Gratitude

It sounds so simple: Be grateful.

We don’t need any special skills or powers to express gratitude. I’ve been meditating quite a bit on the word gratitude for a while now. There’s just something about the word that makes life more enjoyable. Maybe that’s why I used to listen to the Grateful Dead so much…

I recently stumbled upon two excellent quotes regarding gratitude:

Gratitude is an antidote to irritability.

It’s tough to be angry for extended periods of time when you have genuine gratitude for life. Even if things aren’t going your way, surely you can find something for which to be grateful. Personally, when I’m struggling, I’ll focus on so-called “little victories.” Something that may seem insignificant to you could be a reason for me to be thankful. And this is the case for all of us. If you don’t do this already, perhaps it’s a good idea to write a gratitude list. Sure, we can think of reasons to be grateful, but it is so much more powerful when we see the words written down.

Anything less than gratitude and trust is practical atheism.

It is critical that we remember what God has done for us in the past. Often we see God only in our rear-view mirror, but that’s still better than not seeing Him at all. Take a good look at Ephesians 2:1-10 – read it twice if you have to -  and I assure you gratitude will find its way into your life. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (vv. 8-10). Do you see that? You’ve done nothing to be saved – nothing! It was the blood of Christ that saved us. How can you not be grateful for that act? That fact alone exceeds any temporal problem you may be encountering.

I’m not suggesting that we don’t tackle the sins and issues in our lives. We must, for they will ensnare us without warning. But our perspective is as important as, if not more important than, anything else. I can’t stress this enough.

I lived many years without faith. Without hope. Without love. Then I gave my life to Christ, and a funny thing happened. Did life get better? No. Life didn’t change one bit. But I did. And the catalyst for this re-birth was gratitude.

Jesus Christ died for our sins. He didn’t die because he deserved it. He died because we do, taking our place at Calvary. If we can’t be grateful for that, then heaven help us.

In His Name,

-Matt

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The Only Opinion That Matters

So…evidently there was an election this past week.

Aren’t you glad it’s over? Now we won’t have to listen to any more complaining or name-calling. Now that the results are in, America can go back to being a unified country! Right?

If only it were that simple. It’s Wednesday – the day after the election – as I type this, and I am absolutely appalled by the comments I see on Facebook. To me, it doesn’t matter who you voted for, but what does matter is the way in which you handle yourself once it’s over. Wow, what happened to losing with dignity? Or taking the high road? Or refraining from personal shots against those who may have voted differently than you.

This isn’t just the case with the Democrats. There are entirely too many Republicans (or Trump-supporters) who refuse to stay humble in the face of victory. I understand this was a contentious race, but we have completely lost sight of the big picture here.

If you are reading this, chances are you consider yourself a Christian. And if you are a Christian, you are a Christian first, and an American second. This is the greatest country in the world. But it’s not our home. MSNBC, Fox News, and all the partisan web sites offer their cornucopia of opinions on what’s right for you and your family. That’s fine and dandy, but do you know where to find the only opinion that matters?

If you answered, “The Bible,” you are correct!

Regardless of one’s political and social beliefs, he is a creation of God. Please remind people of this when they are attacking another for doing what he believes is best for this family. What will you say today that can impact your neighbor? As a Christian, you have an incredible opportunity to shine as light through the darkness this election caused. With that in mind, I’ll close this post with an important message from the Apostle Paul:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Eph. 4:29)

In His Name,

-Matt

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The Right Advice

The Right Advice

For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers.

-        Prov. 11:14

Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.

-        Prov. 19:20

Who are you listening to these days? God? Or man?

When we are struggling, we tend to gravitate toward anyone who will make us feel better. That’s normal. It is during these times when we search tirelessly for answers that may or may not exist. We are in a weakened state, and at this point we do not necessarily see things for the way they are.

Simply stated, this is when we tend to ask the wrong people for advice.

Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, made a fundamental mistake approximately 3,000 years ago. Shortly after he became King of Israel, he had a difficult decision to make regarding the treatment of his assembly. He consulted the elders who served his father. Then he consulted his friends who were serving him. The elders offered one solution, while his younger “advisors” gave a completely different answer.

Rehoboam rejected the advice of the elders, opting to listen to his buddies. To put it mildly, this was a mistake. The result of listening to the wrong advice literally divided the Kingdom. Rehoboam ruled the southern kingdom of Judah, while a man named Jeroboam was named king of Israel in the north.

Because Rehoboam refused to listen to the right advice, Israel will never have a king sit on a united throne until the Messiah comes. Think about that.

It is critical to surround yourself with supportive people. People who will tell you not what you want to hear, rather what you need to hear. Do you want to know who your true friends are? Find the one who calls you out on your sinful behavior. The one who lets you know that what you just said does not represent a biblical worldview. The one who isn’t afraid to make you look in the mirror and re-think some things.

So pick up a Bible today…and follow the only advice that matters.

In His Name,

-Matt

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Criticism

I remember watching an episode of The Simpsons where Homer Simpson was harshly critiquing his neighbor’s coaching skills. Upon hearing this, his wife Marge told him, “Homer, it’s very easy to criticize.” Homer replied, “Fun too!”

Sure, the Simpsons are not exactly a family teeming with Christian values, but aren’t we also quick to point out another’s flaws? As we discussed last week, some people will stop at nothing to cause a neighbor to stumble, so long as it makes them look better on the outside. If I criticize someone’s athleticism, for example, does that make me a better athlete? Of course not!

James refers to our tongue as “a fire.” He also instructed us, don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” (5:9). Constructive criticism is fine, but maliciously tearing someone down is not. Can you imagine Jesus saying to one of his disciples, “Wow, that Peter is so selfish. I don’t trust him as far as I can throw him.”

Yes, it’s easy to criticize. The Bible is full of people who were flawed, some severely. With the exception of Christ himself, we can throw stones at everyone in Scripture. But how will that possibly edify us? Similarly, we are encouraged to accept others in our lives. We don’t have to be great friends with everyone we meet or even get along well with all of God’s creatures, but the reality is clear: life is infinitely better when we concentrate not on what needs to be changed in the world, rather what needs to be changed in ourselves and our attitudes.

This is not a complex process. I promise there is a bit of “good” in your sworn enemy, and a bit of “bad” in your best friend (good and bad are in quotations because we all have different definitions of those terms). Good luck finding a perfect person. Someone you cannot criticize. In the meantime, be careful what you say or think about a child of God. That man we condemn is God’s handiwork. That woman you personally attack is someone’s mother and/or wife.

And if you ever do find that perfect person, please let me know!

In His Name,

-Matt

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Miracles

Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.

-C.S. Lewis

There are only two ways to live your life.  One is as though nothing is a miracle.  The other is as though everything is a miracle.

-Albert Einstein

Do you believe in miracles? Maybe you do. Then again, maybe not. Of course, this all depends on your concept of a miracle.

For some, it can refer to a life-saving procedure.  Some people may consider it a miracle when their favorite sports team wins a game (i.e. the 1980 U.S. hockey team).  Others see the birth of a child as a genuine miracle of life.  But what are the characteristics of a true miracle?  Who decides what a miracle truly is?  Like beauty, is it in the eye of the beholder?  The Christian perspective on miracles is driven by the existence of God, and, more specifically, the Son.  The four Gospels of the New Testament record 37 miracles of Jesus Christ (though many believe there were more that were not recorded, as John 21:25 tells us).  Many of these were recorded by multiple authors, thus adding to the validity of the actions.  From the turning of water into wine (John 2:1-11) to the second miraculous catch of fish (John 21:4-11), we read about a variety of events that defy natural laws.

Man walking the moon is seen by many as a miraculous event, but I would argue that God walking the earth was even more incredible! Do you need to witness a true miracle in order to believe? Clearly none of us witnessed Jesus’ ministry, yet we all believe it happened. To quote the author of Hebrews, “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (11:1).

Of what we do not see. Eight years ago I did not see myself changing my lifestyle. I did not see myself starting anew. I did not see myself being saved by the blood of Jesus. But these things happened – and while they are not in the technical sense a “miracle,” I choose to believe that my personal testimony – and that of countless others – is rather miraculous.

Share your miraculous testimony with someone today…

In His Name,

-Matt

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The Lord’s Prayer

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
 Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
 - Matthew 6:9-13

One can argue that the true Lord’s prayer is located in John 17, but the model Jesus uses from the Sermon on the Mount is a great one as well. To me, what sticks out the most here is the comment on forgiveness. What a simple, yet strong, charge!

How can we expect Christ to forgive all we’ve done if we continue to hold a resentment against another? We are all sinners saved by grace. As I’ve mentioned before, your sin is no greater than mine, or vice versa. The genocidal maniac is as much a sinner in God’s eyes as the woman who told a white lie at work. In the next two verses Jesus tells us if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” This seems rather clear, does it not?

Every time I read the gospels I wonder how Jesus could “keep his cool,” knowing what was about to take place. He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Judas, for example, would betray him. He knew that his own people would reject him in Nazareth. He knew that the Jewish leaders would try to have him killed, and that the Romans would fulfill that promise.

What was his response? “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…

Perhaps you are thinking, “Well, that’s the Son of God! I’m not as powerful as him.” That’s true in part, but don’t underestimate the power you have. Once converted, you are cleansed from your past and the process of sanctification begins. This means you are set apart for God’s work as He conforms you to the image of Christ.

You absolutely have the power to let go of that grudge and set a sinner free from his or her act against you.

In His Name,

-Matt

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Believe

A Christian woman was discussing her faith outside. An atheist came up to her and said, “You don’t really believe all that stuff in the Bible, do you?” The woman said, “Yes, I do.” The atheist then replied, “You don’t really think all those miracles happened, do you?” “Yes,” she answered, “I believe God performed those.”

“Well, how do you know that?”

“I guess I’ll ask God when I get to heaven.”

“What if God’s not in heaven?”

“Then you can ask him yourself.”

An atheist is defined as “a person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods.” I would add to that definition “one who lacks hope.” How can you wake up each morning with a positive attitude if you are sure that God is not surrounding you? How can you look up at the Minnesota sky at 6:00 AM, marvel at the majestic stars, and think to yourself, “wow, what a neat coincidence!”

Admittedly, it is difficult to write about atheism from the standpoint of a believer. I recently searched Amazon’s web site to look at some book titles regarding this topic. The Young Atheist’s Handbook: Lessons for Living a Good Life without God, Living the Secular Life: New Answers to Old Questions, and Christianity is Not Great: How Faith Fails were but a few I encountered. This is entertaining in some ways, but discouraging as well. Contrary to the what the author of the first book believes, it’s not about living a “good life.” And I think this is where the atheist misses the mark (among other things).

Yes, it is entirely possible to enjoy your life as a non-believer. And I would concede that there are plenty of kind and generous folks who are not Christians. These are precisely the type of people we should be reaching. The type of people who need to know that this world is not our home. The type of people who need to be persuaded that an eternal perspective trumps a temporal one any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Even Job, who suffered as much as, if not more than, anyone in the Bible, recognized God’s awesome existence. When we doubt, when we struggle in our faith, when we fight to believe, God is real. When we wrestle with God, at least we are in contact with Him.

Your neighbor, who happens to be an atheist, was created in God’s image. He may not believe that, but you must.

In His Name,

-Matt

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Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well (Psalm 139:13-14).

Author Max Lucado is a man we associate with such favorites as He Still Moves Stones, Six Hours One Friday, and In the Grip of Grace. But did you know he has also written children’s books? One such book is titled You Are Special, a tale about small wooden people known as the Wemmicks. Each Wemmick was carved by the same woodworker, Eli. Like us, each Wemmick was different. Like us, each had a unique set of talents and flaws. The more successful Wemmicks received stars from people, while the ones who struggled were given dots.

Punchinello was a Wemmick who struggled to accomplish “great things.” Consequently he received many dots from the others. After a while he had so many dots that he wouldn’t go outside and play anymore, for fear of accumulating even more dots. The wooden people said that Punchinello was not a good wooden person. Eventually he believed them.

One day Punchinello met a Wemmick named Lucia who had no dots or stars.  People tried to give her dots and stars, but they didn’t stick! No longer interested in receiving anyone else’s marks, Punchinello asked Lucia how she was able to do this. “It’s easy,” she replied. “Every day I go see Eli.”

So that’s what Punchinello did. He went to see Eli the woodcarver. Punchinello was surprised that Eli was so glad to see him and that he even knew his name. “Of course I do. I made you,” said Eli. Punchinello voiced his frustration about all his dots, and began to defend himself to Eli. Eli would have none of it.

“Who are they to give stars or dots?” Eli asked. “What they think doesn’t matter. All that matters is what I think. And I think you are pretty special.” After a while, Punchinello asked Eli why the stickers don’t stick to his friend Lucia. This was Eli’s response:

“Because she has decided that what I think is more important than what they think. The stickers only stick if you let them…The more you trust my love, the less you care about the stickers.” He then assured Punchinello, “You are special because I made you. And I don’t make mistakes.”

Punchinello left Eli’s workshop finally beginning to understand the lesson. And as soon as he did, a dot fell to the ground.

In this imperfect world in which we live, let us remember this unchanging truth: each of us was fearfully and wonderfully made by the master craftsman.

In His Name,

-Matt

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The Argument From Desire

There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man.  Man tries unsuccessfully to fill this void with everything that surrounds him, seeking in absent things the help he cannot find in those that are present, but all are incapable of it.  This infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite…object…God himself.” – Blaise Pascal

We do not fit into this world. It’s not our home, which is a good thing. Sure, there are many wonderful people, places, and things on earth, but, as Christians, we have a vigorous desire for more. And what that “more” is cannot be found here. To quote Psalm 42:1, “as the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.”

The argument looks like this:

  1. Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.
  2. But there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can satisfy.
  3. Therefore, there must exist something more than time, earth and creatures, which can satisfy this desire.
  4. This something is what people call “God” and “life with God forever.”

God exists. The fact that we are constantly praying for something just beyond our reach proves His existence. We experience this mysterious desire (or longing) when the Spirit guides us through our daily Bible reading. Or when we are away from our loved ones for a few days. Or when we miss the opportunity to fellowship with our brothers and sisters at church.

Your neighborhood agnostic may counter this argument by saying something like, “Your premise is true only because it has not yet been proven false (known as the ‘appeal to ignorance’).” My response would be: “Isn’t that the point?” As Christians, we don’t need signs and wonders to believe. Our faith stems not from what Christ does as much as from who he is.

Without this innate desire for something more (God), we run the risk of turning into a modern-day Sisyphus. Who was Sisyphus? According to legend, he was a king who was eternally punished to roll a rock up a mountain only to have it roll back down to the bottom when he reaches the top. King Sisyphus struggles perpetually and without hope of success. Tragically, the only way for him to be happy is to accept that life is an absurd struggle.

We know better, don’t we? Next time you watch the news, remind yourself that this is not our permanent home. Indeed, our desire for more will be satisfied in the form of eternal fellowship with Lord Jesus.

In His Name,

-Matt

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Reflections

Fifteen years. Can you believe it’s been that long? September 11, 2001 is a day none of us will forget. What I remember most about that day, and the weeks that followed, was not the hatred so many showed for those responsible for the attacks (which was, and still is, profound), but the way our nation came together.

Fifteen years later it’s hard to imagine the U.S. as a truly united country. Democrats attack Republicans. Conservatives mock Liberals. Atheists censure Christians. Muslims criticize Jews. And now it’s even acceptable – if not outright lauded – to sit down during the National Anthem. What happened?

Fifteen years later we have neglected our own brothers and sisters. Patriotism was at an all-time high in the months following 9/11. But the question I had then, and still have today, is this: Why does it take a national tragedy/disaster/catastrophe for us to live out the motto “United We Stand, Divided We Fall?” Can’t we display national pride at all times? The love a parent has for his child is unconditional. The love Christ has for us is the same. The Lord is crazy about you when your life is a smooth ride. His love for you is unsurpassed when your life resembles a jarring hurricane too.

Fifteen years later we must remember that our country will never be the same. Though America remains the greatest nation in the world, we will go only as far as our Christian values will take us. And that’s where the church needs to step up and quote the prophet Isaiah when he said, “Here am I. Send me! (Isa. 6:8).”

Fifteen years later – and this is where we make a true difference – we must love the unlovable. Secular society will not pave the way for this. Neither will pop culture. Nor your public school. Nor the media. It’s up to us, plain and simple. It’s possible another attack on our soil will happen. After all, the wise Solomon tells us that “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun (Eccl. 1:9).” I’m not insinuating that we are in danger and should run around like frightened mice. But take some time this week to reflect on the past fifteen years. Have you used the 9/11 attacks to harbor resentments on those who think differently? Or have you seen this as an opportunity to motivate others? To show love to others so that they eventually turn their wills and their lives over to the care of the only one who can guarantee eternal life?

Our time on earth is but a blink of an eye. Our time with Jesus lasts forever. There is no terrorist organization on the planet that can overcome the love of Christ.

In His Name,

-Matt

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