SOME BIBLICAL INSTRUCTION FOR GIVING THANKS

Back in October I began thinking about Thanksgiving and decided to make the entire month of November a season of giving thanks. I ordered a used book entitled Thanksgiving: An Investigation of a Pauline theme written by David W. Pao and published in 2002.

I finished the book in about week reading some of the 174 pp. every night in bed before going to sleep. It was just what I needed to carry out my plan for the month; and even though the title refers to Paul’s writings, Pao includes more than just Paul’s letters.

This week I am going through the book again and noting things I underlined in my first reading. As I have reviewed what I underlined I thought some readers of my blog might be instructed, encouraged, and challenged by reading a few of Pao’s observations about being thankful. (I underlined a lot, but can only include a few.)

“One of the prominent ways to express thanks to God for what he has done for his people is to offer him praise” (p. 25).

“Praise and glory are offered as a grateful response to the awesome work of God” (p. 32).

“When God is acknowledged as the Lord of all, thanksgiving becomes a humbling admitting act admitting the dependency of human existence” (p. 35).

Submitting to God and following Jesus “is not to be understood as a way to earn favor in the presence of God. Rather, it is a response to the divine acts of Grace” (p. 44).

“To give thanks to God is to remember what he has done for us” (p. 60).

“Thanksgiving is not an isolated act of gratitude. It is to be lived out as a life of worship” (p. 98).

“To be ungrateful is not simply a state of absent-mindedness. It is the failure to acknowledge God as the creator and Lord of all” (p. 157).

“Thanksgiving in Paul points us back to the past, exhorts us to live our present lives in light of the past, and provides hope as we anticipate the consummation of God’s promises in the future” (p. 58).

One of my favorite verses in Paul’s writing is I Thessalonians 5:18, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Note this instruction does not say give thanks for all circumstances,” but give thanks in all circumstances.

One of my favorite verses in the book of Psalms is 107:1, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.”

Here’s a challenging quote from C.K. Chesterton, “When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.”

In all of life, but especially this week, let’s not take things for granted with ingratitude, but take them with gratitude.

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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ME, REPENT?

The answer to my short question in the title of this post is “yes.” The truth is that I need to repent more often than I wish I did. Since I read an article last week by David Smith entitled REPENTANCE I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about the subject: both the verb and the noun.

I think the thing that has impacted me the most in terms of my thinking and reading is that to repent means much more than simply saying you are sorry. Most of the time it is not at all hard to say, “I’m sorry.” Too often we say we are sorry but don’t do anything to make needed changes. One common definition or repent is “to turn around.”

The word repent is used a total of 78 times in the Bible: 24 in the Old Testament and 54 in the New Testament. Given that it is used that often suggests that it is important.

In Matthew 3:1 and 4:17 both John the Baptist and Jesus proclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” And in Matthew 3:8 John the Baptist sheds some light on the meaning of repentance: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” Clearly John is saying that when a person repents it results in some changes in his or her life.

In Luke 3:3 John the Baptist tells us more about the outcome of repentance, “He went into all the country around the Jordan preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” In the book of Acts repent and repentance are used 10 times often referring to becoming a Christian and receiving forgiveness.

Repentance is a vital element in coming to Christ for salvation; but it is not limited to becoming a Christian. A call to repent is given 10 times in the book of Revelation addressed to Christians about changes they need to make.

In a Google search I came across a definition I think hits the nail on the head: “Repentance is the activity of reviewing one’s actions and feeling contrition or regret for past wrongs, which is accompanied by commitment to and actual actions that show and prove a change for the better.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty good about feeling contrition and regret when I mess up. The challenge for me is not just to say I’m going to do better, but to put into practice actual actions that show a change for the better. Not to bring anyone else down, but I don’t think I’m the only one who needs to do more.

(Those who are interested may find Thomas Watson’s book The Doctrine of Repentance informative, instructional, and challenging.)

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WHAT IS FAMILY?

A combination of things this past weekend spurred my thinking about family as I was driving home from church this past Sunday. I realize there are no perfect families, and that families can be hurtful, but I am a fan of family. One of the reasons I am such a fan of family is because I have greatly benefitted from many families.

As I revisited my thinking about family later Sunday evening I typed in family on my computer and came across a broad definition that reinforced part of what I had been thinking on my drive home. Here it is: “To some, the true meaning of family means a group of people related by blood or ancestry. To others, it has nothing to do with genes and everything to do with love, compassion, and support. The definition of the word family can mean many things.”

Friday and Saturday I had been thinking about the first part of the definition: “a group of people related by blood.” Thursday night our son and daughter-in-law (there’s another aspect of family) drove into town and Rob and I played golf on Friday. It was great to spend time with him on the golf course and the rest of the weekend with the two of them.

Jan and I moved to Amarillo to be close to our daughter and two grandsons. Saturday morning I went to our six year old’s indoor soccer game and in the evening I went to our ten year old’s indoor soccer game – spending quality time with both grandsons and our daughter. Saturday evening all of us had dinner together and had a great time playing some silly game at the dinner table after we had eaten.

The last sentence of the definition of family I inserted at the end of the second paragraph above rings true: “The definition of the word family can mean many things.” Of course family consists of people related by blood, but family is also found among people that have nothing to do with genes. Both family related by blood, as well as family having nothing to do with genes, is about love, compassion, and support.

Sunday morning following worship I taught my Bible class consisting of participants all in our general age group. At the end of the Bible discussion we gave some prayer updates and concluded with prayer. In my prayer I thanked God for the privilege to be a part of his family, for the privilege to be a part of our church family, and for the privilege to be a part of our Bible class family.

I have been and am blessed by many members of a variety of families from the neighborhood in which I grew up through the churches I have been privileged to serve as an intern, youth minister, pastor, founding pastor, and pastor of senior adult ministry.

However, I do have some regrets. I wish I had engaged more with family members related by blood as a young adult. To his credit, my older brother did stay engaged. I also regret that I did not engage more often with him.  Although we do not live close geographically, I phoned him on his birthday yesterday.

Join me in thanking God for the many things family can be and the blessings they are to us and hopefully we are to them.

Image of our grandsons courtesy of our daughter.

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THE DAY AFTER THE DAY AFTER

My original idea for this week’s blog was to write Wednesday following Tuesday’s vote and call it The Day After. Since no final result has yet been confirmed in terms of the presidential vote I’m preceding with some thoughts on this day after the day after.

For one thing, it seems obvious that every voter has some results in which they are disappointed, as well as some results in which they are pleased.

Certainly the presidential vote, but also many other votes on candidates and issues, led to deep divisions among friends, neighbors, family members, and Christians. If possible, I wish following all the acrimony and disrespect everyone would come together without necessarily agreeing on everything.

I think those who saw this election as a battle between good and evil were off the mark. And I was especially unsettled reading the harsh back and forth on Facebook between committed Christians who disagreed on candidates and issues.

As sad as I am about the divide and polarization among families, friends, and Christians due to this election, I am hopeful the rhetoric will be softened and mutual respect restored. We may or may not understand why some took the positions they took, but it is not our responsibility to question their reasoning for their choices.

Christians do not have to agree on everything political (or lots of other areas) to maintain unity in Christ. I like Pastor Chris Rea’s observation, “I think a church ought to be solidly purple.” He is saying there should be room for both blue and red voters in the Church. Just because we are Christians does not mean we all walk in lock step uniformity.

I read that one faith advisor made the case that “Christians should vote to reelect the president” and another faith advisor spoke on “why Christians should vote for Joe Biden.” I was shocked to read that one prominent pastor told President Trump, “Any real, true believer is going to be on your side in this election.”

I cannot help but wonder where we go as a nation and as Christians from here. It seems obvious that we have to accept the results of the election when everything is finalized. It also makes sense to me to challenge ourselves to “get over” the results we had hoped would come out differently.

We need in general to restore civility, but Christians should go beyond just civility. We are called to love one another and to love our enemies as well. It seems totally out of place to me, however, to view a fellow believer as an enemy because we don’t agree on everything political.

I’m reminding myself of one of the best known instructions in the Bible for God’s people: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight(Proverbs 3:5 and 6).

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