In Everything Give Thanks

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Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for You. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NJKV)

The ancient city of Thessalonica was the capital of the Roman province Macedonia, making it a hotspot for Roman travel, trade, politics, and religion in the region. And when Paul preached in Thessalonica, he quickly encountered much hostility from local non-believers. After Paul left, the Thessalonians continued to experience similar hostility and persecution in the city. Against this backdrop of hostile daily life, we read Paul’s isntructions to the Thessalonian church.

Confession time. When God lets my life get uncomfortable, I get upset. Personally, my issue is anger. When life starts piling on the difficulties, even the small annoyances that I can usually shake off feel like red-hot iron pokers burning away sanity.

Maybe you’re like me and your issue is anger. Or maybe your struggle is with discouragement, doubt, and despair. Or, perhaps, when life closes in around you, you detach from the world and run away. Whatever your response, all of us at various times experience the pressures of life weighing heavily on us.

But imagine being a Thessalonian believer. You’re living in the center of a pagan world that worships their gods with gluttonous parties, drunkenness, wild orgies, and so forth. As a Thessalonian, you used to do those things, too. But now, as a believer in Jesus, He has set you free from those lifestyles of sin and you don’t do those things anymore. But your old friends aren’t ok with that. They won’t sell you food, clothes, or other necessities. They won’t socialize with you anymore. And if you start telling them about Jesus, they literally drag you and your family out of your house and beat you.

As a Thessalonian, your first pastor, Paul, and his ministry team were forced out of town by such hostility. But he has heard about your struggles and he has written you a letter, encouraging you to give thanks in everything. How absurd!

But Paul doesn’t say, “rise up and slaughter the offenders,” or “take them to court and squeeze every penny from them,” or “run for office and force Christian morals on society.” Those are the methods of men. They’re not our mission from God.

God’s will for us is to let Him transform our hearts and minds into the likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ. God’s mission for us is to go out, into all the unbelieving world, preaching the gospel and making disciples of the nations. Both God’s will and God’s mission require us to remember the single most important fact of every believer’s existence:

Jesus Christ died for our sins, saved us from death, and gives us eternal life.

It is this reality that enables us and impels us to be thankful at all times, in all things. One author explains the situation this way,

[Remember] Rom. 8:28, [how] all of which cooperate for good to God’s children and thus call forth our thanks to God. We need to learn this secret of the happy Christian life—thankfulness. If everything actually conspires to do us good, how can we do otherwise than always rejoice? [1]

Our thankfulness is not based on external circumstances. It flows from our relationship with Jesus Christ. When we begin looking at life through the lens of salvation, we see God working through the hardship in this life to make us holy. That holiness grows in us, making us more like Jesus, focusing our hearts toward heaven, filling us with joy, and turning our frowns upside down.


[1] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus and to Philemon (Columbus, OH: Lutheran Book Concern, 1937), 358.

Be Anxious for Nothing

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Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7, NKJV)

Pardon my bluntness, but sometimes life just sucks, doesn’t it? You make these plans and they seem so important, but as the time approaches one thing after another just starts tearing them down. You have these people in your life, people you care about so deeply, that you’re ready to do almost anything for them, but when you need them, they seem to let you down. Maybe it’s your job, or you just can’t seem to find or keep a job. Maybe it’s a loved one who has fallen on hard times, illness, or death. Or maybe your own health burdens you on a daily basis. Whatever your situation, I am confident that each of us, whether presently or in times past, has experienced these kinds of discouraging situations.

I believe these kinds of situations can, depending on the circumstances, qualify as what the Bible calls “anxieties,” or “cares.” The Greek word has a long history and it has a double-meaning, very similar to our English word “cares.” In the positive sense, it can refer to any kind of heart-felt motivation to help someone else, “caring” for someone else when they are sick, weak, or in some kind of need. In the negative sense, it can also refer to any kind of heart-felt need that goes unsatisfied, like if you are sick, weak, or in need, but you feel as though you’re alone and no one is helping you. Both kinds of “cares” are strong enough to demand our full attention. And therein lies the problem—for when we fix our eyes on the situation, we take our eyes off Christ.

But there is a remedy for that feeling of discouragement and despair. You see, that feeling comes from a false perspective. You may feel alone, but you aren’t alone. God is with you. So, Paul says, the remedy isn’t to focus more on the situation, but to fix your eyes of the Lord. And prayer is the single most effective strategy for doing just that. And if you are willing to go to God in prayer, Paul gives a promise—the Peace of God will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Paul doesn’t say might or probably. He says will. That’s not just a style of translation—that’s the literal rendering of the Greek. When we fix our eyes on the Lord, we can be absolutely sure that His peace will guard our hearts and minds from the efforts of the Enemy and the world to discourage us.

During the Last Supper, I think the disciples were feeling some anxieties. For at least a few days, Jesus had been telling them about how he would be betrayed and killed. He was going to leave them. In my mind I can imagine reclining at the table among the disciples, thinking, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Aren’t you supposed to be the King of Israel? But you say you’re going to die. And what’s this business about rising in three days?”

While Jesus and the disciples were talking after the meal, Jesus instructed them about many things, including peace. As John 14:27 says,

Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

The peace of God is a gift given to us by Jesus. It was made possible by the death of Jesus, which paid the debt for our sins and reconciled us to the Father. In this way, Jesus made peace for us with the Father (see Rom 5:10-11). And now, the peace of God can rule our hearts. But God does not force his peace on us. As Colossians 3:15 says, we have to let his peace rule our hearts. How? By fixing our eyes on the Lord through prayer. And how is this possible? Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Do Not Fear, Little Flock

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Then He [Jesus] said to His disciples, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds? And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith?

“And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.

“Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:22-34, NKJV)

Psalm 23:2 begins, “He makes me to lie down in green pastures.” Sheep are timid, fearful creatures. They aren’t strong or smart, they’re always looking for food and water, and they’re easy pray for predators. So, sheep are typically restless animals, rarely feeling sufficiently provided for and secure enough to lie down and rest. Instead, they wander about on edge, easily spooked and rarely satisfied with where they are.

A responsible shepherd meets the needs of their flock to address these issues. Such a shepherd ensures that the pasture land is well cared for, providing nourishing food and having ample water for the flock. They also protect the sheep from predators, fighting them off in defense of the sheep. And sometimes shepherds use music to sooth the sheep, drowning out strange noises and helping the sheep relax so they can lie down and rest. But, of course, the sheep have to recognize the shepherd’s protections and provisions and then choose to rest in the shepherd’s presence.

In Luke 12, Jesus instructs his disciples not to fear because the Father is such a good shepherd. He promises His Kingdom to every sheep in His sheepfold. God protects us from our Adversary—Satan and his servants—as well as the forces of the world that threaten to overtake us. The Father also provides for our every need. He created us, after all, and He knows that we need food, water, clothing, and so forth. So, Jesus tells us, we can rest in the protection and provision of the Father.

But, as Jesus explains, our ability to find spiritual rest depends on our intentional seeking for God. Jesus gently rebukes his disciples with the phrase, “O you of little faith.” God made the universe in such a way that our spiritual rest depends on us focusing our hearts on Him. If we focus our hearts on the physical challenges of this life, we are restless, wandering on edge, searching for safer, greener pastures. But when we focus our hearts on seeking our loving Father, He promises that we will find spiritual rest in Him as He provides for our earthly needs.

May we seek God and His Kingdom with our whole hearts, that we may find He will not only supply our earthly needs, but He will also give us rest.

Immanuel, God With Us

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This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.

As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:

“Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
which means ‘God is with us.’” (Matt 1:18–23, NLT)

I don’t know about you, but for me, the Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s is a bit awkward. It’s kind of a twilight zone, sandwiched between the excitement and stress of the Christmas season and the anticipation and trepidation of the New Year with all of the hopes, dreams, and possibilities that go along with turning the page from one year to the next.

For me, Christmas is a time to look back on the previous year, asking the Lord to show me when and how He was working in my life. It brings to a close the season of thanksgiving that for many of us began on that fourth Thursday in November. New Year’s is a time when I look forward, asking the Lord for direction and wisdom to show me when and how He wants me to follow Him. It sets in motion many of the experiences I will have throughout the new year, or at least, through the first three-to-six weeks. But this in-between week is a bit of a let-down. There’s leftovers and gifts to enjoy but it’s time to take down the decorations, go back to work, and settle back into the daily grind of life.

Matthew records how the angel told Joseph that the child’s name is Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). As we look back at the last year, let’s not miss all that God’s done for us. In fact, let’s look back a little further, say, nearly 2000 years. Let’s look back and remember how God the Son added a human nature to Himself, became a human baby named Jesus, and entered the world with all the pomp and circumstance of a poor, humble peasant child. And let’s remember that world-changing, earth-shattering, veil-tearing moment 33 years later when Jesus the Son fulfilled his eternal calling by taking the sins of all people, who ever did and ever would live, as his own, enduring the excruciating pain of crucifixion, and the even more agonizing wrath of the Father toward sin, so that His blood sacrifice could provide an eternal, once-for-all sin-offering for everyone who trusts in Him. And let’s not forget that moment in our own lives, maybe only a few days or weeks or years in recent past, when the joy of His salvation entered our hearts for the first time in that moment we trusted in Him as Savior and Lord.

Matthew also tells us that Jesus’ birth fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy, that this babe is called “Immanuel, which means God with us” (Matt 1:23). It doesn’t say, “God who was with us.” It says, “God with us.” Salvation isn’t a one-time event. Jesus doesn’t say, “hey, trust me just this once, now here’s your get-into-heaven-free card.” Salvation has a moment of beginning but it has everlasting results. Think about it—salvation from what? From sin, from death, from hell. But I’m still a sinner! And I’m still gonna die! Exactly! Which means salvation isn’t complete this side of heaven. It’s not complete until we escape the final judgment and enter the eternal state, abiding in the presence of our triune God.

As we look forward to a New Year, I want to encourage you with this: The Father is looking forward to spending more time with you this New Year. The Father is looking forward to wrapping his arms around you, just like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son did when his wayward child returned home. The Father is looking forward to answering your prayers, changing your heart, and transforming your mind. The Father is calling to you, inviting you to fellowship with Him. But, you say, “I’m a sinner, a wretch, a nobody, how can this happen?” It happens when we, covered by the blood of Christ, carried by the power of the Spirit, receive the invitation of God Almighty to commune with Him in prayer. It happens when we abide in His eternal presence. And when we mess up, we go to Him, humble ourselves, confess our sins, ask for forgiveness, and let our loving heavenly Father restore us back to full fellowship with Himself.

Christmas has come and gone this year. A New Year begins tonight. Whatever your goals, hopes, dreams, and resolutions, the Father is calling to You—to all of us—inviting us to dwell in His presence, ask Him for guidance, confess our hurts and fears and pains, and even vent our frustrations to Him. Our loving heavenly Father is continually inviting us to live every moment with Him. So, in this New Year, let’s embrace our spiritual adoption as children of the Almighty God and draw near to our loving Father, carried by the power of the Spirit, and entering His presence through Jesus the Son—God with us.

Rivers of Living Water

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On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37–39, NKJV)

Verse 37 begins, “on the last day, that great day of the feast.” Chapter 7 describes a series of interactions Jesus had with the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. Verse 2 tells us that Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles.

The Old Covenant instructed the Jews to celebrate several festivals throughout the year. The Feast of Tabernacles (Booths, Shelters) was the third of the three major yearly festivals (the first was Passover and Unleavened Bread, the second was Pentecost). It was called the Feast of Tabernacles because on the first day of the feast every household constructed a very simple shelter from tree branches which they lived in for the rest of the eight-day festival.[1]

The first day of the Feast of Tabernacles was a Sabbath day and no secular work was permitted. Every day a series of sacrifices was required including bulls, rams, lambs, and goats, as well as grain and drink offerings. Also, by New Testament times, a tradition developed where each of the seven days of the Feast a priest led a parade of people making joyful music to the Pool of Siloam, where he drew water using a golden pitcher and brought it back to the temple.[2]

On the eighth day, a Sabbath day, each household took down its shelter and there was a great community feast, but the priest didn’t go down to the Pool of Siloam. This is the day and the great feast when Jesus stood up and said, “He who believes in Me, … out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38).

So on the eighth day, the priest stopped going to get water at the Pool of Siloam. And on the eighth day, Jesus stood up and claimed to offer Living Water. John tells us plainly in verse 39 that Jesus was talking about the Holy Spirit. So here, Jesus used the symbolism of the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles and the water from the Pool of Siloam to share the promise of the Holy Spirit for all who believe with everyone at the Feast.

But the timing of Jesus’ statement about himself being the source of Living Water—the Holy Spirit—has additional significance. The Feast of Tabernacles was instructed as a festival of remembrance for the time the Israelites spent wandering in the wilderness.

It might seem like the shelters were a form of fasting—depriving them of the comforts of living in their own homes. And in a literal sense they were, but spiritually, something else was going on. The shelters were a physical reminder of how God delivered the Hebrew people from bondage in the house of Egypt and into freedom that comes through trusting God for everything they need.

In Exodus 16, the Israelites complain to Moses about not having food and the LORD provided Bread from Heaven for their daily sustenance. In Exodus 17, the Israelites complain to Moses about not having any water and we see how the LORD provides water for Israel. Water that flows from the rock, the rock which was stricken, in the wilderness, so that the Israelites might live. That rock is a picture of Jesus Christ, and the water is a picture of the Holy Spirit.

When Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob in John 4, he said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water” (John 4:10).

On the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles—the Jewish festival that celebrates God’s provision for the Israelites in the wilderness—Jesus stood up, quoted Isaiah 55:1, and proclaimed, “If anyone thirsts, let Him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, … out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”

Christ is the Rock of our salvation. And for all who are willing to come to him and ask, He gives us eternal life. But God didn’t intend for our eternal inheritance to be characterized by a dry, arid wasteland of legalistic intellectualism. Nor did He intend it to be a wild-eyed, unrestrained exhibition of unbridled emotionalism. God intends for his gift of eternal life to be characterized by the outpouring and overflowing of His life-giving Spirit, Who nourishes us daily, fill us with God’s love, grace and mercy, leads us in all truth, empowers us to serve His Kingdom, and comforts and strengthens us even in our darkest times of grief, frustration, and heartache.

But such a vibrant life in the Spirit has one recurring condition. We can’t do it on our own power and He won’t force it on us. To experience the life-transforming power of the Spirit in our lives, day-by-day and moment-by-moment, we have to humble ourselves and draw near to our Lord Jesus Christ. As the Scriptures say, we must go to Him to drink.


[1] R. K. Harrison, “Booths, Feast of,” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Rev. ed., ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988), 535.

[2] Merrill F. Unger, “Festivals,” in The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, ed. R.K. Harrison (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988).