Friday, November 9, 2012

The Act of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is upon us.We have started planning our menus, shopping, and the Black Friday adds are being published. Devoting a holiday to the celebration of all that we have to be thankful for is an American tradition. It's wonderful to take time away from work to be with our loved ones and enjoy each other's company. And there's the food. Who doesn't love the food? Juicy roasted turkey, creamy mounds of mashed potatoes, steaming heaps of green bean casserole- my mouth is watering just thinking about it! I love Thanksgiving!

We are all familiar with the traditional American celebration of Thanksgiving. Most of us know the puritan origins as well. We remember the stories we learned in elementary school about Squanto and the Pilgrims. What we may not realize is that when Thanksgiving was proclaimed a national holiday during the height of the
Civil War in 1863 by president Lincoln, his intention was to entreat all Americans to ask God to “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife..." It sounds to me, like President Lincoln wanted them to take that day and really reflect on how incredibly blessed they were and how much they had to be thankful for during those considerably trying times, and to come to God in prayer for those who were not as fortunate. This is still absolutely relevant, today.

I think we need to focus more on just what it looks like to be thankful. President Lincoln wanted us to "ask God", and prayer is definitely powerful and effective (James 5:16). I'm thinking of another scripture, though.
     If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? (James 2:16)
We can pray to God and ask Him to help those in need. The Bible is full of the promise that He listens. The Bible is also full of the assurance that we can and should help.
     Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. (1 Peter 4:10)
In fact, Ephesians 4:28 tells us that the reason we should work is so that we "...may have something to share with those in need."
I am really looking forward to celebrating all aspects of Thanksgiving this year, but I have been convicted about the true purpose of the holiday and just what it means to show my thanks. I believe it is best summed up by 2 Corinthians 9:12:
     This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.

Here are some of my favorite local serving opportunities:

Here is a great way to find your own volunteering match:

Here us a quiz to help you in determining what you spiritual gifts are:


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

What Can I learn From the Story of David and Bathsheba?

I was recently given a reading assignment:  2 Samuel 11.  It is the story of King David and Bathsheba.  How does this relate to me? You can read it here.  To paraphrase, David was King. He was very powerful and favored by God. His army was doing well. He happened to see a beautiful woman bathing across the street and he had to have her. He was told that she was married. It didn't matter to him. He wanted her anyway. He sent for her, slept with her, and got her pregnant. He sent for her husband and tried to trick him into sleeping with her so he would think it was his, and when that didn't work, he had him killed. It was a real downward spiral.
I was pretty familiar with this story.  I'd read the account numerous times and have seen Gregory Peck play it out on the silver screen. I have never really thought about how it related to me until now. I read it over and over again in several different versions (like the CEV, Message, and NIV), and three truths finaly stood out to me.
The first truth is that it all started with one, seemingly simple action.  David was looking at something he shouldn't have. He probably thought that it wasn't hurting anyone for him just to look. How many times have we had a similar dialogue with ourselves?
"It's okay just to have one more cookie, it's not hurting anyone. There are worse things I could be doing."  "One more drink is fine. It's not like I'm an alcoholic or something."
 "It's okay for me to talk to this person online.  We're just talking.  There's nothing wrong with that."
These little actions may seem harmless, or like they aren't that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things, but they add up. They pave the path to destruction.  They cause little cracks in our wall that allow Satan to climb up higher and higher. He is the one who is giving us all of the excuses and telling us it's not a big deal.  I like the way the CEV version puts it in James 1:13-15.  "Don't blame God when you are tempted! God cannot be tempted by evil, and he doesn't tempt others.  We are tempted by our own desires that drag us off and trap us.  Our desires make us sin, and when sin is finished with us, it leaves us dead."  David allowed himself to be tempted by his lust for Bathsheba, and that lust drug him off into committing adultery and murder.
The second truth that is apparent in this story is that God always gives us a way out.  1 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV) promises us that "...God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it."  When reading David's story you can easily see all of the ways out that God has given him. In verse 3 of 2 Samuel 11 we see that David sent someone to find out about Bathsheba, and they reported back that she was married.  He didn't care! In verse 4 we find out that David slept with her during her time of purification from her monthly period.  This could have been another opportunity God was giving David to get out of the situation because a woman was still considered "unclean" for seven days after her period (Leviticus 15:19).  In verses 6-13 we see that David is trying to trick Bathsheba's husband, Uriah, into going home and sleeping with his wife so that he might end up thinking the baby is his.  It failed twice!  Uriah was a good guy and he didn't think it was right to have the comforts of his home and his wife when the rest of the soldiers were still out on the battlefield.  Don't you wish David had recognized Uriah's integrity and fessed up? After all, it's not like Uriah could do anything to him.  He was King!  God gave him so many opportunities to end all of the lies and deceit.  He will do that for all of us.
The third truth that I found in this story is probably the most important.  You actually have to read ahead a little bit to find it.  We read in the rest of the story that David had Uriah killed on the battlefield and took Bathsheba as his own wife.  Verse 27 tells us that "What David had done displeased the Lord."  If we read on into chapter 12 we see that David finally realized the gravity of what he had done and repented. (2 Samuel 12:13) and although God punished him, he forgave him and took away the sin.  I say this is the most important truth because it is true for us all. No matter what horrible thing we may have done (adultery and murder seems pretty bad), God will forgive us if we repent! David himself wrote in Psalm 103:12 "As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us."
Even though the story of David and Bathsheba might seem so far removed from our lives today,  I believe we can learn three important truths from it:  There is not such thing as a small sin, God always gives us a way out of our temptation, and God will always forgive.