Give Thanks to God

Thanksgiving Turkey.jpg

May love and laughter light your days, and warm your heart and home.

May good and faithful friends be yours, wherever you may roam.

May peace and plenty bless your world with joy that long endures.

May all life’s passing seasons bring the best to you and yours!

                                                                             An Irish Blessing

Father Desmond O’Donnell, a Roman Catholic Priest in Northern Ireland, recently told the Belfast Telegraph newspaper that Christians should abandon the word “Christmas,” noting that the name has been “hijacked by Santa and reindeer” and commercialized to the point that it is virtually meaningless.  “We’ve lost Christmas, just like we lost Easter, and should abandon the word completely,” O’Donnell said.  

Just go to a mall today and see what he means.  You’ll find Christmas on display everywhere, even though we’ve yet to celebrate Thanksgiving. Check your mailbox today and you’re apt to find a pile of Christmas sale catalogs and flyers.  The Christmas theme is clear—buy, buy, buy!

Sadly, we can say the same thing about losing Thanksgiving.   What was originally a day set aside for Americans to thank God for our many blessings is now often referred to as “Turkey Day,” a time to overeat, over indulge in alcohol, and watch football on television. Indeed, a number of Thanksgiving Day football matches across the country are referred to as the “Turkey Bowl.” Thanksgiving has become irreversibly connected with Black Friday, the day Christmas buyers literally battle one another in malls and big box stores to get super bargain prices on anything and everything.  Some stores have even resorted to open at midnight on Thanksgiving to maximize the Black Friday “spend fest.”    

For many Americans, it might appear that there isn’t too much to be thankful for.  We see reports of multiple mass shootings; police officers are gunned down in our streets; there are dozens of reports of sexual misconduct by politicians and Hollywood celebrities; natural disasters hammer the land; and we have a government run by two feckless political parties that seemingly can’t even agree on when to hold the next meeting.  Sometimes it seems as if our whole system, our entire way of life, could be swept away in an instant (and it can, but that’s the Book of Revelation, which I won’t go into today).

So what does America have to be thankful for?  The answer is truly simple, although not necessarily obvious.  What a pity more Americans don’t travel abroad to Third World countries and countries with oppressive regimes like Afghanistan, Iran, and North Korea.  In such places it takes very little time to recognize how truly blessed we are.  I was blessed that my military career allowed me to see so much of the world. It changed me forever.

America isn’t perfect, but it is great enough that many people around the globe dream of coming here.  If you take time to thank God this coming Thursday, thank Him for these simple blessings:

  • We can go to the faucet and fill a glass with clear, clean water. In Somalia I watched people drink water drawn straight from the muddy Jubba River, where it was not uncommon to see the carcass of a hippopotamus or other large animal floating down the river. Diarrheic disease kills Somalis and other Third World citizens by the score.
  • Our country is relatively free of deadly infectious diseases like plague, cholera, and malaria that devastate many other countries.
  • We light our homes with the flip of a switch. Following the long civil war in the Former Yugoslavia, I was deployed to Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Most of the city was without electricity when I arrived, and much of it was still without when I returned home 13 months later.
  • We are well-fed compared with much of the world. Even many people living below the poverty level in America are better fed than people in some Third World countries.
  • One can travel freely in America. Oppressive regimes around the world control movement of the population. They use checkpoints with armed officials to prevent unrestricted movement about the country.
  • Americans can speak freely without fear of reprisal by the government. Sure, sometimes there are bad consequences for speaking freely, such as libel suites, but we aren’t silenced by the government.
  • While there is a problem with homelessness in America, most of us have a roof over our heads nevertheless. In Kuwait, Iraq, Somalia and Bosnia I saw thousands of people who had been violently forced from their homes or had their homes destroyed by war.
  • We have the freedom to worship God in the way we choose. While many Christians grumble about losing religious freedom (and some rightfully so), we enjoy more religious liberty than most of the world.

Truly America has its problems, but our country is blessed in many ways.  Despite its faults, it is still a place where many oppressed people dream of coming to.  Take time to pause and thank God for blessing America. May he continue to do so in the coming year!

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free

‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.*

*Lyrics from “Simple Gifts,” a traditional Quaker Tune

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What do you believe?

Martin Luther by Ferdinand Pauwels

Martin Luther by Ferdinand Pauwels

Tomorrow much of the world will commemorate the 500th anniversary of the 95 Theses, when a brave Roman Catholic monk named Martin Luther nailed a revolutionary document to the church door in Wittenburg, Germany (see http://www.luther.de/en/95thesen.html).   The document, consisting of 95 parts, denounced his church’s practice of selling “indulgences” to absolve sin, which ran contrary to Luther’s Bible-based belief that that salvation could be attained through faith and by God’s grace alone.  I call him brave, because Luther’s act put him at risk of excommunication and possibly even death.

When called before the Catholic Council (Reichstag) in the city of Worms and ordered to renounce the document, Luther refused, saying  the famous words, “Hier stehe ich. Ich kann kein anders.” (Here I stand.  I cannot do otherwise).   Rather than renouncing his 95 Theses,  Luther eventually renounced his monastic vows and married a former nun. His act of faith rocked the Catholic church and ultimately spawned what today is known as the Protestant Reformation.

What would you do if your Christian faith were challenged?  What if someone asked you about your Christian beliefs?  How would you reply? I’d like to think I’d be as brave as Luther, but in reality I probably wouldn’t. How many people are willing to risk everything for Christ? Recently, we’ve heard stories of Christians in Iraq and Syria identifying themselves to ISIS terrorists and being executed, rather than hide their Christian faith. How would you respond?

Have you ever really thought about what your Christian faith means to you?  Sure, you might recite the Apostle’s Creed or Nicene Creed at church every week, but did you ever really stop to think what those words mean?   I’m an Anglican.  My denomination, the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), subscribes to three creeds:  the Nicene, Apostle’s, and Athanasian.  Unless you’re a relatively new Christian, you’re probably familiar with the first two, which are worded very similarly.  The Athanasian Creed is a bit harder to digest, as it  clearly discuss the three persons comprising the Holy Trinity, one of the most controversial tenets of the Christian faith.  It is accepted by many Western churches and often read at Trinity Sunday worship services in lieu of the Apostle’s or Nicene Creed.

I challenge you to set aside some quiet time and seriously consider the question, “What do I believe?” I can assure you that of the three great world religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, the average Christians is the least well-equipped to answer this question.  Islam and Judaism emphasize reading and memorizing scriptures much more than does Christianity.

Here are a few things to consider if you accept the challenge.

  • The Holy Trinity (Matthew 28:19) – Do the words of the Bible or the Athanasian Creed’s take on the Trinity cause you to question your own beliefs?
  • Your Body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) – Do you treat your body as if it is the Temple of the Holy Spirit? (Think about what you put into it).
  • Divorce (Matthew 19) – Do you accept Jesus teaching on divorce? He opposes it.
  • Abortion (Psalm 139:13-16; Jeremiah 1:5) – What are your beliefs about the early stages of life?
  • Gay Marriage (Romans 1) – What are your beliefs on gay marriage?
  • Love the Lord your God with all your heart (Mark 12:28-34) – Do you love God above everything else, or is something (addiction, idolatry) getting in the way?
  • Love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:28-34) – Are you at peace with your neighbor?
  • Sin (Romans 7:14-25) – What is sin? Are you a sinner?                   

This is a tough challenge—not something you can think through in a few minutes. Matthew 9 tells the story of a man who is imploring Jesus to heal his young son, who has an unclean spirit (demon) plaguing him.  Jesus says to the man (ESV), “If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”  Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” I submit that most Christians who take the challenge will find themselves crying, “Help my unbelief!”

 “Today, many churches are taking God’s laws and saying, ‘These no longer are in effect.’ In Luther’s time the Church said, ‘You need to buy indulgences to be forgiven of your sin.’ Today, more than one church says, ‘Sin? What is sin?’” 

                                                                  Ken Klaus, Pastor Emeritus, The Lutheran Hour 

Back to Scripture: The Protestant Reformation and the Five Solas   https://www.christianheadlines.com/slideshows/back-to-scripture-the-protestant-reformation-and-the-five-solas.html

 

Fake News and False Prophets

Flooded Road

Psalm 69:2 (ESV) – I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold;  I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. 

The past few weeks have seen a multitude of natural disasters.  First, Hurricane Harvey struck the Texas coastline, causing inestimable wind and flooding damage.  Hurricane Irma followed next, wrecking havoc in the Caribbean and the Florida peninsula.  Irma was followed by Hurricane Maria, which dealt another blow to the Caribbean, devastating Puerto Rico and still posing a threat to the US East Coast as I pen this blog entry.

On September 19, a powerful 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck Mexico City, collapsing buildings, burying countless victims in rubble, and creating havoc in the city whose metropolitan area is home to some 21 million souls. Since the initial quake, Mexico City has been struck by multiple large aftershocks; there was a moderate-sized earthquake in the Los Angeles area; and another moderate quake occurred near Japan’s Fukushima power plant.  Fukushima is the place where a 2011 earthquake damaged three nuclear reactors, resulting in the cores melting down and releasing high levels of radiation into the Pacific Ocean.  It remains a tremendous hazard today.

The timing of these events has been a windfall for late night radio talk shows where prophets of doom warn about the end of the world.  Their latest doomsday message predicted the world would end on September 23, when a giant, hitherto undetected planet called Nibiru would suddenly appear and pass so close to the Earth that its enormous gravitation and magnetic field would cause a planetary disaster, ending life as we know it. Well, the September 23 apocalypse has passed and we’re still here.  

In 1992, radio evangelist Harold Camping predicted Christ would return in September 1994. He had based his prediction off numbers and dates found in the Bible. When this failed to happen, Camping made several adjustments to the predicted date, the last date of which was October 21, 2011. He attributed his errors to mathematical errors in interpreting Biblical numerology.  It didn’t happen!

Richard W. Noone, in his book titled 5/5/2000 Ice: The Ultimate Disaster, predicted the world would end on May 5, 2000 when Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn would aligned with the earth for the first time in six thousand years. Wrong!

A predicted apocalypse on December 12, 2012 also passed without incident.  That was the date that some believed the ancient Mayan calendar ended, spelling doomsday for mankind.  Didn’t happen—again!  

The Holy Scriptures are full of warnings about false prophets.  Jesus himself warns us of false prophets in Mark 13, which provides many details about the cataclysmic end times that will occur on Earth in the last days. Mark 13 ends with Jesus telling us clearly that not even he knows the day or hour when this cataclysm will occur.  Only God the Father knows when our world will end!

In truth, there have been many doomsday predictions for as long as mankind has been around; none have come to pass save the great flood that Jehovah warned Noah to prepare for. A direct warning from God–that’s something you can trust!

Unfortunately for us, false prophecies are rampant today, along with the ubiquitous fake news we hear so much talk about in the media.  This leaves Christians little remaining to believe in besides their Bible. So how historically accurate is the Bible?

It is very accurate according to Dr. Ken Boa. Boa is president of Reflections Ministries (www.kenboa.org).  His article, titled ‘How accurate is the Bible?’ originally appeared in the Winter 2009 issue of Knowing and Doing, the teaching quarterly published by the C.S. Lewis Institute. 

According to Boa, there are three lines of evidence supporting the claim that the biblical documents are reliable: 1) the bibliographic test, 2) the internal test, and 3) the external test. The first test examines the authenticity and accuracy of biblical manuscripts; the second deals with the claims made by the biblical authors, most of whom were eyewitnesses to the events they describe; and the third looks to outside historical confirmation of the biblical content. Boa explains very clearly how biblical evidence meets all three tests.  His article can be found at this link: http://www.cslewisinstitute.org/webfm_send/410.

1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 tells us, “Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good,” (ESV).  The Bible passes the reliability tests as described so succinctly by Dr. Ken Boa. Christians should rely on the lens of the Bible to examine everything we hear and see today.  It’s the only certain way to avoid being misled by fake news and false prophets. Which lens are you looking through, a worldview conforming to biblical truth or one conforming to the secular world?

For more on ‘Worldview’, see Bob Burney’s article at this link:  http://www.crosswalk.com/church/pastors-or-leadership/worldview-which-lens-are-you-looking-through-11595738.html.

 

Live for the Minute

Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May, by John William Waterhouse

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, old Time is still a-flying; and this same flower that smiles today, tomorrow will be dying.   Robert Herrick

Few would argue that making plans isn’t important.  As an Army officer, I spent over a decade participating in various planning teams.  It requires meticulous planning to move a mass of soldiers and their equipment from point A to point B, whether the end destination is a local training area or a battle somewhere in the Middle East. The old adage we lived by was, “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail!”

Hardly anyone would think of going on vacation without planning some sort of itinerary—where you’re going, when you’ll be there, overnight accommodation etc.  Many people use financial planners to help them plan for the future—monthly income, a dwelling, health care, long term care, assisted living, etc. We are a planning society.

All planning aside, however, there’s only one place you can accomplish anything—that’s in the here and now.  Too many people today are stuck in the realm of “if only.” If only I could (you fill in the blank), then I would be set.  Unfortunately, many Christians take this approach, striving to achieve some unattainable goal of holiness or obedience before they believe they can be of use to God. 

The truth is, God can use you where you are right now.  Many Christians strive to reach a future destination, while God’s main goal for them is in the here and now.  God is more about the process than our final destination.  He teaches us to be calm and courageous in whatever situation we find ourselves; and he teaches us to serve others.

St. Paul tells us in Philippians 2, to work out our own salvation in fear and trembling.  This “working out” is a process of sanctification that can last a lifetime–again, it is more about the process than the destination.   The future is uncertain—it is only in your present situation that you can serve others.  Don’t wait to take up the work of God.  There will never be a better time than now to pick up your cross and follow Jesus.

Never allow the thought, “I am of no use where I am,” because you certainly can be of no use where you are not. Wherever God has dumped you down in circumstances, pray to Him all the time.  Oswald Chambers

 

Prepare the children, not the road

Bible

Adversity introduces a man to himself.  –Albert Einstein

 The Urban Dictionary describes “trigger” as a topic, phrase or word that emotionally sets someone off.   “Setting off” can refer to anger or reliving a traumatic experience. Some universities have gone so far as to establish so-called “safe spaces,” where those with delicate feelings can avoid triggering events. Some universities have resorted to publishing trigger warnings about certain campus events, so those who might feel uncomfortable hearing opinions differing from their own can avoid the events.

In some universities, even classrooms have been designated as safe spaces.  This has led to charges of censorship, where freedom of speech, and hence rigorous intellectual discourse, is prohibited on campus.

Recently, there was a Chick-fil-A flap on the campus of Duquesne University.  Some students oppose the planned opening on campus of a Christian-owned chicken restaurant whose owners espouse conservative values, for fear it will upset their “safe space.” This and a host of other triggering incidents, many associated with the harsh treatment of conservative speakers trying to make invited presentations on university campuses, got me thinking about how today’s children are not being equipped to deal with adversity.

Popular Christian author and apologist David C. McCasland has suggested, “Instead of trying to remove all obstacles and pave the way for the children in our life, we should instead equip them to deal with the difficulties they encounter on the road ahead.”  McCasland’s suggestion isn’t rocket science, yet many in our society today simply can’t grasp this wisdom.

Trigger warnings and safe spaces are natural consequences of a society where every child playing sports gets a trophy—both winners and losers—so as to avoid any hurt feelings. They are also consequences of a society where Christianity and Christian-based principles are on the decline. If the truth be told, life is naturally full of adversity and controversy.  What if we equipped our children to deal with these rather than avoiding them?

Most American children, age six and above, spend the better part of each weekday in school.  Today, younger and younger children find themselves in school programs as more mothers take on full-time jobs. Most schools do an inadequate job of teaching life skills–that’s where parents come in. What if parents spent 30 minutes a day teaching their children to deal with the real world, instead of spending a lifetime trying to protect them and solve all their problems?

In John 16:33 (ESV), Jesus tells us, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”   In John 17, Jesus’ prayer reminds us that his followers are not of this world, even as He is not of this world.  We will all suffer at times during our lives, but we need look no farther than the cross to find peace amid life’s tribulations.

The Bible is the best source of wisdom about dealing with adversity and controversy. Just consider what might happen if you spent a mere 30 minutes each day sharing the Bible with your children.  This amounts to one TV show you wouldn’t have to watch…a blessing in itself!

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.                                   

–2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (ESV)

Patience Please!

Patience

Patience is more than endurance. A saint’s life is in the hands of God like a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer. God is aiming at something the saint cannot see, and He stretches and strains, and every now and again the saint says — “I cannot stand any more.” God does not heed, He goes on stretching till His purpose is in sight, then He lets fly. Trust yourself in God’s hands. For what have you need of patience just now? Maintain your relationship to Jesus Christ by the patience of faith.    

—Oswald Chambers (My Utmost for His Highest, May 8th)

Patience is a virtue that I’m sorely lacking in lately.  For nearly three months I’ve been recovering from total knee replacement surgery, a highly invasive procedure.  Given that I was in pretty good physical condition going into the surgery, I imagined that three months down the road I would be nearly recovered.  Wrong!  I’m still dealing with swelling, stiffness, and muscle spasms around my knee.  I attend three torturous physical therapy sessions per week, where my therapist stretches and strains my knee until I can’t stand any more. Then she does it again…and again, sometimes bringing tears to my eyes. Learning patience can be a bitter pill to swallow.

The Oswald Chamber passage quoted at the head of this entry got me thinking about patience.  I recognize that I have a problem with patience.  So, as I so often try to do, I turn to the pages of the Bible for guidance.  The scriptures have a multitude of great examples of patience.  I can’t mention them all, but here are a few I find inspiring.

In Genesis chapter 17, God promised Abram (Abraham) he would be the “Father of many nations.”  In Abraham’s era, the inability to have children was considered a punishment from God.  Abraham and Sarah’s first child Isaac was born after Sarah was at least 90 years old and Abraham was 100.  Nevertheless, Abraham believed God’s promise.

Jacob served Rachel’s father Laban for 14 years in order to be allowed to take Rachel as his wife!

Moses led the Children of Israel from captivity as slaves in Egypt.  He subsequently wandered 40 years in the desert wilderness with his disobedient people and was finally told by God that he would not be allowed to enter the Promised Land.  All the same, he remained faithful to God.

King David wanted to honor God by building a temple to house the Arc of the Covenant.  However, in 1 Chronicles chapter 17 the prophet Nathan reveals to David that God has ordained that David’s son Solomon will build the temple.  Despite having the means to proceed by himself, David accepts Nathan’s revelation and refrains from building it.

Acts chapter 16 describes Paul and Silas being in prison for preaching the Gospel in the Greek city of Philippi. What are they doing at midnight?  They’re not rattling their chains; they’re praying and singing hymns to God.  Now that’s patience!  Paul and Silas were following the advice of Psalm 27:14, that says, “Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.” Of course their patience paid off. An earthquake shook the prison and loosed their chains.  On that amazing night, Paul and Silas ended up preaching the Gospel to their jailer and his whole family, who, we are told, were all saved.

Despite being fine examples, these remarkable acts of patience all pale in comparison to God’s great patience with you and me, and we can thank Him for it. 2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

Thanks be to God who is patient with me and you as we plod along towards our final destinations. As Philippians 2:17 says, God has given me a chance to work out my own salvation “with fear and trembling.” To this I would add, “…even when I deserve his punishment.”   What a patient and loving Father we have.  May we all strive to follow his example!

 

Enduring Truths for Recent Grads

Divine Simplicity

Graduate [2]A couple of years ago I wrote an article  for my newspaper column with some advice for recent grads.  It has become one of the most popular pieces I ever wrote. I received dozens of emails thanking me for writing it.    Therefore, I decided to  republish it annually around graduation time.  I hope some of you might find it useful.  You can view the original article in The Tribune-Democrat news at this link:  http://goo.gl/LtN72

For those who are graduating high school this year and beginning the long transition into adulthood, I’d like to offer you a gift. Here are five enduring truths I’ve learned. They will help you through life’s journey.

Choices

“If you decide to just go with the flow, you’ll end up where the flow goes, which is usually downhill, often leading to a big pile of sludge and a life of unhappiness. You’ll end up doing what everyone else is doing.” ―…

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