Giving Thanks is Good for You

Cover of "Giving Thanks: The Gifts of Gra...

Cover of Giving Thanks: The Gifts of Gratitude

This is the time of year that we pause to give thanks.  It is one of my personal favorites of all holidays because we share with our families and friends one of life’s most precious commodities:  our time.  No presents, nothing but our time.  Of course, some great meals are thrown in there too.

Typically, we are reminded to give thanks by our pastors as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday.  It is a practice that Christians should engage in regularly.  It is good for our spiritual health.  A while back my pastor shared the account of a man who came to him for counseling a few years ago.  This man suffered under a load of troubles.  His marriage, his money, his mental health, all was in turmoil.  My pastor counseled him to turn his attention to something for which he could be thankful.  The man said he couldn’t do it.  The pastor took a piece of paper and led this man through a few ideas about things he could express thanks.  When finished, they had come up with about fifty things.

The next year the pastor met with this man.  Some time had passed and this man seemed transformed.  He said that of all the things he was counseled on, the one thing that helped him the most was making the list.  This man kept the list and referred to it regularly.  The focus on thankfulness transformed this man’s life.

I saw an article in the Wall Street Journal on the health benefits of saying thanks.  I quote, “A growing body of research suggests that maintaining an attitude of gratitude can improve psychological, emotional and physical well-being.   Adults who frequently feel grateful have more energy, more optimism, more social connections and more happiness than those who do not, according to studies conducted over the past decade. They’re also less likely to be depressed, envious, greedy or alcoholics. They earn more money, sleep more soundly, exercise more regularly and have greater resistance to viral infections.”

God knows this, so why don’t Christians listen?  Here’s what Scripture says:  “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.  Christians ought to be the most thankful people on earth.  Christians should remind themselves that it is God’s will.  Christians should have the corner on the market of thankfulness.

Giving thanks honors the Lord.  It should not become a cliché.  It is an opportunity.  It is good for our health.  It is good for our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

This is the one ingredient we do not want to leave out of our Thanksgiving recipes.  I encourage you today to pause, to thank God for all your blessings and hardships, and to tell others how thankful you are for them.  Thank you Lord for this opportunity to share something that I hope will transform someone’s life today.  Amen!

The Bible, The President, The Nation

English: Seal of the President of the United S...

English: Seal of the President of the United States Español: Escudo del Presidente de los Estados Unidos Македонски: Печат на Претседателот на Соединетите Американски Држави. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I ran across some notes I had taken years ago from an old book, Profitable Bible Study by Wilbur M. Smith.   In my notes from this text, there were some quotes from selected U.S. presidents about the Bible.  These quotes are revealing and perhaps instructive during this election year.  The quotes indicate a good deal about the president’s relationship with God, their conception of their role as a spiritual leader, and their understanding of the importance of God’s Word in their own lives.  Here are a few for your review and consideration:

Abraham Lincoln:  “In regard to the Great Book, I have only to say, it is the best gift which God has given man.  All the good from the Savior of the world is communicated to us through this book.”

John Quincy Adams:  “So great is my veneration for the Bible and so strong my belief, that when duly read and meditated on, it is of all books in the world, that which contributes most to make men good, wise, and happy.”

Andrew Jackson:  “The Bible is the rock on which our republic rests.”

Woodrow Wilson:  “I am sorry for the men who do not read the Bible daily.  I wonder why they deprive themselves of the strength and the pleasure.  I should be afraid to go forward if I did not believe that there lay at the foundation of all our schooling and all our thought this incomparable and unimpeachable Word of God.”

What would you say about the Bible?  Where are you in your assessment of the need for God’s Word in your own life?  Does it make a difference? Does it matter to you how the President views the Bible?  Does it matter to you if the Bible is valued among the population of this nation or any other nation?

Reformed Theology and Southern Baptists: The Masses Don’t Care

English: Postage stamp depicting Martin Luther...

English: Postage stamp depicting Martin Luther, the initiator of the Protestant Reformation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many of my friends and associates work in churches and ministries.  Some of them talk quite a bit about being “reformed.”  They make it a point to bring this up often.  Some even go as far as to include the label on their blogs and websites.  Presently, there are debates among Southern Baptist leaders about who is the most reformed, or whether it is OK to breath the word in the context of their ministries.  Southern Baptists go as far as to offer conferences addressing reformed theology and to issue informal statements about their theological positions in an effort to garner support and approval from like-minded leaders.  Have we taken this discussion too far?  The Protestant Reformation occurred hundreds of years ago.

Can we not agree on whether God is sovereign over all things, that humanity is fallen, that the saved are elect, that salvation is in Christ alone, that sanctification leads to the transformation of persons and society?  Why is this still being debated?  Could it be that denominational leaders are so narcissistic that they want to continue the argument so that they draw attention to themselves and to their own glory for being in such a superior theological position than others?  Or are they afraid they are going to lose influence if they don’t line up with their cronies and continue to draw the unassuming masses to their churches?

I have a response for reformers.  My answer may sound a bit smug, but I don’t intend it to be that way.  My answer goes something like this, “One thing I am sure of—I seek to be conformed and transformed.”  I like these words.  Conformed and transformed.

By now you know that I am referring to a couple of passages in Scripture, Romans 8:29 and Romans 12:2.  Romans 8:29 refers to how God has called us “to be conformed to the image of His Son.”  In contrast to this type of conformity, Romans 12:2 tells us what not to be conformed to:  “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

It seems that all the reformed guys are more intent on being conformed to their reformed counterparts than they are on being conformed to the image of Christ.  I don’t hear much coming from these guys about the “conforming” that God works in us, the ultimate and complete sanctification.  This is the goal of our relationship with God through Christ Jesus.  Conformation implies that there is something already established that is the object of our conformation.  This is God’s will and it is a concept that we must grapple with in order to understand His will.

The act of transformation involves something in transition, namely ourselves and our constant act of turning our mind toward God in each thing we are confronted with in the world.  It is a metamorphosis, a total change from the inside out that is led by the mind.  My mind is transformed as I pray, as I read God’s Word, as I involve myself in fellowship with other believers.  This transformation is essential in discovering God’s will for our lives.

Be careful of the tendency to ignore conforming and transforming.  Sometimes the snare is the theological issue of the day, things that tend to puff up rather than to produce the humility and patience of being conformed to His image.  My prayer is that Christians would carefully examine their hearts to see if God is working in them in such a way that produces this image in them.

Bonnaroo, Woodstock, and Cultural Messages to Consider

English: Richie Havens at the Woodstock Festival

English: Richie Havens at the Woodstock Festival (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bonnaroo 2012 just ended its 4-day camping festival near Manchester, Tennessee.  Great musical acts made new friends among the throngs of young searchers.  There were remnants from Woodstock as well, those baby boomers who decided life was all about rock ‘n roll and staying high.

I was only 11 at the time of Woodstock, so I look back on that event in modern history curiously.  My interests in music fuel this curiosity and I really enjoy some of the ground-breaking rock from that era.  Today, even my grown children take pleasure in listening to and emulating in their own music the rock of bands in the late 60s and early 70s.  It has been hailed perhaps as the greatest period of development in that genre.

But what about the cultural impact?  No doubt, if I had been a young college student at the time I may have participated in the revelry at Woodstock.  The event signaled a time when young people exerted their freedom over the lives given them by a previous generation.  This freedom energized all forms of revolution.

As put by Woodstock performer Richie Havens, we were “at the exact center of true freedom” during the festival.  Havens ended his set with the old spiritual “Motherless Child” and a mantra of one word shouted intensely by the crowd:  “Freedom!”

It is foreboding that this concert called Woodstock actually was held 42 miles away in the hamlet of “Bethel.”  In Scripture, Bethel marks the spot where Jacob dreamed of a stairway to heaven with angels going up and coming down the stairs.  Jacob slept with his head on a stone and that stone later memorialized this place of communion between God and man.

Was God present at the Woodstock festival, or even at the recent Bonnaroo?  Yes, His “omnipresence”  and “omniscience” tells us He was.  Nothing on this earth happens without His knowledge.  But the freedom shouted by Havens and the concertgoers could have really meant bondage to some way of life that did not come from a dream on a stone pillow, but from a stoned mirage promulgated among the yearning young people of the day.  That bondage perhaps remains evident among the aging hippies at Bonnaroo.

For the Woodstock age, this freedom of expression from so-called restraints placed on them by their parents and the gray flannel society of the day ultimately led to one of the most self-centered and confused generations in history.  Freedom led to bondage to drugs and diseases we still fight today.  Look at the musicians of the day.  Some died from overdoses, others so stoned and drunk they performed wretchedly on stage.  Yes, they were free but they did not seek the wisdom that could truly set them free.

Let’s be careful today to remember the lessons from Woodstock and even Bonnaroo.  Our exercise of freedom must consider our God and His plans.  Looking to Him will set us free.  You may never know this if you stay in the funk of a Woodstock-stained freedom.  Jesus said, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

Is There Such a Thing as a Postmodern Evangelical?

From "Baptizing in the Jordan" by Si...

From “Baptizing in the Jordan” by Silas X. Floyd (1869-1923) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Look around and see if you can find one.  They used to carry some weight with their notions of redemption and righteous living that they wanted their American neighbors to embrace.  It was a few elections ago that their influence carried a President into office.  They supported missions, protected the unborn, and rejected liberal thought.  The books they read reflected the concerns of their modern Christian lives: books on family, raising strong-willed children, how to honor God with your money, keeping your life pure and clean, finding out your love language, men’s issues, women’s issues, teens issues, how to be happy, how to be happy at your job, how to be happy at home, how to have a happy family, etc.  Their Bibles provided a resource for answers, but the questions arose from selfish motives.  God’s Word conveniently supported their positions on issues and gave them brief devotional messages to start or end the day.  “This is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it,” wowed them enough to want to be glad no matter what the day brought.

These were the American evangelicals.  They sought refuge with each other in their pursuit of the good things of life yet may have moved away from their purpose, or should I say God’s purpose for them, to evangelize.  Some may say this is indicative of the post-modern day we live, however the roots go deeper than we can imagine and may indicate some challenging days ahead for the evangelical churches in America.

Why the alarm? First look at Christian leaders.  They seem to be rejecting the label of evangelical in favor of other labels.  Probably the most popular label today is “reformed.”  We have so much emphasis placed on this particular issue today that even the most earnest pastors and Christian leaders want others to know first and foremost that they are reformed in their thinking and their theology.  You don’t have to go far to see this.  Just visit the blogs of some of these leaders like Al Mohler, John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Mark Dever, C.J. Mahaney, and others to see that being reformed is trumpeted as their prime theological position.  It is hard to find these guys talk about being evangelical.  They even have conferences to help pastors understand that they are really reformed in their thinking.

Second, biblical literacy is perhaps at an all-time low among average American Christians.  Check out Barna on this.  Just engage in a conversation about doctrine and you’ll see that the average American Christian can’t tell you about the major doctrines of the faith even in layman’s terms.  Their small groups get into certain lifestyle topics and take a Christian slant by basing their discussions on one or two relevant Bible verses, but they have difficulty expressing thoughts about God, man, salvation, Jesus, the church to others.

Third, look at the decline in giving to missions in the mainline church and perhaps even decline in memberships at these churches.  This is especially evident if you look at giving over a period of time in constant dollars.  There is talk about the inability to send new missionaries to the field.  Those missionaries already on the field are concerned.

And what about declines in memberships at mainline churches?  Some of this may reflect the de-emphasis of what it means to be a part of the local church.  You see this particularly in the venues where pastors are referred to as “great speakers” and where music and worship receives major emphasis.  Yes, baptisms are down but we sure do know how to worship!  Some of these churches don’t even keep lists of regular attenders.

I hope this is not beginning to sound too cynical, but I do think we are seeing a monumental shift in church life that is moving us away from the old ways of doing church.  And with this maybe we are seeing the term “evangelical” being shuffled back into a closet with all the old hymnals and choir robes.  One thing is for certain—we can reconcile evangelism and the sovereignty of God, remembering that we as Believers must bear the responsibility of evangelism while understanding God’s sovereign role in the salvation of man.

The Bible, Google It

Is Google Making Us Stupid?

Is Google Making Us Stupid? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You all have felt it. It was just a matter of time. Years of surfing the internet has finally caught up with us. Yes, I am talking about the effect of spending massive, cumulative amounts of time online on our brains.

For me, I can think back into the 1990s at some point when the web enticed me into its massive reserve of available information. I had been a library junkie all my life, leafing through pages of information about places and things I enjoy for long periods of time between the stacks. Now thanks to the internet, I could search volumes of information with mere clicks. Pretty soon I got to be very good at this and could ramble through web page after web page without processing anything but key words from the pages. Now, I must confess, these days the web has become the conduit for lots of the information that flows into my mind.

I found a concern over this online information processing in a recent article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” by Nicholas Carr, in the current issue of The Atlantic. Carr says that his past decade on the computer rendered him unable to concentrate, that perhaps the neural circuitry of his brain is remapped and his memory reprogrammed. Further, Carr says he used to be able to immerse himself in books and long articles, relishing the narratives of these talented authors; however, today he becomes fidgety and cannot endure any extended amounts of time reading. Huge amounts of research can be done in little time, a boon for writers like Carr, but this form of “power browsing” mimics a form of skimming, i.e., hopping from one source to another source and retaining only small snatches of information.

This may have implications for future generations of Christ followers. Young believers, and some not-so-young believers, today spend huge amounts of time plugged into something, whether it be the internet, cellphones, blue-tooth devices, all making some folks look like human cyborgs. Even text messaging is a hybrid, cyborg-ic form of communication with its short, pithy remarks and lack of care over spelling and form. Our imaginations can run with this stuff and cause us to worry over the technological advances that supposedly have made our lives easier and more advanced. The web has woven something, and I think it is our brains. There may be an appearance of wisdom, but something is lacking.

Is there any wonder that fewer today are reading their Bibles? (Check out the Barna polls). We know that God’s Word is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16), but how can it be if we are unable to meditate on it, dwell in it, and talk about it coherently. Have we been reduced to a mish-mash of gray matter that cannot process even one book of the Bible without losing focus? It is time to counter this trend and return to the tried and true methods of observation, interpretation, and application of God’s Word so that our faith, which is more precious than gold, will be refined and be our one constant in a day of rapid change. God’s Word is a lamp for our feet, and a light for our path—it is not merely a hyperlink to heaven in this cyber age. We may be just one step away from the New Revised Google Version of the Bible.

Twitter Me God

DILO 3-21-07 "Words of Jesus"

DILO 3-21-07 “Words of Jesus” (Photo credit: Old Shoe Woman)

I wonder if followers of Christ today know what their calling means.

Think back to Scriptural accounts of the calling of the first disciples.  They responded to a personal encounter with Jesus.  Jesus issued his simple instructions, “Come follow me.”  Those three words changed their lives and then the world.

Some of them understood the challenge.  Leave your work, your family, anything that hinders and come follow Jesus.  They did not seem torn at the prospect.  In the Gospel of Mark, they responded immediately.  Take no thought for yourself.  It was if they embodied the teachings of Jesus at the time they responded.

Those callings were certainly unique in history, however many have continued to respond to the call to be a disciple through the ensuing centuries.  Lives continued to change as a result of the response.  The encounters with Jesus were not in the physical, but through the reading of God’s Word, through the listening to the preaching of God’s Word, and perhaps through personal encounters with others who followed.  They were real encounters because lives changed through the response.  Come follow me still meant the same thing.

It still means the same today, but I wonder if we are waiting for a “tweet” from God?  Today’s modes of communication have rendered the saints less able to discern when they are hearing a call from the Lord.  I’ll Google it and see what God says.  My Blackberry sends me daily reminders to check on that sound bite from God.  I have to have my I-Phone during church because I have this neat Bible app where I can look up Bible verses and get daily devotionals.  It’s like we are at the moment in history when Gutenberg invented movable type and the Bible became available to the masses.  The Tweeted Bible, the I-Phone app, the e-Bible, they are all new ways to communicate God’s Word.

If God twittered you today, would you hear Him?  If Jesus twittered the masses, how many would respond?  Can we personally encounter the God of Scripture through a tweet?  The test is in the response.  What is happening today among young Christians and their knowledge of Scripture?  Gallup polls show declines in Bible reading and in participation in Bible study (Google it).  Further, belief in God shows a decline in the polls.

Some of the Barna polls describe an even dimmer situation (Google it).  Basic doctrines of the Christian faith are simply not being absorbed.  For example, accessibility to God’s Word has increased and our general knowledge of His Word has decreased.  Belief in a sinless Christ, in the accuracy of Scripture, and the belief that Satan is real all show significant declines in belief.  It seems that devotional application is taking precedent over exposition and theology in the nation’s pulpits.

Do we need to be concerned?  I think it would be appropriate for Christians to reflect on these issues and see if something needs to change in our encounters with the Lord.  This may be a first step in countering some of these trends.