Thankfulness in All Circumstances

It’s that time of year again. If you’re on any social media you know exactly what I’m talking about. November 1 rolls around every year and suddenly it seems that you can’t go ten minutes without someone you know posting what they are thankful for. Most that do this post one thing a day for the 30 days of November. Before I go any further, if you participate in this exercise I want to make this very clear; I am not saying that there is anything wrong with it. I actually enjoy reading what people post.

And I get why this is always done in November. We have a holiday called “Thanksgiving” during this month. We set this month aside to try and remember what we are thankful for, and that is a very much needed reminder in this world. There is so much wrong in the world today that we sometimes forget what we do have to be thankful for.

What I want to encourage you with, however, is we need to focus on what we have to be thankful for a lot more often than just the month of November. Especially as Christ followers. There is so much for us to remember. There is so much to be thankful for. Even when things are not going exactly the way we want them to or the way we think they should.

Paul, when writing to the Thessalonian church, put it this way;

“16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18)

In all circumstances. That seems really tough doesn’t it? Does that mean when a loved one is sick we should give thanks? What about when it’s a holiday and you’re not able to be with family? Or you’ve lost your job and you don’t know how you’re going to keep paying your bills? Or you just keep seeing more and more evidence that we live in a broken world? The answer is “YES!” In all circumstances. How do we do that?

The answer is right in front of us in the rest of what Paul has written here. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks…for this is God’s will for you. We are able to be thankful in all circumstance when we are able to focus on Jesus. By looking to Him in every situation, being in constant communication with Him (prayer), and realizing that if nothing else, we have Jesus Himself to be thankful for. Living as a Christ follower was never promised to be easy. Don’t ever make that mistake. But Christ did promise to always be with us. And He promised it would all be worth it in the end.

There is so much pain in this world. We live in a broken world because as human beings we have tried to do things on our own instead of looking to God. So here’s my challenge to you; Look for things to be thankful for all year long. There is nothing wrong with focusing on thankfulness during November, just don’t forget that we all have so much to be thankful for all year long. Even the trials and hard times that we face are things to be thankful for. I’ll leave you with this thought from James 1:

“2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

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Sphere of Influence

On Easter Sunday, just a couple of weeks ago now, I was watching the final round of the PGA Tour Golf Tournament that was being played at the Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. 

Harbour Town
Harbour Town Golf Links

This is one of my favorite courses to watch, and it is usually a pretty well contested tournament as it is played the week after the first Major Tournament of the year, The Masters.  Most professional golfers try to get their games to peak for The Masters, and because of that, there are usually some golfers that are at their best the following week as well.

Another interesting thing to note about this tournament is that in it’s 49 years of being played in South Carolina, no native South Carolinian has ever won it.  That is until this year.  Wesley Bryan held on to win the tournament with a 13-under par score, winning by one stroke.  What makes this even more impressive is the fact that he is a rookie on the tour, and wasn’t even in the field at The Masters the week before.  He’s not new to the game of golf, but he is a new face in the top tour of his profession now.

Wesley Bryan
Wesley Bryan

After the tournament was concluded, I was watching the network coverage, and because they had finished a little earlier than expected, they had time to actually interview Mr. Bryan live.  Jim Nance was conducting the interview, and it was your typical golf interview, talking about certain shots that ended up being significant, how it felt to be the first native South Carolinian to win, how his first win on the PGA Tour felt, etc.  Bryan was very humble, which is refreshing to see, but the interview then took a turn that I was very surprised to see.

Nance opened the door and asked Bryan about winning the tournament in his home state ON EASTER SUNDAY.  The door was wide open.  My interest was captured immediately, along with the thought of, “I can’t believe that they actually asked that question, what’s he going to say?”  I wasn’t disappointed.  I can’t find a clip or transcript of the response, which is no surprise.  But Bryan responded along the lines of, “I don’t want the spotlight to be on me too much today.  It needs to be on my Lord and Savior who rose from the grave.”

And it was a sincere response.  All to often, athletes and those in the spot light mention God or Jesus, but you can just tell that it is lip service.  That they are just saying it to be saying it, they don’t actually believe it.  Well, I don’t know Bryan, didn’t even know his name before Easter Sunday this year.  But he sounded sincere.  It wasn’t this response thanking God for his talent and ability.  He was humbly putting the spotlight on what we, as Christ followers, celebrate each year on Easter (and hopefully every other day of the year as well for that matter). 

This young man had just gotten in the spotlight for really the first time on the national stage, and he used it to shine a light on Jesus.  How incredible is that?!  We may never have the national spotlight on us.  We may never have the local spotlight on us for that matter.  But we all have a sphere of influence.  Are you using your sphere of influence to make your name better, or to glorify the name of Jesus and what He has done for us?  (Side note: With his win, Bryan automatically qualifies for The Masters tournament next year)

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Do You Believe in Miracles

*Note: This is the article that is included in my previous post (Central Christian Church “Messenger”: March 2017 edition)

Just a few days ago, on February 22, 2017, there was a celebration of sorts.  What you may be asking?  It was the 37th anniversary of one of the greatest upsets in sports history.  On February 22, 1980, a group of amateur U.S. Hockey players went up against the USSR Hockey team that had been dominating the world over the previous 20 years.  In fact, just a few days before this battle took place, the two teams had met in an exhibition match at Madison Square Garden, and the Soviet team absolutely dismantled the overmatched Americans. 

This was all in the lead up to the Winter Olympics set to take place in Lake Placid, New York.  As fate would have it, the American team was set to play the Soviets in the semi-finals of the Olympic hockey tournament.  History was against them.  Not many gave them any chance.  This was a team that was filled with college hockey players going up against the professionals of the Soviets.  The stage was set, and if you know anything about sports history, you know this game as the “Miracle on Ice”. 

miracle

Going into the final period, the Soviet team held a 3-2 lead.  It seemed that all they had to do was just hold on and they would be playing for the Gold Medal.  The U.S. team had other plans.  They came back and scored two third period goals to take a 4-3 lead.  The Soviet team threw everything they could at the Americans through the last few minutes of the game, but the American defense held strong. 

As the final seconds ticked away on the clock, the Americans possessed the puck, and it became clear that they would indeed preserve their lead.  The ABC network was broadcasting the game here in the States, with Al Michaels calling the game.  His call in the final seconds has become as iconic as the game itself.  As those final seconds ticked away, you can hear Michaels, “Do you believer in miracles?!”  And as the clock hit zero, he emphatically added, “Yes!”

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The “Miracle on Ice”.  It has been named the top sports moment of the 20th Century by Sports Illustrated.  But I think Michaels’ question at the end is an important moment for us as well.  “Do you believe in miracles?”  That was his question about one of the most unlikely upsets ever in the sports world.  I want to ask you the same question, but not about sports. 

“Do you believe in miracles?”  I mean real miracles that we read about in scripture.  The healings that have no explanation.  People being raised from the dead.  A man walking on water.  Feeding of thousands upon thousands of people with just a handful of food.  Water being turned into wine.  A man beaten so badly that he couldn’t be recognized and then hung on a cross until he died, coming back to life three days later.  These are the miracles I’m asking if you believe in.

Jesus’ entire ministry as a human was backed up by miracles.  He healed the sick, raised the dead, fed thousands with nothing, knew the hearts of those around Him, and willing went to the cross for our sins, trusting the Father to raise Him from the grave three days later.  And that doesn’t even go into all the miracles that we see throughout the Old Testament and in the beginning of the Church after Jesus’ ascension to the Father.  Those miracles do two things.  First, it shows us God’s power.  Second, they were there to give authority to those speaking; to prove that they had something worth listening to. 

Many people try to explain away the miracles that we read about throughout scripture.  It’s just too hard for them to believe that these things happened.  If you are a Christ follower, and don’t think that these miracles actually happened, how big is the God that you claim to follow?  These miracles show us the power of our God. 

DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES?!

The “Miracle on Ice” was just a sporting event.  In the grand scheme of things, it is not really that miraculous.  If you don’t know the history of the game, however, I want to let you know that the Americans did back up this victory and go on to win the Gold Medal against Finland after the miracle on ice game.  Jesus went on to back up His miracles as well.  Coming out of that tomb three days after being crucified, He backed up not only everything that He had taught, but everything He had done as well.  God proved who Jesus was, and that our salvation would be secure in Him through the Resurrection.  So let me ask you this: DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES?!  I hope you can answer “YES!”

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Know Your Audience

Many of you remember a few months ago when we started handing out pens that had “Central Christian Church” printed on them along with the address of the church.  The idea behind it was to give out the pens to friends, family, and others that we come in contact with to get the church’s name out in the community.  We still have a bunch of pens left, so if you need more to hand out, please let me know, but that really is not my point in this article.  We ordered the pens from a company that specializes in advertising through things like pens, notepads and various other small gifts like that. 

Since we made the initial order, the company has sent numerous samples of items they are trying to get us to purchase with the church name on them.  Most of them are not cost effective for us, so nothing has happened since the pens.  Another sample came in the mail just earlier this week, and I got a really good hard laugh out of this one.  I opened the envelope, and saw, with “Central Christian Church” printed prominently on the product, a “deluxe bottle opener with cork screw”.  This is something that you would easily see in a bar, but that I just could not see a church giving away in the community.

bottle-opener-pic

Don’t get me wrong.  I know there are reasons for a bottle opener, whether you drink alcohol or not, but it isn’t something that I would ever expect any church to give away.  My point is this; this company forgot something very important in sales (and in sharing your faith with others).  They did not keep their audience in mind when they created this sample (at their own expense) and sent it to churches.  I’m guessing grocery stores, bars, and other similar businesses would have been more receptive to something like this, and possibly even purchased some of the bottle openers to give away.

Here is the bigger point I want to make.  We are in the middle of a sermon series right now looking at living a life on mission.  That mission is sharing Jesus with other people, as much as possible.  This past week, we talked about connecting with others, building relationships with them.  In other words, getting to know someone before we share our faith.  That’s what we can learn from this company not understanding their potential customers. 

We have to know our audience before we know how to share our faith.  The message of Jesus and God’s love does not change.  But how we share that can change depending on who we are talking to.  Jesus was great at knowing His audience before He shared with them.  He taught mainly in parables, or stories, and they hit on subjects that would have been very familiar to those that were there to listen to Him. 

Paul even did this.  He would start at different subject areas depending on whether he was talking to fellow Jews, or if he was talking to mainly Gentiles.  All we are asking each other to do in this is to live a life on mission of moving people toward Jesus.  Get to know others that don’t know Him yet, build a relationship with them, and once you know your audience, tell your story of what God has done in your own life.  Let’s get on mission!

New Year, New Outlook

We are moving into a new year.  2016 has gone by really quickly, and 2017 is just around the corner.  As you can see, with the new year upon us, we have redesigned our newsletter.  What better time to redesign and start fresh than the new year? 

2016 has been a year of turmoil, anger, destruction, and violence in this country.  It is my prayer that 2017 will not follow suit.  And we have the power to make sure that it does not, at least in our own lives.  I came across a picture on social media a couple of weeks ago that I had seen before, but for some reason this time it stuck out to me.  It read, “I don’t care if you’re black, white, straight, bisexual, gay, lesbian, rich or poor.  If you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you.  Simple as that.”

be-nice

On the surface, I like what it is saying.  But for some reason when I saw it this time, something clicked.  The person that shared it is a friend of mine that I know is a Christian.  He truly tries to live his life following Jesus, which is something we can all strive for.  When I saw it this time I realized that as Christians, we cannot put a condition on being nice to someone.  We need to be nice, no matter how someone else is treating us. 

Now I know that is not always possible, but it is something as Christ followers we need to be striving for.  Paul writes in Romans 12:17-21, “17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

So we need to live at peace.  That does not mean that we just roll over and let people walk all over us, but being nice to someone should not be prefaced by how they treat us first.  We have to live by the principles of the Bible, and when we are confronted by someone who is wrong, we need to correct them, but it has to be in love.  In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes in chapter 16 verses 13 and 14; “13 Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. 14 Do everything in love.”  So we are to stand firm in our faith, but do everything in love.  I realize that is much harder said than done, but it really should not matter how someone is treating you for you to treat them in love (now I realize that pointing out to someone that they are going down a dangerous path could be the most loving thing you do).

If you examine the life of Jesus, you will find He was great at this.  He confronted the Pharisees when they were wrong, but He was doing so to correct their thinking.  Jesus did not retaliate (which He could have easily done) when they crucified Him. 

What I am really trying to get at is this: we should treat everyone as nice as we can, regardless of how they are treating us.  More importantly, however, we need to treat everyone in love.  So as we enter 2017, change your thinking.  No longer look at how we treat anyone with a conditional statement, “If you do this, then I will do this”.  Make 2017 the year that we as Christians take steps to follow Jesus in an even greater way than we have before.  Who knows, we might just see more people come to know our Savior!  God Bless!

Thoughts From a Crosseyed Jesus Freak

“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” (Dec. ’16 Newsletter)

“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” or so the beloved Christmas song goes.  And for many that is a very true statement.  I love this time of year, although, I am still having to get used to the summer like temperatures (at least for this TN guy) around the holidays.  It is hard to believe that this will be Kelley and I’s third Christmas season here in NM, but it is. 

While I say that I love this time of year, and I do agree with the song I quoted above, I also realize that this is not always the most wonderful time of the year for many.  For those that do not have family to spend time with, or that have family too far away to get to spend time with, it can be a depressing time of year as well.  Believe me, I get that so much, because as much as I love this time of year, it is hard knowing that Kelley and I will not be spending it with our families either in OH or TN.

Then there are those that just recently lost a loved one.  Holidays are really tough in those situations.  In fact, I was reminded of that talking to Kell’s mom on Thanksgiving Day.  Her father passed away in December of 2014, and Kell’s mom was telling us that she spent almost two hours on the phone with her mom on Thanksgiving Day, because the holiday season is still tough on her not having her husband.

Another reminder of how tough this season can be sometimes is going on right now as I type these words.  I am not sure how many of you are following what is going on in my home state, but Gatlinburg, TN and surrounding areas have been severely damaged by some out of control forest fires.  In fact, just a couple of nights ago, Gatlinburg residents faced a mandatory evacuation, while hundreds of homes, cabins, and business were burned to the ground.  My family is all safe (they live about an hour and a half from Gatlinburg), but there are thousands that have lost everything, right before Christmas.  The town is a home away from home for so many that I know from East TN and OH as well.  I have spent many weekends in the Gatlinburg area in my youth as well.  To say the situation is devastating is an understatement.

I write all of the above for one simple reason.  While I love this time of year, it is a hard time of year for many.  We are reminded of family members that are gone now, and miss the family members and friends that we are not able to spend time with during the holidays. 

Whether this is “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” for you, or it is a difficult reminder of those that are either gone too soon or too far away to spend time with, I want to remind you of one simple truth that we should all hold on to: This is the time of year that we set aside to celebrate the coming of the greatest gift this world has ever seen, and that is the birth of Jesus Christ!

While this is probably not the real date of His birth, this is when we choose to celebrate and remember that Jesus sat aside His glory and divinity in Heaven, and chose to become human.  John records this in a beautiful way in John 1:14; “14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  Whether you are hurting or celebrating during this season, hold on to the fact that Jesus came, and He came for you and me!