Saturday, November 18, 2017

Thankful in All Things?

Thanksgiving is a time when we count our blessings and thank and praise the Lord for them. But it is just one day in the year, and should we not thank our Lord Jesus Christ, Who gave us life, breath, and salvation, every day? (John 10:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:9; 2 Timothy 3:15)

Of course we should, but if we are honest with ourselves, we admit it is easier to give thanks on some days than on others. Songs of praise and thanksgiving arise in our hearts and even flow from our lips (Psalm 69:30; 147:7; Ephesians 5:19) when we see our loving family seated around the holiday table to enjoy a bountiful feast, in our beautiful home, perhaps with presents already wrapped and under the shining Christmas tree.

But what if our life is not so idyllic at the moment? What happens if there is an empty chair at the table, filled just last year by a loved one who since stepped out into eternity? What if family members are separated by distance, time constraints, demands of the world, or even lack of caring for one another? What if financial hardship means there are no presents under the tree, or even food on the table?

The writings of the apostle Paul are sometimes difficult to understand (2 Peter 3:15-16) and even harder to live by, for he said to “Rejoice always, and again I say, rejoice!” He warned against vengeance when confronted by evil in others, instead focusing on what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:15-16, 21-22).

We could argue that we can be excused from rejoicing if we are suffering from chronic illness, disability, relentless pain, mental anguish, poverty, danger, or loss of a loved one. But if anyone should know about suffering, it was Paul, who wrote this verse from a cold, dank prison cell, separated from loved ones except by pen, paper and prayer.

Paul had to endure shipwreck, beating, stoning, near drowning, imprisonment, persecution (2 Corinthians 11:23-26), snake bite, and a physical ailment that he had begged God to remove. Three times Paul prayed for God to heal him, only to hear God say three times that he would not, for His grace is sufficient, and His strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Through the instruction of the indwelling Holy Spirit,
Paul learned to be content, or thankful, through bad times as well as good (Philippians 4:12).

In all circumstances, Paul encouraged us to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17), and we can see throughout his epistles that he followed his own (Spirit-inspired) advice. Then he went on to make the most shocking command of all: “In every thing give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Notice that Paul did not say to give thanks for all things, but in all things. We do not have to give thanks for our house burning down in a fire, but in this situation, we can thank God that no one was at home, and praise Him for sparing our life and the lives of our family.  We do not have to give thanks for having cancer, but we can thank Him that it was diagnosed early and that there are excellent doctors and effective treatments.

Perhaps the situation is even more dire, as it was with Job, who lost his sons, his wealth, his possessions in a few moments (Job 1), and his health shortly thereafter (Job 2). Our limited human vision may not see any silver lining in the cloud, for we naturally focus on the obstacles that block our view from the blessings God has in store. Yet Job was able to say, “The LORD gave; the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the Name of the LORD.”

We may fail to understand how God could possibly deliver us from our insurmountable problems, but His arm is not too short to save us (Isaiah 59:1). Nothing is impossible with God (Matthew 19:26), and He will make a way when there is no way! (2 Samuel 22:33; 1 Corinthians 10:13). God is love (1 John 4:8) and has infinite love for us, desiring to shower us with blessings (Ezekiel 34:26). Yet so often we see the menacing clouds and feel the downpour, but we forget that these will bring flowers and bountiful harvest!

Paul writes that we should thank God in all things, for this is His will for us (1 Thessalonians 5:18). In other words, God desires that we thank and praise Him in all situations. Furthermore, whatever befalls His children is His will for us, because He allowed it, working all things together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28). Praise God that His thoughts and ways are higher than ours! (Isaiah 55:9)

Giving thanks in all things reminds us of God’s mercy, which spares us from punishment we justly deserve for our sins. David, whose fellowship with God was disrupted by the snowballing effect of sin, gave thanks to God for His mercy and deliverance from his enemies. He even wrote that we can no longer give thanks from the grave, which should encourage us to obey and honor God in this way while we still have the breath to do so! (1 Chronicles 16:29-36; Psalm 6; 18:46-50; 30; 136).

Counting our blessings, and naming them one by one, as the hymn writer encourages us to do, is a wonderful way to be thankful in all things. No matter how severe the trial you may be going through right now, here are a few that come to mind. If you are reading this, you are alive; you have the precious gift of sight; you are literate; and you have access to the Internet, which places a world of information, Bible resources, and contact with fellow believers at your fingertips.

If you are born again (John 3:3-8) by placing your faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6), you have the greatest reason of all to thank God! You have the gift of abundant and eternal life, forever with Jesus Christ and your loved ones in Him, ultimately in a glorified body (1 Corinthians 15:35-54) that will never age, die, sin, or feel pain, sickness, or sorrow!

Giving thanks and praise to God in all things acknowledges Who He is – our Creator (Genesis 1:1), Sustainer (Colossians 1:17), and Redeemer (Job 19:25; Psalm 19:14; Isaiah 41:14). He is perfect Love, Light (John 1:9), and Truth (Titus 1:2), completely just, righteous, and holy (Isaiah 5:16). Although we deserve eternal punishment in hell, He showers us with mercy, love, and grace in our life here on earth, and everlasting rewards in Heaven (Romans 6:23). In all things, we can thank Him for the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7), joy in His salvation (Psalm 51:12; Isaiah 61:10), and wisdom to follow His lead (James 1:5).  

Even as Jesus drew near to the agony of His crucifixion, He gave thanks as He contemplated the imminent sacrifice of His shed blood and broken body, given to pay our sin debt in full. (Mark 14:23; Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24). We have reason to give thanks even when facing the sting of death, sin and the grave, for He triumphed over these enemies by rising from the dead (1 Corinthians 15: 55-57).

No matter our grave our circumstances, He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), and He gives us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord! Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15).

© 2017 Laurie Collett


Saturday, November 11, 2017

After Life

Photo by Robert Lawton 2006

As we have explored in an earlier post, the concept of afterlife differs among various religions. To the born-again Christian (John 3:3-8) who has trusted in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6), it is the promise of abundant, eternal life with Him and our loved ones in Him (John 3:16; 10:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). We will forever enjoy His light and love in our glorified bodies that will never die, age, sin, or experience sickness, pain, or sorrow (1 Corinthians 15:35-58).

He is even now preparing a special mansion for each of us (John 14:1-3) in an unimaginably beautiful City with streets of gold and gates of pearl (Revelation 21:2, 10-27). His rule and reign will be marked by perfect justice, peace and love (Isaiah 9:6). Each of us who trusted Him will have a position of some responsibility based on works we did for Him on earth, if we did them with the right motive of gratitude and love for Him (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).

But when our earthly life comes to an end, and Christ takes us home to be with Him, the words “after life” also take on a second meaning. Today the United States celebrates Veterans Day, honoring and thanking our military for their faithful service in protecting our nation and the freedoms it represents. On Memorial Day in late May, we especially remember those military who paid the ultimate price for our freedom by laying down their lives for us.

The after life of these veterans who died protecting us includes that legacy of the greatest love of all – sacrificing one’s own earthly life for the sake of others (John 15:13). Their love speaks to us even from the grave, just as the righteousness and obedience of Abel still speak to us millennia after his death (Hebrews 11:4), What will be our legacy for those we leave behind? What will remain of us here on earth, and what impact will it have?

Many are concerned about their financial legacy, and certainly it is important to provide for those dependent on our income, to the extent we can. Even if our loved ones are grown and self-sufficient, we may take pleasure in leaving them an inheritance. They may use that gift not only as a reminder of our love, but perhaps to carry on a work we started, whether it be giving to the church, to missions, or to further God’s kingdom in other ways.

Even more important than our financial legacy is the impact we had on others, for good or for bad, during this life. Did we lead people to the Lord through our witness, lifestyle, and love? Or did we give them an excuse to reject Him because of our hypocrisy, indifference, or hate?

Did we encourage the brethren and those in church leadership (Romans 13:1-8; 1 Corinthians 9:1-18) by kind words and deeds, sharing Scripture verses relevant to their trials, and thanking and praising them for their service? Or did we discourage them by being the first to complain and the last to volunteer, give, or even show up?

What kind of example were we to our children and to young people who followed after us? Did we nurture them in God’s Word, ways, and love, or take out our own frustrations and anger on them? (Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21) Did we show them the importance of Bible reading, prayer, church, and obedience to God’s laws in our own lives (Proverbs 22:6; Psalm 119:105), or did we ask them to do as we say, not as we do? Did we just drop them off at church while we pursued interests that were more important to us, or did we even take them to church at all?

What we do in this life determines the quality of the after life we leave behind – the footprint, for good or for evil, affecting our descendants. Timothy, the apostle Paul’s protégé, followed the sincere faith instilled in him by his mother Eunice and grandmother Lois (2 Timothy 1:5). I was blessed to be raised in part by a Godly grandmother who was a great role model of faith, giving, love, and prayer, reminding me of the Proverbs 31 woman.

We can gift our children and grandchildren with a spiritual inheritance of God’s mercy and righteousness (Psalm 103:17-18). If we obey God and trust in His Son, He will preserve our Godly legacy for our children’s benefit (Joshua 14:9). We cannot ensure that our descendants make a personal decision to follow Christ, but we are promised that if we train them in His ways, they will not turn from them in their old age (Proverbs 22:6).

In the book of Acts, Luke tells us about Tabitha, also known as Dorcas, a sister in the faith who was beloved by all because of her good deeds and charitable giving. Her ministry consisted of using her God-given talents of sewing and clothing design to fashion coats and other garments for the widows. When she died, all those who loved her wept and sent for Peter, who prayed and raised her from the dead! (Acts 9:36-42).

By virtue of her industry and charity during her life, Tabitha’s after life was one of thankful remembrance by all those she had helped, for she had been a faithful steward (1 Corinthians 4:2). But God answers prayers exceedingly abundantly (Ephesians 3:20) beyond what we could ever imagine or think! In this case, He answered Peter’s prayer by raising Tabitha from the dead, actually giving her a second life on earth after the life she had already lived!

Even better, Tabitha’s legacy, or after life, continued, because many who heard of this miracle came to trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior! So Tabitha’s after life was not only her legacy of giving and caring, and not only her restoration to earthly life, but her eternal reward she enjoyed by playing a part in leading others to the Lord!

The apostle Paul tells us that any Gospel seeds we sow in the lives of those who ultimately trust Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior will not only change their eternal destiny, but will bless us with the eternal reward of the soulwinner’s crown, or crown of rejoicing (1 Thessalonians 2:19). Those who are saved will in turn sow seeds in the lives of others, which may be a part of our after life long after we no longer walk this earth.

What will be our after life? May His light shine through us during our earthly life (Matthew 5:16), so that our after life blesses not only those who knew us, but all those who feel the ripples of love emanating from our spiritual legacy! 

© 2017 Laurie Collett