November 22, 2016

"In everything give thanks"

It is such a good thing that we have this national holiday, every fourth Thursday of November, to remind us to give thanks to the One who “gives to all people life and breath and all things” (Acts 17:25). Indeed, the Thanksgiving holiday itself is another one of those things for which we should give God thanks! And, of course, we can readily think of many other blessings for which to thank Him this late November. Some of us have had very signal blessings in the last year … or very timely deliverances. Many of us have family reasons for praise, or business reasons, or health reasons, or church reasons, or reasons of God drawing especially near to our own souls. God does indeed “satisf[y] your years with good things” (Psalm 103:5).

But what about those years and seasons when the good things seem to be overshadowed by events which, at least on the raw surface of life, seem not so good? Or what about the times when those things for which we normally give thanks around the Thanksgiving table seem to be few and far between? Even then, the apostle Paul would remind us, we can and should give thanks. “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:18, emphasis added). Not just when the reports are rosy; not just when you have the typical Thanksgiving round of reasons; but “in everything give thanks”!

Is that realistic? Is it just phony? How do the bereaved give thanks when a loved one’s place is now empty at the Thanksgiving feast? How do the lonely give thanks when they have no one to feast with at all? How do the unemployed give thanks? Or the cancer ridden, or those discouraged in their dead-end job? Should we just plaster on a smile and ‘say the right thing’? Or is there something even more to genuine thanksgiving than just the obvious reasons why most Americans (rightly) give thanks?

Well, there is the simple fact of the gospel, isn’t there? So that, if you belong to Christ, even if you cannot think of anything else for which to give thanks, you can give thanks for His shed blood, and for the forgiveness and eternal life that you have in Him! Because of Him, you can be thankful in spite of your circumstances!

But 1 Thessalonians 5:18 calls for something even more, it seems to me – not just thanksgiving in spite of our circumstances, but actually giving thanks in those circumstances. And that means that we must thank God for what He is doing in our trials, in our bereavement, in our discouragement. And what is He doing? Well, we don’t always know the fine print! And sometimes we can’t even seem to read vast sections of the large print! But, if we are in Christ; if we “love God”; if we “are called according to His purpose”, then “we know” that, even if we cannot see it, God is working every trial and heartache for our everlasting good (Romans 8:28). And we know (Romans 8:32), that if God was willing to give us His very best – His own Son! – then surely He will not withhold anything else that is needful. And we know that “the LORD is near to the brokenhearted” (Psalm 34:18) and that “the angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear Him” (Psalm 34:7). And so we can thank God, not just in spite of our trials, but for what He is doing in our trials – upholding us, encamping round us, drawing especially near to us in sorrow, wisely working good that we cannot yet see … and promising, with His Son as the earnest payment (Rom 8:32), that He will continue doing these things every moment of our lives!

So then, thank God around the tables at Thanksgiving! Thank Him for family, and friends, and health, and safety, and all that is going obviously well in your life. But thank Him, too, for how He is wise and good and faithful and strong even when “the mountains slip into the heart of the sea.” Even then, He is “a very present help.” And so, even then, we may give thanks.

November 16, 2016

Sermons from Psalms 145-150

We recently completed our lenghty and periodic journey through the book of Psalms.  Here are the final six sermons in the series:

Psalm 145 - "Every day I will bless you" - mp3
Psalm 146 - "Do not trust in princes" - mp3
Psalm 147 - A Psalm of Thanksgiving - mp3
Psalm 148 - All Creatures of Our God and King* - mp3
Psalm 149 - A Song and a ... Sword? - mp3
Psalm 150 - "Let everything that has breath praise the LORD" - mp3

Some (though not all) of the sermons from prior psalms are available here.  May the listener be helped and encouraged, and may the Lord be praised as we hear from this marvelous book of the Bible!

____________

*The sermon title for Psalm 148 was taken from the hymn of the same title by Francis of Assisi, paraphrased in English by William Draper.

November 14, 2016

Celebrate Well!

The craze of ‘the holiday season’ is nearly upon us. And I must confess that, as a child of American culture, I really do prize it as ‘the most wonderful time of the year’! The unique traditions, the broccoli casserole, the time with family, the carols and hot chocolate – all of them make the five weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s loads of fun. Indeed, though I don’t usually buy all that much, I even enjoy maybe an hour stroll around the mall with giant nutcrackers situated here and there, and Kenny G’s Christmas album playing in the background. I can only imagine if I lived in Europe with its open air Christmas markets! And it’s all about to hit!

But when it hits, along with all the delights of the holidays will also come all the busyness, the added obligations, the mania, and maybe even our own inner humbugs – much of which can suck the life, not only out of the season, but of the soul. And the soul is too valuable to be run over (or treated merely as someone’s target demographic) for the final five weeks of the year! And, indeed, the opportunities of this season are too valuable to be lost in the shuffle and the mad rush. So, a few tips for celebrating well instead of wearily …

Schedule wisely. You don’t have to do everything, be everywhere, see absolutely everyone, and make every party. Rejoice, yes! Get out of the house, to be sure. Eat well! But make sure you temper your schedule so as to eat with, rejoice with, and get out of the house for those who really need it most, those who really need you most – your children, your spouse, your siblings and parents, your church family, your close friends, and “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” (Luke 14:12-14). Don’t get caught in a holiday rat race. Slow down enough to enjoy the people that God gives you this holiday season! Give your energy to moments, and not mania.

Give generously. Douglas Wilson has written marvelously about why it is a good thing indeed to lavishly celebrate the birth of Christ! “Use fudge and eggnog and wine and roast beef. Use presents and wrapping paper.” We are celebrating after all! And thus presents under the tree (within the bounds of sanity) are a good thing! And it is an especially good thing if we lavish such gifts on those who need them most – the poor, the outcast, the gospel-starved. That is why inviting someone on the fringes to your holiday feast, and shopping for Operation Christmas Child, and giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering® are so fulfilling – because they allow us to celebrate and rejoice and give gifts … and do so, at the same time, with eternal purpose! So give generously over these final weeks of the year – to those near, who already celebrate Christ with you; and for the sake of those far, whom you long to see, someday, join you in the heavenly banquet hall.

Worship intentionally. Sometimes, like Martha (Luke 10:38-42), we can get so busy with all the preparations for the event that we forget why we’re having the event in the first place (or for whom)! So celebrate, yes! But don’t focus so much attention on the tinsel, and treats, and toys that you forget that there is a reason for all this merry-making! Pause, rather, amid all the pure fun … and turn your attention to the manger in Bethlehem, and to the God-man who lay there that He might live, die, and live again to “save His people from their sins.” Carve out time for real thanksgiving on Thanksgiving, and for the Christmas story on Christmas, and for caroling and praise throughout December, and for a family trip to a Christmas service (on Sunday this year!). This will feed your soul, and make all the delights of the body all the more meaningful and sweet.

Celebrating with you ...

November 8, 2016

Psalm 46

For the choir director.
A Psalm of the sons of Korah, set to Alamoth.
A Song.

God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change
And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea;
Though its waters roar and foam,
Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.
Selah.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
The holy dwelling places of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations made an uproar, the kingdoms tottered;
He raised His voice, the earth melted.
The LORD of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our stronghold.
Selah.

Come, behold the works of the LORD,
Who has wrought desolations in the earth.
He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth;
He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
He burns the chariots with fire.
“Cease striving and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
The LORD of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our stronghold.
Selah.

November 2, 2016

The Sky is not Falling

When Wednesday morning comes, a good many of our co-workers, neighbors, and friends will be speaking as though the sky were falling. Whichever way the presidential election turns out, there will be millions upon millions of Americans with serious concerns about our country’s future. And rightly so. We are in a sad time as a nation, make no mistake. The American experiment, barring a revival of true religion, has been heading toward its sunset for some time now – well before Election 2016. The present state of political affairs is a reflection of America’s soul, not an intrusion upon it. And so maybe the America sky is indeed going to fall, or just slowly continue morphing into a much darker shade of blue. May God help us.

But having said all of that, I remind you that, if we are in Christ, we do not live under the American sky only. Yes, the decline of our national morals, civility, government, and sanity will profoundly affect us. But even if the American sky should fall, isn’t it true that we are citizens of an entirely other kingdom – “a kingdom which cannot be shaken” (Hebrews 12:28); the kingdom of Christ? This kingdom was flourishing with great glory well before the words Plymouth, and Washington, and Lincoln were woven into the tapestry of world history. And this kingdom will still be advancing long after Clinton and Trump have finished writing their part of the American epic. Indeed, the kingdom of Jesus will thrive even if America as we know it should someday cease to exist. “His kingdom will have no end” (Luke 1:33).

And so, for the Christian, a sky may be falling … but not the sky! Christ is still on His throne. As Handel reminds us every Christmas (from Revelation 19:6, KJV), “The Lord God omnipotent reigneth.”

Let that be your anchor, no matter how disappointed you wake up on Wednesday morning. And let it be your ballast, even when you are elated with political victories or turnabouts.

And just to remind you of who is ultimately on the throne, have a look, on Wednesday morning, at the burnt orange reminders of God’s faithfulness dangling from the tree branches against the backdrop of the American sky. God promised, six millennia ago, that the earth would always cycle through its seasons (Genesis 8:22):
“While the earth remains,
Seedtime and harvest,
And cold and heat,
And summer and winter,
And day and night
Shall not cease.”
And the autumn leaves, on Wednesday, will remind you that God is keeping that covenant! And that is enough, brothers and sisters. That is enough. God is still God. God is still faithful. God still reigns. And the future is secure in Christ. So pray for America; cast your vote for the good of America; “seek the welfare of” America. But put your trust in Christ!