Tuesday, November 21, 2023

A Beginners Guide to Giving Thanks

You would think giving thanks would come easily and naturally but, for me and I suppose others, it often times doesn’t. So, with the season of Thanksgiving upon us I thought I’d write this little guide for my benefit and hopefully for yours.

Give thanks for the good things

This is the easy one. Even the most callous person feels at least a twinge of gratitude when something good happens. Nevertheless, let this be a reminder that we need to pause and give thanks for the good things in life like the new job, the financial windfall, the new baby, the fabulous vacation, the mended relationship, the restored health, and all the special joys and victories that give life that extra sense of joy and happiness.

Give thanks for the ordinary things

This is a little more difficult, but it would be a shame not to recognize all the simple beauties of life. Give thanks for those things that we often take for granted. Those small gifts that sometimes get overlooked. Things like a beautiful fall day, a sunrise or sunset, good meals, steady friendships, warm houses, good health, reliable jobs, and all the common and familiar joys that show up day after day.

Give thanks for the hard times

This is certainly difficult, but not impossible. We often dismiss hard times as simply curses and misfortunes. Not to minimize the hurt and pain caused by these hard times, but it is in troubling circumstances that we sometimes experience growth and maturity that would elude us if not for them. Wisdom, endurance, and strength are often the byproducts of tragedy but only if we seek them. Giving thanks for the hard times may take time and should not be forced upon those in the throes of grief, but with the passing of time perhaps we can see how the hard times in life have actually formed us and shaped us into better human beings.

Give thanks for the past

Whether the present is good or bad we can always reach back into our memories and be thankful for the times that were. Memory is such a wonderful capacity we have to relive the good times of years gone by. Sometimes good memories can be even better than the actual event. It’s like a good stew which is good on the first day but seems to be even more delicious the day after. I find that memories can bring both laughter and tears, but somehow those tears bring a sense of gratitude of what was and gives me hope of what can be.

Give thanks for the future

For this one to work we need two other ingredients – faith and hope. I suppose these can be found for even the atheist and agnostic, but the real power is for those who believe in a loving God who has a good plan and powerful God who can make it happen. I believe that someday people of hope and faith will one day experience a joy that far surpasses any we have experienced in this life. We call it heaven and, even though the specifics of its wonder and glory are beyond human language, one thing we know for sure. It will be a place of endless and uninterrupted thanksgiving!

Father, we give you thanks for the special blessings of this life. We thank you also for the simple joys we experience all around us every day. Father, we thank you for preserving us through the hard times and may we in time be even thankful for how you used those to bring unexpected blessing to our lives. Father, we thank you for all the days gone by and memories of family, friends, and joys. And we give you thanks for the great hope we have of one day thanking you face to face as for eternity we shall bask in your goodness and love.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Black Eye Theology

With football season in full swing, I often think of my high school football days. I wasn’t very good at all but, as the saying goes, the older I get the better I was. One of my few highlights from those days was a kickoff return. You may be thinking that my story is about a game winning return but it isn’t. Actually, the return was nothing to speak of. It was how I was tackled that I remember.

As I was being brought down the defender reached into my face mask and poked me in the eye. There was no serious damage but I figured this was going to give me a black eye and, sure enough, after the game when I checked it out I had the worst shiner I had ever had. And boy, was I proud!

We played our games on Saturday mornings and I couldn’t wait to go to church the next day and then to school the next Monday to show off my injury. I was anxious to let everyone know that I risked my life for our high school football team (I may have been a little overdramatic). I was privileged to wear this “badge of courage” as it identified me with this sport that I so much loved. I considered it an honor to suffer for such a worthy cause.

In some ways Christianity has been given a black eye. It seems from the very beginning believers were subject to ridicule and persecution. In the early days of the church Luke in the book of Acts paints a picture of Christians being threatened to stop talking their nonsense or there will be harsh repercussions. And there were. And we’re talking way more than a black eye. Some were imprisoned. Others were even killed.

Yet, amid all the threats and intimidations, those first believers had the same response as high school me. They were proud! This is how Luke describes it:

The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. (Acts 5:41, NIV)

Years later the apostle Peter, who is thought to have been crucified upside down because of his faith, wrote these words to Christians who were being poked in the eye:

If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. (1 Peter 4:16, NIV)

Football can be a dangerous game. When you put on the pads and the helmet you expect to be hit. It comes as no surprise when your rival throws you to the ground and the opposing crowd taunts you. But when you’re proud of your team and focused on victory you take those hits and nurse those injuries with joy knowing you’re part of something bigger than yourself.

Faith can be a dangerous proposition. When you take on the name of Christ you should expect to be hit. It should come as no surprise when the enemy mocks you. Insults and injuries are part of the game. But we bear those with joy knowing that even our Captain was insulted and mocked. We proudly bear the marks of faith knowing those black eyes mean that we are in a battle worth fighting. We are part of a team destined for victory!

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

The Bible Study Bible: Review

The Bible Study Bible is exactly what its name suggests – this is a Bible designed for small group or personal Bible study. You might ask, “Don’t we already have plenty of those?” We do, but what sets this Bible apart is that it provides a series of questions for EVERY CHAPTER OF THE BIBLE! I’ve used similar Bibles, but none that provides study resources for every chapter. This Bible is ideal for a small group of people reading through the Bible or reading through a book of the Bible. All you need to lead a small group is right there. It even includes in the introduction some helpful tips on how to lead groups. I will keep this volume handy for personal reflection and, as a church leader, I will certainly use this as a resource for small group leaders in my church. If you are a small group leader, this Bible certainly needs to be considered for your group.

As always, you need to know what this Bible is not. Although it provides introductions to each book of the Bible, a concordance and set of maps there are no study notes, textual notes, or cross references in the text. This is not a Study Bible in the sense of digging deep into the text, but there are (as noted above) plenty of good Study Bibles. 

This Bible is the New King James Version which is not my first choice for a translation. That is not a distraction for me, but a detail you should know. I’m hoping that it will be adapted to other English translations.

This Bible is worthy of being included in your library for your personal reading and especially if you are or hope to be a small group leader. Get a few friends together and start reading and discussing. This is the vision behind this volume as stated by the study resource compiler Sam O’Neal in the introduction.

This Bible can be purchased at FaithGateway Store or on Amazon. More details on this Bible is available on the Thomas Nelson webpage.

I received this Bible for free as a member of the Bible Gateway Blogger Grid (#Bible GatewayPartner) in agreement to writing this review.  

Friday, June 23, 2023

An Epiphany on Generosity

I recently drove my adult son to the airport for a trip he was taking with some friends. He lives in Arkansas but was flying out of DFW, so he drove to our home in Denison to spend a little time with us. While he was gone I drove his car a few times just to make sure it was running well. I guess that’s what a dad does even with grown sons.

His car had actually been given to him by my wife and me when he was in college and, as I was driving his car, the thought occurred to me how generous I was to have given him this car that is still running so well. I was thinking pretty highly of myself and figuratively patting myself on the back for being such a benevolent father.  

Then I remembered.

Several years back my wife’s uncle called me. Age had crept up on him and his health was failing and he and his wife, our aunt, had gotten to the point where they had no need for a car. I suppose they could have sold it and pocketed the cash, but they had talked it over and decided to offer the car to me and my wife. That’s right, they were giving the car to us. In time, we gave that very car to our son. The very car I was now driving praising myself for my generosity.

Shortly after I went through the “how generous am I” self-speech I remembered where that car came from. I had simply given away something that had been given to me. I was struck with a sense of guilt and then a sense of clarity. What I had learned is true with every act of generosity.

Somehow, we have convinced ourselves that everything we have we have earned. Somehow, we have come to believe that any ability we have to make money is of our own devices. And somehow, we pridefully congratulate ourselves when we give even a little of it away. And many times, we fail to be generous as we selfishly clutch onto everything we have earned never realizing that “every good and perfect gift comes from God.” That’s right, everything we give has been given to us by the benevolent Father.

That epiphany driving my son’s car was a stark reminder that I am not an owner, I am just a steward. I’m not as generous as I should be, but that divine insight has dared me to be better.  And the journey to being more generous perhaps begins with the realization that everything I give away was really never mine in the first place.

“God loves a cheerful giver.” - 2 Corinthians 9:7

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

The Glory of Springtime

Don’t you just love spring? It’s simply glorious. Trees blooming. Plants blossoming. It’s all so beautiful. Unless of course you were looking at my front yard earlier this year.

Last summer we bought three bushes that looked so promising. The leaves were supposed to turn all kinds of spectacular colors as the seasons progressed. We were so hopeful. But this spring all we had left were barren sticks.

Two of the plants seemed utterly hopeless, but one had a few vestiges of leaves.  I uprooted all three plants and tossed aside two of them but decided to give the barely alive plant a second chance.

So, I took the lone survivor and replanted it in my back yard. Maybe a new location where it could get more sun would make a difference. With little hope for a recovery, I dug the hole, placed the plant in it, watered it, and waited to see what would happen.

The first week there was little improvement. The next week a little more. And the jury is still out on whether it will live into its potential, but, as of today, many of the once barren branches have given life to green leaves that show a hint of those spectacular colors we once hoped for.

I’ve felt like that struggling bush at times in my life. And maybe you have too. There have been times when much of what I once hoped for never seemed to blossom. Dreams were just dreams. Hopes were never realized. Life seemed to be waning. I think it happens to most everyone. We experience hard seasons in our life where we don’t get enough sun or water. Or maybe we get too much sun and too much water. Life can be harsh and we sometimes find ourselves looking and feeling like barren sticks.

But like that little bush that is now blooming, I’ve seen the same thing in my life and the lives of so many others. Sometimes a second chance is all it takes.

Today, if you are feeling like that little bush, I want you to know that God has not given up on you. He has an amazing ability to see even the smallest signs of life in people and he sees that in you. He gives second and third and fourth chances to those who refuse to give up.

Today, if you are feeling like that little bush, maybe what you need is a new location.  Maybe you’ve been deprived of the light of God’s love. Maybe you’ve been deprived of the water of supportive relationships. Maybe you’re planted in foul dirt of this world rather than the rich soil of God’s Word.

Today, if you are feeling like that little bush don’t give up the hope that there are spectacular colors in you. The transformation may be slow and challenging, but one day, by God’s grace, you will exhibit all the glory of springtime.

Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

Isaiah 35:6–7 (NIV)

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Hearing your name called

This week is the National Football League Draft, a day that thousands of young men have been anticipating for years. I love to watch as the player hears his name called. The smiles. The hugs. Going to the platform and being congratulated by the commissioner. And then donning the jersey and cap of his new NFL team.

The incomparable joy of hearing your name called.

I imagine that all the hard work that led to that day races through their minds. The path to the draft is filled with many joys, but also with many trials. And with those trials there must have been times when they wanted to quit. Times when the dream seemed out of reach. Times when discouragement nearly outweighed the will to go on. But hearing their name called makes everything worth it.

  • The first time they put on the helmet and shoulder pads and breathlessly ran sprints. Worth it!
  • The two-a-day practices in high school. Worth it!
  • The losing seasons and determining to stick with the game they love. Worth it!
  • The rehab from injuries. Worth it!

Hearing your name called makes everything worth it.

Christian, the path is filled with many joys but also with many trials. There will be times when you want to quit. There will be times when discouragement nearly outweighs the will to go on.  At times you will feel breathless, exhausted, defeated, and injured. You will wonder if it is all worth it.

It is!

Someday you will hear your name called. Someday the hugs will replace insults. Smiles will replace grimaces. Congratulations will replace condemnations.  Someday you will be called to the podium and someday you will be presented the crown of life. And on that someday you will be able to look back on the sometimes-difficult path and, without hesitation or doubt, joyfully cry out, “Worth it!”

You will experience the incomparable joy of hearing your name called.

The sufferings we have now are nothing compared to the great glory that will be shown to us.

Romans 8:18 (NCV)


Monday, March 27, 2023

Baptism for the Dead – 1 Corinthians 15:29

In my recent sermon on I Corinthians 15, (March 26, 2023) I glossed over a controversial verse in Paul’s teaching on the resurrection. It’s 15:29 that gets our attention:

Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? (NIV)

What’s going on here?

Let’s review the context. In 1 Corinthians 15:12-34 Paul is arguing that the resurrection of Jesus is absolutely necessary for our faith. Without the resurrection our faith is worthless.  To bring this point home he assures the readers that those who have died are actually only asleep. Death is not the end. If Jesus is not raised those who have died are lost. Playing on this thought he then introduces a practice among the Corinthians – baptism for the dead. Such a practice is meaningless if there is no resurrection. The question is the purpose or intent of this practice.

Some suggest that Paul is being hypothetical here. It’s not that this practice is actually taking place, but if it was it would serve no purpose without a belief in the resurrection. This view eliminates the need to explain the function of the practice, but Paul doesn’t even hint that this is hypothetical. It seems like Paul is referencing an actual practice of the church there.

So, why are the Corinthians being baptized for the dead?

One possibility is that a believer can affect someone else’s salvation. You or I can express faith in Jesus and submit to baptism not only for ourselves but for others. In this case we can secure salvation for someone who has passed on or at the very least give them a posthumous opportunity to express faith in Christ. This is a practice of some religions (as I understand it). This interpretation, however, seems to contradict the New Testament’s clear teaching on the necessity of individual faith. Where else in the New Testament is this vicarious faith even hinted at? Where in the New Testament is someone baptized on behalf of anyone else, living or dead? Whenever we encounter confusing or obscure passages like we have here, a general rule of interpretation is to interpret the confusing passage in light of clearer passages. For that reason, I dismiss this view.

But what is the alternative?

1 Corinthians was written around AD 55. Paul first visited Corinth about 6 years previous to writing this letter. Perhaps others had come with the good news before Paul, but the fact remains that many God-fearing people had died between the time of Jesus’ resurrection and the reception of the gospel which included baptism as the initiatory act of faith. The Corinthians may have been wondering about the fate of those people?

Imagine this scenario. Stephanus, a believer in Corinth, heard the gospel at the teaching of Paul and was baptized. He had very devout parents and grandparents who died before hearing the good news. They never had the chance to be baptized. Stephanus is confident that had they lived to hear the gospel they would have been baptized. So, to honor their faith, Stephanus is baptized for them. Not for their salvation but as a token of their faith and assurance that even though they have died they still benefit from the resurrection. In this case Stephanus is not being baptized to secure their salvation but to testify to their saving faith. Although this kind of practice is not taught in the New Testament, such an understanding does not violate any clear teaching in the New Testament.

It is important to note that Paul does not necessarily endorse this practice. He merely uses the practice as further evidence of the necessity of the resurrection to the Christian faith. This practice may fall into the category of personal preferences. But, since Paul nowhere else teaches or encourages this practice I tend to think that Paul considers the practice harmless or else he would have set them straight as he is often known to do!

In any case, the importance of this verse is to offer further evidence that Jesus is actually raised and his resurrection guarantees the resurrection of all the faithful – past, present, and future.