only believe strongly enough in achieving our goals we can make them happen. The inference is that the power of belief is the important value in life’s equations, without regard to what is being believed.

The dictionaries say that belief is an acceptance that something exists or is true, especially without proof.

If we are to believe without definitive proof, how do we know what to believe? Are we to remain entangled in a morass of conflicting information, never knowing what is real and true?

We can, and should, refer to a variety of sources to try to confirm what we are being told, and we should test differing claims against what we have seen for ourselves, whenever possible. This can filter out some of the more obvious misinformation, but not all.

Ultimately, as a Christian, I must place my trust and belief in God’s Word, the Bible.

When battered by storms of confusion, I cling to His promises, knowing that upsetting events, dramatic headlines, and extreme rhetoric cannot shake my firm belief that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. 

John 8:32 (CEV)
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Will we pass this test?

Never in my wildest imagination or darkest dreams could I have envisioned the confluence of turmoil and disaster we have endured this year. Confusion and controversy surround the sources of our travails, but one thing I think we can all agree upon is that these past months have been a time of testing.

Our patience, relationships, and faith are all being tested; perhaps our faith most of all.

Everyone has faith in something. Whether faith in our own endurance, the basic decency of our fellowman, the government, or God, everyone relies on something or someone and each of these faiths is being severely tested.

As Christians, we know where our faith belongs.

Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.

Psalm 146:3 (NIV)

I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God.

1 Corinthians 2:5 (NLT)

However, being overwhelmed by events, it is tempting to question whether God is as trustworthy as Scriptures promise. Whenever these doubts creep in, I am reminded of a sermon illustration about the inscrutable nature of God’s plan.

The most beautiful tapestries involve the intricate weaving of many different threads to create their lovely design. Viewed from the front, when completed, the artist’s vision is plain for all to see, but when seen from the back, especially when its still unfinished, the tangle of threads only makes sense to its creator.

The plans of God are like that.
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The lust for power: the true root of all evil

There’s an old adage that money is the root of all evil.

This is based upon 1 Timothy 6:10, For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil,” which, like all Scripture, is essentially true. However, it fails to elaborate on one big reason people love money: for the power it imparts. Money brings power over material things and over people, as well.

It is human nature to want our lives to make a positive difference in the world, to overcome problems and help one another. When by our efforts we are able to make things happen, it gives us good feelings about ourselves and our abilities.

We feel powerful. Seeing our wishes fulfilled is intoxicating.

We may begin with the most benign motives, but we can easily start to exercise power over others for its own sake.

Lord Acton is often quoted as saying, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This is true because power feels good and the more power we have, the better it feels.

We only have to look at the abuses of power displayed during the Covid-19 crisis to see how true that is. Giving up power is not nearly as appealing as clinging to it or grasping for more.

This stands as a warning to Christians. It is in our human nature to want to influence and exert power over others, especially when we see ours as a good cause.

Believers must be vigilant, remembering that God holds all the power in our world.

When tempted to force our will upon others, we should step back and trust God to lead.

When witnessing or trying to influence others for the Lord, we must be sure to speak and act according to Galatians 5:22-23 (NASB):

 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Our only power is the power bestowed by God for His purposes.

Christ instructed His disciples to include this reminder in their daily prayers.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.

AMEN

Matthew 6:13 (KJV)

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Pollyanna may have been onto something, after all.

As Christians and citizens we have a responsibility to be aware of what is going on around us in order to respond wisely, whether in action or prayer. However, with so much distressing information bombarding us daily, we need to take a break from the bad news once in a while to regain balance and perspective.

Some people have the gift of joy in the worst of circumstances. The lead character in Disney’s movie from the 1960’s, Pollyanna, illustrated this gift beautifully with her insistence upon finding the blessings in any situation.

According to Webster a Pollyanna is a person characterized by irrepressible optimism and a tendency to find good in everything. You can sometimes hear someone say, “Oh, don’t be such a Pollyanna,” implying that the optimist is naive or unaware of reality.

In the film, Pollyanna often irritated others with her insistence on playing “the glad game” of always finding something to be glad about, no matter how small. Incredibly, some people would rather give in to bitterness and depression when troubles come.

It’s not necessary to deny the reality of ugliness in order to find beauty in our lives. Sniffing a rose, cuddling a baby, or admiring inspirational art can lower a person’s blood pressure and ease muscle tension. Just as laughter is like a good medicine, purposefully searching for the blessings we enjoy can heal our souls and strengthen us for the spiritual battles we face.

… whatever is true, whatever  is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable— if anything is excellent or  praiseworthy— think on these things. 

Philippians 4:8

Just for today, I am not going to let fires, floods, political unrest, illness, or injustice blind me to the truly lovely things in my life. Those challenges will still be there to be tackled tomorrow and, hopefully, I will feel more ready to face them as I remember that the cup is neither half-full nor half empty.

My cup runneth over with blessings, and if you look for them, I’ll bet yours does, too.

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