Be Thankful!

Have you ever been told that you need to be thankful? I have. I have even told others that they need to be thankful. It is a Biblical command after all (Col 3:15 and many others). As I was reflecting on this command with Thanksgiving in mind it struck me how strange it is. You can’t just tell people to be thankful, or can you? Is thankfulness a state or an act, or both?

Take friendships for example. Maybe you’ve been in a situation where you were told you need to be friends with someone. How did that go? I venture to guess not very well. That is not how friendships work. Friendships form from an inner disposition of two people to be friends with each other, which in turn leads to certain actions that produce a friendship. This usually cannot happen under compulsion. You cannot command friendships.

I think something similar is true in regards to being thankful. The command to be thankful is much more that simply offering a prayer of thanks, or sharing with someone what you are thankful for. It is a call to know yourself, to check your heart.

Being thankful is not like taking the trash out or even reading your Bible. It is not something you can plan for and accomplish with the help of Omnifocus. It is a state of being. It is the flavor of your life. It is the aroma you give off to others.

Thanksgiving should not merely be about remembering to be thankful or even a renewed commitment to grow in being thankful. Our time can be much more useful in reflecting. Don’t be to quick in identifying that you are not thankful. Seek to know why, search for the cause, work on the state of your being.

I hope this Thanksgiving you heard about being thankful. I hope you we encouraged and told you must be thankful. But more than that I hope you are not simply focused on the command, but on the heart that makes obedience a reality.

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“Why do you love me?”

That’s the question my oldest son asked me a few months back. It came out of nowhere right after I told him that I loved him. I don’t think it meant much for him, it was probably just one of those impulsive things that 2 year olds do.

The question, however, is more significant and profound than he realizes. We ask this question daily. In many ways our life’s direction is determined by how this question is answered.

Not only is it a “why” question that seeks to know the reason and purpose behind something, but it’s a why question about love. If you think about it, you ask this on a subconscious person who is involved with you on any level. All our relationships depend on the answer to, “why does this person love me?”

If we take the meaning of love to be broader than romantic love then you can see that when we want to know why people are friends with us, or why our coworkers treat us a certain way, or why our spouses do the things they do, or whether we should trust our pastors, has to do with they love toward us.

On an even more significant level this question relates to why does God love someone. Is it because of how good they are? How much good they have done for him? How sincere they are or how much effort they exert? Maybe because of church, denomination, theological system they hold to?

I think that fundamentally God’s answer to that question concerning his children would be no different than mine to my son – “it is because you are my son.”

This is the essence of the Gospel. This is why Christ came, lived, died, and was raised again. It is so that we by faith could not only have our sins forgiven and guilt removed, but so that we would become the children of God. Loved by him because we are now related to him as his children.

Does God really work all things for good?

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*In light of 9/11 I decided to repost this article I wrote a few years back

The Bible says many astonishing things, it makes many audacious claims, and leaves us with many incredible promises. Not the least of these is found in Romans 8:28, a passage dearly beloved by many Christians:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (ESV)

These are words of comfort and hope to thousands of people around the world daily. I’m sure you like me have turned to this promise in times of trouble, difficulty to find refuge and peace. There is nothing else like knowing that God is there in the midst of your storm and working it out for your good!

However, I do have some quibbles with how we use this text. It seems to me that for many unfortunately this is nothing more than a Christian version of the “abra-kadabra,” something you say and anticipate that it will make the situation dissolve, get easier, reverse, or remove the consequences. People are not sure how this will happen, but just hold on to the promise and wait for a miracle from heaven. These words are repeated like a mantra in times of distress to calm oneself down. Many know what the text says, but in reality have no idea exactly what it means or how it’s specifically relevant to their life.

While many people quote this verse when something hard is going on in their life, and it is the right verse to quote, sadly when asked how the situation is working for their good most just say that God is in control and He knows. That’s undoubtedly true and comforting, but it comes short in delivering what this text means or how it’s supposed to be a blessing to our life. It’s hard to understand how something can really work for good, especially in time of difficulty, if it’s unknown what that good is. It may work for the small and petty disappointments that are faced daily, but won’t handle much weight if a real crisis came. God meant for this verse to be a true beacon of light during the storms of life.

Here are a few observations. First, this is an all-inclusive promise for all circumstances in life, from small daily difficulties to major crisis and sufferings, “all things work together for good.” This promise says that whatever is faced, anything and everything, is meant to result in good.

Secondly, this good is not just for the future, but actually has a present focus. The text strongly testifies to this, it doesn’t say “will work,” but rather “works,” present tense, not future! This is very important, this good, whatever it is, is not the promise of future, but the experience of the present.

Lastly, most importantly is the context. Verse 29 begins with “for,” meaning it’s going to explain the previous verse. Rom 8:29-30 is key to understanding Rom 8:28. Here is what is says,

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (ESV)

We don’t have the space to look at all the facets of this text, so I’ll focus on what’s most pertinent to our topic. The good work that God is accomplishing in all our circumstances is the conformity of people to the image of His Son. This is absolutely crucial to understand, because if the expectations differ from those that God is pursuing, there will be disappointment. God’s primary focus is to make us more like His Son. This is how God defines good.

The title of my article is a question, “does God really work all things for good?” The answer is an obvious YES! However, God is working out the good the way He sees it and not the way we often do or want it to be. This puts us face to face with an extremely important question, “how do I see what is the ultimate best for my life?” Romans 8:28 is true when we embrace the reality that conformity to Christlikeness is the best “good” of our life.

When God thinks about each of believers, when He charts out the plan for their life, He is passionate about their good. As any parent, so is God most concerned that His children experience that which is good for them. Romans 8:28-30 is a testimony to that reality. It’s a reminder that the best part of life is not good circumstances but conformity to Jesus Christ. It’s also promise that God is sure to make this come to pass in the life of His beloved.

It’s not enough to quote Romans 8:28 in light of affliction, but one must see how the situation can lead to conformity to the character of Christ. This needs to be the functional philosophy of life, the dominant theme in the worldview.

This leads to a few important applications. First, realize that there is nothing as important as becoming more like Christ. Unfortunately this has become somewhat of a cliché statement, but that doesn’t annihilate its truthfulness. The more Christ like someone is the more useful to God he is and the more fulfilled live becomes. This pursuit should be at the center of life.

Second, resolve to use each circumstance to progress in reflecting Jesus with some aspect of your life. This is the practical outworking of Rom 8:28 – that every instance in life has the potential to make this happen. These opportunities are either lost or used.

Thirdly, don’t wait till later to conform to the image of Jesus. This is extremely difficult, especially in the heat of the battle when you just want to get out. God’s intention is not for the good to happen tomorrow, but rather in the midst of the battle. Make it a priority to focus on how the situation you’re in can make you more like Christ at that time, not later.

Fourthly, trust God to carry you through whatever your going through and to form the image of Christ in you. This is not something that happens by pulling yourself by your bootstraps, but rather that which God Himself is very interested in making happen in our lives. Do cry out and trust God to provide the help. Obviously, this won’t happen if you let go and let God, but it won’t happen if God is not accomplishing this.

We belong to an awesome God who’s Word is sure and promises are true. Romans 8:28 is to be embraced and cherished, and also to be applied and lived out. I hope this text will not just be a Christian mantra for you, but rather a spring of life to form the life of Christ in you.

Interpreting the Pauline Epistles

One of the most crucial points to remember in interpreting Paul’s Letters is that they were written to address specific situations. They are not systematic treatises intended to present a complete Christian theology. They are pastoral works in which Paul applies his theology to specific problems in the churches. Ephesians may be an exception to this rule, and some think that Romans is of a different character as well. Even these letters are not comprehensive treatises. For example, Romans is quite brief on the church, says nothing about the Eucharist, lacks the kind of developed christological statements that we find in Phil. 2:6–11 and Col. 1:15–20, and does not contain the detailed eschatology found in 1-2 Thessalonians.

Several examples reveal the circumstantial nature of the letters. Clearly Paul wrote Galatians because the Galatian churches were abandoning the Pauline gospel (Gal. 1:6–9; 5:2–6). He wrote Colossians to stave off a new heresy that had the potential of making inroads in the church (Col. 2:4–23). Various problems plagued the Corinthian church, and thus Paul wrote our two canonical letters to them. Philippians seems to have been written for several reasons. The church has sent Paul a gift, and he wants to express his thanks (1:3–8; 4:10–14). In addition, disunity was probably surfacing in the church (1:27–2:11; 4:2–3), and Paul wants to warn the church regarding the danger of false teachers (3:2–4:1). All of the Pastoral Letters (1-2 Timothy, Titus) were written to strengthen churches in healthy teaching because false teaching was threatening the churches.

The danger of reading Paul’s Letters as systematic treatises is that one might draw unwarranted conclusions from reading only one letter. For example, John Drane thought that Paul was a libertine in Galatians and a legalist in 1 Corinthians, since in the former Paul trumpets liberty from law and in the latter Paul lays down many specific rulings. Drane would certainly claim that he does not read the letters as systematic treatises; nevertheless, he has failed to see that Paul stresses liberty in Galatians because he is writing to a church that has been infected with legalism, and Paul highlights obedience in 1 Corinthians because he is writing to a church that has given full license to immoral behavior.42 Neither in Galatians nor in 1 Corinthians does Paul explain his full view of Christian obedience. Instead, he gives change-of-course directions to churches that are navigating in the wrong direction.

The interpreter, then, must always keep in mind the specific situation that Paul is addressing in his letters. Of course, one can find out what this situation is only by reading the letter itself. All we know about the adversaries in Galatians appears in the letter to the Galatians. We are at some disadvantage here because the Galatian churches understood perfectly the problem that Paul is addressing; they were experiencing it! Paul did not write the letter to those of us who live in the twenty-first century. From the evidence that we find in Paul’s Letters, we can only infer the precise nature of the problem in the churches to which he wrote. Morna Hooker has pointed out that hearing only Paul’s response to the problems is much like hearing only one end of a telephone conversation. Despite this disadvantage, the interpreter is wise who reconstructs from the letter itself the situation that was plaguing the church. Then the Pauline response can be grasped more clearly.

Thomas R. Schreiner, Interpreting the Pauline Epistles, Second Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 30–32.

Why were the Gospels written?

In his excellent book, Four Portraits, One Jesus, Mark Staruss lists 7 reasons which motivated the Gospel writers to write down the story of Jesus:

1. Historical: the need for a faithful and authoritative record of the words and deeds of Jesus.

2. Catechetical: the need to instruct converts in the Christian faith.

3. Liturgical: the need for worship material in the church.

4. Exhortatory: to encourage and assure believers in their faith.

5. Theological: the need to settle internal disputes.

6. Apologetic: the need to respond to external attacks on the church.

7. Evangelistic: the need to call people to faith in Jesus.

In other words the Gosples exists to have a presence in each aspect of our personal and church life. They want to instruct us in what Christianity is and in what it means to be a Christian. On reflection it seems that this is far from reality in many modern churches and for many Christians. I think this is to the detriment of Christianity and goes against the intent of the Bible.

To put it another way, in striving to be Gospel people, what role do the actual Gospels play in that pursuit?

Day by Day

Some truths are best sung, and some realities are best expressed in poetry.
1
Day by day, and with each passing moment,
Strength I find to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
He, whose heart is kind beyond all measure,
Gives unto each day what He deems best,
Lovingly its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.
2
Every day the Lord Himself is near me,
With a special mercy for each hour;
All my cares He fain would bear and cheer me,
He whose name is Counsellor and Pow’r.
The protection of His child and treasure
Is a charge that on Himself He laid;
“As thy days, thy strength shall be in measure,”
This the pledge to me He made.
3
Help me then, in every tribulation,
So to trust Thy promises, O Lord,
That I lose not faith’s sweet consolation,
Offered me within Thy holy Word.
Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting,
E’er to take, as from a father’s hand,
One by one, the days, the moments fleeting,
Till with Christ the Lord I stand.
*copied from: https://www.hymnal.net/en/hymn/h/713

Countdown of the Day

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Today is a special day for me. Here are some things I am thinking about and am very thankful for. I am very humbled that God has been so gracious. Most dear is that cute lady in the picture 🙂

4     years since I married my precious Yanachka

   diffrent places we have lived as a family

   arrows, Caleb and Jesse, in our quiver from the Lord

1     unified, blessed, happy family

0    regrets about being together

I LOVE YOU BABE!!! Happy 4 year anniversary!!!