Over the past couple of weeks, I have ordered thousands of dollars of computers from different vendors. Something really stood out to me as I did so. Neither vendor said “Thank you.” Neither appeared grateful that I chose them rather than turning to other sources for the product.
This experience caused me to realize a transformation that has been taking place in my own life. I am becoming more thankful.
I recently asked our Facebook “friends” this question: I was thinking about something on my way home tonight: Thankfulness. Can you answer a quick question? Do you believe you are become more or less thankful as you get older? Why? Thanks!
The answers did not surprise me. To a man, those who answered admitted becoming more grateful as they age. It’s a beautiful consequence of maturity.
We know that thankfulness is required by God. Verses abound. But as believers progress through the ups-and-downs of life most find themselves with greater clarity. Perspective allows us to consider both the faithfulness and graciousness of God. Our memory recalls the many mornings of our lives when we experienced His new mercies. We wholeheartedly agree with Jeremiah’s adjective “great” as he described the Lord’s faithful character (Lamentations 3:22-23)!
We also rejoice as we meditate upon this axiom: God does not treat us as our sins deserve.
I am convinced that we have no idea the extent to which we sin. In reality, we sin constantly. We commit sins of commission and omission. We do that which we should not do. We don’t do what we are supposed to do. We sin daily, if not hourly, in word, thought and deed. It does not take long for a new follower of Christ to come to the same conclusion as the Apostle Paul: “Wretched man that I am” (Romans7:24)!
In light of this truth, we marvel that the Lord continues to bless us. Even though He is holy, holy, holy and we offend Him and others too many times to tally, most of the days of our lives we awake to mercy, not wrath. We are blessed instead of cursed.
Shouldn’t that cause us to give thanks in all circumstances as well as be more thankful to one another? It should!
One of those who responded to my question on Facebook replied, “More Thankful, I can reflect on my past and the lessons I learned through the mistakes I made. God has taught me a lot of hard lessons but lessons I deserved. He has shown me a great love through his providence and I am forever grateful!”
“Humbly speaking….more. [Thankfulness] comes with many miles with the One who graciously made us (or should [come]). [It’s] a work in progress.”
We are indeed a “work in progress.” However, if we traverse the “many miles with the One who graciously made us,” we grow in our gratitude. We’re thankful for the lessons we have learned and for the love God continues to bestow upon us in His friendly providence! Let us be quick to thank Him and let us be quick to thank those made in His image!
THANK YOU for reading!
We are not required to repeat the sins of our fathers.
I was reminded afresh of that truth this week as I studied the life of king Hezekiah of Judah. In a couple of days, I will be teaching the Later Prophets for Belhaven University. At one point, I will be using Isaiah 36-39 to illustrate the role of a prophet (Isaiah, in particular) in the life of the nation. Since it had been awhile since I studied this historical period, I had forgotten some of the details. I remembered that Hezekiah was one of the good kings, but I was encouraged again by his passion that he put into practice. And that practice was implemented in short order after he ascended the throne.
After the death of his ungodly father, Ahaz, Hezekiah commenced on a mission to help Judah turn back to the LORD. Personally, Hezekiah “did right in the sight of the LORD” (2 Kings 18:3). He had the places and symbols of idolatry destroyed (18:4). “He trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel; so that after him there was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor among those who were before him. For he clung to the LORD; he did not depart from following Him, but kept His commandments, which the LORD had commanded Moses” (18:5-6).
How different from his father!
“Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem; and he did not do what was right in the sight of the LORD his God, as his father David had done. But he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, and even made his son pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD had driven out from before the sons of Israel. He sacrificed and burned incense on the high places and on the hills and under every green tree” (2 Kings 16:2-4).
What a sad commentary! A king of Judah worshipped the false gods of the Canaanites–even sacrificing one of his own sons! “Under every green tree” is hyperbole to illustrate the king’s passion for his religion.
This is the example Hezekiah had as he matured. What kind of man was he? What kind of king would he become? The answer was clearly revealed shortly after his father’s death.
“In the first year of his reign, in the first month, he opened the doors of the house of the LORD and repaired them” (2 Chronicles 29:1). This public act of piety would set the stage for national reforms that Hezekiah would implement. Although his father was “unfaithful to the LORD” (2 Chronicles 29:19), Hezekiah “clung” to God (2 Kings 18:6). The Hebrew word for clung means that he remained faithful. It could appropriately be translated “followed closely.” The tense of the verb teaches us that Hezekiah’s following closely was his constant habit.
He refused to wander from the LORD. He refused to walk in the unfaithful footsteps of his father.
We are not required to repeat the sins of our fathers.
This may resonate more with some of you than others. Some of you may have had a father like Hezekiah, a truly godly man. If so, how thankful must you be! Others of you may have had an Ahaz as your daddy. Your life now is a conscious effort to do the opposite of what you experienced and witnessed as a child. Most of us had fathers somewhere in-between. Regardless of where our fathers fall on the Ahaz-Hezekiah line, none of them were perfect. All were sinners. All had sins which were glaring. Those sins we do not have to repeat.
Hezekiah rushed to the temple and opened wide the doors.
What have you done? What do you need to do? Think on it. Move on it.
In preparation for a class I am teaching for Belhaven University, I read Ronald Youngblood’s The Heart of the Old Testament: A Survey of Key Theological Themes (Baker Academic, 1998). Here are some lines which caught my attention:
“For the people of God in the Old Testament period, practicing the presence of God was life itself” (p.10).
“The monotheistic ideals of Israel’s religion characterized it from the earliest days. Israel’s Creator God is portrayed in majestic grandeur in the very first verse of Genesis. His existence is assumed rather than argued. He is placed outside the universe and above it as its Creator” (p.12).
“God monopolized Abraham to the extent that he had neither time nor room for competing deities, whether real or imaginary” (p.13).
“As one of the great themes close to the heart of the Old Testament, the sovereignty of God needs to be reaffirmed by people individually and collectively in our own day. If the deification of a man–however powerful he might be–was a temptation to the pharaohs of ancient Egypt, the humanization of God is no less tantalizing a tendency in our modern scientific age. Current patronizing references to God are appalling and blasphemous, to say the least. To call God ‘the man upstairs’ or ‘the someone up there who likes me’ is to display a deplorable lack of understanding concerning His nature” (p.20).
“Our creatureliness at the hands of an all-wise Creator should temper our tendency to complain about the circumstances in which we sometimes find ourselves” (p.22).
“One of the themes of the book of Ruth is the glorious concept that the arms of God’s love are not so short that they cannot enfold a Moabite maiden” (p.35).
“God and His creatures do not come to the conference table as equals” (p.43).
“Every time we try to squeeze God into preconceived theological molds we think in terms of a deity that is something other, and therefore less, than the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord is greater than our fondest imaginings” (p.75).
“The Old Testament is full of accounts of men and women who believed in God, who committed their lives to Him, who depended on Him in times of victory and joy as well as in times of defeat and sorrow” (p.91).
“Only in the one true God does faith find a trustworthy refuge” (p.93).
“Fastened to a rude cross on a rugged hill outside a rebellious city, Christ became the ultimate object of faith for a dying thief as well as for countless men and women and boys and girls who have since followed in his train” (p.99).
Good stuff! The book was worth my effort and time.
What are you reading this month?
Taking steps to reverse generational sins isn’t always easy.
Sometimes, though, it is.
I was probably four years old when we lived in a large apartment complex in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My sister, Joanne, reminded me that we lived off N. Teutonia Avenue, near Brown Deer. Four apartment buildings made up a quad (with a green play area in the middle). The place was swarming with children. Most were white. Some were black. I only remember two. One blonde friend lived in our building and I have a couple pictures to remind me of his birthday party. My other friend was a black girl that I will never forget. I’ve long since forgotten her name, but something which happened involving her is forever seared in my memory.
We were playing outside one day when my Mom came outside to let me know that my grandmother (my Dad’s Mom) had baked chocolate chip cookies and invited me to come over (they lived a block north). I was probably five years old. You can imagine my excitement. In fact, I was so excited I wanted to share the experience! I wanted my friend to join me. She probably liked chocolate chip cookies, too.
But there was a problem.
She could not accompany me to my grandparents’ home. I was dumbfounded. Why couldn’t my friend tag along for the treats? Then it dawned on me. She was a she. But that didn’t make sense either. Why wouldn’t my grandparents want a friend who is a girl to come with me? And that’s when my Mom had to tell me some rather unexpected news. My friend would not be welcome at Grandpa and Grandma Wehse’s home because she was black.
Welcome to the real world, Timmy!
I don’t know what exactly I said, but I thought, “What does the color of her skin have to do with cookies?”
You know as well as I do the answer to that question. You also know who was in the right and who was in the wrong in that situation. Like I said, I’ll never forget that story. It has served me to keep a check on my own prejudices and it was a catalyst to guide me to pray a particular prayer.
Once we began having children, I prayed that God might lead us to a black family we could befriend and that their kids could play with my kids. My hope was that any remaining granules of prejudice might dissipate as my children judged others by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin. God has yet to answer that prayer. But he did something close.
He sent a college student to help my wife bake cookies. Her name is Kat. She is a single woman from Memphis, preparing to graduate this coming December. She has a heart for missions, having been on several short-term missions trips and is excited about what God has in store for her future. Kat has celebrated the past two Christmases with us by helping us decorate our tree. It’s been fun and I’ve enjoyed having her with us.
Am I prejudiced like my father and my grandfather? I am, but not to the same extent. Does this admission shock you? Do you think less of me now? I hope not. Deep down, I believe that we are all a bit prejudiced. Some of us, like me, were given it through the examples we saw and heard growing up. That’s not easily overcome, but we can make strides in the right direction. And–with God’s help–we can even reverse generational sins.
I’m in process.
What about you?
Happy MLK day! And praise God for Kat!
I was meditating upon the life and ministry of Elijah this morning as I prepared for a teaching opportunity in a couple of weeks. The cowardice or uncertainty of the people on Mt. Carmel really stood out to me today. “Elijah came near to all the people and said, ‘How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.’ But the people did not answer him a word” (1 Kings 18:21).
In The Message, Eugene Peterson renders this verse as follows:
“Elijah challenged the people: ‘How long are you going to sit on the fence? If God is the real God, follow him; if it’s Baal, follow him. Make up your minds!’ Nobody said a word; nobody made a move.”
Nobody said a word.
“When Ahab had assembled the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel to confront Yahweh’s prophets (v.20), Elijah addressed the many people who had gathered to see the contest (v.21). Joshua’s choice (Josh 24:15) was theirs: Serve God or serve another (cf. Matt 6:24). But unlike Joshua’s people, Elijah’s audience held its peace” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 4: 1 Kings, Zondervan, p.144).
They were either afraid or they were uncertain.
Although they resided in Israel, these individuals were citizens of a polytheistic culture (the worship of many gods rather that the position of their forefathers). Ahab was king and he served and worshipped Baal (1 Kings 16:31). He actually had a temple for Baal built in Samaria, which included an altar (1 Kings 16:32). His lovely wife, Jezebel, was even more zealous for their religion. Using her authority as queen, she had many of Israel’s prophets killed (1 Kings 18:4). Thus, their fear of declaring their allegiance to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is understandable. Perhaps some were also uncertain. “Is the LORD God?” Their heritage unashamedly screamed, “Yes!” Their hearts most assuredly whispered, “Of course.” But the circumstances caused them to wonder. It was the third year of a historic draught (1 Kings 18:1). People were literally starving (1 Kings 18:2). Many had followed the king’s example and had bowed their knee to Baal. Since the LORD was not hearing their prayers, maybe Baal would.
This context allows us to gain a better understanding for their hesitancy when Elijah arrived for this time-sensitive event. Some of us may have been hesitant as well. God appeared to be absent. Our prayers seemed hollow. We were losing hope.
Elijah continued. He had a proposition.
“‘You call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD, and the God who answers by fire, He is God.” And all the people said, ‘That is a good idea'”(1 Kings 18:24).
Now they responded!
“That is a good idea!”
They were desperate for a sign, a positive sign. Negative signs were all around them. They needed to know that the LORD as immanent (present and engaged) as well as transcendent. But would God show up?
Elijah took a risk. He knew God existed. He understood that God could easily answer by fire and consume the offering, the wood, the stones and dust and all the water (1 Kings 18:38). But would the LORD do so? If not, Elijah was toast. He would have been killed immediately. Ahab and Jezebel would have had a party for the ages! The “troubler of Israel” would have been removed (1 Kings 18:17). Another faithful man named Obadiah would have been persecuted along with the prophets that he sheltered (1 Kings 18:13). A very dark time would have become a long night without even the light of the moon.
BUT GOD DESCENDED ON MT. CARMEL!
You recall the story. False gods cannot hear or respond. Consider these words of Psalm 115 in light of the events just considered:
Not to us, O Lord, not to us,
But to Your name give glory
Because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth.
Why should the nations say,
“Where, now, is their God?” But our God is in the heavens;
He does whatever He pleases.
Their idols are silver and gold,
The work of man’s hands.
They have mouths, but they cannot speak;
They have eyes, but they cannot see;
They have ears, but they cannot hear;
They have noses, but they cannot smell;
They have hands, but they cannot feel;
They have feet, but they cannot walk;
They cannot make a sound with their throat.
Those who make them will become like them,
Everyone who trusts in them.
I am thankful that it pleased God to show His glory to the nation that day on top of Mt. Carmel! He unequivocally proved that “[He] is in the heavens” (Ps. 115:3) and alive and well in Israel (1 Kings 18:38).
“When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, ‘The LORD, He is God; the LORD, He is God” (1 Kings 18:39).
Fear of men was replaced by fear of God! They fell and they worshipped the only wise God (Romans 16:27)! Uncertainty vanished. Passion returned and the enemies were destroyed (1 Kings 18:40). Rain fell (1 Kings 18:45). Hope returned.
I wonder where we all find ourselves today. Some of us are like Elijah. We are confident that the Lord can and will show up. Others of us are like the crowd on top of the mountain. We are either fearful of men or uncertain in our faith. And some of us may have rejected the God and the teachings of the Bible completely. We have consciously chosen the gods offered to us by our culture.
My hope is that this particular blog entry has something for wherever we are today. Thanks for stopping by Striving For Reality!
I did it! I read my first book of the year! I am trying to develop the very good habit of regularly reading again (reading additional to my time in the Bible and in studying in order to teach the Bible). In the past (BEFORE A HOUSE FULL OF CHILDREN!), I read quite a bit. I may never plow through the number of book per year as I did twenty years ago, but a modest goal of one per month is set before me in 2016.
The first book I read was Adam Grant’s Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success (Penguin Books, 2013).
Here are some thought-provoking quotes:
“‘When you meet people,’ says former Apple evangelist and Silicon Valley legend Guy Kawasaki, regardless of who they are, ‘you should be asking yourself, “How can I help the other person?”‘” (p.45)
“His [Adam Rifkin] giving is governed by a simple rule: the five-minute favor. ‘You should be willing to do something that will take you five minutes or less for anybody.'” (p.54)
“[George] Meyer summarizes his code of honor as ‘(1) Show up. (2) Work hard. (3) Be kind. (4) Take the high road.'” (p.75)
Grant coins the term “otherish behavior” (p.169)
Commenting upon a particular experiment by Northwestern psychologists Elizabeth Seely and Wendi Gardner, Grant wrote, “By consistently overriding their selfish impulses in order to help others, they had strengthened their psychological muscles, to the point where using willpower for painful tasks was no longer exhausting” (p.179)
“Most of the time that we give, it’s based on a cocktail of mixed motives to benefit others and ourselves” (p.223)
“New York University psychologist Jonathan Haidt refers to this as elevation, the warm feeling of being moved by others’ acts of giving, which can ‘seem to push a mental reset button, wiping out feelings of cynicism and replacing them with…a sense of moral inspiration.'” (p.234)
“our behaviors leak traces of our motives” (p.258)
“We spend the majority of our waking hours at work. This means that what we do at work becomes a fundamental part of who we are. If we reserve giver values for our personal lives, what will be missing in our professional lives? By shifting ever so slightly in the giver direction, we might find out walking hours marked by greater success, richer meaning, and more lasting impact.” (p.259)
I guess you can clearly see why I enjoyed the book!
Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice and Practical Wisdom, wrote “Give and Take is a game changer. Reading Adam Grant’s compelling book will change the way doctors doctor, managers manage, teachers teach, and bosses boss. It will create a society in which people do better by being better. Read the book and change the way you live and work.” (p.iii)
As I continue to inch my way into 2016, my purpose in light remains in the forefront of my mind. I am on a mission to glorify God, bless people and prepare for eternity. This book focused on bless people. May I do just that!
I know I am in the minority. Some people think I am downright strange. But I would rather work than play. Given the option of not having to work a single day in 2016 or work every day in 2016, I’d choose work.
See–you even think I am odd now!
Beloved, I know myself (at my age, I had better)! Too much time on my hand gets me into too much trouble! I become slothful. This is why I am grateful that God created a passion for productivity within me. Simply put, I have got to get things accomplished. Ongoing and new tasks present themselves each and every day. This makes life routine, but also allows us the opportunity to glorify God in our faithfulness. I simply cannot imagine living an unproductive life by choice. Some are forced into disability or unemployment. I know what that is like, having been unemployed for 18 mos. several years ago. With that experience behind me, you can understand why I thank God every day I drive to work. I vividly recall those days of looking for a job and striving to be productive. It was a difficult period for me. Today was easier.
Today I went back to work after the New Year’s holiday. It was my first day of work in 2016. I didn’t change the world. Nothing I did made a huge difference. But I was faithful. I started my day by making a list of everything I wanted to accomplish and I set about to do just that. Hopefully my BOSS (Col. 3:23) and my earthly master (Col. 3:22) were pleased. Hopefully my co-workers and clients were blessed. However, as I left work tonight no one stood to applaud. I did not receive high fives from the other members of the team. When I arrived at home, I was not presented with an award. I did what was expected. Jodi and the kids expected me to go to work this morning and be productive. God and the owner of our company expected the very same out of me. They will all do so again on Tuesday. And I am glad to oblige!
Tonight finds me grateful for so many things. I am thankful for God’s saving work in my life and the desire He planted within me to glorify His name and bless others. I am thankful for the passion for productivity He created with me. I am thankful for the health He has given to me which allows me to work both a full-time job as well as a part-time one. I am thankful for work.
And I am thankful that I get to go to work on Tuesday.
I suppose I am odd after all.
Anne Frank, The Diary of Anne Frank (www.forbes.com)
“Work keeps at bay three great evils: boredom, vice and need.”
Voltaire, Candide (www.forbes.com)
“There is joy in work. There is no happiness except in the realization that we have accomplished something.”
Henry Ford (www.brainyquote.c0m)
“It is the working man who is the happy man. It is the idle man who is the miserable man.”
Benjamin Franklin (www.brainyquote.com)
Who hasn’t wondered about Jesus’ life as He grew up in Nazareth? We all have. What was He like as a young boy before we see Him engaged with the teachers in the temple at age twelve? What experiences were seared into His memory as a young man? What was He like as He continued to dwell among His creation?
Many questions remain unanswered.
These unanswered questions have led to a lot of speculation over the years as well as to some fanciful stories (see The Infancy Gospel of Thomas). Simply put, there are no answers to the questions I presented above. We know that Jesus grew up in a small town in Galilee where the local synagogue played an important role. The Bible informs us that Jesus became strong and the grace of God was upon Him (Luke 2:40). We know from Scripture that Jesus’ grew in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man (Luke 2:52). And we know that Jesus was raised by devout parents.
How do I know that?
Keep in mind that the trek from Nazareth to Jerusalem wasn’t a mere “walk in the park.” The journey took days. It was a financial strain for families in Galilee to make the pilgrimage. It could be dangerous due to robbers along the way. But Joseph and Mary went every year. They and their relatives prepared for the trip (which included making quite a bit of unleavened bread [Deuteronomy 16:3]) and travelled together to observe the annual celebration of God delivering His people out of Egypt.
What stands out to me from Jesus’ earthly family history is that during these so-called “missing years” we find His parents doing the right thing. From all accounts, it appears that Joseph and Mary did what was expected of them. They remained faithful.
A great example for us as we commence our trek of another twelve months!
The day after Christmas, I posted the following on Facebook:
We were encouraged this morning from God’s Word to not give up in the New Year. We don’t want to quit in any of our callings (walking as disciples of Jesus, marriage, parenting, commitment to our local church, work/homeschooling responsibilities, etc. etc. etc.). With God’s help, we will continue to strive to see Him glorified and other people blessed. We’ll surely fail often in these areas, but His grace is sufficient in the times of success and in the times of failure we will experience in another (Lord-willing) twelve months. Christmas was nice. We’re now looking forward to our celebration on New Year’s Eve and to watching 2016 unfold.
Someday I will learn what happened in the life of Jesus Christ when He lived in Nazareth. Today I am grateful for what I know about His Mom and Dad. Though imperfect like me, they did the right thing. That’s exactly what I want to do today. And tomorrow. And the next day.