Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart

O give thanks to the LORD, for He is good;

For His lovingkindness is everlasting.

I Chronicles 16:34

Thanksgiving is upon us. It's my favorite holiday. I get "time off" from my job (although as a stay at home mom, my "time off" looks a lot like my "time on"!); I get to go visit family; there's no mad rush of gift shopping; and, the whole holiday is centered around eating. What could be better?

There's only one thing I don't look forward to about the holiday I love best. I'm not happy with the way Christmas has begun to overshadow Thanksgiving. The radio stations started playing Christmas carols before Halloween. The stores put out Christmas decorations earlier and earlier every year. The commercials for Christmas gifts and sales have been prolific since October. You almost get a sense that, aside from the good people at Butterball, retailers consider Thanksgiving to be in the way. They know that Thanksgiving is the "Gentlemen, start your engines!" rallying point for most shoppers, and without it, they could probably push Black Friday back to September and combine it with their Labor Day sales.

But more than my own personal annoyance and my desire to gather up all the retail CEOs and the media in one place and shout at them, "Nobody puts Thanksgiving in a corner!", I'm concerned for all of us as a national community. With everything that's going on in our country and the world right now, do we really need to skip over being thankful?

We Americans are so blessed we've become numb and ungrateful. What a slap in the face to people all over the world for whom simply surviving another day is an almost insurmountable task. How often do we have to worry about having water to drink that's clean enough not to make us sick? How many of us are starving to death because we have no access to food? How often do we have warring factions marching through our front yards? When was the last time we secretly huddled together to worship, afraid that at any moment we could be arrested, tortured, killed?

In the mad rush of all that is going on in our day to day lives, maybe it's not such a bad idea to slow down and give Thanksgiving its due.

Thank you, Lord...

...that I can see, hear, move, think clearly, and attend to my own needs.

...that I live in a country that protects my freedoms.

...for the family with which You've blessed me.

...for the roof over my head.

...for enough to eat.

...for saving me.

Don't skip Thanksgiving this year. Don't push it over in a corner and treat it as though it's an interruption of your Christmas plans. Relish it. Wallow in it. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Superseding Authority: A Godly Response to Authority III

Now after my previous blog entry on authority, I know exactly what you're thinking: What about ungodly leaders who order us to do ungodly things? Are we supposed to obey them? Should German Christians during World War II have obeyed Hitler and turned in Jews? Should Christians today who are citizens of countries in which Chrisitanity is illegal be obedient to laws saying they cannot pray, worship together, or witness? What about the numerous instances in the Bible which show Godly men and women disobeying the ungodly orders of an ungodly leader?

Well, I'm so glad you asked. :0)

There is one instance in which we can, nay, should disobey human authority, and that is when a command or law issued by a human authority directly conflicts with a command or law given by God. The instances above are some good contemporary examples. There are also several examples of this in the Bible:

"But," you may say, "we already have some laws that conflict with God's laws. What about abortion? What about states in which homosexual marriage is legal? What if I live in Nevada or Rhode Island where some forms of prostitution are legal? Doesn't the fact that those laws conflict with God's laws give me the right to disobey the authority which enforces them?"

There is a difference between these laws and the Biblical instances I've cited as well as the contemporary instances given in the opening paragraph. In the case of the latter, a law was laid down or a command given that required all people, or all of God's people, to break God's law or to stop doing something God had commanded.

The laws we have in the United States today legalizing abortion, homosexuality, prostitution and other sins are laws which allow, but do not require, people to do something ungodly. In other words, no one in the U.S. is forced to have an abortion or become a homosexual or a prostitute.

So, how do we respect the authority of legislators, judges, Presidents and other leaders who make laws allowing ungodly things? Do we bomb abortion clinics because they violate God's law? Do we just sit back and do nothing because we are to obey those in authority? Of course, neither of these extremes is a Godly way to act.

In America, we are blessed to have a form of government which allows us to legally try to change laws and leaders we believe are ungodly. At the very least, those of us who are old enough should be exercising our right to vote. And as I've said previously, we should be voting for the candidate whose platform matches most closely with Biblical principles.

Sometimes this will mean we will be voting for the candidate whose economic policies are less beneficial to us personally. I believe that's a sacrifice we as Christians should be willing to make. The Bible says that we cannot serve both God and money (Matthew 6:24), that we should deny ourselves (Matthew 16:24), that we should put the welfare of others ahead of our own interests (Philippians 2:3-4), and that we should help out the weaker members of our community (Isaiah 1:17, 23, Luke 10:30-37).

Other ways we can legally work for change include writing and calling our legislators and other leaders and asking them to vote in a Biblical direction, lobbying, working for the campaign of a candidate whose platform is Biblical, protesting (in an orderly and Godly manner), running for office ourselves, and let's not forget: praying for our leaders and our country.

Praying is the most important thing we can do, first, because God commands it:

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men,
for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,
who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth

I Timothy 2:1-4

God desires that our leaders come to know Him and govern in a Godly way.

Second, when we pray, we have direct access to the One who is in authority over all earthly authorities. God is the only one who can change or re-direct the heart of a leader:

The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes. Proverbs 21:1

A Godly response to authority may not always be easy, but it is fairly simple: respect authority; obey God; work for change; pray hard.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Christian Service Announcement

May I have your attention, please?

I am briefly interrupting this series for a worthwhile cause.

A friend of mine just made me aware of a great ministry called

(please click here for more info.)

This important volunteer ministry publishes Braille and large print Bibles and other Christian literature internationally in 120 countries and over 30 languages.

They are experiencing a financial hardship right now and there is concern as to whether and to what extent the ministry will be able to continue to function.

Please prayerfully consider donating to this ministry that needs a helping hand right now.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Trust God and Obey: A Godly Response to Authority- II

As we respond to authority, we need to internalize the fact that anybody who is in authority is only there because God allowed him to be there.

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Romans 13:1

For every person who is in authority, God has some reason for allowing him to be there. We may not understand how that person is part of God's bigger plan, but, really, is that anything new? God has always done things we don't understand and He'll continue to do so. He gets to do that because He's God.

Because God is the One who has given our leaders authority, we are to respect and obey them.

Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. Romans 13:2

If we reject the authority a leader has over us, we are actually standing in opposition and rebellion to God. If we refuse to obey, even if we harbor bitterness in our hearts and refuse to accept that this person is in authority, we are basically telling God He doesn't know what He's doing and that He made a bad decision. Not a good idea.

Notice also that this verse doesn't say we only have to obey leaders we consider to be Godly. It doesn't say "Godly authority", it just says "authority". Sometimes it's tough, but out of love and trust for God, we must respect and obey our leaders.

That thought shouldn't be a frightening one for Christians. One of the bedrock principles of our faith is that God has promised to take care of those who love and obey Him. We might experience some "momentary, light affliction" (II Corinthians 4:17) in the process, but in the end, whether on earth or in Heaven, everything is going to turn out ok. More than ok, fantastic.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Day Aftermath or: A Godly Response to Authority- I

Well, the election is finally over and we have a new President. A lot of Christians are disappointed at the outcome. I'm one of them. But you know what? God's still on His throne, the sun still rose this morning, and there's every reason to look forward to the next four years with hope and anticipation of how God is going to work rather than with defeatism and despair...

God's people
who are called by His name:
humble themselves and pray AND
seek His face AND
turn from our wicked ways
This is the only way real change is going to occur, regardless of who sits in the White House. Notice that this verse doesn't say, "Once those ungodly heathens come around and get right with the Lord, everything's going to be great!" Nope, ladies, we've got some sweeping to do, and it starts with our own back porch.

There's a Godly way to respond to those in authority-- be it the President, our boss at work, or anyone else --that has nothing to do with our feelings about whether or not that person deserves his position of authority, and step one is to follow the instructions above.

As individual Christians, we need to be Godly. As a local church, we need to be Godly. As the body of Christ across the nation, we need to be Godly. We need to be on our faces in repentance and in seeking obedience to God. We need to take proactive and concrete steps to get sin out of our lives and out of our churches, and strive for holiness. Why would God address our concerns about straightening out the world if we're not concerned about straightening out ourselves?

Let's not mope or pout. That's unbecoming behavior for a Christian. It's also an indication of a lack of trust in a God who is much bigger than any earthly authority. Let's prepare our hearts and our churches so we'll be ready for the great things God wants to do in us, through us, and for us.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Get Out the Vote!

Don't forget (as if anyone could!) to vote as God directs you today.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Performing a Sin-ectomy

Have you ever faced an issue of obedience in your walk that seemed so difficult you felt like you'd never get it right? Maybe it's something most would consider a "biggie", like pornography, gambling, or alcoholism. Maybe it's one of those heart issues that nobody sees except you and God, like racism, a critical spirit, pessimism, or bitterness.

Sometimes the sins we would consider to be "big" are, in a way, easier to deal with than the "small" ones. After all, it's a lot easier to avoid buying a lottery ticket or playing a slot machine than it is to prevent critical thoughts from jumping into your mind. You can take a different route home from work so you don't even have to drive past that convenience store or that casino, but we take our minds with us everywhere we go (although looking at the behavior of some people these days, you have to wonder! :0)

I'm working through not one, but two heart issues right now that are both really tough. (I'm not sure if God is piling on or being efficient!) I'm glad, though, that both issues finally came to a head in my spirit and that God is gradually working them out of me to make me more like Him. As I began the battle against these two sins, God sat me down and showed me some things I needed to know and do as I moved forward:

  • When God reveals sin in our lives, we can't just ignore it. We must face it and fight it no matter how difficult it seems. If we don't, the distance between us and God that was created by that sin won't just remain, it will grow. This is because we're now committing two sins, the sin itself, and the sin of refusing to deal with it and get it out of our lives.(James 4:17)

  • Only God can remove sin. We can try, through our own strength, to fix the problem ourselves, and we might even look successful temporarily, but ultimately, without His power, help, and strength, we wil fail. (Romans 7:14-25)

  • Prayer is absolutely imperative. Because we need God's strength and power, we've got to ask Him for it at least daily, and preferably continuously throughout the day. I have found that if I don't stay on top of these two obedience issues in my life by praying for God's help every single day, I start slipping back into my old ways. (Matthew 26:41 )

  • Commit consciously and completely. Remember the scene in the movie The Karate Kid in which Mr. Miyagi is talking to Daniel about committing to karate? He says something to the effect of, "You do karate "yes", safe. You do karate "no", safe. You do karate "guess so", get squashed, just like grape." Its much the same way with issues of obedience, except that the only safe choice is to "do obedience, 'yes'". It's important to make a firm and definitive decision to give ourselves completely to obeying what God has revealed to us, otherwise we'll be sure to waver when the going gets tough. Sometimes it is helpful to stand in front of the mirror and watch ourselves making a verbal pledge to God to obey, or write out our commitment on a piece of paper. (Galatians 5:1)

  • Take all the prayer you can get. While we should be discerning with regard to discretion, it's helpful to enlist as many people to pray for us as God directs. Not only will we have more prayers going up on our behalf, but we will find that being accountable to those who are praying for us helps us stay on track. (Colossians 1:9-10)

  • Be ready for the enemy's attack. If there's one thing Satan hates, it's a Christian who desires to be obedient to God. We have to realize that when we determine to set our feet on the road to obedience, he will attack. The obedience issue will suddenly become much more difficult; other things will pop up in our lives that have to be dealt with so we'll feel like putting the obedience issue on the back burner; depression or discouragement may come. Those things are all designed to deter us and keep us in sin, but we have to stand firm and keep moving forward in obedience. (Ephesians 6:12-13)

  • Get plenty of rest, eat right, and stay healthy. This is war. We can't fight off an enemy when we're tired and weak. Being in top physical condition when doing spiritual battle helps immensely. (Daniel 1:8-20, Mark 12:30)

  • Stumbling here and there is inevitable, but don't give up! When babies first start to walk, they don't just get up in the middle of the floor and walk perfectly from that day forward. They take a few steps and fall, then a few more steps and another fall. But, they keep on getting up and trying again. We're going to mess up when we try to obey, but we can't give up. We've got to keep at it. Eventually we'll get the hang of it. (Proverbs 24:16, Galatians 6:9)

  • Be vigilant and always on the alert for opportunities to practice obedience. The main hurdle I've been facing with my obedience issues is that I react automatically, quickly, and without thinking, to the stimuli that trigger my disobedience. It's almost Pavlovian in nature. I literally need God to change my mind and my thoughts. This has prompted me to pray two things: One, that God will help me to stop for a few seconds after a stimulus presents itself so I can think about my response before I give it; two, that every time I enter the presence of the stimuli, God will help me to be focused and alert to opportunities that arise to practice obeying Him. God has answered those prayers, and it has been immensely helpful. Looking for opportunities to obey has now become almost fun, like an Easter egg hunt. It is exciting to find that opportunity and know I'm doing the right thing for a change. (Romans 12:2, II Corinthians 10:5)

  • Be patient. If the sin we're battling is entrenched, it's likely gotten to that point over a long period of time (decades, in my case). It is probably going to take a while to eradicate it and replace it with Godly behavior. Although God sometimes sets us free from things immediately, usually with behavioral and thought issues He has us roll up our sleeves and do the hard work it requires to change. We just have to keep plugging away and remember that even if we only move an inch forward, we're still moving forward. (Romans 5:3-5, James 1:2-4)

  • Keep score. Something I've found debilitating in the battle against disobedience is that at the end of the day I seem to remember only my failures and none of my successes. This is extremely discouraging and demotivating, so one of the things I have been praying is that God will help me remember what I've done right during the day. It has helped me to see my forward progress and reminded me to thank God for His help and give Him the glory for my successes. Additionally, as God has reviewed my successes with me, He has reminded me that He is cheering me on. He is always pleased when we get it right. (I Corinthians 13:5d)
  • Eyes on the prize. "His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful slave You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.'" Matthew 25:21 "Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him." James 1:12 We do what we do for God's glory and the applause of Heaven.

Hang in there with God. It is worth it!