When I think of Thanksgiving, I'm reminded of the Apostle Paul's words, "In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." (1 Thessalonians 5:18) It's an amazing thought isn't it? It's God's will for us to be thankful...in everything!
I truly believe that practicing gratitude on a daily basis will change our lives. It refocuses our attention, gives us perspective, and guards our hearts from discouragment.
When I think of Thanksgiving, I think of the Apostle Paul's words, "In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." (1 Thessalonians 5:18) It's an amazing thought isn't it? It's God's will for us to be thankful...in everything! I truly believe that practicing gratitude daily will change our lives. It refocuses our attention, gives us perspective, and guards our hearts against discouragement.
Yesterday I spent three and a half hours at the DMV renewing my driver's license. Due to Covid restrictions, the first two hours were spent outside the building, standing in line. While I was frustrated at the long wait, the one good thing that came of it was they gave me enough time to read a book.
I believe the old adage is true: "leaders are readers." For as long as I can remember, books have been a part of my life. Today we are living through a cultural shift where more and more of our learning is acquired through visual media. A Pew Research study conducted last year revealed that 27% of Americans had not read a book in whole or part in the previous 12 months.
Undoubtedly, many factors cause this decline in reading: our fast-paced lives, family responsibilities, financial pressures, and increased visual media consumption. Worldwide, the average person spends 144 minutes per day on social media. The current TV viewership is two hours and 46 minutes per day. Yet, I often hear people lament they don't have enough time to read.
My wife and I are very amateur gardeners. Over the years, we have dabbled with growing potted plants, vegetables, roses, and other flowers. To be honest, we are not very good at it. This month we moved to a new house, and in the process of packing and moving all of our belongings, we took inventory of the many potted plants in our back yard. We noticed that while the plants were getting plenty of water and sunshine, most were not healthy, nor were they growing.
While talking with a friend who has much more experience, we learned that the soil was the issue. The plants needed new soil because they weren't getting the nutrients necessary for the roots to go deep. The vitality of the plant is in direct proportion to the health of the soil. We had been preoccupied with the visible part of the plant with no consideration of the hidden part.
The same can be true of our spiritual lives, and it reveals why some Christians are not growing. Proverbs 4:23 says, "Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it." The soil, the inner (unseen) part of us, must be healthy to have spiritual growth.
The preacher closed the sermon with a call for those ready to trust Christ as Savior to raise their hand. He acknowledged their decision and led them in a prayer of confession, repentance, and faith in Jesus Christ. Afterward, the church applauded in celebration of those who committed their lives to Christ. The pastor dismissed the congregation, and everyone went home talking about what a powerful service they had. But what happens next? What happens to those new believers who courageously placed their faith in Jesus?
Discipleship is about continually taking the next steps. To be a follower of Jesus, you have to follow. So many Christians move forward until they find a place of comfort in their faith. It's here that, tragically, they plateau in their faith and stop growing. This is not God's plan, nor his will.
My wife and I recently bought a home in our community. The property has a good backyard, but the wooden fence is in terrible condition. Time, weather, and termites have taken their toll. If we don't take action to replace the fence, it will soon fall, leaving the property without the protection of the boundary.
Like a fence around my property, I need borders in my life. Boundaries are essential for several reasons. They clearly identify what belongs to me. They outline areas that are permissible. Within the limitations, I have accessibility and freedom. Boundaries also protect things that might bring danger or harm to my life.
The letter came to my church office. It was from one of our members, a woman we knew well. She was writing to inform me she was leaving our church. "I just don't get it," she wrote. "Why do you preach about doctrine so much? Don't you know doctrine brings division in the church? You should stop preaching about doctrine, and instead, focus on the love of God.
I was sad to hear she was leaving our congregation, but I wished before her departure, she had sat down with me to talk about the importance of doctrine. Even the love of God, she wanted me to focus on, is a doctrine.
As a youth pastor in the early 1990's, I was blessed to serve with a lead pastor who was 78 years of age. I was in my first ministry position. He was in his last. Some might have thought our relationship would be a recipe for conflict. After all, he was 55 years older than me. But the opportunity was exactly what I needed.
I was smart enough to respect his 50 plus years of ministry, and he was kind enough to give me a chance to serve when few others would have. We would spend two years together until he retired. Looking back now, I recognize how formative those 24 months were in my life. They were so impactful because of the pastor's intentional discipleship and mentoring of my character and ministry.
Years ago, my family vacationed in England. Towards the end of the trip, we spent a couple of days in Oxford. When it was time to head home, we checked out of the apartment we had rented and took a taxi to the train station. The train would take us back to London for our flight out of Heathrow. As we were standing in line at the train stations, my wife looked at our tickets, and I heard her gasp. "We bought train tickets for the wrong day," she said.
I took a look at the tickets and confirmed our mistake. To make matters worse, all the computers were down at the train terminal. The ticket agent's advice was to board the train and hope for the best! We boarded the crowded train with our three young daughters. As the conductor approached us, checking each passenger's tickets, our hearts were beating in our chests. Should he put us off the train, we would have been stranded in the city with no place to go.
Has scripture memorization become a lost art?
When I was growing up, our pastor often talked about the importance of getting God's Word in your heart. Our Sunday School classes memorized passages of the Bible together, and prizes were awarded as an incentive. Growing up, our family learned verses together. I especially remember us memorizing Romans chapters six and eight together, in the King James Version. Most of it is still with me today.
While I can't find an exact verse of the Bible that commands us to memorize Scripture, we are instructed to keep the Word in our hearts. Consider the following verses.
The challenge with spiritual disciplines is the "discipline" part. To say something requires discipline makes it feel like a "check-the-box" duty, not something enjoyable. We understand that we are referring to the spiritual practices that help us abide with Christ and grow deeper in our relationship with God. Most of us would agree that without regular connection and communication with God, our relationship will suffer.
Growing up in the faith, I have experimented with a variety of spiritual disciplines. At age 15, I felt compelled to get up at 5:00 AM to read my Bible and pray. I was able to keep the commitment for six-months until I realized that the "crack of dawn" was not required by God. Over the years, in different seasons, I have tried various approaches to keep my walk with God fresh.