Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving2012I woke up this morning, anxious to come down and begin writing my annual Thanksgiving post. As I poured my coffee and sat down to write, nothing came to me. I didn’t know what to write or how to begin. I never like to force a post, but I really felt like I needed to write something.

I began to reflect about the year and what I was thankful for. And there is so much. I can’t say it was a perfect year or that it was free from trials and stress, but when I look back from this time last year, I have so many blessings that it would make this post far too long to enumerate them all.

But when I step back how could I sum up this year in a sentence. Then it hit me, it was really quite simple;

Our God is Good!

There ya go, my Thanksgiving post for the year. I’ll leave it at that.

I hope everyone has a blessed Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving 2015

Thanksgiving is just about my favorite holiday. It’s not just the food and family, but I always tend to reflect the most at this time of the year. It seems over the last five years or so, it seems like it’s the beginning of my year. So as we get ready to kick off my “new year”, I want to reflect on some of my past posts.

Reviewing old posts is always fun as it always amazes me to see where I came from and what I was thinking in the past (anyone that journals can attest to that).

But it’s also interesting to see that even though the years advance and life always brings changes, many of these posts topics and thoughts apply today as much as when they were originally written.

So here are some of my favorites from years past in no particular order:

Back in 2011, in my first full year of this blog, I wrote an article on What to Talk about at the the Thanksgiving table. The inspiration for this was an article from Planned Parenthood, about giving you a playlist for what to discuss with your pro-life family. I felt there were far more important things to discuss.

Skip ahead to 2013 as this blog was pretty much dead in 2012. 2013 was a pretty cold Thanksgiving here in northeast Ohio and as you can tell from the photos of my two posts at that time, we had snow. Despite not being a fan of winter, or snow in general, they are some beautiful pictures and I took the opportunity to talk about things that I don’t like, but God sees as good. I also took a look at how to be forgiving on Thanksgiving.
2014 was a prolific blogging November for me, most of the posts that month revolved around my enhanced passion for being thankful and showing my thanks by sharing with those less fortunate.

  • Year of Thanksgiving – My attempt to make a year full of Thanksgiving and not just keep it to a single day. I’ve had success and failures in my pursuit of this. I will talk more about this in the near future.
  • Live with Abandon – To kick of my year of thanksgiving, I talked about living with abandon. Again, some success and some failure, but pushing forward in this.
  • Do Something Amazing in Your Day – a seemingly simple prescription to live with abandon. Just do something amazing each day.
  • Putting God in a Box – One way to do and see amazing things every day, is to stop our tendency to put God in a box.
  • Thank You – My annual (sort of) Thanksgiving post. A simple but profound prayer.

What will 2015 bring in posts? Who knows. I don’t have a schedule of posts that I create, they typically come to me and minutes later I’m typing them out. Hopefully these posts from years past have inspired you to think about your Thanksgiving. I know I can’t wait to see where the kickoff to my year begins this time around.

Increase, Don’t Decrease

…Increase in number there; do not decrease. – Jeremiah 29:6

jeremiahThis section of the 6th verse of chapter 29 of the book of Jeremiah, jumped out at me at our church service this weekend. It was part of a larger portion of Jeremiah that we were looking at this week. In fact, the sermon was a great service itself which spoke to me deeply in so many ways. Something I’m putting together for a later post. But this section jumped out at me as it seemed like almost on offhand comment in the section of scripture and could easily be overlooked.

For context, this is part of a letter that Jeremiah sent to the Jews exiled in Babylon. He talks about settling down and basically making the most of their current situation. Not to dream of the “good old days”, but to live in the reality of your day and make the most of what God has given you. The section ends concludes (or at least the section we covered) with probably one of the more famous verses in the bible. Jeremiah 29:11;

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

A great promise to hold onto when you are going through your darkest moments, but this is not the topic for today. Today I want to think about verse 6, “…Increase in number there; do not decrease.”

Jeremiah up to this point was telling the exiled people, don’t be discouraged. Build houses and settle down, plant gardens, get married and have children. Enter into the local economy and contribute. Make an investment of yourself and your family in Babylon. Then the verse we are focused on, “…Increase in number there; do not decrease.”

I wasn’t sure what to think of that when I first heard it, but after thinking upon it (and looking some things up as well), I’m convinced that God is telling them, increase in number and be God’s presence in the city which they had been exiled to and the city will be blessed because of their presence.

If we jump back to chapter 5 of Jeremiah, we see God saying,

“Run up and down every street in Jerusalem,” says the Lord. “Look high and low; search throughout the city! If you can find even one person who is just and honest, I will not destroy the city.” -Jeremiah 5:1

God says, that the presence of even one godly person in the city will save it. As long as there are godly people in a city, it will never be captured by Satan. Although the presence of evil and the unjust can seem overwhelming, the presence of God’s people will keep the city from falling to evil.

You’ll notice that Jeremiah never says, “Go out and preach God’s word. Knock on your neighbors doors and tell them they are condemned without Christ”…no he says,

Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.  Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. -Jeremiah 29:5-6

Just go out and live consistent, quiet, committed faith driven lives. This provides an example of God’s fruits as well as a moderating presence. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for evangelism or a more proactive approach, but as I stated in my post back in July entitled, Citizens of Heaven,

The only Bible that the unsaved are bothering to read, is the bible that is characterized by our lives. If our unsaved friends and neighbors do not see Jesus Christ in us, they may never see Him at all.

Most people know I’m a Christian, I’m not ashamed or afraid to tell anyone. Those I’ve never had that conversation with, see my posts here reposted on Facebook and Twitter, so they know where I’m coming from. If they read my words, but do not see them reflected in my life, then I’m not being a good representative of Christ. I’m not perfect, we never will reach the full glory of God, but our hope is that through our lives, despite our shortcomings and failings, through our presence and our works in our local community, we can make it a better place. And we do these things not make ourselves look better, but to share God through our lives.

Here are some hard words from the books of James:

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it — he will be blessed in what he does.

If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 1:22-27

By the way a Christian lives, he testifies for or against Christ. If Christians are living out the Christian life before the world, they become a transforming presence. Their lives become a reminder to the quality of life that can be lived if one chooses to live in communion with God.

I’m honestly not quite sure how to end this post, as I could go on and on about this, but let’s suffice it to say, that simple statement, “Increase, don’t decrease” led me down a path of learning that I’d not anticipated and has got me reflecting on life and how I live it in my community in ways that I was not expecting.  I can truly be a positive impact, just by living my life according to how Christ wants me to.

Great is thy Faithfulness

I remember attending church as a child, the hymn Great Is Thy Faithfulness was always a popular hymn on any given Sunday. I never gave it much thought though until the other night, I awoke in the middle of the night with that phrase running over and over in my head. I couldn’t fall back asleep and still for the next 4 hours as I lay there, that phrase ran continuously in my head.

I wasn’t sure what God was trying to tell me, other than the obvious…but I wasn’t sure why. Throughout the following day, even though very tired from little sleep, I felt a peace come over me and a weight lifted off my shoulders. I realized then, that the burden that was on my heart at the time, was consuming and in his faithfulness, he lifted it and took the burden onto himself. I needed to only trust him.

I took the time to learn a little more about the song and found that it was based on Lamentations 3:23.

Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. -Lamentations 3:23

The study Bible I was using referenced another verse, Psalm 30:5

For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime! Weeping may last though the night, but joy comes with the morning.

Very interesting since the night as I was awake I felt very much at unease, but then morning came and the peace came upon me. Reminds me of another song:

 


 

I love when God works in my life and I can look back and see how he moved, even though it wasn’t obvious at the time.

Come and see!

Henryk_Siemiradzki_Christ_and_Samaritan_woman_500About a month ago, I started a journey to find my life’s purpose, or at least I’ve begun documenting it. I’ve learned some things and have shared those with you through this series of posts.  But I wasn’t sure I’d made any progress.

Yesterday, I’ve discovered something very important. Looking back, I almost had it figured out on my first day in my journey. It’s not about me, it’s all about Jesus.

But let me take this one step further, and this is what I came to realize yesterday. It’s my purpose, it fact I think it is all of our purposes, to share the love of Christ with others. To share the hope we have in Christ, with those we meet. Our purpose is to believe and share the gift of salvation that Jesus freely gives.

How did I get here?

Yesterday at our Saturday night service (as of this writing, the sermon is not posted, but it soon will be), we heard the story from John 4 about Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Go and read it for yourself. I’ve read it many times in the past, but have never really studied it. In the brief hour last night, I found what God needed me to see in that passage. It answered a large number of my questions.

Let me set the stage: Jesus is traveling through Samaria on his way to Galilee and stops at a well where he meets a Samaritan woman.

Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.

The woman was surprised, for Jews refused to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?” -John 4:6-9

So why is this section important to this discussion. Well as the woman stated, Jews generally refused to interact with Samaritans. Doing some reading, I’ve found there is a long history of hatred between the Jews and Samaritans. Suffice it to say, they went out of their way to avoid each other. Strike two against this woman was just that…she was a woman. Rabbi’s would not have been seen talking to woman in those days. So for Jesus to travel through Samaria and then to talk to one, and a woman on top of that, would have created quite the controversy.

So my first realization came there, well it was really more of confirmation of things I’ve talked about already. Jesus uses the least of us to do great things in his name!  While at this point in the story, we’ve yet to see how he uses this Samaritan woman, in the eyes of the Jewish world, she was very insignificant. So when I question myself, “Who am I that God would use for any purpose”…well there is my answer. When I ask, “My problems are too small to bother God with,” well God already knows and cares.

The verses following, continue to show how Jesus eventually leads her to the realization that he is the Messiah.

The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming — the one who is called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus told her, “I AM the Messiah!” — John 4:25-26

Then after that declaration by Jesus, the woman believed:

The woman left her water jar beside the well and ran back to the village, telling everyone, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could he possibly be the Messiah?” So the people came streaming from the village to see him. — John 4:28-30

She went and told her family, friends and neighbors about Jesus and they came to see for themselves.

Then an amazing thing happens:

Many Samaritans from the village believed in Jesus because the woman had said, “He told me everything I ever did!” When they came out to see him, they begged him to stay in their village. So he stayed from two days, long enough for many more to hear his message and believe. Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not just because of what you told us, but because we have heard him ourselves. Now we know that he is indeed the Savior of the world.” — John 4:39-42

The woman went and shared Jesus with a few, they came to see with their own eyes. They then came to believe, not just because of the woman’s testimony, but because they discover Jesus for themselves. Because of what that lowly Samaritan woman did, simply to go tell others to “Come and see”, many believed.

What does all this mean to me?

Well, I can say I’ve discovered my purpose in life! I’m to share the love of Christ with others. I’m in essence called to go and say “Come and see this man Jesus”. God has called all of us to do that, so I’m in no way unique. How we each do this is unique to us. Some may become pastors, others will share through worship, some through their writing and others through song. Some of us may simply shout this by living a life that others see and say “I want the peace that he has.”

This by no means ends my Life’s Journey (or any associated blog posts), in fact I can now call this a beginning, one with clarity of purpose. What I’m still seeking, is the mode that I carry out my life’s purpose and least for today. I suspect that being tuned into what God is telling us, able to hear his quiet voice or to recognize that slap on the side of the head he gives us sometimes, will allow us to hear God’s will for us at that moment in time.

And as in the story of the Samaritan woman, it doesn’t matter how “insignificant” we see ourselves or how unimportant we may think a conversation we have with another may be. We may think that it doesn’t matter much if we follow that prompting from God to talk to a stranger and just ask how they are doing no matter how awkward that really is. We see from the story, that the one small thing you may do, God can use to do great things.

Love the unloved

During my journey to find my purpose, to find what Jesus really means to me, I’ve been meandering somewhat without direction. I’ve come to some great revelations about the Bible, about God and about myself. But I’ve sat back wondering, am I getting any closer to what my goal was? Am I discovering what Jesus means to me?

As God usual does, he’s provided an answer, without me even realizing it. The current sermon series going on at our church is about the relentless love that God has for us and out of that love, his unending pursuit of us. As Hosea 2:14-15 says,

But then I will win her back once again. I will lead her out into the desert and speak tenderly to her there. I will return her vineyards to her and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope.

Can you love the unloved?

Last weeks sermon (which can be found at – https://vimeo.com/143556735) entitled “Hosea: Go Marry a Prostitute” speaks to this idea of loving the unloved. We find in Hosea 1:2 that God gives Hosea an incredible task;

When the Lord first began speaking to Israel through Hosea, he said to him, “Go and marry a prostitute, so some of her children will be born to you from other men. This will illustrate the way my people have been untrue to me, openly committing adultery against the Lord by worshiping other Gods.”

So what did Hosea do? Well exactly what God wanted, he went and married Gomer, a prostitute.

Now, I stopped and asked myself…what would I do? I seriously doubt God will ask me to marry a prostitute as I’m already married to a wonderful woman. But what if God asked me to love someone that no-one else has? What if it’s a family member that everyone else has given up on? Could you invite him over to dinner? Or maybe it is that homeless guy that lives under the bridge on your way to work? What if God asked you to be his friend?

What if you’re the one that is feeling unloved?

Do you feel unloved? There are times when we may all feel that way in one way or the other? But I know that I’ve lived a dream of a life compared to many. I came from loving parents, both of which were greatly involved in my life and still are. My siblings, while we’ve had trouble like most siblings do, we still love each other. I married a wonderful woman and have four awesome children. God has blessed me greatly.

But there are many that are not so lucky. Through circumstances and choices made, they’ve not lived the life like I have. They’ve not had those the loved them, in fact many have lived a life feeling unloved. The video shared in the sermon, but not included in the video above because of copyright restrictions is of Annie Lobert. Annie, is a former prostitute, who struggled in that lifestyle all the while battling drug addiction and cancer. When she hit bottom and on death’s door from an overdose, she realized that God was pursuing her and has been all along. She cried out to Jesus, who saved her from certain death and restored her. She found peace and Love through Jesus.

She has since been called to minister to those other ladies, still stuck in that lifestyle and has founded Hookers for Jesus. Annie has found the love and acceptance in Jesus that she was seeking in the sex industry. Watch her testimony, it’s powerful.

So what does this have to do with my own journey?

I haven’t lived the life Annie lived, nor gone through even a fraction of what she has. But our daily struggles are all to real for each of us. No matter how deep our Valley of Trouble is, God is always right there with us. He’s always there if we’d just let him in. He relentlessly pursues us, no matter what we’ve done or how far we’ve strayed. He is always right there.

Can we share with others the love of God, until we’ve received it ourselves? Can we truly love people like God loves us if we don’t accept His love first? Can we share with others that which we don’t have ourselves?

Hosea loved his wife unconditionally. He loved her despite her background or past transgressions. He loved her despite her future transgressions or failings. Annie loves the girls still stuck in sexual slavery, because she knows what it’s like to feel unloved and she wants to share with them what she has already received, the love that Jesus is giving her. Throughout the Bible God shows us that he loves us unconditionally and throughout the Bible, his people rejected his love…but he simply loves us where we are and no matter what, he simply loves.

My thought for the day: No matter where I’m at in my life and no matter my past, God is there for me and loves me as he always has and always will.