Category Archives: Devotional

The First Thanksgiving

thanksgiving-2903166_960_720When I mention Thanksgiving, what thoughts come to mind? Are there memories of a family gathering, or a big turkey dinner with all the trimmings? At my parent’s house we watched football games on TV (before and after our meal).

According to my smart phone, the word Thanksgiving is defined as an “expression of gratitude, especially to God.” When I looked up the definition of gratitude, my phone said, it is a quality of being thankful. Notice how the words “thanksgiving” and “gratitude” describe each other. Thanksgiving is showing gratitude and gratitude is being thankful.

When was the first thanksgiving? Most people would say it happened several hundred years ago in Plymouth, Mass. when the first pilgrims came to America and gathered around a table with their Indian guests. Was that really the first thanksgiving, or did one occur much earlier in history?

According to David Mathis in his article, “The True Story of Thanksgiving,” the first thanksgiving began thousands of years earlier. Genesis 1:27 us that God created man and woman in his own image. God created us to show Him gratitude, to give Him thanks and to worship Him. The first thanksgiving occurred in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve thanking and praising their Creator.

“Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.” Psalm 148:13

We all know the story of Adam and Eve. They were created perfect. Death had yet to come into existence. They had everything they could ever want provided for them in the Garden of Eden. That is, until the tempter, began spreading his venom around Eden. Satan, being full of pride and love of self, showed ingratitude towards God. Ingratitude is a form of rebellion. It is through ingratitude towards God that sin abounds. The Apostle Paul in Romans 1:21 puts it this way, “Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

Ingratitude would lead Adam and Eve into sin.  Satan brought to their attention one thing they did not have.  They began to believe his lie that God was holding something back from them. God must not care about them. They began to covet the one thing they couldn’t have, to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. They stopped being thankful for God’s provision and gave in to rebellion. When they ate the fruit, God’s judgment fell on them. Sin separated them from God and death followed sin.

From that day forward, humankind has been self-centered and materialistic creatures believing they can do a better job than God at providing for their needs. We want to determine what is right and wrong in our own minds. People are concerned more with their deprived physical needs than about their spiritual, eternal well-being. What people fail to realize is that God knows us better than we know ourselves.

Isn’t it reassuring to know God didn’t abandon us to our foolish darkened hearts? God sent his son Jesus into a thankless, ungrateful world. Here on earth he lived a flawless life, showering God with gratitude, thanksgiving and praise. Jesus exemplifies the word “thanksgiving.” The Gospels are filled of examples of Jesus giving thanks to God:

When Jesus fed the 4,000, “he took the seven loaves and the fish and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples. (Mark 8:6)

Before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he lifted up his eyes toward heaven and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.” (John 11:41).

The “Lord Jesus on the night he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said this is my body which is for you; do this in remembrance of me. In the same way after supper he took the cup, saying this the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-24)

Communion is sometimes referred to as the Eucharist. Eucharist comes from the Greek word Eukaistos, which actually means “Thanksgiving.”

Jesus didn’t just model thanksgiving for us. He died on the cross for our ingratitude, for our failing to exalt God, to praise him and worship Him as Lord. When we place our faith in Jesus, he redeems us from a life of ingratitude and restores us to fulfill the purpose for which we were created: to be thankful and grateful to God.

This is why it is important for us to be constantly striving to be more like Jesus, the only person who lived a perfect life of gratitude, honoring his father, God.

When we pray we need to remember to be thankful.

“Don’t be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”  Philippians 4:6  

When we worship God we need to be thankful. The book of Psalms is full of thankful worship verses.

“Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.” Psalm 95:2

“I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving.” Psalm 69:30

When we walk with God we need to remember to be thankful.

“As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” Colossians 2:6-7

But we’re human aren’t we. There are times we fail miserably at being thankful, like when things aren’t going well for us. We can easily be overcome by hurt and tragedy. When we face trials we have a tendency to blame God.

When we face those trials we need to remain especially thankful.

But how do we do that? First, we can remain thankful by standing on the promises of God. Second, we should remember past and current blessings God has bestowed on us. Yes, count your blessings name them one by one!

My wife visited her family in North Carolina recently. When it came time to fly home, I prayed God would give her an uneventful and safe return. Her fight home, which should normally take about 3 hours turned into quite an ordeal, lasting well over 9 hours. I thought I had covered all my bases with my prayers and found myself having a tough time coping with her having to change planes, miss a connecting flight, and endure hour after hour of delays all caused by bad weather.

The ordeal continued to spin out of control at a time I needed God most. It became increasingly difficult for me to believe God was listening to my prayers. Thoughts like, “Does he really care about my wife and me” crept into my head. It wasn’t until she and I were safely together again that I learned just how involved God was guiding her every step. I felt ashamed when I considered my feelings of ingratitude. My heart turned to repentance and thanksgiving.

From now on I will always think of this incident in my life when I come across the verse:

“And we know (there’s a promise in those three words). And we know that in all things God works for good to those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

My wife will likely remember the promise I texted her in the midst of her ordeal :

“Be still and know (the word “know” is a promise) that I am God.” Psalm 46:10.

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May this Thanksgiving be a special time of blessing for you. Remember to give thanks to the God who created you, to the One who sustains you, and to Him who will never leave you or forsake you.

Joshua 13-15: Live by faith

Joshua chapters 13-15 begin an account detailing of how the land of Canaan was to be divided among the 13 tribes of Israel (Joseph received a double portion). Each of his two sons Ephraim and Manasseh are counted as a tribe. Though this material may seem dull to the modern reader it chronicles the fulfillment of Israelite inheritance.

Inheritance – biblical inheritance in the literal sense is a possession or piece of property that is linked to the promises of God (i.e. Promised Land). It’s transcendent meaning holds that God himself is our inheritance.

Levites – the tribe of priests didn’t receive a swath of territory like the other tribes. Instead they received cities, which included the surrounding pasture lands. The Levites received the sacrifice offerings brought by the other tribes to the Lord. God was to be their inheritance. The twelve cities they received were scattered throughout the new land of Israel (see Joshua 21).

While Joshua chapters 1-12 chronicle God’s great victories fighting for Israel, much of the land still needed to be taken.  God himself would continue to fight for Israel if they remained faithful and followed his instructions. The areas yet to be secured included some of the coastland occupied by the Philistines, and areas to the north and south of the lands already conquered.

When the Israelites began to enjoy the Promised Land, they made compromises to speed the process along, permitting people who served other gods to live among them as slaves.  Ironically this would lead to the Israel’s undoing.  They would become slaves to idolatry and eventually to the Canaanites.  The book of Judges chronicles this.

Like the Israelites, how many of us have proved faithful to God in times of great crisis (during the storms of life) only to lose our resolve to remain faithful in the little everyday things?  Faith prizes the gifts god God gives us. Great faith sees beyond the gift and remains faithful to God who gave it.

saint-2356564_960_720Caleb stands out as an example of how Israel’s tribes ought to be living out their conquest of Canaan. He remained faithful to God.  He wanted the complete portion God promised. His faith wouldn’t let him make compromises.  At age 85, he set out to claim the land promised to him.  The same land his feet trod 45 years earlier when he and 11 other Israelites first spied out the land of Canaan under Moses’ leadership (See Numbers 13).  He approached Joshua and said, “Give me the land God promised through Moses.” It didn’t matter to him that the land was occupied by giants.  Caleb’s faith in God allowed him to conquer the land.

Our faith in God can sustain us.  Great faith remembers what God has done and is grateful.  Even today, Jesus is preparing an inheritance for those who are his faithful followers.

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.  John 14:1-3 NLT

Devoted

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One creature stands out from the others when the subject of devotion is mentioned.  Man’s best friend is a model for humankind.  Our furry beasts aren’t controlling and they don’t harbor hidden agendas; ever loyal, ever faithful, ever loving…

“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”  Romans 12:10

 

Rust

car-wreck-3183452_960_720I’m guilty of not washing my car as often as I should.  Maybe it’s because I regard vehicles as transportation and not a stylish reflection of who I am.  In the northeastern United States we use salt on the roads in the winter.  So, after ten to twelve years of ownership, my cars invariably show signs of rust.  At this point it’s a little late in the game to be putting more effort into washing my car.

I want to be one of those people who invests their time and energy into imperishable things like relationships.  I know this will require regular housecleaning to keep my heart from forming rust-bearing thoughts that can corrode the relationships I hold dear.

“Store your treasure in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not bread in and steal.  Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”  Matthew 6:20-21 NLT

Beauty

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Beautiful flowers draw delicate butterflies.  Colors of red, yellow, orange, pink and purple flowers matter to these creatures.

It is easy to be drawn to outward adornment.  But outward adornment quickly fades.

According to the Apostle Peter, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment…Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” (I Peter 3:3-4)

 

Water and Light

IMG_0195Oh spring!

I love planting things in the spring and watching them grow over the summer.  This winter I became infatuated with the idea of growing lima beans; a vegetable plant I’ve never grown before.

Recently, my wife and I located a package of seeds at a garden store.  At the time it was way too early in the spring to plant them outdoors so we decided to replicate the experiment I did as a child at school.  Do you remember putting bean seeds in a glass of water with a paper towel stuffed in it to keep the seeds upright?

Handling the seeds, I was amazed at how hard and, well, dead-looking they were.  As you can see from the photo, we were successful at our experiment and one of them is now potted and awaits it’s final transplant in our garden.  (The other seed is going back in the glass of water.)

This fun project reminded me of how important life-giving water and light are to bring what appears to be a dead, dried up seed back to life.  We all need water and light to have abundant life.

Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again.  But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again.  It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”  John 4:13-14 NLT
He rescues them from the grave so they may enjoy the light of life. Job 33:30 NLT

 

 

Joshua 7: Devoted things

victorian-2745_960_720Fresh off their victory over Jericho, the Israelites walked through the ruins of the city, marveling over how the mighty walls of Jericho fell as they shouted. Did thoughts such as, “We are God’s chosen no one can stand against us” creep into their heads?

As their pride swelled, trouble followed. Joshua chapter 7 recalls the second battle led by Joshua; one against Ai, which means “the ruin.” They assumed defeating Ai would be a much easier task than the battle of a heavily fortified Jericho. God wasn’t consulted on how the battle against Ai should be fought. As a result, a smaller but sufficient force set out to do battle. They were soundly defeated.

The Israelites were perplexed. Why did God allow this to happen? The hearts of the Israelites melted with fear! If word got out of their defeat, all of Canaan would descend on the Israelites and wipe them out.

As it turns out God was angry with the Israelites.  He revealed the reason for this anger to Joshua. The Israelites were not supposed to take any of the spoils of Jericho for themselves but someone did. Joshua began questioning the people, tribe by tribe, family by family. Achan from the tribe of Judah was the culprit. He buried some of the spoils devoted to God in the dirt under his tent. His words are unforgettable, “I saw them…I coveted them…I took them.” He and his family paid the ultimate price for his disobedience.

“I saw them…I coveted them…I took them.” Joshua 7:21

D. R. Davis shares this insight, “Our problem here is- sinners that we are – we don’t think breaking Yahweh’s covenant is all that big a deal.” We don’t understand the presence of sin and how it affects our relationship with a holy God.

Another thought to consider is the idea of “serpent theology” found in Genesis 3:1. The serpent’s temptation placed the emphasis on the one thing God restricted rather than all the blessings we already hold in our hands.

“Give us this day our daily bread… and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.” Matthew 6:11, 13