The Key to Experiencing Thanksgiving All Year Long

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Thanksgiving is clearly the greatest holiday ever created in America—and not just because of the great food and football games.

A few years ago I had a new revelation while writing Thanksgiving notes to some friends. In past years, I would say something like, “I’m thankful for YOU this Thanksgiving.” That certainly was true enough, but it missed an important point: I wasn’t only thankful for these friends on one day of the year, but rather was grateful for them all year long.

Suddenly my mind was flooded with Paul’s words to his friends in Philippi: Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God”  (Philippians 1:3 MSG).

Isn’t that cool? At the mere thought of his friends, Paul had a “Thanksgiving moment.” Even when distance or jail cells prevented him from seeing them face to face, his Thanksgiving rose to God whenever he even thought of these people he loved so much.

I hope you have friends and loved ones who brighten your life like that. Whenever someone mentions their name or the Lord brings them to mind during your prayer times, you light up inside. You find yourself welling up with gratitude that such a person would be a part of your life.

This year I found myself realizing in a whole new way that if you have good friends and are a person of prayer, you can experience Thanksgiving anytime. There may not be any turkey or football, and your loved ones may not be physically present with you at the time. But you can “break out in exclamations of thanks”  nevertheless.

Let’s be honest, though: We all know people who don’t bring such a cheery reaction when they come to mind. Rather than sparking joyous praise, they bring us concern or sadness or even a tinge of anger when they come to mind. This could be someone who has wronged us, who we’ve not yet forgiven. Or perhaps it’s a spouse or child who’s not living like we think they should.

Fortunately, Paul has an answer for this kind of situation too—when instead of thankfulness, we feel burdened down when we think about how another person is doing. Just a few verses after the words above, Paul adds one of the most beautiful promises in the entire Bible: I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns”  (Philippians 1:6 NLT).

Look at how these two verses work together: In verse 3 Paul describes his great joy and thankfulness every time he remembers his fellow believers in Philippi.

But in verse 6, he reveals the secret of why he could rejoice even when some people weren’t doing very well: He knew God was still at work! Instead of remaining distraught about the circumstances of such people, Paul knew He could commit them into the Lord’s loving hands, confident in His ability to change their heart and turn things around for them.

Do you see how your whole perspective changes when you look at the people in your life through this two-fold lens in Philippians 1? Every day—and every moment of every day—can become a time of spontaneous Thanksgiving. So you don’t have to wait another 364 days—let the hallelujahs ring out now!

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Thanksgiving, God’s Kindness & the ‘Giving Back’ Question

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I’ve never really liked the phrase “giving back.” Maybe it’s because we’re often called to show kindness to complete strangers and people who aren’t in a position to give us anything in return. Although we’re possibly “giving back” to God  in some way, we’re usually not reimbursing people for anything they’ve first given us.

Yet this Thanksgiving I find myself reflecting on the responsibilities we all have when we realize how blessed we are. On this day when we recount the blessings we’ve received from God, it’s also a great time to ask ourselves how we can BE a blessing to others (Genesis 12:2).

One day King David woke up with this same quest on his mind: “Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, to whom I may show the kindness of God?”  (2 Samuel 9:3)

If you know David’s story, he had experienced lots of hardships on his way to becoming king and fulfilling his destiny. As part of God’s training process, he had overcome lions, bears, giants, and a deranged, homicidal king. At times he had to run for his life, living in caves and other dark places.

But by the time we get to this episode in 2 Samuel 9, David was feeling overwhelmed by how much God had blessed him. He recognized that he had abundantly received “the kindness of God.”  And as a natural by-product, he wanted to find someone to share the blessings with.

Sounds something like Thanksgiving, doesn’t it?

David had a particular desire to bless those from the lineage of his former enemy, King Saul. What a great example this is for us. Perhaps there’s someone you need to reach out to who was once your nemesis. Maybe there was friction or suspicion in the past, but it’s time to overcome all of that with kindness and generosity.

Remember the Pilgrims and the Native Americans? Talk about cultural differences! But what if we could reenact that same kind of spirit in our cities today, where police officers and the black community sat down to break bread and share their resources together?

In David’s case, the options were pretty limited. It turned out that the only person left of Saul descendants was a bitter, crippled man named Mephibosheth.  This son of Jonathan was living in a desolate place called Lo Debar, and his self-image was so low that he considered himself no better than a “dead dog”  (v. 8).

Just the kind of person you should invite to your home for Thanksgiving, don’t you think?!

Remember: When you’re looking for people to show kindness to, they might not be the easiest people to love! In fact, you can count on the fact that the people who need love the most will be the hardest to love.

But love them anyway.

Mephibosheth was described to David in such a way that the king might have been reluctant to get involved with such an unsavory character. Yet David immediately had the man brought to Jerusalem to eat at the king’s table—just as if Mephibosheth was one of David’s own sons (v. 11).

Thanksgiving is a time for families, of course. But it also can be a great time to invite someone else  to sit at your table, as David did with Mephiboseth.

I hope you are feeling blessed today. If so, is there someone you can show the kindness of God?

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A Vision That Will Change Everything

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Have you ever had a time when you realized your perspective was totally misguided? Perhaps you saw a relationship incorrectly, or you misjudged the leadership of your church. Or maybe you sunk into despair as you read news headlines about your nation or the world.

I recently was challenged when I read the life-changing vision Isaiah had after King Uzziah died:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
The whole earth is full of His glory!”
  (Isaiah 6:1-3).

Uzziah had been a good king, but he had a rather bad ending (2 Chronicles 26). And just as today, the political changes in ancient times often made people apprehensive.

But Isaiah saw beyond the troubling headlines of his day to a much more important reality: The Lord  was sitting on the throne of heaven. He was high and lifted up, with a vantage point much better than ours.

Nothing on earth was going to change the majestic scene in heaven.

Lately I’ve been stunned by the angelic song: “The whole earth is full of His glory!”  I’ve read this over and over, even checking it out in various translations.

How could the seraphim declare that the whole world was ALREADY full of God’s glory?

If we could get a glimpse into heaven today, I’m sure we would hear this same song being sung. In the earthly realm, we see Democrats and Republicans waging war. Terrorists seem to be multiplying. The economy goes up and down. Racial tensions won’t seem to go away.

As an optimist, I’ve often cited Bible verses promising that God’s glory would one day fill the earth (Habakkuk 2:14, Numbers 14:21). But while my perspective has generally been limited to “the sweet by and by,” the heavenly creatures saw God’s pervasive glory as a present-tense reality.

Pause and consider how your life would change if you regularly sang the seraphim’s song. Wouldn’t there be a profound transformation if you realized that the glory of the Lord was filling your home, your office, your church, your community, and your nation?

And think about the new level of peace and hopefulness you’d experience if you believed—really  believed—that God was ultimately in control of the universe. No election can alter that fact. So let’s all take a deep breath and determine that we will entrust ourselves to Him, no matter what’s going on around us.

When Isaiah saw the Lord on His throne and recognized that His glory was already filling the earth, the political and economic news of his day suddenly faded in importance. And rather than setting himself up as a judge over the leadership changes around him, the prophet found himself repenting of his sins, humbling himself, and listening for a new mandate from God’s throne room.

“My eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts,”  Isaiah said (v. 5). A vision like that will change everything, no matter what is happening in the world around us.

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Whose Side Is God On?

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One of the fascinating aspects of each election cycle is to watch both Democrats and Republicans imply that God is certainly on their side of the issues. Meanwhile, theologians debate whether God is a Calvinist or Arminian. And sometimes entire nations—especially the United States—portray themselves as being on the side of God and righteousness.

So how can we tell whose side is God really on?

There’s a great story in Joshua 5:13-15 that should give us cause for concern on this subject. The scene takes place shortly before Joshua is planning to lead the Israelites against the formidable city of Jericho. This was the first step in his campaign to take possession of the Promised Land, and Joshua was facing some anxiety.

As he was gazing at Jericho in preparation for the coming events, Joshua was suddenly confronted with a mighty angel of the Lord, with his sword drawn for battle. The angel clearly would be a formidable warrior, and Joshua certainly hoped he had come to fight on the side of the Israelites.

“Are You for us or for our adversaries?” was his logical question for the angel (v. 13).

However, the angel didn’t frame his answer the way Joshua might have hoped: “No,” the angel replied, “but as Commander of the army of the Lord I have now come” (v. 14).

Do you see the irony here? Joshua hadn’t asked a yes or no question. He wanted to know—as we all do—whether God was going to fight on his side or his enemy’s side.

But God never comes to take sides—He comes to take over! The angel’s reply let Joshua see an important insight about spiritual or political battles: Instead of trying to get God to fight on our side, we had better humble ourselves to make sure we are aligning ourselves with His side.

Joshua got the message loud and clear. Falling on his face to the earth, he worshiped God and said, “What does my Lord say to His servant?” Liking this response, the Commander of the Lord’s army told Joshua to take off his sandals, for he was standing on holy ground (vs. 14-15).

What a great model for us as well. The Bible declares, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). But the surest way to know that God is truly “for us” is to make sure our highest objective is to seek His kingdom and accomplish His will. When we’re willing to do that, Jericho will be no match for us.

If the recent election was won by the political candidate you supported, here’s my advice: Don’t stop praying!

And if your preferred candidate lost the recent election, here’s my advice: Don’t stop praying!

Rather than either gloating in victory or moaning in defeat, it’s now more important than ever to seek God’s grace and favor on the nation. That will only happen when we lay aside our personal assumptions and agendas, seeking His kingdom and glory above all.

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Daniel, the Blind Men, and the Election

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“Every truth has two sides; it is as well to look at both,

before we commit ourselves to either.” – Aesop

I recently studied the life of the Old Testament prophet Daniel and discovered that he had lived under the reign of 10 different kings. That got me thinking about my own life…

It’s embarrassing to admit, but I’m so old that I was born during the final years of Harry Truman’s administration! Wow. That seems like ancient history.

Donald Trump will be the thirteenth American president in my lifetime. Some of our presidents have been good, some have been bad, but none have been perfect.

Somehow America has survived our very flawed leaders, and Daniel’s story has helped give me perspective and hope for our future.

The people of Daniel’s generation had no opportunity to vote on their leaders. Instead of being able to change the course of history through political campaigns, he had to trust that “[God] removes kings and raises up kings”—even rulers like Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Cyrus, and Darius (Daniel 2:21).

Rather than put his hope in any of these human leaders, Daniel took comfort in an entirely different kingdom. Even though he was greatly alarmed by events on earth at times, he came to see that “the Ancient of Days” would ultimately sit on the throne of heaven, ruling over an everlasting kingdom (Daniel 7:9-27).

Seeing the Big Picture

Our perspective on America’s recent election could profit from lessons in this famous poem by John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887):

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.
The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a WALL!”
The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, “Ho, what have we here,
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a SPEAR!”
The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a SNAKE!”
The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he:
“Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a TREE!”
The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a FAN!”
The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a ROPE!”
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

It’s no wonder this story has spread across the world in various versions. People find it fascinating that each of these men could be both right and wrong at the same time. They were correct about what they perceived, yet each of them had perceptions that were incomplete.

We see this principle at work all the time, both in politics and in the church. People tend to feel very certain about what they have experienced, and rightfully so. Those from minority groups are more likely to have experienced racial prejudice, and that is very real to them. Meanwhile, those in the white majority often have a hard time believing that racial discrimination is still much of a problem a full century and a half after the Emancipation Proclamation.

We all have a limited view of the “elephants” in the room, don’t we? Smug about what we think we “know,” we don’t recognize that we can be right and wrong at the same time. As a result, we tend to adopt half truths, not realizing that the other half may be in error.

Unless we keep this principle in mind, we’ll be much too prone to attribute nearly messianic qualities to our preferred political leaders, willfully blind to their flaws. If you’re an American, I hope you voted in the recent election. But I also hope you did so prayerfully and with your eyes wide open.

God is the only One who sees the whole picture. Yes, we can experience more and more of the Lord as we read His Word and draw near to Him in prayer. But nevertheless, the Bible says, “we know in part and we prophecy in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9). In eternity, we will have a much fuller view of the elephant, but “now we see in a mirror, dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Although the fog of human events may often obscure this fact, someone is still seated on heaven’s throne (Revelation 4:1-2). We’ll find great solace when we accept His invitation to “come up here” and take a look.

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When a Nation Needs Divine Favor

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The Intriguing Message of “Annuit Coeptis”

I can’t tell you for sure whether America’s Founding Fathers were influenced by the New Age or infiltrated by the Illuminati. But some of the Latin phrases they used are pretty intriguing.

For example, a few years ago I took a look at Annuit Coeptis, which is found on the Great Seal and the back of our dollar bills. This Latin phrase can be translated “He (or Providence) favors our undertakings” or “He has prospered our endeavors.”

Wow. Our Founders somehow realized they never would have succeeded without divine favor. This recognition of the need for God’s favor should be our quest as well—especially in the chaotic times our country now faces.

A psalm attributed to Moses reflects this passion very well:

May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands (Psalm 90:17).

So what does it take for a nation to gain—or to lose—the Lord’s favor? Amid the horrors of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln wrestled with this very issue:

We have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!

It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness…

All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the Nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace.

Whether you’re a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or follower of some other political philosophy, I hope you will grasp the power of Lincoln’s message. We need more than better politicians or better policies. We need a spiritual awakening that begins with you and me.

In addition to President Lincoln’s diagnosis of our need for national repentance and revival, the words of nineteenth-century historian Alexis de Tocqueville are amazingly prophetic today:

“America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

Forgive us, Lord. Heal our land. May Annuit Coeptis be our testimony once again.

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