How to give thanks

lightstock_68414_medium_user_3963721Ephesians 5:20  giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ

 

How should we give thanks to a God that gives us far more than we can imagine to ask for?  How can we ever give Him thanks for all He’s done and all He is?  Well, we never can.  But the point isn’t to make things up to God with our gratitude.  The point is that we should be grateful for everything and at all times.

We give thanks by praising Him.  Just telling Him, literally, thank you for what you’ve given me, for what you’ve done, and for who you are.  Express in words your thankfulness.

We give thanks by responding.  God has done so much for us all, we can show Him we’re thankful by carrying out what He’s called us to do.  We can show Him we’re grateful for what we have by sharing it with others, by taking care of what we’ve been given, and by being content.

We give thanks by trusting.  When we’re in hard times and it seems as though God has forgotten about us, we can be thankful to Him for what He’s done in the past by trusting Him with the present.  Sometimes just praying, knowing that God has provided in the past, and believing that He can do it again, is a great way to thank Him.

Why to give thanks…II

Thanksgiving

1 Chronicles 29:12-13  Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name.

Not only should we give thanks to God for who He is, but we should be ever so grateful for all that He’s done.  He’s able to do far more than we can even imagine, and He even sometimes responds to prayer better than we thought He would.  Not only is He good, but He provides.

All of the good we have in our lives is from the Lord.  We owe Him our thanks because nothing we have here is our own.  It’s all His and He allows us to be temporary caregivers to His things.  He provides our physical needs, but think of all the other wonderful blessings He gives that have nothing to do with “things” at all.  The intangible blessings are usually the most satisfying.

Imagine, the Lord of all things created, in heaven and on earth, giving up His Son for the sake of mankind, that we might be reconciled to Him.  Even if He never gave us another single thing in this life, that’s a sufficient reason to give praise and thanks for the rest of eternity.  We give thanks because of who His is, and because of what He’s done.

Why give thanks

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Psalm 107:1  Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!

 

Why give thanks?  The fact is that every single day God is providing blessings for us that we may not even know about.  He answers prayers that we lift up to Him, but there are so many things we are unaware of that He’s taken care of.

Even in our trials there are reasons to give thanks.  We may not realize it at the time, but even the seemingly bad things that happen in our lives can be God’s way of making something happen that’s much bigger than ourselves.  When we are in those down times, we have to trust that He has the best possible outcome in mind.  And the only way we can trust that is if we know that God is good.

God is good.  If we start with that belief and hold onto it, we can’t help but be in a constant state of gratitude.  No matter what comes our way, we know that our Lord is sovereign over all things and that He’s good.  That is cause for thanksgiving in itself, even without specific blessings to name.  Give thanks to Him because He’s good!

Waging war

Ephesians 4:14-16 so that we may no longer be children, lightstock_116370_small_user_3963721tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,  from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

In WWII, the U.S. Army developed a new tactic: airborne operations. Under this new tactic, specially trained units would parachute in behind enemy lines before a major offensive. Their objective was to take strategic pieces of land, such as bridges and roads, and to eliminate particular sections of the enemy defenses. In essence, their job description was to be surrounded by large numbers of enemy troops and accomplish highly dangerous missions. Sounds fun, right?

Well, time to rise and shine, soldier – you are in the Airborne as you read this devotional. Anyone who follows Christ is most definitely behind enemy lines in this world. We are surrounded by a mass of enemy fortifications. Our circumstance in this respect is certain, and there is no way around it. Now we must choose whether to pick up our rifle and march forward, or crouch down in the ditch and pretend there’s not a war going on.

This reality is what Paul speaks to in 4:14. Spiritual warfare is all around us, and is infinitely more real than the game on TV last night. We ought not be shocked when the bullets start flying, not if we accept and understand our position. We’re supposed to be maturing and growing in our stature in Christ. We are supposed to be warriors who see the danger and are engaged in the fight.

The particular battle described here is one of the Church drawing people to Christ through our actions, our true selves, not just the bulletins that we pass out at bake sales. Fighting this battle involves growing into the fullness of Christ (verse 15), so that each member of the body functions properly. Thus, the whole unit becomes effective.

The Christian life is far from passive. Read over this passage several times and grasp the all -encompassing nature of our calling. Make no mistake, the enemy is playing for keeps, and he means to wreck, steal, and devour. Never stop seeking after Christ and allow Him to use you. Become a weapon in His hand.

———-  How are you letting yourself be used by God to wage war against the enemy?

Equipped for service

325064_2851984026582_830175113_oEphesians 4:11-13 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,  to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,  until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,

The idea of gifting and that each person has a unique gifting is certainly a familiar one; however, there is a good chance that we need to widen our perspective. Take all of Ephesians 3 and the first section of chapter 4 as your context. Paul describes the radical love of Christ in chapter 3, and then goes on to make several radical statements about how the church is supposed to represent that love. Our lives ought to be worthy of this calling, and it is with that foundation that Christ gifted each of us.

In 4:12, we see the purpose clearly – we have our gifts so that we can be equipped for service, and so that the Body might be built up for Christ’s glory. Verse 13 tells us what each man must do. In present day language, it might go something like this:

“Look, each one of you has a skill set. But those skills and gifts are not an end in themselves. We have been called by Christ and given our lives to Him, and our purpose now is to create, in our interactions and daily lives, a picture for the world to see that represents the Love that has been showered on us. Every man must apply himself to growing in Christ. Just as children grow physically, we need to grow spiritually so that each part of the Body is mature and functioning. The people in Ephesus that don’t know Jesus, they should be drawn in by their interactions with you, and that will happen when each of us pursues Christ above all else.”

Don’t be passive. You have certain strengths that will bless other people. Those strengths must be put into action, and they must be under the headship of Christ and used with this over-arching perspective.

———-  In what area of ministry are you currently using your God-given gifts and abilities?

A Genuine Man

F1ONRF-00003778-001Ephesians 4:25-32  Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,  and give no opportunity to the devil.  Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Nobody likes a phony. We can often accept imperfections as long as people are genuine. Paul speaks to that in verse 25, saying to get rid of all the falsehood and smoke screens in our lives, and be real with each other. This comes directly after encouraging us to “put on our new self” in Christ. I believe that the vulnerability and honesty Paul mentions is critical to the overall goal here – we have to break down all the walls and barriers that human nature puts in the way of true relationship.

A major component of that effort is found in verse 29 – “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth.” Rather, we ought to lift each other up and be Givers of Life. When people walk away after interacting with us they should feel encouraged and touched, whether they are fellow believers or not. Go back to the “salt of the earth” idea. What is the aroma surrounding your personality? Is it pleasant to those whom in reaches? Taking it one step further, nobody ever said, “This is the best salt I have ever tasted!” While we are supposed to flavor and enlighten, this is not about us as all. Unless our efforts point to Christ, we are wasting our time and making it about us.

In verse 31, Paul describes the inner chaos and turmoil that marks a lost soul, much like the smoke-filled room from yesterday. In contrast, we are to be “tender hearted.” Tendons in the body connect, reach out, and enable. However, they are not weak and malleable. Tendons are among the toughest fibers in the human body – they do not break easily. I think we ought to be the same. Connecting hearts, forgiving one another, engaging someone else’s life with thoughtfulness and care…these are crucial tasks, and it says nothing about weakness.

Forget the stereotypes of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, but at the same time, strongly reject the soft male idea that was projected in the 1970’s – one of passivity and lack of direction. (Ladies, please don’t feel left out. Becoming and raising tender, Godly men is a job for both sexes.) Jesus was tender hearted and understood the feelings of others, yet was the strongest man that ever lived. This is our calling.

———-  Take an honest, prayerful look within yourself and ask, “How am I doing at being the kind of Christian Paul describes in Ephesians? Where can I improve?” Seek God’s guidance in making you more into the image of Christ.

*This devotion by Jeremy Bunge first appeared in February of 2011.

Walking as Christians

Ephesians 4:1-6 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge IS4086RF-00002343-001you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,  with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,  eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—  one Lord, one faith, one baptism,  one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Have you ever heard a statement like this? – “Jesus and the ideas he talked about sound great, I’m just not so sure about all these Christians.” Ours is a world desperately seeking Truth. Take any social context or issue (marriage, family, crime rates, teenagers being prescribed drugs so they can feel “normal”) and the broken human condition is clear. Any honest search for Truth can only lead to the reality of Jesus, but those who search are often confused by their experience with Christians.

My purpose is not to lay guilt on anyone, but to illustrate the depth of our position, and the purpose of Paul’s writing in Ephesians. He starts by saying, “therefore,” a reference to his earlier point, namely, that Gentiles are equal heirs in the promise of Christ. From this radical statement that surely shocked his audience, Paul then says in 4:1 that the Church is supposed to be a picture of this all-encompassing love.

We are to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling” and act with “all humility and gentleness.” When people enter our sphere as co-workers, friends, or neighbors, this is the picture we ought to project. And it’s not a matter of performance, either. Down to the deepest fiber of our being, we need to understand that Jesus chose his Church to represent Him. There is no plan B. Furthermore, the picture we are painting with our lives is one that the world longs to see!

This is not a spectator sport, ladies and gentlemen. Be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit” is no light statement. With diligence, we much each master our impulses , tempers, and die to our Selves a thousand times in order that when others see us interact in congregations, in our homes, and in our different social circles, the cumulative thing they take away is Jesus. And it will require everything we have to give.

———-  After paying close attention to what Paul is calling us to do as Christians, is there anything you need to change about the way you present yourself in front of others as you represent Christ?

 

*This devotion by Jeremy Bunge first appeared in January of 2011

A New Walk

Ephesians 4:17-24  Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.  They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.  But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus,  to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,  and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Have you ever had a stellar coach or mentor who always had an encouraging word? That’s what Paul gives us here in verse 17. (As an aside, he does use the word “therefore,” again, referring to his previous statements. We would do well, then, to keep the big picture in mind through this entire chapter – the radical love of Christ and his rescue mission to every religion, and how the Church is supposed to represent that. ) Paul, in affirmation with the Lord, claps us on the shoulder and says, “You have new life! You no longer have to wake up every day feeling lost, like so many others do. Now go reach them with your inner light!”

In verse 18, Paul contrasts the life of Christ with those who walk in futility, “being darkened in their understanding.” The picture here is a room full of dark, thick, inky black smoke. Stumbling and flailing, people who are your neighbors and co-workers attempt to find their way across the room. Is there a window or doorway? Is there even a destination or purpose? We who have the life of Christ within us have the smoke cleared away, if only we will trust and hold tight to Him.

For this reason, we are encouraged to “lay aside the old self” and be renewed in the “spirit of our minds.” Think in layers for a moment. Your mind is the foundation, followed by attitudes, and manifested in behavior. Some days we have to set aside the old self several times in one hour! But it is our destiny to see through the smoke, to live with true understanding, so that we mature and walk as Christ would walk. Exactly what the specific results of that new walk may look like are too numerous to list here, but grasp the picture Paul is painting and make it your banner today.

———-  Are there any behaviors or attitudes that you’re holding onto and not laying aside?

Worshipping false idols

Habakkuk 2:18  What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols!

As we look through the Old Testament of the Bible and see many examples of idol worship, it’s easy to arrogantly think that we’ve come so far from that way of life.  It seems so silly that someone would fashion an idol out of wood or bronze and then worship something that they had just created.  We know in our minds that God is the one worthy of worship as the Creator, but still we do worship the created.

Don’t think that this is true today?  How about extreme environmentalism where man worships the earth, which God created?  Or how about trusting in money to get you everything you want from position to health to security?  Some of us even worship our own children, building our entire lives around their little needs and wants.  We do worship idols that aren’t worthy of our full devotion.  There’s nothing wrong with taking care of the earth, earning money, or loving your children.  All of those are good things.  But when they are the main focus of our lives, they are our gods.

Habakkuk rightly points out the absurdity of putting our trust in and directing our worship towards idols we’ve created and expecting them to better our lives somehow.  Only God Himself is worthy to be praised and He deserves our full attention and devotion.

True love

1 Corinthians 13:4-8  Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

It’s clear in God’s Word that love is of the utmost importance.  What’s less clear in today’s hyper-sexual, idolatrous society, is just what true love really is.  We know we should love each other, but what does that look like?

The answer to this question lies in a scripture that is very often quoted in wedding ceremonies and very seldom remembered in marriages.  The apostle Paul, again emphasizing just how essential love really is, points out a few key characteristics of love.  Take the time to get familiar with these verses and begin to apply them in your relationships.

It’s worth noting that one thing Paul never says about love is that it’s an emotion or a feeling.  There’s never any focus on how you feel about the other person, just how you treat them.  Keep that in mind as you think about the nature of love and think about it more deeply.

———-  Which of the characteristics of love seems to make the least sense to you based on what you have always thought about love?

Equipping believers to follow Christ and make Him known