Nov 19, 2013

The Difference of Thanks

Luke 17:16
“…And he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks…”

Thanksgiving!  For me that means a ridiculous amount of some of my favorite things: food, football, hunting, family, and pecan pie!  The thought of Thanksgiving Day makes me HAPPY, HAPPY, HAPPY!  But Thanksgiving can give us joy for more reasons than just the fact that we get a day off of work to spend with family. 

Luke tells the story of ten lepers that met Jesus outside a village one day asking him to heal them.  Ten lepers were healed that day, but only one said thanks.  Jesus noticed the lack of gratitude and it caused him to begin asking some questions about the other nine lepers he healed.  His questions hit me as I read them,

vv.17-18 “Were not ten cleansed?  Where are the nine?  Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

I wonder if Jesus looks at me and wonders this same thing about me.  Hey, could you more often be listed with the nine or with the one?  I’m not sure that I want to answer that question honestly about myself.

Thanksgiving is right, it’s worship, and it’s worth it.  As we approach the day of giving thanks a close look at three different times in our lives will cause us to overflow with thanksgiving.

Look Back
Look back to the things that God has done for you. 

I love to think back to two significant days in my life.  One of those days is my salvation.  I was six years old, sitting in children’s church at the First Baptist Church of Genoa, TX.  It was that morning that God showed me that I was really a sinner and that Jesus really did come to die on the cross for me!  I believed it and I confessed it and I was saved! The other day is when I was 16 years old.  I was living a rebellious and sinful life; involved in drugs and alcohol.  I hated myself.  I was disrespectful to my family.  I was running and it was in the wrong direction.  I’ll never forget one night on the back porch of our home when the Holy Spirit so strongly convicted me of my foolish rebellion as I looked in my dad’s eyes as he confronted me over my sin.  That night I repented and learned the redundant power of God’s grace.  When I really look back, I see lots of things that I am thankful for.

When did Jesus save you?  Can you look back and remember who you were, where you were?  What trials and struggles that God has brought you through? How has he showed up big in your past?  There is so much to be thankful for that God has done.  It’s a healthy and right thing to occasionally remember.  Sometimes the past can haunt us, but if you look closely and deeply enough you can find the powerful, kind, gentle, and perfect hand of God in your past.

Look Around
Looking back and seeing God’s hand from a retro perspective view naturally causes you to realize what God has given you today.  You realize just how far you’ve come and in doing so you realize how much God is doing today around you and in you.  When I look around I am so thankful for what God has given me today.  My wife, my children, my friends, my church, my house, my health.  I grateful for what God is doing in my life today.  How he is using me.  I’m grateful for his grace as I realize that still today I need his grace, as I am still a man that struggles with my flesh and gives in over and over.  My life is not perfect and I am not a perfect man, but when I look around I realize that God has blessed me through his grace.

Look around at your life.  Sometimes it’s easy to see the major disappointments, obstacles, and things you don’t have.  We stress and worry over them.  Our prayer life is often consumed by concern over them.  Sometimes our consumption with these negative things and with the things we don’t have causes us to ignore or forget the things we do have.  Often we are so concerned with what we want God to do in our lives today that we fail to see what God is already doing today in our lives.  When you look hard, you realize that God is active in your life and in your world.  He is still showing you his power, his grace, and his love.  Look around and you’ll find plenty today to be thankful for.  When you give thanks for what you have and for what God is doing it will change the way you think about the things you don’t have and the things that you think God isn’t doing.  It may even help you realize by faith that he actually is doing something about those things!  Thanksgiving puts our problems in perspective:  The bigger our thanks is…the smaller our problems seem.

 Look Forward
Looking back and looking around with gratitude will give the ability and vision to also look forward with gratitude.  For the Christian there are things that we can go ahead and give thanks for that we will one day experience.  We have the certainty of heaven!  Our names are written there.  There is a title and deed to a home in heaven with my name on it!  I’ve never seen it, I don’t know what it looks like, and I don’t know when I’ll occupy it, but I am thankful for it.

So, as you gather around the table, sit in a deer stand or duck blind, recline in your chair to watch the Cowboys, or join the Black Friday craze, may Jesus find you at some point along the way “falling on your face at His feet, giving him thanks.”  Be the one, not one of the nine…Take the time to look back, look around, look forward…you are going to be amazed just how much there is to be thankful for.

Nov 15, 2013

The God of All Comfort!

Like it or not, pain finds us all.  Pain has no friends.  No matter how tough or thick skinned that you think you are, pain finds its way through.  I comes in many different ways.  To name a few: words, abuse, loss, loneliness, judgment, illness, bad work/job situations.  At some point and time all of have to deal with pain.  We live in a fallen world, with fallen people…hey, bad things happen and those things that can hurt us deeply.

This past week I came across a verse I’ve read many times that I want to share with you that I think has some help for us when we are facing pain.
2 Corinthians 1:3-5
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too."
I want you to know that there is hope.  Hope’s name is Jesus Christ.  He is our salvation, but he is also a rich well of healing.  

God is the Source of all Comfort
So often when we suffer through pain we look to ourselves, our feelings, memories, we look to empty words, getaways, food, we look to pills, drugs, alcohol…or blame.  None of these things can offer real comfort.  They can only give temporary moments of relief and distraction.  When we try to find help in these things they actually do us more harm than good, they make the wound larger and feed the pain rather than heal it.
When you find yourself discouraged because of circumstances the first step is to look at the Lord and realize that in him is all that you need.  He is a deep and rich well of comfort. 

Isaiah 51:12 “I, I am he who comforts you;

If God can save your broken soul then don’t you think that he can also heal your broken heart?  Of course he can, and scripture tells us that he want too!  Understand this about God’s comfort:

God’s comfort is not just sympathy – Sympathy is not a bad thing per say, but sympathy by itself can actually weaken us rather than make us stronger, it sometimes only reminds us of our despair and offers no way out.  God does not just pat us on the head and give us a piece of candy to distract our attention from our troubles.  His comfort is more than that.  He gives us more than sympathy, he gives us comfort by strengthening our hearts so that we can face our trials and triumph over them.  Jesus knows what pain feels like, he knows what it means to be abandoned, and his father knows what it’s like to lose a child.  It’s from the same comfort he found in himself that he comforts us.

God’s comfort doesn’t take the trial away – One of the first things we pray for when we face a trial is that God would make it all go away.  Rarely does God grant that request.  You see, he usually has work he desires to do on us through the trial.  He doesn’t take it away, but he does something so much better:  HE GIVES US ALL THAT WE NEED through it.  God desires our tragedy and trial to be a building block, not a stumbling block.  He wants you to come out of it with victory and better, not defeated and wounded.

God’s comfort is not a moment, but a walk – God’s comfort is not just a onetime experience.  It’s not like flicking the light on or off.  Why?  Because the pain caused by trials can totally change our lives, we can carry the pain with us for a long time and carry the changes forever.  That’s why God doesn’t offer his comfort in just an event.  His comfort is not a moment, it’s a walk.

 So how does God comfort us?  God helps us victoriously walk with us through our pain in three ways:

We Walk through Pain with His Spirit.

Romans 8:26  "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words."
The word comfort in the bible literally means “to come along side.” That’s exactly what he does for us.  In fact, the Holy Spirit is called “comforter.    He comes along side us and walks us through the trial and the days, weeks, months, years, lifetime after the trial is gone.  That why he give His Spirit to believers.  Jesus calls the Spirit, “the Helper.”  That’s exactly what the Spirit does, helps.  Helps us see God’s perspective and purpose.  Helps us live the life he intends for us to live.  Helps us get through moments and trials that our own strength and wisdom cannot face.  John 14:25-27, John 16:13-15

We Walk through Pain with His Word
Psalm 119:50 "This is my comfort in my affliction, for Your word has given me life."
God’s word is a rich well of insight and counsel for trials.  We see real examples of people who survive pain and trials through the scriptures.  We see how they failed and how they succeeded.  Furthermore, we hear directly from the voice of God.  I have found many times when I open God’s word to help me, I find just the right thing that speaks directly to my heart.      

We Walk through Pain with His People
2 Corinthians 1:4 “…so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction”
Have you ever had someone say to you, “been there done that”
It's actually true!  Whatever you are facing…realize that others have been there and done that.  Many walk around us everyday with the scars to prove it.  Whether you realize it or not I bet that God has placed someone near you that has “been there and done that” and can show you what they have learned from their scars.  God’s comfort for you comes in flesh and blood.
Paul experienced God’s comfort in flesh and blood through his friend Titus

2 Corinthians 7:6-7 "But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7) and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more."
Hey, believe it or not… but you are a comforter.  You are God’s source of encouragement and comfort for someone else.  The experiences and pain that you have survived give you credibility and opportunity to help someone else.  You know exactly what a person in similar circumstances is going through and you know what they need to hear.  Use your experiences to speak the gospel, encouragement, and hope into other’s lives.  God comforts us not to make us comfortable, but to make us comforters.
God doesn't want us to walk alone with no help, no hope, and no purpose.  He doesn't just leave us to be kicked when we are down...whether it's Satan, the world, others, or yourself that is doing the kicking.  He wants us to walk through pain victoriously.  He has help, he has hope, and he has purpose!  He's the God of All Comfort! 

Nov 5, 2013

The Promise in Prayer

“Ask, and it will be given to you”
– Jesus, Matthew 7:7

“You need more than just a prayer.”  Have you ever been in such a hopeless or pointless situation that you have thought this or someone has said this to you?  There is some truth in this statement.  God desires more from us than just prayer.  But we also need to realize that prayer is more than “just a prayer.”
We have reduced prayer to a last resort, a sacred/religious practice and we look at prayer as if it’s just not enough.  Maybe we misunderstand the basis for prayer.  Prayer is more than just a last resort, a spiritual discipline, a moment of reverence, or good way to start a meal/finish the day/open and close a service.  Prayer is a big deal.  It’s significant because we are talking to the God of the universe!  The power of prayer is not found in our well-crafted poetic words, the number of people praying, the number of prayer lists we are on, or in the way we pray.  The power in prayer is found in the one we pray to!  The Mountain Mover, the Promise maker, Promise keeper.  Prayer is powerful because a Powerful God has made us a promise.  Jesus makes a special promise when he gave us access through him in prayer.  It’s a bold promise Jesus makes concerning prayer.  His promise is that when we ask him, he will answer.  In fact, to clarify his promise, he states it twice! 
Read Matthew 7:7-11
Take note of the redundancy: 
v.7 “Ask, and it will be given to you”  v.8 “For everyone who asks receives”,

 v.7 “seek, and you will find”  v.8 “and the one who seeks finds”

 v. 7 “knock, and it will be opened to you”  v.8 “and to the one who knocks it will be opened”

Every word that Jesus says he means and Jesus never makes an empty promise that he may or may not deliver on.  He always backs up his word with action.  Hey, anyone that predicts his own death and then promises he will raise from the dead three days later has made a bold statement.  But when he actually delivers on it…that person should be taken seriously, especially when he makes promises!  Furthermore, Jesus is not often redundant in the scriptures, so I think it should be noted that when Jesus repeats himself like he does here in Matthew 7:7-8 we ought to really listen to what he is saying.

He also makes other similar statements about prayer:  John 14:13-14, John 15:1, John 15:16, John 16:23-24, Matthew 18:19, Matthew 21:22, Mark 11:24

But he goes even further to make his promise certain in our hearts by defending that promise!

9) Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10) Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11) If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

The other day my son Hudson came inside after playing outside with the neighborhood kids.  He was hot and sweaty, like he had just finished running a mile, and asked for a glass of water.  What do you think I did?  Let me tell you first what I did not do.  I did not give him a glass of gasoline and say, “Drink up son!”  Nor did I say, “You are barking up the wrong tree, go ask your mother.”  Why didn’t I do that?  Because I’m not stupid, nor am I a horrible parent.  I am certainly not the best parent, my wife is a much better parent than I am, but I’m smart enough and love my kids enough to at least attempt to give them what they need when they need it rather than harm them.  My son asks me for help because he knows this and trusts me.

As a parent you expect your children to trust you.  Why?  Because you love them and you have their best interest at heart!   The question that Jesus is posing is this:  Don’t you think that a perfect Father with perfect love and perfect power can and will take care of his children even better than an earthly father can and will?  Jesus is actually giving a defense for trusting our Heavenly father.  Why does he need to defend his father?  Because, Jesus knows us better than we think.  Though we may not want to admit it, the truth is that we often don’t trust God. 

James 4:2  “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.”

It could also be said “that you ask not because you trust not.”  We too often and too quickly trust ourselves, our means, our motives/intentions, our money, our doctors, our friends, our spouses, our parents before we trust God. We rob God of the trust that he so rightly deserves!  The crazy thing is that God is more trustworthy than any of these other things.  In fact, He is really the only one that we can trust, the only one that will never let us down, the only one that delivers on EVERY promise that he makes.  In reality, we are robbing ourselves!

3 Things we need to remember here:
God loves us.  The illustration that Jesus uses of a father and son communicates the basic truth that God loves us more than even the deep love that human parents have for their children.  God’s love is perfect because he is perfect.  Out of his love for us he desires to meet our need and answer our prayer.
God will to give us what we need, not necessarily what we want.  Jesus mentions the children ask for bread and fish.  These things are basically necessities of life.  God promises to provide the same!  He may not provide us with the life of ease and luxury that we all want, but he will certainly make provision for us with what we need!
God is good.  Jesus’s point is that if we as humans, who are sinful and tricky, can muster up the ability to give good things to our children, why would God who is holy, good, and perfect not do so much more.  God is good and he will be good to his children.
  • James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
  • Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good
God will always give us exactly what we need when we ask.  He loves us and he is good.  He wants us to ask.  And when we ask, he promises to answer.

He always has an answer and his answer is always the best thing for us!  He’ll tell us “yes,” “ no,” “wait,” or “you need this, not that.”  He’s God, He’s Good, and He love us.  TRUST HIM, ASK HIM!

So when you pray, realize that it's more than "just a prayer."  You are tapping into the promises of God.  Prayer is taking the need of man by the pursuit of faith, and bringing that need to the unending and powerful supply of a God who is loving and good and promises to answer.   When you put all of that together…you get something great.  You find...the door is opened for you.