By Rev Matthew | November 22, 2007
Sometimes it’s hard to be thankful… for some it’s tough even to be thankful at Thanksgiving. For most of us, it’s a time when we can step off the treadmill for a little while and pause to enjoy our families and to count our blessings. And when it comes to blessings, make no mistake about it, we are blessed, you and I… we are incredibly blessed.
Still, the fact that Thanksgiving even exists, as a unique and special day, gives rise to an interesting question; what’s missing in that we need a special day to be consciously and overtly thankful? Jesus told us in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:11) to “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.” Why isn’t this knowledge enough to keep us thankful every minute of every day? Well, maybe it should be but the reality is, it isn’t.
Life is tough. Often times we get mired in the reality of our world and forget our blessings. We get so caught up in our problems that it’s hard to clearly perceive those things we have to be grateful for. Illness, financial woes, martial and family strife are enough to temporarily blind anyone to the blessings they enjoy. Heck, for some, it’s hard to rejoice and be glad simply because their team is down by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. On the other hand, it takes a really, really bad day for others to lose touch with their gladness. Still, life has a way of dealing us all with a few days like that in our life. In fact, life has a way of dealing some of us a lot more than a few really, really bad days.
Now, I suppose, on an intellectual level, we can all understand the concept of being “blessed”, even when we are having a very bad day but when we are in the middle of one of those days, it’s hard to appreciate the “your blessed” reality intellectually… and even harder to feel it. Still, God didn’t put us on earth to simply have a good time. Let’s face it, our faith isn’t tested when things are rolling along as they should; it’s tested when the going gets tough. So, in a way, the tough times exist to help us deepen our faith and to bring us closer to God… there, doesn’t that make you feel much better about the tough times you’ve experienced and the ones that yet lay ahead? I didn’t think so.
There is an old adage that goes, “when you’re up to your rear end in alligators, it’s hard to remember the objective was to drain the swamp.” Likewise, when you’re overwhelmed with troubles, it’s hard to follow Jesus’ instructions and to “rejoice and be glad” even if you do understand. It’s not even a matter of wanting to. I believe we all would like to be able to “rejoice and be glad” in the midst of our troubles, if we could figure out how to get there. The problem is, at moments like that, we are searching around for, and having trouble finding, a little hope, let alone the state of mind to rejoice and be glad in. I struggled with this for years and prayed for guidance until one day it came to me. There is a way for pretty much anyone to find comfort in their blessings at even the lowest and most difficult times. Ever since I gained this understanding, whenever I am at one of my low points I apply this technique and right away, I am once again able to feel blessed and to rejoice and be glad in those blessings and to thank God for any situation. Now, I want to share it with you.
The technique is about perspective and not entirely unlike the old saying “I felt bad because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” When we are stuck in the misery of our moment, we become so consumed by it, and the troubles take on such proportion, that we become unable to see the entirety of our world. By creating contrast, things can take on a whole new look. This is what I do. I think about Hawa. Hawa is 25 years old and lives in small village in Darfur, in the Sudan. Throughout her entire life she has known little but oppression, brutality and hunger. Last week she watched in horror as her husband and her brother were both brutally beaten and killed by terrorists along with most of the rest of the village. Following the murders, she herself was savagely beaten then raped repeatedly by this band of thugs. There is no food, there is no water. In Hawa’s arms is her 7 year old daughter. They are both starving to death. By tomorrow her daughter will be dead and there is absolutely nothing Hawa can do to prevent it. After that, there will be nothing left for Hawa to do but to wait for death to claim her too.
As I focus on Hawa and absorb her reality, one thing becomes incredibly clear. This may be the absolute worse day of my life but, if it is, it’s also a day that is so remarkably wonderful that it’s beyond Hawa’s ability imagine experiencing as one of her “best days ever.” Think about that for a moment. For Hawa and for millions and millions of people throughout the world, my “worst day ever” is so good, it’s beyond their ability to dare to hope for as their “best day ever”. I am sure that whatever day Hawa imagined in her short life, as what her “best day ever” might have looked like, to us, it would be pretty bleak indeed by comparison to even our really bad days. No matter how awful you think things are in your life at this moment, the fact you are reading this tells me there are a lot of people in this world who can’t imagine having it as good as you do right now. A few moments with Hawa is all it takes to get my mind right and to help me not only know I am blessed, but to feel it to the point where I can genuinely “rejoice and be glad”. Praise God for my troubles, for they have helped me better see my blessings.
Rejoice and be glad! Thank God for your blessings and realize your trials can also be a blessing. Rejoice and be glad, then reach out and share your gladness with someone who is struggling to find their gladness and let them know that God loves them and that within their trials are the gifts of His blessings. We need only to take the time to seek them out. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7: 7-8
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5: 14-16
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By Rev Matthew | September 1, 2007
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Erica Corder was one of the valedictorians at Denver’s Lewis-Palmer High School in 2006. There were 14 other valedictorians so each student was allocated only 30 seconds to speak. When Erica’s turn came, she diverted from her rehearsal comments and invited those in attendance to get to know Jesus Christ. In return, she was denied her diploma (but allowed to graduate). To get it back, she was forced to publicly apologize for her remarks, something she reluctantly did. Now she has filed suit against the school for violating her rights to free speech. The school board claims their actions were constitutionally appropriate.
Seventeen year old Scott Balentine was graduating at the top of his class at Munford High School in Memphis. He had penned and was practicing his valedictorian speech, one of the moments he had been working so hard all these years to earn the right to do.
In a part of his speech, Scott says, “…thanks first and foremost, my wonder savior Jesus Christ, who without him I am certain I would not be here standing before you today.” In return Scott reports, “I received a call from my English teacher that I could no longer put that sentence in my graduation speech. No deities at all. No Jesus, no God none of that could be in any of the speeches this year.”
Scott’s mom, Teresa couldn’t believe it. “Christians must respectfully know that they have freedom. We have laws in the country – freedom of speech, so it was shocking to me.” “Jesus has been a tremendous impact in my life and I credit everything I am to him. For them to say I couldn’t thank him, that kind of hurt.” says Scott. These are just two of the many stories we’ve all encountered where any evidence of religion or God is being systematically forced out of schools, the courts and public buildings.
Powerful and insidious secular forces within America, backed by the ACLU, have decided that the First Amendment to the Constitution assures everyone the freedom from exposure to any religious beliefs rather than the right to hold and openly express whatever religious beliefs we want, even if that means believing in nothing at all.
Sadly, and as much you might wish it weren’t so, the problem lies not in the powerful and insidious secular forces who are slithering their way through our society. Nor does it lie within the ACLU, oft times a virtual handmaiden of the forces of darkness. No, the enemy here is far more dangerous and far more threatening to the Christian community than either of these threats against our souls. Brothers and sisters; in the words of the legendary cartoon philosopher Pogo, “I have met the enemy and it is us”.
According to research, 76.5 percent of Americans claim to be Christian. It stands to reason then, that three out of 4 members of the school boards who are making these policies and acting against their Christian students are Christians themselves. So why are these so-called Christians turning against our youth? Why are the courts in America being so corrupted as to disregard the Constitution and support the enforcement of illegal practices such as were experienced by Erica and Scott? Worse yet, why are we allowing the courts to support the suppression of religious expression using the very same Amendment to the Constitution that was enacted to protect that right?
Just the threat of litigation nowadays is enough to cause Christians to cower in fear and capitulate to those who would strip us of our right to acknowledge our faith openly. It’s gotten to the point where schools are making policies prohibiting free speech and denying their students the right to express their gladness for having Christ in their life based not upon litigation or even the treat of litigation but rather the fear that someone might threaten litigation.
It’s one thing to sell out our own principals out of fear but quite another thing entirely to sell out our children simply because we don’t want to take any heat. What kind of lesson does that teach our kids? What kind of example are we setting?
An understanding and celebration of His Grace through our faith is an essential component of Christian life. In fact, Grace is one of the things that set us apart from all the other religions in the world. But while we struggle to live a righteous and forgiving life, it’s time we also rediscovered the courage it takes to rightfully call ourselves Christian.
The foundations of Christianity are being besieged today unlike I have witnessed in my lifetime. We are being attacked globally by forces that desire to rid the earth of our very existence. We are being attacked locally and nationally by the forces of darkness in a concerted effort to rid America of all evidence of its Christian heritage and to outlaw any public Christian expression or utterances. Simultaneously, we are being attacked from the inside by a growing emphasis on a church-centered life instead of a Christ-centered life. We need to choose or reaffirm our Master.
“No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” Luke 16: 13.
Being a Christian is simple; it’s just not easy. It’s time we prayed to discover (or rediscover) the courage it takes to be a Christian in these trying times. It’s time we took a stand for Christ. Together and with His help, we can live a Christ-centered life and preserve the right to worship Christ and celebrate His presence in our lives freely and openly and without persecution.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:10-12
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