Wednesday, November 25, 2015

'In Everything Give Thanks' ?

The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians  5:16-18, “Rejoice always,  pray without ceasing,  in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God  in Christ Jesus for you. “

This passage, and others like it, make known that giving proper thanks to God is His desire for all of those He has created. Obviously, we should give thanks for all of the many wonderful blessings that are ours in Christ.

But along with constant prayer, we are also told to give thanks even in the midst of those things that may be downright terrible and fearful to deal with. This aspect of praising God is revealed in Philippians 4:6-7. Again it is Paul who records, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;  and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”  Here, the context of thanking God even in hard times is made quite clear. But we are assured that doing so, along with fervent and specific prayer,  will protect our hearts and minds in the storms of life.

The Old Testament too reveals God’s deep desire to receive the praise that is due Him. Psalm 107 is a classic passage along these lines and is often read at Thanksgiving time.  It begins, "Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever."  Then some fours times over, the writer repeats the phrase, "Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, And for His wonderful works to the children of men!"

And Psalm 107:22 expands on the subject. ‘"Let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving,   And declare His works with rejoicing." This same thought is echoed in Hebrews 13:15.  “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.” These verses reveal that the proper giving of thanks to God is a literal act sacrifice – something not always associated with this activity.

At this Thanksgiving season, let us not allow food, football, friends, and even family to interfere with what is Biblically good and right! So let us pause and intentionally focus in on what really matters and on the countless blessings that are ours as Christians. And lets us begin by starting with the two at the top of the lengthy list. We have been given ‘Peace with God’ in salvation and the promised ‘Peace of God’ by having our hearts and minds fully guarded even in the midst of a sometimes dark and difficult world.

“And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”  (Colossians 3:17)

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

What Do We Fear Most?

It was Franklin D. Roosevelt, in his first inaugural address who said, in the midst of a terrible economic depression, "So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself". Was he right, and is fear the greatest thing we can worry about?

Fear and worry are common aspects of the human condition. Everyone has things, logical or not, that plague them in one way or another - whether they be rich or poor, or old or young. And because of this reality, Chapman University has initiated the first comprehensive nationwide study on what strikes fear most in Americans. The survey included 1,500 participants from across the nation and from all walks of life.

The study revealed the top five things Americans fear the most as, walking alone at night, becoming the victim of identity theft, safety on the internet, being the victim of a mass or random shooting, and public speaking. Then too, the University study included another category to consider. This one had to do with the top five most feared natural disasters that Americans fear. They are, again in order, tornadoes or hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, pandemic or major epidemics and power outages.

Factors looked at included: age, gender, race, work status, education, income, region of the country, urban vs. rural, political preference, religion, TV viewing, and gun ownership. Through their analysis, two key factors emerged as causing fear the most. These were having a lower level of education and also a higher frequency of television viewing. Interesting!

And of course there are numerous other areas that cause worry and panic. Also listed in the various studies were things like; crime, romantic rejection, ridicule, talking to strangers overpopulation, pollution, Obamacare, gun control, immigration, ridicule, stalking, kidnapping, hate crimes, terrorism, civil unrest, police brutality, aging, loneliness, dying, illness, running out of money and unemployment. And we should not leave out the 8% who actually stated a serious worry about facing Zombies - a stat that seems to play into fears coming from too much of, and the wrong kind, of TV watching. This is just a small sampling of what people can have as logical or illogical fears and worries. If you want to really see how pervasive this issue is, take a brief look online at Phobialist .com.

The dictionary defines fear as being afraid of something or someone or to expect or worry about something bad or unpleasant. The word worry comes from an old English term that means to kill, choke or strangle by squeezing the throat. It means to stop something from growing or developing. That is precisely what fearing and worrying about the wrong things, and for too long, will do in the life of an individual.

Granted, life has more frightful things than can even be listed out. That is what living in a fallen and sin-cursed world can do. And that is exactly why God addressed this debilitating issue in His word. First, we must acknowledge that fear can be valuable at times. For example, there should be an element of healthy fear of being spiritually lost and entering into eternal judgment because of lacking a saving relationship with God's Son. And this is something to be feared above all else. Hebrews 10:31 puts it very directly. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God'  That is true if one is not fully and properly prepared to meet Him at life's end. Jesus said in Matthew 10:28. "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."

But what about dealing with post-salvation fear? What about the kind of worry that does not deal with where one will spend eternity, but the kind of everyday stress that God's people are exposed to in a broken and evil world? Scripture has more than addressed that issue and question as well. There are many passages that are pertinent, but just one of the most familiar ones can suffice for starters.

A classic passage on this subject is found in Phil 4:6-7. Paul the apostle writes, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." It is significant that the passage states to not be anxious, or worry about, "anything". Can this be taken literally and seriously? That's a pretty tall order in a badly fallen world! Is that really possible when considering the vast array of serious trials and temptations that can and do arise in this life?

But the giving of that direct command is not isolated from the solution. The order is immediately followed by how to victoriously carry it out. "But in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God."  When really analyzing this part of the equation, we see that the key element to dealing with fear and worry is prayer. And this is not some limited, shallow or occasional prayer. The prayer spoken of here is comprehensive.  The prayer spoken of first here refers to earnest prayer that is addressed to God and in the spirit of true worship. The supplication spoken of secondly refers to addressing or petitioning Him for a very specific need. Both are part of the solution.

And we cannot forget that giving thanks, even while facing struggles, is included as part of the equation of dealing with anxiety - all anxiety. God is worthy of praise before, during and after those things in our lives that cause untold stress. Those who have peace WITH God (that is salvation) are promised here to also have available to them the peace OF God. That is part of their personal redemption benefit package. That particular peace encompasses things like tranquility, harmony, safety, security quietness and rest. It is so special and unique that it is said to surpass all human logic and understanding. And this comes through the supernatural 'guarding' of the heart as seen in verse 7. It is a term that refers to how someone in the military guards, protects and prevents invasion by a hostile enemy. That is God's offer to His redeemed people. And in a life and world that brings such frequent storms, how could anything imaginable be more valuable?

Much more could be said about the reality of fear and worry as opposed to the God-given ability to successfully conquer it in the life of a child of God. But what He has said in His word here should bring total joy and confidence in the words of Jesus in John 16:33.

"These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."  

Bill Breckenridge