An Attitude of Gratitude

“But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” (Acts 16:25)

Thanksgiving is one of the seasons that I look forward to every year.

“You got that right Pastor Keith. Turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, pecan pie… Boy, I look forward to Thanksgiving too!”

Well, I certainly won’t argue with you about the wonderful food at Thanksgiving — but I had something a little different in mind this morning.

“Oh, I hear ya Pastor Keith! I love the parades and FOOTBALL!!! I eat all I can then I sit around and watch FOOTBALL! Sometimes I actually watch football with my eyes closed…if you know what I mean.”

Yes…I love the parades and football and family and all those special things about Thanksgiving as well. BUT I still had something a little different in mind for today. You see, I believe that an attitude of gratitude makes a tremendous difference in a person’s life — not only at Thanksgiving but every day.

It seems we all know how to complain — but the best side of our nature is the one that says: “God, thank You for Your blessings. Thank You for this good land. Thank You for the food on our tables. Thank You for our dear family and friends”

An ancient proverb says, “A gift unacknowledged is a gift unreceived.” And that is true. If you send a gift to someone — whether it is for their birthday or some other special occasion — sometimes you never know for sure whether they even got it or cared about it if they never mention it.

In a similar way, we receive many blessings from God, and we need to thank Him, to acknowledge those gifts. There can be no doubt that being aware of those blessings and thanking God for them makes us happier people. A life that does not have the dimension of gratitude is a life that is not being lived to the fullest.

We live life with its problems, and if we aren’t careful, we can reach a point where our problems are all we see. But the Christian faith — and particularly giving thanks to God, helps us see life in a much fuller dimension.

Paul and Silas understood that. In our verse today, they were in jail because they had been preaching about Jesus and it interfered with the income of some folks in town. They were abusing a slave girl and Paul and Silas had gone to her rescue. Her owners were furious. They demanded that Paul and Silas be arrested. They were not just put in prison — they were put in the INNER prison and their feet were put in stocks.

But notice what they did. Instead of being resentful — Paul and Silas SANG and gave thanks to God. They broke out of life in the narrow dimension of their problems and saw it in a larger dimension. They saw that God was still there and that there were things to be thankful for.

In your life — the worst may have happened. Maybe you’ve lost a dear loved one; maybe you’ve lost your job. Maybe there have been marital problems or problems with children. God doesn’t expect us to be thankful FOR those things — but even IN those things, we can be thankful for the strength of Christ. As we live for Christ — He will cause good things to come out of bad.

Too often we wait until Thanksgiving Day to give thanks to God for the blessings of life. I challenge you to make EVERY DAY a day of Thanksgiving. Thank Him for your salvation — for Jesus Christ — and for the privilege of service.

While things are not always the way I would like for them to be — as a Christian — I still have so much to be thankful for.

Have a great day.

The Secret of Thanksgiving

“Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.” (Psalm 107:1)

In his book Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible, Dietrich Bonhoeffer says that Christians cannot really learn to pray unless they come to the Psalms. He considered it a dangerous error “to think that the heart can pray by itself. For then we confuse wishes, hopes, sighs, laments, rejoicings — all of which the heart can do by itself — with prayer. And we confuse earth and heaven, man and God. Prayer does not mean simply to pour out one’s heart. It means rather to find the way to God and speak with Him, whether the heart is full or empty.”

As we prepare for our national observance of Thanksgiving on Thursday, I want to remind us today that the Christian is to be thankful EVERY day — not just on Thanksgiving Day.

In Psalm 107, the psalmist shows us four things that I believe open the door to true thankfulness.

In verse 1, we are to celebrate the goodness of God. Throughout this psalm, God’s goodness is illustrated in different ways. In verse 6, “He delivered them out of their distresses.”  In verse 14, “He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death.” In verse 20, “He sent His word and healed them.”

As the people of God — we are called to be thankful to a God who is good. The joy of thanksgiving to a good God is too much for a solo voice. It requires choirs of people! Our days should be filed with praise and the singing of that praise should be heard around the world. God’s people should praise His name!

The second thing that Psalm 107 teaches me about thanksgiving is this…We should focus on the MAIN ISSUES of life. We may complain about not having expensive shoes to wear until we see someone who has no feet. Young people today talk about “First World Problems.” What they mean in calling that to our attention is that most of the things we complain about are not even on the radar of most people in the rest of the world. Americans are notorious for not knowing the difference between necessities and luxuries.

My point is this…we discern the secret of thanksgiving when we face trouble and realize that all things are not equally important. When the basics of life are provided — we should be thankful.

The third secret is to remember the source of our help. This psalm shows that God’s people understood that God was the source of their strength and deliverance. He had brought them out of bondage; He had led them through the wilderness; He would bring them safely home.

If we are to be thankful, we must remember from whom the blessings flow!

Finally, I learn that the secret of thanksgiving is that I need to take time for gratitude. Remember the story of the ten lepers in Luke 17? We are often amazed that only one returned to Jesus to say thank you. But I think we are often guilty of the same carelessness.

I read a story years ago about Edward Spencer. Spencer was a student at Northwestern University. On an autumn night in 1860, a steamboat broke up and sank in Lake Michigan. Of the 393 passengers aboard the boat, 279 drowned. Of the 114 survivors, 17 of them were saved by Edward Spencer. He was a strong swimmer and after 17 round trips into the water to save people, Spencer became delirious from the stress and strain. It was reported that he asked over and over — “Did I do my best?”

As a result of that night, Spencer became sick and was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Some years later, on Spencer’s birthday, a reporter asked him his most vivid memory of that heroic date in his life. His answer? “I remember that not one of the seventeen returned to thank me.”

I pray that I won’t forget to say thank you. I pray that I will turn EVERY DAY into Thanksgiving Day. I want to live a life of gratitude to God for all the blessings He has showered my way.

Have a great day.

Losing Favor or Flavor?

“Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another.” (Mark 9:50)

In the ancient world, salt was a valuable and scarce commodity. It was used as currency in some countries even into modern times. During an invasion of Ethiopia, in the late 19th century, Italian soldiers found blocks of salt stored in bank vaults along with other familiar forms of currency.

When Jesus called His followers salt — He was paying them a great compliment.

But in our verse today — I want to call your attention to the question Jesus asks His followers — “but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it?” J.B. Phillips translates it this way — “Salt is a very good thing; but if it should lose its saltiness, what can you do to restore its flavor?”

In my humble, but accurate opinion — salt makes things taste better! There may be little, if any particular food value to salt — but it sure makes things taste better and it is a preservative.

So I believe Jesus is saying to His followers — both those of 2000 years ago as well as to us — “What good is it to be a follower of mine if there is nothing distinctive about your life?” If by following Jesus, you make no real contribution to the life of the world, if through your life and your actions, there is no witness to the redemptive power of the Gospel — what’s the use in calling yourself a Christian?

Have we gained the favor of the world by losing our flavor? I would suggest that we have.

Survey after survey shows that there is very little difference between what Christians say they believe and what the world believes. There is a continual blurring of lifestyles. I often remind people that the Ten Commandments were NOT the Ten Suggestions. They are not multiple choice! But that’s what we would prefer.

I read recently that a new Guiness Record had been set for the shortest sermon. One Episcopal priest stood up one Sunday morning, walked to his pulpit, stood there for a moment, said one word, LOVE, and then sat down.

“Hey Pastor Keith! That’s a great idea — one word sermons — why don’t you try it some time…”

FOCUS! You missed the point. While it was a one word sermon — it was a sermon that says what is at the heart of our faith. As believers, you and I are to model a life that reveals to the world the love and grace of God so they might repent of their sins and experience that love for themselves. Our saltiness is to point people to the ONLY ONE who can quench the thirst of life. We are to point people to Jesus by the way we love others and serve others.

One of my favorite stories is about a pastor who supposedly was a great lover of children. One day he looked at the sidewalk leading up to his house that had been freshly poured. Some children were playing and leaving footprints in the freshly poured cement. He rushed out and yelled at the children.

Someone said to him: “Well pastor, we thought you liked children.”

He said, “Yes, I love them in the abstract but not in the concrete!”

“Pastor Keith — maybe you should give that one word sermon idea a little more thought and leave the jokes to the comedians.”

FOCUS PEOPLE!!! First — that is a funny joke and second — the POINT is the world needs to see a concrete demonstration of the Christian life in action. Rather than seeking to simply blend in with the world, we have been called to a higher standard for living. We are to be SALT in the world — and salt makes things better.

Are you making the world a better place because you have the FLAVOR of Christ’s love in your life?

Have a great day.

Taking It To Heart

“Which of the two did the will of his father? They said to Him, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him.'” (Matthew 21:31-32)

Years ago, Bob Zuppke was the coach at the University of Illinois. On one Saturday afternoon, Zuppke was trying to get his team ready to play the University of Iowa. “Men,” he said, “I want you to get in there and die for Illinois. Nobody will be taken out unless he’s dead. Get that? Unless he’s DEAD!”

The inspired but overmatched Illinois played Iowa to a standstill until late in the fourth quarter when they finally ran out of gas. In fact, one of the frail Illinois halfbacks literally keeled over from exhaustion. Zuppke grabbed one of his younger players and yelled, “Get in there and replace that man!”

The young man dashed out to where the exhausted man lay — then came right bak to the sidelines. “What’s wrong?” shouted Zuppke. “Why didn’t you take that man’s place like I told you?”

“It ain’t necessary, Coach,” said the player. “He’s still breathing a little.”

That young man actually took his coach’s pep talk to heart!

Jesus told the parable in Matthew 21 of a man who had two sons. He went to the first one and told him to go and work in the vineyard. The son — somewhat rebellious — said, “I will not go!” But afterwards he repented and went.

The father went to the second son and made the same request. “Sure Pops,” said the second son, but he never did to do the work. Our verses today pick up the story at that point. Jesus said, “Which son did the will of his father?”

Well, the answer is obvious. The son who DID what the father asked was the one who did the will of his father. In spite of the fact that he at first said he would not — he thought about it, repented of his attitude and went to work.

We tend to think of the first son as the “problem child” when it really is the second son who did not take his father’s request to heart. He was like so many people in the church today. They are nice, friendly, basically Christian people who don’t argue or criticize and never give a minute’s trouble. BUT getting them to actually DO anything is next to impossible.

I’m not suggesting that we should be busy for the sake of busyness. I’ve seen churches like that. They have a terrific calendar of activities, but very few of those activities are meaningful in bringing people closer to the Kingdom of God.

The Good Samaritan was not “good” because he studied his Sunday school lesson, as important as that is, but because he saw a stranger in need and went to his aid. The Rich Young Ruler missed out on the Kingdom not because he was immoral. He missed the Kingdom because he was not willing to follow Jesus’ direction — give his possessions to the poor and follow Jesus. The man who built his house upon the rock was praised NOT because he had the right theology, but because “He hears my words and does them” (Matthew 7:24).

Hearing is important — but we must take it to heart and DO something about it. We are not called to be pious saints sitting in the corner with hands folded in complacent contemplation. We are called to be soldiers in the army of Christ.

We need to listen to the instruction of our Lord — we should be available, sensitive and accountable — so that we can get in the game and serve Christ literally until we die. When we get saved — we no longer belong to US — we belong to CHRIST. Let’s take His words to heart and give our all for the Kingdom of God.

Have a great day.

Put On Your Shoes!

“When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, ‘Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.'” (Mark 8:34)

I remember hearing a story once about a group of animals in the jungle who decided to have a football game. The problem was that no one could tackle the rhino. Once he got a head of steam, he was unstoppable. When he received the opening kick-off, he immediately rambled for a touchdown. The score was 7-0 immediately.

Somehow they managed to keep the ball away from him the remainder of the first quarter. At the beginning of the second quarter, the other team tied the score 7-7. The lion tried to warn the zebra on the kickoff not to kick it to the rhino. But the zebra ignored the warning. The rhino caught the ball and there he was racing for the touchdown. Suddenly, out of nowhere, he was brought down with a vicious tackle. When the animals unpiled, it was discovered that a centipede had made a tackle.

“That was great!” congratulated the lion. “But I have a question. Where were you on the opening kick-off?”

The centipede replied, “I was still putting on my shoes!”

Our verse today from Mark 8 is a call to PUT ON YOUR SHOES!

I wonder if it’s even possible to speak to this generation about self-denial. After all, we are the ME generation. We want what we want and we want it NOW. We will not put up with any inconvenience. We will not be second in line. We will settle for nothing but the best.

The words of Jesus to deny yourself and take up the cross seem very strange. But if we are going to impact our world for Jesus Christ, we must learn to deny ourselves take up our cross and follow Jesus. When we completely submit ourselves to God and His will, He will fill us with His power and His presence and His power. The Apostle Paul realized that when he said, “I live, but not I, but Christ Jesus lives in me.”

God will never ask us to do anything that He will not empower us and equip us to do. He simply asks us to empty ourselves of SELF to we can be filled with HIM. And when that happens, we put on our shoes and we get busy making a difference in the world through His power.

The greatest satisfaction we will ever know in this life comes when we allow God to guide us, fill us and equip us to do what HE desires us to do. It comes when we are not SELF-centered but GOD-centered.

Have a great day.

Living in the “Innocuous Middle”

“And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.'” (Mark 7:37)

One of my favorite PEANUTS cartoons shows Charlie Brown, Linus, and Lucy on their way to school. Lucy asks Linus if he has remember to bring anything for show and tell.

“Yes,” Linus answers, “I have a couple of things here to show the class.” He then unfolds some papers. “These are copies I’ve been making of some of the Dead Sea Scrolls. This is a duplicate of the scroll of Isaiah, chapters 38-40. It was made from 17 pieces of sheep skin and was found in a cave by a Bedouin shepherd.”

Pulling out another piece of paper Linus says, “Here I have made a copy of the earliest known fragment ever found. It’s a portion of I Samuel 23:9-16. I’ll try to explain to the class how these manuscripts have influenced modern scholarship.”

Lucy respond, “Very interesting, Linus,” and she turns to Charlie Brown, who has a frustrated expression on his face, and asks, “Are you bringing something for show and tell Charlie Brown?”

“Well,” says a dejected Charlie Brown, “I had a little red fire engine here but I think I’ll just forget it.”

Again Linus’ Dead Sea Scrolls, Charlie Brown’s little fire engine just didn’t seem like much.

Mark 7:31 occurs at the end of a section in which Jesus healed a man who was deaf and also had a speech impediment. The crowds were so amazed at Jesus that they said – “He has done all things well.” What more can anybody say about a person?

I know we are NOT saved by our works — I want to make that crystal clear. We are saved by the grace of God through faith in His Son Jesus Christ. Still, I often wonder if I will not someday stand before God and asked the most terrifying question I can imagine — “Keith — did you do your best?”

Stick with me here. I know we are only human and we are never going to have it said of us “He has done all things well.” Having said that, though, I believe I should seek to live my life in obedience to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and doing my best at all I do.

I don’t want to be described the way Tacitus once described Tiberius, the Roman emperor. Tacitus said about Tiberius, “He feared the best, was ashamed of the worst, and chose the innocuous middle.”

I don’t want to be like the church at Laodicea. Jesus said of them, “Would that you were hot or cold, but because you are lukewarm I will vomit you out of my mouth.” The church at Laodicea had chosen to live in the “innocuous middle.”

Following Christ calls us to set lofty goals and then to go the extra mile to see that those goals are made tangible. As Christians, we do what others do AND THEN SOME. Following Christ requires more than just a token commitment. It requires my all — my very best!

I pray that this week you and I will get out of the “innocuous middle” and that we will go the extra mile to show the love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to every one we meet. I want to give my very best in service to the One who died to save me from my sins.

Have a great day.