Wednesday, November 27, 2013

"In everything give thanks." Seriously?

It is sometimes called “The Thanksgiving Psalm”. And even a casual reading reveals exactly why. It begins by using the repeated phrase, ‘Bless the Lord’.  And it ends with those same words while declaring in between the numerous reasons for why this deserved to be done. It is Psalm 103.

It lists the Lord’s benefits of healing power, loving kindness, tender mercies, graciousness, strength, justice and forgiveness. It ends by again re-emphasizing that those who benefit from God personally, and know Him intimately, are to  “Bless the Lord”. That means to properly worship Him and to speak well of Him often concerning His great person, power, protection, promises! No doubt exists about what God expects of His people and why.

But in the New Testament  there is one passage in particular that confirms this spiritual duty both quickly and directly. The Apostle Paul shared it in his first letter to the Thessalonian church and in verse 18. “in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

In this one brief sentence the whole concept of being thankful is narrowed down by just a few key words. He relates that we are to be thankful in ‘everything’. That aspect is fairly clear. And even more clear is exactly why this is to be done. It is simply 'God’s will' for His people – all of them! It really could not get much easier to grasp than that!

But sometimes God's people have questions about this verse and the idea of being thankful about ‘everything’, Would this then include even the most terrible and difficult of circumstances? Would it include sin? That seems very hard. That seems very unreasonable. And that seems almost impossible by most any standard.  And the answer to these legitimate concerns is summarized by one other key word at the outset of verse 18. It is the small word ‘in’. The passage does not say to be thankful ‘for’ terrible, unfair or evil things that enter your life or your world. That would be unnatural. But it does say to find things to be thankful for  ‘in’ the midst of negative and painful experiences. That is what is possible and expected according to author of Scripture.

For the Christian, there are always things to be greatly thankful for. Nothing that happens in this life can remove, negate or alter having a forgiving Savior, a loving heavenly Father, an earthly spiritual family, a heavenly destiny and the indwelling Holy Spirit. A person who is missing these blessings, although having a near problem-free life otherwise, has little to be really and ultimately thankful for.

In an article in ‘Time 100’ Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Church in California, summed it up as well as can be done. I highly urge you to read his full remarks here.  He gave the following foundational reasons as to why he was thankful this year even after losing his youngest son to a tragic suicide. He wrote, “No matter how good things are in my life, there are always problems I must deal with, and no matter how bad things are in my life, there are always blessings I can be grateful for.”

He listed the follow areas for which he remains greatly thankful even when times become tough:

- I’m thankful that although life is not always good, God is always good. I know without a doubt that God sees all I go through, he cares, he grieves with me, he is close and his strength is available at all times.”

- I’m thankful that, even though I don’t have all the answers, God does. In tragedy we seek explanations, but explanations never comfort. It is God’s presence that eases our pain.

- I’m thankful that this life is not all there is. It’s not the end of the story. One day God will right all wrongs, even the odds and settle all accounts. Justice will be served. Evil will not win.

- I’m thankful for the hope of heaven. I won’t have to live with pain forever. In heaven, there are no broken relationships, broken minds, broken bodies, broken dreams or broken promises. The Bible tells us, “God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.”

- I’m thankful that God can bring good even out of the bad in my life, when I give him the pieces. It’s his specialty. God never wastes a hurt if we give it to him.

These are the words from one who owns true perspective on thanksgiving. These are the thoughts of a godly believer. And these are proofs of spiritual maturity. Not only so, these are evidence of someone who recognizes that thanksgiving 'in' all things is always ‘the will of God in Christ Jesus for you’

Have a blessed and very ‘thankful’ Thanksgiving!

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Typhoon Haiyan - Untold Suffering

The numbers are still being tallied in what is perhaps the most powerful storm on record and the most powerful tropical cyclone to ever make landfall. The official name was Typhoon Haiyan, and the bulk of the devastation was centered in the Philippines. And while aid continues to pour into the battered area, getting that relief to scores of desperate victims has been extremely difficult and has worsened an already horrific and dreadful situation.

Some wonder what a typhoon is and how it compares to a hurricane. Hurricane and typhoon are different names for the same type of storm. A tropical cyclone is called a hurricane in the north Atlantic Ocean, south Pacific Ocean, or the northeast Pacific Ocean on the eastern side of the dateline. A typhoon occurs in the northwest Pacific Ocean west of the dateline. In other parts of the world, these storms are called severe tropical cyclones. In essence, these storms are basically the same although typhoons are usually more dangerous than a hurricane because they generate closer to the equator.

Some feel the true facts regarding Typhoon Haiyan will never be really known due to a variety of factors. But most of what is known so far has come from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. And although the statistics are hard to verify, and may even include some contradictions, the followings numbers are being presented – at least for the moment:

- The width of Typhoon Haiyan was 370 miles.
- The sustained winds were 195 mph with gusts of 235.
- The height of the storm surge in Tacloban was 17 feet.
- The most rainfall recorded by NASA was some 27 inches.
- The number of people affected overall was 13 million.
- The number of children impacted was 4.9 million.
- The number of dead according to the U.N. is  4,200.
- The number the missing is around 1,186.
- The number of people displaced is about 3 million.
- The number in need of food assistance is 2.5 million.
- The number of homes damaged or destroyed is 494,611.
- The number of schools damaged is 628.
- The number of relief dollars given so far is $81 million.

As grim as these numbers are,  most are likely very low – especially concerning the total damage and the rising death toll!

It is extremely hard, if not impossible, to really understand the level of pain and suffering that is now a part of daily life in the Philippines. And many in other places around the world have faced similar fates or will. The Bible says of the human experience, “Yet man is born to trouble, As the sparks fly upward.” This accurate reality was penned by a man who knew suffering first-hand and on a catastrophic scale.

Job was a man who loved God and avoided all evil. He was the model of a godly father and husband. And yet his entire world was rocked when he suddenly lost literally everything but his life. Even his own wife pressed him to turn his back on God and simply die. (Job 2:8) His response to her showed his faith and character. “But he said to her, 'Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” After some struggles over his seemingly unfair plight, Job came to this conclusion that His God was indeed sovereign, just and worthy of all his total trust – no matter what!

It is often hard to deal with the negative events of a fallen world. What has occurred since man’s demise in the Garden so long ago was never God’s intent. He wanted far better for man. He wanted the very best! But God remains sovereign and just. He works through even those gruesome events that plague His creation and beloved creatures. This divine ability is seen in Ephesians 1:11 where the writer speaks of God as, “Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.”

Countless souls are facing untold suffering in the Philippines. The destruction and horror there is epic! But God’s concern and great love for every individual there knows no limits. (Romans 5:8) His Son’s unspeakable suffering on the cross made possible, for all, an escape route from eternal suffering. The overriding need to be forgiven of sin, and prepared to face eternity, is far greater than any pressing need for daily material provisions.

Pray for relief efforts and for the dear people now dealing with unimaginable pain and loss. Financially support the organizations working to help. (One is Samaritan’s Purse: And pray also for the many hurting believers, who, while suffering themselves, have the unique ability to share God’s supernatural relief effort for a suffering world in dire need of His spiritual food and life!

“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:10)

Bill Breckenridge

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Gettysburg Address

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. What is perhaps the most famous speech in U.S. history was given by President Abraham Lincoln at the dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery four months after the Battle of Gettysburg. Todays post, contrasting Lincoln’s timeless eloquence with the empty words of another president, is the chapter entitled “Talk” from the book Presidential Profiles by David M. Virkler.*

William Henry Harrison established several “firsts” in the presidency and should be well remembered. But it is not so. He came to office at the age of 68, the oldest Chief Executive until Ronald Reagan. Previously, our presidents had walked into the White House on the strong political planks of a solid platform. But Harrison was borne in on the wings of song and catchy slogans. His supporters sang, “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too” and coined the phrase “Keep the Ball Rolling,” an expression still used today to describe steady advance.

But perhaps he is most unremembered because of another inglorious “first”—he was the first president to say so much and do so little. His tenure lasted only one month, but no one could have predicted it listening to the torrent of golden oratory that fell from his lips during his inaugural address spoken from the Capitol steps on March 4, 1841.

Although he was old and tired, his many years and great plans expressed themselves for one hour and forty minutes. Thousands of words, cut and fit by the great Daniel Webster, deluged the people. The weather was cold and raw, blown in by a vicious northwest wind, but the President refused coat or hat. At the conclusion of this inaugural masterpiece and vocal marathon, Harrison chose to lead the Inaugural Parade to the White House in the biting wintry blast, still overbilled and underclothed.

Some historians believe he caught cold. Regardless, only one month later he lay dead of pneumonia. Even his wife was thoroughly shocked; she heard of his death on her way to residency in the White House.

Harrison gained significance through insignificance—he said the most and did the least. While his address flounders in obscurity, another speech of only ten sentences and two paragraphs is timeless.

Some predicted that the presence of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg would prove a national embarrassment. What could the lanky, awkward Chief Executive add after the brilliant two-hour oratory of famed speech-maker Edward Everett?

Lincoln finished his few sentences before most listeners were aware that he had begun. Yet, the incisive address scratched on rough paper during a bumpy train ride had focused a thousand loose thoughts into a single conciliatory document. Incredibly, it would be immortalized at Gettysburg and in Washington, D.C.

Words without deeds are hollow and impotent. That is why no school child has ever memorized a single word of the president who said the most and did the least. But, almost without exception, Americans respond to the cadence of “Fourscore and seven years ago….”

The Lord Jesus Christ declared that words are cheap, but deeds will keep. “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46) “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

Today, the choice is often between Harrison and Lincoln, between promise and performance. Do we wish to say the most and do the least, or do we choose to say the least and do the most? Remember, history is an accurate and cruel judge.

* Presidential Profiles shares intriguing stories and facts about many U.S. presidents to illustrate important truths from God’s Word. It is available as a 2-CD audio book. Twenty-three chapters feature a number of U.S. presidents including Washington, Lincoln, Coolidge, Eisenhower, Nixon, Clinton, and George W. Bush. Also included is God & Faith in Presidential Inaugurals, a print compilation of all references to God, faith, prayer and Scripture in presidential inaugural addresses. Presidential Profiles is available for a suggested tax-deductible contribution of $15. Send a check or money order to: Dedication Evangelism, PO Box 10, Towaco, NJ 07082.