Friday, November 1, 2013

Giving Thanks

     From our earliest days in school we have all heard the stories of how the Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving in order to give thanks to God for His provision. While rarely mentioned in public schools today, colonial observances of Thanksgiving were clearly focused on God as their Creator and Sustainer. In his journal, William Branford, an early Governor of Plymouth Colony, wrote

          “And afterwards the Lord sent them such seasonable showers, with interchange
          of fair warm weather as, through His blessing, caused a fruitful and liberal harvest,
          to their no small comfort and rejoicing. For which mercy, in time convenient,
          they also set apart a day of thanksgiving…”

     It was not, however, until 1863 that Thanksgiving became an annual observance when President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of "Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

     While we celebrate Thanksgiving today as part of the broader holiday season, over the last century
we have changed the emphasis from giving thanks to being thankful. Many Americans might argue that the two phrases are synonymous, however the difference is significant and it can be seen in the verb of each phrase. To give is to make a present of, to grant or bestow to another. Being is the quality or state of having existence. While it stands to reason that in order to give thanks one must be thankful, one can be thankful without giving thanks.

     It has become commonplace in the days that lead up to the fourth Thursday in November to take time to name all of the things for which we are thankful. In some circles it’s known as “The Thankful Game.” Most often family, friends, health, and favorable life situations top the list of the things that inspires feelings of thankfulness. Unfortunately it quite often stops there. We are content in our thankfulness and are satisfied in feeling grateful.

     It seems that today our focus is more on what we are thankful for rather than to whom we should be thankful. We appreciate the gift far more than the giver. This Thanksgiving let’s take a moment and give thanks to the One from whom all blessings flow. Let’s give thanks to the Creator and Sustainer of all. Without Him there truly would be nothing for which to be thankful, in fact without Him there would be nothing at all.

I will praise the LORD with all my heart
in the assembly of the upright and in the congregation.
The LORD’s works are great,
studied by all who delight in them.
All that He does is splendid and majestic;
His righteousness endures forever.
He has caused His wonderful works to be remembered.
The LORD is gracious and compassionate.
He has provided food for those who fear Him;
He remembers His covenant forever.
He has shown His people the power of His works
by giving them the inheritance of the nations.
The works of His hands are truth and justice;
all His instructions are trustworthy.
They are established forever and ever,
enacted in truth and in what is right.
He has sent redemption to His people.
He has ordained His covenant forever.
His name is holy and awe-inspiring.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
all who follow His instructions have good insight.
His praise endures forever. Psalm 111


In His Service,

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Sanctity of Marriage

     One of the “hot button” issues in American politics today is the issue of gay marriage. It is, for supporters of the homosexual agenda, a major step in normalizing homosexuality in our culture. Supporters of gay marriage put forth the idea that marriage is a fundamental right that all Americans should be afforded and that limiting marriage to heterosexual couples is simply discrimination. They see it as a secular agreement that signifies mutual commitment and affords partners legal rights and protections. 

     Evangelical Christians have long held that marriage is far more. It is an institution created and
defined by God. It is, as we state in our Baptist Faith and Message, “the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime.” It provides the “framework for intimate companionship” and “the means for procreation of the human race.” Clearly we see marriage as being far more than just a secular agreement between two consenting adults. It is the foundational union on which the family is built.

     Given our lofty proclamations, it is more than a little concerning that Christian marriages don’t seem to be any different than any other marriages. One of the most embarrassing realities is that Born-Again Christians get divorced at the same rate as those who claim no faith at all. While we are not perfect, and we know divorces will occur within even the most devout body of believers, one would expect there to be some difference between divorce rates in the church and in the lost world. One study even showed that the divorce rate in Baptist churches was a little higher than the secular world

     I believe the problem is that while we say we believe that marriage is a holy union, in reality we don’t treat it as such. Beyond the gender limitations, we allow that anyone has the right to get married. After all, no one wants to deny a young girl her opportunity to don an elegant wedding gown and to walk down the center aisle of the church as her friends and family celebrate her moment. It often seems that more time, attention and preparation is given to the wedding than the marriage. Unfortunately, this is even the case in Christian marriages.

     Several years ago Tom Elliff while serving as Pastor at First Southern Baptist Church – Del City, found himself terribly burdened by the number of failed marriages he was seeing in his community. Believing that only Biblical, Christ centered marriages would stand a chance of success he made the decision not to marry couples without making sure that they were believers and that they intended to live their lives according to the principles of God's Word. He said, “I had to decide if I was going to marry everybody that came down the road or follow God's Word.” Elliff instituted five prerequisites that all couples must fulfill before he would consider performing the ceremony – 1) both must have a growing relationship with Christ, 2) they must be Scripturally free to marry, 3) they must have parental approval, 3) they must be debt free and, 5) it must be the right time. 

     Imagine if every pastor were to adopt such a standard. What would happen if we, as Christians were to teach our children God’s requirements for marriage and would lovingly decline to support ceremonies that were contrary to God’s commandments? The Bible does clearly limit marriage to heterosexual couples, but gender differentiation is not God’s only requirement. If we really believe that marriage is a sacred institution, we should begin to treat it as such.

In His Service,

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Fast Food Worship

     As it is said that confession is good for the soul, I must now make a confession. A few years ago I….bought a “New Orleans style” shrimp po’boy from a fast-food franchise. There, I said it, it’s now out in the open. It was a poor decision and I have regretted it ever since. I hope you won’t think any less of me.

     I’m sure some are reading this and saying to yourself, “Huh?” Anyone who has ever had a real, genuine po’boy in New Orleans knows exactly why getting a po’boy anywhere else is such a
travesty. It’s like getting a Philly cheesesteak in Arkansas or New England clam chowder in Montana. It’s not that there is anything inherently wrong with these things, it’s just when you’ve been to the source and had the best – anything else is just “settling.” But then again, “settling” is a big part of our lives. Our society is based on settling and making compromises. We are w
illing to settle for less in one area to gain more in another. We are willing to sacrifice quality for convenience, speed and price. This truly is a Wal-Mart and McDonald’s world. But don’t blame them, they are just giving us what we want – convenience, speed and price.

     This trend has also affected the church. Multitudes are willing to sacrifice genuine worship and a genuine relationship with Christ for what is quick, convenient and requires little effort. What is truly unfortunate is that for many it’s all they know. They’ve never been to the foot of the cross or come face to face with Christ. They’ve never experienced genuine worship in the presence of the creator, so they settle for “good enough” because they have never tasted extraordinary. It’s a shame that so many people believe that corporate worship is nothing more than three hymns and a sermon. No wonder they are thinking about the buffet line half way through the invitation.

     When we gather for corporate worship we should be seeking a genuine worship experience in the presence of our God and Creator. We should be seeking His Spirit and longing for a life changing moment. I’m not referring to manufactured emotions or gimmicks, (that’s like trying to cover up a bad sandwich with a lot of condiments.) What I’m referring to is worshiping the Father in Spirit and in Truth. That’s what He desires and it’s what we should desire as well. We should leave worship closer to God than when we entered. We should leave loving Him more, with a greater desire to serve and please Him.

     So, why don’t we? Why has corporate worship become just “something we do on Sundays?” Well, the problem is certainly not with God, it’s with us. Remember, what we’re looking for is speed, convenience, and price. We want it fast; we want it when we want it and we don’t want to make a big investment. If we truly want to experience genuine worship, if we want to be changed then we must accept that it will be done on His terms, not ours. We must be willing to slow down; we must be willing to wait for Him and we must be willing to invest ourselves. Remember, while we may be willing to settle for less, God isn’t and He doesn’t. He doesn’t have to settle for quick, cheap and easy.

     Once we’ve experienced genuine worship with God, we won’t want to settle for anything less. We will ache for those moments in His presence. We won’t be willing to settle for fast food worship when we’ve tasted the real thing.

In His Service,