Thanksgiving

Monday through Friday, November 19-23, 2018

Part 1

Well, friends, it’s Thanksgiving week already. In just a few days, I’ll get to celebrate Thanksgiving for a second time (the first one was in Ukraine last month); so it is with that in mind that this week’s devotional comes your way.

In his second letter to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul told of an extraordinary experience. He was caught up to the third heaven (which he also called paradise). Inexpressible things were revealed to him, unutterable either by their celestial characteristics or by a prohibition against describing them. So great and incredible was this experience - in fact, this experience was so incredible, (and as far as we know) Paul was the only one to have such and experience. And he was told not to tell of all he had seen and experienced.

 

This whole experience brought about a “thorn in the flesh” to torment Paul for the rest of his life. And, from what we know from Scripture, it was allowed as an ongoing pain, preventing him from being puffed up with pride because of the singular privilege he had enjoyed. (Understand that a full fourteen years passed before Paul even told that much of his experience.)

About 50 years after Paul’s experience in Paradise, the Apostle John was taken to heaven, into the very presence of God on His throne. It was there that John saw in the throne-room the 24 elders around the throne, seated themselves on thrones and four “living creatures” on either side of the throne. John writes, “And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain” Revelation 5:6a ESV. 

And John saw many other things, however, unlike Paul, he was not only allowed, but commanded to write and tell about them – one exception being; what the 7 thunders said, about which he was told, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down” Revelation 10:4b ESV.

In this scene, I want to focus on the 24 elders before the throne of God. What were they doing? Revelation 11:16-18 “And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God,17 saying, “We give You thanks, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign.” 

Thanks for what, specifically? Let’s move on to verse 18, “The nations raged, but Your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding Your servants, the prophets and the saints, and those who fear Your Name, both small and the great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth” ESV. The 24 elders were giving thanks to God for His justice! And, as far as I know, they are still and forever will be before the throne, thanking God.

 

With all that in mind: This week I want to offer some thoughts that came to mind as we approach the Thanksgiving. In the Old Testament, one of the offerings prescribed under the law was a “thank offering.” At some level all of the prescribed offerings, implied or explicitly expressed, it was an offering of thankfulness to God. (You can read the instructions for the thank offering as they were given in Leviticus 7:12-15; 22:29.)

 

Like all the offerings, thank offerings were to be given at the place God chose for His Name to dwell after the Israelites entered the Promised Land, it was over 400 years before that place was shown to be Jerusalem. During about 380 years of the Judges, and for years afterward, Shiloh was the center of worship. Shiloh is where the boy Samuel served under the tutelage of the priest Eli. Years later, when Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem, the glory of the Lord filled it and the Lord spoke directly to Solomon.

 

Look at that with me: 2 Chronicles 7:12 “Then the LORD appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice” ESV. “The place chosen for the Lord’s Name to dwell,” then, was the temple Solomon built in Jerusalem. It was then that Jerusalem became the center of worship and was the place where offerings were to be made, unless the person was too far away. Later this week, we will see that that “unless” will be significant.  

 

Continued tomorrow

Thanksgiving, part 2

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

When the Ark of the Covenant was finally brought to Jerusalem, David assigned Asaph, one of David’s chief musicians, and his relatives to give thanks to the Lord. At least 13 of the Psalms are attributed to Asaph. His duty was to lead the Israelites in giving thanks to God when the Ark was brought to Jerusalem.

 

Look at 1 Chronicles 16:7-8 with me, “Then on that day David first appointed that thanksgiving be sung to the LORD by Asaph and his brothers. 8 Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon His Name; make known His deeds among the peoples! ESV.

1 Chronicles 16:7-36 contains that entire prayer of thanks, closing in verse 34 with: “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever!”  And in verse 36 it says, “Then all the people said, “Amen,” and praised the Lord” ESV.

At the dedication of the rebuilt wall of Jerusalem 600 years later, under the leadership of Nehemiah, we see two great choirs standing on top of the wall giving thanks. Turn with me to Nehemiah 12:27-46 where it tells the account of how the choirs were arranged on the wall to give thanks. Verse 43 says, “… the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.”

Also notice with me verse 46, where is says… “For long ago, in the days of David and Asaph there were directors of the singers, and there were songs of praise and thanksgiving to God.” Those songs of praise and thanksgiving to God must have been incredible because, 600 years later, in Nehemiah’s time, those songs of were still known and talked about!

The Old Testament has a recurring theme of thankfulness to God. There is one particular sentence, it says, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever!” And that sentence occurs 81 times in the Old Testament: 10 times in 1 Chronicles… 20 times in 2 Chronicles… 5 times in Ezra… 40 times in the Psalms… and 6 times… in the book of Jeremiah.
 

Giving thanks to God is no small matter

And yet, thanks are a regular part of ordinary human interaction. We commonly express thanks for the smallest of favors received. We thank the server in a restaurant who refills our glass with water or a stranger exiting a building who holds a door open while we enter or exit. We thank the person who takes our money at the coffee shop. 

It seems important to me, that when I make a purchase in a store, the person who takes payment for the purchase thanks me. Maybe it’s routine and obligatory, meaning nothing to the person who says it, much like, “Have a nice day,” but, I notice it when the person checking my purchase out doesn’t thank me. And if I realize I have left someone un-thanked, it haunts me, usually till I go back and thank them,
 

Thankfulness is an Attitude, not just a meaningless word - AND Attitudes are Contagious

Along these lines, I read a funny story this time last year (from Paul Stookey I think) about a sidewalk newspaper vendor in New York City. A man came cheerfully tooling down the street picked up a newspaper, paid for it, smiled and said, “Thank you so much. Oh, and have a nice day!” before striding on down the street whistling a happy tune.

 

The newspaper vendor frowned and growled as if he was angry, “WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH HIM?!” But a moment later another customer purchased a paper. As he was walking away, the newspaper vendor frowned and growled in an angry sounding voice, “HAVE A NICE DAY!” The story ended this way, “See, attitudes are contagious. It needed a little polishing, but it was a start.”

Giving thanks is part and parcel with our relationship with God. Thanksgiving isn’t just some obligatory duty on a checklist of things that God requires while we maintain the attitude, “I deserve everything I’ve worked for. I have nothing to thank God for.” In the movie Shenandoah, Charlie Anderson prayed this way: “Lord, we cleared this land. We plowed it, sowed it, and harvested it. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t be eating it, if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked dog-bone hard for every single crumb and morsel, but, we thank you Lord, just the same, for the food we’re about to eat, amen.”  

 

Continued tomorrow

"Why, God?

Monday - Friday, November 12-16, 2018

"Why, God?" part 1


If you’re like me, and I know I am, you have periodically wondered, “Why, God?” As I preached in the prison last night, we touched, some, on that very question and I started feeling as though that it would be a good study for this week.


Psalm 10:1 “Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” Have you ever felt like asking that question? I know I have. I am so thankful that the Holy Spirit would inspire things like this to be included in the Scriptures; for me, they help me understand I am not alone when I have feelings or thoughts like this.

I have a friend, who has a friend (imagine that), who wrote a book called, “When You Ask Why?” He said he wanted to get me a copy to read. I said, “Why?” He said, “Exactly.” He tells me that the book addresses those times in life when things don’t seem to make much of any sense to us. 

Some time ago at a ministers’ retreat, a young couple were singing before the speaker was introduced. They were ministering beautifully when suddenly the electrical system malfunctioned. The sound system went dead and the tape deck (we don’t use those any more) fell silent. The audience was sympathetic and smiled, then applauded, while someone went back to check the system. They finally got it working and the singers were well into their second song, when the mic died, the music stopped and the embarrassed young couple just stood there.

“That’s Life” is the title of a once popular song; it is also an apt characterization of the sum total of human experience. That’s life! Life is the full spectrum of emotions and experiences, the highs and the lows, the warm sensation of success, the cold feeling of failure, public acclaim and exquisite pleasure vs. public loss and private pain. That’s Life. Charles Allen once said, “One does not have to live very long in order to find out that life can be hard and cruel – and sometimes almost impossible.”  

When we ask “Why?” we are not alone. Look at Jacob: his son Joseph had long been dead (so he thought), and now they were taking Benjamin his baby boy away from him. He cries, “All these things are against me.” Over in Job 3:11 we read, “Why did I not die at birth…?” And then in Job 7:20 Job writes, “Why hast Thou set me as Thy target, so that I am a burden to myself?”   

I used to hear Bible teachers state that a person of faith should never ask God, “Why?” “Why” is a questioning state of mind, it expresses doubt about God’s logic. However, I have come to believe there are two different approaches to asking, “Why God?” One would be to question God and place yourself above Him by demanding an answer. Obviously, that would not be a good position to be in. The other approach to asking “Why God,” can be expressed by a simple desire to know - Louis Caldwell expressed an important truth once when he said, “Faith is not in conflict with a desire to know.”

 

Job 40:1-4 “Then the LORD said to Job, 2 ‘Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty? Let him who reproves God answer it.’ 3 Then Job answered the LORD and said, 4 ‘Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to Thee? I lay my hand on my mouth.’” Job 40:8 “Will you really annul My judgment? Will you condemn Me that you may be justified?” What a powerful passage! How many of us are guilty of this very thing? 

 

Continued tomorrow

Why, God? Part 2

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Rather than looking into our very own lives, we tend to blame God for our troubles in a feeble effort to justify ourselves. Proverbs says that the fool will bring his life to ruin but his heart will rage against God.


Job 40:9-14 “Or do you have an arm like God, And can you thunder with a voice like His? 10 ‘Adorn yourself with eminence and dignity; And clothe yourself with honor and majesty. 11 Pour out the overflowings of your anger; And look on everyone who is proud, and make him low. 12 Look on everyone who is proud, and humble him; And tread down the wicked where they stand. 13 Hide them in the dust together; Bind them in the hidden place.’”

Look at the conclusion Job draws from all of this: Job 42:1-3 “Then Job answered the LORD, and said, 2 ‘I know that Thou canst do all things, And that no purpose of Thine can be thwarted. 3 ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”

Job says, “I declared that which I did not understand.” He says, “You know what? I spoke out of my ignorance when I made judgments about God’s actions.” There are more than three hundred questions in the book of Job, and most of them are never answered. Was there ever a more pathetic question than the one which came from the cross, when the Son of God cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

 

A young lady who had suffered a crippling accident made the following incredible and astute statement: “One of the first things you learn is that some questions don’t have answers.”

 

Suppose you go through some bad thing after having come to know Christ (which in all honesty can be pretty likely). Bad things happen to Christians all the time. What then? Bad things happen to bad people, bad things happen to good people, good things happen to bad people, and good things happen to good people. Why God? 

Some questions simply cannot be answered because it is impossible for us to understand the answer. Try to explain to a three-year-old thermodynamics. How does a parent comfort a hurting child that simply cannot understand the answer? By holding them close to them and assuring them that everything is OK. Why does that work for us as parents in explaining something to our kids - and yet when it comes to us getting answers from God we are not content to simply fall in His arms and rest in His knowledge.

There is a chapter in the book, “Unshakable Man” called, “Who Will You Be in Glory?” It addresses the issue of us going through things in this life that may never make any sense until the next life. Think of Moses and Elijah. They were both prophets. They both accomplished great things for God, and yet they both suffered hardships.  

 

Continued tomorrow

 

Why, God? Part 3

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Moses was never permitted to see the Promised Land even though he led the people of God for over 40 years. Elijah had just put all 400 of the prophets of Baal to shame and yet Jezebel sends him running for his life. Now think about the transfiguration of Christ. Hundreds, if not thousands, of years after the death of these prophets, God comes up to them in heaven and says, “Boys, I have an assignment for you.  I want you to go back to earth and appear with the Son of Man as I transfigure Him in the presence of His disciples.” Do you think while these great prophets were living on earth that they were saying, “Why God” did this have to happen to me,” that they had any sense of the life to come? Do you think for one moment they could even have understood God’s answer to them; that He was preparing them for the life to come?
 

Farmer's Donkey

One day a farmer’s donkey fell down into a well. The animal cried piteously for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do. Finally he decided the animal was old and the well needed to be covered up anyway, it just wasn’t worth it to retrieve the donkey. He invited all his neighbors to come over and help him. They all grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well.

At first the donkey didn’t realize what was happening and cried horribly. Then, to everyone’s amazement, he quieted down. A few shovel loads later, the farmer finally looked down the well and was astonished at what he saw. With every shovel of dirt that hit his back, the donkey was doing something amazing. He would shake it off and take a step up.

As the farmer’s neighbors continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal, he would shake it off and take a step up. Pretty soon, everyone was amazed as the donkey stepped up over the edge of the well and trotted off! Here is the bottom line; life is going to shovel dirt on us, all kinds of dirt. The trick to getting out of the well is to shake it off and take a step up. Each of our troubles is a stepping-stone. We can get out of the deepest wells just by not stopping, never giving up! Shake it off and take a step up!
 

Come Let Us Reason

Isaiah 1:18 “Come let us reason together.” Let’s look at the question “Why” together. Let’s reason this out. We could come up with a lot of different theories as to why certain things happen, but the underlying premise for it all is the fact that we really are not that godly ourselves.

Let me ask you this question: If God were to remove the sin from everybody’s heart except yours, so that you were the only sinner on earth, how long would it take before sin filled the earth once again? We have parents who introduce sin to their own children. By their very lifestyles, parents often become a great source of worldliness for their children. 

 

Continued tomorrow

Why, God? Part 4

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Think of this: in Genesis 1 God creates man. In verse 26 He says, “Let us make man in our image.” So man is created in the image of God, sinless and pure. God blesses man and says, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” By verse 31 it says, “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.”

Then, enter Satan, a fallen being. He was the only being on earth with sin. In short order, he deceives Adam and Eve - and man falls from his sinless position. They have two sons, Cain and Abel. Cain kills Abel. Why did this tragedy come upon Adam and Eve, the parents of Abel? Sin. Everything about God’s beautiful creation begins to go downhill.       

Genesis 6:5-6 “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that He had made man on the earth, and His heart was filled with pain.” Six short chapters after the creation of man, God is sorry He made him. Every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was evil, all the time. 
 

Why God?

Now I want to answer the question of “Why, God?” by asking the same question a little differently. It should not be “Why, God?” It should be Why God?! Instead of focusing so much on ourselves we should ask ourselves that question over and over. Why God? Why did God have to suffer and die? Why did the innocent Son of God have no place to lay His head? “And Jesus saith unto him, ‘The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air [have] nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay [His] head.’” Matthew 8:20

Why did the sinless Son of God have to continually keep on the move while the Pharisees tried to kill Him? Why did Judas betray the only One willing to die for his sin? Most importantly, why did the Son of God have to die a horrible death as He was crucified on the cross? Why did they take nails and drive them through His hands and feet? Why did they have to take a sword and drive it into His side?

The answer to all of these questions, gives an answer to our query of Why God?  The short answer is because we are sinners and we have no other means to having our sins removed but through the death of Jesus.

Earlier I asked the question; what if you were the only person on earth with a sinful heart? How long would it take for all men to be effected by your sin? Let’s think of this now from the opposite sense. Jesus came into a world where every man’s heart was filled with sin. His was the only sinless heart. He is now attempting to bring a heart cleansing to the human race. That’s “Why God” had to suffer and die.  

It is instructive to note that the very first question in the Bible was posed by Satan. It came with a sneer: “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?’” There were no questions before the enemy came, but we’ve been staggered by them ever since.  

 

Continued tomorrow

Why, God? Part 5

Friday, November 16, 2018

Many of the tragedies in the world today are a direct result of sin, and there is no need to look any further for answers, to speculate, or to question, or to blame God.  However, not all bad things are caused by sin. The terrible crucifixion of the Son of God was not because of any personal sin of Jesus, but it was because of sin, yours and mine.

 

It is safe to say that there are times when we suffer because of our sin and then there are times we suffer because of the sin of others and then there is yet another time we suffer which has nothing to do with sin at all. John 9:1-3 “And as [Jesus] passed by, He saw a man which was blind from [his] birth. 2 And His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?’ 3 Jesus answered, ‘Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.’”  

Many times tragedy has nothing to do directly with the sin of another person. It’s true that all tragedy can be traced back to the fact that we live in a fallen, sinful world. However, there are times, when God has a plan that goes beyond our understanding. People go through things that are difficult to figure out – until we see God.

Some time ago, a few ladies met to study the Bible. While reading they came upon a remarkable expression, “And He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver” Malachi 3:3. One lady decided to visit a silversmith, and report to the others on what he said about the subject. She went accordingly, and without telling him the reason for her visit, begged the silversmith to tell her about the process of refining silver. After he had fully described it to her, she asked, "Sir, do you sit while the work of refining is going on?" "Oh, yes ma'am," replied the silversmith; "I must sit and watch the furnace constantly, for, if the time necessary for refining is exceeded in the slightest degree, the silver will be injured."     

The lady at once saw the beauty and comfort of the expression, “He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” God may see it necessary to put His children into the furnace from time to time; but His eye is steadily intent on the work of purifying, and His wisdom and love are both engaged in the best manner for us. Our trials do not come at random, and He will not let us be tested beyond what we can endure. Before she left, the lady asked one final question, “How do you know when the process is complete?” “That’s quite simple,” replied the silversmith. “When I can see my own image in the silver, the refining process is finished.”

It is entirely possible that we go through things from time to time because of God’s desire to help us reflect Him? Jesus is trying to change hearts, one at a time, from sinful to sinless. He needs our help. The most effective way for us to help Him is through reflecting His image. Is it possible the God has a wonderful ministry in store for you that can only be realized through suffering? Maybe instead of saying, “Why did this have to happen to me God?” We should say, “Why not me God? Who better to suffer for You than a sinner like myself? If You as a sinless man suffered for me so that I could become sinless, then why should I not suffer for You?”   END