THANKS-LIVING, Part One 

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I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. (Psalm 9:1)


Today and Friday form bookends for Thanksgiving Day in America, and I want to devote our time together to the all-important subject of maintaining an attitude of gratitude in all things and at all times. Saint Augustine once profoundly noted that, in our natural condition, sin has rendered all of us “curved inward,” which makes a life of living thanks much harder than we might think. I want to back to the beginning today, and we’ll complete our study on Friday.

In the beginning, God made everything very good, and that, of course, included mankind, who was made in God’s image. Adam and Eve walked with God in the cool of the day, and God had given them every imaginable provision, with only one prohibition: “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

Made by God, for God, Adam and Eve were to find their identity in God and locate their meaning in His purpose and plan for their lives. As creational caretakers, the borders of their lives extended to the boundaries of God’s creation, and every moment was to be marked by “Thanks-Living,” because our first parents were “curved upward and outward.” But when Adam and Eve believed the lie of the serpent and chose to rebel against God and eat from the forbidden tree, sin separated them from God, causing the curve to turn inward. Thanks-Living turned into living thankless, self-absorbed, and self-centered lives, making community with others difficult and contentment with ourselves impossible.

But God refused to leave mankind in sin, and He promised to send a Savior who would crush the head of the serpent and redirect the natural, sinful curve of our lives from inward to upward and outward again. For those who are in Christ, the curve has been changed and Thanks-Living is possible once again.

But here’s the kicker: Sin no longer reigns in our lives, but it still remains. In the very same way, our inward curve no longer reigns, but it still remains. We must battle against self-absorption and self-centeredness every day of our lives. Where Thanks-Living was natural for Adam and Eve prior to their terrible, traitorous fall, it must be intentional for us because we still have some of that old sinful nature deep inside. As Paul warned the Galatians, “The sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want” (Galatians 5:17).

Here is a quick exercise for you to do before you get into your Thanksgiving Day celebrations. If you’re a regular reader of Grace for the Race, you know what I’m about to suggest; take a moment to identify your top ten blessings from the beginning of this year and write them down. We do this as a family every Thanksgiving season and share our lists with each other; then I file them all so that we can look back and see just how blessed we truly are. Perhaps you can do this as a family and share your lists together, starting a new Thanksgiving Day tradition, which will help you be intentional about living a life marked by Thanks-Living.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving Day tomorrow! We will pick this back up on Friday.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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A THANKSGIVING APOLOGETIC

Pilgrims


Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. (Psalm 100:1-2)


I have written several articles bemoaning the fact that far too many Americans see Thanksgiving as little more than a day for overindulgence in food and football, but I don’t believe I have ever written about the extent to which America’s Thanksgiving celebration bears wonderful witness to our Christian faith. I wrote this article for the November issue of the Good News and I’d like to share it with you here also. In doing so, I want to acknowledge the outstanding work of David Barton’s Wallbuilders ministry (www.wallbuilders.com), which was my primary resource for the historical information presented here.

Virtually everyone knows that our Thanksgiving tradition began with the Pilgrims in Plymouth, Massachusetts. However, many Americans are unaware that the Pilgrims were also known as “Separatists” because, believing they would never be able to reform the Church of England, they felt compelled to separate from it. Because of persecution in England, they fled to Holland and ultimately set sail for America on the Mayflower. Their intended destination was Virginia, but due to violent storms on the North Atlantic, they landed on the shores of Massachusetts on November 11, 1620.

Before disembarking the Mayflower, which must have come to feel much more like a stinking dungeon than a sailing ship during their two-month, storm-tossed journey, the Pilgrims joined together in reciting Psalm 100 as a prayer of thanksgiving. Then the Pilgrims put pen to paper to create The Mayflower Compact, which is recognized as the first governing document created in the New World. The Mayflower Compact began with these words:

In the name of God, Amen. . . . Having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine our selves together into a civil body politic.

Isn’t that remarkable? The first governing document written for America was set forth “in the name of God . . . in the presence of God . . . for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith.” Somehow I don’t think our children are being taught that truth in many of our schools!

However, even with such high-minded goals for the establishment of the colony in Plymouth, the Pilgrims situation quickly became dire. With no shelter to protect them and very little provision to sustain them, nearly half of those who had set sail from Holland died during that first harsh New England winter. Yet God is in sovereign control of all things, and He gave the Pilgrims the miraculous blessing of Squanto, an English-speaking native Indian, who showed the starving colonists how to survive in the New World by planting, hunting, and fishing. In the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims reaped a bountiful harvest which would sustain them through that winter, so they invited their Indian friends to join them in a celebration thanking the Creator God of the harvest, who had so graciously sustained them.

Edward Winslow, the governor of the Plymouth Colony, called for a festival, inviting the Indians to join the Pilgrims, writing this account:

Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after . . . a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors; they four in one day killed as much foul as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week . . . And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet be the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

To be sure, the Indians taught the skills for survival and the Pilgrims engaged in a disciplined effort in applying them, but the Pilgrims knew full well that “every good and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17) and that it was God who had supplied the bountiful increase.

From Pilgrims to presidents, Christian influence in America remained strong since that first Thanksgiving celebration. President George Washington made Thanksgiving a national event on October 3, 1789 with this proclamation:

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God . . . Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.

On October 3, 1863, as the terrible War Between the States raged on, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that Thanksgiving be made an annual event:

I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.

Regardless of how secular revisionist historians labor to rewrite American history, it is clear that America was founded and built upon the Word of God and the God of the Word. I often find myself in conversation with men and women who do not believe in God, but who insist that they are as thankful as any Christian. They tell me that they are thankful for family and friends, health and wealth, and possessions and possibilities. But when I ask them, “Who do you thank for these blessings?” I get only a sad, blank stare in reply. GK Chesterton put a sharp point on this disturbing dilemma, saying, “The worst moment for an atheist is when he is really thankful and has no one to thank.”

We need the good news of the Gospel to live lives of true thanksgiving. Only the Christian, who has a true, transcendent sense of meaning, can give wholehearted thanks because only the Christian offers thanks to the one, true Creator God from whom all blessings flow . . . just as the Pilgrims gave thanks to Him nearly 400 years ago.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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YOUR MIGHT? OR THE MIGHTY ONE?

Mighty One


Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. (Psalm 20:7)


There are only two ways to live out our calling as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ; we live either in our own might or in the might of the Mighty One. So the question is this: What have you been relying on lately . . . Your might? Or the Mighty One? It is an irrefutable fact that those who trust in chariots and horses have no king but Caesar, but those who trust in the name of the Lord our God find strength for every season of life in the King of kings and Lord of lords.

In battle, chariots and horses created a great advantage for those who deployed them. But the child of God must always remember that victory belongs to the Lord.


When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you. (Deuteronomy 20:1)

Give us aid against the enemy, for the help of man is worthless. With God we will gain the victory, and he will trample down our enemies. (Psalm 60:11-12)

Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord. (Isaiah 31:1)

“Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the Lord Almighty. (Zechariah 4:6)


How often we believe we need to create some kind of advantage in the flesh if we are going to be successful! Yet when we do this, we stand in opposition to our God, who is always ready, willing, and able to grant us the victory if we will but trust in Him alone. What are chariots to our Christ? What are horses to our Holy One? The great heroes of the Bible all learned this truth by way of personal experience. Moses went up against all the chariots and horses in Egypt, but he trusted in the name of the Lord and saw every one of those chariots sink beneath the Red Sea. Gideon went up against the might of the Midianites with only a few hundred men, but he trusted in the name of the Lord and an enemy force of 120,000 was annihilated.

I don’t know where this message finds you today and what battle you may be facing, but regardless of what it is, trust not in your own might and the things of this world. Look to your Lord and Savior and know that He has promised to give you the victory if you will but trust in Him and lean not on your own understanding.

Remember these words of David when he was about to do battle with Goliath: “All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands” (1 Samuel 17:47). Confront whatever giant that opposes you today in the strength of the Mighty One, and know that your God will bring you victory.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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RICH BEYOND MEASURE 

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You are my portion, Lord. (Psalm 119:57)


How do we measure what matters most in life? I have said before that the world makes its measure through the Five P’s of Power, Position, Prosperity, Pleasure, and Possessions. The world tells us that when you are rich in these areas, you have it all. But the Word of God says something altogether different. When the Lord is our portion, we are rich beyond measure.

So where do you see your primary portion in life coming from? Read on and be encouraged!

When our portion is found in anything smaller than God, we find that we never have enough. Why? Because everything smaller than God was never designed to meet us in our deepest place of need, and that is because God made our deepest need beyond the reach of the “stuff” of this life. Power cannot satisfy it. Position cannot satisfy it. Prosperity cannot satisfy it. Pleasure cannot satisfy it. Possessions cannot satisfy it. When we seek our satisfaction in the things of this life, we will say, “I never have enough!” Spurgeon wrote, “The insatiable horse-leech of my lust ever crieth, ‘Give, Give!’ [Proverbs 30:15] Can I ever be delivered from it?”

Only when our hearts say, “Your face, Lord, do I seek” (Psalm 27:8 ESV) and our portion is God Himself will we find our deepest needs satisfied. When we seek satisfaction in our Savior as our portion, we will echo the apostle Paul and say, “I have learned to be content in any and every situation” (Philippians 4:12).

When Jesus is our portion, we have what nothing in this life can give us because we have the one Possession that can never be taken away. When we cross the Jordan, all we have accumulated on this side of the grave will remain behind. We shall bring nothing with us, for naked we came into this world and naked we shall go out. But when Jesus is our portion, we shall reach the other side of the Jordan rich beyond measure. When Jesus is our portion, we will not hear those terrible words, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” Rather, we will hear what will eternally delight our soul: “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into thy rest.”

So where is your portion today? Do you seek it in the stuff of this life . . . or in the Savior who has given you life? Are you chasing after stuff that can never satisfy . . . or after the Savior who satisfies the soul forever?

Remember, when Jesus is your portion, you are rich beyond measure! When Jesus is your portion, your sins are forgiven, your debt is paid, and your guilt is gone forevermore. When Jesus is your portion, all wisdom, all power, and all goodness are yours, and all of it in full measure. To have Jesus as your portion is not to have only “a portion” of Jesus. He is not divided among the family of faith, for we each have Him in full measure, and that makes all who are in Christ rich beyond measure.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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DIVINE DIVIDE  

divinedivide


And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. (Genesis 1:5)


As it was in the beginning according to God’s created order, so it is within each one of His children: there is a divine divide between the light of day and the dark of night. Before Jesus granted us the gifts of repentance and faith, we lived in the darkness of night. Oh, we seemed to have life, and the watching world would have testified that we did, but Scripture makes it clear that we were “dead in our trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). The spiritual state of our hearts could not have been darker until that moment in time when Jesus spoke the light of life into our hearts. Just as Jesus called, “Lazarus, come forth” (John 11:43), and a man who had been in the tomb for four days got up and began to walk, Jesus Christ called your name, and suddenly your dead heart began to beat with new and eternal life.

But even after we have been saved, we must remember that both light and darkness still have their place in our lives until we cross the Jordan. When we read the accounts of the great saints in the Bible, we see both the light of day and the dark of night. King David, the man after God’s own heart, enjoyed the light of day as he closely followed the will of God. But at the time when kings went off to war, David stayed home, and he brought in the dark of night by his sinful relationship with Bathsheba. Peter witnessed the awesome light of the Transfiguration, but he also knew the despairing dark of night when he denied his Lord three times.

Do we not all enjoy the sunshine of good fortune and despair during the dark night of the soul? One simply will not exist without the other until Jesus returns for His second advent and puts all enemies under His feet. We may never experience this truth to the extreme that David and Peter did, but we all have our seasons of both light and darkness. During a time when we are enjoying a majestic mountaintop experience with our Lord, we must remember that we will be required to descend that mountain into a dark and lonely valley below. The divine divide we experience each morning and evening serves as an ever-present reminder that we too shall live our lives in both the light of God’s love and the darkness of His loving discipline.

Where does this word of encouragement find you today? Know this truth: if you are trudging through a season of dreary darkness, it will soon pass into the merciful morning light. And if you are currently enjoying the warmth of the bright noonday sun, know that this too shall pass.

We must not be surprised at the divine divide we experience in this life, for our Lord promised that “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). But don’t stop reading there! Jesus concluded with, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” And one day soon, when Jesus calls us home or He returns from heaven, we will reside in the new heavens and the new earth where “There will be no more night” (Revelation 22:5). May that truth strengthen us all as we experience the divine divide on our way to the Celestial City.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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GO BACK-BACK-BACK-BACK-BACK-BACK-BACK!

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Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.” (1 Kings 18:43)


If you’re a baseball fan, you probably remember sports announcer Chris Berman, who, when announcing a home run, often cried, “Back-Back-Back-Back-Back . . . GONE!” Well, the word of encouragement I have for you today doesn’t come from an American sportscaster, but rather from the prophet Elijah of the commonwealth of Israel.

The drought that Elijah predicted had run its prescribed course of three years. He had been ministered to by the widow of Zarephath and returned the blessing by raising her son from the dead. Then God directed Elijah to go and tell Ahab, the king of Israel, that rain was on the way. After Elijah confronted the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel, he sent his servant to the top of the mountain to look toward the sea and report whether or not rain was coming. Elijah sent his servant back . . . back—back—back—back—back—back seven times, refusing to give up on the promise of God. And, sure enough, the seventh time the servant came back with these words: “Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” (1 Kings 18:44 ESV).

Elijah’s perseverance in prayer is a model for all of us today. He knew what God had promised and He knew he could count on that promise, simply because of the One who had made the promise to him. Elijah’s faith is even more remarkable in light of the immediacy of the answered prayer he had just experienced, when he had shamed the priests of Baal and God sent fire from heaven, consuming the wood, the burnt offering, the twelve stones of the altar, and even the water that filled the trench (1 Kings 18:30-39). This time, however, instead of an instant answer to Elijah’s supplication, there was a long delay. Clearly, God’s immediate answer served a mighty purpose for all who were on Mount Carmel and witnessed His power, and it is just as clear that this delay served a mighty purpose in the heart of God’s great prophet Elijah.

If you’ve spent much time in Scripture, you know that the number seven represents God’s number for perfection. It is certainly no coincidence that Elijah sent his servant to look seven times. The message is clear. God answers every one of our prayers instantly; He may answer with “Yes,” “No,” or “Wait.” Elijah was to wait upon the Lord to deliver His promised blessing in His perfect timing. Elijah would be strengthened in his waiting, and he was not to grow weary, because God’s plan is absolutely perfect to accomplish its purposes.

Notice that the faith of Elijah was rooted in expectant hope. He expected to hear about the coming rain every time he sent his servant to look for it; when he did not, Elijah sent him back again and again and again. Every report of “No rain” by the returning servant simply fueled Elijah’s faith to plead all the more. I am certain that, if the seventh time there was still the response of “No rain,” Elijah would have sent him back again.

What does your prayer life look like today? Do you have a firm grip on the promises of God, and do you refuse to let them go? Notice what was first seen by the servant: a little cloud, which was finally followed by a heavy rain. Have you looked closely at the results of your prayers?

What “little cloud” has God sent to encourage you to stay the course because the heavy rain is on the way? Go back—back—back—back—back—back—back, plead the precious blood of the Lamb, and trust God for His answer in His perfect time and in His gracious, loving way.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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OUR GREATEST NEED MET

shackles


“I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” (Matthew 9:6)


We all have a tendency to mistake wants for needs. We frequently say, “I need this” or “that” when, in actuality, we don’t need it at all; we simply want it and we want it so badly that we put it in the category of “need.” With that being said—that thought should give us all a moment of pause today to check our “want” list—I’d like to encourage you by explaining the importance of understanding our greatest need and how it has already been met.

The greatest need every person has is forgiveness. Unless our sins are forgiven, we will spend eternity separated from the love of God in that terrible place where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Luke 13:28). To die without Christ is to die in our sins . . . and to die does not mean that one simply “goes in the ground” and has no more consciousness, like a TV screen turned off and gone black, as many unbelievers imagine. Nor does it mean that one will be translated into some idyllic, vaguely defined “better place.” To die in your sins means to suffer dreadful, agonizing, and eternal separation from the presence of the living God.

But this will not be the case for those who know the truth of today’s verse and have, by grace through faith, received it as true and placed their trust in the Son of Man. Our Lord Jesus Christ has the authority and the power to forgive our sins—all of our sins. Jesus Christ was born to die in our place to pay the penalty for our sins, and He has the power to pardon us at this very moment, no matter what we have done. His wounds bear witness to that power and authority.

He who knew no sin became sin for all those who will trust in Him as Lord and Savior—penalty paid . . . atonement made . . . debt satisfied. God the Father put His supernatural stamp of approval on the cross work of His beloved Son by raising Him from the grave on the third day, just as the Scriptures had promised. To all those whom He has granted repentance from sin, He has also guaranteed remission of sin. The power of Christ’s passion is perpetual. Never will the fountain of forgiveness run dry. Christian, nothing—nothing past, present, or future—can ever or will ever separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).

May this truth set us free from the gnawing guilt that keeps us from growing into the person God is calling us to be! To be sure, we should be filled with a godly sorrow when we sin and break the heart of God. But after we have brought our sin before the throne of grace, we are to remember that it has been nailed to the cross and washed clean by the blood of the Lamb.

Beloved, because your greatest need has been met, you should be experiencing the peace that passes all understanding every day. Do not let the evil one make you a prisoner to your past. We are to learn from the past, not live there. Because His mercies are new every morning, rise up this day and live as one who has been forgiven and will never be forsaken. Oh, the joy in knowing that our greatest need has been met and will be met each day by our Master!

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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