Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Proclamations

The way we celebrate Thanksgiving in America has its roots in British Harvest Festivals and in American history.   In 1620, a group of more than 100 Puritans fleeing religious persecution, settled in a town called Plymouth in what is now Massachusetts. The Pilgrims' first winter was so harsh that fewer than 50 of the group survived the season.

The next spring, Native Americans taught them how to get sap out of the maple trees and how to plant corn and other crops. The harvest was successful, and the Pilgrims had enough food for the winter. Plymouth Colony's Governor, William Bradford, decided to throw a Harvest Festival and invited the colony's Native neighbors to take part.

Historians believe that this celebration took place sometime in the fall, though there are very few clues to reconstruct the feast.  All we really know about it come from a letter Edward Winslow wrote to a friend in England: “Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men fowling, that we might rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They in one day killed as much fowl as served the company almost a week. At which time with many of the Indians coming among us, for three days we entertained and feasted; and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation, and bestowed on our governor”.

It wasn't until two years later, after enduring a month’s long drought, that an actual Thanksgiving was celebrated. In response to the hot, dry summer months, the governor called for a fast. Soon afterward, rain revived the shriveled crops, and the Puritans celebrated.  William Bradford issued the first Thanksgiving Proclamation. This wasn’t a feast like the Harvest Festival of two years before.  It was a church service.

“Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest, has spared us from pestilence and disease, and has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.

Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, do gather at ye meeting house, on Thursday, November 29th, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings”.  --William Bradford Ye Governor of Ye Colony

The custom of marking good fortune with a day of gratitude quickly caught on throughout New England.  In 1789, President George Washington issued a Proclamation that called for a day of thanksgiving.

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed. -- George Washington - October 3, 1789

The idea of a national Thanksgiving Day didn’t catch on, but in the mid-1800s, magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale mounted a campaign to make Thanksgiving a national holiday.  In support of a national Thanksgiving holiday, she wrote letters to five Presidents.  Her initial letters failed to persuade, but the letter she wrote to Lincoln did convince him to issue a Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1863.

“It has seemed to me fit and proper that the gracious gifts of the Most High God should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.   To set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.

And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union”. By the President: Abraham Lincoln

Each year since 1863 the president of the United States has issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation. 
Thanksgiving shouldn’t be a day, it should be a lifestyle.  Philippians 4:4-6 tells us, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!  Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.  Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God”.

For the Christian every day should be Thanksgiving Day.  As a Christian, what is your Thanksgiving Proclamation?  Here is mine.

There are many things I’m thankful for, but I am truly thankful for my family.  We have instituted a new holiday at our house called ThanksChristmas.  Because this year we were all together for the Thanksgiving holiday and weren’t able to be together for Christmas we combined the two.  I think that the holidays blend together wonderfully.  I will try to explain why.

Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:15, “For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God”.  What causes Thanksgiving in God’s people?  It is grace! I am so thankful for God’s grace, and for the gift of His Son that makes grace possible.  When we celebrate Thanksgiving we should give thanks to God for grace.

When we celebrate Christmas we celebrate not only the birth of Jesus, but we are celebrating salvation.   Matthew 1:21 says, “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins”.

Salvation comes only through Jesus and if Jesus had never come to this earth there would have been no salvation for you and me.  There would never have been grace for you and me.  There would have been nothing to cause Thanksgiving and there would be no Christmas.

Jesus is the reason for Thanksgiving.  Jesus is the reason for Christmas.  I think that ThanksChristmas is the perfect holiday.

I will close today with my ThanksChristmas Proclamation with a little help from George Washington.

WHEREAS, It is the duty of all people to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor;  Now, therefore, I do proclaim ThanksChristmas to be devoted by the people of my family to the service of that great and glorious God who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection. We are in awe of the marvelous grace that is offered to each one of us as God’s children, and are also astounded that God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.  We unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Almighty God and ask Him to pardon our transgressions.  Richard Lawry 

What is your Proclamation?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

I Can't Get No Satisfaction

Michael Douglas won an Oscar playing a fictional character called Gordon Gekko in the 1987 film Wall Street.  In the film, Gordon Gekko makes the following speech.  “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures, the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind and greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the U.S.A”

There are many people today who believe that desire for more isn’t so bad, that desire will help you get ahead in life.  Christians may know this isn’t true in our heads, but we still struggle with coveting.
In 1 Corinthians 6:9,10 Paul wrote,  “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God”.

It is obvious that God takes covetousness very seriously.  It’s one of the Ten Commandments.  If we covet we won’t inherit the kingdom of God.  But what really is greed or covetousness?

Is it wrong to desire anything?  I think most of us realize that some desires are good.  We need to be able to determine between legitimate desires and desires that are covetous.  Satan wants to take even the legitimate desires we have and tempt us to increase those desires to covetous proportions.  For instance, he will tempt us to move beyond the legitimate desire to be a good steward and have a savings account to the illegitimate desire to hoard excess amounts of resources so we feel we no longer have to depend on God.  He will tempt us to move beyond the legitimate desire for our spouse into an illegitimate desire for someone other than our spouse.

How do we determine the difference between legitimate desires and coveting?   Does God want us to have desires?  In 1 Corinthians 12:31 the Bible says, “But earnestly desire the best gifts”. 

Legitimate desire will not sacrifice people for the thing desired.  Covetous desire will not sacrifice the thing desired for people.  Legitimate desire trusts God to provide in His time.  Covetous desire is not content with God’s provision.  A covetous desire will have no regard for people or relationships if they get in the way of what is desired.

In Philippians 4:11-13 Paul writes to the Philippians and says, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

When I was in school one of the popular songs of the day was “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones.  The lyrics said -  I can't get no satisfaction -  I can't get no satisfaction -  Cause I try and I try and I try and I try -  I can't get no, I can't get no I can't get no satisfaction.  

I think that the sentiment of the song tells us a lot about what is wrong with the world.  No one seems to be satisfied.  John Rockefeller, the founder of the Standard oil company and the richest man in the world around the turn of the 1900’s, was once asked, "How much money is enough money?" He replied, "Just a little bit more."

I ran across a story recently that really got my attention.  Sergio Hernandez was arrested and charged with stealing television sets and other electronics during the 1992 rioting in Los Angeles. The part of the story that really seemed strange was that Sergio had won 3 million dollars in the lottery less than 3 years earlier.

God wants his children to be at peace.  He wants us to be content.  He wants us to be satisfied.  

A successful businessman and his friends were talking and laughing together and enjoying success. The businessman told of his childhood of poverty. Someone had given him a big silver dollar. To have a silver dollar was rare for children then, and his little sister begged to hold it. He laughed over the memory of all the chores he could get her to do for him just to get to hold the coin. He told of a day when she minded the cows all day for the privilege of holding the coin, only to have to give it up at the end of the day. All of the men laughed again at the childishness of the sister.  Just then, one man reminded the businessman that all of his long hours and hard work was for the privilege of holding onto a few possessions. “The end of the day is coming, and you will have to give them up like your little sister did.”

That is exactly how it is with all of us. In Matthew 6:19,20 Jesus warned, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven “.

There are many today who are destroying their very life through covetousness.  God wants us to be content.  He doesn’t want us to say, I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.

Hebrews 13:5 says, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  

In Matthew 6:33 Jesus himself tells us, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you”   Now that is satisfaction!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

For Want of a Nail

I enjoy reading history books.  Recently I have been reading about The War of the Roses in England.  The final battle of the War of the Roses was on August 22, 1485.  King Richard III met the outnumbered forces of Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth Field.  William Shakespeare wrote a historical play on the life of King Richard III around 1590. 

In the play the pivotal moment of the battle is shown. The morning of the battle, Richard hurriedly sent a servant to make sure his favorite horse was ready.  “Shoe him quickly,” the man told the blacksmith.  “You’ll have to wait,” the blacksmith answered.  “I’ve shoed the king’s whole army the last few days, and now I’ve got to get more iron.”  “I can’t wait,” the groom shouted impatiently.  “The king’s enemies are advancing right now, and we must meet them on the field.  Make do with what you have.”

So the blacksmith bent to his task.  From a single bar of iron he made four horseshoes.  He hammered and shaped and fitted them to the horses’ feet.  Then he began to nail them on.  But after he had fastened three shoes, he found he didn’t have enough nails for the fourth.  “I need one or two more nails,” he said, “and it will take some time to hammer them out.”  “I told you I can’t wait,” the king’s servant said impatiently.  “I hear the trumpets now.  Can’t you just use what you’ve got?”  “I can put the shoe on, but it won’t be as secure as the others.”  “Will it hold?” asked the groom.  “It should, but I can’t be certain.”  “Well, then, just nail it on.

When the armies clashed, Richard was in the thick of the battle, riding up and down the field, cheering his men and fighting his foes.  In the thick of battle as he valiantly rode into the enemy lines, one of the horse’s shoes flew off.  The horse stumbled and fell, and Richard was thrown to the ground.  Before the king could grab at the reins, the frightened animal rose and galloped away, leaving Richard all by himself.  Richard looked around him.  He saw that his soldiers were turning and running, and Henry’s troops were closing around him.  He waved his sword in the air.  “A horse!” he shouted.  “My kingdom for a horse!”  But there was no horse for him.  A moment later Henry’s soldiers were upon Richard, and the battle was over.

Not long after the battle the following rhyme appeared in print.  For want of a nail, a shoe was lost, For want of a shoe, a horse was lost, For want of a horse, a battle was lost, For want of a battle, a kingdom was lost, And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

As Christians we are in a battle; the battle between good and evil.  On the battlefield small things have big consequences.  In reality there are no small things on the battlefield.

The Apostle Paul gave us a list of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians chapter 12 verses 7-10.  “To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another he gives the gift of special knowledge. The Spirit gives special faith to another, and to someone else he gives the power to heal the sick. He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and to another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to know whether it is really the Spirit of God or another spirit that is speaking. Still another person is given the ability to speak in different languages, and another is given the ability to interpret”.

Whether they are big or small, all spiritual gifts are important.  Spiritual gifts are given only to help others. They are not for our own selfish benefit.  Spiritual gifts are service oriented, and those who use them, those who exercise them, will grow.

I call it the River Principle. If your life flows like a river, always passing along life and energy to those around you, then you will be pure and clean.

But if you’re like a pond, face it; you can only hold so much stuff.  And then, no growth takes place.  The water becomes stagnant and stinky and bad stuff grows there and mosquitos breed.

That’s why I believe Paul wrote what he did after giving us the lists of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12.  What's the next chapter after 12? 

I Corinthians 13 is often called the love chapter.  In verses  1-3 Paul writes, "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels."  (That's a spiritual gift)  "But have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.  And though I have the gift of prophecy."  (That's a spiritual gift)  "And understand all mysteries and all knowledge."  (There's another spiritual gift)  "And though I have all faith."  (That is a spiritual gift).  "So that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.   And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor."  (There is yet another spiritual gift)  "And though I give my body to be burned."  "But have not love, it profits me nothing."

Love is the underlying principle of every spiritual gift.  No matter what we are doing, if love isn’t the underlying principle it is meaningless.
For want of a nail, a shoe was lost, For want of a shoe, a horse was lost, For want of a horse, a battle was lost, For want of a battle, a kingdom was lost, And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Love is the nail that holds our lives together.  It is what gives us purpose.  Whatever else we think we are accomplishing, whatever gifts we have, everything will fall apart and the battle will be lost if we don’t have love.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Walking With Papa

Elisabeth Camping

Over the Christmas holidays I got to spend a week with my granddaughters.  Although I had seen my youngest granddaughter take a few steps previously, this was the first time that I had seen her walking.  Once she started walking she couldn’t be stopped.  She seemed to be walking constantly every waking minute.  She especially liked to walk up and down the stairs. 

Watching her walking everywhere and trying to keep up with her reminded me of the time when my oldest granddaughter first learned to walk.  Although she could take a few steps, what she really wanted to do was to hold my hand and walk.  She wanted to go outside and walk up and down the sidewalk holding on to one finger. Holding on to my finger she had all the confidence in the world and could walk for hours. One afternoon we spent an hour walking outside as fast as her little legs could go. I kept expecting her to get tired of it, but she wanted to keep going. If I even tried to walk toward the door of the house she wouldn’t go that way.

 When we went inside after more than an hour of walking, she kept going to the door and pounding on it. She wanted to go back outside and walk some more. Because I was the one who would take her walking she wanted to spend a lot of her time with me.

I had always loved my granddaughter, but getting to spend so much time with her made me love her even more. Walking together made us both closer to each other. I think that there are a lot of parallels between her experience learning to walk, and our experience being born again. When we are born again we are baby Christians and we have to learn to walk spiritually.

God used that illustration in Hosea 11:3 where it says: “I taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by their arms”. In many places in the Bible the idea of God helping us walk with Him are brought out. In Psalms 37:23,24 the Bible says:  “The steps of the godly are directed by the LORD. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will not fall, for the LORD holds them by the hand.” What a beautiful illustration of the Christian life. We are to walk with God and he has promised to hold our hand.

Do we learn to walk with God in the same way that we learned to walk as babies, by trial and error?  Do we stand across the room from our Father and take wobbly footsteps towards Him as he calls to us from a distance "Come to Daddy”.  Do we fall down repeatedly as we try to get it right? God has a different plan for us. Psalms 56:13 says “You have delivered my soul from death. You have kept my feet from falling, so I will walk with you in light among the living”. God doesn’t want you to fall. He wants you to hold his hand.

As parents we want our children to learn to take care of themselves; to stand on their own two feet.  We realize that we won't be there for them forever. They need to learn to take care of themselves. So from babyhood to adulthood we are continually learning how to take care of ourselves.  God's goal for us is very different. He is our Eternal Father; He is always available to us. Instead of wanting us to become increasingly independent, He wants us to learn to be increasingly dependent on Him. He wants us to walk with Him, our hand in His. He doesn't want us taking off on our own two feet. I believe that as human beings this is one of our hardest lessons.

Have you ever taken a walk on a busy street with a two year old? You point out to him the pretty gardens you are walking past; the beautiful flowers, the scampering squirrel, the pretty song bird; but he's not interested. He's too busy trying to pry free from your hold. He can't stand holding your hand. He's a big kid now. He wants to walk on his own.

We as Christians are often like that. Instead of clinging to our Father's hand, we have this tendency to take off on our own two feet. There are so many charming things that take our attention from Him. Sometimes we don't like to be restricted by holding his hand. Some of those Bible principles cramp our style. Sometimes we let the cares of this world pull us away from Him, and instead of holding tighter to His hand, we let go.

Whenever we let go we inevitably fall down and hurt ourselves and then we sink into discouragement and we look to God and we say "Father, what's this all about? Why did you let me fall?  Why didn’t you stop this from happening to me?" And then He looks at us sadly and says "Child, you let go of my hand. You took off on your own. I am able to keep you from falling, but you must keep your hand in mine."

We don’t know what is before us. The future can be a frightening thing.  Our only safety is in walking with Christ, our hand in His.

Identity Theft

"Who am I?" I can show you my driver's license, social security card, passport, a birth certificate, credit cards,  – and they all prove to you that I am Richard Lawry born in Madison, Tennessee. There is no one else in the entire world who can be me.  That is unless I become a victim of identity theft. Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personally identifying information, like your name, Social Security number, or credit card number, without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes.

The FTC estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. In fact, you or someone you know may have experienced some form of identity theft.

I recently experienced this problem when I noticed some charges on my bank account that I knew I had not made.  After numerous calls to the company, and promises that the money would be refunded it never was.  Identity theft is a serious problem.

A few months ago I read in the news a bizarre identity theft story.   Jakadrien Turner ran away from home in the fall of 2010 when she was just 14. She left home under duress caused by her parents' divorce and her grandfather's death. Jakadrien made her way to Houston, where she was soon arrested by police for shoplifting a white shirt, black vest and jeans.

That's when things took a bizarre turn. Jakadrien gave the police a false name and her new alias just happened to match up with the name of a 22-year-old Colombian citizen who had been in the United States illegally. To compound Turner's plight further, the Colombian national had a warrant out for her arrest. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement then deported Jakadrien in April 2011.  After Jakadrien was deported, she was given a work card in Colombia and released onto the streets.

 Her grandmother, Lorene Turner, had been looking on her computer every night for clues to her granddaughter's location, and was cooperating with Dallas police as she carried out her search.  She spent months monitoring Facebook postings she believed to be her granddaughters that led her to think that she was in Columbia. 

When the story was reported in the U.S. media, The Colombian Institute for Family Welfare confirmed that Turner was in its custody.  After a joint investigation by U.S. and Columbian authorities, Jakadrien Turner arrived back in Texas, eight months after she was mistakenly deported to Colombia.

As sad and disturbing as this story is, Jakadrien brought these problems upon herself by using a stolen identity. 

Now I’m sure that you or I would never think of being identity thieves.  A person’s identity is the most important thing that they own.   How does the Bible identify you?  In 2 Corinthians 6:18 The Bible tells us, “I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the Lord Almighty.”

You are a child of God, but someone wants to steal your identity.  We read in Rev 13:16,17 “ He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads  and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. 

Satan knows our true identity as sons and daughters of God, but he wants to give a new identity.  He wants to give us his name. 

There is a passage in Exodus 34 where the name of God is equated with his character.  We read in verses 5 and 6, “Now the Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth.”

God has given us his name just like a father passes on his name to his children.  God’s true identity is His character.  He wants our identity to be His character, but Satan also wants our name, our identity, to be his character.

Satan’s character, the name he wants to give us, is outlined in 2 Timothy 3:1-5 where it says, “this know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.  For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power.

If we see ourselves anywhere in this passage we are guilty of identity theft.  God’s character, the name he has given us, is found in Galatians 5:22,23   The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. 

Don’t be like Jakadrian who stole the identity of someone and ended up being deported.  You are a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.  You are a child of the king of the universe.  With an identity like that why would we want to be an identity thief?