A Caution At Thanksgiving Time


When I was in school, our teacher would inevitable give us an assignment as Thanksgiving approached that required us to write down all the things for which we were thankful. From what I remember, I put the big things on my list: my parents, God, my home, my brother and sister, our cats and dog, my friends, school and teachers (OK, maybe I didn’t put those on the list. 😉 )

The point is, I was thinking of all the good things I had, in particular the ones I took for granted, but when I paused, I really was glad I had each one.

Never once did I think that Thanksgiving could be a day for digging deeper. In fact, this “count your blessings, name them one by one” approach to Thanksgiving trained me to think of the good things I was thankful for as the tangible evidence that God cared.

I didn’t stop to think that He might also care just as much for a little Christian girl in an orphanage in India who had no parents or home, and sometimes went to bed hungry.

I also didn’t realize that many, many of the people recorded in Scripture who started well, who said they would obey God, turned from Him on the heels of receiving His blessings.

King David comes to mind. He’d survived Saul’s attempts to kill him, ascended to the throne, and led his people to victory after victory. Then, as he enjoyed the fruit of his labor, he decided to stay home while his commander led his army into battle. And that’s when David saw Bathsheba, ignored the fact that she was married, and committed adultery with her.

David repented, but others never turned it around. King Asa, for example, ruler of the southern kingdom of Judah, walked with God and experienced great success against the enemies because he turned to God for help:

Then Asa called to the LORD his God and said, “LORD, there is no one besides You to help in the battle between the powerful and those who have no strength; so help us, O LORD our God, for we trust in You, and in Your name have come against this multitude. O LORD, You are our God; let not man prevail against You.”

God answered that prayer, and for thirty-eight years Asa ruled as a man dependent upon God. But there came a day when he decided to buy his way out of trouble instead of pray his way out.

His scheme worked, but here’s what God told him:

At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him, “Because you have relied on the king of Aram and have not relied on the LORD your God, therefore the army of the king of Aram has escaped out of your hand. Were not the Ethiopians and the Lubim an immense army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the LORD, He delivered them into your hand. For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His. You have acted foolishly in this. Indeed, from now on you will surely have wars.” (2 Chron. 16:7-9)

Asa could have repented too, but instead he threw Hanani into prison and he oppressed some of the people. He ended up sick, alone, and bitter. He had the blessing of answered prayer and God’s protection and power, and he turned his back on the Giver of all those good gifts.

I could go on and on. Solomon, Rehoboam, Jeroboam, Uzziah, Miriam, Nadab and Abihu, Jonah, Gehazi, and many more.

It seems as if the good things either became an idol that moved in front of God as the most loved, or the individual took credit for the good things and moved himself in front of God as the most loved.

When the people of Israel were in want, they turned to God. When they experienced His abundance, they turned from Him.

So it seems to me, having a thanksgiving day in which we simply tick off the good things we have is a way to set ourselves up for failure. Not that we should deny the good things, but it seems to me the true approach to Thanksgiving should be an enumeration, not of our stuff, but of God’s attributes–the things He’s revealed about Himself that give us a look into His character. And not just an enumeration, but an all out face plant at His feet, thanking Him for who He is and what He’s done.

After all, who God is lies behind what He’s given us and why. Who God is will outlast any of the stuff we enjoy today. Who God is, is a treasure that outshines any other.

It’s certainly not wrong for anyone to celebrate a national Thanksgiving Day as we are here in the US this coming Thursday, or for anyone to have a personal day of giving thanks. For myself, though, I want to change my focus. I don’t want this to be about the good things our God gives but about our good God Himself.

I wish I was clever enough to make a video that would go viral or savvy enough to get this trending on Twitter. What I’d like to see is believers unite to say, I’m thankful because God is merciful. I’m thankful because God is just. I’m thankful because God is generous. I’m thankful because God is my salvation. I’m thankful because ___ Your turn! 😀

This article originally appeared here November 2013.

Published in: on November 21, 2017 at 5:31 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: , ,

Suffering Humiliating Losses


women's basketball_2009_free-throwIn my playing and coaching days, I’ve had my share of humiliating losses. A handful pop into mind without any effort. There was the college basketball game I played in against our arch rivals. At 5’6” I was my team’s center, going up against a girl who was 6’1” or 6’2”. As I recall, the final score was 72-12.

Of course, the losses I’m talking about weren’t on a big stage with millions of people watching. In fact, there are probably more people who learned about the humiliating loss I just mentioned from reading this blog post than from watching in the stands that day.

Not so for my poor Denver Broncos who suffered one of the all time humiliating losses yesterday in the Super Bowl. After having set records for points scored and touch down passes in a season, they managed only eight points.

Tim Tebow could have added to his reasons for being glad he doesn’t have a contract (see Super Bowl commercials), that he doesn’t have to deal with humiliating Denver or Jet losses. (See Denver’s 2011 round two game against New England and New Jersey’s entire 2012 season.)

In some ways, all teams, except the champion Seattle Seahawks, suffered humiliating losses since they either didn’t make the playoffs or ended their season on a loss. Oakland, for example, suffered a humiliating season, as did the Houston Texans and the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jets didn’t do much better, and Buffalo is . . . well, Buffalo—always promising and improved, but rarely reaching the playoffs.

But the playoff teams, from New Orleans and San Francisco to New England and Kansas City, all ended in a bitter loss that will stick with them throughout the off season.

Be that as it may, losing from the first snap in the Super Bowl has got to be a record. I wonder what the Christians on the Broncos are thinking. What does God want them to learn from this experience?

I know when I was playing and losing, I was mostly happy just because I enjoyed being on the court. I never intended to play college basketball. We didn’t have a team in my freshman or sophomore year, and most of us had no experience other than p. e. We had coaches that specialized in softball, so we weren’t getting a great deal of instruction. The point being, I was having fun even when we lost. The humiliating loss was harder to take, but I could say at the end that I tried my best and certainly none of us quit.

As a coach, the humiliating losses were ones that surprised me. I thought we were going to play better and didn’t.

There were some other really lopsided losses, but those were in a tournament when my high school freshmen went up against stronger, older teams, and it was clear we were over matched and probably should never have been put in the tournament in the first place. Those were easier to take, especially when the opponents started giving my girls pointers right there on the court during the game! 😉

I remember one coach when I was coaching middle school who used a full court press even when her team was up by thirty points. Those losses didn’t feel humiliating as much as infuriating. Their coach then wondered why the team she faced in the playoffs went into a ball-control stall (we didn’t play with a shot clock) even though they were down by fifteen points. None of the other coaches had trouble understanding. That other team was doing their best to avoid a humiliating loss. They could take a loss because the opponent was better. They just didn’t want to lose by thirty points or more.

Here’s what I take from blowout losses: they may or may not be humiliating. Whether they are or not depends on why you’re playing, who’s watching, how much effort you gave.

For the Christian, I think it’s key to keep in mind that we are always to be playing (or working) for God, that He is the one who is watching, that He is the one who will strengthen our weakness (in other words, when we’ve done our best, God can turn our effort into whatever success He wishes).

First, we are to serve God. Ephesians 6:7 says, “With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men.” This was not addressed to athletes but to “slaves,” those in the Greek culture who were indentured servants to work at the behest of their masters. But the masters weren’t to be the ones these Christians worked for. God was the one for whom they worked.

Paul elaborated in his letter to the Colossians:

Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. (3:22-24)

There you have it in a nutshell. Our efforts should not be for the applause of people but because we revere our King eternal. He’s the one watching and He’s the one supplying the strength. And this is true for us work-a-day folks as much as it is for athletes.

Published in: on February 3, 2014 at 6:31 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , , , ,

An Argument Against Thanksgiving Day


horn_of_plentyWhen I was in school, our teacher would inevitable give us an assignment as Thanksgiving approached that required us to write down all the things for which we were thankful. From what I remember, I put the big things on my list: my parents, God, my home, my brother and sister, our cats and dog, my friends, school and teachers (OK, maybe I didn’t put those on the list. 😉 )

The point is, I was thinking of all the good things I had, in particular the ones I took for granted, but when I paused, I really was glad I had each one.

Never once did I think that Thanksgiving could be a day for digging deeper. In fact, this “count your blessings, name them one by one” approach to Thanksgiving trained me to think of the good things I was thankful for as the tangible evidence that God cared.

I didn’t stop to think that He might also care just as much for a little Christian girl in an orphanage in India who had no parents or home, and sometimes went to bed hungry.

I also didn’t realize that many, many of the people recorded in Scripture who started well, who said they would obey God, turned from Him on the heels of receiving His blessings.

King David comes to mind. He’d survived Saul’s attempts to kill him, ascended to the throne, and led his people to victory after victory. Then, as he enjoyed the fruit of his labor, he decided to stay home while his commander led his army into battle. And that’s when David saw Bathsheba, ignored the fact that she was married, and committed adultery with her.

David repented, but others never turned it around. King Asa, for example, ruler of the southern kingdom of Judah, walked with God and experienced great success against the enemies because he turned to God for help:

Then Asa called to the LORD his God and said, “LORD, there is no one besides You to help in the battle between the powerful and those who have no strength; so help us, O LORD our God, for we trust in You, and in Your name have come against this multitude. O LORD, You are our God; let not man prevail against You.”

God answered that prayer, and for thirty-eight years Asa ruled as a man dependent upon God. But there came a day when he decided to buy his way out of trouble instead of pray his way out.

His scheme worked, but here’s what God told him:

At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him, “Because you have relied on the king of Aram and have not relied on the LORD your God, therefore the army of the king of Aram has escaped out of your hand. Were not the Ethiopians and the Lubim an immense army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the LORD, He delivered them into your hand. For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His. You have acted foolishly in this. Indeed, from now on you will surely have wars.” (2 Chron. 16:7-9)

Asa could have repented too, but instead he threw Hanani into prison and he oppressed some of the people. He ended up sick, alone, and bitter. He had the blessing of answered prayer and God’s protection and power, and he turned his back on the Giver of all those good gifts.

I could go on and on. Solomon, Rehoboam, Jeroboam, Uzziah, Miriam, Nadab and Abihu, Jonah, Gehazi, and many more.

It seems as if the good things either became an idol that moved in front of God as the most loved, or the individual took credit for the good things and moved himself in front of God as the most loved.

When the people of Israel were in want, they turned to God. When they experienced His abundance, they turned from Him.

So it seems to me, having a thanksgiving day in which we simply tick off the good things we have is a way to set ourselves up for failure. Not that we should deny the good things, but it seems to me the true approach to Thanksgiving should be an enumeration, not of our stuff, but of God’s attributes–the things He’s revealed about Himself that give us a look into His character. And not just an enumeration, but an all out face plant at His feet, thanking Him for who He is and what He’s done.

After all, who God is lies behind what He’s given us and why. Who God is will outlast any of the stuff we enjoy today. Who God is, is a treasure that outshines any other.

It’s certainly not wrong for anyone to celebrate a national Thanksgiving Day as we are here in the US this coming Thursday, or for anyone to have a personal day of giving thanks. For myself, though, I want to change my focus. I don’t want this to be about the good things our God gives but about our good God Himself.

I wish I was clever enough to make a video that would go viral or savvy enough to get this trending on Twitter. What I’d like to see is believers unite to say, I’m thankful because God is merciful. I’m thankful because God is just. I’m thankful because God is generous. I’m thankful because God is my salvation. I’m thankful because ___ Your turn! 😀

Published in: on November 26, 2013 at 7:37 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , , , ,

Success: It’s A Hard Life


Justin_Bieber_2012I’m a fan of the TV show called The Voice. It’s one of the best talent contests out there today, in my opinion. This season there’s a young girl–only sixteen when the show started–who has survived to the top ten. Her coach has repeatedly said he thinks she might be one of the most influential artists in music–not just in her chosen genre.

What a huge accomplishment for one so young–even if she doesn’t end up winning The Voice, it’s a good guess that she’ll have recording contract by the time this season ends. Part of me is happy for her. She seems so genuine, so fresh–no one has told her yet that she needs to get a bit dirty or to lose her girl-next-door look.

But we’ve seen fresh faces before. Britney Spears comes to mind as does Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber. Or how about Lindsay Lohan?

LindsaylohanmugshotMs. Lohan was modeling at the age of 3, was featured on a TV soap at 10, and at 11 she starred in her first movie. Six years later, when she was 17, turning 18, her debut studio album was certified platinum. Three years later her legal problems began.

I’ve seen Christian “stars” experience the same kind of meteoric rise to fame and fortune, only to disappear off the radar–as the public learns later, because of private life issues. An affair. Addiction. A crisis of faith.

Of course not all those who have early success fall foul of its rewards, but enough do, it makes me stop and wonder. We have Biblical examples of successful kings and nations who ended up far from God, sometimes alone, even hated by others. It’s hard to fathom, considering that things started out so well.

A good example of this phenomenon is a young rising political star in Jewish history named Joash. He popped into the public spotlight as a hero at age 7. His grandmother had killed all the other heirs to the throne and had seized the reins of power for herself. Unbeknown to her, however, Joash’s aunt smuggled him away. She and her husband, a priest named Jehoiada, raised him and when he turned seven, they held his coronation, with all the right people backing him.

Such a good beginning. An evil, idolatrous woman pulled down from her position of power and brought to justice. And that was only the beginning.

All the people of the land went to the house of Baal, and tore it down; his altars and his images they broke in pieces thoroughly, and killed Mattan the priest of Baal before the altars. And the priest appointed officers over the house of the LORD. (2 Kings 11:18)

Young King Joash led his people into a revival . . . until he didn’t. Despite the fact that Joash restored the temple, when his mentor Jehoiada died, he himself forsook God.

But after the death of Jehoiada the officials of Judah came and bowed down to the king, and the king listened to them. They abandoned the house of the LORD, the God of their fathers, and served the Asherim and the idols (2 Chron. 24:17-18a).

I think this last passage reveals why success for some–or perhaps, for many–leads to a hard life. This king, having experienced success and the accolades of his people, listened to those who came and bowed down to him. In other words, he started believing his own press clippings. He decided he really was as great as they said he was.

As a result, he no longer trusted God, despite the fact that He sent prophets to turn him back. Apparently, as a result of Joash’s idolatry, God brought an end to the success he’d known. One of the prophets–Zechariah, Jehoida’s son–made this clear to him:

Then the Spirit of God came on Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest; and he stood above the people and said to them, “Thus God has said, ‘Why do you transgress the commandments of the LORD and do not prosper? Because you have forsaken the LORD, He has also forsaken you.’ ” (2 Chron. 24:20)

Surely, surely this would be a turning point. I mean, Jehoiada’s son! The man who raised Joash, who brought him to power, who mentored him until his death–Jehoiada’s son!

Well, actually, no. To show how far he’d fallen, Joash had Zechariah stoned to death. At the turn of the year, the Arameans (Syrians) sacked Jerusalem, killed off a number of officials, and carried away a great deal of plunder. Joash’s own servants turned on him then, though he was already sick, and assassinated him.

Quite the end for one who started out with such promise. From Joash’s life, I think a couple things are clear.

1) God gives the breaks. Joash could just as easily have died with his brothers, but he didn’t–and it was not because of anything he did. He was just a baby.

2) God gives the means for success. Jehoiada was beside the young king, advising him. Again, Joash did nothing to bring Jehoiada into his life, but as long as he listened to and followed this man of God, he did great things.

3) Forgetting #1 and #2 leads to a downfall.

Will the downfall always be the kind of crash-and-burn Joash experienced? I don’t think so. For whatever reason, God sees fit to deal with different people differently.

Manasseh, for example, was a young king who came to power at 16 and did horrible things during his lengthy reign. Yet when he experience the kind of military defeat Joash had experienced, Manasseh turned to God–he repented, did a complete turn around, as dramatic for good as Joash’s was for evil.

So is success really the cause of a hard life? The real cause is rejecting God, turning our back on Him, deciding we’ll go it on our own, do it our own way. Whether successful in the eyes of the world or not, there’s a definite shelf life for people with that attitude.