Thinking Thankfully

Thanksgiving_Paper_Turkey.001

Today is Thanksgiving and with all holidays, for some folks today brings joy and anticipation (can you say cranberry sauce and stuffing? Football? Seeing family, throwing around little nephews, and perhaps even a nap?) and for others it brings none of those things in parenthesis and maybe even sadness and despair.

Yet…God’s Word instructs us to be thankful always.  Always.  #Ow.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 ESV)

How important is it to be thankful?

Erwin Lutzer writes that “Giving thanks changes everything…in fact, thanksgiving is a game changer.”  Why?  He provides two reasons:

  1. Being thankful honors God by reaffirming his sovereignty.  When we thank him in all things, we admit that he is really and truly in control of all things.  Yes, even the bad stuff, and he is able to redeem and restore by the power of the gospel.
  2. Being thankful changes us.  It builds faith in our hearts; the weight of our burdens are God’s not ours.  It gives us a new perspective, if frees us to see difficulties as a part of a larger purpose. It also frees us up to worship God, and reminds us of his goodness, love, and providence.

To echo Lutzer’s last point – thankfulness to God gets our eyes off of ourselves and onto God.  In this world we will all have hardship, but even in those times the answer is not to be full of self-pity and self-focus, but to cast our gaze outside of ourselves to the one who is able to redeem and restore all for his glory and our good.

In thankfulness, we make a conscious decision to thank God for all he has done for us in Christ – we take an axe to the root of unbelief that God isn’t truly good, or he isn’t truly for us, or truly not in control…and we find the strength to climb out of whatever hole we are in, and kill sin and it’s temptations with the grace of the gospel.

Adoption and the Gospel

My family has been a licensed NJ Foster Home for a while now, in that time we have seen many kids come through our door.  Some only needing to stay a short time, others several months, and maybe one day (perhaps in the near future) we will be faced with the very real question of adoption. Will we consider making this child a permanent part of our family, we officially become “Mom” and “Dad,” our kids become “Brother” and “Sister,” and we get to call them our “Son” or “Daughter” – with all the rights and privileges therein.  Let’s be straight up – that is a big deal.  Huge.  Perhaps in this life there is no bigger commitment or responsibility than becoming a parent.

The concept of adoption is that a child who has been rejected or orphaned from their birth family can be fully accepted as a member of another family.  In that is actually a beautiful picture of the gospel. Let me explain.

Spiritually, we are all orphans – alienated from our Heavenly Father by sin.  Sin that is in us from the Fall and sin that we have willingly committed in rebellion against God’s authority in our lives.   Just like there is nothing a child can do to make themselves be adopted by another family, there is nothing that we can do spiritually to make us adopted by God.  It is an act of his jaw-dropping grace that he adopts us.  He pursues rebellious sinners and chooses to lavish his love on us in Jesus thru the cross.  Let’s look at a few elements of our spiritual adoption:

  1. God pays the full adoption price in Jesus.  Adoption is costly financially.  Those of you who have adopted internationally are well aware of this.  Then there is the normal expenses of providing for a child.  Adoption is also costly in other ways as well – we give a part everything we have with another child – our time, our emotional energy, our comfort…our sleep! Likewise, the price of our spiritual adoption is extremely high – it is the life of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins.  This is an infinitely high price, one that no one can pay except God alone.  He pays it, and we receive adoption. Galatians 4 helps us understand this more deeply – “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4–5 ESV)  Theologian and author J.I. Packer wrote if he had to summarize the message of the New Testament in three words it would be “adoption through propitiation.”  God adopting us by providing a wrath-bearing sacrifice (“propitiation”) in Jesus.
  2. We are adopted with all the rights and privileges of God’s child.  When a child is adopted into a family, they assume the family name and everything that goes along with it. This is an astounding fact.  We become children of God.  I heard a Pastor say the other day “We are all God’s creation, but not all His children.” We become His children by faith in Jesus Christ.  John 1:12 tells us clearly – “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,” (John 1:12 ESV)  Becoming a part of our family is cool and all, but has limited rights and privileges (we aren’t all that famous or wealthy…)  BUT, when we place our faith in Jesus, God adopts us into His family!  Check out Ephesians 1:1-14 for a more detailed list of our blessings of being adopted.
  3. Through adoption, we have direct and intimate access to God as our Father.  Children have (or should have) unrestricted and continuous access to their parents. Kids should have that feeling that they are special and dearly loved by their moms and dads.  They do not need to go thru anyone else to be with mom or dad.  We do not need to go thru a priest, a prophet, or any kind of middle man.  We do not need to be at a certain spiritual level in order to be accepted by God. “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”” (Galatians 4:6 ESV)  The great Dr. Ryan Boys said that there is no evidence of any ancient Jewish prayers where they called God “Father”  – now thru adoption by faith in Jesus we can!
  4. By adopting us, God makes us heirs to Himself and His kingdom.  Let’s pretend for a moment that my family had amassed a fortune worth billions of dollars, and I had no children.  By adopting a child, they would become heirs to everything I had as my “official” child.  Here’s the crazy thing – is there anything of more supreme worth than God himself?  This is mind blowing even more.  We will inherit God himself.  The joy of being with God is God himself.  Again, Paul’s letter to the Galatians is helpful in understanding this concept more:  “So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 4:7 ESV)  Pastor and Author CJ Mahaney spent over an hour plunging the depths of this mystery at the 2015 Sovereign Grace WorshipGod conference, I would say that will be an hour worth your time.  (To see that message click here).

All of this is grace and all of it should amaze and astound us with the blessings that God provides in us.  When others notice that we are caring for the widows and orphans and praise us, it is an immediate opening to briefly share that this is the picture of our spiritual adoption in Jesus.  As we show grace to others, let us remember the grace of God in adopting us in Christ Jesus.  Dustin Kensrue sums things up well in his song “Grace Alone”  –

I was an orphan lost at the fall
Running away when I’d hear your call
But Father, you worked your will

I had no righteousness of my own
I had no right to draw near your throne
But Father, you loved me still

And in love before you laid the world’s foundation
You predestined to adopt me as your own
You have raised me up so high above my station
I’m a child of God by grace and grace alone

You left your home to seek out the lost
You knew the great and terrible cost
But Jesus, your face was set

I worked my fingers down to the bone
Nothing I did could ever atone
But Jesus, you paid my debt

By your blood I have redemption and salvation
Lord, you died that I might reap what you have sown
And you rose that I might be a new creation
I am born again by grace and grace alone

Miry Bog and Psalm 40

So, today…we went fishing…a GORGEOUS NJ day for it…I only caught 2 tiny smallmouths…but I did the chance to spend the morning hours with my son, Mikey and good buddy Brian.

At one point, we nosed in to the shoreline and took a walk to another remote pond…however they had drew down the lake, so we were walking to said pond across a miry bog.  Jumping from rock to rock to avoid getting your feet buried up to your ankles in yucko mud.

Mikey, as you can see from the image on the left, wasn’t successful in keeping his balance and more than once ended up ankle-deep in the mud of the miry bog.

When I got home, the Lord drew my attention to Psalm 40, which I had not remembered mentions a miry bog!  How many times do you have actual personal real-life experience with elements mentioned in scripture…not to mention obscure ones like miry bogs!

Psalm 40:1-3 says:

I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
2 He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.

In this Psalm we have the assurance that God hears  our prayers, especially our cries – so when we are overwhelmed – cry out to him from the midst of the miry bog, when the gross mud is up past our ankles and we can’t pull it out without losing a shoe.

My beautiful, Godly wife was quick to point out when we discussed this passage that we next see that it is not US that lifts us out of the miry bog…it’s GOD. He will  lift us out of the  mud and set our feet on the rock.  I know, the few times that I had close encounters with the mud in the bog, it was a relief to jump to a rock and land on safe, solid, clean, stable ground.

He puts a NEW song in our mouth, praise to our God – he gives us JOY.

And what do we see the end goal of all this is?  Why does HE lift us out of the bog, give us JOY?

So that “Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD”

It is always for his glory, not ours.  He doesn’t rescue us for the mud, but in the mud…in the grossness of life when we are sinking and our losing or shoes in gross soggy mud – HE lifts us out so that others can see what he has done for us and come to know him!  Others will have seen where we were (in the mud) and now how we have been lifted out, and they will know that it was GOD.

The biggest bog we were lifted out was our own selves – our own sin.  God sent Jesus to reconcile us to Him and set our feet on the rock of solid ground of being an adopted son of God, holy and dearly loved, if we have faith in who he was and what he did for us on the cross!

M

Val

Yesterday, a dear family friend went home to be with Jesus.  Val was very special to us – oftentimes the way to a parent’s heart is thru their children and “Miss Val” loved children, she loved our children, both Mikey and Morgan had her in Sunday School.  She was a source of light and joy to all who knew her.

I was thankful that last night in our family reading and study of the book of John, we were up to John 5.  Jesus is again tangling with the Jewish Pharisees who are more worried about the tiny infractions than keeping the whole spirit and purpose of the Law.  Jesus finally just lays it down for them and essentially says…”Guys, seriously, look…(John 5:23b-24)

Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

There are some really important things in those verses.  First of all, Jesus inextricably links himself with the Father. If you were to back up farther in verses 19-23 you’d see he expands further on this. Jesus is from the Father, he really can’t say it any more clearly than that.  I’m it guys.  Hello?  Do you not get it yet?  Your whole religious lives are set up to honor God but you are failing to see that God sent me, and so you really aren’t honoring him then, are you?

Second, he explains the way of salvation and guaranteed eternal life. 

“Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life.”

If anyone hears what Jesus is saying, and you believe he is from the Father – he “has” eternal life.  Not “will have” eternal life. Not “could have” eternal life if you keep all the crazy laws about not carrying your mat on the Sabbath…”has”.  As in already has it.  Already obtained. A present reality.  This means there is no gap in our life if we understand who Jesus was and believe.  This means that moment Miss Val closed her eyes and breathed her last breath here on Earth, she opened her eyes in the presence of Jesus.  Think about that for a minute.

Third, those who believe Jesus “will not come into judgement.”  Why?  Well, a clue is back in verse 22 – “the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son.” If we understand who Jesus was where then was this judgement of our sins? On the cross.  That’s where Jesus, the Son, paid for all the sins of the “whole world” (1 John 1:22).  We all have a choice, God has offered his Son Jesus for the payment of the sins of the whole world – however if we do not come to understand that, we cannot then have our sins judged on the cross – our sins are still ‘on us.’ (John 3:36).   When Jesus returns, he will be returning to judge the sins of those who have not come to faith in Him, and that is place no one wants to be. Is God trying to get your attention? Is he stirring up your heart to know more about this?  Is he beginning to open your eyes so that you understand this?

Fourth, if you believe, if God has opened your eyes and given you understanding of this message – look at the end of v24- “has passed from death to life.”  Now it’s past tense, like ‘already happened.’  “Passed.” Our names are already written in the book of life, our sins are judged on the cross and we have assurance of eternal life.

Colossians 1:13-14 helps us out here too — (notice the use of more past tense!)

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

  As I was talking and praying with Val’s husband on the phone last night, a part of us was rejoicing in the assurance of knowing that Val is already with the Father, already praising Jesus – she is receiving the benefits now of these wonderful words on John, and the rock solid promises that will get their family thru these coming days and years.

We love you, Val.  Can’t wait to worship with you again.

It is really nice…

to have Melanie home.  kids-waiting

C’mon.  You knew I was going to go there after all the whining I’ve done about her being gone.

It’s nice to have food in the house, to have the kids not be shuffled around all the time.  I’m quite certain the dog is much happier not having to wait 14 hours for me to get home to let her out.

But the nicest thing is that I have my “True Companion” (Marc Cohn refernce…anyone..anyone?) back.  I get to feel her toes in bed and not nothingness anymore.

I get to hear all the good that she helped do in Romania. I get to stop and think about how amazing our God is and how good we have it here.

I’m thankful that He is God and Savior of all who come to Him.

…and yeah…I’m thankful that He brought her safely home despite amazing weather in Newark the moment she was landing.

We now return you to “Life” already in progress.  🙂

Update from Romania!

Update from Romania!

Melanie just called me (it’s 6:33am Wed)…from a field in beautiful Romania on a borrowed cell phone.  (I think she bribed one of the kids there somehow…):-)

It was great to hear from her! She only had a few minutes.

She wanted me to pass along that everything is going very well.  Praise God!

Today, Melanie is working with the childrens ministry after doing door to door evangelism the last 2 days.  Katie is now on evangelism duty today with the others.  🙂

Gerrie and Debbie are pretty much functioning as doctors, only involving the “real” doctors as necessary and seeing lots of patients.

Cheryl is working with the people there teaching them dental hygiene and I’m sure assessing a few mouths here and there.

The rest of the team is doing great.  Melanie said she has formed quite a bond with her room mate, a woman from the Detroit area.  The scenery is absolutely gorgeous.

Please pray for boldness, endurance, perseverance, joy…and for a minute-by-minute reliance on the Holy Spirit to do His work for His Kingdom!

Their verses today are Eph 1:17-20…please meditate on them with the team…THANK YOU!

17that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,

Praying for Mel

In case I haven’t mentioned it enough, my wife is serving on a short terms missions trip to Romania until Sunday!  This is good for her and the kingdom…bad for me, because I miss her and I’m out of clean socks.

On my wife’s Prayer Calendar today it says “Persevere in Warfare” and the scripture is fitting, from Ephesians 6:10-20 about the armor of God, a good reminder for all of us in our daily battles of how to equip ourselves:

10Finally,(A) be strong in the Lord and in(B) the strength of his might. 11(C) Put on(D) the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against(E) the schemes of the devil. 12For(F) we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against(G) the rulers, against the authorities, against(H) the cosmic powers over(I) this present darkness, against(J) the spiritual forces of evil(K) in the heavenly places. 13Therefore(L) take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in(M) the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore,(N) having fastened on the belt of truth, and(O) having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15and,(P) as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16In all circumstances take up(Q) the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all(R) the flaming darts of(S) the evil one; 17and take(T) the helmet of salvation, and(U) the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18praying(V) at all times(W) in the Spirit,(X) with all prayer and supplication. To that end(Y) keep alert with all perseverance, making(Z) supplication for all the saints, 19and(AA) also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth(AB) boldly to proclaim(AC) the mystery of the gospel, 20for which I(AD) am an ambassador(AE) in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

  • Belt of truth: truth support us, rely on it.
  • Breastplate of righteousness: protect your heart, know that if you are with Christ, you are righteous before God thru Him
  • Shoes for your feet:  Go Mel, Go.  Preach it!
  • Shield of faith:  Our defensive weapon, our faith in Christ will protect us, don’t rely on ourselves or give in to worry
  • Helmet of salvation:  keep your head – you are saved.  Rest in that. Don’t let the battle get to you
  • Sword of the Spirit:  our offensive weapon. God’s perfect Word, written and recorded — the Bible.  However, we can’t use it if we don’t know it.
  • Pray.  Always.  Melanie has my iPod, so I pray for her a lot…every time I look for my iPod.  🙂
  • Paul starts all this by exhorting them to “Stand Firm!”

-M