Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Not Feeling Very Thankful?

Some Thanksgivings arrive during life's good times, finding us in the middle of exciting new relationships or new jobs, or we may be enjoying restored health or some newfound prosperity. In other years the tide may have turned. That's when financial struggles, unemployment, underemployment, health issues, broken relationships, or the loss of a loved one may be the norm. To be sure these difficulties can make holidays tough. And of all the holidays, it may well be that Thanksgiving is worst of all, especially when it feels like there's nothing to be thankful for.

If that's the case for you this year, I invite you to step back in time, to October 3, 1863, to be exact. Welcome to the Civil War. Here, delivered midstream in that bloody conflict, are the words of President Abraham Lincoln:

"The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.

"In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and provoke their aggressions, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict; while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

"Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

"No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

"It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

"In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United Stated States to be affixed.

"Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-eighth."

Abraham Lincoln

Thankfulness and humility before "our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens" -- now those are words to remember. What are your thoughts on President Lincoln's establishment of a national day of "thanksgiving and praise"? You can tell us by clicking here!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Happily Ever After?

I enjoyed fairy tales when I was young. I don't think I'm alone on that because those same stories continue to be passed on from generation to generation -- even turned into TV shows and feature films. Why so popular? Because in the end they all live happily ever after. But experience teaches us that's not how real life works. Throughout our lives we will continue to struggle with various problems: sorrow and heartbreak, financial struggles, relationship problems, sickness and, finally, death. Whatever we may have thought as kids, fairy tales don't come true.

Or do they?

When I was a senior in high school, there was a popular book entitled, Is there Life after High School? Though I never read it, I did ponder the question. I thought life after high school would be golden, filled with loads of good stuff, you know, happily ever after stuff. I'd have no more homework, no more class schedules, no more curfews.

But I discovered life after high school was work, and rush-hour traffic, and uncertainties. Then came college and a whole new set of hurdles to jump. Each time I've crossed a threshold from one phase to another, I've found the new phase was never quite as golden as I thought it would be. Finishing college, taking my first job, watching my bride walk down the aisle, sitting in the birthing suite and hearing the doctor say the baby is on his way -- those new phases are full of promise and joy, but they aren't happily ever after.

I expect the same thing will be true in the remaining phases of my life, as in when my son goes off to college next fall and -- if God is willing -- I see retirement, and the closing years of my life. Each phase will have plenty of troubles, trials, tears and frustrations of its own.

So, the fairy-tale ending is not realistic, at least not for this life. But what if we step back and look at the broader picture? What happens after death?

In a week and a half we'll be into another Advent season, and then Christmas. We'll talk about a young virgin girl named Mary, and Joseph, her betrothed. It was during this betrothal separation that Joseph discovered Mary was pregnant, and learned in an angelic dream the baby was none other than God's own Son.

Centuries ago, betrothals were different than our contemporary engagements. A betrothal was a binding, legal commitment. It was more like a wedding than an engagement. The husband and wife remained apart, living with their parents until the wedding feast. During that period of separation, the husband established his career and prepared a home for his bride. Finally, when everything was ready, he came for her. They celebrated a lavish marriage feast, and he took her to live with him in their new home.

The night before Jesus died, He made a fairy-tale promise that picked up this betrothal language. "In My Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also" (John 14:2-3).

This betrothal language dovetails very nicely into the fairy tales I enjoyed as a child. God the Father is our Heavenly King. Jesus Christ is His Son, our Prince Charming. All of us as believers are the Cinderellas He raises from the dust to live with Him in His Kingdom.

On Judgment Day Jesus will return to take us home, and then, with glorified bodies, we will live happily ever after in our Heavenly Father's house.

So, when you think about it, your life really is a fairy tale; we just won't get to that "happily ever after" part until Jesus returns to take us home. I think Paul had that fairy-tale ending in mind when he wrote, "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Romans 8:18).

A fairy-tale ending, that's not quite what we expect from this life, is it? You can tell us what you think by clicking here!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Judgment Day Is Near

Tension is building in St. Louis. Shop owners in Ferguson are boarding up their stores. People across the county are stocking up on essentials. Schools and businesses are making plans to minimize damage. Commuters are checking alternate routes in case the interstates are shut down. I've heard one rumor the Missouri National Guard has reserved a hundred hotel rooms downtown. On social media pages people have posted pictures of National Guard helicopter formations flying up from the south and tanks sitting on trailers in fast food parking lots. It feels like Judgment Day is drawing near.

What's all the fretting about? The grand jury in the shooting death of Michael Brown is nearing a decision on whether to charge Darren Wilson, the police officer, with a crime or not. Many expect the officer will be acquitted, and that could launch another wave of protests, possibly violent. I've heard law enforcement officers are moving their families out of town, and there are even rumors that attempts will be made to ambush law enforcement officers.

It reminds one of Matthew 25:13, where Jesus warns, "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour." We don't know what day or hour the grand jury's decision will be released, and we certainly don't know what day or hour our Lord will return.

While we await the grand jury's decision, many people in St. Louis are working hard to be peacemakers. They are encouraging protestors to remain peaceful, to find non-violent ways to express their opinions. They want to avoid the looting, gunfire, fire bombs, and other malicious acts that characterized the first days of the Michael Brown protests in August. Sad to say, the shooting and the tumultuous aftermath have made the town of Ferguson a household name around the world.

It seems to me that is what Jesus was doing the last days before His death on the cross. He was warning of God's coming judgment, alluding to the angel armies that would come to subdue all opposition to God and bring each sinner before God for judgment. Jesus and His church are busy warning us of that day, pleading with us to turn from our sins and selfishness, and recognize God's righteous judgment. He is inviting us to find salvation by trusting in His promise of forgiveness for Jesus' sake. That's why I give thanks for God's peacemakers, especially His Son Jesus Christ and all who share the good news of what He has done for us all.

So, in St. Louis, we'll spend these days praying and trying to encourage peace as we await the grand jury response. But here and all around the world we have another Judgment Day to prepare for. May we be busy warning others of God's pending judgment, and encouraging everyone to find peace with God through Jesus Christ our Savior.

The situation in Ferguson and greater St. Louis is a touchy one. You can share your thoughts on this matter by clicking here!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Campaign Season

I shuddered when I wrote that title. I'd much rather write about children trick or treating, or the beautiful autumn leaves blowing across the highway outside my window. The best thing I can say is it's all over, at least for the next few months. Of course, with 2016 comes a presidential election, so I'm afraid our respite will be short-lived indeed. Before long, new candidates will be popping up, and the frenzy of campaigning and media coverage will start all over again.

I find it depressing to think of modern campaign tactics: all the negativity, the politics of fear, the misinformation, and half-truths. Back in the '60s when I was a kid (that's right, back when we walked to school, uphill, both ways; no, we weren't the ones who had to wear trash bags over our feet; that was our parents), politics seemed a more noble game, a little more civil. Candidates spoke more eloquently about the positive changes they would make; they showed respect for their adversaries. Throwing mud at other candidates was classless, a sign of desperation.

Sure, it was all probably naïve, contrived and artificial. But at least I had the impression I didn't have to hold my nose to vote, reluctantly pulling the lever for the lesser of two or three evils. Campaign seasons -- and the elections that follow -- now give me the impression we're just putting a new crop of horrible, self-interested people in office because, well, that's all we have to choose from.

I wonder if that's why the U.S. Congress typically has such low public approval ratings. Maybe that's why government comes across as a necessary evil.

The apostle Paul once wrote a letter to the believers in the Washington D.C. of his time. In Romans 13 we read, "Rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer" (Romans 13:3-4).

I love that phrase: "He is God's servant for your good."

In this month where we pause to give thanks for God's gifts to a broken world, I want to start by giving Him thanks for our government. No, it isn't perfect. We have imperfect people doing imperfect jobs --just like me trying to do mine. But God has a very important purpose for our government: maintain law and order and thwart those who would bring disorder, crime and chaos. A government for the people can offer its citizens the chance to live peaceable lives, a society where they can follow their beliefs freely in a society without restriction.

I'll enjoy our short respite from campaign ads, and give thanks for all God does for us through our government. And I encourage you to join my prayers that God will uphold our leaders, guide them to just decisions, protect them from vanity and deception, and give them clarity and purpose.

Please share your thoughts about our government and the election process. You can post your thoughts here: click here!