The Little Things are BIGGER than we Think

Take a minute and read Matthew 25:14-30. This is one of Jesus’ well-known parables (a story). In this particular story, a wealthy landowner was going on a journey and decided to leave three of his servants in charge of his estate. He left one with five talents, another with two and yet another with one (a talent was about 20 years’ wages for the average laborer). They were all given something pretty special and something they could put to use. The first two did just that. They got busy investing the money they had been given and they were rewarded by their master for their industrious and enterprising behavior. But the final guy buried his money. He just sat on what he’d been given. He was so worried that he would mess things up by putting it to use, he decided not to take any risk at all. For this he was severely rebuked by his master and was called a “worthless servant.”

Some of us wander through life looking for bigger and better. We are looking for our shot at greatness and for the possibility of doing something earth shattering for God. After all, we say, if we just had a more prestigious job, more money, an increased presence in Sunday’s worship service, another spouse, ______ (fill in the blank), then we would show the world. Then we could really make a difference. But Jesus’ story stops this line of thinking dead in its tracks. He has given you a place in this world to make a difference. Most likely it’s a small place. Most likely no one will write a biography about you (though they may). Most likely you’re not going to get interviewed on the Today Show (but if you do, say hi to Matt Lauer for me). But where you are right now matters and what God asks of you is to be faithful. Not flashy, not famous, and certainly not fainéant. Just faithful. As in Jesus’ parable, some are given more than others. That’s just the way life is. But they point is that they all had something. And God rewards those who use what they have (see verses 21 and 23).

Has he given you a platform? Has he given you a gift or a talent? Has he given you $5? Then put them to use for his glory. Don’t bury them!

Better than Black Friday

As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God…” (Psalm 42:1–2a, ESV)

I wonder how many of us can speak of our desire for a deeper intimacy with God in terms like these. The psalmist longs for God’s presence just like a parched animal so desperately needs to stumble upon a cool brook. There are lots of things that we long for — things we think we need, but too often God is not on top of the list. As I looked through the Black Friday ads, I found things that I wanted…really badly. Gadgets, books and tools. It’s easy for me to daydream what it would be like to have the latest Apple device or a discounted set of Bible commentaries, but how often do I set my mind upon the One who can truly fill all the longings I have?

You see, our hearts were made for worship — made to worship God and God alone. But sin constantly drives our hearts toward substitutes. So much so that the apostle Paul wrote that we exchange God’s glory for that of lesser things (Romans 1:23). Those things could be money, food, sex, status, drugs, alcohol, people — anything that takes priority over God. But the point is that they truly are lesser things. When we get a glimpse of the beauty of God’s greatness and glory, we realize what a paltry substitute a new car or a few minutes of fame is. Nothing can compare to the joy, satisfaction and fulfillment that comes from a life fully immersed in Him — not even a good Black Friday sale! Truly, there is no one like our God.

Thanksgiving (Part 4): A Thanksgiving Prayer

Here is a prayer entitled “Evening Praise” from the excellent book, Valley of Vision. Take time to pray before your day is done!

Giver of all,
Another day is ended
and I take my place beneath
my great Redeemer’s cross,
where healing streams continually descend,
where balm is poured into every wound,
where I wash anew in the all-cleansing blood,
assured that Thou seest in me no spots of sin.
Yet a little while and I shall go to thy home
and be no more seen;
help me to gird up the loins of my mind,
to quicken my step,
to speed as if each moment were my last,
that my life be joy, my death glory.

I thank Thee for the temporal blessings of this world—
the refreshing air,
the light of the sun,
the food that renews strength,
the raiment that clothes,
the dwelling that shelters,
the sleep that gives rest,
the starry canopy of night,
the summer breeze,
the flowers’ sweetness,
the music of flowing streams,
the happy endearments of family, kindred, friends.
Things animate, things inanimate, minister to my comfort.
My cup runs over.
Suffer me not to be insensible to these daily mercies.
Thy hand bestows blessings:
Thy power averts evil.
I bring my tribute of thanks for spiritual graces,
the full warmth of faith,
the cheering presence of thy Spirit,
the strength of thy restraining will,
thy spiking of hell’s artillery.
Blessed be my sovereign Lord!

Thanksgiving (Part 3): A Very Thankful Man

The apostle Paul was a man who certainly understood and wholeheartedly embraced the importance of giving thanks. I recently counted over 85 references to words like “thanks,” “thankful,” and “thanksgiving” in his letters. But what was he bubbling over about? What was going on in his life that made him so grateful? After all, he had so many reasons to complain. He wrote about a third of his letters from prison (see Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon), he was frequently beaten, mocked, went without basic necessities, was falsely accused by people he loved and was even shipwrecked (for more, see 2 Corinthians 11:24-28)! Yet he could not stop giving glory to God for all that he had been given. Here’s just a few of those things:

1. He thanked God for the people he worked with (see Romans 1:8, 1 Corinthians 1:4). Even though some of the churches he served had some HUGE problems, he still expressed appreciation for them. Are you thankful for the people you work with. Sure, it’s easy enough to see their warts, but if you begin to look for evidences of God’s grace in their life, you’ll find it.

2. He took time to be thankful for ministry successes (2 Corinthians 2:14). Not only that, he gave credit where credit was due: to God! Scholars generally agree that Paul was very intelligent and well-educated with ministry success that hasn’t been duplicated in 2,000 years. But he knew that he could only accomplish the things that he had because God was the one doing it through him.

3. He didn’t let circumstances change his attitude. 1 Thessalonians 5:18  says that we are to be thankful in “all circumstances.” Now before furrowing your eyebrows, notice that he didn’t say “FOR all circumstances.” We don’t need to be thankful that our car hit the deer or that our loved one is ill. But God wants us to be thankful in the midst of those situations. Thankful that a sovereign, all-powerful God is in control and that he loves us no matter what is happening around us.

There’s much more that could be said about Paul, but take a page out of one of his epistles and give God thanks for what he has done. Soon, you’ll be known as a very thankful man/woman.

Thanksgiving (Part 2): What do I have to be thankful for?

“Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”              Selah” (Psalm 77:7–9, NIV)

Have you ever felt this way? I imagine that all of us have had times where we felt the weight of all our circumstances and difficulties and wondered if God has left us forever. The writer of this psalm sure did. In moments such as these, we can easily surmise that we have nothing to be grateful for. “After all”, we say, “the wheels are coming off and everything is going wrong. What in the world could I possibly give thanks for?”

But check out the next verses:

Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.” I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds. Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples.” (Psalm 77:10–14, NIV84)

The writer stops for a minute and dips back into the archives to recall God’s glorious acts. When you doubt God’s goodness in the present, recount God’s love in the past. When you do, you are given fresh vision to see the silver linings in the storm clouds of your life. When this psalmist looked back at God’s history with him, he was given fresh perspective so that he could say that God is one who performs miracles. Not one who used to perform miracles, but does so in the present tense.

The truth of the matter is that there is always something to be grateful to God for. If we aren’t experiencing a sense of gratitude in our life, it’s not God’s fault, it’s our choice. Be on the lookout for God’s blessings in your life. When you can’t see them, reflect on his track record and it will wipe away the mist from your eyes to see what he’s doing right in front of you.

Thanksgiving (Part 1)

In these next few days leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday, I’d like to share a few thoughts on the topic for which the holiday was named. All too often we neglect to express thanks to God or others for their kindness and generosities, whether small or great.  What a great time to stop and remember that thankfulness is an important theme in God’s Word and should be in our lives as well.

I’m not sure why we don’t express thanks more than what we do, but we aren’t the only ones. In Luke 17:11-19, we’re told a story of Jesus healing ten people with the disease of leprosy. However, in the end only one returned to Jesus to thank him, and more importantly, to give God the glory for the miracle (v. 18). But why only one? Weren’t the others grateful at being healed of such an insidious disease? Someone has suggested the excuses they might have used:

One waited to see if the cure was real.

One waited to see if it would last.

One said he would see Jesus later.

One decided that he had never had leprosy.

One said he would have gotten well anyway.

One gave the glory to the priests.

One said, “O, well, Jesus didn’t really do anything.”

One said, “Any rabbi could have done it.”

One said, “I was already much improved.” (Charles L. Brown, Content The Newsletter, June, 1990, p. 3.)

Let’s not follow the example of the nine, but the one. Let us look for excuses to be thankful and to express it to those around us and, most importantly, to the One who is the giver of all good gifts (James 1:17).

Be Still . . . No really, slow down

Take a minute to read Psalm 131. It’s short, but it’s a beauty!

A Song of Ascents. Of David.

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore (New International Version).

I find that a Psalm like this one flows against almost every fiber of my being. It reads almost like a commentary on Psalm 46:10, explaining the command to “be still and know that I am God…”

The first two phrases (my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high) refer to recognizing and rooting out pride in our life. It is entirely impossible for the proud heart to be still before God. The proud man insists on his own way and approaches God on his own terms. That simply will not do. The Bible says over and over that God despises and rejects the proud but will impart grace to those who are broken and humble. Feel distant from God right now? It’s possible that there’s some pride to deal with.

The next statement (I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me) is not a prohibition to think! This psalm is not giving us permission to avoid reflecting on the deep wonders of God’s character or creation. That’s the exact opposite of what most psalms are saying! Remember, it is likely that this is a psalm of King David. Do you think there was  a lot of stuff which weighed upon his mind? Heavy duty, serious, important decisions? You betcha! Day in and day out this man had the entire nation weighing on his mind. Do you think that ever impeded his ability to “be still” and quietly worship and reflect upon his God? Right again! I believe that David, by God’s grace, is consciously setting aside the busy day and serious matters of the state to be alone with his heavenly Father. He has “calmed and quieted his soul” just like a newborn baby who has just finished nursing lies sleepily content in his mother’s arms.

He finishes the psalm by reminding us to place our hope in the Lord. Reflect on the promises he has made to you in his Word. Trust God and ask him to remove distractions so that you can take time to be with him so that you can be still and know that he is God.

Something Strange

Recently I watched a classic movie that took me back to several of my great cinematic memories of my youth: Ghostbusters. I remember my brothers and I spending hours playing with the movie action figures, zapping imaginary ghosts and saving imaginary cities. But along with that masterpiece of the silver screen came one of the catchiest soundtracks ever. In fact, all I have to do is type the words: “There’s something strange…” and some of you will be tormented with that tune for the rest of the day.

It was that song that came to mind when I read these verses from 1 Peter 4:12-13:

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

When trials come our way, if often feels like “something strange” has visited our neighborhood. All we know is that this unwelcome visitor doesn’t belong and we want him out of here immediately! But the apostle Peter reminds us that we shouldn’t think of the appearance of trials in our life as some sort of unusual phenomena. In this context, the Christians were facing severe and harsh persecution for being Christians. That was their only crime: following Jesus. Yet God reminded them that the mistreatment they were facing allowed them to share in Christ’s suffering and was fuel to kindle their spiritual growth. James reminds us:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4).

So the next time trials show up in your part of town (be it sickness, financial struggles or good old fashioned mistreatment for your faith), remember that it’s not simply an inconvenience but an instrument that God wants to use to mature your walk with Him.

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